Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 15, 2006 12:30 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.

Mail can be directed to Carolyn at .

The transcript follows.


Another Friday!!! I need romance: Its Friday my husband love to do family night on Friday. (we have kids) I suggested I drop the kids off with his cousin and we do something together. He said that said that sounds great we can work on the truck tonight (Dump Truck) or get some office paper work done. How can I get him to see that I need romance without stamping it on his forehead!!!!!

Carolyn Hax: Stamp it on his forehead. Why drive yourself nuts.


Great Falls: My wife doesn't know that I know she had an affair. It was brief and has ended and she has returned to the marriage, but I don't know where to go from here. Should I confront her since I'm having an impossible time forgiving her? The relationship is okay now, but I need to understand and confront this in order for me to feel committed. At the same time, wouldn't confrontation just lead her to do the same thing again, or is it only a matter of time before she does anyway? And yes, there's no doubt an affair occurred. I found messages that left nothing to the imagination.

Carolyn Hax: I don't follow your logic that confronting her will make her cheat again. Her knowing that you knew but stayed married to her anyway will be an invitation to take advantage? I'm stretching here, but even if that's what you;re thinking, to me that's a powerful argument for getting it all out in the open.

As it stands, though, you already have a powerful reason. You're torn up over this and you're not feeling committed to your own wife. What a painful way to live life. Talk to her. Figure out together what comes next. It's almost guaranteed be painful, too, but at least it'll shake something loose where now you're sitting there stuck.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry for the delay--my modem crashed mid-answer.


Fluffy but serious!: I'm calling on your love of shoes to help me out here! I would never mix navy and black or brown and black, but what about brown boots with a navy dress? I just don't have an eye for this sort of thing - but I also don't have navy shoes. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I mix navy and black and brown and black. It's more about style, texture, proportion, etc, than color. If you don't trust yourself, ask someone who can see it all together.

Or, don't care. If it's all wrong, tomorrow is another day.


Seattle, Wash.: Could I add just one thing to your first response in the column today? Actually, a point I think you've made before but should be emphasized. Not fair to the husband would also be "comparison shopping," meaning she doesn't get to test drive the new relationship to see if it's better than her current one and, if not, return blissfully to her husband. She needs to know two things in inviolable order-does she want to stay, happily, with her husband? (Let's say your other conditions re: kids, homelessness, etc. are met.) No? Okay,now she can see where things might go with the new guy. Totally unfair would be for the relationship with the new guy to fail to live up to its promise and so, in retrospect, she's fine with her husband. All that would do is set him up for the next time she wonders if she married the wrong guy. Unless being without either guy is a viable option in her head, she needs to rethink the fantasy. If, then, else. So, to review. Want to stay with husband? If no, proceed.

Carolyn Hax: Well said/emphasized, thanks.


re I need Romance: Dear I need Romance

Let me tell you a story about a couple who was so fearful of upsetting the "perfect" marriage by actually saying something was wrong, or each fearful of bringing up a desire that eventually contempt and indifference grew to such a point that one had an affair and divorce seemed unavoidable.

TELL YOUR FREAKIN HUSBAND!!!!! TELL HIM WHAT YOU WANT. TELL HIM WHAT YOU NEED! HE cannot read your freakin mind already.

Don't let it come to the point my marriage did.

Carolyn Hax: Well beaten into our thick heads, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, love the chats! Please help me get to the bottom of something that's been keeping me up at night. I broke up with a guy a year and a half ago. It was one of those, when it's good, it's really good, when it's bad it's hell relationships. He's now married, with a baby. Now here I am, single, and I feel like I'll never find someone who "gets" me ever again. Yes, he didn't "get" the parts of me that needed him to be home with me, talk with me and actually be considerate of my feelings, but he "got" my sense of humor, my way of thinking, etc.

How do I put faith in the fact that I know I've grown-up, made a life that is completely my own, am surrounded by good, caring friends without being torn apart by thinking that if life had just been different, I'd be happy with him? And how do I not fear being in another relationship, because I think I messed this one up so badly?

Carolyn Hax: If it was a good thing, the right thing, it would have survived your being yourself, which I assume is the behavior you see as having "messed this one up."

Plus, being alone has to be better than a good/bad/hell cycle. If nothing else, there's no constant tease that if only X, then Y would be perfect. Nightmare.


"I am a knee-jerk, pro-woman, man-hating pig.": I'm betting you got a lot of mail after last week. Any follow-up on this?

Carolyn Hax: Not really. Maybe you're all as sick of the gender-baiting as I am.


re: cheating wife 'confrontation': You say that the relationship is 'ok' .... it needs some more

fixing to move ahead. Another aspect of this situation

that might help your wife take responsibility for her

actions help her be will to discuss opening what happened

is finding out -why- she had the affair and how you

-might- have contributed to a bad situation. That being

said, if you did help create a bad situation in your

, obviously what your wife did was wrong and

painful. She should in no way have reacted the way she

did. BUT it might help with open communication if you

openly want to explore with her how the marriage wasn't

working for her - as obviously it wasn't.

Carolyn Hax: A complicated dance well explained, thanks.


West Coast: Carolyn,

I'm a college administrator and have become something of a mentor to one of my students. She's been going through a really rough time, and found me to be a sympathetic adult. However, its gotten to the point where she's leaning on me really heavily--her friends have mostly disappeared during the crisis, and I'm the one person she knows she can depend on. But it's gotten to the point where it's too much for me. I never want to abandon a human being in the midst of major crisis, but she also has incredibly low self esteem, and so every little thing turns into a major crisis (I suck, etc.). How do I deal with this so she doesn't suck the life out of me? She is in therapy, but hasn't liked any of the therapists she's tried yet.

Carolyn Hax: I don't know what your training is, but it sounds like you could benefit from talking to a psychiatrist or psychologist yourself to get help with extricating yourself from an unhealthy dependency. She's leaning on you, who can't help her as much as she needs (as you're learning the hard way), where she should be leaning on a therapist, who is much better qualified to help her--and therefore your presence is actually an obstacle to her getting the help she needs. But, obviously, she's unstable, and thus the guidance from a pro. You want to take care both to minimize the pain and damage you inflict, and understanding what ails her is crucial to that--and you also want to inoculate yourself against crushing guilt if there's an unhappy ending (always possible, even if you don't cause it and try to prevent it).


Anywhere, USA: Hi Carolyn,

I lied about something and need to come clean. I'd say this lie is of the little, white variety, but I'm still going to lose face and am embarrassed and worried about how my bf is going to react. I embellished a little about something in my past, something that I'm kind of ashamed/sensitive about, back when we first met B/dc I never thought things would get serious between us. Now that they have, the guilt is driving me crazy. Is there anyway to come clean without looking like a big, fat liar?

Carolyn Hax: Frame yourself as a big, fat idiot and maybe he'll bite. I.e., you're human, not amoral. Certainly you won't have been the first person in his life to embellish your way around a sensitive topic.


Marriage/Divorce: I once heard a speaker at a post-divorce workshop say "Your spouse may have killed your marriage, but you watched it die." Excellent comment for those who want to "keep quiet" about the lethal things that are bothering them for fear of upsetting the applecart.

Carolyn Hax: nice one.


Washington, D.C.: I'm 25 and have a serious boyfriend. He's my best friend and we're like a team, but I miss dating. I just miss the excitement of flirting and those first few dates. Is this something that people grow out of? Or (eek) does it mean that I'm just not crazy enough about this guy? Ugh. I'd feel a lot better if I knew that everyone feels this way, and you just grow up and get over it. I hope that's what you tell me. Thanks, Carolyn.

Carolyn Hax: It's tempting to answer you, but if you're looking to other lives to make you feel better about your own, you're essentially admitting that you want to tune out your own voice. Don't do it. Listen, listen to what your feelings are telling you. Obviously it's possible to have no idea what your feelings are telling you. But in that case you just stay put for a while and see if things clear up. And if they don't clear up, then you change positions (e.g., take time apart) and see if you can hear better.

Point being, you're the one who has to live this life (the one you need to "grow up" to want, ack! Oops). -Only- your opinion counts.


Arlington, Va.: So at what point does giving someone what they need morph into turning yourself into someone you're not?

Carolyn Hax: The point you feel unhappy, the point where you start to resent the other person, the point where you're giving up something you've come to see is essential to your well-being, the point where you get diagnosed with clinical depression, I could go on. There are a lot of different signs, depending on the person and the situation and the severity of the demands/sacrifices.


Keeping Quiet During the Marriage: But what if you haven't kept quiet? What if you've done everything but take out ads on billboards? I've done all that I can, spoken up in every conceivable way (trying it with grace and humor, sitting him down for a serious talk, finally breaking down and crying). I even finally managed to drag him to counseling after uttering the word "divorce," but I don't know if it's too late. His indifference was killing me, and now that he's finally paying attention, his efforts are somewhat ridiculous. He takes me to things I don't want to go to and that I don't enjoy. I've been as gentle and kind as I can explaining that I don't really enjoy touring Civil War sites, but that a meal at a nice restaurant and a movie would be good, and he just doesn't seem to get it. What next?

Carolyn Hax: 1. What do you want?

2. Did you name something that's possible, given what you know and what you've seen so far? If not, then go back to 1. and repeat as needed.

I;m sorry.


Re: Washington DC: Oh, c'mon Carolyn, it's perfectly normal to miss flirting and dating. I am happily married to a wonderful man-I have no doubts he's the "one" for me-but I do sometimes get a little wistful about the fact that I'm never again going to have the excitement of meeting someone new, having a first kiss...

Carolyn Hax: Normal for you. What matters is what's normal for her.


Foggy: Increasingly I'm finding that as I go through life and also hear of other's experiences, I find that the basics of all relationships are pretty much the same. That is to say, that regardless of whether it is a friendship, a romance, or a professional relationship, it's always better when there is trust, honesty, and respect to start off with. What do you think? In regards to the not sure about rocking the leaky boat poster, aren't all of these compromised by the secrets kept? (her infidelity, his knowledge of same)

Carolyn Hax: I think I've been pretty consistent in my frustration when people approach romances, friendships, family ties and working relationships with separate sets of standards. Classic examples being people who act naturally around their friends but put up fronts on dates (or, similarly, who hang out all night talking with friends, but then choose mates they can't really talk to); or people who drag their feet at work (thus burdening colleagues) but are careful to watch out for friends.

You may withhold your personal life from a colleague, put up with crap from family, crawl into bed with a mate, take great care not to mix these up--but the fundamentals are, I agree, the same. If it matters, it matters.


USA: I want to break it off with my girlfriend. Not because I don't

feel for her, nor because she is not a kind loving person, but

because I feel our lives our not going in the same direction.

How do I tell her? What do I say?

Carolyn Hax: You just said it. Good luck.


Edmonton AB Canada: I don't think you were really being fair to the GF who misses dating. The question about whether everybody feels this way isn't necessarily about putting other people's opinions ahead of your own truth. It can be about learning to call things by their right name. Yes, it's extremely common to miss the excitement of meeting and dating new people. Yes, it is part of most people's basic psychological makeup that there is some tension between the pleasures of stability and the pleasures of novelty. Anyone who is oblivious to all other sexual objects except their beloved is not more seriously in love than other people, they're just still in the infatuated stage.

And yes, everyone has to decide for themselves if they've reached the point in a stable relationship that they are willing to forgo the pleasures of novelty. This is so common that there is a name for it. It's called commitment.

Carolyn Hax: It's also extremely common to write off yearnings as extremely common before entering ill-advised commitments. One person's healthy nostalgia is another's warning sign that this isn't the time to commit, and I'm going to do my best not to get my fingerprints on anyone's decision between these two.


Washington, D.C.: One more take on Not Keeping Quiet During the Marriage:

I also shouted from the rooftops the very, very small, reasonable things that I needed to feel loved. I also tried all of the tactics, up to and including moving out temporarily. He finally started trying (a little), but lo and behold -- I no longer responded. I no longer valued the things (like occasionally getting flowers, him taking the initiative to plan a "date night", etc.) after I had to go into uncharacteristic hystrionics to get them. Since I felt like I had to practically beat the stinking bouquet of flowers out of him, it no longer felt special or romantic.

Yeah, we divorced. No surprise there.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. Feelings do die when they're left to starve, and that's why it's so important, yes, to speak up well before that happens.


Philly, Pa.: Hi Carolyn, Love your chat. I understand what everyone is saying about trust, honest and ability to communicate being crucial to a successful long-term relationship (in my case, a romantic one). But what if you just can't tell where things stand? I feel like I don't have an easy time talking about my feelings with him...but I love being with him so much and he's good to me and wonderful etc. How can I tell if I'm just ignoring the problem, or if it's a balance/compromise like everything else in life? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Specifically, why don't you have an easy time? Is it difficult for you to say? Do you not like his response? Other?


Washington, D.C.: Missing Dating: I agree with you about "what's normal for her." I don't miss dating at ALL. I think it's perfectly wonderful to know that I never have to get all nervous around someone, or worry that they won't like ALL of who I am and have wasted perfectly good emotional energy on someone not worth anything so draining. And I LOVE knowing that my husband knows everything about me and thinks I'm perfect. I think kissing him is much more fun than any "first date kiss." It's "totally in love" kissing.

And also, how would you feel if your husband said to you, "I like you a lot, but I sure do miss dating. I just really want to neck someone new."

I think you can make marriage have all the excitement of dating if you work at it, just not with all the different PEOPLE of dating.

Carolyn Hax: I agree except for the "all the excitement of ..." The great stuff that a well-tended marriage can yield is of its own kind. They're just two different things, with two different (though occasionally similar) pleasures.


Anonymous: I can't seem to drag myself to therapy. I am so unhappy I cry at work several times a week. I love my fiance and he tries his damnedest to help me, but something is horribly broken in me. My doctor asked me if I had suicidal ideation, and I do, but I lied. I imagine car accidents, and huge knives cutting through my body. I imagine bashing my head against concrete until my consciousness disintegrates. I wouldn't do anything because I have a child, and I couldn't do that to him, but I can't shake the overwhelming despair and self-hatred.

I have attacks of this. I'm in one right now. It's exhausting just holding my head up. I can be happy, and sometimes I am, but less and less and less.

I started a new job just 5 months ago and have no vacation time, so I can't take time off to go somewhere.

I don't know what to do. I can't take it anymore. I can't keep doing this to him.

Carolyn Hax: Call your doctor and admit you lied about the ideation; call 1-800-SUICIDE if you need to talk to someone now and the doctor isn't available; or if you think you're close, dial 911. Please. For your son. Each of these is one step, and that one step is your only concern right now.


Washington, D.C.: College administrator should know the directions to the student counseling center, and that s/he has overstepped boundaries BIG time, AND is creating a potential liability for the university. Academic advisors, professors, and other administrators have no business allowing mentoring to turn into personal counseling. Universities have trained and skilled professionals to handle these situations. Make that referral NOW, then get thee to the employee assistance program to understand your own motives.

Yeah, I'm a university administrator.

Carolyn Hax: And, as Officer Malone memorably said, "Who would claim to be that, who was not?" Thank you.


Philly Followup: I guess I have trouble asking things of others b/c I don't want to put anyone out or be one of those demanding high-maintenance pushy people. I also have a hard time communicating my feelings in general, although I'm working hard on improving myself in that area.

Maybe I think I'll ask for something that I think is innocuous but he'll think is a real trial. In which case, I guess I should know now whether he's able to deal with some give-and-take, huh? Maybe that's my answer and I'm just too much of a wuss to open my mouth and find out?

Carolyn Hax: Why not open your mouth and find out you're not a wuss?

By the way--sometimes the best way to get good at communicating your feelings is to find someone who responds well to them.


Re: doesn't miss dating: Yikes! That was a huge slam on dating for those of us that are out here doing it, and I hope that poster's negative opinions didn't get anyone down. I'd never think of dating as "wasting perfectly good energy"-even dates with guys that I discover aren't right for me are still opportunities to meet someone interesting and do fun things.

Carolyn Hax: The point was that for each person who's pining for those days, there's another for whom the memories are a cue to self-medicate (not that anyone should try this at home). Not everything is for everybody, nor is every opinion.


Re: Anonymous (suicidal): Also should note that she probably won't need "vacation time" to get treatment -- sick leave normally covers this.

So she should check her employee's handbook, and see if they have an employee assistance program or a union that could help her.

(Of course, she should quit or let them fire her if she has to -- getting real help is most important.)

Carolyn Hax: Yes yes yes. Thank you.


Divorce: I feel bad for all these people who ended up divorced, but seriously people, I find it hard to believe that their partners changed that much. If you "need" something to feel loved, make damn sure you're getting it upfront, otherwise it's not coming later down the line. (That advice would be for all your readers confused about their current girl/boyfriend and whether s/he's the One.)

Carolyn Hax: Good logic and good advice, except that often people are slow to recognize a "need" until they see the consequences of its going unmet for year after year after year. The backpack isn't too heavy if you can lift it and walk comfortably, right? Okay, now walk 20 miles.


Question: I've never been in therapy but I can understand where "Anonymous" is coming from. I often imagine myself getting into car accidents or cutting myself and bleeding to death. At what point is it advisable to seek help?

Carolyn Hax: Now? Help is not a leap off a cliff, it's a phone call, then an appointment, then a decision to make another appointment, and so on. You can revisit and revise your decision at any time.


Suicidal rights: I work for an HR manager. No WAY can they fire her for this. She has a lot of rights under the ADA. Get help immediately! Your healthcare should cover this and it's in your employer's best interests to ensure you get help. There are LOTS of people that care about you in this world. Just let people who know what to do know that you need help!

Carolyn Hax: I wondered about the ADA here, thanks, but the law is on my staggering list of things I don't know.

Also on that list is whether you're actually an HR person (paging Malone again), so people using this as a legal resource best contact an attorney. And slap their foreheads. Their own, not their attorneys'.


Washington, D.C.: You wrote, "if you're looking to other lives to make you feel better about your own, you're essentially admitting that you want to tune out your own voice."

I essentially agree with that, and yet I often find myself feeling better about a problem I'm having if I realize that I'm not the only one who has the problem. I think it's nice to know you're not the only one facing a given challenge. Is that wrong?

Carolyn Hax: No, and when you put it that way, it does support having a look around. So I guess that means the problem comes when seeing someone(s) in the same situation overtakes, vs. informs, your judgment. Thanks.


Washington, D.C. Area: I have to go back to work and put my 8 month old in daycare. I feel like I'm NEVER going to see him anymore. Why does it feel like this? Before I had the baby, I worked full time as did my husband and I didn't feel as if I "never" saw my husband. So why do I feel that spending the same amount of time away from my baby is different? I'm trying to reassure myself that it will be okay and will feel normal after a while, but I'm really on the verge of panic over it all.

Carolyn Hax: This is your baby! You knew your husband could take care of himself, you knew you could call or email to say hi, you probably wouldn't care if he learned new words in your absence--and those are just practical reasons things are different now, before we even get into the primal. (Which we won't, don't worry.) I think most people get panicky over baby separation. For some it's fleeting, for some it;s a cue to stay home or postpone the return to work or lengthen the transition or arrange a more flexible work schedule (or whole new job). What you need, you'll need to find out, but I'd start with the longer transition. Talk to the day care provider and ask about options for starting slowly.


"Going cardboard?": You used that phrase last week for a relationship someone feared was about to croak. I like it, but where's it come from? Thanks.

Learn something new every week around here...

Carolyn Hax: From my own twisted mind, far as I know. (Thanks.)


Washington, D.C. (anonymous/get help): When you are depressed, your thinking is dis-ordered. Try not to rationalize why or when or under what circumstances of time off and insurance to get help. If you are sad all the time or think about being hurt/hurting yourself. Just get it.

Carolyn Hax: Can't remind people of this enough, thank you. Depression clouds your thinking and judgment--dials everything to "Hopeless" when it fact it isn't.


Carolyn Hax: Okay, I'm spending way too much time reading questions without answering them, a sure sign my brain is tired. So, bye, thanks for visiting, and type to you next week (also at 12:30, by the way--still making some child-care adjustments).


ideation person again: How do I go to my HR director and ask for help? I do not want to become That Crazy Person, or to lose my job because I can't fulfill it. It's a very small company.

Carolyn Hax: Start with your doctor, who should have resources for you to research this. If s/he doesn't, contact NAMI ( to find someone who can guide through the legalities. Take care.


Going cardboard defined: Used in in an album going platinum...going gold...all the way down to going aluminum ...and even worse, going cardboard

Carolyn Hax: Bummer. I meant it as, the next step is packing your stuff in boxes and moving out.


Single vs. Married: I think it's important not to set up a false dichotomy here - the fact is, single or married, each of us is subject to a number of forces each and every day, and each of us is subject to change, each and every day. In that sense, marriage is as much as state of flux as singlehood; I think some of the comments here tend to pose them as inextricably opposed - safety vs. risk, commitment vs. lack thereof, etc. - when the fact is, we're all at risk, every day.

Or at least that's the way I see it -as a single divorce attorney. Smile, it's Friday.

Carolyn Hax: Now there's the end note I was looking for. Bye for real now.


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