Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 5, 2007; 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.: We all know what it's like to be in love? Really? News to me...

Carolyn Hax: I took him to mean we all know the signs that someone is smitten, even if we don't know them firsthand.


Outside of the Contiguous United States : Please please please! I'm getting desperate. Do you know of any up to date feminist-minded pregnancy books. And no "(Mis)Conceptions" by Naomi Wolf does not count.


Carolyn Hax: I'd think the most "feminist-minded" pregnancy book would be one with the most thoughtfully edited selection of basic facts. For that I'd ask your OB.


book clubs a hotbed of homosexuality: The girlfriend of the letter-writer today needs to focus on just one sentence in that whole letter - "I thought all guys in book clubs were gay". Read it, note it to mean that the guy you've hooked up with is judgemental, homophobic, and bigoted, not to mention probably illiterate and definitely dull enough to think reading is a "girly" activity, and kick him to the curb, thanking all goodness he decided to air that sentiment in a public place where you could see it.

Heterosexual well-read female, here.

Carolyn Hax: You're the second person to point this out to me, and it's really interesting, I think--the actual letter said, "Besides, I thought all guys at book club were gay." I read it that his GF had told him all the guys at her book club were gay--i.e., "Besides, I thought all THE guys at HER book club were gay."

You read it as: "Besides, I thought all guys at book clubS were gay."

I can see both are possible, and one makes him semi-sympathetic, and the other makes him vile. My answer definitely would have been different had I read it your way.

Had I noticed the two possibilities, I might have tried to clarify with the writer. At this point, though, I only have what I have, and so can only assume he wrote it as he meant it (vs. its havign a typo). That would point to the more sympathetic interpretation.

Still, it's amazing how much rides on one "s."


San Francisco, Calif.: I'm in my mid-thirties and recently found myself pregnant for the first time. I had an abortion, and while there were numerous logical reasons not to have a baby, I can't get past feeling like I made a mistake. I sit at my desk at work struggling not to dissolve into tears. I can't be around children, and want to run away from some of my pregnant friends. My boyfriend doesn't understand (he didn't want a child) and isn't all that supportive right now. I can't move forward from this and it's affecting every aspect of my life. I don't even know where to start putting myself back together.

Carolyn Hax: Please get into counseling. Your OB-GYN, the abortion provider, your local Planned Parenthood, all these (and countless other women's health organizations and hotlines) can help put you in touch with someone who can help. I'm sorry.

I think it's important you do this is not just to help you sort out your feelings about the abortion, but also to help you take on the boyfriend problem. That he can't be there for you right now is, if you think about it, seriously damning. For him to care for your feelings, you have to be feeling the same thing he feels? As personal limitations go, the inability to feel sympathy--for something that's hardly an emotional stretch--might be at the top of the dealbreaker list.


Pregnancy minded: What is a "feminist-minded" pregnancy? As opposed to the usual male oriented pregnancies?

Carolyn Hax: I think the next post answers this.


Burke, Va.: What exactly is a "feminist-minded" pregnancy book? I consider myself a feminist and so did avoid the advice-giving books and went straight for the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. Just the facts, no preaching.

Carolyn Hax: That's where I was going with it. I found some of the "girlfriendy"-toned books really obnoxious because they had this we-thing going, and often about stuff I wasn't thinking, feeling or experiencing--end result being a headache from excessive eye-rolling and a nagging sense the authors were talking down to me. Some people loved them, too; I'm not here to trash them. My point is just that if you've got one set of sensibilities or another that you're not in the mood to have ruffled, streamlined facts are the safest way to go.


Pregnancy book - NO, NO, NO! : No, no, no, don't ask your OB for a recommendation! Not for someone seeking feminist-minded stuff. Obstetrics is a very paternalistic medical specialty built on the premise that a woman's body is likely to fail at childbirth, so here we are ready to save the day with drugs and scalpels. And all doctors like compliant patients, not ones who ask a lot of time-consuming questions. The best book to read is "A Thinking Woman's Guide to Better Birth" by Henci Goer. It's totally based on clinical research (lots of standard OB care is NOT evidence-based)and it gives women the information they need to either have a good partnership with their OB in their care, or how seek more woman-centered care like midwifery.

Carolyn Hax: No, I promise, this will not be a thread today.

But: I'm sure this may still be true of some practices--on the theories that your facts are your facts and I;'m in no position to question them, and also that something is almost always true of everything--but it's outrageous to think all OB practices are stuck in the wrong century. Female obstetricians and midwives in the same practice as doctors are hardly unusual now. People concerned about this should ask a lot of questions--and if nothing else discover the receptiveness to questions.


Divorced in D.C.: Carolyn,

For once I am shocked at some bad advice you issued recently. In Wednesday's column, you ripped the guy who, after a whole MONTH'S time, did not tell the girl he was dating that he was divorced. As a previously divorced woman, I found that the divorce conversation was completely irrelevant in a new relationship until I knew I wanted the new relationship to be something serious. Often, a month (which I would take to be four or so dates) was not enough time. The conversation always, always leads to numerous questions about the past, some just out of curiousity. While I agree that this is completely necessary when starting a relationship that promises to develop into something serious, I always thought talks about one's past relationships, whether people are divorced or not, generally have the potential to put a damper on the new, fun part of the relationship when you're just getting to know one another.

Carolyn Hax: Didn't mean to shock you. I've actually been shocked by the response to this answer. I thought (and still think) it was a no-brainer--he mentioned his ... what was it, 7-year? serious relationship, but failed to include the fact that it was a marriage? Sorry, that smacks of hiding, which smacks of divorce-related discomfort. (A whole lot of smacking going on.) The relationship came up, so out with it.

Now, had the letter left room for the possibility that the subject of romantic histories hadn't come up, then I would have answered differently. But the whole notion of calculating your responses about yourself so as to maintain some sort of glossy front is just a non-starter. You am who you am. People can deal or they can't.


re: San Francisco: It could be the boyfriend is also upset, but instead of crying, he withdraws. Not something to be proud of, but part of the blue-book training; semi-understandable. They do both need to talk.

Carolyn Hax: True. Thanks.


Doctors don't like questions?: If your doctor gets annoyed when you ask a question, it's time to get a new doctor.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin'. Thanks.


Washington, DC: For San Fran: Go to It's a pro-choice, after-abortion hotline. Non-judgmental and very supportive.

Carolyn Hax: Haven't vetted this so anyone who plans to use it should. Thanks for putting it out there.


City and State yet to be determined!: Please help. I'm really confused. I just got offered a job halfway across the country in a place I never thought I'd live... no friends, no family there. An ex-boyfriend nearby, which is why I think I applied for the job, because I was missing him. I never thought I would actually get it. It's a great job, with way better pay than my current one (and actually in a field I think I would like). The ex-boyfriend has no interest in being in a relationship with me anymore (he broke my heart) but is willing to fall into bed with me on occasion, which happened fairly frequently before he moved. I'm still in love with him and seem unable to say no. So do I go across the country for the great job or stay put, realizing I'd be taking it for the wrong reasons? Please help, I'm really confused and overwhelmed.

Carolyn Hax: Go only if there's no chance you're talking up the new job as a way of rationalizing the move, and if there's no chance you will contact the ex when you get there. Otherwise, you could just eat premium ice cream and humiliate yourself right where you are.


RE: Column: Maybe the GF is just trying to make the BF jealous and get him to offer something more permanent in their relationship. He did not say how long they had been going together. Just sayin'.

Carolyn Hax: Then she's the offensive one, based on the sympathetic gay-book-club-guy reading, or as offensive has he is, based on the vile gay-book-club-guy reading.


Washington, D.C.: I am in love with my boyfriend of seven months. I haven't told him though. I believe that he feels the same way but he hasn't told me either. I am coming out of a recent divorce, and don't want to tell him because I am terrified that he might not feel the same way and then the relationship is ruined. Am I crazy? Is it ruined anyway if he doesn't feel the same? Realistically, will this chase him away?

Carolyn Hax: That's no reason not to tell him. If you feel it and want to say it, then say it.

If you're saying it just to hear it back, then that's a reason to wait. Not a reliable source of validation, that.

There's another, completely different reason not to tell him, yet, too, that's worth considering: Fresh out of a divorce, maybe you're terrified -you- might not feel the same way. Obviously every breakup is different and every person is different. But the feelings after a tumultuous life event can run big and uneven, and so you might want to ask yourself how your feelings have run as a result of the divorce, and whether you're being impulsive, or if your insides have evened back out yet. This is actually where the "beware of rebounds" cliche comes from.


ARGH!: Both of my sons would have died at birth if it had not been for all the "paternalistic" obstetricians and icky drugs and scalpels. Yes yes, most births happen without a hitch. But some don't, and deliveries that go wrong are hard enough without some people criticizing and implying that anything other than a natural birth is unwomanly or not feminist.

Carolyn Hax: I can call that person's opinion "outrageous," but it's so much more effective to read -why- it's outrageous. Thank you.


Wednesday's Column: I totally agree with you that not mentioning a divorce after a month smacks of hiding, and it also suggests that this guy hasn't truly come to terms with it yet. I know several people who are divorced who have very healthy, open attitudes about it - I tried something, it didn't work, I moved on. The previous poster who said that mentioning a divorce can "put a damper" on the "fun" part of a relationship - well, that's only true if you see your divorce as a shameful, "honey, let's sit down, there's something awful I have to tell you" kind of thing, and I think that if you see it that way, you're probably not ready for a new relationship yet. Maybe this is a generational thing, as most of the divorced people I know are mid-30s or younger. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I was thinking the same thing; a lot of the outrage mail was from older readers.


Two weeks' notice?: Now that I've decided I'm quitting and my boss and I are just talking about the exit strategy, how much work should I have to do? My boss wants to pile it on me and have me stay until she feels ready for me to leave; I want to slack off and stay another week. How to find the right compromise?

Carolyn Hax: Tie up everything neatly enough for your successor(s) to take over as seamlessly as possible in two weeks. Whether that's a light two weeks or round-the-clock two weeks depends on how organized you've up until now.


Saying "I love you" too soon: Carolyn, wasn't it you who said, "Scaring someone off isn't a disaster - it's incompatability caught early." I LOVE that advice, and I recently broke up with someone when I realized that I was experiencing my emotions on his terms, not mine. I think it might apply to the recent divorcee too. If you're completely terrified that your true feelings will scare this person off, there's a good chance they're not the person for you, right?

Carolyn Hax: I do still agree with that, which is why I advised that if she really feels it and wants to say it, she should say it. Thanks for typing out the logic behind that for me. I don't always choose to do it, especially in the live forum.


Santa Cruz, Calif.: Hi, Carolyn

Even my own mother and sister don't believe me. I hope that you would and help me with some suggestions about how to deal with the problem of my husband's ex. She is a highly educated and accomplished woman.Ten years ago she gave up her well paying job in high tech and stayed home to raise her kids. She was the brains behind the successful company that my husband started even though she had no official title. Both my husband and I felt that she deserved at least half the share in the company, his 401K savings and the house. We would have gladly agreed to give her everything and any reasonable child support and alimony. Sadly she doesn't want anything. I was willing to give up my job and be with the kids so that she could ease her entry into the high tech world. She instead decided to teach math and science in the school that the children attend. She lives in the small cottage adjoining the house and insists on paying rent. Drives a ten year old clunker. I know that everybody is talking how unfairly she has been treated through this divorce, while we have been begging her to take everything. Her response to any sympathy from others has been a dignified "no comment". My sister's husband is their accountant, so he is familiar with her financial situation, but not aware of the truth. I don't know how to make others believe that we are fair, generous and good people, especially my family. How does one deal with a saint?

Carolyn Hax: Or a martyr. Either way, I don't know. You can't make her live more comfortably and you can't make people stop talking about stuff they know nothing about (especially if they make a living from it), but you may be able to open a 529 or some other trust for the kids and deposit the rent money there, to give yourself some peace of mind.


Poconos, Pa.: Why is falling into bed with a guy humiliating yourself? Intimacy is something very natural and it doesn't always have to fall within the bounds of a monagamous relationship. Your attitude is archaic.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I think yours is myopic. It's fine to do it as an act of strength, but it's self-defeating when done out of I-know-s/he-doesn't-love-me-but-I-can't-help-myself weakness. Self-defeating for men and women.


In a pickle: I was raped when I was 13 (I'm now 37). I am lucky to be an extremely resiliant person with a great supportive family. I got over it pretty quickly and seriously never think about it anymore. It's like it happened in another lifetime. I've been dating a guy for a few months and a friend of mine told him. I'm furious and friendship-divorced her immediately. Of course, the guy is acting weird and thinks I was intentionally hiding it from him. It couldn't be further from the truth. It just never entered my mind to tell him because it is not something that really registers with me anymore. I don't know how to convince him of this. And I'm sure I would have told him at some point - it's not something I'm ashamed of at all. Am I being harsh by dumping the friend (her reasons for telling him were purely gossip-related) and what do I do about my boyfriend?

Carolyn Hax: Wow. I'd say the friend-dumping was harsh only if the friend had had a credible reason for blabbing and had admitted freely how badly she screwed up. Otherwise, I coudn't see trusting or respecting her again, which does mean the friendship is over.

As for the guy, don't try to convince him of anything. Be yourself, let him be himself, and see if he comes to know you--or, I guess, is even willing to come to know you--well enough to see the truth in what you're saying. Otherwise you probably weren't going to be a good match anyway. You really do need to agree on each other's strengths if it's ever going to work, just in general.


Re: Outrage mail from "older readers": Carolyn, first off, I have to agree with you that someone who fails to mention in a month of dating someone, that his previous long-term relationship was a marriage, is someone who is not being forthcoming to the person he is dating.

Regarding your comment about outraged mail from older readers, would you care to clarify? I guess at 50 I probably qualify. While I'm glad that people feel freer now to end unhappy relationships than they did when I was a kid, what I don't like seeing in the younger generation is the attitude going into a marriage that if it falls apart, it's no big deal. Even worse is the idea of "starter marriages" where people assume that athe first marriage is some sort of practice or maturing process and you just end it and move on to your REAL marriage. While the words "till death us do part" seem to be mere rhetoric now, and I don't think people should stay in unhappy marriages or be ashamed of divorce, a lot of us "older readers" think that the younger lot should give some thought to the "till death us do part" vow before jumping into marriage under the assumption that it's no big deal to bail if it doesn't work out. Some of us take our relationships a little more seriously than that.

Carolyn Hax: I was with you until the, "Some of us ... ," part, which strikes me as judgmental and divisive. There's a lot of room between taking the shame out of divorce and taking vows lightly. Without a doubt, younger generations attach less shame to divorce--in large part thanks to their parents' generation, who did suffer not only the injury of divorce, but also the needless insult of shame, and so did their best to educate it out of their kids. There's a huge, memorable example in that, for which all involved can take credit.

That some people run with it and marry and divorce willy-nilly is, in my opinion, not so much a societal trend as it is an updating of the usual behavior of the usual extreme fringe--and of the usual behavior of the people who enjoy cluck-clucking at that fringe. You don't sound like one of those, but it's a fine line we all need to be careful not to cross.


RE: Gay Book Club: No. dude, only half of us are gay. The other half are players looking to scam on the girlfriends of insecure guys who THINK we're all gay.

Carolyn Hax: Finally, the definitive answer on this. Thank you.


Burke, Va.: I would look at the "divorce disclosure" issue from the other side: why was it so terribly important to this woman to know this sooner than a month into the relationship? And she's "still shocked"? What's the deadline for disclosure? A week?

It sounds like SHE has the hangups about divorce if it's that much of a potential deal breaker for her. Sheesh.

Carolyn Hax: No no no! She was told a calculated half-truth, to which she had a perfectly sound reaction. I think the mistake with this question is to see it as a referendum on When Who Should Say What to Whom About Being Divorced (or, I should say, a referendum on One's Own Personal Divorce Story), and not see it as what one guy said to this one girl. Take it for what it is.


Quick Wedding Question: My fiance and I are on our second marriages and so we have plenty of stuff. So much stuff in fact, that we don't want wedding gifts.

Is it appropriate to put a note on the invitation? If so, how can we word it?


Carolyn Hax: Do it by word of mouth. You can circulate it pretty thoroughly, especially if you enlist the help of close friends and/or family, anyone to whom your guests might go for gift suggestions.

And, to state the obvious, be nice and grateful when people give gifts anyway, since some will.


Woodbridge, Va.: Disclaimer - never been pregnant.

Adoption adoption adoption -- not abortion. All the anecdotal evidence I've read over the years detailing the women not able to cope with what they've done says volumes to me. This poster is a clear example of the regret and sorrow. I'm sorry she's going through this.

Carolyn Hax: For some people, yes, adoption is the answer. But abortion remains the answer for others. As does keeping the baby for still others. It is an intensely personal decision, one in which outside pressure to make one decison or the other is the only true villain.


Casual sex: Carolyn, where do you stand on "hooking up?" or whatever they're calling it these days.

I am hopefully going to have a child in the next few years, and I am afraid that my husband and I will be terribly old fashioned and try to teach them that sex actually should mean something and be in the context of a relationship.

Carolyn Hax: It's an excellent thing to teach. For me, the goal is for my kids to have, trust and live by their own beliefs. If they happen to be mine, I suppose that would be swell, but what I don't want is for them to be thinking they -should- be doing one thing, because a parent or society wants them to, when they're secretly, conflictedly doing another. That's where I think the real messes all start.


adoption vs abortion: Puh-leeze. And no woman has never regretted giving a baby up for adoption? Putting her body through the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth so someone else can raise a baby?

Augh. Don't get me started.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, if you want to get all fired up, start on the people who have regretted having and keeping a baby. Nothing like making an innocent creature miserable to bring a point home.

In department of Not for Nothing, But: "giving up," "dangers," "someone else"? Is it possible to discuss this topic nonjudgmentally? Please?


Adoption adoption adoption -- WHAT?: Thanks Carolyn. This is a personal decision. My sister's abortion saved her life. She would have been wrecked by a pregnancy.

Just as many women have trauma from abortion as do adoption as do motherhood. None of us should judge anyone's reaction to a choice that is so personal and so individual.

Carolyn Hax: No no, thank you.


Ridgewood, N.J.: How can a "pro-choice after abortion hotline" be "non-judgmental." All they will end up doing is telling her that her feelings of loss are wrong and that she did the right thing.

Carolyn Hax: You know this because you've called one? Pro-choice seems to me quite open to the possibility that someone can make the wrong choice, or, sure, can make the right choice and still grieve. I'm pro-choice and I chose to post the original question about the woman's post-abortion grief. If it gets to the point where we're afraid to admit the complexity of the issue because, eek, it might arm the enemy, then we've really failed, not only intellectually, but as representatives of our opinions.


Minneapolis, Minn.: Carolyn,

At Christmas I noticed in a mirror that I'd gotten rather wider, especially at the stomach area, than I'd like to be. So I started doing sit-ups in the morning, and trying to do a few more each day than I had the day before. After only a week I'm already noticing a difference. My question is this: If I tracked down all of my gym teachers who made exercise and physical activity into a torturous experience for those of us who weren't gifted with athletic physiques and metabolisms and ran them over, would I actually go to jail?

Carolyn Hax: Only if you got caught.


What does Love do to you?: Dear Carolyn:

Do people really glow when in Love? Does it really show?

Carolyn Hax: When you can read at night without your Itty Bitty Book Light, that's when you know you're in love.


Washington, D.C.: My friend is getting married in March and moving away from her wedding location soon after. Is it tacky for her to put an address for gifts bought online to be sent to, in lieu of bringing them to the wedding?

Carolyn Hax: This is standard, not tacky. It's best -not- to bring gifts to a wedding but instead to send them to an address the couple provides.


Over 30 in Washington, D.C.: Dear Carlyn: Your byline used to include "Advice for the under-30 crowd." Being over 30, I'm old enough to remember that. Why did that change? (I'm very glad it did, by the way.)

Carolyn Hax: Because I wanted the column to age and change with me. Which I guess means it's getting fat, gray, wrinkled and it starts to ache whenever it sits for too long.

That being just the segue I needed. Bye, thanks for coming, and type to you next Friday.


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