Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 1, 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 an 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.


Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I have been dating for over a year. From the beginning, every Saturday night has been "guys night" whether it is just him and a friend or five or more guys. We don't see each other often during the week, so I cherish our time together on the weekends, but am bothered that we part ways every Saturday. His friends and I get along, and even they have on occasion invited me out. But my boyfriend is inflexible in keeping these two parts of his life separate and maintaining that Saturday night is his. I'm torn between just letting it go because it is important to him and accepting that it is important to me to be included in that part of his life. Not that I don't also have plans with friends on Saturdays or that I would want to be around him all the time. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: It strikes me as a bit rigid--and therefore a tacit statement that he intends for no woman to change his life--but I also can't rule out that, if i heard his explanation, he has some good reasoning behind it. I think you're the one who knows--whether he's being a he-man-woman-hater holdout, or if this is an extension of an admirable part of him--because you;re the one who knows the context.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

My father, who was terminally ill for two years, passed away a few weeks ago. My parents' anniversary is coming up in about a week -- it would have been their 31st -- and I was wondering what I should do for my mom. Would it be appropriate to send my mom flowers? What would you suggest? Since she lives 3,000 miles away, I cannot do something in person, like take her dinner. Thanks for your help.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry.

Flowers, sure, and maybe also a letter with a favorite memory about your dad.

Call, too, of course.


Weighty People: Why do people think it's OK to "poke fun at" how thin people are (who are simply thin, not anorexic, etc.) yet it is against the law to "poke fun" back? I have always been relatively thin, but still in the average category. New person keeps talking about how I must not have problems doing this and that. I just think WAAAAYYYYYYY too much time is wasted in this country worrying and discussing body size when we could be doing pretty much anything else. Am I wrong?

Carolyn Hax: No, you're right. Except: The reason you don't "poke fun" back is that retaliation is bad behavior even for grade schoolers out on the playground.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I've been dating my boyfriend for over a year now (I'm 25). Everything is wonderful, except that the passion has really gone out of our relationship for me. He has struggled with impotence, and he's working on it, but somehow along the way I just don't feel the same attraction anymore. Sex will just never be as important to him as it is to me. We're pretty serious, and he has been talking about marriage, but I really miss the passion that I've felt in previous relationships. However, in every other aspect, he is perfect for me. I am so scared to break up with him because I can't imagine meeting someone else who understands me so well, who I have so much fun with, and who I can spend days on end with and still be excited to see. I just don't know what to do -- do you have any advice?

Carolyn Hax: If you want scary, try being in your 10th year of not getting any, and staring down 40 more.


Wichita, Kan.: Hey Carolyn,

MOST AWKWARD MOMENT EVER. Last night my husband and I had dinner with a guy my husband wants to do business with and his wife. It was the first time we'd met, so things were a bit uncomfortable, but they seem like nice people. As we finished the meal, my husband mentioned that we were happily expecting a baby next May. A couple minutes later, the wife excused herself and was gone a LONG time. The husband started to look worried, and then told us she'd had a bad miscarriage last week and this was her first evening out. We said how sorry we were, and minute or two later followed his lead to change the subject -- to the weather, literally. A while later, the wife returned and had obviously been crying. We tried to keep the rest of the conversation on non-painful subjects (travel, hobbies, whatever) and the dinner broke up soon afterwards.

Question: Was there anything we could have done differently/better? My husband and I both felt TERRIBLE about everything, and so very sad for causing this lovely woman more pain. We didn't want to say anything directly to her, because she so clearly wanted to keep her pain private, but we felt like complete jerks. Thoughts? Peanuts?

Carolyn Hax: How awful. I suppose you could have checked on her in the bathroom, but 1. that's with benefit of hindsight, and when you're in the midst, you don't know how long the "long time" will turn out to be until it's over; 2. that could have been presumptuous and made things worse had she really been intent on keeping her pain private; 3. the best thing might still be just acting a warmer version of normal next time you see her. Sort of the unspoken, hey, we're sorry, hope you're okay.


Retaliation in a different way: Hi Carolyn,

I agree that retaliation is bad and childish. But how does one know how it feels unless they experience the same thing? While I don't necessarily agree in "an eye for an eye", how does one "walk a mile in my shoes"? Sorry for the cheesy and less than helpful quotes. And thanks.

Carolyn Hax: To assume that people can't unsderstand you unless they've been you is to assume people are all self-absorbed dorks. And while some (okay a lot) are, some are also fully capable of getting the gist of something despite not having lived it themselves. Pain is pain, pretty much interchangeable. Register pain on your face, a non-dork will get it.


Holiday Chat?: When? I can't wait!

Carolyn Hax: Good question. I'm on it--I just emailed my dad for the pub date of TNBC 2006.


Miscarriage: If your husband is hoping to do business with the man, he may have an address...what about sending a simple sympathy card?

Carolyn Hax: Great idea, thank you.


Seattle, Wash.: You said, "If you want scary, try being in your 10th year of not getting any, and staring down 40 more."

I get the gist of this, but I still have to disagree. The writer said this was someone she has fun with, who understands her so well, and who she is still excited to see day after day. I'd change your response to "If you want scary, try being in your 10th year with someone you don't want to share your day with and staring down 40 more." Things happen physically or mentally that change our interest sex in our ability to perform. If the boyfriend was physically incapacited, but all those other things applied, would you still think that, in and of itself, was a reason to leave? I'd rather be with my husband than any person on this earth, sex or not, because he is fun and funny and bright and kind and not only "gets" me but acts on that knowledge. If I had six months to live, I'd want to spend every day of it with him, even if George Clooney were standing in the wings with bedroom eyes. And I say this after 15 years of marriage.

Carolyn Hax: I get the gist of what you say, too, and I agree that it's a special hell to dislike someone you live with. But three reasons I wouldn't advise her to live by your words. 1. She's not you; she's already keenly feeling the loss of a physical life. 2. Making peace with something you choose is not the same process as making peace with something dumped on your lap. I.e., choosing a wan sexual relationship is not the same as choosing a hot one only to have your partner become incapacitated. The former takes you to the unholy land of What Ifs. Which brings us to 3. She's 25. This is a young age to decide to do without. Not that she's not mature enough, just that time adjusts all of our priorities for us--what is aging but an endless lesson in doing without?--and so if she's not sure, she shouldn't force a decision, but instead wait till more results are in.


re: retaliation: Well, but it's not really up to YOU to be their teacher!

Carolyn Hax: Point taken, but we as herd members are all responsible for "enforcing" the bounds of decent herd behavior. Cut off other cars in traffic, and people are on their horns ... act like a jerk, and you'll be friendless (at least theoretically), right? That's the same thing as being the jerk's teacher, just a bit more subtle/anonymous.


Not working and Loving it?: I am not working right now. My husband relocated and I am looking. He is not "pressuring" me since we have enough money to live and I want to do something "different".

I find myself feeling lost and not motivated. Why can't I spend every waking minute on my projects? I feel like a loser. I am used to being very focused and getting A LOT done every day of the week. Now -- I am just relaxing too much. THe house is SPOTLESS and the car is clean but why can't I harness my skills and start my business?

Carolyn Hax: As long as you're not depressed about it and your husband isn't growing resentful about it (keep those lines open, pleez), why not enjoy it? If you're going to relax, then relax, don't ruin it by wringing your hands about your productivity.


Baby Talk: How about don't discuss such personal matters with a potential business partner? Do we need to share everything with everyone? I mean, the wife is four months pregnant? Really there was no need to share and it's another example of people sharing too much too soon before they know anything about other people. Sorry to rant. I am not pregnant, have not just miscarried, am not trying to get pregnant. It just seems like this was a massive case of oversharing. "Hi, nice to meet you, I just had a breast enlargement!!"

Carolyn Hax: True, but swatting people with rulers for a little giddy sharing doesn't seem like the answer, either.


Too embarrassed to state my location: He's 29 and living with me (I'm 47). He has been "borrowing" my credit cards behind my back. Yet I have this weird terror that if I throw him out I'll have decades of lonely celibacy ahead of me. How can I get myself a backbone?

Carolyn Hax: This guy makes decades lonely celibacy sound like winning the lottery. Please ask yourself where you got the messages that 1. not having a mate equals loneliness and 2. your own company, interests and social circle are punishment, not gifts.

You know you better than anybody. And, you can take care of you better than anybody. Time to throw yourself into these things, and really start taking some pleasure in them. And if you can't, even when you really try, please ask around for a reputable therapist.


Not working: Perhaps you're just not the type of person who thrives in that kind of situation. I worked really hard to set up a contract where I could work from home. After a week I realised I had made a huge mistake. I need an imposed schedule, I need a change of scenery, I need other people to keep me productive and creative. My imagined dream of working for myself ended up with a lot of low production and lots of disapointment in myself. Maybe try a part-time job to help structure your time?

Carolyn Hax: Good thought, thanks. So much unhappiness (in so many arenas) comes from trying to do what we think we're supposed to want, instead of what suits us.


ixnay on the sympathy card: The wife in question may not want all her husband's potential business associates knowing/thinking about her loss. The apologies to the husband were appropriate and the next time they see the husband, they can inquire about the wife's health. She's probably embarrased about her reaction. But unless the couples are friends, a card seems like a bit much.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: Carolyn,

I have everything in life I ever wanted: two great kids, a nice husband, home, financial security, etc. And I hate my life. My kids are little (3 and 1) and every minute of every day is about their care or about work. From the moment my one-year-old wakes up at the ungodly hour of 4:45, I hear the drumbeat: get up, get the kids out the door, get to work because you're late, work harder and faster because you're falling behind, race home in traffic because the kids are tired and need to get to bed. Every minute of my time is spoken for and I often contemplate running away. This is the life I wanted but I hate it. Advice?

Carolyn Hax: Hard to say, because there are two answers: 1. Suck it up/get used to it/[offstage hysterical laughter from the small-child-rearing public], since most lives with little kids are exactly what you describe. (Although, for stay-at-home parents, it's little kids from 4:45 to bedtime, with no interruption for work.) They are living, breathing, burbling vacuums of need, and there's no way around it till they get older (not much older; even 4 is a dramatic improvement on 3).

2. If you're going under, don't be ashamed to admit it, since toughing it out and losing your mind is no favor to anybody. It also means 1. doesn't apply and you need to get help.

That help can be in the form of: support from other parents of small kids; treatment for depression; shorter hours at work/new career/break from career; nice husband works shorter hours/gets new career/takes break from career; a babysitter to help you with the a.m. or p.m. rush or both; a date night every week with your spouse ... I could go on but I hope you get the idea that applies to you.

No matter what you decide on, actually, I would urge talking to parents of older kids. I think they'll tell you that these years are just hard hard hard and they're so worth sticking out.


Sympathy Card: I disagree. I received cards from people I barely knew and was really touched by that. The people who bothered me were the ones who just ignored it and acted like nothing happened.

Carolyn Hax: Kay. Enough said, thanks everybody. (Well, one more thing--why not just err on the side of kindness?)


Re: Washington, D.C.: I'm married and we've faced issues in the bedroom like impotence. I think the key in deciding to stay or not is your partner's willingness to try to work things out. Have you let him know how important this is to you? If he's given up dealing with impotence or he's just not that concerned about it, that should make you think twice about staying. But if he sees how important this is to you and is doing all that he can, that's another thing altogether.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you!


St Paul, Minn.: I disagree with the person who said they shouldn't have been talking about the upcoming baby. It was dinner with spouses, not a business meeting in the office. Of course, personal things would be discussed. I don't think anyone did anything wrong here. One couple was happy; the other was sad. Everyone behaved like humans.

Carolyn Hax: Quick, avert your eyes ...


Miscarriages: At the risk of being flamed back into the stone age, I ask this question. Truly, I'm not trying to be insensitive, I just want to try and understand. I was always under the impression that miscarriages are natures way of saying the fetus should not mature into a human being. What, if anything, happens physically to women who have miscarriages that makes it so traumatic for them? Are the emotions driven physically or is it just different personal reaction for each woman? I have a new 35-years-old girlfriend who definitely wants kids and miscarriages have occurred in her family before. I may be a bit anal retentive, but I'm trying to be prepared for it just in case. I certainly don't want to be insensitive if it happens to us.

Carolyn Hax: Far better, I guess, to ask us this question ahead of time than to pose it to someone in the throes.

Don't think of it as physical, though hormones do play in and those are technically physical ... anyway, different women feel different things. Women do bond with babies in utero--it's a little person, their little person, and call it evolution or imagination but there's a real love there. Not in everyone, there's a ramge of normal (the women who don't feel this love usually feel worried enough about it without my help), but it's there.

Also, it's hard for women not to start projecting that one miscarriage means she will have others, or even that she can't have kids. These doubts/fears plus real grief plus hormones = trauma, no matter how "natural" miscarriage may be.


Calgary, A.B., Canada: I was in a 25 year marriage with a man who would not be physical with me. There is a difference between impotence (ED) and low libido, and the second will affect a marriage far more than the latter. There are lots of other ways to be intimate than one particular act, but not having any interest in being intimate is a soul-killer. Why end up feeling rejected and sexually worthless when you already have all the information you need to save yourself?

Carolyn Hax: I think you mean "former" where you say "latter," but it's a good point, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: the poster said it just isn't the same level of priority for him as it is for her. That to me is a huge red flag. You cannot make someone else want sex as much as you do; it is not going to change. I was in a marriage for 30 years that produced two children and probably sex once a year and I had to beg. Folks, this is not worth it because it is not just "about sex." It erodes your self-image, your self-confidence, and it dissolves intimacy (other than physical). For many people, it is an integral part of who they are, and if they are constantly negotiating or begging, it has a serious toll on their self-esteem. It eroded my marriage (well, there were a lot of issues, actually, but this didn't help) and took me years to realize I was an attractive, appealing person. Please, don't settle for what in essence would be a good friend and roommate.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I just think in general there's a real risk in separating elements of a relationship into categories--physical vs. emotional vs. intellectual. They're of a piece.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: I'm just curious -- in your personal life, do you occasionally catch yourself being a tad overly authoritative because of the respect given to your opinions in your professional life?

Carolyn Hax: That's funny. If anything, my "overly authoritative" years came before I had thousands of people I've never met reminding me on a daily basis that I'm full of ----.


Online only: Can my boss really tell I'm reading your discusson or am I just being my normal paranoid self?

Carolyn Hax: Your boss can really tell.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Please help!

After a year full of ho-hum dates, I met "the man of my dreams" about a month and a half ago. He was smart, funny, sophisticated, worldly, kind, and appreciated those same qualities in me. We had a whirlwind romance and I hadn't been happier in years. We had a rare connection intellecually, emotionally and physically. Then, things ended abruptly, seemingly due to complications with his job. I was hurt but getting over it. Then this week I was hit with a freight train. A woman called me and told me that she was his wife. I was devasted. I confronted him on the phone and he admitted that he was married and that half of what he'd told me was a lie. He apologized profusely and claimed that his feelings for me were real and that this was the first and only time that he cheated on his wife. Still, this has destroyed my already shakey trust in men and my own judgement of them.

How can I make sure that the pain from this experience doesn't poison future potential relationships? (I have a second date with a man who seems to be nice tonight)

Carolyn Hax: Keep this in mind: The "man of my dream" is the one who's still nice to you, who still makes you want to be nice to him, who still thinks you're hot, who still makes you hot, who feels lucky to know you, who makes you feel lucky to know him, after you've known each other for years and/or seen each other at your most human. Anyone short of that is an adrenaline rush and can't be trusted (but can certainly be enjoyed, if you're up to it and honest with yourself).

If your trust in people really is as shattered as you suggest, I'm not sure dating again is the answer.

Yes I am aware how noodgely this sounds.


Yet another miscarriage comment: Sorry to bring the tone of the chat down (I too am looking forward to bacon pants and pew loggie), but having a miscarriage can be traumatic on many levels. Another part is having the feeling that I did something wrong to "cause" the miscarriage. Yes I understand that the baby was not meant to be, and I do want a healthy baby, but at the time, it's not really the way I'm thinking. I experienced it as a loss.

Carolyn Hax: Right, I did leave that out--the mother's fear that she caused it. It's huge. (And these ridiculous baby books that order you not to eat this, or do that, or bathe in water above swimming-pool temperature, certainly don't help.) Thanks.


From the other side: So what do you do if you're in love and you want to keep your relationship, but sex just isn't that important to you? I enjoy it, there are no physical problems, but it's just not a high priority or a major part of my self-concept. And now it sounds like a lot of people think this is a major, major problem in a partner.

Carolyn Hax: In -their- partners. As long as you're with someone who agrees it's not a huge priority (or as long as you're willing to work with a horndog partner without rolling your eyes like it's a chore), then it's not a problem. Like they say, if you can find one buyer, you're going to sell your house.


re: cheating guy: Wait a minute, what about the standard "all men are not jerks, just because you found one that is" disclaimer?

Carolyn Hax: That too. And wear a condom. And be true to yourself. Apply as appropriate to all prior posts.

The issue here, FWIW, is not distrust in men, but her distrust in her own judgment, since she was so badly deceived. That's the standard item I omitted.


Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys--computer just slowed to a crawl. Will post in a second.


Noodgely?: Please explain. I usually can figure out your terms... but I'm at a loss.


Carolyn Hax:"Are you suuuuure you should be dating again so sooon?" I was being a total noodge. A k a, pest.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, As a former OB-G nurse... why don't more doctors tell their patients that eight out of 10 women have at least one miscarriage in their life. Sometimes the stats help perspective, you know??

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. Can't verify this, except anecdotally. Thanks.


Sensitive Issue, Prefer-not-to-say-ville: Online only, please. Over Thanksgiving, my father-in-law disclosed to my husband that he believes the United States Government perpetrated the September 11th attacks on its own people. He also believes there's a 50/50 chance we got the technology for the transistor from aliens at Roswell. Sadly, this is not a joke. Even worse, these are the only topics he actually enjoys talking about. How do we deal with someone who has obviously gone off the deep end intellectually but is otherwise a stable individual (has a good job, volunteers at church, etc.)?

Carolyn Hax: Ah, in-laws. This is why, "Hm. Interesting," is such a useful phrase.

Disclaimer: If this is newly bizarre behavior and not part of a continuum of conversation-stopping credulity, then you might want to urge him to get a full physical.


If only I had a pillow....: I'm drained from a long week and sleep because of the weather. Do you think my unpaid internship would notice if I took a nap on the floor?

Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure an unpaid internship can notice anything, but if your job is to write for public consumption, I would suggest the nap.


Palm Springs, Calif.: Hi Carolyn! What to do about keeping the holiday blues at bay? My office's Holiday party is next Saturday. I happen to be the only single person in my office and if I don't find a date to take by then I will also be the only solo one attending. Should I hold my head up and go have a good time alone? Is it okay to not go? Would that look bad? I just don't want any of my coworkers giving my that look of pity. Any input I'd appreciate...

Carolyn Hax: Any co-worker who gives you a look of pity probably has more marital problems than a praying mantis.

Meanwhile, if you think happy/unhappy is interchangeable with married/single, then, yes, go to the party, because you need to get out more. A lot. I don't mean to be insensitive to your holiday blues, but cheez. This is the only life you've got. You can choose to live it only when paired off and in months that don't start with a D, or you can live it now. I recommend door No. 2.


Stupid gift anxiety...: Hello, Carolyn. This is so not a matter of grave importance, but one that's irked me for a few years... My family doesn't give big gifts at Christmas. The money's there, but presents tend to be small and thoughtful, which is just fine for all of us. My in-laws go a little nutty with the spending, and we usually return in kind. Is this unfair? I feel guilty each year when my fam asks what I'm giving his fam, and get the "oh, must be nice!" in reply.

Carolyn Hax: I would blow it off, but the fact that they ask is a little weird.

Actually I'd still blow it off. If you decided to buy everyone bigger gifts as a guilt-easer, you could actually make the thoughtful-little-gift-givers feel bad and start an arms race, which hardly accomplishes what you'd hoped. Stay comfortably within each family's tradition, and save extravagant spending for matters of great importance.


Suburbia, USA: Hi Carolyn

What are your thoughts on people who drag their feet when it comes to making commitments? My guy has some fears of marriage and can barely discuss the topic yet contends that I am the one for him, that he just needs time. (side note: he has not had many relationships, and is a procrastinator by nature.)

We have been together for 5 years, I made up my mind 2 years ago and have been lobbying for change in our lives ever since. Now I'm at the point where I'm ready to commit or move on. This is hard for me to do because he keeps the possiblity of us being together on my radar so I'm afraid of losing him simply because I'm not willing to wait.

At some point I need to draw the line, but the line is not clear to me.

thanks for your insight!

Suburbia, USA

Carolyn Hax: He is a procrastinator by nature. You can change anything and everything about your lives together and marry him and he'll still be a procrastinator by nature. If the idea of rolling a giant rock uphill for the rest of your life excites you, keep doing what you;'re doing. Otherwise, accept that he will approach every major life milestone and every minor day as a procrastinator would, and adjust your life expectations accordingly.


Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn,

My mother in-law passed away just before Thanksgiving. My wife has been swamped ever since -- planning the funeral, going through her mother's paperwork, cleaning out her home, etc. I've been there for as much as I can, while her siblings have all gone back home and gotten back to their lives. I'm really afraid that my wife is going to crash any minute now from the pressure. What can I do?

Carolyn Hax: Be there to catch her.


Washington, D.C.: What do you do with your engagement ring once the divorce is final? Sell it? Save it? Throw it off a Ferry (a-la Grey's Anatomy)?

Carolyn Hax: TV show. Not to be tried at home.

How about: reset it, donate it, save it till the perfect idea comes to you.


Introductions: Dear Carolyn:

How do you think one should introduce his/her spouse to other people -- as husband/wife or just by name only -- in social circles where people are not complete strangers but contact is periodic but consistent? What about if the couple is private?

Do you think it is necessary to establish boundaries or is it silly to do this? Does it make a difference if the groups tends to be single?

Thanks for taking my question.

Carolyn Hax:"What about if the couple is private?"


This is my sister, Pookie; this is my husband, Ralph; this is my other husband, Ralph; this is my colleague, Remora. You give a name and enough basic information for the introducees to feel as if they have in fact been introduced.

"This is Bill, the less said about whom the better," is best saved for true social emergencies.


Single at the Party: I'm not the Palm Spring one but I have a follow-up questions....

So I go to the party alone. How do I keep from wanting to hit the "happy couples" on the head with my shoe?

Carolyn Hax: Um. Because happiness is a good thing? Because a good shoe deserves better?


Washington, D.C.: What question are you most often asked?

Carolyn Hax:"Why are you still here?" (Closely followed by, "Can you possibly get any slower?")

It's about that time, too. Thanks for stopping by, and type to you next Friday. Oh, and let's say Dec. 15 for the holiday extravaganza, if that's okay with Liz.


More single at the party: I'm single too - but I never bug out on hanging with happy couples. Usually there is something about their happiness that is inspiring. I learn from watching them work to make a good relationship - it gives me faith that I will have a good toolbox to make my next relationship as good as it can be. Pollyanna-ish? Yeah, maybe. But it beats the heck out of being the bitter single chick in the corner.

Carolyn Hax: Or, make it even simpler--being around happy people is more pleasant than being around miserable negative complaining ones. Unless they happen to be funny about it.

_______________________ Dec. 15th it is.

Carolyn Hax: A little reindeer poop to help wean the Weingarten fans.


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