washingtonpost.com
Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 10, 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 ex-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 tellme@washpost.com .

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Carolyn Hax: Hey everybody. Nick is standing here, pestering me. Any questions for him?

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Minneapolis, Minn.: Carolyn --

I am 22 and have, for the past three months, been dating a 36- year-old man. We have known each other for two years (through work) and I am in love. He is everything that I have been looking for, even though my parents/friends are very wary of the situation. He has been married and divorced before and has a six-year-old son (whom I have not met). Am I being too idealistic that this relationship could work? Or is the age difference/life experience difference going to be too much for our relationship?

Wondering.

Carolyn Hax: It's going to be too much.

No, wait! It's going to be fine.

No, wait! You, he, your family and I have no idea what's going to happen.

There. That's it.

All you can do is take great care not to drown out/tune out/forcibly overrule what you're seeing and hearing. E.g., if you're working really hard to get along, if you're not communicating well, if you're dreading visits where the son is present--but telling yourself, "But, all relationships are work ...," then you're forcing optimism where you should instead be doubting the viability of the relationship.

But if you're getting along effortlessly on all complicated fronts, then, enjoy.

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For Nick: Is his dog okay? I seem to recall the last time he participated in the chat his dog had a broken leg or some such injury.

Carolyn Hax: Nick: Zuzu is swell, thank you very much, and in full control of my life as usual.

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Kansas City: Nick --

You ever going to publish your work. Which character is Carolyn?

Carolyn Hax: Nick: I am working on it now. Send messages attn: Janice Shay and I will forward them to her, so she can take them to her pitch meetings.

Which character is Carolyn? I don't put her in that much because most of the people in the cartoons are there in a negative light.

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For Nick: How did you get Carolyn to start on time?!

Carolyn Hax: I'll take that one. He was talking to all my cubemates about his hair and I was fleeing the conversation.

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One for Nick: Nick, how did you get the nut up to be an artist? Did you have to overcome feeling like your parents and everyone around you were secretly thinking that you were wasting your intellect, or that you weren't any good, or that you'd never make money... or is that just me?

Carolyn Hax: Nick: I went through all of those things, from various sources and influences. The truth of the matter is that my father always made me feel like I should do whatever I wanted to do, and could do whatever I wanted to do. And so I did.

My mom did sort of feel there were only two professions in the world--I should be a doctor, or I should be a doctor--but once I felt I had something to say and started drawing, no one was more on board than she was.

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Carolyn Hax: I would add that, if anything, Nick's dad sees office jobs as a waste of intellect. Very creatively inclined-bordering-on-biased.

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Arlington, Va: wait, who's Nick?

Carolyn Hax: Nick does the amazing cartoons with the column. (He also does the first edit on my columns, and helps me read my mail. And he was the first husband.)

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NoVa: Yes, I have a question for Nick.

Nick,

I met this guy with whom I met through a common interest activity and have been only a few times. We went to lunch yet I was assuming the lunch was just lunch as in you pay for yourself as I would if I was eating with my coworkers. But, if he pays does that make the lunch more of a lunch date? I was thinking maybe it's more along the lines of a coffee date, but it was just lunch instead. I realize he could also just of been trying to be nice and pay. But, I would like a guys point of veiw on this.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Nick: I wouldn't assume that. Just based on picking up the tab--I try to pick up the tab with almost anyone. It's a personal hospitality sort of rule. (Go to Crete, you'll see what I mean.)

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Carolyn Hax: There we have it. Lunch is on Nick.

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For Nick, about dog: What kind of dog is Zuzu?

Aren't dogs wonderful?!

Carolyn Hax: Oh, oh, I know this one! Pit bull. So maybe you're buying lunch after all.

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Carolyn Hax: I see none of you asked Nick advice about hair. Good call.

Say goodbye, Nick.

Nick: Ask if any of them want to help paint my house this weekend.

Carolyn: Say goodbye, Nick.

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Veteran's Day: Hi Carolyn!

Vet's day is a floating holiday in my office and most people took today off so it's dead quiet and totally wonderful but I find myself so excited about no one being here and it being a beautiful day out and I have a three day weekend ahead that I can't get any work done. Advice? (I've already gone for a long walk and done busy work that involves no thinking.)

Carolyn Hax: Write us a poem. The worse the better. You have about ... 2 hours.

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Baby Blues: I have to go back to work in March, after maternity leave beginning last June. I know I should be grateful that my company allows me to take off for so long (mostly unpaid). I really don't want to go back. My husband and I have tried to figure out how we can afford for me to not go back (part time is not offered at my place of employment). However, since my salary is a little bigger than his and my health benefits far exceed his, there seems to be no way for me to NOT go back to work. I feel like once I go, I'm never going to see my baby anymore. Can those working mom's out there please assure me that once I go back to work -- and my baby goes to day care -- that things will eventually feel normal and ok?

Carolyn Hax: Working full-time is preferable for some parents. For some, it's a tough sacrifice but worthwhile on balance. For some, it's hell. Of course you will see your baby, and your baby wont' forget you, and all that stuff--but if you want to be home, think harder and try to stay home, or at least find a part-time alternative. Seriously. You do have obstacles, and if you can't clear them go back to the you'll-be-okay part. But you also have time and choices. Why, for example, can't you apply to other companies for part-time jobs?

If anyone wants to weigh in, have at it, just don't hurt me!!!!!!!

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Nick question: If you're the first column editor, which do you say more -- "You might want to tone it down a touch" or "Quit pulling your punches"

Carolyn Hax: Nick: First thing I say is, "No, Carolyn, I'm right."

It's probably an 80-20 split, stop pulling punches vs. tone it down.

Carolyn: Bye, Nick.

Nick: Bye. Thank you very much.

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Carolyn Hax: Nick has left the building.

Thanks, guys. That was fun.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn. What's your advice about getting involved with a 34-year- old man, separated for more than a year from his wife of 12 years (notably not yet divorced), with a five-year-old daughter? I'm 32, single/never married, verrrrry hesitant, but I do like him.

Carolyn Hax: Not knowing any of the details, I would heed your verrrrrry-hesitance. There are definitely steep variations in these situations--from people who still might work things out, to people who are just waiting it out till the legal process makes it official, and everything in between--and so it's not a blanket "Go for it" or "Don't you dare go for it." But if you either don't know the details well enough to depend on them or if you know but aren't convinced, those both override any other concerns.

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Internet etiquette: Carolyn,

Serious question here.

When someone is so mean and rude in Internet chat boards (whether online/in public or expressed offline in e-mails to a fellow member where they state all sorts of inflammatory things), do you think this is par for the course -- "any one of us could be a jerk, and it's anonymous so why not", or, do you think it's another indicator of character: similar to being mean to waiters, kids, animals, etc.

Carolyn Hax: I don't see any difference between the two. We all get ample opportunities to act like jerks and "get away with it." Some people choose to take those opportunities, and some don't, and those choices speak directly to character. The where-and-when details don't really matter.

As you may have figured out by the " ", I don't believe anyone truly gets away with being rude. Do you ever really feel better when you treat someone else like [shneesh]?

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Today's advice: Seriously, did that guy really need to write into an advice columnist to figure out what to do when someone says "promise you won't ever hurt me"? Really? Should this guy even be in a relationship? Has he never heard this before? Dude, here's what you do when someone says "promise you won't ever hurt me": You say: "of course sweet muffin, I would never hurt you, now please let me go to sleep." Lawdy, has he lived in a cave for his entire life?

Carolyn Hax: I am SO glad he didn't go the yes dear/sweet-muffin route. Totally corrosive way to deal with someone you (are supposed to) care about.

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Silver Spring, Md.: If you want to stay home that badly with your baby you should. Alternatively, you could say you will try going back to your job for just a month (looking for part time options during that time) and see how it goes. Once you try it you may end up liking it. Remember, not everyone wants to be a full-time parent. I very much wanted to go back to work shortly after I had my baby, but if you don't want that, very seriously look at your options.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Huntsville: Two spouses: One makes big sacrifices for other's career, moving across the country, working two jobs while other spouse gets MBA, etc. How much does the spouse who now has the MBA owe the spouse who did the two jobs? If the spouse who got the MBA now says, "I don't want a stressful job, I just want to take an easy job at a nonprofit that doesn't pay much," is the spouse who sacrificed justified in being upset and urging the spouse with the MBA to get a job that pays better?

Carolyn Hax: Excellent, excellent question, thank you.

I think the entire answer rides on the attitude of the MBA holder. If, on the one hand, s/he has had a genuine epiphany that business isn't a true calling and that a particular nonprofit is, then I think the two of them jointly work out an arrangement that allows pursuit of The Calling while also alleviating pressure on the two-job spouse--with the MBA acknowledging, appreciating, and even regretting/grieving the spouse's sacrifice. And if an arrangement just can't be made to please both, then the MBA does assume the greater burden with the understanding that any bigger-salary yields will be stashed away as a future liberation-from-the-business-world fund.

If the MBA is just saying, "Well, that was fun, but I could really use a nap," then spouse is fully justified both in being upset and in urging a job that eases the household financial pressure.

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Re: Today's Column: Did you have to be so harsh on the "Please don't hurt me" girl? Sometimes people get hurt badly in previous relationships and really WANT to trust that the person they're with won't hurt them but they want reassurance. Would your answer change if you knew how long they'd been dating? If she says it after a few dates then yes she's needy and horribly insecure, but what if she says it after six months?

Carolyn Hax: I still have a real problem with it, for all the reasons I gave. I can see, "Be patient with me, please," but, "Be nice to me" crosses a line.

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For Baby Blues: Have you and your husband considered him staying home? This might make it easier for you -- no day care to take baby to which shortens your day -- the baby gets to be at home -- some days maybe your husband and baby could come have lunch with you. This might make it easier for you.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I actually thought of this and didn't bother mentioning it b/c I figured she wanted to be home, period. But I shouldn't figure. It's a nice solution when the ideal one isn't an option.

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Washington, D.C.: How would you define the difference between "relationships are work" and "this relationship doesn't work"?

Carolyn Hax: Loving your job, or not.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I just got engaged. I'm thrilled about, family and friends all love the guy. But my best friend, who is unhappily single, has already stated that she will be really upset when I get engaged because it will mean the end of our friendship, I won't have any more time for her, blah, blah, blah. I want to tell her about my engagement (I want her in the wedding) but I am really worried that she will be mean and I will blow up or feel really terrible. I don't think it's a lot to ask that she fake happiness for a few moments. How do I approach telling her so that I can accept whatever she does?

Carolyn Hax: Tell her as you would anyone else. She's your friend, not your interim amusement while you await marriage, and if she's going to have idiotic ideas to the contrary, you're under no obligation to validate them by tiptoeing around her.

Will your friendship change some? Of course. You'll have a life partner, in your own home. if it doesn't change you'll owe your husband an apology. But that's life, not a personal insult. People wed, move, change, make other friends, die. It's sad, but it's not personal, and it's not the end of the world. All of which you can use to respond to her when she freaks out at your news. Or shorten it to: "I'm your friend. Please be happy for me."

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Baby Blues again: Why isn't it "ideal" for her husband to stay home? Is it "ideal" for her to quit her job just because at this moment, facing the unknown of returning to work for the first time ever since meeting the love of her life (her baby, I mean), she doesn't want to?

Carolyn Hax: It isn't "ideal" because the husband isn't dreaming of staying home and desperately running through the numbers to see how he can afford to stay home.

She is. So, it is. I don't think there's really any fine print to scrutinize here.

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For Maternity Leave:: I second the call to go back to work and see how it goes. I was reluctant to start day care for my six-month-old (while still on maternity leave from an academic job -- not teaching now, but I still have research to do), but the truth is that it's been fabulous. My time with baby is still wonderful (and 100 percent devoted to her now), and even better, I feel like a human again. The bonus for me is that my baby loves the interaction of day care, loves to smile and yelp and flap and the other babies. But even if that weren't the case, it's been worth it to feel whole and autonomous and smart again -- which makes me, in turn, a better parent to my girl. Try it out!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. It really is an intensely personal decision, and you raise an important element of it--that the outcome is sometimes a surprise to people who thought they were sure what they wanted.

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To far from D.C. (home): Carolyn,

I'm guessing that the woman who asked him not to hurt her was saying a lot more than just that. It may be that she has really really strong feelings for this guy and can't let herself embrace them and become vulnerable unless he knows that's what she is doing. In other words, she's telling him that she's serious here and if he's not, she'd rather know now.

Just another possibility.

Carolyn Hax: Good thought, thanks. It would be interesting to know the context in which she said this.

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Re: Arlington: Umm, if you're scared of your friend's reaction when you tell her you got engaged, your friendship was already kind of doomed. There's an unhealthy dynamic there.

Carolyn Hax: Well, there's that, too. Thanks.

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Re: Huntsville: Umm, doesn't the supporting spouse kind of just have to suck it up and deal? I mean, why didn't the supporting spouse go out and get the MBA? What was the supporting spouse hoping to get out of the other one's career/education? Unless there was some sort of agreed-upon deal/plan worked out by the pair of them, it's really more of a lesson learned about investing so much in someone else's life path, even when it is a spouse. Plans for happiness and fulfillment change. The supporting spouse needed to acknowledge this risk before becoming a martyr to an undefined cause. The other spouse might simply be burned out and need to regenerate (as it sounds like the supporting spouse needs to do).

I dunno. I just think you can't make sacrifices for other people with the expectation of getting something out of it -- it just leads to disappointment.

Carolyn Hax: I agree with that, but I also think, on the other side, that the sacrificed-for spouse can't make the supporter "suck it up and deal" lightly. That would be incredibly selfish, for the MBA who needs to regenerate to kick back while the two-job spouse, who also needs to regenerate, gets to continue without a break. In other words, yes, you sacrifice not just get something back, but you shouldn't be asked to sacrifice for nothing.

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Country/City: Hi Carolyn -- I'm a big fan and I can't seem to muddle through this and thought you may help out.

I grew up in a rural area of New England, most friends and family live in the area. As a kid, I couldn't wait to leave and in general I'm a city person but these are my most important relationships and visiting once or twice a year isn't cutting it. I also want to buy a house and the cost of a one-bedroom here gets me a mansion back home. Add to the mix that I'm single, most people at home are married and I have doubts about meeting someone in a more limited pool

On the one hand (D.C.): Higher salary, better weather (which is important), City life, Not driving/owning a car.

On the other: Family, Friends, saving money by not flying home so much.

Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: How unrealistic am I allowed to get? Steer your career toward something that allows you to be your own boss or telecommute, buy your New England house--a non-mansion, so you can still afford to rent a little place in DC. It could be a 5-year plan, but five years isn't that long.

Or, move back and see if you like it. DC will still be here if you don't.

I would warn against the I'll-meet-someone-here-but-won't-there mind set. All you need is one person, and who knows where that person will turn up.

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Baltimore, Md.: Hi Carolyn:

While it certainly takes two to tango I can't help being bothered by the fact that my now girlfriend slept with me on our first night. This opens up all sorts of questions about her past. I am sure you'll say I am a double-standard jerk, and her past is irrelevant, but you know realities, and I could not live with the fact my girlfriend was "easy" and slept around. How can I let this issue go? Not sure how I ask her about it?

Carolyn Hax: Outright, so she knows who she's dealing with.

You slept with her, too. I won't indulge anyone who thinks it's more wrong for a woman to have sex than it is for a man. You are showing no respect for her, for her autonomy, for her worth as a person, for her ownership of her sexuality. I would love it if you could read this and suddenly recognize her for being as full a human being as you are, but, barring that, please tell her you're hung up on this so she can keep company with someone who will--even if it's her own company.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn --

I'm not sure what to do. My brother (two years older) and I are not that close, and don't talk that much. His wife and I are close, and talk frequently. (Nothing romantic here, I'm gay and she knows that.) Anyway, it seems from my conversations with her that my brother is depressed and, it seems, as a result of that depression is drinking a lot. Like 4 to 5 glasses of wine a night plus a large bottle of vodka a month (seems like a lot to me). Any suggestions on what I can do to help him without that doesn't make it clear that his wife told me? She's tried to get him into counseling, but be refuses. And he gets angry (according to her) when she mentions that he is drinking too much. Even though we're not close, I am worried about him and worried about how he is affecting his kids (aged 13 and 10 -- old enough to know when their dad is drunk).

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Upsetting situation, I'm sorry.

You have her ear, and I think that's actually enough for you to get involved in a productive way. There won't be much anyone can do if your brother refuses to listen, but your sister-in-law will have a better chance of helping him if she gets help herself. Be it Al-Anon or another support group or private counseling with someone trained to handle addictions, effective "training" for spouses of alcoholics is out there in abundance. Urge her to get some, and, if it makes sense, do some homework yourself.

There are programs for the kids, too; you or she can research them through whatever resources you find for the adults.

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Re: Baltimore: I would love to hear this guy's explanation for why he slept with her if it was going to bother him that she slept with him.

Carolyn Hax: ?

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RE: Baltimore, Md: Uh, hello? Maybe you were just so irresistible that she wanted nothing more than to sleep with you! Maybe it's a compliment!

But if you can't see it that way, she deserves much, MUCH better.

Carolyn Hax: Ha. Well said, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm immensely sad. My boyfriend broke up with me and to cheer myself up some I went to DSW but I couldn't find anything that I even wanted to try on. Not only can I apparently not make a relationship work, I also can't shoe shop. Any words of comfort?

Carolyn Hax: Hang in there--there are other shoe stores in the sea.

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Washington, D.C.: One quick comment for the person wanting to move back to New England -- I have been in a similar situation, and tried moving back where my family was. I was happy in some ways, but lonely, because all of my friends there were married. They wanted to get together for 6:00 p.m. dinners and then be home in time to watch "Lost." I had no single friends in the same boat to go out with. So ... eventually I decided that as much as I preferred the other area of the country for quality of life purposes, my number one goal was to meet someone and in my 30s the best way to do that is to be around other single people. So, I moved back to D.C., where I have a bunch of great single friends. I am much less lonely and have a social life. I would just recommend deciding what your Number 1 goal is: meeting someone and getting married, eventually, having a family, being around your family, being in your favorite location. Because you may have to sacrifice one for another for a while, so it's important to understand what is most important.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

I also don't think it's just a single-vs-married thing. It's about how you socialize. If you like to be around people, even just the hellos when you get your coffee, then family and cheap real estate might not be enough for you. Non-metro-area-suburban/rural life is very different, very car based, very often isolating.

I should really put a disclaimer on this.

Anyway, it's not true of every place, obviously, but I still think individual temperament is more important. You need to know and respect yours and choose your ... zoning? demographics? population density? accordingly.

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Bitter friends: I had a similar experience a while ago. One of my friends and I got engaged at around the same time; a third, who had been dating her boyfriend longer told us right before we got engaged that she was going to be angry if we both got engaged before her. Well, we did, but her manners kicked in and she was gracious when we got engaged.

This girl has also gotten angry at me for not calling and spending hours on the phone anymore, claiming that she doesn't want me as a friend unless I do. (We live 2,000 miles away so we can't get together often.) Well, I did that in college and when I was single; I have a kid now. I'm not "free" except when I'm in my car alone or after my girl's tucked in bed. I've tried calling her when I'm driving, but she gets offended by that -- every call has to be of significant length. And by the time I'm free at night I want to relax and snuggle with my husband before passing out.

I love this girl dearly, but I'm getting very irritated by this. Am I wrong? I just don't want to spend an hour on the phone at 10 p.m. when I could be reading next to my husband.

Carolyn Hax: Did anyone read the Post Magazine piece (maybe about a month back?) about the married woman with kids who resented her unmarried and childless friend for not "getting" her life? I thought it was fascinating because it illustrated that people on both sides can be guilty of closing their minds to lives unlike their own--it's not just the single/childless ones unrealistically pressuring the married/parents.

Anyway, I throw that out there, and yet it does sound like your friend is closing her mind to the realities of your life. (You would be doing the same if you were complaining, "Not all of us have nothing better to do than talk on the phone for an hour," but, yay, you didn't.) Try One More Time--explain that you have nothing left at 10 p.m. so it's not a good time to talk--then apologize for not being able to be a friend on her terms, and let this thing end.

washingtonpost.com: Through Thick and Thin, (Post Magazine, Oct. 8)

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Washington, D.C.: Would it be too silly to suggest for the person missing rural New England to try something kind of intermediate -- like moving to Boston? You get closer to the family, and cheaper visits home, but you're still in a city, with all the attendant possibilities.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think there is a too-silly point in this chat.

But, then, weather was an issue for this person, so that might be the end of Boston "Spring Is for Wimps" Massachusetts.

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Seattle, Wash.: I'm planning to tell a friend of mine this weekend that I have very strong romantic feelings for him. I've decided this because I cannot take it anymore. About a 50/50 chance (in my best guess) that he'll feel the same. Any tips?

Carolyn Hax: Adjust your figures to 99/1 won't share/will share your feelings, then go for it. In other words, say it because you want to say it and you want him to know it, not because you want him to love you back. That would just be a nice bonus.

This will probably take some intense auto-brainwashing, but at least try.

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Alexandria, Va.: My best friend has just announced that she's moving to WI to be closer to her family. She's my only single female friend here in the D.C., area and we keep joking that if we were lesbians we would be "married" with kids. She's made reference to the fact that I'm not tied to this area (OK job but nothing spectacular, no boyfriend) and that I should move with her. On one hand, I'm really tempted: living with my best friend, change of scenery, chance to start all over again with career. But I've also said that moving somewhere to be with someone just to avoid being alone isn't a good reason to move. And that's what I feel I would be doing. But the thought of being alone is terrifying to me. Any way I can weigh these options indiscriminately in my mind?

Carolyn Hax: After she moves there, go, visit the place, see if you get that I-have-to-live-here feeling you've probably gotten on some vacation or something. If it still feels like you'd be moving just out of fear (or if you feel you'd be overly dependent on your friend) then trust it and stay where you are. Remember, you don't have to decide anything now, or even a year from now.

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Atlanta, Ga.: I'm single in the big bad city, and all MY friends are married and want to get home early to watch TV, pay the babysitter, etc.

I don't know if it's a city/country thing as a universal getting-older kind of thing.

Carolyn Hax: I'd call it a [bleeping] exhausted kind of thing. But then I'd need another disclaimer.

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DSW Failure:: The woman having shoe-shopping failure could go get a new haircut ... more dangerous, but doesn't last as long.

Carolyn Hax: Doesn't last as long, but can't be shoved into the back of the closet and forgotten, either. At least not without painful consequences.

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Los Angeles, CA: Carolyn,

In your Nov 3rd column, you had addressed the case where an angry boyfriend who locks his girlfriend out of the house by saying that he is "a person of poor character" and pretty much telling the girlfriend to leave him.

Now, what would you say if the roles were reversed? What if the girlfriend locks out the boyfriend when they fight because she feels threatened by him because he is bigger and stronger.

And let me add that the boyfriend does get loud and angry but has not ever done anything to physically harm her.

To me, it's understandable that the girlfriend may feel this way, but I feel it's still the girlfriend mistreating the boyfriend.

Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Those aren't reversed roles. That would be the woman locking the man out because she couldn't deal with him. And that would make her abusive.

Anyone locking someone out for fear of physical harm gets an immediate pass, unless the idea is so ludicrous that it's clearly a manipulative tactic.

And, anyone who gets into any of these situations and doesn't make changes or end the relationship, but instead goes back for more of the same, is a fine candidate for counseling, regardless of which side of the door he or she finds him- or herself.

Fair nuff?

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Weather: This has to be the first time I've ever seen D.C.'s weather be listed as a positive thing.

But I kind of liked the weather when I lived in New England, so what do I know?

Carolyn Hax: DC weather is a plus for 9 of 12 months. New England weather is a plus for ... about 7 of 12.

(This is for people who like seasons, not people who like year-round 75 and sunny. A k a, wimps.)

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Boston, Mass.: I need to know rules on calling after hooking up with girls. Went on a first date on Saturday, she spent the night at my place (no sex, but close). Nice enough girl, but I'm really not interested. When should I have called her to tell her?

If I were interested, when should I have called her?

How bad is what I'm doing?

Carolyn Hax: When did you decide you weren't interested? If it was still Saturday, then what you did was pretty bad--you shouldn't have encouraged her (in any way) to spend the night. (If she had then said, "Hey, I don't like you, either, but why let that get in the way," the angels would wink and leave you to it.)

If you were interested, then you'd call later that day to say you had a great time. Leave game-playing for the kids.

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Who we are: It seems to me that people transition from single to married with a good approximation of who they were before. My friends are incredibly important to me and always will be. Family means we speak less, but I still make a point of keeping in touch. Those of my friends who, when they got married, stepped off the edge of the earth were the ones who never really had returned phone calls. Life changes, the ebb and flow changes, but the spirit (whatever it was) stays true.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, but also factor in the individual circumstances. A friend in med school or who works 80-hour weeks will be there for you far less than one who works banker's hours; a friend with one easygoing child will be there for you more than the one with a special-needs child or three circus candidates in diapers; a friend with a social or career-absorbed spouse will be out and about more than one who marries a homebody--unless they have kids, when the reverse can be true.

Which can all be said in way fewer words: Base expectations on other's lives, not just your needs.

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Dupont, Washington, D.C.: I've been going through a rough patch lately and after weeks of trying to deal with it myself, I opened up to a few friends. They've been great, concerned and all of that. The problem is my issues just aren't going away yet and I can feel myself getting depressing to hang out around. I'm trying not to be and I don't force these deep talks on them whenever we see each other, but I just can't be as carefree as normal.

How do I stop myself from getting to be one of "those" people who no one wants to hang out around? This funk won't last forever, I know that -- I just don't want to be a burden in the meantime.

Carolyn Hax: Sometimes friends can be a comfort just in the distraction they provide from your own crap. Will that work here?

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Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: I've been with my boyfriend for three years but lately I've been having feelings of wanting more freedom and a chance to be carefree. I'm only 25 and there's a part of me that feels like life is passing me by. However, I do love my boyfriend, so I'm wondering if the feelings I'm having are normal and will subside over time. Should I stick it out and wait for this to pass, or should I take this as a sign that it's time to break things off?

Carolyn Hax: Unless you have a moral obligation to stay where you are, please promise me that you'll never, ever suppress your inner urges to get out and get more out of life. It's regret in a can.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Carolyn,

Love your columns/chat. In a recent article, you said couples should get married when they don't want to/think marriage will change anything about the relationship besides give it that piece of paper that makes it "official." I might be wrong, but I seem to recall you said earlier that you're not a big fan of cohabitation before marriage/engagement. How do you reconcile the two? (I'm not trying to challenge; I just really respect your insight and was wondering how the two go hand in hand.)

Carolyn Hax: I said I wasn't a big fan of cohabitation as an oh-well-whatever alternative to a real commitment. As in, "I'm not sure this is someone I'd marry, so we'll just move in together."

Reason being, SO many people get mired in these mixed-stuff, I'm-on-the-lease, can't-afford-to-leave, thought-we'd-be-married-but-s/he-keeps-saying-s/he's-not-ready swamps--and some even get married knowing they're not in the best relationship because it's too painful to move out. Awful.

So, when people ask about this, I advise moving in together when they would both be okay if living together were an end unto itself--or, alternately, if they are engaged and ready to marry but just want to see how day-to-day life is (if they've lived some distance apart or something). The important thing is that the couple be like-minded and thinking long-term.

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Arlington, Va.: "Leave game-playing for the kids."

Oh, but Carolyn, you of all people should know that dating involves lots and lots of game-playing, whether we know it or not AND whether we like it or not.

That's why I hate dating, because I can't stand the inevitable game-playing that comes with it.

Carolyn Hax: NO NO NO. You can refuse to play. Really. It might not always "work," but it will always work in the sense that you're not playing games.

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Failed Shoe Shopper: Try shopping for purses. If you like one, you can just buy it without worrying if it will pinch your toes ...

Carolyn Hax: There's some ingenuity.

Holy 2:41. Bye, seeya, thanks, type to you next week ...

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RE: Carefree: That's good advice, unless she has a history of ending relationships every time she gets bored. I had a friend like this in college, who didn't seem to understand that every once in a while you'd go through a patch where your S.O. just didn't totally enthrall you.

Trouble with that is that she would break up with them only to realize very quickly thereafter that the problem was really that she was stressed about work or something, then she had two problems ...

Carolyn Hax: Still means she needs to grow up, and so isn't ready to be in committed relationship. Right?

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