Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 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.


Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. I'm starting a little early so I can sneak out a little early.


Los Angeles, Calif.: Hi Carolyn. I'm seven years into a relationship, don't feel like getting married to him yet, do know that I want to have kids someday (soon?) and pretty sure that I do want to be married. So does this mean he's not the one (or one of the ones)? I certainly don't want to break up. But I don't want to keep dating him and find myself 5 years from now still unexcited about marrying him, still wanting marriage and kids, and still not sure what to do about it.

(We don't live together, if that matters.)

- Girlfriend

Carolyn Hax: WHY don't you want to be married to him "yet"? he's probably not the guy, but if you have internal reasons for not wanting to be married, then nobody will be the guy till you deal with them.


Baltimore, Md.: Carolyn - One of my co-workers is leaving the company today. This is not exactly voluntary on her part, although I think she was tired of being here. She and I were always cordial, but I found her extremely difficult to work with, and we had some occasional run-ins on projects.

She hasn't been in for the past week, and we likely won't see her today, either. Should I send her a note or something - just a line to wish her well? What would I say? Frankly, I think that her departure will improve the office atmosphere and productivity, but I also know that if I were the one getting canned, I'd be bummed out.

Carolyn Hax: You were cordial, so be cordial. If you didn't have the impulse to send a note, I'd say let it lie, but since you do have it, why not follow through on it. Send a brief note wishing her the best in her next venture. Reasons are 1. It's a nice thought, and I think it's usually unfortunate when we tune out our nice thoughts, and 2. If she stays in the same field, your paths may cross. You never know when you'll be grateful for some good karma.


Rude Email practice or reducing waste?: Dear Carolyn,

I have some former colleagues; we spent lots of time together while on a long-term assignment. We're all scattered now and I occationally get group e-mails from them. here's the catch -- I don't really like a couple of people all that much and am happy to not activly participate in keeping up with them. Is it too rude if I only reply with my life stories to the few people I care about and remove the others from my responses? Or for the sake of harmony with the group that I'll probably never see all together again, should I play along with the group emails? We're all still at the same company, which is why I'm asking - otherwise I would care less if I offended someone by stopping emailing.

Thanks! Happy Friday!

Carolyn Hax: Give general replies to the group and save your life stories for one-on-one exchanges? Otherwise, if it's not "sensitive" information and it really doesn't matter if these people you don't care about hear your stories, then maybe you can just let yourself forget they're there. Think of them as the people at the next table over in a restaurant, within earhshot but inconsequential.

What I do think is rude is responding to a group email and deleting 2 or 3 group members before you send it.


Fairfax, Va: I am dating a guy who is really nice. Haven't had any issues with him. However he does not talk marriage. He says 'do not have expectations from me'. What do I do?

Carolyn Hax: Reply with, "Define expectations, please."

And if you already know "expectations" to mean a proposal, then he is not goign to marry you.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn, Help! I've asked this question a few times before, to no avail. When is it okay for a spouse to put their foot down on over-spending on gifts for the other person's family? I'm married to a woman who spends lavishly on her family gifts, and I think it's crazy. They seem to expect it from her and would probably be annoyed if it stopped. But this makes me angry. Why should she finance their expectations and give far more lavishly than they do, and far more lavishly than anyone else I know? I say it's out of control and needs to stop. Who's right here?

Carolyn Hax: Whoever is right here is right for bigger reasons than you provide here. A happy balance between spouses comes not through 1-for-1 accounting of money earned, money spent, hours worked, meals cooked, dishes washed. It's in the aggregate. If your wife spends lavishly on her family because she enjoys it, and she spends little on lattes and clothes and electronics, and does a million things to keep the household running, then why not? And if the point of huge gifts escapes you, but you get a daily venti, custom shirts and season tickets, and you're the chief beneficiary of a well-run household, then you really need to back off.

And if you're hurting for money and/or she's blowing the would-be nest egg on her family because she's afraid of their guilt trips, then I think you need to approach her family hangup with a little sensitivity, and offer to help her find a way to feed the gift-grubbing beast without starving the marriage.

And if it's all really just fine and this is in fact the specific manifestation of her generally getting on your nerves, then you need to admit to yourself what's up, then come up with another, more straightforward way to deal with it.

And if she's not contributing much, and this is just one example of her taking more than you have to give, and the larger problem is that she has larger issues, then putting your foot down might do nothing but make you both angry. In that case, a larger approach that includes counseling would probably be in order.


Carolyn Hax: I didn't read that before I sent it. So if all it says is dbakjb vhjkdbv JDVB, that's why.


Red Flag Matching Luggage:"Do not have expectations from me." - nominated as the bacon-pants, cringe-worthiest, three-alarm, avoiding responsibility at all costs statement of today.

If it helps put it in context, what if we could just walk into any life situation (work / family get-togethers) and cavalierly announce, "Do not have expectations from me!" and expect people to follow suit. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. Although it might be a tie with, "That's just who I am," said after some exquisitely obnoxious bit of self-indulgent behavior.


Falls Church, Va.: For about 6 months I slept with a guy who said "don't expect anything from me." We will celebrate our first wedding anniversary in a few months. But it was a lot of work and talking and crying and counseling to get to where we are today.

Carolyn Hax: I'm happy for you--said non-facetiously--but that just sounds like surgery without anesthesia.


Washington, D.C.: I'm kind of in a similar boat to the first poster. I love my girlfriend, have been with her for years, can see her as a great parent and companion. And there is no doubt in my mind that I want to be married to her, but I just don't want to go through the actual wedding/marriage part. But I know it would be important to her, and important to my family (and don't tell me their opinions don't matter, because they do. I don't like making choices that I know will disappoint or upset others. I still do sometimes, but it's ok not to like to disappoint your loved ones). I just don't feel like going through the whole process. I would rather just slap the rings on our fingers and be done with it. What gives? Time for me to just own up and endure the process for the next 9-12 months as a wedding is prepared?

Carolyn Hax: It's okay not to like to disappoint your loved ones, but to let that run your life is breathtakingly spineless. That's the printable version, by the way.

Tell your GF you want to marry her and you also want either to elope or keep the wedding unambitious and the planning phase brief. You can assemble a beautiful, intimate, couple- and family-pleasing event in a few months for a few grand. (In fact, those are often a lot more fun than the hyperplanned, overattended, bride-enervating, dollar-sucking monsters, but I can't say that because I don't want people to get the impression I have a bias against hyperplanned, overattended, bride-enervating, dollar-sucking monsters.)

Warning label: What keeps things sane are a bride and groom with the courage of their convictions.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn, I know everybody has a past ... and over time you want to learn about your significant others past. How many dates into a relationship should you wait before talking about exes, etc?

Carolyn Hax: I don't think you should "wait" any set amount of time. Let it find its way naturally into your conversations, so you give each other a chance to know what you're getting into.


Flip Side of Falls Church: I, too, slept with a guy for about six months who said, "Don't expect anything of me." Now, four years later, we are each married to other people, people who had and lived up to expectations. Decide what you want/need (in an emotional/principles sense, not a "will you buy me a tennis bracelet" sense) and ask for it (don't demand it). People who fill each other's needs end up together.

Carolyn Hax: Perfect. Now I want a tennis bracelet.


Friends in town: I have friends coming to town this weekend. They're not staying with me and not coming specifically to see me, but they want to see me and I want to see them.

However, all they really want to do is get together at a bar. I would much prefer quieter surroundings so we can converse. Do I go to the bar because that's what they want, ask them to choose somewhere else, or not see them at all?

Carolyn Hax: Can you suggest a bar that isn't loud?


NOVA: I'm a woman who has said soemthing similar to "don't expect anything from me." I enjoy dating, but see no real need to be married. We're told to be honest, but then told we're just using someone if we ask them not to expect anything. Its just not true. Its only using someone if they aren't informed up-front what the story is. Take it at face value, he likes you, but doesn't see commitment in your future.

And I'm not venting about your advice, Carolyn, just how some people perceive the "don't expect anything from me"-type comment.

Carolyn Hax: I agree, and I think the difference lies in the phrase, "informed up-front what the story is." If you;re clear, you're blameless. Though still subject to the blame of people who want you to see things their way, but we're all subject to that, and it's their problem anyway ...

Where was I.

On the other hand, if you're vague, and loading a bunch of faraway looks, sighs and drama into, "don't expect anything from me ...," then you;re an eye-roll waiting to happen. And maybe a forehead slap, too, in the more severe cases.


Cincinnati, Ohio: Hey, Carolyn. Sorry to keep posting the same question chat after chat. I'm still no closer to figuring this out.

Short story: Met a man, fell in love, went through some good times, some bad times, some great times. Thought this was a relationship with a future. About a month ago -- and nearly two years into our relationship -- I discover that he has a three-year-old son (and a SECOND ex-wife) he's been hiding from me. He knows I prefer not to date men with children. He sees his child twice a month and consistently makes up a cover story to explain the trip.

Automatic dismissal, right? The guy's a liar. Except I haven't dumped him. I still love him, and we're talking about how to work through this, about why he lied and whether he'll be able to avoid keeping secrets from me in the future.

So am I fooling myself? My own sister has taken to calling me pathetic. She thinks my boyfriend's an addiction I can't give up. I'm still on the fence. I figure this is an all-in-or-all-out situation, and I haven't decided which one I want.

Thanks for your time.

Carolyn Hax: You're welcome. If you've been posting this in hopes I'd offer an elaborate alternative argument that there is a way to write a happy ending to your story, then I'm going to disappoint you. You're no closer to figuring this out because you don't like any of the answers you've gotten and you're still shopping around for a new one. When you stop, you'll figure it out.


Washington, D.C.: Hey Carolyn. Wanted to give my two cents on the whole "wedding for family" trend. The same thing happened with me and my husband before we were married. I would've been happy with us and a priest (my husband's now an ordained clergyman, so a priest was necessary for us -- couldn't just go to the courthouse). He wanted a wedding "for the family". Our wedding day was a miserable experience for both of us, because neither one of us wanted a wedding -- we just wanted to be married. If we could get back the money we spent on the whole thing, we definitely would. While our wedding may be a magical memory in someone's eyes, it certainly isn't in ours. Lesson learned: do what you want for you, not what your family wants. They'll get over it.

Carolyn Hax: And if they don't, it's their problem and your wistfulness at Christmas. Thanks.


HELP!: Short version: I'm still living at home until my future roommate is ready to move out together. Problem is my overbearing mother goes into my room (I pay rent, etc.) borrows my stuff (snoops) and flips out since I've subsquently started locking my door when I leave. Any ways on nice but firm suggestions to remind her that this is my space and I am paying for my privacy?

Carolyn Hax: Clear out everything you wouldn't want her reading/commenting on/rifling through, and store it with your soon-to-be roommate or a good friend or in your gym locker.

Or, take the hit and move out early.


Washington, D.C.: Here goes: I'm 50, male, married forever, love my wife, yet also have come to realize I am bi or gay or something. My choices seem lousy: staying and being faithful, or giving up everything and hurting my wife and kids. (I can't do the secret life thing -- i.e., stay married and fool around with guys on the sly.) Any hints? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: You get into counseling asap. And, you stay and be faithful unless and until that's a choice you can no longer make. Like anyone who has to do without, you make that choice on a daily (i.e., manageable) basis. You don't look at it as AAAGH THE REST OF MY LIFE!!!! and then freak yourself into doing something stupid.


Virginia: My boyfriend and I are approaching our four-year anniversary. I am ready to get married. He says he knows he wants to marry me, but isn't sure he's ready. I don't want to continue as we are, but don't want to lose him. Help.

Carolyn Hax: How old are you?


Weddings and Funerals: A wedding and a funeral have the same basic elements: guests, a church, music, flowers. A wedding takes 6 months to a year to plan. A funeral takes 3 days to plan.

Just my two cents! (Possibly not worth that much, though.)

Carolyn Hax: Reason? The person who cares most is running it in the former, and beyond complaining in the latter. We're up to $.03.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I've tried three or four ways of asking you this question, and all of them required way too much explanation. So, to make it short:

How do you know if it's worth giving a relationship another chance versus accepting that it's just not going to work?

Carolyn Hax:20,000 ways to answer this one, but I'm in the mood for this one today:

Stay if the payoff is real and the work is anticipated or imagined.

Go if the work is real and the payoff is anticipated or imagined.


Don't expect this topic to be done with too soon...: Hi, Some more clarification! If you mean by "don't expect too much" actually "I don't want to get married any time soon, ever, I am just dating casually, won't marry someone with red hair or someone born on a Tuesday outside my religion" etc., well then that's the thing to say! There are phrases to satisfy every level of dating intimacy.

Don't expect too much is just plain code for I can't communicate well. (for example, if the person you're dating is falling for you, you can break it off if you're not interested in getting closer.)


Carolyn Hax: And if you're dyeing your hair brown, forging your birth certificate and converting, it's about you, too.


Arlington, Va.: Like many other of today's posters... I have been sleeping with someone for almost two years. At the beginning it started with both of us being more than ok with not having any expectations of where the relationship would go. After about a year the feelings of lonliness and diminishing self-worth started. Now, it just plain hurts to "be with" someone that just can't seem to emotionally connect with me. I'm still not looking to marry the guy, by-the-way. I'm just looking for some acknowledgement that we deeply care for eachother as "more than friends" and progress together.

Carolyn Hax: When you're starting sentences with "I just want ..." and/or "I'm just looking for ... ," what you're really saying is, blah blah blah blah blah blah. It is YOUR LIFE. If it isn't working, DO something about it, something that is within your power to do. You cannot make someone declare how meaningful you are to him or her. You can, on the other hand, remove yourself from the position of being denied on a daily basis something that matters to you.


Springfield, Va.: I have two adult children living in my home. I am dating a man and it's getting serious. I've stayed over at his childless house. It is an hour away and it would sometimes be convenient if he stayed at mine. Is it terrible to have him over when my kids are there? (they are always there!)

Carolyn Hax: Do it. Maybe it'll get their butts out of your house.


Washington, D.C.: Hello Carolyn,

I'm engaged and about to get married. Everything is great, I can see spending my entire life with her, but she wants kids and I'm unsure/leaning towards no.

What should I do?

Carolyn Hax: Tell her. Talk about it. Go into premarital counseling so you can have someone who has seen this endlessly endlessly endlessly walk you through it and steer you to the questions you both need to ask.

While I sympathize completely with the people who complain that their wish to remain childless is routinely dismissed, deplored, and tsk-tsked, it is also routine for someone leeeeeaning toward not wanting kids to come around and then wonder how s/he could ever have imagined life without kids. And pardon the generalization, but the younger and maler the fence-sitter, the more wobbly the conviction. If you're sure, say you;re sure. But otherwise get the discussion going asap.


Defrosting in Baltimore: The person in today's column should try talking to her friends who leave her out. I have a group of friends that I see movies with on Sundays. Some of those people routinely go to happy hour without calling to invite me, which hurt my feelings. I asked them if they'd let me know the next time. I learned that I hadn't been invited because I'd been unavailable a couple of times, and that people assumed that I went to the gym after work, and would never go out. Aside from a huge friendship problem, which would probably be very evident, being left out of things is usually that simple. I've had the same conversation with married friends who leave me out of couples events when my fiance, who is in school out of state, isn't in town. I think that it would make a big difference to say - hey I heard you all did this, I'd love to go, call me next time. Yeah, it's hard to put yourself out there because you may be rejected, but it's much harder to have friends who are intentionally leaving you out.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. The caveat I'd add is that you have to be ready to keep getting left out, and to realize they're trying to tell you something. It doesn't sound like the case here; I'm just saying it to reflect the number of emails I get asking what to do when a friend who isn't welcome somewhere keeps asking to come along. Ask once, accept answer, verbal or non-.


Adult kids: This may be stating the obvious, but if this is getting serious and (s)he hasn't already done so, Springfield needs to introduce the kids and the boyfriend. A heads-up that they'll be seeing a lot more of him would also be nice. As a courtesy between roommates.

Carolyn Hax: An obviosity well worth stating. Thanks.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn. My siblings and I have decided to confront our sister this weekend about her drinking. She is an alcoholic, and has even admitted as much, but has done nothing to change her ways. She's lost time from work, missed family events and even blacked out as a result of her drinking. We decided against a formal "intervention", and decied to confront her and tell her how we fell, and what changes we expect, lest consequences. We are all at peace with our decision to confront her, and are willing to accept what may come, but I still am worried about her reaction. What's your experience with interventions of this sort?

Carolyn Hax: Please talk to a pro about this before you start--not necessarily to change your whole plan, but just to expose your thinking to the light of experience. The individual may be paramount, but addiction creates common behaviors that are in your (and more important, her) best interests to anticipate. Al-Anon is the standby in the families-of-alcoholics field, but you can also talk to a therapist who specializes in addiction, or have a look around for other ideas.


Hidden Three-Year Old: HELLO -- this is a human being we're talking about -- not just an in-the past unfortunate circumstance like a failed marriage (or two).

Geez, the guy is a total and utter creep.

Carolyn Hax: I know. The denied 3-year-old makes me want to cry.


St. John's, Newfoundland: OK, odd question, but in line with discussions on friends. We recently moved here for husband's job. I started a weekly lunch with female partners of husband's collegues -- all are "from away" and are in same boat, i.e., no large social group. One woman, who is always invited, came only once on my invite, and has been coming up with lame excuses since. I recently learned that she came each week when I was out of town. I've made a joke of it, but frankly, it bugs me.

My choice is to stop inviting her - others in group disagree.


Carolyn Hax: Meh. I don't know. She doesn't like you. I'm sure there are people you don't like, for whatever arbitrary reason. She seems to be handling it in one of the better ways available to her, if not the best--since she hasn't actually said anything nasty, right? Why not just let her come when she "can"? I understand it's going to be a constant nagging reminder, to have her there once-every-whenever, but I'm not sure I'd want my fingerprints on the blackball. Not unless she was spreading rumors about me or something.


But if that religion excludes Tuesdays: you may still be out of luck, no matter how much money you spend on a colorist.

On a separate note, I would love to hear your thoughts on age vs the four year relationship. Preschool is too young to marry, dead is too late, but what about the middle?

Happy Friday/stay warm.

Carolyn Hax: I'm trying--typing as fast as I can. (In other words, courting hypothermia.)

I'm not going to define the middle, just narrow the extremes. If any of your four years were undergraduate years, I think that's too early--not to get married, necessarily, but to push someone one the, "Well, it's been four years, why haven't you married me yet," point.

Too late: I'd say if you're past 30 and the pieces of your life are in place and you're not subjecting yourself to any soul-upheaving scrutiny, then you have some explaining to do.

Yes? No?


Anonymous: Me from Springfield...

Thank you. Kids are 21 (going to school and working) and 19 (working). Both have met and like him. Both say staying over is ok. It's my feeling that is the hold up....a mom having a "boyfriend" that stays over seems.....out of place

Carolyn Hax: Understandable. And 19 may be legally adult, but it's not the "adult" I had in mind; for some reason I think 21 or over. (Is it just the drinking age on that one?)

Since the reservations are yours, then maybe you should wait till you're more used to the idea. Or put him in the guest room, if you have a guest room, until that idea starts to feel silly.


Sure about no kids: I have a friend who was sure about no kids when he was 21. He had a vasectomy. He is still sure about it. Every woman he has ever been with has been completely sure that he meant it.

I don't think most people are this sure -- but it's a good question to ask yourself -- are you so sure that you never want kids that you would make surgically certain you didn't? And if you have a little hesitation, you're not sure. And go from there.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I wonder if doctors resisted doing the procedure. I know young women who want a tubal ligation can struggle to find someone willing to perform it.


Expectation conversation TONIGHT: Hi Carolyn,

Timely chat! I'm going on a fourth date tonight. I'm getting the sense that he's way more into me than I am into him and it's freaking me out a little. I'm a few months out of a relationship and am interested in casual dating only right now. I planned to say that to him tonight and see what happens, but now am wondering if that's a cop out. Related question: how soon do you stop seeing someone if you know there's no long-term potential? Does it depend on whether that's what they're looking for?

Carolyn Hax: If it's freaking you out, trust it. This isn't a guys-are-scary-you-must-protect-yourself comment, it's a stop-talking-over-your-little-voice comment. If this isn't something you want, get out.


Re: Stay or Go: Thanks for the repsonse, Carolyn, but unfortunately, it's not that easy. We've already gone after four years and coming within 3 months of getting married. After 8 months apart, we've recently talked and admitted that we still have feelings, but don't know what they mean.

Carolyn Hax: Okay. Another of the 20,000:

Are the problems things that may conceivably have changed in the past eight months? Really, or are you just telling yourself that?


To the mom with the BF...: I have absolutely no authority on this subject, but I think the circumstances surrounding your kids' father should be considered. If he, for example, passed away years ago and you're finally dating again, I think your kids would handle it much better than if this is the first boyfriend following a recent, messy divorce.

Carolyn Hax: Join the club. I have absolutely no authority on any subject.


To Springfield with adult kids: I lived with my Mom (divorced) briefly after college and law school. Just a suggestion: if your boyfriend comes down to the kitchen in the morning for water/coffee/cereal or whatever, please be sure he is fully clothed and not naked under a robe.

Carolyn Hax: And now I'm off lunch.

As promised, I'm gone. Thanks everyone, have a great weekend and type to you next week.


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