washingtonpost.com
Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 11, 2006 12:00 PM

Carolyn takes your questions and comments about her current advice column and any other questions you might have about the strange train we call life. Her answers may appear online or in an upcoming column.

Appearing every Wednesday and Friday in The Washington Post Style section and in Sunday Source, Tell Me About It offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 30-something repatriated New Englander with a liberal arts degree and a lot of opinions and that's about it, really, when you get right down to it. Oh, and the shoes. A lot of shoes.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Does this beat all: I received a "save the date" card for an August wedding a couple of months ago, but no wedding invitation followed. Should I make a snarky comment? Send a lovely gift out of spite? Ignore and move on?

Carolyn Hax: Things do get lost in the mail. So do manners, unfortunately, so the best way to deal with it is to ask nicely--i.e., assuming the best--"I saved the date but never heard anything, so I thought you should know in case it looks like I'm blowing you off." For all you know, the bride/groom could be complaining that you were a no-show no-RSVP.

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Carolyn Hax: Oh, and hello.

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Shiksa: I understand what you were saying in the Wednesday column, and I agree that the writer should be with someone who loves her and is willing to stand up for her. But I can't get past the feeling that, if she breaks up with him, that horrible mother won.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed, is is tough to do things that indirectly make awful people happy. But that just means you have to spin things a little harder to make yourself okay with it. E.g.: He and his awful mother lose the privilege of her company.

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New York, N.Y.: A close friend is in a coma and has been for a week. I am finding it hard to go about my usual routine, mainly because I feel so helpless and am so worried about her. How do I come to terms with the idea that she may be in this coma for awhile, and I can't let my own life slide because of it? She's the first person in my peer group to ever have something happen like this. I never even had to visit the hospital to see a sick friend before this occurred. I feel like I've had to adapt to a steep learning curve, and while it gets easier to accept it everyday, I feel guilty that I can't do more to help her.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. It is a steep learning curve, but I hope one of the first things you learn is that you can't go about your usual routine. Instead, think of your routine as being on emergency power, and only the essentials get your attention for a while. As your emotions adjust to the new circumstances, then you can slowly start adding things back in.

As for the guilt, it's understandable, but you're also just doing what humans are wired to do--learn to think about what a mere week ago was unthinkable. One thing that might help is if you use your growing acceptance of the situation as a chance to think more clearly about what you can do for her--like dropping by the hospital--as part of your list of essentials.

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Re: Shiksa: Even better, she's free of having to deal with their drama. Better choice for her in the long run.

Carolyn Hax: Definitely. It shouldn't be this hard. Plus there's the added bonus of denying the mother her drama.

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Anywhere but D.C.: I'm no Mary Sunshine by any stretch of the imagination, but I can't help but notice how many people write in to you looking for snarky comments or advice about whether to do things out of spite or in payback. We're all only human, but geez, doesn't it seem easier on your blood pressure and on your psyche just to try to give people the benefit of the doubt or let stuff go? I mean really.

I guarantee there's a ton of stuff I've said and done that has created a completely unintended impression (including how obnoxious this post probably seems), and I'm sure I'd be mortified to know that anyone was wasting any time or energy trying to think of something snarky or spiteful to do or say in response. Life's too short, man.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, but if you're truly mellow, you'll leave DC out of this.

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Is it me or the hormones?: Carolyn,

I could really use your perspective: I find that I am taking the slightest things at work personally, feeling as though the smallest mistake is an indication that I'm not good enough/incompetent--at what I do, as a person, following the spiral down to tears. Friends who have had children tell me that it's the pregnancy hormones (I'm in my 7th month), but I'm having a hard time seeing if I really just suck at my job or not. I'm not used to doing poorly professionally, academically, etc. Help.

Carolyn Hax: Is that something anyone ever gets used to?

From what I've seen, all pregnancies (and effect thereof) are different, so I'm not going to file you under "hormonal" and call it a day. It could definitely be hormones--and one way to tell is if this compares at all to PMS, assuming you get PMS. Another way to look at it that I've found helpful: Is the situation something that would upset you under normal circumstances, except now you feel your reaction is out of proportion and/or out of control?

I think regardless you should talk to your OB, but you'll get more out of that conversation if you take the time to tease apart what's going on, to help you explain more precisely what's going on.

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Boston, Mass.: I think you were a little hard on the guy from Wednesday's column given their age. If they were both in their mid-20s I would agree entirely. But since they are college students I think he should be given some benefit of the doubt and/or some patience. Standing up to your parents isn't easy to do and he's just at the stage of life when you learn how to do it.

Carolyn Hax: I would agree if it weren't for the extreme nastiness of the mother. Besides, he didn't write to me, she did, and she needs to get out, whether he's destined to grow a spine at 23 or not.

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Re: "That horrible mother won": Life isn't a contest, every conflict isn't about "winning" or "losing." Why do people have to couch their perceptions in such terms? If the woman in the Wednesday column breaks up with the boyfriend, she didn't "lose" and the mother didn't "win" (as if the spineless boyfriend is a prize), the girlfriend just decided to move on with her life in a direction that didn't include the boyfriend because that seemed to be the better way to go.

From reading your column and the chat here, it seems to me that a lot of the problems people make for themselves are because they think of things in terms of "winning" and "losing," rather than what works and what doesn't.

Carolyn Hax: I should have pointed this out. I am such a loser.

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Let stuff go: I'll let stuff go if someone will explain to me exactly how to do that.

Carolyn Hax: Realize that 99.7 percent of it just doesn't matter. X says mean things about you? Okay, so I guess it's time to stop hanging with X because X isn't very nice. Your relationship with Y implodes? Wallow, sort it out in terms of you being you and Y being Y and your not belonging together--as opposed to blaming, blaming, blaming. When you have Z, enjoy Z, and don't spend the whole time looking for ghosts of X and Y.

It's a more complicated process than that, obviously, but there's a start for you.

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Washington, D.C.: My girlfriend has a male friend who is definitely interested in her. I'm not threatened in any way, but I do find it annoying that he seems to be just hovering around waiting for us to break up so he can pounce. Anything I can do here other than just grin and bear it?

Carolyn Hax: "Doesn't it bother you that he's kind of hovering around waiting for us to break up?" Since it should bother her. It's skeevy.

Just be judicious with this approach. Said once, it's a good point; dwelled upon, and it's the opportunity he's been hovering for.

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Washington, D.C.: Should I marry just for love, or should I marry someone who I could grow to love but has high earning potential and family money?

Carolyn Hax: Always go for the money.

aesjlh sag ahfo DG' KFnk gtfjkiu

(head banging on keyboard)

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Re: wedding RSVP: My cousin didn't show up at my sister's wedding. No note, no present, nothing. And, she hardly speaks to us any more.

I asked my folks repeatedly if perhaps the invitation had gotten lost, and repeatedly suggested they contact her to ask, and if she hadn't received it, for us to offer the first apology.

My folks refused. This was 20 years ago. I am still baffled at how bitter this is. Call your friend, ask the question, you'll both feel better.

Carolyn Hax: Anger is stunningly corrosive. (Ask any divorce attorney.) More stunning, though, is how much anger is based on assumptions. Thanks.

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St. Paul, Minn.: Hi Carolyn,

Is it ever okay for me to want my husband to dump one of his friends? I thought this guy was one of my friends, too, but after some decidely un-flattering behavior from him (namely, repeatedly lying to us, blowing us off, and his fiance openly hates me) I've pretty much taken the signals that he's really not.

However, my husband still thinks that this guy is our friend because most of his insults were "only" done to appease his fiance, and that I should let it go. But as we continue to be nice to both of them, we are repeatedly treated like poo, and it is making me feel foolish and used.

My husband does not, and will not, share my sentiments. It's upsetting me to have to put up with this friend and his awful fiance, and that my husband won't see his friend for his actions. But I don't WANT to be like this guy's fiance and tell my husband who he can and cannot be friends with. What can I do?

Carolyn Hax: You've done enough to call your husband's attention to your viewpoint, so now I think you just accept that he wants to stay friends with this friend--as is his prerogative--and do your best to limit your own exposure, which is your prerogative. There's nothing that says you have to go along on every outing with them.

If it makes you feel better, what's happening with this friend happens all the time--weak person meets domineering person, and the weak person's friends pay the price. Don't take it personally and enjoy your nights off.

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Silver Spring, Md.: You let things go by thinking how they will affect you in 10 days, or 10 years, or longer -- will it really matter on my deathbed that somebody cut me off in traffic in the summer of 2006?

Carolyn Hax: Great for the little stuff, thanks. For the big stuff, which can absolutely affect you 10 or more years out, you upgrade to reminding yourself that you don't choose your life, you only get to choose your response to it.

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Marry for Money: I wrote that question and I think it deserves a more legitimate answer...

Seriously, isn't there something to be said for having a comfortable life where I can stay home and raise my kids, not having to argue about money, and not having to pray that my checks clear? I said I could learn to love the rich guy. I love the other (non-rich) guy but I have serious doubts about whether he will be able to support a family. What say you?

Carolyn Hax: I say you haven't met your kids' father yet. (Everybody, hide!)

A life with someone you don't love is not "comfortable," not to me, I doubt it will be for your kids (this is their model for marriage: no love, nice clothes), and explain to me please how it's fair to the guy whose own wife doesn't love him but is happy to cash his checks. You're such a prize that he'll be happy to have you, even on those bankrupt terms?

If you can "learn to love him," then go for it. And once you love him, fully, genuinely, and for poorer, THEN you can marry him.

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Springfield, Va.: My husband's family (who lives right next door) is a bitter steaming cauldron of bad decisions, addictions, co-dependancy,and small criminal acts. Why I didn't see this years ago (love-blind?) is beyond me, but after 10 years, I'm done. How do I and my young children, since he won't/can't cut the cord, begin to slowly distance ourselves so we are not involved in the daily minutiae of misery? It's wearing me out and down. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Move. Find a way. It's poisoning your kids. I don't know what the state of the love is between you and your husband, but if there's any left, you need to lay it out for him that you and he are going to do X, Y and Z to save yourselves from this situation, and then start doing it. (Obviously if there's any history of abuse between you two or in his family, you have to take careful precautions, with the guidance of trained counselors. Write to me if you need numbers--tellme@washpost.com)

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Re: Marry for Money: If you want comfort, wouldn't the best path be creating your wealth? Then you wouldn't have to worry about your checks clearing, but you also wouldn't have to feel like an a-# because you married some schmuck you don't love. You can marry for love AND be comfortable. Put enough in your savings account and you can stay home with your kids and be a decent human being at the same time. Sorry if this is harsh, I just hate the whole gold digger thing.

Carolyn Hax: No apologies necessary. It's hard to love.

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Arlington, Va.: my husband is a recovering evangelical who still maintains casual friendships with his circle of friends from that period of his life, some 10 years ago. I HATE spending time around them. Aside from deep political/value differences, strict gender role expectations mean that I get stuck hanging out with the women, whom I find dull, while we prepare the food, clean up, and tend the children together, or else choose to stay with my spouse while he and the men sit on the couch and watch the game. The whole thing stinks and I don't want to be there, but he reasonably says, hey, we see these people four times a year, why can't you suck it up? I think he's right that I should be more patient so infrequently, but also that the men in this circle of friends benefit at the expense of the women and my sensibilities get offended whether I'm the one serving or being served in this situation. What to do?

Carolyn Hax: Ask him how he'd feel about eating his principles four times a year and condoning something he finds offensive. That's what he's asking you to do, and that's not the same as suffering through a boring dinner four times a year.

Unless your principles demand that you occasionally eat [dirt] to make your spouse happy; after all, it's possible he does the same for you in other cirumstances. Then you suck it up.

The important thing is that you put it in the context of your marriage, and then see what kind of deal you can live with.

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Carolyn Hax: I haven't keeled over, I'm just reading questions.

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New York lawyer: So today is just a horrible day at work -- messed up something, got yelled at, was just told I have to work this weekend when I thought I was free, demanding bosses on competing assignments... and I kind of hate my job to start with. It's easy to feel depressed when I spend so many hours doing work I don't like, missing my family and friends who I never see anymore, wondering what it is all for. Any words of advice to talk myself through the end of the day?

Carolyn Hax: It really will be over, soon--and 10 years from now, if you even remember today, you'll wonder why you let it get to you.

And when today is over, change into something comfortable and ask yourself why exactly you're making yourself miserable like this. And then ask if the reason you've given yourself is as necessary as you think.

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Virginia: I am in the middle of a week's worth of the "silent treatment" from my SO. The reason for the treatment is I was in a grumpy mood the other night and told him so. He ended up storming out of my apartment in a huff and haven't talked to him sense.

Here's the thing: I know what he is doing is hurtful, wrong and controlling. I realize I need to back away slowly from the disfunctional relatonship. He tried something very similar a few years back and I called him on it and made it clear if he ever pulled this again, I'd be gone. So here I am -- cognizant of the fact its time to move on but... how? I find myself dialing his number when I see something funny -- and hanging up mid dial, etc. I've gone from being pissed off to realizing exactly how hard this is going to be -- especially as he hasn't returned my voicemails, texts or e-mails asking what is going on and boy do we need to talk. Exactly how does one wrap up a rather long relationship when one is being so... petty and the other is trying hard not to throw a temper tantrum (that would be me)?

Carolyn Hax: A week of the silent treatment means you have some free time to make an appointment with a reputable therapist to get some counseling. The impulse for anyone in this situation is to try to make sense of the whole mess, and the person you're naturally going to seek out for this is your SO. Which is the crux of the problem. He knows you're looking for him, and that you'll look harder the less accessible he is. Enough, please. Go make sense of it somewhere that doesn't involve the words "storming" or "huff"--or threats that you act on for less than a week before you cave by every electronic means available to you.

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From a former lawyer in private practice to NY Lawyer: Take Carolyn's advice to heart -- think about whether it's worth it. You may find that it's not. Deciding that BigLawFirm is not for you is a liberating moment, and it's not a sign of failure, it is its own form of success. Take it from someone who did it a few years ago...

Carolyn Hax: Brings us back to the not-letting-evil-mother-win thread. Same underlying principle. Thanks.

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Recovering evangelical: That's a new one... not even sure what to make of it.

Carolyn Hax: Not too much of it, I suggest. Put "recovering" in front of "lawyer," and you wouldn't be writing in.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I really, REALLY need your help. Everyone in my life seems to negate or dismiss my feelings. If I say I'm angry, they tell me to get over it. If I say I'm scared, they tell me "you'll be fine." If I'm nervous, they say I'm being silly and "you'll do great!" Why won't they LISTEN? For example, I just got a promotion, and every time I think about the new job, I get very scared and anxious when I think about the new duties I'll be assuming. My mother thinks I walk on water, so she doesn't hear me. My friends are all saying, "Well, you think YOUR job will be bad, look at mine!" GAH! PLEASE, help me get them to listen! Gee, do I even say anything, they don't listen anyway. Sigh.

Carolyn Hax: Um. Don't worry about it? This is normal?

This is kind of like getting upset when people ask, "How are you?" just to be polite vs. to find out how you really are. People aren't negating or dismissing your feelings, they're trying to be polite and reassuring while also avoiding a deeper discussion.

So, if you want something different, you need to do three things: 1. Stop expecting detailed counsel from your mother when you know she's just going to say, "YOu'll do great!" 2. Be specific about asking for more from the people you believe can give more. "Thanks, but I'm serious--I'm really worried and I was hoping you could hear me out." 3. Ask only when you need it, lest you become the topic of a future posting about a drama queen who needs friends and family to parse every feeling s/he has.

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Somewhere, USA: Carolyn,

My parents are divorced, and my father, who I'm not especially close to, remarried a few years ago. I have a new baby, and whenever my father and his wife sign cards that they've sent, or refer to themselves, it's always as "grandpa and grandma." His wife is a perfectly nice woman, but I no more consider her my child's grandmother than I consider her my own mother, and this really bothers me. How do I deal with this?

Carolyn Hax: To your baby, this will be grandma, right? One of three, okay, but still.

I don't mean to invalidate what you're feeling here (see, now I'm all jumpy), but sometimes a battle over a label isn't a battle worth fighting. You call her by her name, your baby calls her what s/he's going to call her, she calls herself whatever she wants, and you find a way to manage the anger the underlies this issue--for your own sake, for no other reason than it feels awful to be angry all the time.

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South Carolina: How does one continue to be friends with someone who takes everything as a personal slight? Example: if she's not in a random picture taken on night when we all went out, its because we were purposely excluding her. If we don't immediately respond to her emails, its because we're mad at her. If we even attempt to make conversation with her boyfriend, we're hitting on him. Its gotten to the point where I do things just so I don't make her mad and go out of my way to be nice just so I don't get a nasty email the next day. I don't have the energy for it anymore. When is it ok to say something? And what can I say?

Carolyn Hax: One thing you can try before you say something is just acting naturally and letting her get angry, if that's what she's going to do. We throw around the word "controlling" all the time in this forum, and you've done the great service of spelling out exactly what that means: Your friend, through her insecure, defensive and punishing behavior, has grabbed the strings and made you her own little friend-puppet.

So, get the strings back and act like yourself again. If she cries something absurd like exclusion from a picture, your response is, "Oh brother." Next topic. If it's something more reasonable but still an untrue accusation, point out that she's incorrect and explain what happened--once--and if she persists, don't bite; just say sorry, there's no there there, and say there's nothing more to discuss. And if she gets angry at your email response time, ignore it and keep responding at your own speed.

See? Because what's she going to do, drop you, the friend in whose pictures she MUST appear, and whose emails she MUST receivge? No. She's going to adjust to your speed, and she's not going to drop you (or she will and you'll have a cake and balloons).

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Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,

Okay, I admit it. I haven't been reading as faithfully as I should. So, have you weighed in on the Mommy Wars thing? The whole Linda Hirschman/women who stay home with their kids are bad for feminism?

Just interested in your opinion.

Carolyn Hax: I haven't read the article myself, just a bit on the reactions to it, but ignorance never stopped me before: I think people who think what's right for them is right for all women are bad for feminism. I always thought feminism was about having the power to choose for ourselves.

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Washington, D.C.: A friend and her husband and their two young children want to come visit. I don't like the husband. His idea of a visit is for me to help watch his kids with his wife while he gets drunk all weekend at my house. The women are the ones who clean, cook, and last time my friend was tired and he REFUSED to even change a diaper!

I want to see my friend, but how do I lay down the rules when I've been so accomadating in the past? We now have a dog and that is going to complicate things (they do too, but he feels it's okay to poke a dog in the butt. I don't.) I want to tell my friend that I want to see her, but things will be different?

Carolyn Hax: You can tell her her husband isn't welcome; you can welcome him just because your friend needs the break; or you can come up with another idea where you and she meet somewhere not your house. What to do to help those kids and the dog, I wish I knew.

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Break Up City: I've broken up with my SO - not yet (if ever) ready to want to see him. How do we split the mutual friends? Do I ask them to make choices not to invite us to the same social events, and then not get offended at the ones I'm excluded from? Or do I wait for the mutual friends to come calling for me and then, if they do call me, hope they don't invite me and the ex to the same events?

Carolyn Hax: My advice to your mutual friends would be to invite you both and let you two be adults about sorting it out. So, unless you have legit grounds to ask your friends to keep you apart--he was abusive to you, for example--then I advise that you either get used to the idea that you can't avoid him, or accept that your need to avoid him is going to cost you a few parties (since you can still see these mutual friends one-on-one).

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Not marrying for money:: After I graduated from college, I dated a really sweet guy, Brian. We had a lot of fun together and enjoyed each other's company. He was nuts about me, and I him. But, the thing was that I wanted more out of life than he could have given me. I wanted to travel the world, live in a more interesting place than my hometown, have a more stable financial future. I knew that he was not capable of helping me have those things. He worked as a clerk in a liquor store and did not have many motivations beyond that. I was heading off to law school. I broke up with him during that summer because it really wasn't fair to either of us to continue to grow more fond of one another when I knew I ultimately wanted more than he did. Flash forward ten years. I am with a guy whom my mom said remindered her of Brian in personality, except for the job/motivation thing when she first met him. I hadn't realized it when I started dating the new guy, but she was right. We both have well-paying jobs, travel the world, get along well, have fun, etc. He's my perfect match. There's nothing wrong with NOT marrying for money reasons. I don't think that concept gets highlighted enough.

Carolyn Hax: Possibly because the money in your story is a symptom of something larger and much, much more important: approach to life. Brian's didn't align with yours. Had it aligned, he could have been a clerk at a liquor store who was your partner in everything you wanted out of life--maybe even one for whom you provided financial stability. Money comes and goes. The ability to be an equal, a partner, a valuable contributor to the kind of life you both want to share, is a quality someone is likely always to have.

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Wheaton, Md.: Nothing big, but I am bored. Good job, nice dog, lovely partner, comfortable house, plenty of friends.

What's missing? Am I just sliding into middle age? No plans to shake things up, but how does one live through the long middle slog of life?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. Purpose? Which would you rather do, backbreaking labor, or backbreaking labor for Katrina victims? Maybe it's time to put your middle-age comfort where your mouth is.

Assuming I'm making even the remotest of sense.

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Fairfax, Va.: When I was in college many eons ago, one of our professors told us: "Marry for money, you can always fall in love later."

Now that I'm older and wiser, I can't help but wonder if perhaps he was correct...

Carolyn Hax: Marry for love, you can always make money later.

Or, man can't live on cute phrases alone.

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Washington, D.C.: Please also tell New York to talk to her friend who is in the coma. My sister was in one for three months and afterward she told us what people had said to her. She could hear but not respond. She should tell her what is going on in her world and give her encouragement etc. Love your column and chats!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! And I love this as a closing thought. Bye everyone, and type to you ... ooh, I might not be able to be here next week, as I mentioned earlier. I'll huddle with Liz and make sure the schedule reflects whatever we decide. Thanks for stopping in and have a great weekend.

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