Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 1, 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.


Sunday's Column: So I definitely identify with the untreated depressed girlfriend described in Sunday's column. I have a similar problem and I know it's getting worse -- but I just can't work up the motivation to call for help. Sometimes I will get these guilty feelings because I know I should be seeking help. But I can never take that next step. I just don't feel like dealing with this, with exploring what's going on, with having someone examine my life and potentially be critical of it. But I'm afraid of what will happen if I wait too long.

I just don't know how to get out of this cycle.

Carolyn Hax: Do you have a number handy? Can you make the call right now? Or do you have to do some research first?

I really believe that, if you think about it, you'd choose a little criticism (which you aren't likeky to get, by the way) over feeling bad all the time. And yet you're tacitly saying you prefer to feel bad all the time.

As for the criticism, that's not what therapists do. You'll be the one examining your life, with a guide. PLease make the call(s).


Carolyn Hax: Speaking of criticism--still on dial-up today. Sorry. I'm trying.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I entertain quite frequently in my home. Guests often bring wine as a hostess gift. For the most part, it is inexpensive and of a quality I do not care to drink, serve or regift. It has accumulated to quite a stash in my basement. What can I do to relieve myself of it discreetly? The local food banks won't take it off my hands.

Carolyn Hax: That is a really interesting question. Anyone? (If any of it is mine, you can give it back--I'll think it's funny.)


Hippiechick in Pennsylvania: Help! I'm sad and depressed, I just left DSW emptyhanded.

Carolyn Hax: It's okay. Now you can spend twice as much next time.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn, I'm a 35-year old male. Frequently, when I make the acquaintance of an attractive woman (at work, at a social event, etc.), within three-to-five minutes of commencing the conversation she will invariably interject a blatant non sequitur about her boyfriend. Since I'm simply engaging in pleasant small talk, I find this habit both mystifying and annoying. What do you think this is all about?

Carolyn Hax: One of two things, unless it's both: She has a huge ego, or she's been hit on so many times she's built in a defense mechanism (of which it's possible she's not even aware). Either way, unless the small talk is unprecedentedly pleasant, it just means it's time to move along.


For the person with the wine: Make sangria at your next party. It works very well with inexpensive wine and your guests will love it.

Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks.


Re: the first post: I'm in a similar situation, sort of. I should make that call too but for me it's more about what if counseling doesn't work. Then what? The rational part of me says you never know until you try, but the back of my brain is saying the devil you know.... I don't want to fail at this I guess.

Carolyn Hax: If counseling "doesn't work," you find another counselor. It's not like aspirin. Obviously if you're on your 14th therapist this formula won't apply, but I really think responsible treatment of depression includes more than one health provider anyway (unless your one is really thorough)--since there are a range of sources that can involve life issues, brain chemistry, prescription drugs you might be taking, other physical ailments ... so think of it as a process of tracking down your better mood, not going to someone's office to pick it up.


Wine ?: Give it to a local art gallery. The wine they serve at openings is usually pretty cheap.

Carolyn Hax: Right, and bonus points if it's an organization that's barely scraping by--a nonprofit arts group or something. Thanks. Great idea.


New York, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn!

Thanks for doing this chat during your vacation. I really hope you can answer this question.

I have friends coming in from out of town this weekend. They want to take my gf and me out to dinner. My girlfriend has met them before but she dislikes eating with them because they insist on saying a very elaborate grace (including a solo "I thank God for..." by each participant). She is an atheist.

I really don't mind if she doesn't come, but these are dear family friends whom I don't see often, and who actually really like her. I was thinking that she could accompany me to the restaurant just to say hi/give regrets and make some excuse before exiting.

Do you think this is too obvious? Should she just not come altogether and send regrets via me?


Carolyn Hax: Couldn't she just say, "I'm grateful for ..." during her solo? Assuming she would otherwise want to be there, if it weren't for the grace?

Certainly there's nothing wrong with her not being there. "I'm sorry, X won't be joining us tonight, but she sends her best." That works for all but the most egregious social absences (a bride who stands up her groom would have to do a little better, I think). And you could also do what you suggest--or have them over for cocktails before dinner or something. But it seems like a lot of maneuvering for soemthing that could be solved by counting quietly to 100. (or 4,000.)


Arlington, Va.: Hi!

I am curious to what you think. What is the acceptable number of sexual partners a woman should have by the time she is 35? My boyfriend has been badgering me for a number, and I lied and said 10 thinking that is a low number and he went ballistic, questioning my virtue, etc. I sometimes feel like I am some whore, and I most certainly am not, but the funny thing is, he has been with at least 50 woman!

I know double standards are evil, but they still exist, even amongst well-educated and well-bred individuals (we both have MBAs).

Is it a hopeless situation? Is there an acceptable number a boyfriend would allow? I can't believe I am having this conversation but this is not the first time a guy has question my morals solely by how many partners I have had! IS the clock turning back to the '50s?

Carolyn Hax: The acceptable number of partners is:

He is the hopeless situation. Get out and be grateful he made it so easy. Jerk.

But then, you lied to him, and you used "well-bred" with a straight face, so the clock isn't going back to the 50s without your help.

Own your life. Some guys won't like it. Tough.


re: boyfriend name dropping: What does the 35-year-old experience when he has strikes up a conversation with the unattractive women? Maybe he should give them a try.

Carolyn Hax: Nice in theory, but if it's something he has to "try," it goes in the don't-do-me-any-favors-please bin.


Grace for an atheist: "I thank god for the freedom to choose to be an atheist."

That should knock them out!! (Can I come?)

Carolyn Hax: (Bring cheap wine.)


Mr. Non Sequitur: She's just trying to save you the embarrassment of getting shot down if you should hit on her.

(Actually, she's trying to save herself having to deal with the awkwardness and hostility that often results when a woman rejects a man's advances, but I told you the other reason because I'm trying to save myself having to deal with the awkwardness and hostility that results when you let slip to a man that the world is not All About Him.)

Carolyn Hax: Now now. No need to get hostile about it.


Washington, D.C.: How do you decide which questions to answer? I wrote to your chat last week. I was desperate and suicidal about my problem. You chose not to take my question. Fortunately for me, between the time I submitted my question and your chat, I got in touch with a health care professional. However, not everyone who is desperate and writes to you will contact a health care professional. Certainly, you can't take all questions. But being an advice columnist invites pleas for help from those who might be in dire condition. I am disappointed you chose not to address my question, especially given the questions you did answer. But I understand you get a lot of questions and it's your choice about which ones to answer. Does the impact of your not addressing questions from those who are desperate concern you?

Carolyn Hax: Of course it does. It haunts me. That's why I take care to point out at every opportunity that I don't even see all the questions I receive during these sessions. I read many questions during the chat as I make my choices, but even then, when I sit down to read the outtakes after the live session is over, it takes me another two hours or so to get through them, sometimes more.

That said, there are times I do see a serious question and choose not to answer it. My reasons change depending on the the question, but the two main ones are that the question is clearly out of my depth--I am not a trained/licensed counselor--or that I've already answered a lot of serious questions and I don't want to give the impression that this forum is the place for serious questions. I do take some, yes, on subjects where I feel comfortable, to get people thinking and also to (I hope) prepare people to act on their own when something serious happens to them.

But I can't be counted on to be anyone's last line of defense--I'm not trained for it, and I'm not accessible enough for it. Yes, sometimes people will see me that way, so all I can do is try to discourage them from seeing me that way and then lose sleep at night.

I'm relieved, and encouraged, that you called for help. Thanks for writing in.


re: The Number: As a male, I can understand Arlington's point. And your advice about dropping the jerk is fine, however, you would be shocked Carolyn to really hear the male point of view on sexual histories of women! I am talking, law school, pro-choice, Democrat voting, "well bred" guys who harbor such unbending double standards. Many, maybe even most do, from my empirical evidence.

I think this issue deserves more insight instead of "he's a jerk." Trust me, as enlightened as I think I am about women, if my wife slept with me on the first date, or had as many sexual partners as me I would not be married to her!

Carolyn Hax: Guess what. It doesn't deserve any more insight.


Mentioning the boyfriend: Wouldn't it be strange NOT to mention the boyfriend? I mean, if you're talking about something you did over the weekend, or any number of things, it's only natural to mention your SO in the conversation. It's a major part of your life. It doesn't have to mean she was expecting to be hit on.

Carolyn Hax: He said it was a non sequitur. So maybe the answer is to be smoother about mentioning the boyfriend.

Suprising nerve hit on this one.


For Washington, D.C.: I promise to stop name-dropping my boyfriend if you tell me how to tell the difference, within the first two or three conversational exchanges, between men who are just trying to have a polite conversation, and men who are going to interpret any polite response as a sign of my interest in them and then accuse me of leading them on when I reject their advances.

I can't tell the difference until it's too late, so I name-drop my boyfriend as a pre-emptive strike. I don't really enjoy doing this, so if you have any better ideas I'd love to hear them.

Carolyn Hax: Anyone?

Or you could just do what feels right, and if you get yelled at for it, just say, "I'm sorry you saw it that way. I saw it as friendly conversation." Essentially, it's standing up for yourself, which is no fun, but neither is a preemptive strike.


Ms. Parenthetical: Wasn't someone else's point that the world wasn't all about her?

Oh god, here we go again, "Mars!" "No, Venus!" You're a slut! No your a manslut!

People please, why can't we all just drink some cheap wine and get along!

Carolyn Hax: If we do it at DSW, we've got the whole chat covered. Thanks.


Response to the Number: What makes you so sure your wife told you her real number!?

Carolyn Hax: I'm weeping with glee.


Double This!: "if my wife slept with me on the first date, or had as many sexual partners as me I would not be married to her!"

I'm a guy and this guy is a pig.

Carolyn Hax: The other guy says you're just trying to get [some].


Rockville, Md.: My husband and I don't have any fun anymore. We've been together for eight years and have three young kids so we never go out anymore. This doesn't seem to bother my husband but it really bothers me. There is no laughter, light hearted banter or just plain fun. I've mentioned it to him and he just says we're busy (meaning, he's busy with his job and the kids and too tired after that to do much more). I know, I know, I could go out and do my own thing but I don't think that will make me happy. I want to be happy again with him. We don't have a lot of babysitter options and no money for a nanny so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated for putting the fun back in our marriage.

Carolyn Hax: You didn't say NO babysitter options, right? So arrange, somehow, for you and he to have a weekly date night--just tell him you need t and you;re doing it. Go tired. Go broke. Go remind yourselves that there used to be two of you, before you forget or stop caring.

It's not going to work miracles, because you've got little kids pulling you to them and away from each other, it just happens that way--but if you give it time I think it will work.


Re: The Number: When you're having a serious conversation about sexual histories, isn't the point to put out there what sort of health issues you may have dealt with or be dealing with? Disclose if you've been exposed (and for heaven's sake, everyone who's been active even once has been exposed to something, unless they were sleeping with a virgin), and leave the rest on the cuting room floor. Why should a number matter?

I'd dump anyone who asked me (I'm a woman), and anyone I asked should feel justified in dumping me. If you can't behave like an adult, then don't swim in the adult pool.

(Sorry; Mr. law-school-Democratic-voting-pro-choice-


been-around just really pissed me off.)

Carolyn Hax: Your long parenthetical explains exactly why numbers (other than 0, or 177 if you;re claiming to have slept only with virgins) aren't even useful for health discussions. Though I would modify it to, "and for heaven's sake, everyone who's been active even once has RISKED EXPOSURE to something, unless they were sleeping with a virgin."

The point of sexual-history sharing--not numbers--is to get to know the person's values, attitude toward sex, attitude toward the opposite sex, comfort with him- or herself, comfort with choices, wisdom gleaned from mistakes, wisdom gleaned from successes, and other incredibly valuable stuff.

Sometimes, the valuable stuff comes in the form of a tipoff to a morally repulsive double-standard, which is always nice to know about a person before you get too invested.


RE: double standard: UGH! Of all double standards, this one is the worst!

Carolyn, are there any double standards that swing our (female) way??

Carolyn Hax: Are you kidding? How about: Women who don't want to work outside the home are nurturers, and men who don't want to work outside the home are lazy bloodsuckers. It's almost as pervasive, but provokes far less outrage.


Washington, D.C.: Any advice on wedding planning when the groom's mother wants to invite about 400 people and not contribute financially toward the wedding? Bride's side, who is paying for the wedding, has invited about 85.

Carolyn Hax: Groom goes back to mother and says, we can only invite 85. (Or whatever number Bride and Groom deem appropriate--if Groom's family is bigger you don't want to exclude arbitrarily just to be "fair."

Groom, btw, does not blame this on Bride. He presents it as his decision, in an effort to avoid bankrupting his in-laws-to-be.


RE: Rockville, no babysitting options: Gee, I'll bet the nice family next door feels the same way you do about getting out without the kids every once in a while... why not watch their kids twice a month and they watch yours twice a month so everyone gets a chance to be an adult for a few shining moments?

Carolyn Hax: For people who don't know other families, here's your incentive. Thanks.


Re: Women and small talk: I made an acquaintance over the course of several industry conventions (we kept running into each other) and assumed my engagement and wedding rings precluded my having to drop a mention of my husband. Till one coffee break when we were chatting about movies and I said "we" saw X. My acquaintance responded "Who's we?" Once I said I meant my husband and me, everything changed -- he started stammering on and on about his latest developments on and then said he had to go to check his e-mail because he was expecting an important message, etc. I just thought he was a friendly work contact, but I guess I SHOULD have made some "discreet" comment about my husband. I suppose I will from now on.

Just thought I'd share the flip side.

Carolyn Hax: Why "should" you have, though? It was one awkward moment. Surely it's not our burden to anticipate and prevent every possible one of those.


Re: Double standards: How about: some women expect to be treated as professional and economic equals, yet still believe in the mating rituals of old (i.e. the guy always pays) and the right to alimony on divorce. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Carolyn Hax: Of course not. But youre right, thanks.


Counting the numbers: I think if a guy is too obsessed about how many partners who've had, it's a sign that he may be a very jealous person. As in, being jealous or suspicious of when you've given no reason for him to doubt you. Take it as a warning sign. Relationships like this are complete misery!

Carolyn Hax: Not to mention, often, dangerous. Thanks.


RE: Rockville: It might be a good idea to join a class together (a dance class at your Rec center, or a pottery class) Or anything else that is scheduled.

Date nights are nice in theory, but to often they devolve into the same ol same ol - and then before you know it your back where you're started.

Having a scheduled event makes it harder to skip - and gives you a fun way to start the evening (most classes are an hour or so - so you'd have time for dinner before or after!)

Carolyn Hax: This will sound contrary for the sake of being contrary, but I swear it isn't--sometimes the class can become drudgy and same-old, too. But I agree with the basic point--watch for ruts. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Today's column really scared the hell out of me. I'm single and 28, and I'm terrified to get married because of men like that. I wish I could say it's just a guy here and there but I hear a lot of my female married (and now-divorced) friends complaining about the same thing. But not even that scares me the most. With infidelity statistics on the rise (I've read many experts think the percentages are probably higher because people don't like to admit dishonesty even in anonymous surveys) and columnists like Maureen Dowd constantly reminding us that the more powerful and educated a woman is the less likely she is to get married and have children I feel like I'm doomed to a life of misery. Don't get me wrong. I don't feel the "need" to get married which is why I think many women get into bad marriages in the first place. But eventually I'd like to marry and start a family. I'm not ashamed to admit that. But if my only options are playing mommy to my children AND husband (who may cheat on me with a secretary anyway) or being rejected because I'm too independent I'd rather stay single and childless forever.

If all this is true then feminism was a cruel joke on all of us. Or am I way off base here?

Carolyn Hax: You're way off base on the generalizations. Yes, some men are content to leave the kids and housework to women. Yes, some high-powered women are lonely. Yes, some men cheat.

But some aren't, and some aren't, and some don't.

Judge individuals, as you think, judge and mate as an individual, and you'll probably be fine. Or not, but, that just happens sometimes.

You can also get beyond the generalizations in your specific examples. If you hear "a lot" of your friends complaining about this, then that also means some of your friends aren't complaining about this. Talk to them about it--I'll fall over senseless if they don't have an opinion about it.

Actually, I might fall over senseless anyway. Sounds like fun.

You can also ask your angry friends if, in hindsight, they had any indication their partnerships wouldn't be equal. Bet there will be interesting answers there, too.


Anonymous: I'm a suspicious girl, I lie about previous relationships, make things up, just to see how stable he is... but he says I'm the unstable one, lying like I do.

Carolyn Hax: Smart man.


Not depressed, just overwhelmed and exhausted: Sometimes think I should see a therapist for some recent issues in my life, but then I think that's just one more thing I would have to add to an already packed and stressful schedule

Carolyn Hax: Have you tried thinking of the thing you'd drop so you could see a therapist, then dropping the thing, then not seeing a therapist (at least not right away)?

Obviously if these recent issues demand your attention you shouldn't fight them off with a scheduling trick, but since you;d have to clear space for the appointment anyway, and since it's a common trap to be overcommitted to overcommittedness, it might be an exercise worth attempting.


Washington, D.C.: How do I give my boyfriend more assurance that I am committed to this relationship? We are not yet ready for marriage no matter how much we talk about it, there are several issues that we need to work out and he knows this, and we are actually working on them. So short of moving in with him, which is what i think he wants but he has known from the beginning that I do not want to live with anyone before marriage, how do I convince him that I'm serious?

Carolyn Hax: You don't, you don't, you don't. All you can do is be in the relationship to the extent you want to be, and show him the affection you feel, and not yield to pressure. The rest is his obstacle to get over.


Advice Columnists: Hi Carolyn,

Sorry to be out of the blue, but do advice columnists ever have conventions or conferences? One time I walked into a hotel and found myself in the midst of a funeral directors' conference. Anyway. Do advice columnists have some sort of professional network thing?

Carolyn Hax: If they do, they have the good sense not to invite me.


Disheartening chat: The numbers thing.

I think the pro-choice, Democratic lawyer has said about the worst thing he could about his wife. I am sorry but there is no way I would want to be married to a man who would determine marriage based on my holding out for a second date or having fewer partners than him. Ugh.

You would give up your WIFE, the woman you love most, were she to have too many partners? I hope she sees this chat and arrives home tonight with divorce papers.

Carolyn Hax: At first I was worried about overreacting, but I've got a slow burn on, too. He called her a piece of meat. It is really horrible.


Chicago: I work for a firm that does research for other companies. This can be anything from sifting through documents in a public library to following someone (essentially spying) who might be lying about a disability to defraud an insurance company.

The boss is a very old-fashioned man who believes in giving the library-type jobs to women and the gumshoe-type jobs to men. This bothers me, as the gumshoe-type jobs are the more interesting and a better way to advance in your career.

The odd thing is, all the other women in the office talk about what a fine gentleman he is for not wanting women to be in any danger. How can I get both the boss and my female co-workers to realize that he's not doing us any favors?

Carolyn Hax: Have you said to the boss yet that you want the gumshoe job, you're more interested in that kind of work, you want your career to take that direction, and you're comfortable with the risk?


Dallas, Tex.: Dear Carolyn

I have a party tomorrow and we used an Internet invitation service... right now we have 23 people who have opened our e-card and have not RSVP. I am co-hosting and I want to take their names out of the invite (they won't be able to get details of the party and will be informed they were removed) My co-host thinks this is disinviting, I think they did not RSVP, therefore they are not attending. What is the proper thing to do? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: The proper thing is to assume they aren't coming, not to e-slap their wrists. I can see why you're tempted, though. We're in the midst of an RSVP crime wave.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

What do you think about a couple getting married before they are financially stable? My boyfriend and I are very happy together and have been for several years. But we both have debt--mine worse than his. Mine is worse than his and I am in pretty bad shape financially. However, it evens out because I make a lot more money than he does. We want to get married despite the money problems. But is this is just a bad idea?

Carolyn Hax: It's a bad idea if you haven't stopped over-spending, gotten on a payment plan, turned your credit rating around. Both of you should be at a point where you're both handling your finances, and lives, and selves, responsibly. That's actually true regardless of debt.


Santa Fe, N.M.: How much is too much to ask of a wedding guest? Destination wedding, short notice, very expensive (for my budget), and a bad time at work. Can I graciously bow out or do I grin and charge it? Couple has offered travel vouchers to the deserving (I qualify, but feel weird accepting).

Carolyn Hax: Graciously bow out. "No" is only a two-letter word. (And a person who tears into you for saying no isn't your problem, I swear.)


Carolyn Hax: You -qualify- for a -voucher-? I need a little keyboard-size pillow.


RE: Rockville: "It might be a good idea to join a class together (a dance class at your Rec center, or a pottery class) Or anything else that is scheduled" Geez, Carolyn. This was a good idea. Why shoot it down? Taking a class together was one of the only fun things my ex and I ever did together over the course of a miserable 9 year marriage. Don't be so quick to dismiss

Carolyn Hax: I wasn't dismissing it, I was just noting that it can get old, too, so don't go scheduled-date crazy. Nothing more sinister than that.


Re: Wine: Drink it. Price does NOT equal quality or taste. The wine was a gift. Nothing is lost if you try it and don't like it. You never know, you may find a nice inexpensive wine you like.

Carolyn Hax: A lottery in a bottle! Or a blottery in a lottle, if you get a bit carried away.

Speaking of--bye. Thanks for stopping in, and type to you next week.


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