Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 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.: I just found out that I'm six weeks pregnant. My boyfriend and best friend knows. I've already got a college degree, a job and I'm working on my MBA. How do I break the news to my family, and all the other people who had high hopes for me? I want it to be known that this isn't the end of my life. FYI: my boyfriend is supportive, but I'm not sure if I want to settle down with him, even though we're expecting.

Carolyn Hax: High hopes for you, how? That you wouldn't have sex? That you would operate on a level above quirks, fate or human error? That if you ever got pregnant, you;d have an abortion?

Please note how ridiculous it is to assume everyone's monolithic opinion and then construct fears around that assumption. Make your choices, present your choices, accept you can't control how people accept your choices, live your life. I have high hopes you can handle it.

And, hey, congratulations.


Italy: Carolyn -

I am finishing up a semester long overseas study program. I met this local guy here who I have hung out with pretty much the whole time. I really have come to love him but have not slept with him and he has never pressured me to do so. Now that it is almost time to go home I really want to because I may never see him again. I'm not feeling right about it like the feeling you get when you've just ate a whole pint of ice cream. It tastes great at the time but later on you feel guilty. I know I sound like a 20 year old (I am) but how do you make decisions like this?

Carolyn Hax: If you have even the faintest little voice telling you not to do it, don't do it. You can usually reverse a no, if you change your mind later, but you can't reverse a yes.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Wanted your (and your audience's) advice on something: I am a 30-year-old male with moderate ED. I have been taking Viagra for a while but have yet to tell my girlfriend (of one year) about it. First of all, it's embarrassing (since I'm so young), and I have rationalized that in some ways it's no different than an arthritic man taking Advil prior to physical activity, or a woman wearing makeup to enhance her appearance. But my rationalizations aside, is this something she is ENTITLED to know? Due in large part to the Viagra, our sex life is "outstanding," but I'm concerned once I tell her she will feel that there's something very wrong with her or me. Can I just let sleeping dogs lie here?

Carolyn Hax: Or barking dogs bark, in this case.

I think you should tell. The longer you wait, the heavier the secret, which she will find out eventually if you stay together.

If you're holding back at all because you feel you can't trust her to deal with your news sensitively, then, okay, you don't have to tell--but then please promise me you'll then deal with the fact that your term for this person you don't trust to be nice to you is "my girlfriend." That's pretty scary.


For Washington, D.C.: Would you ever advise a person like Washington, D.C. to get an abortion? I was in almost her exact same circumstances in terms of where I was with school and job and boyfriend, and I had an abortion and it was definitely the right choice. I don't know enough about her to say that it's the right choice for her, but I do think women should know that for many of us, having an abortion was a very good decision.

Carolyn Hax: Here's the thing. She knows abortion is an option, so she doesn't need me for that. Plus, I think we all know abortion is not only an intensely personal decision, but also one that can do anything from gnaw at to torture you if you choose incorrectly, either way. So I take great care not to get my fingerprints anywhere on this decision.

To put it in context, I also don't touch people's decisions to stay in or leave marriages, unless there's some obvious reason I have to, like abuse, and I don't tell people whether to tell or not tell that they cheated, unless there's some obvious reason I can, like the cheating happened 40 years ago. I do not, do not want to interfere with the inner workings of a conscience. I suggest things to think about and then get the hell out.


You won't like but it needs to be said: I don't understand girls that get pregnant out of wedlock. It is not about the deed -- most everyone does that long before the big wedding day -- it is about responsibility. It is very easy to prevent pregnancy. Most young women can figure this out when they choose to start sleeping with people.

There is no reason for a woman to be so cavalier as to just assume that she does not have to worry about, plan for, think about the possibility of getting pregnant.

I forgot to take two pills in a row last month and I was petrified for the rest of the month, took appropriate action and I am married!! If you dont have your act together enough (and clearly I did not for two days in a row) then don't have relations.

Carolyn Hax: You're right, I don't like it, and I think it needs to be countered. Having had the pleasure of knowing a few babies who were failures of the pill unrelated to "cavalier" attitides (show of hands, pill users, if you know that some antibiotics compromise the pill's effectiveness), I find your kind of judgment a bit too smug for my taste. Haven't we, as a culture, maxed out on finger-pointing yet?

You've also failed to consider those who, for whatever reason, respond poorly to hormone-based birth control, and so are forced to make do with methods that aren't quite so respectful of our desire for them to work.


Washington, D.C.: Is it normal for a girl in her young twenties to feel "asexual"? My boyfriend is great, but I know he feels as though I'm no longer attracted to him. I don't know what my problem is, I just haven't seemed to be in the mood lately, and it's definitely affecting our relationship in a very negative way.


Carolyn Hax: Whenever a sex drive vanishes (and whenever its owner misses it), I think the first appointment should be with an internist for a full physical. There's just too much feeding into the sexual reservoir--physical, emotional, situational, pharmaceutical--to isolate the source of a problem in one Jeannie-blink, so start by ruling out what's easiest to rule out. Since we're on the subject--those hormone-bases contraceptives are among many possible culprits when it comes to suppressed libido.

Then, if nothing turns up in that search, you can get into the murkier things, like, are you losing interest in or respect for your BF, and maybe dealing with it by way of general shutdown? Are you suppressing anger? Stressed out?


For "You won't like it but...": Also, does anyone still believe that "girls" (your word, not mine) get pregnant all by themselves? Do we not need to get over this idea that birth control is exclusively the responsibility of the female involved in the sexual act?

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, can't leave this out.


Reno, Nev.: Carolyn,

I have an endocrine disorder that will make it difficult but not impossible to get pregnant. My doctor and my parents are the only ones who know. It doesn't feel like I'm keeping a secret from the man I'm dating, but I want to make sure he's someone I can even see myself with before I share this information with him because, otherwise, he'd be another person in the world who knows I have this disorder. Does this approach sound fair?

Carolyn Hax: Perfectly. For what it's worth, though, your disorder, and knowledge of it, looms largest in your mind--obviously, because it's you. Sharing it with someone else, like a close friend, might help you put it in the perspective other human conditions, of which we all have a unique list.


Pregnancy Rates: I'm a reporter who's spent a long time covering health, and lemme tell that smug person who thinks no one should ever get pregnant accidentally -- accidents happen on birth control. Even the best methods fail. For god's sake, sterilization fails. It doesn't happen often, obviously, but it happens. So enough of the finger pointing, puhhh-lease. There are things you can and should do to protect yourself, and they mostly work, but they are not perfect.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Even if someone was careless: Haven't we, as a culture, maxed out on finger-pointing yet?


Re: Washington, D.C.: While I generally agree with your advice to the asexual to get everything checked out, I think it's also worth pointing out that in many relationships, the sex just fizzles after a while, and you really need to work at it to stay interested (figure out interesting things to do, be in touch with what turns you on, etc). We'd all like to think the sex will stay passionate forever, but that seems to be pretty rare.

Carolyn Hax: Agreed. It's such a hard bit of gray to navigate, when to see a doctor, when to "work at it," and when to say, "I guess we're better as friends"/"I don't think this is working"?

Here's a shot at it: If you feel like your body's letting you down, I think that's a doctor sign; if you feel loving/happy-to-see-you but bored, I think that's a work at it sign; and if you're starting to hide or recoil, I think that's a sign the feelings themselves are the problem, not the ability to feel them.


RE: Fingerpointing: I point my finger to you Carolyn and to your fab producer Liz (so two fingers) to move us past the subject of that silly lady. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I wish it were just that one person. Some people posted with their support of that viewpoint, and so I chose to take another pass at it.


Re: last week's chat: "You have chosen to put a difficult and, I imagine, draining marriage at the center of your life."

Not the original poster but this statement resonated with me because this is exactly what I have done and it's killing me. It has gotten to the point that when he threatens suicide, my first thought is "just do it and put me out of my misery!" I never say it but I think it way too often. He always threatens but never has never acted on it. I just don't care anymore. I'm tired of not having a life because all of my time and energy is taken up with his. And I don't know how to find/make the time for myself so I don't go insane.

No question really. Sorry to be a downer.

Carolyn Hax: I have a question. Have you gotten any help? It sounds like you are both in serious trouble, but my main concern is for you.


Finger Pointing: Remember, finger pointing in society plays a major role in enforcing acceptable behavior. Fear of shame is part of what is supposed to keep us, as a society, in line.

Just a reminder.

Carolyn Hax: Noted, and, to an extent, agreed with--I'm on the record (somewhere ... the record is getting long) that shame does have its place. But it has gotten to a point where if somebody jaywalks, you've got 50 different morons screaming for his head on 50 different TV and radio channels. Make it 3500 if you add blogs. We're about to usher a presidential campaign into full swing with no candidate willing to articulate a bold idea or maverick opinion for fear of having his/her campaign bus forced off the road by torch-wielding villagers whose bowed-and-scraped-for pleasure allegedly represents the only path toward victory. The definition of "victory" being decidedly open to debate. Yay us.

Give "acceptable behavoir" a definition broad enough to encompass the full range of respectful human behavior, and I'll agree with you.


Baltimore, Md.: I wrote a book that tens of thousands of people read -- except for my dad. (My mom read it when it came out in paperback, because that's easier to hold, and her book club was going to use it.) My dad displays the book on a special shelf, brags about it, but never read more than a few pages since it came out four years ago.

By the way, it is not a heavy tome -- it is fun and "fascinating," according to major newspapers. Dad does read a lot of other stuff in this general genre, though not on this subject. I have told him how much this hurts my feelings. He then cracks some joke.

My second book is about to come out. Though they once again almost never asked me about the process or my work over the last two years, except when it will be done, I know my parents will expect a signed copy. I am so hurt by their lack of interest that I am tempted to say, "I'll give you this one when you've finished the first one." Then again, that is snarky and rude.

Any suggestions, or should I just get over myself?

Carolyn Hax: Sure, it's the rare person among us who doesn't need to do that. But I think in your case it would be even more productive if you let yourself get over your parents already. Pops has got a sweet little control game going, with--and only with--your full participation. Put the game piece down--I'm thinking you're the wheelbarrow ... no, the shoe--and walk away. As needed, repeat to yourself internally, "Who wants to go through life like that?" when your dad chooses to put up these odd little obstaces to enjoying his time with his son.


Atlanta, Ga.: Is there any way to tell if the guy you are dating "shouuld" be gay? He is overall great, seems to enjoy sex, but there are just a few mannerisms and jokes that make me wonder. I know it's ridiculous, and maybe I'm trying to sabotage something that is really good (because I do that) but there's just a small voice that worries if he's in denial or trying to live a more socially-accepted lifestyle. Any advice?

Carolyn Hax: When you aren't sure, just move slowly and keep your mind open. If you're afraid of something, time will diminish it, and if he's hiding something, time will magnify it.


Arlington, Va.: Online only please.

I am concerned about my 40-year-old brother. He is a good guy, has good friends, supports himself, pays bills on time. But then it all stops. He can't seem to get motivated to do anything. He talked about getting out of the restaurant business for ages, but wouldn't do anything about it. Eight years later, he is still in it. He never did ONE thing to try and start a new career.

He was a bartender then manager, but then was waitering (supposedly temporarily -- it's been about three years). Now he is bartending again and was practically giddy about his "promotion" (back to where he was 5+ years ago!)

He has had one relationship for a few months in his 20s and that it is.

He's not a spender, but will pay 9 percent interest on a car when he could refinance for 3 percent.

He can't seem to grasp the concept of saving for retirement (I finally got him to open an IRA a couple of years ago).

I don't think he is UNhappy, but not as happy as he could be. Last summer he said he agreed with that statement. He said that in his ideal life, he would be married with kids right now. He seems to be just "existing."

And he needs some kind of reality check -- he seriously thinks he still looks like he is 25.

Me, my sisters, BIL, etc have sent him things he might be interested -- job postings, classes, etc. But he just never does anything with them.

It's not any one thing with him -- it just it all added up is unusual.

I told him a month ago that I thought he should see a counselor -- I think he is slightly depressed and maybe some meds on a short term basis might help motivate him. And talking to someone might help him organize his thoughts, etc.

But, of course, he'll never do anything about it.

I could go on and on. Do you or the nuts have any ideas? Should I, with his consent, set up an appointment for him. Take him? Go with him?

Help! And thanks!

Carolyn Hax: If you have his consent, yes, absolutely, help him locate a good diagnostician and even help get him there. I say "good diagnostician" knowing that's a pretty slippery thing to advise--not exactly a category in the Yellow Pages--but for all you know, what you read as depression could be a side effect of years of living with an undiagnosed somethingorother (learning disability? ADD?), and not the underlying problem. There are more than a few somethingorothers that both nudge people onto unfulfilling life paths and also stall them there. I'd start with a conversation with your doctor--along the lines of describing where your brother is in his life, and asking where one would start in getting him screened.


How did you know... Baltimore, Md.: Carolyn,

How did you know the Baltimore author is a man? I read it totally thinking it was a woman.

Carolyn Hax: I didn't, just a reflex--when I pictured the father-child standoff, the image was of a son. Of course it could go either way.


Perspective, none: "My main concern is for you."

Granted, the person writing in is suffering. I will even conditionally grant that the person threatening suicide is mentally abusing his spouse. As someone who has had his life touched by this ultimately irrational act too often, I can not accept such a casual dismissal of the pain that leads to someone threatening suicide. Of all the years I have read and admired you, this is the first time I thought you to be completely and totally no other way to put it off base and dismissive of another human being.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry to have given that impression. I see it as: Either the person is making empty threats, in which case the one who needs more help is the person who is being manipulated by that, or the person is making real threats, in which case I urgently need to reach the one person whose attention I have--the person who wrote to me.


Almost at the altar: Carolyn -

I'm not sure if guys write in, but I thought I'd try. A long time friend is getting married tomorrow, and it's a bad idea. He's changed everything about himself to be with this girl and his other groomsmen and I think it's just because he's feeling a lot of pressure to grow up and settle down from family and work. We also think there's a good chance he may be gay; it's something he's struggled with since college.

Do we say something? I think this isn't the kind of thing you can tell someone, that he needs to figure it out for himself, but I feel like a bad friend standing at the altar without bringing it up.

Not sure a good friend springs this on someone the day before the wedding...

Carolyn Hax: Well, six months ago it might have gone over a little better. But even the day before wedding, you can say to someone you care about, "We're behind you, no matter what." Unless he;s teetering on the edge of backing out, he's not going to back out no matter what you say, and if he is teetering, that could be the hint he's looking for that the world won't end if he does.

By the way, since this comes up a lot: Even good friends can stand at the altar of a wedding they think is disastrous. It just means you're supporting your friend through what s/he chooses to go through. That's not necessarily an abdication of responsibility.


Snooping: is it ever okay to snoop in your boyfriend's e-mail? like, if you think he's cheating on you?

Carolyn Hax: If you don't find any proof, will you be satisfied by that, or will you keep looking? To what end?

You already have all the facts you need: You aren't happy with your relationship right now and you don't trust your boyfriend. Deal with those directly, please.


Philly: Arlington needs to stop living the 40-year-old brother's life. S/he needs a huge dose of MYOB. why does it matter so much what "stage" the brother is at? sounds to me like the brother has a life, it's just not up to what the poster is expecting.

Carolyn Hax: I see your point, but my impression of this one was a bit grayer--that maybe he was setting off a vague, family-wide alarm.


RE: Almost at the altar & Arlington: See, Arlington? A perfect example of what happens when someone, like your brother, is forced to GROW UP into a life that they don't necessarily want. Maybe you, your sisters and BIL should mind your own business. He ignores your clippings and pays 9 percent interest?


Carolyn Hax: Okay, okay, I see your point.


Controling my own expectations: Seems like a good day for this question -- how do I control my own expectations of sex with my boyfriend? I want it all the time and get frustrated and sad and internalize when he's not up for it ALL the time. I end up ruining the evening for myself and he feels like he's disappointed me. This is the second relationship it's happened in... and I'd really like to snap myself out of it!

Carolyn Hax: Well, your sex drive is your sex drive, so any snappings-out need to be of your reflex to apply the pressure of taking things personally. At least to start. Instead of trying to initiate sex every time you want it, hjang back, and figure out what your BF's normal pace is. Then, peg your expectations to that--then see if you can live with it. It could be as simple as reading him better; it could be your needing someone with a higher sex drive; it could be your insecurities are collecting into this problem/need, and will keep doing so until you deal with the underlying insecurity. This at least is a place to start.


Re: snooping: Awhile ago I stumbled across evidence that my boyfriend was messing around on me. Because I like to deal with things directly, I brought it up and asked him to be honest with me about what was going on. His response was that he hadn't done anything, and when I brought up an unanswered question about it the following week, he told me that he'd already told the truth and I was going to ruin our relationship if I didn't stop asking about it. I really, really wanted to trust him, so I let it go.

Two months later, something reawoke my suspicions. This time I just went ahead, snooped in his email, and discovered that he'd been cheating on me for the entire time we'd been together.

I'm not saying I was right. But seeing the evidence is what gave me the guts to dump the manipulative jerk. Just my two cents.

Carolyn Hax: Appreciated. I would just argue that you had enough to dump him when he told you that he'd already told the truth and you were going to ruin your relationship if you didn't stop asking about it.

In other words, I still believe that when you resort to snooping, it means you already have all the info you need.


In support of Arlington:"I don't think he is UNhappy, but not as happy as he could be. Last summer he said he agreed with that statement."

If he agreed with the assessment that he is not 100% OK, then trying to help him get to what he views as OK is not out of line. My sister was the one who kicked me in the butt to go get help when I was in the midst of my depression/anxiety because she knew that something wasn't quite right, and she knew that -I- knew that something wasn't quite right. Arlington is not going behind his/her brother's back and trying to live his life, s/he is trying to (with his consent) determine if he needs help.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Two more coming.


On the other hand: I am the brother who says he wants to change his life and then does nothing, and pays way too much interest (except I'm a 38-yr-old woman). I feel paralyzed. I would love for one of my brothers or sisters to fly in and help me find a therapist. It's like I need someone to help me get started. Just another perspective.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. One more:


A guy in Virginia: Hello, Carolyn! I read your chat regularly; thanks!

I'm a 40-year-old single guy. I have good friends and pay my bills, don't have a lot of responsibilities, and I like it that way. My family is ALWAYS on my back, though; they want me to be, and do, something different with my life. (What that is changes weekly, depending on what's shown up in the local and national press.) I'm always polite, thank them for their interest, and then ignore their suggestions.

I'm really tired of it, though. I'm 40 years old and want them off my back! I'm thinking of sitting them down for an interference intervention. What think you?

Carolyn Hax: Sure, be as clear as you need to be. Just be prepared for it not to work.

Moral of the stories, I guess: Be clear, both expressively and receptively. And if one party won't cooperate, move to a city that no low-cost airline serves.


Not Your Cruise Director: Carolyn, please tell me to snap out of this. I am the "social planner" for my group of friends, a role I fell into due to general lack of planning in this group (conversations on what to do on Friday night would generally take place late Friday night). If I don't plan stuff, they will literally just sit on their butts and I have to sit on my butt with them. I'm just getting very bitter about doing this, and even more bitter that people have stopped responding to my emails and the like when I come up with an idea, or they respond too late that they're not free. How do I stop getting disappointed that no one wants to do anything and still maintain an active social life? FWIW, I really enjoy hanging out with these people (including my boyfriend)when we actually get together. Is there a solution other than throwing my hands up and deciding that I won't plan anything anymore, dooming myself to a lifetime of bad weekend-night TV?

Carolyn Hax: Be a social planner for yourself, and people can come with you or not, by whatever deadline you need their responses.


Dread: I'm obligated to spend a chunk of tomorrow with an oppressively critical person. Should I call her on her rudeness, or try to let it roll off my back?

Carolyn Hax: Or, ask about it. "Really, why do you say that?" and etc. Might get some interesting answers.


Fairfax:, Va. Can we have a fluffy shoe question, pleeeze? Need some help from you and/or the 'nuts...I love shoes, can't get enough of them...but I have a problem with shoes in the summertime. Whenever I wear pumps or any non-sandal-style shoes without hose, I am crippled by noon from the blisters. This is not an issue of ill-fitting shoes, it's an issue of perspiration...feet sweat, sweat makes feet sticky, shoes rub rather than slide as I walk, and voila! Blisters galore! I've tried powder and those foot sprays, but they only work for a couple of hours and they leave gunk all over my feet anyway (ruining a nice pedicure). I've got some great new peep-toe pumps and slingbacks but I need some advice as to how I can wear them without tearing up my tootsies!

Carolyn Hax: Try using antiperspirant, a good one.


Washington, D.C.: How can you tell if you truly love a person or you've just been with them so long that you are afraid or don't know how to be without them?

Carolyn Hax: Would you want to be with you, feeling as you do? (Scoobie doobie do?) Not that this will solve everything, just that switching your perspective around can sometimes help jog loose some ideas. Also, you can try making other needed or desired changes to your life--anything from career stuff to ambitious travel to new hobbies to exercise, whatever you've told yourself you've always wanted to try--and see what kind of light that throws on your question.


Work Relationship: I started dating a guy at work. He's super-secretive. He doesn't want anyone at work to have the slightest hint of a clue we are dating and has exhorted me not to tell anyone or even act like we are more than coworkers.

There isn't an HR reason why we can't date and since we see each other daily outside of work I know he isn't dating anyone else. He just is really private about his personal life, while at work.

The problem? A work-friend of mine knew I liked him and now knows we are dating (I told her before he made it clear he wanted it to be a secret) and won't stop asking about it. I can't get her off my back about it and I don't know how to tell him because I think he'll be very upset it's not a secret.

I think he's going overboard on the paranoia about coworkers -- should I tell him immediately? Do you think it's unreasonable in general to be so secretive -- maybe a red flag for me?

Carolyn Hax: The red flag I see is that you're afraid to tell the guy that somebody already knows. So, tell him that somebody already knows, since before he embargoed your personal life along with his.

If he gets upset about something that happened innocently, then he's a jerk. If he gets upset not that your friend knows but that you didn't tell him that when you first had the chance, then he has a point--you did screw up and should say as much. At the same time, you have a legitimate point in saying you were caught off-guard by his demands for secrecy, and in fact still arent' comfortable with them.

In other words: If you can neither understand his vehemence nor stand up to it, then you are putting yourself in a bad spot. You have to feel comfortable not just enjoying a relationship, but also asserting yourself within it, or else you'll lose yourself to it--often through a process you don't even recognize until you have friends coming up to you saying they don't recognize you any more. You just start suppressing this opinion, that plan, this hobby, that habit--often of your own volition--till there's almost nothing left. Except of course resentment.

So there.


Delicate Situation: Hi Carolyn!

I'm working on the rehearsal dinner for my June wedding (yay!) and am so excited to be celebrating with all of my friends and family. Most of my friends and his family and friends will have to travel to the festivities. I wish money was no object but it is factor and planning a wedding is expensive! Is it wrong not to invite the boyfriend (read: not married) of one of my bridesmaids to the rehearsal dinner since they are the only unhitched couple in the bridal party? That dinner is big and expensive already.


Carolyn Hax: Then adding one person won't make an appreciable difference to your budget or seating arrangement, where excluding one will make a huge difference--nay, statement--to the person you already identified as the only "unhitched" person there. Singling out one single person to save, what, 100 bucks? When you're spending ... how many zeros? No no no.


Carolyn Hax: Oops, gotta go--was trying to find a quick Q to leave on and got caught up. Bye, thank you, and type to you next week.


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