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Tell Me About It
Friday, September 8, 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.
I have a younger sister, "Sarah," (she's 19) whom I'm very worried about. Almost a year ago, she got ridiculously drunk at a sorority party, and ended up in the hospital on life support. My parents were extremely upset and sad, as were my brother and I. My brother at the time attended the same university as Sarah, but he has since graduated. Anyway, I know my sister has been drinking since then, despite the fact that my parents (who pay her tuition) threatened to take her out of school and send her to a good university close to home. I talked to my mom about it, and she hasn't done anything, but - and here is where the question comes in - my sister thinks she fell out of her bunkbed a couple of days ago, but she can't remember, although her face is all messed up so she must have done something. Sarah is a heavy sleeper but I can't imagine her sustaining trauma to her face and not remembering just because she was really tired, which was her excuse. She told my mom the story, too, and mom and I talked about it. I told mom I don't believe for a minute that Sarah wasn't drunk at the time. Mom told me she asked Sarah point blank whether she'd been drinking and Sarah said no. So now what? How do we find out for sure whether my sister has an alcohol problem? My mom doesn't want to go to the sorority, and my sister's roommate isn't going to break confidence. Short of hiring a PI, what's the next step? Thanks, Carolyn, and sorry for the rambling question.
Carolyn Hax: Your parents should talk to the university. Start in the undergraduate dean's office and find out what the chain of command is for residential advising. Make sure the faculty advisers with immediate responsibility for Sarah are aware of the problem, be it past, potential or ongoing. Somebody's eyes need to be on Sarah. I also think the roommate who won't "break confidence" needs to be aware that there are things more important than not making your roommate mad, and occasions where ratting on someone isn't ratlike at all. Of course, there is a limit to how much of someone else's behavior you can prevent, but Sarah is to some extent the college's responsibility. Please check back in--I'm curious to know the response you get. Good luck.
Alexandria, Va: What's it mean when a man tells you that you are out of his league. Does that mean he holds you in high esteem or he really doesn't think he's good enough for you, in which case you should end it?
Carolyn Hax: If he says it like he really means it, and context tells you that he really means it, then I'd be concerned. Some people think it's a compliment/find it flattering to be put on a pedestal, but I think ultimately it means his love is based in an unrealistic, too-perfect vision of you, and not in a real, lumpy, all-too-human one--and that can be an incredibly lonely kind of love.
Obviously I'm projecting here, and he could just have had a wow-I'm-a-lucky-guy moment, which of course would be a great sign. Figuring out what's up is really a matter of putting together a lot more day-to-day pieces than you've provided here.
Worried about Sarah: I swear you have received and replied to this VERY question about the drunk sister. What are the odds it's a year later and it's come back again? And the older sister STILL hasn't dealt with the problem
Carolyn Hax: It's possible--it looked familiar to me but I figured I had just read it before in the outtakes, since it;s common for people to submit a question several times before it finds me during a chat.
Former Sorority Adviser at Georgia Tech: Despite what lots of your readers think, the National Sororities take underage drinking very seriously and are interested in helping those with alcohol problems. If she lives in a house, contact the alumna adviser in charge of the house corporation; most sororities also have a full slate of alumnae advisers, and they are interested in helping those in need. We have college age daughters, too.
Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks.
Bethesda, Md.: Dear CH,
I would like your opinion on something. Monday through Friday my wife and I have a happy marriage (I think.) But on Saturday or Sunday she gets rip-roaring drunk, and then violently abusive and hurtful, tells me how much she wishes we'd never gotten married, etc. The next day she is sorry, didnt mean a word of it, under a lot of stress, etc.
I do NOT think she has a drinking problem, this happens about once every three weeks, but should I be concerned that she's letting go of her REAL feelings, or is it as she says, letting off steam and not meaning a word of it.
Carolyn Hax: She does have a drinking problem. Please do some homework at www.niaaa.nih.gov, and use that information, combined with the specifics of her alcohol abuse and emotional state (weekday and weekend), to start dealing with this problem.
Out of your league: I've also had a man tell me I was too good for him, and what it really stemmed from was his extremely low self-esteem. Just another thing to keep an eye out for...
Carolyn Hax: Yup. Thanks.
The out of his league comment: Is also sounds like a brush off. A "polite" way of telling someone he doesn't want to date them. Kind of like the "it's not you, it's me" line.
Carolyn Hax: True. Depends on the state of the relationship (or not). Thanks.
Roommate: Do you really think it's the roommate's responsibility to tell Sarah's parents how much Sarah drinks? Sarah is an adult. If she's drinking too much, I can see the roommate talking to Sarah herself, but I think going to her parents would be counterproductive. I know that when I was a hard-drinking 19-year-old, my roommate telling my parents how much I drank would have done nothing except make me find a new roommate.
Carolyn Hax: There's hard drinking and somebody's-going-to-get-killed drinking. This distinction is what I meant when I pointed out that sometimes ratting isn't ratting.
North Carolina: I found out recently that my father molested my half sister (his stepdaughter) for 12 years before he died. He died 37 years ago. My mother knew what he was doing and never tried to stop it. After my father died my mom asked my sister never to tell me because she didn't want me to hate her. My sister finally told me about the molestation and I confirmed the story with my mother. I haven't spoken to my mom since. I am removing all memories of my father from my home. My focus now is on supporting my sister. Finding out that my father was a pedophile (my sister was four when he started molesting her) has been devastating. My dilemma through all of this... Do I tell my husband and children about my father and my kids grandfather? My children are 17 and 14. I feel like I am perpetuating the secret if I don't tell them and yet I am finding it extremely difficult to bring up this shameful subject. This man was my dad and I loved him very much. How do I tell them he was such a perverted person?
Carolyn Hax: Tell it to your new, well-recommended, thoughtfully interviewed therapist first. This is a family minefield that I don't recommend anyone navigate without a map.
Anonymous: Please tell Bethesda, Md., that he may need to get away from her, considering he said she gets violently abusive. There are shelters and sources of help for male victims of abuse, aren't there? It seems like your advice to him is different than your advice to women in similar situations -- I hope I'm reading this wrong.
Carolyn Hax: I hope so too. I read it as a mean drunk, not a potentially homicidal mate. If I would have responded differently to a woman with a mean-drunk husband, then I'd be wrong.
Washington, D.C.: Over the past year I've changed a lot. I went from a girl who needed to be in a relationship, to one that doesn't want one anymore and is comfortable with myself. There is one aspect of this that which I'm not comfortable, other people's reactions to my life choices. I decided to stop waiting for companions just to do things I like, but my friends tell me to not go to movies or out to dinner by myself. They find it odd. They think the reason I'm single is because I never have been pursued by men much. That may have started my little transformation, it's not the reason why I'm happy this way. I want to tell them that I think their refusal to be single is odd, but I'm polite and keep my mouth shut. How do I get over this hurdle and finally be able to ignore people who may not agree with my choice of being single?
Carolyn Hax: Apparently the courtesy goes only one way with these friends.
But I don't think calling them odd back is the only way to challenge their advice to you. You can also say you enjoy doing things on your own and ask, plainly, why anything matters beyond that? It's not only a legitimate question, but their answers also might help you realize their disapproval is actually a compliment.
Horse/Saddle: I recently got dumped by someone I was pretty gone for and have been working through feeling sad/angry/mopey and everything else it brought up. I do feel better and clearer now after a few weeks (with occasional retreats). My question is when do I know I'm okay to date again? When I no longer ever think of the ex? When I can think neutral thoughts about him? Something else?
Carolyn Hax: When you meet someone you want to date.
Roommate: My cousin was very depressed when he first started college (barely leaving his room, not eating, etc.). If not for his roommate, my aunt and uncle never would have known and gotten him help. (He's fine now) If you really care for someone and it's a problem and not just the normal weekend thing, you break the confidences.
Carolyn Hax: Thanks. There's a fine line between "It's not my place" and "It's not my problem," and the only time you don't want to invest time in discerning the difference is after something awful has happened.
Washington, D.C.: My husband extrapolates every small vice of mine into an addiction/problem. Making a naughty comment makes me a "sex addict," ordering one glass of wine with dinner (just one!) makes me a "hopeless lush," and my one hour of TV a week makes me a "couch potato." He says these things with disgust and disdain, as if I'm beneath him for having such petty vices, and when I get upset he tells me to lighten up because I can't take a joke. (If it sounded like he were just teasing in the first place, I wouldn't get upset.) Should I just ignore him and go about my business?
Carolyn Hax: Yeah, if were your obnoxious podmate. But given that he's your husband, not finding a way to resolve these misfires sounds like a quality-of-life catastrophe. Which isn't how most people want to describe their lives when they go to their 30th reunions.
Try taking his comments as humor attempts (defining humor loosely here) and see if that helps the dynamic any. "Yes, I'm a lush, and you wonder why?" It could be you and he just read the same words/tone/expression differently; happens all the time.
If you just cant hear these things without a swell of self-defense, then pick a time when you're both in a normal, non-accusatory kind of mood, and explain to him that you've tried but you can't shake off the addiction/problem comments. Tell him they make you feel self-conscious, and so as jokes they're just not working for you.
If he keeps laying the blame on you, then it might be marriage-counseling time, or big-decision time, or earplugs time, but that's for later.
Re: Horse/Saddle: May I propose an amendment?
When you meet someone you want to date, AND you are certain that you would never take Ex back, not even if (s)he got down on his/her knees and begged forgiveness and made amends in ways you can only dream of.
Carolyn Hax: Interesting. Trying to think of exceptions, but none has held up yet.
Sedona, Ariz: Sensitive, sensitive...: My husband and I have an ongoing tiff about me being "too sensitive" or me taking comments he says "too personally."
I do admit that perhaps I am too senstive sometimes, but that I'm tired of having him point every little mistake out (ex: leaving the computer on instead of shutting it down at night, buying too much milk at the store, which will spoil by the time we get around to using it, etc).
I've told him that sometimes I feel like I'm living with a parent instead of a husband.
Any comments/advice from the peanuts?
Carolyn Hax: Explain to him--again, during a non-exasperated moment, if you have any left--that you would appreciate the leeway to be human and make mistakes without having them pointed out. Not because you can't handle it, but because you don't need it. Being corrected isn't going to make you remember to turn off the computer or buy less milk, it's only going to serve as one more exchange of negative information in a world that already supplies plenty for everyone. Ask that he undertake an experiment with you--loving words, and loving words only, with logistical words as the only exception (e.g., have you seen the X, or I'm going to Y and I'll be home by Z).
Some people like this are going to be hopeless, but a lot aren't, especially if they can come to see that maybe they were endlessly corrected by mom or dad or whoever and that it sucked. So, you give it a try and hope you can both drop your dukes enough to see.
Washington, D.C.: For Washington I am could have written that letter. I too decided that love, sex and companionship were totally overrated (at least for what get in return compared to what you oftentimes put into it) and have embarked on life from here on out as single.
I also got negative feedback and comments from friends, until I finally asked them to simply respect my wishes to allow me to decide what makes me happy without comment, because I exact that courtesy to them, and the subject is was not longer open to discussion or our friendship is over, period.
One of the harshest conversations I had with my friends, but I am also the kind of person that when I done, I'M DONE, and my friends know that.
In short, I'd said all that to say, Dear DC tell you're friends that you're happy, not to question your happiness and since you can't agree, the subject matter is now closed. And close it.
Carolyn Hax: Clap clap clap clap
Re: North Carolina and abuse secrets: There is something corrosive to the soul about having to pretend that an abusive parent is a fine person in order to preserve the illusions of other family members.
You should never have to lie to people about someone who is committing acts of abuse. Shielding the abuser's reputation helps to perpetuate feelings that people who were victimized by the abuser, either directly by being abused or indirectly by being forced to be complicit like North Carolina is by being directed to remain silent, somehow share responsibility and therefore shame for the abuse.
North Carolina needs to learn to be able to speak the truth about her father, and this is where the therapist you so correctly recommended she see comes in. Feelings about being party to abuse, even a second-hand party with no direct or immediate knowledge or involvement in it, are very complicated and hard to understand. But the worst thing someone like North Carolina can do is do/say nothing about how she feels.
Even though her father is dead, the situation may not be over. It's possible that there were other victims of his abuse within the family, either victims of abuse or victims of the "code of silence." Opening the situation up may offer these others the chance to get relief/get help with whatever they may be suffering. If nothing else, being able to talk about the situation may help to teach someone in the family how to deal with something they may encounter in the future.
Carolyn Hax: Thank you.
From a Guy, Md. "You are out of his league.": Carolyn:
It's pretty simple. "You are out of my league" = "I want to break up with you and I am trying to make you feel better about it."
Guys think like that.
Carolyn Hax: YOU think like that. Some other PEOPLE think like that. Guys are not a 3-billion-part monolith. It just seems that way during Coors ads.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,
I've been very fortunate lately to have met and dated a couple of very nice men. Genuinely nice guys with good jobs who would probably make ideal husbands and good fathers. You know, the kind you're supposed to find and settle down with. So, why am I so uninterested in them? They treat me like a princess and I think most women would tell me that I'm crazy not to keep such good catches.
And I am getting a bit old (28) to be single. I mean, I can't continue to be so popular with the men forever. Shouldn't I be finding that life partner? These men would both have made excellent providers, and perhaps I would have grown to love them. What's wrong with me?
Carolyn Hax: That you're looking at men for their ability to provide, that you're looking at 28 as old, that you think your popularity with men is a factor of your age, that you think popularity with men is important to have, that you're looking to your age to tell you what you should be doing with your life, that you're looking at being single as a condition to be avoided, that you think being treated as a princess is what all women want, that you think something is wrong with you because you met two non-felons whom you didn't want to marry.
Did I miss anything?
Carolyn Hax: Other than tact and compassion, I mean.
Suitland, Md.: Hi, Carolyn! I agreed with your advice to the guy with the "mildly bigoted" parents. I also think that it might help if he and his fiancee talk about just how much his parents will be involved if the two of them do have children. His parents' behavior might just be offensive to a grown-up but could seriously scar a child.
Carolyn Hax: True. I also think you can take your suggestion further, and say it would help if the guy made it clear just how forcefully he was willing to take on his parents on not just her behalf, but on behalf of his own choice and his own beliefs. Did he stand up for her at dinner? Did he make it clear to them such comments wouldn't be tolerated? Is he willing to back that up by severing ties with his parents, should they mistreat his fiancee again?
Washington, D.C.: Yep, I remember the Sarah question, too. Honestly, I thought I had somehow accessed one of your old chats.
Carolyn Hax: I have that effect on people.
Did I give the same answer?
Re: Sensitive, Sensitive: Hi Carolyn,
Does this advice change if your wife continually makes the same mistake? (Not locking the door, for example.) I don't want to be negative but when someone makes a mistake for the 10th, 15th, 50th time, don't I have a right to be annoyed? She's an intelligent woman and I don't want to have to follow her around the house making sure she does what she's supposed to.
Carolyn Hax: Then work around it. Get creative. Do not correct, correct, correct. It's corrosove to you both (exhibit A, the anger in your tone).
Rocker in Austin: I don't know, I think if you have to keep telling people your happy, and freak out when they don't accept that, then you are probably not happy. I may be wrong...one has to learn to love one's self (which leads to relationships). But if you that bothered by a question, chances are the question hits home more than you care to admit. I notice I get aggitated most by questions that hit on something i wish to ignore or burry.
Carolyn Hax: True, but--is the answer, for your friends, to keep questioning you? Shouldn't these friends be saying, well, this is her choice and she's obviously struggling with it, so let's be supportive and shut up? Or, if the struggle's too great to ignore, ask her privately how she's doing, without singling out something that makes her defensive?
Cheating in Seattle: My ex-girlfriend cheated on me. Now, she keeps calling me (not obessively, just once or twice a day). I have told that when she and I intially started dating that cheating was the one thing that I could never "work out." This concept is not getting through to her. How else can I explain it? Carolyn, I just feel that life is too short and beautiful to compromise myself by staying with someone who can break trust like that. That's all.
Carolyn Hax: I think life is too short and beautiful for absolutes, but, then, it's also too short and beautiful for living by someone else's slogans.
Sounds like she's looking for your forgiveness so she can forgive herself. Not a productive path, so maybe you can nudge her to a better one. Is it possible the relationship isn't over just because she cheated, but because the cheating says you guys ultimately weren't right for each other? Particularly, thay maybe you weren't right for her?
Plant it, at least, if you believe it. Then ask her please to give you both a chance to mend by not calling so much. Then pick up her calls only once every few days.
RE: Rocker in Austin:: If a thousand people ask the same question, it doesn't make a thousand people right. In this society, singledom is viewed as a circumstance that must either be corrected or explained to the questioners satisfaction. Maybe (s)he is just annoyed at being asked the same question? Let me further, just because the question is being asked about a person's relationship status that doesn't mean people are allowed to ask until the end of never. Why are people like this?
Annoyed but Happy Single, Really
Carolyn Hax: Why indeed. Anyone?
Locking the Door: It is a "mistake" to not lock the door? That is the problem, you think you are supoosed to correcting your wife's mistakes. Once people reach adulthood they can do what they want and their peers (YOU) should not correct them.
If you have a genuine concern about the doors, make it your job to check the lock. When I lived with a roommmate who always forgot to lock the door, I made it a practice to check the lock everytime I passed it.
If you have a genuine concern for her safety, calmly explain that it worries you and ask her to be more careful. Don't "correct" the "mistake" of an adult.
Carolyn Hax: The choir is cheering so hard its falling off the risers.
Washington, D.C.: It's me again. Sometimes I think the problem is that my friends see that I'm happier (I had a bout of depression in college, so it's pretty clear) but they think I'd be even happier with a man. They've never tried what I'm doing so they just don't get it. I just can't stand them repeatedly implying that I'm not complete without a partner. I understand that some of them are very happily married, but nothing about that appeals to me currently. I try to tell them that being in a relationship for the sake of not being single would make me unhappy, but they just don't get it. It sometimes can feel like brainwashing.
Carolyn Hax: Hi, me. You might need new friends. Or, you might just need for them to get older. It's a lot easier to think you know what's right for everyone else ("Easy! The exact same things that are right for me!!!") before you've had the pleasure of watching either your stellar choices, or the stellar choices of people you love and respect, fall to s---. Then you start to think, hmm, maybe there isn't just one way to be happy. And you back off your friends. Hang in there.
Double standard?: I have to ask: Would you respond the way you did if a woman wrote in saying, "My husband repeatedly tosses his laundry on the living room floor. I don't want to nag him but this is obviously unacceptable." I swear I've seen you answer questions like this along the lines of, "He's being inconsiderate. It's not nagging if you tell him so." How's it different if someone's wife fails to lock a door 15 times?
Carolyn Hax: I am a knee-jerk, pro-woman, man-hating pig. Can we please move on?
Panic-ville, USA: I need some reassurance that I can do this. Today is my birthday, and movers are at my house packing to move me and my husband half way across the country--away from our family and friends to a location where I know no one. I'm pregnant with our first child (due at Thanksgiving), and will be unemployed as of a week from today. Why does this sound like a recipe for disaster?
Carolyn Hax: Or a recipe for a bunch of things you'll look back on thinking, imagine if we hadn't moved? Throw yourself into the decision, sign up for some mommy groups, tap courage wells you didn't know you had, give it a damn good shot. Happy birthday.
I know why! Pick Me!!: People are morons.
Carolyn Hax: Sold.
Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I have been going through a little bit of a rough spot...not exactly sure how to pin down what's wrong...but I would guess that moving in together recently and both of us traveling have left us without the strong loving bonds that were there just even a month ago. Well, he has been stressed with work too, and I want to make him feel better. How can I make things better? I just want us to go back to the happiness we had a month ago. To start to try to get to that, tonight we are just staying in and making dinner and going to a movie. Simple happy stuff. Anything else I can do?
Carolyn Hax: Relax. (I know, the most tension-inducing word in the language.) By moving in together you declared that you were in this for, if not the long haul, then at least an extended one, so act that way. Be good to him and be good to yourself on a day-in, day-out basis, and don't look at it as if you're one bad week from going cardboard.
Boss troubles: I sent out an e-mail to the entire staff of my company to give them details of a project we're working on. My boss replied to the e-mail, copying the entire company, and said I was wrong about one aspect. After showing my boss all the supporting documentation I had, my boss acknowledged that he was wrong and I was correct. But there's still that e-mail out there where I was publicly made to look like a fool. What should my next step be? Do I e-mail everyone and say that I was, in fact right? (That feels like an e-mail that would be satisfying to write and that I'd regret as soon as I clicked send.) Just pretend it never happened?
Carolyn Hax: If it's something everyone needs to know, then everyone needs to know which information is correct. If that's the case here, maybe you can ask your boss how s/he would like you to handle it.
Washington, D.C. Fool: Boyfriend of 5.5 years and for all intents and purposes, future husband, breaks it off in June. Then comes back in July, breaks it off four days later. Comes back in August, twice, breaks it off each time again. He's going through some big changes in life right now, grad school, etc., and isn't where he wants to be at this point in his life, but is that excuse enough for how he's treated me? Thing is, I still love him, deeply, even after all of this. My head says I'm a fool to even think I'd be with him again, my heart says ignore your head. For now, my plan is to live my own life, but if he comes back, am I a fool to try again?
Carolyn Hax: At least give him a waiting period.
Actually, you need it more. Do you really want him back after this? Really?
Frederick, Md.: Dear Carolyn,
I have a large circle of acquaintances. Some of us are pregnant, some are trying, some are having trouble conceiving. Some of us aren't quite ready to take that step. Those of us who aren't ready have a running joke that we're glad we're not pregnant. The women who are having trouble conceiving have gotten really offended that we're "celebrating" not being pregnant. We're not trying to offend them, we're just glad that we're not pregnant (can't afford babies, want time with our hubbies, don't want kids at all). Should we be more circumspect about our joking, or should they be less sensitive?
Carolyn Hax: Is your running joke that important? Would toning it down be that hard?
Carolyn Hax: Unfortunately, can't run a marathon today. Thanks everybody, and see you next week.
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