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Tell Me About It
Friday, April 6, 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 guys. Before we start, a reminder that I'm still collecting letters from people willing to give two sides of a story. If you missed it the first time (in either sense of the term), here's the idea: If you have an argument with someone, onetime or recurring, I'm looking for letters from both of you. Kind of like Judge Judy, except not.
To help me identify which emails go together, please put the other person's email address in the subject field.
Ellicott City, Md.: Hi Carolyn -- I finally decided to take the plunge into the world of online dating. At least I thought I did. It turns out that when I went to write a profile, I couldn't. Everything I write seems boring and/or cliched. What does this mean about me? I've heard that some people ask friends for help, but my best friends are people I see very rarely. And no way am I asking a family member. Any suggestions? I don't want to come off as boring, but I don't want to come off as someone I'm not, either.
Carolyn Hax: Try writing the most brutally honest paragraph you can about yourself. Not brutally negative, brutally honest--meaning your most accurate description, good and bad, vs. your best sell. See what you get then. (And if you want, share it with us.)
Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Hi Carolyn. In today's column, you mentioned that taking your partner's needs as personal criticism is a "standard happiness-killer." If you have this tendency, what can you do about it? Often, I take things personally even when I know I shouldn't, like if my husband needs some alone time when I don't. I know this isn't healthy, but how do I get over it?
Carolyn Hax: Since this mindset sometimes can be a symptom of a larger issue, I won't pretend this is a cure-all, but you can try this: consciously reframe the things people do that hurt your feelings, and look at them as if -you've- done them. For example, when someone doesn't return your call immediately, put yourself in the position of the person with a call to return, and mentally list all the reasons you don't: voice mail not working, busy with something else, sick, still figuring out what to say, misplaced phone number, etc. When it's you doing these things, they feel justified, right? So cut other people the same break, and realize they may have 100 good, totally random reasons for doing what they do, and "everyone hates me" isn't the answer to everything that doesn't go your way.
About Searching for Wisdom: From the column. It might be nice to give the couple a gift card in a small amount to a home accessories store (or something similar), with a card wishing them the best as they start their life together. Keeping the lines of communication open with a small gesture will do a lot more for your sister in the long run. Even if you're right that the marriage is doomed, telling her that (with words or actions) is meaningless at this point. She's already married him. If it falls apart, she's not going to be any better off if you're there to say "told you." Sometimes all we can do is be supportive as our loved ones learn from their own, repeated mistakes. And give advice, gently, when asked.
Carolyn Hax: Nice, thank you.
New York: Hi Carolyn
New boyfriend and his ex-wife have maintained a very good relationship, which is great, because they have a child together. I have absolutely no concerns about them having "feelings" for each other. But, ex-wife has also maintained a very close relationship with his family (spends all holidays and family occasions with them), which makes me feel like an outsider. They are all extremely welcoming and nice to me. I know it's all in my own head. What I can't figure out is how to get over that feeling. Any advice? Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: It might help if you just treat it as legitimate. It's one thing for there to be a friendly ex on the scene; it's quite another to have one present at every holiday or occasion you spend with your BF's family. Of course you're going to feel like the new kid walking into the middle school cafeteria.
Next step, since you can't make her go away: remind yourself she's around because these are (apparently) all decent people, and this will serve you better in the long run than if they had banished an ex-in-law.
You might need a clarification: I applaud your request for two-sided submissions, but I think you need to clarify the bit about including someone else's e-mail address in the submission. That seemed like an absolute no-no to me until I actually saw an example, in which it was apparent that the e-mail addressed had been snipped out. You might want to reassure your readers on that point.
Carolyn Hax: Email addresses will not be published. (Is that what you mean?) I've requested them solely as means of identification, since they, unlike, say, names or cute signatures, are unique.
And I am asking these dual questions to be submitted to me by email@example.com means I will have your email addresses anyway.
Los Angeles, Calif.: Carolyn,
Here's a puzzler. My sister and her husband invited us to the baptism of their second child. My wife doesn't want to go, because it would basically feel fake to her (the first child was baptized but never goes to church; the ceremony involves the parents accepting Jesus as their savior, which these particular parents haven't).
I'm going, and am fine with whatever my wife chooses to do. I can see her point, but it doesn't really bother me. Her absence would cause mild family friction. What do you do in a situation like this? Support family, even if you don't support what they're doing? (not trying to load the question -- I really don't know).
Carolyn Hax: It is of course her prerogative not to go, but I do see a counterargument. I would think that--I'm assuming your wife is a practicing member of this or some other faith, and that's why she's all out of joint--it would be better to support someone's sickly little sprout of commitment to faith, instead of stomping on it as substandard. Maybe your sister is doing it only for appearances, but (to me, at least) it still reads as an acknowledgment that this is an important thing to do for a child.
I also think this is a prerogative best exercised at the expense of one's own family chemistry, not at the expense of one's husband's ... but that's always a slippery slope, since I could also argue that your support belongs with your wife, not your family. And, an extension of that, your family shouldn't be punishing you for the fact that your wife wants to live by her conscience. Have fun!
Wisdom vs. Judgment: I'd also work hard on rethinking the idea that this is such a "mistake," at least based on the few facts presented - that this is her sister's second marriage (horrors!) or even the husband's third (double horrors), or that they met while the sister was "trolling the Internet" for men (how do all the online daters feel now?) I think you nailed it, Carolyn, when you asked whether she was searching for wisdom or asking permission to judge - but I think a crucial part of the congratulations card/gift whatever would be working on reexamining the surety that this is a mistake. This marriage could last the next fifty years, and the writer could see all her well-thought out plans and actions go to hell in the proverbial hand-basket. The best gift of all, including the writer, would be abandoning some of the preconceptions, along with any further references to that very expensive patio furniture.
Carolyn Hax: Standing AND clapping. Thanks.
How would you respond to a friend who tells you she is tired of your insecurity and indecisiveness, and she feels like she has to walk on eggshells around you? I don't want to be defensive, but I also want to be assertive and stand up for myself.
thanks for your advice. hope spring is on its way over there!
Carolyn Hax: How I respond to that friend would depend so heavily on: how insecure and indecisive I've actually been; how quick I've been to use these as an excuse to dump on or needlessly lean on my friend; how kindly (or un-) my friend phrased this little intervention; whether my friend had anything to gain by putting me down ... in other words, on so many social intricacies, that I can't really answer your question.
But you can, I think. If she had a point, tell her you think she had a point. If she was mean about it, tell her you think she was mean about it. Or tell her you think she was nice about it but you respectfully disagree. Or whatever seems true to you. And if you struggle to sort out even what feels true to you, that plus this unfriendly news from your friend suggests it might be time to talk to a pro (since either your friend was right and your insecurity has become an issue, or you're fine and you have shaky taste in friends).
Baltimore, Md.: A very nice friend of mine got a boyfriend several months ago. They are going through an unbelievably schmoopy phase, and it's driving me nuts, I'm sure in no small part because I don't have a SO. But mostly I feel like she's being kind of a jerk about it. (Like, did she really have to consult me about what to buy him for a Valentine's Day gift? I've met him once.)
Our mutual friends are all coupled, so I feel like the odd man out. The bf ended a long dry spell for her, and it's just driving me nuts that she's apparently forgotten that sometimes single people are not the best audience for adorable couples stories. (Did you know that she totally always wins whenever they thumb wrestle? Even though his hands are soooo much bigger than hers?)
Is this something I have to suck up on my own, because it would be unkind to diminish her happiness? Or is it a legitimate beef?
Carolyn Hax: A good many coupled people would yock at a story like that. Maybe look at it from the perspective of a human being who recognizes the bounds of good taste, vs from the perspective of sole singleton.
That said, if you can stand not to say anything, that might be best. The gushy phase won't last and, just to judge from the odds that any relationship works out, probably will end with her feeling embarrassed about all her gushing. Extra points if you can remain tolerant.
FC: I wish you had called the second questioner in today's column on her needlessly negative view of online dating. Maybe she has valid reasons for questioning her sister's relationship, but "trolling the Internet for guys" isn't among them.
I've just started trying out Internet dating, and so far am pretty pleased with the results. And I'm not doing it because I'm desperate, an ogre, or a fetishist, but because in my daily life I find it hard to meet enough people that I'm interested in.
Carolyn Hax: I called her out on being judgmental, which I thought covered it all--the Internet dating, the not-first marriages, the patio furniture to the ex. It didn't seem necessary to single out each offense.
Besides, for all we know, her "trolling the Internet for guys" could have been one of them. Did the sister have a profile on a dating site, or was she frequenting chat rooms, assuming different identities, posting naked pictures? There's a lot we don't know, which is why there's a lot I didn't say in my answer.
Washington, D.C.: Hello - The other day, a co-worker friend of mine and I had plans to go to lunch. At the last minute, she invited another co-worker who I am not particuarly fond of to join us (although it is possible that the second co-worker invited herself). Of course I still went to lunch and was cordial but I was still annoyed with the situation. Any advice for handling this type of situation differently the next time it happens? Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: You handled it just right. What else can you do? Sometimes it rains on your salade Nicoise.
Baltimore, Md.: I told my husband I had a sexy dream last night, and that we should make my dream come true tonight. His response? "It's been a long week."
Should I show him to the couch?
Carolyn Hax: There you go--punish him for being honest. That'll rev him up.
When you're upset about something (or in a marriage where you both communicate via cliche), just use your best judgment to determine a good time to bring it up, and admit your feelings were hurt. I realize the parenthetical may come across as gratuitous, but it does sound like you're both using proxies to avoid facing each other. You;re using your dream as cover to ask for something you want, and he's using his job (or whetever) as cover to say no. Talk to each other, please?
Singled out: You were too easy on the person who was annoyed about her friend being schmoopy about her new boyfriend. Just from the tone of her post, it's obvious the only reason she's annoyed is because she's still single. I'm single, and when my friend is annoyingly gushy, I just gently tease her and tell her we need to change the subject or I'm gonna barf. I'm happy that she's found a nice guy, and I just don't understand all of the hard feelings and envy people get when others have something they don't have. She needs some friends like the insecure poster whose friend had the nerve to tell him/her that she's sick of walking on eggshells.
Carolyn Hax: While we're walking on eggshells--I don't think it's "obvious." I do think it's -possible-. It's also possible the infatuated friend is going overboard, and by doing so being insensitive. Tweak the scenario so that it's one friend who hates her job and hasn't been able to find another, and another who just got a huge raise and promotion, and the sensitivity line falls in the same place: Friend 1 finds a way to be happy for the other's success, and Friend 2 has the decency not to ask him or her to have to find it every stinkin time they talk.
I don't think we have enough information to judge who's falling on which side of the line. My hunch is both are crossing over, but it's just a hunch.
Suburb of "Best and Brightest" City: Online only, please. I was invited, along with about 800 other graduate students, to attend a government job fair for the "best and the brightest" this week. Despite my best efforts--and the fact that hundreds of jobs were available just to us, I have come up empty. This makes me feel like the worst of the "best" and my dreams of working for the government are shattered. (If I can't get a job through this special feeding mechanism, how can I get a job through the normal route?) What is a healthy response when your best isn't good enough? I know this is not necessarily indicative of my ability to EVER find a job, but it feels like it.
Carolyn Hax: Get out, get out! I think the rarified air you're breathing is a little low on oxygen.
If there were fewer hundreds of jobs than there were BandBs, then the corresponding hundreds of you were going to come away without jobs.
And, some people who got jobs will hate them, or suck at them, or hit dead-ends in them, or will feel underpaid/underappreciated for them, or whatever.
Or, your resume really truly "wasn't a fit" for the jobs that were available.
So there are three different perspectives that support not panicking because you left one job fair without a job. Given that the point of education, imho, (but, full disclosure, I've never been counted as either of the B's), is to learn to think as broadly as possible about a problem or situation, I think the best use of your bestness here is to broaden your perspective on yourself. Think of the job you really want, work you butt off to get it, and take acceptance or rejection with good sportsmanship and unwavering flexibility.
Carolyn Hax: Sorry that took so long. I was trying to spell everything goodly.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn -
Do you ever get frustrated with just how petty some of the questions submitted to you sound? Don't get me wrong -- the majority of the questions posted here represent very real dilemmas and perilously-ambiguous issues. But sheesh -- getting upset because your friend asked for suggestions for a Valentine's day gift for her BF? Getting bent out of shape because someone else came along for lunch? Get a grip!
Maybe I'm just being cranky today, but an inbox full of trivial gripes would drive me nuts.
Carolyn Hax: If they were all heavy, I'd have to hurt myself. I'm grateful for the fullest range I can get.
Baptism followup: Thanks for the response. Two things to clear up, if it makes any difference. My wife is actually an atheist, and the family friction concerns her more than me -- she likes my family a lot and doesn't want to cause trouble, but I don't think it would be that big a deal.
Carolyn Hax: I'm not sure it does make a difference, but it does have me asking, why make such an issue of it? Even if it's a sham baptism, it's not her sham baptism. I do respect the principle of not wanting to be a smiling witness to fraud, but, at the same time, there are ways around it--say, being a smiling witness to family tradition; or being a smiling witness to the parents' effort to make religion available to their children, even though they themselves ahve opted against it; or being a smiling witness to the parents' right to do as they see fit for their children. Excuses, all of thme, sure, but they're excuses that would allow your wife to justify going in the interest of keeping the peace.
Re: Crabby Abby: I agree with Crabby Abby. It seems that some people will just die if they don't pick apart someone else's happiness.
Carolyn Hax: And where would we be if we couldn't pick them apart?
To the friend of the "Schmoopy": Hi,
I've been on both sides -- the fed-up friend and the coupled up friend. In both situations, I've learned to just be a good listener and to be happy with my place in life, even when it's different from that of my friends.
It sounds like this girl is just being cynical instead of being happy for her friend. So what if she's gushing; what matters more is that she's having the time of her life, and instead of saying it's all going to end badly, why not just smile and share in her friend's joy?
Carolyn Hax: Or, if she thinks she's going to ralph, just smile and say, "I think I'm going to ralph."
Humph: Well I'm sooooo glad Arlington only spends her day thinking of starving children in Darfur and peace in the Middle East and existentialism, and never about the guy in the next cube who snaps his gum or how her mother-in-law insinuates she's a supbar housekeeper.
Carolyn Hax:1. "Snap your gum again and I'm playing a Raffi CD."
2. "Technically, I'm not a bad housekeeper, I'm a non-housekeeper. The vacuum's in the closet."
Just in case you were thinking of those.
For Best and Brightest - please post!: I'm in that program! The fair's not the only place to get a job! Not all of the jobs are posted publicly. If it's what you want to do, keep making an effort. Call agencies where you want to work. Keep at it if it's what you want!
Carolyn Hax: I was going to comment on the fact that more than one of you is here, but I couldn't think of anything clever.
Washington, DC: Boy do I have an issue with your advice from Wednesday's column about the woman whose ex lied about her to his family.
You believe that his family knows he is really lying and can't seem to handle the truth that their son/brother/whatever is a bad person. I completely disagree. Blood is thicker than water and, while it may be misguided, I am more prone to believing something my brother said as opposed to my sister-in-law. I look at it this way: he's always going to be my flesh and blood brother no matter what. If he said this is how it went down then I believe him moreso than I would anyone else. He is my brother! It's family! That's one of the strongest bonds people can have with one another. My loyalty is to him because of that.
I can see your point (and I agree with you on the second part about any respect coming from this is fake) but, quite frankly, I think you were just trying to make the writer feel better about a bad situation. Quite frankly you were way off. Truth be told, none of us will ever really know what his family thinks about their divorce situation but throwing something like this out seems like something nice to hear rather than a realistic assessment.
Carolyn Hax: Ankh. Sorry. I may have been way off -for you-, but I wasn't trying to make her feel better. This is the way I think, and I love my family, too. I also know them, and when I hear a family version of a story, I recognize that I am hearing it from the perspective of the person I love, and so must adjust accordingly for the truth. Some adjustments, of course, are greater than others.
I expect them to do that to me, too--and I say this having had the pleasure of having my mother side with my then-BF, after I recounted some drama or another.
So while I won't say you're way off, since you're just sharing the way you think, I do believe that if you use your wagon-circling reflex to protect a family member who has mistreated (or worse, who routinely mistreats) someone else, then you are indeed misguided.
What's Your Take? New job or old?: I have an offer from a local dept. of health to do the job I've wanted to do for a while (epidemiologist). The glitch is that I currently work for a company with better compensation/work culture, but with less interesting work. I would love to jump ship and follow my heart, but I feel kind of bummed by getting not my salary matched. Should I just do it if the money is feasible? FWIW, I am in my mid-30's at the start of a new career.
Carolyn Hax: Do what you love, and the details will resolve themselves.
If you jump ship and land in an icy sea with low pay and a miserable work culture, I will blame this answer on my evil twin.
Seriously, while the money may turn out not to be as big an issue as you feared, the "work culture" thing could be huge, depending. I don't know exactly what you mean by it, and it could mean leaving a plush office for an old one (whatever) or a great boss for a psychotic one (oh my). Do it if all the variables tell you it's a good idea.
Emergency Question: Hi Carolyn. I just signed on to Amazon as my mother -- something I do frequently and with her permission -- and the site started recommending all these books about dealing with/living with/leaving verbally abusive men. Meaning she'd been searching for books on that topic. Meanwhile, my dad, who I assume she's talking about, announced that he's in my town and wants to see me tonight, and my boyfriend won't come because we're in not the best place in our relationship and he doesn't want to have to "pretend." Please help.
Carolyn Hax:1. Don't assume; she could be hunting for a friend, or for work, or for dealing with a friend or her boss.
2. Use this fig leaf to get through the visit from your dad.
3. After, talk to your mom. You have her permission, so you don't have to worry about apologizing or explaining yourself first. Just say what you saw, and ask if everything's okay?
4. Start thinking. You know how your parents are together. All kids, I think, put together a narrative about their parents that makes sense to them, if only so they can get on with their growing process and not have to spend too much mental/emotional energy on figuring out their parents. So, now, see if this possible new item makes sense with your narrative. Include your relationship with your BF in your thinking, too.
I would have listed that item first, but I think your big thinking will come after you get through the immediate issues of the dad visit and the BF fight.
McLean, Va.: Carolyn:
Please help. I have been dating my boyfriend for four years and we just found out I was pregnant last weekend. This has thrown our ideal relationship into a total tailspin. We always planned to get married and have a family but not for a few years. His family is very religious and mine is extremely conservative. Neither of us can imagine telling our loved ones or friends and the possible judgements that would be leveled might be quite damaging. Long story short, we have had countless coversations and it seems like we're moving farther apart on a solution. My boyfriend seems like he wants to end the pregnancy and I want to have the baby. We both want to be sensitive to eachother's needs and have made no final decisions. However, as we move farther from reaching a mutually agreeable decision, how in the world can we get through this? I can't talk to anyone except my boyfriend about what is going on so I need some outside advice.
Carolyn Hax: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You're basing your approach to this baby on possible reactions from family? No no no no, please. Grow up. Tell yourselves the truth, about what you really want, and tell each other the truth. No relationship is "ideal" if you can't manage that.
I'm sorry to be so blunt, but this makes me nuts. Whatever you decide, you;re going to need strength, not just to make the right decision but also to be able to live with it. That means resisting outside pressure.
Not for nothing, but a religous family and a conservative family who choose to judge a couple who decide to carry an unintended pregnancy to term (the only reason they'd need to know about it) would have a lot of nerve.
Re: Emergency: Maybe her mom is looking up books for the writer?
Carolyn Hax: Oh, duh. Thank you. Writer? Is this possible?
hoping for immediate help: I just got a very negative e-mail from a friend who doesn't plan on having children complaining about how all those around her (3 people) are either pregnant or just had a baby. The e-mail, which was sent to me and another friend, ended with "are you too next?" I'm pregnant, but no one knows yet. how should I respond? ack!!
Carolyn Hax: Invite Friend to lunch and suggest she find a way to be happy for her friends? or at least a more productive way to deal with her frustration?
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: How do you tell if your feelings for a friend are real, or if you've convinced yourself that you "like" her simply because your interest in other women that you meet is nonexistent?
Carolyn Hax: You move slowly enough for your oops moment to come before you find yourself on a lease/deed/marriage license with her.
Ralph Here:"Or, if she thinks she's going to ralph, just smile and say, "I think I'm going to ralph."
If people keep insist in using my name in this fashion, I think I'm gonna hax!
Carolyn Hax: If that means, "Quit and go eat lunch," then I'm going to hax, too.
Bye, thanks, and type to you next Friday.
Very late - but please help: Carolyn, I just went to www.peaceathome.org and they are not longer in existence. Do you know of another site that lists warning signs that someone might become violent? Thanks!
Carolyn Hax: Google "Domestic Violence: The Facts" and Peace at Home. The handbook should turn up--or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
here's immediate help:...or she could take her to lunch and say, "Yes, I AM next!" And then do the evil, cackle laugh like in scary movies with Vincent Price and jump out at her and say "And you could be next, my little pretty!"
Then give her a really long baby registry list with the most expensive item circled.
Carolyn Hax: PERFECT. Thank you.
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