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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 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.

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Carolyn Hax: Sorry guys--I was so busy working on a column I didn't notice the time.

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Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

Regarding today's column, I wonder how the woman found out her boyfriend's friend was saying not-nice things about her... through her boyfriend? If so, why was the boyfriend telling her this. It seems sort of mean of the boyfriend to do this and (understanding I am making a number of assumptions to get to this point) there might be a bigger problem between the writer and her boyfriend if he is repeating insults. Thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: I came to the same conclusion, by the same path, that you did. 1. How did she find out? 2. If it was through the boyfriend, why did he do that to her, and would that make him part of the problem? 3. But aren't there circumstances where she might find out through him that aren't part of a larger problem? 4. How can I possibly raise this in the answer if I'd need to make several assumptions before I even got started?

And so: No mention of that in the column. Thanks for giving me the chance to explain that.

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Just Wondering: When you get down to it, what's it all about, really?

Carolyn Hax: Making the best of it, because the alternatives may have their moments, but none of them is consistently rewarding.

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Disability & Online Dating: Tell them before meeting, or not?

Carolyn Hax: I would think so, for your own sake--so you aren't consumed by waiting and wondering what will happen When.

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Former D.C.-ite: I have a friend comtemplating divorce. I think he should go through it because it is a seeming very unhealthy relationship. The catch is a small child. My friend has been putting up the the verbal abuse (along with the occasional dishware thrown at him) from his spouse because if he leaves he will feel like he is abandoning his child. He doesn't not know any divorced fathers that he could turn to for their perspective and advice. Do you know of any resources? (yes, he has been through personal counseling and marriage counseling on this issue but that isn't helping him resolve his worries of the impact of a divorce on a child.)

Carolyn Hax: If the spouse is so volatile and abusive, I would think his next conversation would be with an attorney about getting custody.

As for resources, both the personal and the marriage counselor are likely to have access to local groups.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I would like to start dating again. I haven't been with someone in ten years though. How/should I explain that? I am not sure why myself. Depression has been a big part of it.

Carolyn Hax: Not everything needs explaining--or at least a onetime, self-contained explanation. It will likely come out in the course of conversation that you've been on your own for a while, and it's okay for the explanation to come out the same way. Any response to any direct questions should be honest, but I don't think it need be complete because, if nothing else, how can any response about an entire decade be complete? "I'm not sure why myself. Depression was part of it."

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Re: disability & online dating: Depends on the disability -- if it's ADHD or dyslexia where it's not likely to have as much of an effect on the "first impression" it's probably fine to leave that to come up when it comes up. But if you have epilepsy & your seizures are stress-induced, it might be helpful to let the other person know in advance. Likewise, if it's a physical disability I think you'd be better off knowing they were shallow early on, than get your hopes up only to be disappointed.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for differentiating.

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Alexandria, Va.: Am I being petty or do I am I justified in being annoyed? A friend of mine's parents pay for nearly everything: college, wedding, vacations and now a downpayment when she and her husband find a house. My husband and I have paid our way through life and are now trying to sell our starter home in a buyer's market so we can buy a house. We are saving every penny, haven't been out in months, let alone on any vacation since our honeymoon. All my friend can talk about is an upcoming vacation this spring (paid for by parents), how her parents keep throwing more money at them so they can afford a down payment, oh, and how they're only eating out once a week now to save for a baby. She's out of work skiing today. Am I just being too sensitive and jealous, or can I tell her to knock it off already?

Carolyn Hax: Getting annoyed that her parents are carrying her seems a bit globally punitive, but getting annoyed at her moronic insensitivity is more than appropriate. I'm surprised you haven't pointed out already that counting her blessings is a lot easier than counting friends who no longer exist.

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Too much stress: Carolyn, my husband has been applying to MBA programs this year and has had wonderful success. The stress of having to move and find a new job and pay for school is finally setting in and I have not been able to sleep for about 2 weeks, and when I do sleep I have horrible dreams. I know my stress and lack of sleep is starting to affect my husband and he still has more interviews to go. What are some ways I can deal with my stress (I already work out a lot) so that he is not effected. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Start planning. Anything concrete you do now toward your move and etc. will not only lessen the big scary future workload but also occupy you when you'd otherwise be stressing.

Anticipating the follow-up question: You can only do so much while you wait to find out where you'd be going, yes, but you can update your resume, start writing cover letters, sort your stuff into pack-chuck-donate piles, and start packing, chucking and donating.

You can also talk to your doctor about insomnia remedies, if old-fashioned stress reduction falls short.

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Clinton, N.Y.: As a grouchy guy in his 40s I was thinking this morning that women still want someone to support them, provide a house and security and community property and to make work optional, but they also want to claim that they are independent and self-sufficient and really could be doing better elsewhere. Seems like a really bad deal to me.

Carolyn Hax: Indeed. I think for every woman who wants this, though, there's a man who'd want it, too, but for the fact that society's pigeonholing function doesn't support it. There are up sides and down sides to each of the gender ruts created by societal pressure to play gender roles. There are people of good character and lousy character. The argument all these best support is the argument for getting rid of the pressure to play gender roles.

Tomorrow, Bran Flakes for breakfast.

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Falls Church, Va.: Re: Raising a kid vs. raising a dog. The dog owner in today's column should count her blessings that the dog will never learn to work the doorknob. My dog would be out sniffing rear-ends across our whole neighborhood while I'm away at work, and she'd let all of her dog friends into my house to trash the place. I don't need that; I've had enough trouble since the cat stole my credit card.

Carolyn Hax: People just don't know anything about raising dogs these days, and spoil them rotten. I know when I was a kid ...

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Alexandria, Va.: At a dinner party for my boyfriend's birthday last week, we had guests that just wouldn't leave! We had served coffee/tea, cleared the table, and I began to rinse dishes and turned the music off. No one took the hint. I didn't want to be too blunt in words about it as these were his friends (mine, I could have said, look go!). Question for you and the nuts: how do you get dinner guests to leave? Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: Did he want them to leave? If not, then you could have just gone to bed. (Not in the etiquette books, I have a feeling, but it works for me.) If he wanted them out, too, then what can you do, you deal with it and make a mental note for next time.

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Washington, D.C.: I set up my friends on a date. I did an introduction, they apparently e-mailed a bunch of cute messages, talked, and went on a date. She said the date went very well and they had a lot in commmon, talked for hours, both told each other they had a great time etc. Only he never called or e-mailed anything afterwards. At the week mark she lobbed in a voicemail thanking him for the dinner and love to see him again. still no callback.

I've been traveling and haven't run into him yet. I feel he's going to have to say something to me, and now I am curious "how the date went." Obviously I can't help anything here but is there anything I can do? At this point he's being rude and unfortunately for me I'm dealing with two people I've knows for years!

Carolyn Hax: To her: "I don't know what could have happened, but I guess I'll find out."

To him, when you get the chance, or when you just call him: "What happened?"

To yourself: "If this is by any definition a big deal, it's one with a half-life of two weeks."

By the way, the cute emails before they went out don't count, because they happened before they went out.

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Insomnia: Sleep diary! Have a pen and paper by your bed so when you wake up you can write down your concerns then "forget" about them until morning. It worked for this insomniac of 4+ months.

(Bonus round: work out in the evening to burn off nervous energy - also very effective. And no caffeine after noon, especially difficult when you haven't slept).

Carolyn Hax: Loud applause for writing it down. You can almost feel it stop slamming the sides of your head.

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Annapolis, Md.: Is grouchy guy single?

Carolyn Hax: Interested?

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Washington, D.C.: If a couple plans to move in together, should they split the rent down the middle, or should the person who makes a substantially higher salary pay a higher portion? The person (okay, okay, me) who makes less can technically afford to split -- but without a lot of wiggle room. I do more of the cleaning and grocery shopping, if that matters -- but I really don't want to get into an itemized-billing of household chores.

Carolyn Hax: Then have a conversation about it, and if you can't get through a conversation about it without feeling that your only choices are to bean-count or get steamrolled, then don't move in with this person.

It really is that siimple, I swear.

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Washington, D.C.: TGIF!!! Here's the story -- I'm good friends with someone. We're both single, have a great time together when we hang out, share the same interests, etc... basically there's nothing keeping us from having a relationship that's more than just friends.

Should I let him know flat out that I'd love to be more than friends (my suttle hints don't seem to be working) and risk being rejected, or should I just chalk it up as a relationship that sadly will just be a friendship?

It saddens me when he talks about how there's nobody single to date, or how people he meets don't call him back. HELP!

Carolyn Hax: There's nothing on your end keeping you from having a relationship that's more than just friends. It's an important distinction.

As for what you do, there are two camps, both pretty well dug in. One believes if there were a move to be made, he would have made it. The other believes that if you want something, you should just ask. (Their inter-camp mixers are brutal.)

My camp (Camp Rightontheline) believes you already know him and yourself well enough to know what you need to do. (Is he take-charge? Shy? Would he want you to speak up? Do you want to? Are your "subtle" signs like microscopic grains of sand, or road-boulders? Would you do awkwardness well and get over it in about an hour, or would you be kicking yourself for not heeding obvious signs?)

Sorry for the non-answer, but I think it's the only answer.

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Re: too much stress: I noticed that "too much stress" was more worried about the impact of her stress on her husband than about its impact on her. Yeah, she doesn't want to pitch a big scene right before he goes to an interview, but I'm bothered by the vibe on bottling up all her stress so it doesn't affect him (with the implication that his life is more important than hers). Maybe because I catch myself falling into that trap myself on occasion. But it seems like a discussion in a quiet moment about "I'm very proud of you, but I'm a little stressed about all the changes that are coming up" might also help. Unless he really does want her to shut up and stay out of his way, in which case she has a bigger problem than soon-to-be-moving stress.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you--I blew right past that and you're absolutely right.

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Someplace: There are two parties this weekend, and I really want to go to them without my boyfriend, but I've already invited him, too. What do do? Nothing, I guess.

Carolyn Hax: No, nothing. Except maybe ask yourself why you want to go to two parties w/o your boyfriend this weekend, since it can mean just about anything from "you'll want to stay later than he does" to "you have the wrong boyfriend."

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Youdontown, ME: Instead of getting so vexed over the fact that her friend's parents are bankrolling a cushy lifestyle, Alexandria should just be grateful that she and her husband aren't beholden to anyone for what they've got. How much do you want to bet that one day soon the friend's parents will start acting as though their cash contributions give them a say in how their kid runs her life? (If it's not happening already, just wait till grandchildren are in the picture.)

Carolyn Hax: Or even if the parents are great about it, and give for the joy of giving to their children--the answer still isn't to get so vexed. Some people just get more good stuff than others. Cushy lives play out right next to grueling ones, everywhere, every day. Letting that fact diminish the value of what you have means that you don't even enjoy what good fortune you have--and what does that accomplish? Try to be proud of what you achieve, be grateful (and graceful) about what drops in your lap, and hold others to no tougher standard.

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In addition to Camp Rightontheline: I've been in that situation before with a make friend. My advice is to ask yourself how well you really know him. If you genuinely are good friends, you should be able to talk about taking things to another level. I.e. "Have you ever wondered what would happen if the two of us dated?" If he's a good friend, he should be able to give you an honest answer to that question. And you should be able to give the same honesty to him.

Carolyn Hax: Rarin. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

How do you know when it's time to leave Washington, to get the heck out of dodge? Great job, moving up the ladder, but nothing resembling a life outside that. Lots of boredom, frustration with the social scene here, and increasing levels of confusion over whether I want to spend the rest of life in a city that is all about work and doesn't seem interested in happiness. Is it running away to leave without giving it one more try to make it work? And is it foolish to leave a place where your work situation is so good?

Carolyn Hax: Assuming you're resposible only to yourself, you can run away all you want. Whose judgment matters here except your own?

However, it does seem like you're working all the time at a career you chose on a path you desired. And then blaming your city for it. Instead of laying it all on the area code, it might sit better with you if, before you made any big moves, you mentally tried on some smaller ones to see if there's more to the act of building a life than picking the place to build it.

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Lonely at Lunch: I started to work at my current job at the end of October and my birthday is 12/25. Everybody goes to lunch for everybody elses birthday in the office, but it seems that they just overlooked mine. I don't know if it was because my birthday is on a holiday or what. Should I make a big deal out of it or not?

Carolyn Hax: On 6/25, buy yourself a cupcake. Bonus points if you sing out loud at your desk, "Happy halfbirthday to me ..." all the way to the end.

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D.C. - parties: It's possible he's dreading going to another one of your stupid friend's parties anyway. I suggest saying, "This isn't the party you're looking for... move along" and see what happens. Though, it's never worked with the remote for me.

Carolyn Hax: But hope does spring eternal, doesn't it.

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Childless with dog: I saw my self in your column today -- I am childless, and I have a dog. I don't see these things as related or as equivalent; however, my dog is child-like in the sense that she can't articulate what's wrong when she's sick, for example. In conversations with frantic parents who feel uncertain about whether they're meeting their young child's needs, I have sometimes said something like "I know it's not the same thing, but..." in an attempt to communicate understanding of what they're experiencing so they feel less afraid. It really is a common experience to not know what to do to help someone you're responsible for. But your column gives me pause. Should I just listen quietly and assume that there's no way I can possibly understand what parenting is like because I'm not one? I assure you, it occasionally feels like it is (some) parents who feel the need to "reach across decency boundaries" to keep the parenting pedestal as high and remote as possible. Truly, not all childless people, even those who wanted children, are trying to build themselves up at the expense of parents or the gift of their children. Sometimes they are simply attempting to find commonality in experience. Very human.

Carolyn Hax: Absolutely. I think this is a good time for a PSA that my answer to this letter was an answer to THIS LETTER, and not a universal opinion on the merits of dogrearing vs. childrearing and the pedestalworthiness of either.

I can offer a universal opinion on using competitive behavior with someone who is supposed to be a friend: It sucks. That's all today's letter was about. The puppies and babies were just props.

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Suburban Washington, D.C.: Hello -- I am having a hard time coming to terms with the loss of a friendship. One of my closest friends and I have grown apart, despite my efforts to try to stay close. Yes, we've both had some significant life changes over the past few years. It seems like since mine haven't been the same as hers (such as having children -- I don't want children) she seems to have no use for me since I can't understand what she's going through. I suppose I need to change the definition of our friendship to casual/occasional friends as opposed to what we once were but I am struggling with that. Any suggestions for getting through this? I miss my old friend and am bummed.

Carolyn Hax: Have you told her this? If you have and it didn't work, then I guess you just grieve with the rest of us. There's no category of loss that's supposed to be easy; some just get marked with flowers, and some don't.

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Puzzled in Virginia: A friend of mine and I attended a party last weekend that was rather large, and mainly everyone that was there was from our church community. We talked on the phone the other day and she apologized that she didn't keep me company because she got caught up talking to people she hadn't seen in a long time. We're both almost 30. I don't know why she apologized to me for doing something that's completely normal at a social gathering, which is to mingle with others. I had a really nice time at the party talking to parents and friends, and I don't recall feeling neglected by this friend who I see just about every weekend. What gives?

Carolyn Hax: It could mean nothing more than that she had meant to talk to you but never got around to it, and feels guilty for having forgotten about you.

Though I agree it can have the weird effect of making you annoyed that she thinks you'd even care if she forgot you, like you needed her attention or something. But since, "Don't worry, I don't need you to baby-sit me" doesn't pass the civility test--and in fact would only make you look like you're really really upset that she didn't baby-sit you--all you can really do is wave it off/let it go.

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To tell or not to tell: I am engaged to a wonderful man. He has not yet told his ex-wife (with whom he speaks generally once a week; they are friends) that he is seeing someone, let alone engaged to someone. I understand not wanting to hurt her feelings (she says she is still in love with him), but at some point shouldn't he tell her that he's marrying me?

Carolyn Hax: About 20 points ago.

This is where I would normally throw in my doubts as to his wonderfulness, given his extreme and gratuitously hurtful cowardice in this matter, but then that would make me like so predictable.

So, instead: I don't think I could be engaged to someone on those terms. But you have to decide what terms you can live with.

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Washington, D.C.: OK, just how many pairs of shoes do you have? I have about 25 including sneakers and sandals. My dear husband says he is going to start calling me Imelda if I buy any more. I do not think I have that many when you really look at them. Opinions from you and the nuts would be great!

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. I suppose that's a bad sign right there, but I do generally wear what I have. Not having closet fossils makes it a slightly more defensible habit.

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Washington, D.C.: UGH. My good friend just bought a house. She bought a VERY NICE HUGE HOUSE. It's gorgeous. It's also out in the boonies. I have a little house. A LITTLE TINY HOUSE that is in the city. She will NOT stop making comparisons. It's making me nuts. She is very competitive so I haven't fallen into the "well, my house is better because..." argument, but I just don't know what to say to stop it. I've already said "the places we live suit our different needs" and she's now telling me I'm being jealous. Argh!

Carolyn Hax: Try, "Yes, your house is awesome and I'm both consumed by jealously and prostrate with grief that you have it and I don't."

Next stop after that is realizing your good friend is an idiot and not a very good friend, so do what you can to make the preceding step work.

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To Puzzled in Virginia: Wow, I am constantly worried that I am overly sensitive and get offended too easily. Feeling put out when someone expresses that they regretted not having a chance to spend time with me at a group social gathering is one I had never even thought of. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Sure, happy to be of use.

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Annapolis, Md.: Puzzled in Virginia shouldn't be so sensitive. Maybe her friend enjoys her company, and had looked forward to the party because she expected to be able to spend more time with her than she did. Why not be flattered that her friend cares about her, instead of annoyed? It could be a lot worse, like getting intentionally ditched at a party, by someone who isn't really a friend.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, definitely, I agree it could be a lot worse. And I don't think this person was arguing that it even approached worstness. I just got the impression that the comment hit her/him wrong and s/he was wondering if it was justifiable to react that way.

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Chicago, re: to tell or not to tell: There sure is a litte red flag (pinkish flag?) with a fiance who won't tell his ex-wife he's engaged. I mean, I say little and pink because as a non-confrontational person myself, I understand not wanting to hurt someone's feelings to the point of just being ridiculous. I have been there. But when this woman brings it up with him again, she needs to point out that he can't go through life tip-toeing around people and that it's actually treating the ex-wife like a child not to share something like that. I bet she's a big girl and could handle it.

Obviously, the way this flag turns red is if this is an indication of some hope of ex-wife-reconciliation, and that's why he's not sharing. But I'd hope the fiancee has a good read on whether that's the case.

Carolyn Hax: I like this: "she needs to point out that he can't go through life tip-toeing around people and that it's actually treating the ex-wife like a child not to share something like that. I bet she's a big girl and could handle it." Thanks.

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Lost friendship: This might be hard to hear, but I have a slightly different perspective.

When I first became a father, I had some friends that started to drift away because of less-time to hang out, fewer things in common to talk about. I was so busy with my "new life" that I didn't really notice the drifting. A few years later when I caught up on my sleep, I tried reconnecting and realized that a beer or two was fun but not much else to glue us together other than old times. It happended and I don't really regret it. Think about it, you probably became friends because of common interests, free time to spend together, etc., so it's natural for friendship to fade when those things decrease. You become more like acquaintances with a "past."

This is probably one of the only situations where if the other person said, "it's not you, it's me," it would be the absolute truth.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, there are lots of them, but we've been over that.

Thanks for posting this. Good stuff. I would only add that 1. sometimes the reconnecting goes well and you become friends again; 2. even if it doesn't, people do themselves a huge disservice by getting angry ("She doesn't understand what small kids are like!!!" "He has forgotten what it's like to be single!!!" "She has/I have kids and then never calls again!!!") and, worse, holding onto that anger instead of just brushing it off as circumstance and being open to the possibility that circumstances change.

For example, Lost, in your case, your former have-a-beer friends could become parents themselves and put you back onto common ground.

Not to be too rosy about it. Just trying to promote a flexible point of view.

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Re House Jealousy: But wouldn't "Yes, your house is awesome and I'm both consumed by jealously and prostrate with grief that you have it and I don't." Just feed into the friend's idea that she's jealous????

Carolyn Hax: Only if the friend is so sure of it that she's beyond humor, in which case nothing you say is going to work anyway so you might as well have fun.

Besides, a need to correct someone's impression that you're jealous is a competitive behavior in itself. If you're truly not competing, then you truly don't care that the other person thinks she has won.

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Centralia, Wash.: Cute e-mails don't count?

Carolyn Hax: Sorry.

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Carolyn Hax: Just looking for a good one to end on ...

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San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Carolyn!

I'm stuck and need help, but don't know where to turn. I've been unemployed for the better part of a year now, my fiance and I have moved twice in that time, there's the wedding in North Carolina that was mostly planned before I lost the means to pay for it, and the stress of everything is starting to get to me. I have a family history of depression, and I'm starting to think it might be affecting me now, but I don't have any health insurance and can't afford anything but my rent and ramen noodles. My fiance has been supportive as possible, but under considerable stress too. Its amazing how fast one can go from thinking they've got it made to wondering what went wrong. Do you have any ideas on how I can keep my sanity while I continue the job search?

Carolyn Hax: Can you temp? I know it seems obvious but in the swirl of things it's the kind of thing that gets lost. Also, I know this practice has some ardent detractors, but given that your health is at stake, if you were to marry your fiance asap in a civil ceremony, could you get on his health insurance? You could also call off the ceremony. You might lose money, but if it keeps you from losing more money, that might be one source of relief.

In the meantime, I would also look into the availability of low- and no-cost counseling. If there's a university in your area that trains psychotherapists, the school could have a clinic; a local hospital also might offer one. You could also contact the local offices of therapists' professional groups--www.psych.org and www.apa.org--and you can contact NAMI (www.nami.org).

Hang in there, and please check back in.

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Anonymous: Hi Carolyn,

Thanks for taking my question -- I'll try to keep it brief. My now-fiance, his ex-girlfriend, and I all volunteered together. She and I were acquaintances and obviously he and I started dating, about a year after he and the ex broke up. She took it very poorly and said some incredibly mean things to me (I wasn't good enough for him, he'd be crawling back to her, etc.).

When we got engaged, her passive-aggressive behavior continued (what an ugly ring! this isn't going to make it to the altar, etc.)

My fiance knows about this and has said he'll support any decision I make regarding contact with her. Because he helped her through a very difficult time when they were dating, I don't mind if they stay in touch (they talk just a few times a year now), and therefore I've stayed in touch with her as well. However, I was shocked when she called me the other night and invited herself to come stay in our very small studio apartment when she visits Manhattan in a few weeks. I didn't say she could, but I also didn't say no, because I was so stunned. She does know other people in the city, so I don't know why she wants to stay with us. How can I tell her she can't stay here? Thank

you so much for helping my massive headache.

Carolyn Hax: That's not passive-aggressive behavior, that's active-obnoxious behavior. Call her back, tell her you gave it some thought (yeh right) and you can't offer her a place to stay, but you hope she has a nice time in the city. And if you;re in the mood, call your fiance on the wussmobile he's driving. He'll support -your- decision on contact with her? And he knows what she has said to you? How about his figuring out on his own that HE will feel better if he puts his foot down?

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Carolyn Hax: I know, I was supposed to end on the question before that, but I got all incensed.

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Carolyn Hax: But that's really it. Thanks everybody, congratulations on all your shoe collections (consensus: 25 is nuffin'), and have a great weekend. Back next Friday.

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