Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 17, 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.


First kiss at 30: Carolyn, you answered a question from a guy in one of the earlier chats who never kissed a woman. You told him to just go ahead and do it on a date, and move on from there. Would your advice be the same for a woman? I am 30 now, grew up with an abusive father and had very little social interaction as a teenager. After many years of therapy I finally dealt with the worst of it, and feel comfortable enough to consider a possibility of a romantic relationship. But even the thought of how a first kiss would go freaks me out. Some of that is "I probably will be bad at it", and some of it is that I am afraid that either the old fears will come back and I will overreact by pushing the guy away, or that I won't know how to read the situation and will send out signals that will land me in trouble. How do I move past this?

Carolyn Hax: The same way, really--just go with it. Women do have it slightly easier because they aren't expected to initiate kisses the way men are, but the essence is the same. Accept that it probably will be awkward, but also that awkwardness isn't the terrible thing we make it out to be in our minds. If you fumble, just say, "Sorry, I'm new at this." It's so much more disarming than it is off-putting.


First Date: Carolyn,

I went out with a guy last night, it was our first date, and the first date I've had in a while (moved to a new city, recovering from surgery -- not a lack of desire/social skills), and it was really fantastic. It was all, in fact, perfect. When I woke up this morning, though, I started running through every minute of it in my mind, sure that somewhere I messed up, did something wrong, or that he did, but... nothing. Yet the nerves haven't gone away. We have plans to hang out Monday (his family is in town this weekend). I know he likes me. It all looks good, and then...

...I checked my e-mail. He sent a great e-mail about how he really likes me and he's really looking forward to Monday (yay!) and: "One important thing to note is that we are a little different when it comes to sex. I am what some people might refer to as "polyamorous". Hopefully that's at least partially OK with you. I usually make sure I let people know these type of things early on!"

I'm guessing polyamorous means he dates multiple people, and I'm guessing from context, that he sleeps with multiple people, too. I'm not a virgin but I'm definitely a monogamist. Now what? I want to talk about this and figure out what the deal is, and he's opened the door for the conversation, but what do I say? What I want to know is, if he meets the right girl will he become monogamous? Or is that just not who he is? I will say, his straightforwardness about it before we slept together means something to me. I think he's a good guy. I'm just not sure what to do now.

Thanks for doing the column and chats! They're great.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. I think all you can do is put your questions to him directly, and be grateful he's giving you the chance to have this conversation. Poly, as I understand it, means he will not become monogamous, but clearly I cannot (and will not even try to) speak for him. I say this only so you can adjust your expectations.


Washington, D.C.: Dear Caroline,

A few months ago, I cheated on my then-girlfriend-of-three-years. I broke it off with her soon after I cheated. Since then things have become increasingly serious with the person I cheated with. I am not proud that I cheated, but have wrestled things out with myself and am beginning to figure out why it happened, realize that I don't want it to ever happen again, and slowly forgive myself. The problem: I'm worried that my new partner will have a hard time trusting me because he knows that I've cheated in the past. While I realize that a healthy does of "you've made your bed, now lie in it" is in order, is it worth bringing up with him that I realize that I may have to work hard to gain his trust but that it's very important to me? Or should I just let sleeping dogs lie?

Carolyn Hax: That's a dog that should no be ignored. Get it out in the open, just the way you suggest. Not talking about it can give the impression that you don't want to talk about it, which can give the impression that you're secretive and therefore not trustworthy. Plus, not all cheaters are saddled with the distrust of their mates. When mates are privy both to circumstances leading up to and the emotional reckoning that followed, they not only are in a good position to trust you, but also even feel closer to you. These are really just the mechanics of earning trust, and your reckoning has to be sincere for that to be true--but, to bring this full circle, your openness is a good sign of sincerity.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn, I'm really hoping you can help me this one.

I just found out that my mom is having an affair with a married man. My dad died about 15 years ago and I've never known her to do anything I'd consider to be immoral or unethical like this. She seems to think that, as she grows older, her options are narrowing and she might as well get her happiness from whatever source.

I can't get over it though. My brother thinks it's some kind of postponed mid-life crisis and I should stay out of it, but I'm really upset about it. It just seems so wrong to me and completely beneath her to become "the other woman."

With the holidays coming up, I'm just not sure what to do...I don't want to alienate my mom but I also don't want to condone this situation.

Carolyn Hax: It's not your place to condone it. Love her, don't judge her, and if--and only if--you're put in a position personally to set aside principles (say, if she asks you to lie for her or host the happy couple), then you can take a stand, if that's what you feel you must do. I would also suggest you ask questions before you shoot--"seems to think" is not the same as really knowing what's going on.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn,

I was recently diagnosed with anxiety attacks. Turns out I've had them all my life, only everyone thought they were bouts of motion sickness (that happened to hit before traveling? Anyway). Now that I have an engagement/wedding to worry about, they've gotten much more frequent.

A behavioral therapist has been really helpful with the attacks themselves and with trying to fend them off in advance. But I was wondering if you or the 'nuts had any tips for dealing with the generalized, daily anxieties that build up before they solidify into something worse. I'm open to suggestion and not sure what to try: exercise? yoga? basket weaving? massage?

I need to get out of my head; my head is doing me no favors. Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure you'll find advocates of exercise, yoga, basket-weaving and massage, but I'd like to cast my vote for not setting yourself up with situations that will make you anxious. For example, do you need to subject yourself to the kind of engagement/wedding that will push all your buttons? Can't you just hold a bunch of daisies and say your vows in your favorite place with your two favorite witnesses?

It's probably obvious from my track record that I think everyone should scan their lives for incidents of societal-herd behavior that isn't in their best interests, but you're a better than usual candidate.


Cheating: I'm not sure if I followed the pronouns correctly in the cheating one, but it sounded like the person either is a guy who cheated on a girl and is now dating a guy or is a girl who cheated on a girl and is now dating a guy. Either way, seems to be that the new guy might be able to view that instance as a one-time thing brought on by confusion with regard to conflicted sexuality.

Carolyn Hax: That's how I read it. Circumstances and reckoning.


Springfield, Va.: Carolyn,

The Thanksgiving season signals the start of the Annual In-Law's family downward spiral of depression, self illegal medicating, boozing and general weeping and wailing over the 3rd yr December annivesary death of the Daughter who was 35 who died from chronic boozing and self medicating. I know grief never really goes away, and this seems heartless, but it really is an unhealthy spectacle to deal with, and I don't want to subject my kids to again for the third yr. It was awful when it happened, but it's hard to explain to my little ones why Daddy's family seems to fall apart so dramatically and drastically for the holidays? There is no option of not visiting, so do I just curb our time there and hope for the best or what?


Quiet Dignified Griever...

Carolyn Hax: There -is- and option of not visiting. There is -always- an option of not visiting.

Not that it's your only good option. Witnessing this spectacle with proper, age-appropriate voice-over from their parents can actually help your little-but-someday-big kids. Tell them your family misses Late Relative, and either now or over time use it to talk about (healthy) ways people express grief. If your kids aren't eventually on to the difference between your family and the in-law messed-uppedness, they will be the first.


Polyamorous...: Wow, where did the poster meet this guy, I wonder? I agree it's good he was upfront, but I'd wish he were even more upfront about it, like disclosing before they even went out.

Carolyn Hax:"Hi, I'm Mark the Poly."

I think he did just fine.


Washington, D.C.: Any advice on ways to bring up the subject of STD/HIV screening with a potential partner? It's a topic we all need to feel comfortable addressing, and while the rehearsal of such conversations go well in my own head, the real conversations I've had tend to come out rather jumbled and awkward. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Back to the first question: Jumbled and Awkward are our friends! Or at least not the enemies we make them out to be. We'll never evict them so learn to expect they'll show up for dinner, and hope they're at least good for a laugh.

If it helps, you could announce it as good news, you want to sleep with this person.


For Anxious in Brooklyn: I've suffered from anxiety attacks all my life. One method I learned through therapy that really helped was to try and put things in perspective. The situation won't nearly be as bad as you think it well. Reflect on all the times you've been anxious before - they generally went fine, yeah? And even if it does go as a disaster, it won't really matter in a little while. Plus it gives you entertaining stories! My best stories relate to the complete mess of things I made at Thanksgiving when I was 15 - we still laugh over it.

Taking a couple moments to close your eyes, take deep breaths, and relax your shoulders helps too.

You'll get there, I promise. Just try and relax and let things happen.

Carolyn Hax: Great, thanks.


Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn - I want to address an issue in your forum that I feel is serious yet, I am not sure how to confront it. I am a very fat woman. I am ok with it/working on it for my health, but have always been heavy (since the age of five) and live my life anyway. This includes finding a man who loves me, not in spite or because of my weight, but because he thinks I am pretty darn cool and cute as a button (it's the freckles that do it). At the age of 36, I really love my life and yes, it would better for me, nicer to my husband (who is not fat and is in fact fairly fit) if I were to become fitter. That said, I have gotten the feeling from people like I don't deserve to have the wonderful life I have because of the choices about lifestyle and food related to my weight. My husband and I have discussed the issues and did before we got married and he understands that if I don't lose weight, I am going to die young and probably not in a pretty way. And yes, if I don't do something about it, it is fairly selfish in terms of what he will have to do for me. But isn't that between me and my husband and don't fat people deserve love too? I am sorry if this is a bit rambling, I have had to put up with people making me feel less than from the time I was in elementary school ("oh you have such a pretty face", but honey, shouldn't you lose the weight) and I have come through with more self-esteem than women who are 1/2 my size. I just want to know, why is it ok for people to not only think I don't deserve love/happiness/etc. but to openly talk about it in front of me and my husband.

Carolyn Hax: It's "okay" for the same reasons it's "okay" for people to ask why single people aren't coupled, coupled ones aren't married, engaged ones aren't marrying someone better for them, married ones aren't having kids (or are having them, or are having them so slowly, or are having them so fast), divorced ones aren't dating yet (or are dating too soon), young ones are dating old, old ones are dating young, religious ones are thinking too narrowly, nonreligious ones are going to hell, thin ones aren't eating enough, vegetarian ones aren't eating meat, carnivorous ones aren't eating more justly, SUV-driving ones are acting ugly-Americanly, hybrid-driving ones are acting preachily ... have I given everyone a chance to wince yet?

I'm not saying this to bury your point about people's sanctimonious attitudes about weight. The issue does seem to bring out our worst. But it's the worst in a crowded field created by our seeming inability to resist sharing the fact that we know what's best for everyone else.

Which is, obviously, never "okay." I'm sorry you've had to hear so much of it.


Scars: Hi Carolyn. Love your column and read it religiously, even though I'm out of the area now. I recently went through a through a pretty bad depression and was frequently cutting myself. I got therapy and am on medication, but still have scars on my legs. I am extremely worried about people seeing them and asking about them. This recently happened when I was getting a massage (a better way of trying to relax than my previous method). I certainly don't want to tell everyone about my history, but I'm just not sure what to say? Do I lie? Say it's nothing? Anything you or the peanuts have would be helpful.

Carolyn Hax: How about, "Ancient history." It says 1. you're okay and 2. not sharing any further, thanks.


Virginia: Is watching James Bond not very feminist?

Carolyn Hax: Watching James Bond even though you hate it because you don't want to upset your boyfriend is not very feminist.

Feeling like you can't watch James Bond because you're female is not very feminist, either, if that helps.


For Brooklyn, N.Y.: : I was diagnosed with GAD about five years ago. I would literally faint during stressful times. With the help of a good doctor and a support group, I learned how to help myself:

1- Excercise. It's a great stress-buster. For me it was aerobics 2x/wk and basketball 1x/wk.

2- Also, I figured out my trigger: train tunnels or any place dark where I could not see a way out/escape. My trick for that? Count backwards from 100. By 3's. I'm not good with math so that took all of my attention away from what was scaring me.

Hope this helps.

Carolyn Hax: Brains are fascinating. Thanks.


Link from last week?: Carolyn,

Last week you mentioned an article in the Post magazine on married/single friend relationships. Any chance the amazing Liz could post a link to that article? Thanks! Through Thick and Thin, ( Post Magazine, Oct. 8)

Carolyn Hax: Right, almost forgot--thanks, Liz.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

My mom lives in Northern Virginia, and my husband in I in D.C. I love my mom dearly, but she can be overbearing (something my husband is very aware of) at times.

He told me today that he doesn't want to spend every holiday with her, which I find a little awkward (we see her about once a month otherwise). She will be by herself if we don't go, and he has no living relatives.

I feel caught between the two, and would really appreciate your opinion.

Thanks a lot!

Carolyn Hax: Your husband is entitled to some holidays free of his mother-in-law. Being alone is not the same as being tied to railroad tracks; she'll manage. If you and your husband can swing an out-of-town trip for your first holiday alone, that might ease the transition.


For Anxious: I have suffered from panic attacks since childhood. Similar to the other poster, I use the "worst case scenario" method. When I get panicky, I think to myself, "what's the worst that can happen" and then I back up from there. No matter what situation I'm in, it is NEVER the worst case scenario, and as a result, there are always little things I can do in the moment to lessen the stress. For me, the anxiety is the worst when I feel out of control. Making small changes when I can makes me feel more in control, and thus, less anxious. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Sounds great even for the non-anxious, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Would it be inappropriate to e-mail my ex-boyfriend's mother to ask for her pumpkin pie recipe? He and I broke up over the summer and are not really speaking right now, but his mother and I always got along well. We e-mailed each other on our own while her son and I were dating, but haven't been in touch since. It was the best pumpkin pie I've ever had! I broke up with him, though it was mutual, so I don't want to rub salt in anyone's wounds...

Carolyn Hax: Anyone have a recipe for the best pumpkin pie they've ever had? I'm sure the email would be harmless, but, still, you broke her son's heart.


Manassas, Va.: Hi, Carolyn:

I'm not sure you can help me answer a "fashion" question, but here it goes:

I made some January reservations for me and my family at The Homestead resort in Virginia. I understand there is some sort of "resort dress code," although I'm not sure what that means. I've never been to an "upscale" resort before.

We (wife, 2 children, moi) are seeking for a relaxed time where we don't have to worry if we are underdressed or not.

Are wearing jeans considered part of an "informal" dress code? What would be considered "formal," short of wearing a jacket and tie (for men) or a dress (for women)?

Thanks for your help!

Carolyn Hax: Call the Homestead. Really.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

(online only please) How does one handle chain-smoking in-laws on visits? I try to ignore it and sit close to a window when we visit (about once a month), or suggest sitting outside (an idea they have never taken me up on). Usually after a few hours closed up in the house with them, I start to feel sick. They really are heavy smokers - like 2 packs a day. I secretly gave my husband "the look" and he hurried the visit along so I could escape the smoke. I know the MIL is self-conscious about the state of her house, which, while messy, doesn't really bother me. It really is just about the smoking - but she spoke to my husband over the phone a week later and mentioned how she knew that we didn't like to visit her and that I hated her house, and that she could tell we were uncomfortable during the last visit, and she knew we wanted to leave. I am a bit embarassed now to visit, and I will be extremely on edge, worrying about our relationship. I can't do anything about my physical response to the smoke, and I really try hard to ignore it. And she is obviously has issues with her house that she is projecting on me, issues that are unfounded. She did pick up on my discomfort, despite my efforts to mask it, yet I don't think it would be polite to tell her that the reason I need to leave is because of the smoking. How do I handle this?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think it would have been okay for you to say, "I'd love to finish this conversation but the smoke is upsetting my stomach," and step outside for 5 minutes--especially if you came back in and did finish the conversation. It's so much better than letting her think you don't like her or are repulsed by her housekeeping. Smoke-aversion at least is physiological, not personal.


Through Thick and Thin: I'm the single friend with the job in D.C. and my friend (who married young and very well) just had her first baby half way across the country. How do I keep from wanting to scratch some eyeballs out when she says "when you have a child you'll learn...."? I really want to say "when you're independent and provide for yourself you'll learn...." (It should be noted that I already know all the things she says I'll learn if I have a child. Family is important, tricks to get the kid to sleep....I learned these things a long time ago!!)

Carolyn Hax: Depends on how good a friend she is. If she's not usually like this, treat it as a blip and indulge her. "Yah, I guess I will learn, thanks." If she has shown a tendency to get like this and it's killing an otherwise great friendship, then point out what she's doing and remind her you're not a complete moron. (Even though, of course, you don't know what you'll learn when you have a child; what you do know is that life will be different. Check. Got it. Okay to move on now.)

And, finally, if this has always been a friendship of effort and she has always been smugly inclined, then it might be time to introduce yourself to the beginning of the end.


Washington D.C. from last week: I wasn't around for the chat last week but I wasnted to respond the man who wrote in about his brother's drinking problem. In addition to the groups you pointed him towards, I want to encourage him to spend as much time as possible with his brother's children. My father had a (very scary) drug problem but my uncle's house was an oasis for me: I was loved and respected and safe. I can't overstate how important it is for a child in a chaotic home to have some stability in their lives.

Carolyn Hax: Glad you responded now, thank you.


re: pumpkin pie: Kim O'Donnel swears by her tofu pumpkin pie (check her blog/chats.) Kim's Tofu Pumpkin Pie

Carolyn Hax: I'll have to defer to Kim on this.


Chain Smoking: Hax -- Your suggestion was good... but what happens if/when they have kids? its really NOT healthy for any of them to be inside the house at all!

Carolyn Hax: It's not healthy for the adults, either. But when there are kids, they tell the chain-smokers sorry, no smoking or can't visit. I don't think anyone is harboring the illusion anymore that smoking isn't harmful; that's partly why I think the poster should just admit it's the smoke, instead of suffering and/or misleading in an effort to be polite.


Bacon pants?: Is another Christmas poem being composed soon?

Carolyn Hax: I think the turkey elves need to do their thing before the Christmas-poem elves are allowed in the workroom. Watch this space for an announcement.


Through Thick and Thin: I wonder if the new mom with the single friend is having a hard time with new motherhood and the obnoxiousness is a sign of her insecurity?

My sister when her son was a baby went through a phase of giving me unnecessary lectures and advice - but I found out months later that she was feeling like a terrible mother, not sure she could do it, having a hard time with her partner, etc. And I think she was being such an authority because she was so sure she was screwing it all up.

Carolyn Hax:[fwap] This being the sound of my palm against my forehead. Thank you.


Creepy or welcome?: I saw Zach Galifianakis on Wednesday in Chapel Hill and it was EXACTLY what I needed. Lots of laughs and seemed like a fun guy in general.

When my husband and I were driving home, we saw him walking alone down Franklin St. I really debated stopping to ask if he wanted a ride. I'm mom-like that way. Would he have been creeped out? What if I had talked about what a fan I am of your column? That would have done it, I bet.

Carolyn Hax: Then he would have fled, and sought counseling.

Same thing happened to me after Politics & Prose talk this May--I was walking down CT toward Van Ness Metro stop (I figured either a cab would come or I'd get a nice walk) and someone offered a ride. I was grateful, not creeped out, but also did not and would not say yes.


It's gorgeous out:...and I have to stay another hour and a half. Is it wierd that I'm reading the Chicago Manual of Style (15th Edition!) to pass the time?

Carolyn Hax: Not if your only other choice is the 14th Edition.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Can you think of any tactful, nonoffensive way to tell my father-in-law that we don't want him driving our children around? My husband and I both agree he drives erratically and fast, especially on highways. I'd just hate to put my kids in a car with someone at the wheel who I wouldn't want to ride with. The f-i-l does have some accident history, but, unbelievably, nothing lately. Should I just chill out? Avoid these situations -- how? Help!

Carolyn Hax: Plan around him whenever possible, and admit your reasons only if there's no other way. Just don't put your kids in his car only becuase you;re afraid of hurting his feelings.


You don't know what you'll learn when you have a child;: Really? Even if you babysit (I know, I know, totaly different) for days at a time, have always been around kids, have a fairly good imagination, etc. Why not?

Carolyn Hax: Because it's still not this thing you signed onto for the rest of your life.

But please don't see this as exclusionary you-can't-possibly-know-ism, or even a tacit endorsement of it. It's just something I don't think imagination can translate completely. Like burying someone you love, or even just visiting a country vs. moving there.


Happy Feet: Hey Carolyn!

I really want to go see the movie Happy Feet but none of my friends will go with me. Am I a loser if I got by myself tomorrow afternoon or I am just a loser because I'm 30 and going to see Happy Feet. I think I can handle the latter!

Carolyn Hax: You'd be a loser only if you didn't go to see Happy Feet just because you're 30 and would be alone.


re:cutting: My sister has a similar situation and always responds with "active live style."

Carolyn Hax: That works, thanks.


You won't know until...: Okay, so maybe you won't know things until you have a child of your own. But doesn't that mean that the things you know will likely be unique to your own experience in so many ways that listening to someone tell you their own as if that's the version you'll get is a wee bit annoying?

Carolyn Hax: It's thoroughly annoying, which is why I said I wasn't endorsing you-can't-possibly-know-ism (or however I said it). The point was simply that its being obnoxious doesn't make it wrong, necessarily. It's just something that really shouldn't be said for many reasons, including that it's smug, it can be inaccurate (who knows what someone else knows?), it's a divider, not a uniter ...


Fashionable Fella: Is it odd for a man with whom you are close but not currently in a relationship with tell you what style of women's shoes, clothes, physical characteristics he likes? It's like he'll check out my shoes for example (which are very stylist, mind you, I'm an avid reader and follower of Vogue!) and announce as a general conversation topic that I know he doesn't like say, stiletto heels. Am I supposed to assume that I can't wear them in his presence? Is this man inspecting because he's got "ideas" in his head? For what it's worth, yes, he's straight. And also surprisingly very stylish for a non-metrosexual type.

Carolyn Hax: Odd would be not wearing them in his presence just because he said he didn't like them--or his expecting you not to wear them. Actually, not so much odd, but subservient/controlling.

In general, though, I think his criticizing a style you happen to be wearing is rude, if that's what he's doing. If it's not about your clothes sepcifically and he's just making conversation, I guess it just says he's versatile.


Re: Scars: I know i woman who was a cutter. She went through some really rough times, but is doing extraordinarily well now. She has scars up and down her arms, and she confidently wears t-shirts and tank tops. She is a teacher in a high school now, and on a few occasions her scars have made her seem trustworthy enough for students to ask her to get them help.

Of course people ask her where they came from and often rudely, but she answers honestly and unflinchingly in the same way that I explain that a scar on my face came from trying to fly as a toddler. She has moved beyond being embarrassed by it. I think Carolyn's answer is a great deflection, but I hope with time you can gain strength from the experience like my friend.

Carolyn Hax: I can't help it, I have to make another "Defending Your Life" plug here. There is so much to be said for growing beyond the need to deflect/apologize/whatever--but also so much empathy (and good company) for those who aren't there yet. Thanks.


Carolyn Hax: That's going to make sense to, maybe, 2 people. Sorry.


Wondering: Carolyn,

I heard somewhere that 90 percent of guys would cheat if given the chance with no risk of discovery or reprocussions. Do think this is true? It's been bothering me.

Carolyn Hax: I heard somewhere that the only relationship in which fidelity really matters is your own.


What Do I Do?: (Online Only, please)

My friend hates her job and all she does is complain about it. I've encouraged her to look (though she only wants to apply for the perfect job, not any job that will get her out of the toxic environment). I've suggested temping or quitting and making finding a new job her priority. But she's still at the job and still complaining.

I can't listen to the complaining anymore. It's making me really negative and at this point, I even avoid my friend.

I want to tell her that while I love her and support her, I've told her what I think she should do and I can't listen to her complain anymore. But I feel like saying that is totally unsupportive. What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: She complains. You say, okay, what do you plan to about it? And if she doesn't have an answer, tell her it's getting hard for you to help her when she won't even help herself.

Or, alternately, mentally release yourself from the burden of helping her fix her problem. Instead, consider that maybe she just wants you to listen. If you can be her ear knowing that;'s the limit of your job, then, great, and if it's driving you nuts, then try just changing the subject.


Texted Out: If a guy is willing to send you little text messages and e-mails but can't call you and ask you out, that's a bad sign isn't it? We've been out once at my invitation (after an akwardly long e-mail exchange) I can't imagine he doesn't know I like him because I turn into a giddy mess around him.

Carolyn Hax: Could go either way. It's one thing not to like phones, it's another to hide behind text messaging for anything potentially socially awkward; I've known versions of both. That he won't even call in the early stages is not promising, but I think you need time to know for sure.


Ugh-ville: I'm a doormat. Please could you give me pointers on how to learn to utter the word, "no" when someone puts me in a tough position?

Carolyn Hax: You have to be willing to be the meanie, and that means assuming you'll be disliked for it. Usually I think the outcome is better than expected--in fact I think doormats tend to be lonelier in the end, with a lot of insubstantial friendships--but the only way you're going to say a believable but not snarky "no" is to detach yourself from your need to please everyone.

Very general answer, I know. Specifically, what I think you can do is either just start saying no, or, if that's too counter to habit, start saying you;'ll get back to people--then take the time to figure out what you really want before you respond. Seems to me a lot of bad yesses are impulsive ones (which is why we have telemarketing).


Texting Guy: It's just that I get all giddy around you, and I stammer on the phone--please don't hold it against me!

Carolyn Hax: Call anyway.

Theme chat, love your inner dork.


Re: you'll learn when: In defense of the people who say "you'll learn," sometimes they are responding to equal pomposity from the other side. I was at a brunch with several friends, only one of whom has children. She was describing the difficulties of toilet-training and said "We've been reduced to bribing him." One of the other women said, "Oh, I don't believe in bribing children." Which is all well and good, but at this point solely theoretical. Maybe she'll hold to it, maybe she won't--right now she has no way of knowing. (Also, this is someone who is prone to pronouncements based on her imagination, and often discounts other people's real-world experiences.) So the mother said, "Wait until you have children." Was it pompous? Maybe, but it didn't come from nowhere.

Carolyn Hax: I agree that anyone who doesn't have kids and has the parts to say, out loud, "I don't believe in [kid thing here]," is asking for it. I also think, "Wait until you have children," is what usually comes out when one's jaw is on the floor. But, boy, it would have been swell if the mother had been able to say something like, "We could all learn from you."

That's just what I always wish I had said in those situations.


Colorado Springs: Re: kids in the house and smoke. When I was growing up in the 60's, everyone smoked around their kids. I remember riding in the station wagon, windows up, with smoking parents. Somehow I lived and the (prospective) g-kids will too.

It's not ideal, but what in life is?

Also, now might be the time to re-visit the question above about sanctimoniousness....

Carolyn Hax:... and at school we played on "jungle gyms" on "blacktops," and there were no child car seats, and we biked without helmets. I know, I lived that childhood and sometimes make your argument. But that doesn't mean I drive my kids without a car seat or let relatives smoke around them. It stinks, it makes a lot of nonsmokers queasy, cancer susceptibility is not a certain thing to determine by any stretch, and, last but not least, any relative at this point of cultural awareness who insists on smoking around kids is too self-absorbed to be indulged anyway.

What it does mean is that if my kids get a cloud of smoke in their faces from someone outside at, say,a park, I'm not going to make a mean face at the smoker or ask extra-loudly what kind of idiot smokes at a park.


I don't like phones: And when I was dating, I'd suck it up, call, and explain quickly: I hate talking on the phone, lets get together again soon.

The only interaction that should count is in person. All the rest: phone, internet, etc. is just to facilitate and create excitement for getting together in person again.

Being bad on the phone is OK. However, using texting and email to avoid face-to-face is very bad.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

Time's up. Happy Thanksgiving, guys, thanks for everything, and type to you in December.


Washington, D.C.: Is it ever a good idea to date a highschool boyfriend? Even 10 years later? Married mine.

Carolyn Hax: Cool.

Never a good idea to rule someone out just because you met in high school. How's that.


Dallas, Tex.: I hope the woman whose "friends" did not show up for Thanksgiving last year has a much better holiday this year. I have been thinking about her and wish her well. Man, check out the memory on you.

Carolyn Hax: Agh, meant to post this early! If you're out there, can you write to us next-next Friday?


Stilettos: What man doesn't like stiletto heels?!

Carolyn Hax: Men who dig the librarian thing. Maybe that's for the beginning of a chat, too.


I don't have kids and I do think it's valid to say I don't believe in bribing kids: because my parents never bribed us.

My "credibility" is from living with good parents. My ideas are not far-fetched or naive, but based on primary, successful expereince. LIsten to me, my parents were cool, smart, fair. Don't dis me just 'cause I don't have kids, I DO have some good, proven, successful expereince and methods.

Carolyn Hax: But nobody asked you to share them or to judge someone who's obviously struggling, so it's still not valid to share them, right as they may be. And, on that front, you haven't tried them yourself, which means they're still beliefs that you'd best keep to yourself unless -explicitly- asked--in which case you still preface them with, "My parents used to ..."


continuing the "you'll learn": The last poster reminded me of a conversation I overheard in my office. A woman with no children spent quite a while spinning a tale about "when I have children they will go to bed early because evenings are my special time with my husband..." I stayed inside my own little cube and laughed my head off. What can you say in the face of such ignorance? She wouldn't have listened anyway!

Carolyn Hax: Snort.


"My parents never bribed us": is not going to have her parents' kids to raise, but her own, who will be unique individuals, and what worked on her parents' kids may not work with her kids.

Carolyn Hax:3:10 p.m. This was so good I had to get it into the transcript. Thank you.


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