Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 6, 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.


Anonymous: Any suggestions on leaving work at work? Cooking, reading, exercising, and television helps me wind down, but when I finally go to bed, I end up thinking about the e-mail I need to send off tomorrow.

Carolyn Hax: Try keeping a notepad next to your bed. Knowing it's all written down sometimes frees your mind to stop thinking about stuff.

Or you could watch bad movies in bed for the distraction. Or, you know, other stuff.


Raleigh, N.C.: Carol,

Great advice and exchange of suggestions. Thanks to you and the chatters. Here is my question:

Do I have a potential lover or a telephone buddy? What do you make of a man who calls virtually every night, but with whom I've only gone out a hand full of times since August? Sometimes he'll say "when can I see you?" We'll discuss possibilities, but then it doesn't happen. We went out last Friday and had a blast. He called on Saturday to tell me how much fun he had, but didn't mention when we could get together again. He has young children with whom he spends considerable amount of time or so he says. My friends think that he is probably dating around. I'm trying the wait-for-the-man-to-ask rule. Should I be the instigator of plans or just wait?

Carolyn Hax: The small kids could explain it, the dating around could explain it, a few other things could explain it. Would be nice, though, if he were the one to explain it. I don't think it has to be a declaration of clinginess if you were to ask, why so long between dates?

I also think rules should be put through the shredder, lit on fire and backed over by very large cars. (After the flames die of course.) If you have something to say or an invitation to make, just do it, please. Scaring someone off is not a disaster, it's incompatibility caught early.


Arlingon, Va.: Caorlyn how do I get over my sister's divorce? I am so incredibly angry with her husband for how he has treated her and the way in which he so quickly gave up on their marriage. I don't live near them ,but if i did I would be scared to run into him for fear of what I might do to him. They were together for 10 years (started dating in high school), married for a little over two and as soon as they hit a rut he gave up and refused to get counseling or work any more as he claimed the has already tried to change thing (by try he means making suggestion without ever having a real discussion about just how unhappy he was with things.) In addition he places all the blame on her. She admits she has faults, but he is equally, if not more, at fault for any problems in their relationship. The hard thing is that no one ever saw this coming. He was someone that my family respected and liked a lot , he really was a member of the family. I am trying to support her and help her through this so i have not contacted her husband, but I really want to give him a piece of my mind, not for the sake of him coming back as I know I cannot change him, but just to vent and get him off his high horse. Would that be a terrible thing to do?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. Unless you heard these things from him, you don't really know that everything you "know" is true. People are complicated. Marriage, as the product of two people, is at least doubly complicted. As someone who once thought well of him, you owe him at least some nod to that respect/fondness, ideally in the form of a door propped open to other possible interpretations of what happened.


Athens, Ohio: From today's column: "Lost respect is hard to restore, but, regardless of outcome, the effort always pays for itself."

How does one go about restoring respect?

Carolyn Hax: If you're the one who has lost the respect of others, then it's really just a matter of getting your [act] together. Obviously the details will be different in different situations, but the general idea is to start taking care of yourself, saying what you mean, meaning what you say, treating others honestly--all the things that, in the negative, will turn people off, quickly.

If you're the one who has lost respect for someone, there's much less you can do (since you can't make a person take care of herself, mean what he says, etc.). But you can make a genuine effort to look at someone in a different light, and also consider the possibility that you're judging the person too harshly.

Does that make sense?


Divorceville: Help! I'm meeting with a divorce attorney Tuesday, but in the meantime I have to live with my husband who will not leave our house. He won't get out! The loan's in my name. We argue constantly. He doesn't want the divorce. He's started drinking more. And I'm afraid to leave him with our pets. What do I do? Temporarily move out? It's my home and I don't want the courts to give it to him. I also don't want to remain in a house with a very angry and unreasonable person. What do I do between now and Tuesday?

Carolyn Hax: Off the cuff, I'd say get the pets to the home of a trusted friend (or even a safe boarding kennel) and call 1-800-799-SAFE for suggestions on what to do to safeguard your assets without compromising your safety. I'm sure others will write in with suggestions but I can't check anyone's bona fides in this forum, and also I believe marital property laws differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and so I think it's best to follow a cautious course of action. I wonder too if you can't get in touch with your attorney-to-be to ask about resources/advice to get you through the short term. Please write back to update us.


Re: Sisters divorce: Does it change things that when he started feeling upset about their marraige he found a shoulder to cry in the form of another woman? and that this went of for a few months before she caught him (no physical realtionship just mental cheating)and that he has since started "hanging out" with this other woman only 2 months after things blew up. I just can not muster up even an ounce of repect for him.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry your sister is hurting. I'm also sorry I can't offer any satisfaction for you here. I don't know what transpired in their marriage, and neither do you--and what we do know is that he got out of his marriage pretty quickly after his feelings went somewhere else. That can be a sign of a real jerk going off to chase the better deal, but it can also be a sign of someone trying to do the right thing under excruciating circumstances. Would you want him to stay with your sister if he didn't love her any more? I'm not saying this is what happened. Often, though, that is what happens and no amount of counseling is going to fix that.


Bethesda, Md.: I feel like I'm being tested. My wife of three years offered to get breast implants as a birthday present to me. I've already stalled away the opportunity to believably tell her not to get them. I dread it coming up again.

Carolyn Hax: The real question is, what are you prepared to give her for your anniversary?


RE: today's column: Carolyn, you responded to the question as if the guy was saying he was in a series of go-nowhere jobs and that he didn't take employment seriously . From the way it reads to me, it sounds like the wife is the one changing jobs all the time and those jobs are going nowhere. Am I interpreting it wrong?

Carolyn Hax: Yes. "She's a highly driven med student."


Takoma Park, Md.: Carolyn: Please give me some assistance. My only sibling and I have always gotten along famously, better than most I would say. We are on opposite sides of the same problem, my immediate family has been afflicted with fertility problems and my sibling's immediate family has had unwanted pregnancies. We are trying so hard to be kind to each other, but the grass being greener on the other side has gotten almost surreal. How do you weather such disparities, especially when they are on the same issue?

Carolyn Hax: There is no disparity in how you are treating each other. Neither sibling is doing anything deliberately to hurt the other sibling. Your problems are of circumstance, unfortunate but not germane. How do you hold accidents of fate against someone? Now, if one of you is throwing the difference in the other's face, then that would become grounds for hard feelings.


Implants: "stalled away the opportunity to believably tell her not to get them"?


Carolyn Hax: Meaning, a guy who really thought she was better without them would have said so on the spot. Meaning, he's busted. If you will.


Me again: But he says "following her around." That sounds to me like even though she's driven, she doesn't stay in one place for very long. she doesn't sound very stable. Maybe she should put down the books and get a job.

Carolyn Hax: Most recent med student of my acquaintance needed three cities to get the training done, and wanderlust had nothing to do with it.


Metropolis, USA: Today's column about the "partyer" is about drinking. He has thrown in other issues to camouflage the drinking. End of story.

Carolyn Hax: This sounds more like it. Thanks.


Re: divorcing sister: Honestly, I know this may sound mean, but she needs to mind her own business. She can commiserate with her sister, give her a shoulder if she needs one, and offer any other support, but she would be absolutely out of line to say anything to the husband. First, what if they somehow reconcile? Then she's the sister-in-law who meddles. Second, even if reconciliation is not an option, the sister may not want her to say anything. Marriages and divorces are intensely private and emotional things. The worst thing that can happen is for someone who isn't involved and doesn't have all of the facts to get involved. It has to potential to make things uglier for the sister as well- the husband may believe his wife set it up and any hope at a civil, if not amicable, divorce goes out the window.

Carolyn Hax: It doesn't sound mean, it sounds dead on, and I hope she's thinking clearly enough to listen--ultimately for her own benefit, but also for her sister's.

You brought up a point I meant to add myself, too. I get a lot of questions about the phenomenon of siding with a friend against an ex, only to see friend and ex inexplicably and ill-advisedly get back together. At least from the third=-party perspective.

This sister-in-law is living the first stage of that problem. Her sister is in on all the nuances of the marriage and of its failure, and so she has the ability to get past the bad feelings, build on the good ones and theoretically either reconcile or just salvage a friendship with the husband. The sister-in-law, meanwhile, gets only a second- or third-hand account of the marriage (and a biased one at that), and stays angry at the ex forever after. So much better just to remain mindful that you don't really know all the facts.


Cherry Hill, NJ.:. Re: Implants in Bethesda -- Shouldn't he tell her she should only get them if she wants them for herself and not as a gift for him? That's a bad reason to get them.

Carolyn Hax: This is what I would have typed if my brain weren't in a drawer. Thank you.


Washington, D.C.: For the guy whose wife offered to get breast implants: it's never too late to tell her that it's her choice and she should do what makes her happy, whether that involves implants or not. Better yet, tell her you want something else for your birthday, but when her birthday comes around, offer to pay for her implants if that's what she wants as HER present.

Carolyn Hax: Even better. Tx.


Baby Stuff: My baby just rolled over for the first time while I was reading your chat!!!!!!

Carolyn Hax: Left, pro-implants. Right, anti-implants. Or is it the other way around.


Washington, D.C.: I hear lots of women talk about "changing" their men with a straight face. Some laugh it off as cute. Most do it with a bit of self-consciousness.

What is up with this? Men don't go around as often talking about how to change their women. Why is it acceptable the other way around?

I mentioned to one friend that my fiance cleans the bathroom and she congratulated me for having him "well trained." As if I was in there showing him how to do it.

What gives?

Carolyn Hax: It's not acceptable, and men do it, too, they just don't talk about it as much. We're all just a bunch of power-mongers and control-freaks, albeit, fortunately, with varying degrees of success at keeping the impulses in check.


Re: Breast Implants: JUST SAY NO! Better late than never dude. My wife sprung this question on me a few weeks ago and I was quick to tell her how much she did NOT need them. Tell your wife this (and believe it) and she is likely to give you another present you'll enjoy a lot more.

By the way ladies, though they may look good, the rubbery feel of the fakes is nothing to compare to the tactile enjoyment (was this subtle enough) of a real human body.

Carolyn Hax: Dude, some of us are trying to work here.


Send me to the doc, please.: I haven't been to the doctor in about 10 years. I'm 38, an otherwise sensible person, but I have a big block about this. I need to go! I feel fine but think I may have a lump in my breast, and I'm scared. I have a family history of diabetes, hypertension, and depression. I know I'm going to hear that I'm quite overweight, so that shouldn't freak me out -- I AM overweight and eager to do something about it. I even know of a good doc -- my partner is very happy with his. But my last experiences with physicians were very unpleasant (inappropriate touching and sexual comments and come-ons from one, judgemental comments on the fact that I'm divorced from another while I was IN the STIRRUPS for chrissakes). PLEASE kick me in the butt, Carolyn! Why can't I just do it?

Carolyn Hax: Go, bring a buddy or ask that a nurse be present during the exam, or both. Doctors are there to treat, not judge--and your health issues (whatever they may be), meanwhile, are there to stay, not scurry off to someone else because you don't want them any more.

That's as hard as I'll kick--open-toed shoes today.


Georgia: Carolyn, What's a smart, independent, feminist young woman like myself to do when she finds herself in love? My boyfriend is a great person and partner and I find myself daydreaming about our future (wedding, where we'll live, where we'll each work, when we'll have kids. and yes we have talked about this stuff so this isn't all one sided). With all the other boys my attitude has been if he fits in MY life -- grand, if not -- oh well. But with this one I want to be with him and I'm not against compromise or giving a little bit of somethinge else up for that. Does this mean he's a keeper??

Carolyn Hax: Not until you're ready to usher your feminism into a more mature age. It's about being as free as anyone else to be the person you choose to be. It's not about plowing down every man, diamond mine or lace factory you find on your path. (Unless of course that's the person you freely choose to be.) Being strong and independent means you have the power to compromise (or not), vs a mandate to cave.

Better get off my high horse--hard to reach the keys.


Breast implants - no: Keep in mind that the feeling in the breast will disappear and may never return. They could catch fire a la Mrs. Doubtfire and you'd never know it.

Not to mention that surgery has risks and scars and even "routine" surgery has non-routine consequences.

Carolyn Hax: The asbestos ruff makes a comback. Thanks.


Just wondering...: Has anyone ever written in describing themselves as a "dumb, independant feminist"? Or "dumb, hard-working man's man"?

Carolyn Hax: I'm waiting for "self-important professional."


Anonymous: Hi Carolyn,

How do you get over the fear of opening up to someone? I know the "if you can't be yourself, it's better to know that upfront" logical, sane response to this question, but somehow it keeps translating in my head as a reason to withdraw from the guy I like, and think, "well, hey that guy over there seems friendly, so I should go hit on him when things over here don't work out."

Carolyn Hax: It's one thing to be logical and sane, it's quite another to just stand there and get hurt, which is essentially what I advise people to do. So it's natural for your mind to start looking for evacuation routes when you see pain or humiliation coming.

The thing is, though, we put ourselves in these positions--in your case, being with the guy you like--because it's often the first step toward something we want even more, and getting there requires clearing a pain-and-humiliation obstacle. So if you ever want to get close to a guy you like, you're going to have to make yourself vulnerable to rejection. certainly you can proceed slowly and await reassurance that you're not being reckless with your own feelings, but at some point you have to let go and let the other person know you care. That's when you open yourself to get smacked, and if you avoid it every time, you never get close to anyone. That simple.

I think it's also that simple that you don't get over the fear of opening up; rejection will always hurt, so you will always fear it. The trick is not to be so afraid that you don't do it, and my best suggestion there is (sorry) just do it. Open up, get hurt, eat ice cream, apply hard lessons, try again.


Carolyn Hax: I could have taken longer with that one only if I'd napped at my keyboard. Sorry. Couldn't get the words out.


Ringless Engagement: We're engaged. I don't want/need a ring. Why is it the first question people ask when I announce is "can I see the ring?" It does't make me rethink wanting one, but I can sometimes see people thinking, "Is he being cheap or are they pretending to be engaged?" Or maybe I'm just being over sensative.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, a little. Just say you chose not to have a ring. People are just used to saying what they're used to saying in response to news.


Implants: For your birthday, I promise to never again stare at another woman's chest....

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! But my birthday's in December.


Richmond, Va.: Dear Carolyn: Help me draw a line! After my parents' nasty divorce, my dad left me with over $11K in student loans that he forced me to take out in my name when I was a sophomore in college. He told me then that he would pay them off, but as soon as I graduated he suddenly decided my mother should pay them, even after financially devastating her in the divorce settlement. It was her choice to pay her half without taking out loans. I love him, I miss him, but I am sick and tired of being the weapon he uses to punish my mother and this is the straw that broke the camel's back. I told him I never want to speak to him again, and I don't know if there's forgiveness in me. Is this the right thing to do?

Carolyn Hax: If you're asking, probably not, and it does seem like a decision made in the heat of passion. You were put in the middle of some ugly stuff and that in itself is grounds to be angry at your father, but lopping someone out of your life is rarely a satisfying solution to a problem. What the satisfying solution is, you're going to need to find out for yourself--it may ultimately be a full lopping--but until you put in the time and thought and perspective, you're always going to second-guess. You might be able to expedite the thoguht and perspective with some competent counseling. Please consider it. It's hard to understand family stuff, standing so close to it.


A loyal follower of the chat: Carolyn,

I met a wonderful guy online and we've been out for a few times and each time we enjoyed each other tremendously. Although I would have loved that we saw each other more often but that's ok and he's not pushy in that regards.

Without getting into too much of the details about him, I like him and want to see more of him. But I found myself not being able to trust him as much as necessary at this stage of getting to know each other. I also don't want to end it simply because of that. What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: End it simply because of that. No trust, no point.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, I've written before about this, but I'm hoping that this time you'll be able to offer some advice. I'm having a really hard time moving on. I'm in love with one of my coworkers. We're friends and we're both single but he's not interested in me romanticly at all. I love having him in my life -- he's a great guy and he inspires me to try to make myself a better person. But I'm having a lot of trouble dating- I find myself comparing any new guy to him. This isn't infatuation; he's not perfect and I can see that clearly, but I can't help feeling that we would be great together. I see him almost everyday- how do I move on and stop feeling this way without looking for a new job and losing him from my life entirely?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like that might be the best thing for you, in the long run.

But if you decide to stay at your job, maybe this will help: Someone who brings out the best in you is a great partner. Someone who inspires you to try to make yourself a better person sounds like an exhausting partner. The line between these may seem like a fine one, but I see it as the difference between liking yourself and wishing you could be better, and the latter gets really, really old. So maybe he's not the be-all you've imagined.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Someone screwed me over. Time passed and now I'm not angry anymore. I still have no desire to speak to this person. Have I forgiven? Or just moved on?

Carolyn Hax: How about, "lived and learned."


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn:

I really appreciated your column today, as the BF and I have had tension lately around similar issues. My Q is this: What if you are willing to take on the supporter role, but your partner either doesn't believe you mean it, or doesn't want you to do it, thinking that you should follow every opportunity? I'm not umabitious at all, its just that I am much less ambitious than him.


Carolyn Hax: It means he doesn't respect your choices, and that's serious. Put it to him that way, and ask him to show you that respect. He may just be so programmed to see success as the only form of success (it's the culture, stupid) that he genuinely thinks he's looking out for you. Make it clear that listening to, understanding you and supporting you is the way to go, vs. pushing you to be someone you're not, and seeif he comes around. Good luck.


Dallas, Tex.: My boyfriend is taking me to meet his parents in a couple weeks. We will be staying with them. Ordinarily I would definitely bring a thank you gift with me for letting me stay in their home. However, his parents are quite wealthy and I'm not sure that I could give a gift that would measure up. I am barely scraping by and could not afford more than say a $30 bottle of wine. I know they have so much more nicer things. What do I do? I want to give something to show my appreciation but I'm afraid that it would only highlight the differences between us which is definitely what I'm trying not to do.

Carolyn Hax: You don't give a gift to add to their collection or net worth, or to provide this [wine/chocolate/pair of candles] because they couldn't afford to if you hadn't given it to them. It's the um thought that counts. So, the gift of wine is, "Here's a wine I like that I thought you might like, too." The gift of something homemade is, "Here's a family recipe I thought you might enjoy." Don't let money cloud your vision when you're with them, re this or in general. They're just people.


Washington, D.C.: (Online only please) I am a law student, my husband works in another field. In the time that we have been engaged and now married, friends and family have made "jokes" about him being a gold-digger or me wearing the pants.

He ignores these comments, and says as long as he and I don't feel that way it doesn't matter. I used to respond that marrying someone with $200K in school debt was a bad way to be a gold-digger, but I am trying to minimize sarcasm. Trouble is, what do I say? I feel like jumping in to his defense just perpetuates the situation. Is it possible to respond politely to rude people?

Carolyn Hax: Sure. That's the best way. "Please, enough with the flattery," is the first response that came to mind. (Actually, second; first was unprintable.) Because they are insulting you to your face--but don't have the parts to say, "There's nothing attractive about you except your income"?--you're certainly entitled to call their attention to it. Enjoy.


Therapy: At what point do you know you might need therapy or professional help? If you are depressed because your life is sucky, then it doesn't seem like therapy would help. But how do you know if the problems in your life aren't going away because you are depressed or you are depressed because of the problems in your life?

Carolyn Hax: I think you're trying to talk your way out of therapy. Being depressed because your life is sucky often happens b/c you make bad choices or carry around guilt or repeat self-defeating relationship patterns--all of which could be remedied by a good therapist. You go when you can't put your finger on why you're uhappy, or when your own efforts to turn things around haven't been effective.


Carolyn Hax: Plus, depression affects your ability to judge your ability to address your depression. It blocks your vision. So, I could argue that anyone depressed could benefit from a trained, non-depressed set of eyes looking at the problem(s).


Re: Codependent No More: I was there for a guy while he was messed up (issues with confrontation, depression, etc.) and you know what? He didn't choose to be with me after he finally got healthy. You know what else? He probably would have gotten help without me. I might have made it easier for him, and he did thank me for that, but it REALLY REALLY sucked to have him not want me after he was finally healthy. I wish I hadn't wasted my time.

Carolyn Hax: Is that really how you see it? Surely you must have been drawn to helping him for the sake of helping him, on some level? I just wonder why you were attracted to him in his messed up state to begin with.


time's up: are you immensely relieved every friday at 2:00pm?

Carolyn Hax: 2:19. Relieved b/c I need to recaffeinate. Otherwise I've come to enjoy the abuse (some days are touch-and-go, but it;s usually my fault). Thanks for coming, and type to you next Friday.


Skip the gift and actually write a thank you: Seriously.

A nice handwritten note is pretty rare and a bit more meaningful than a generic candle.

Carolyn Hax: Seriously. Thanks.


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