Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 24, 2007; 1:00 PM

Special day and time!

Carolyn took 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.

A transcript follows.


Alexandria, Va.: Why Thursday? Early jump on the holiday weekend?

Carolyn Hax: I wish! My babysitters are getting a jump on the weekend. I could have pushed it later tomorrow afternoon, but I figured you'd all be out the door by then, either literally or mentally.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Carolyn--

Do you think the letter you ran Wednesday from the woman who couldn't believe her new mom friend didn't have more time for her could have been a hoax? Or written by a beleaguered mom mad at her unsympathetic friend? I just can't believe anyone could be that clueless about how much work babies are. If it was for real, I think the writer should spend a few afternoons volunteering in a daycare center to get her eyes opened. I might have suggested she offer to babysit her friend's infant for a few hours, but I don't think I'd trust her unsupervised with an infant!

From someone who's been in the baby trenches.

Carolyn Hax: Any letter I run "could" be a hoax, so that one was no different. But in the last couple of days I have received enough mail from dissenters and from people who have friends like that themselves to be confident it's a real point of view that some real people share.


Help...: What can I do if I know my sister is being emotionally and verbally abused by her husband, but refuses to acknowledge it and denies it's happening? I've talked to her about it on numerous occassions, but she just turns it around on me, saying that I don't want her to be happy. Their relationship (if you can even call it that) exhibits classic abuse signs and I'd like to help her before it turns physical (though I can't say for sure that hasn't happened already). Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: There's very little you can do to help someone who doesn't want help. It might put your mind at ease to spend an hour with a counselor who specializes in treating domestic abuse victims--just make an appointment like anyone else--so you can at least understand the dynamics. That would accomplish two things, actaully. It would preempt some guilt for not being able to help, and it'll give you insight and a working vocabulary if your sister ever does reach out to you.


re: Chevy Chase: About volunteering at a daycare, my sister worked at a daycamp as a teenager, and said the experience made her quite serious about birth control/abstinence/safe sex (i.e. whatever it takes to not have kids at 16).

Carolyn Hax: Another thing about volunteering that I meant to add to the original response--it's not as easy as that post made it seem. Day care centers have to be careful whom they hire, so most of these places at least will put you through an application and screening process; I can't think of any that would take on the expense to let people satisify their curiosity about working with small children. Anyone who wants that experience (and it's a great, great one to have) should think locally and offer to help a close friend or relative. If none is available, I guess just go to the grocery store, watch a mom of small kids try to shop, get through the checkout and get everyone/thing into the car without requiring hospitalization.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn - do you have any advice for the mid-30 something divorcee who's trying to get their social groove back and start dating again?

Carolyn Hax: Start getting out more for your own amusement, and let the dating follow when opportunity arises. That's plan A, at least.


Morrilton, Ark.: Online only, please. Last fall, after four years of being close friends, a female friend of mine and myself decided to try dating. However, it only lasted a few weeks. She comes from a family with a lot of different issues, and she realized that she wasn't ready for a serious relationship until she resolves them, even though she made it clear she wants to be with me. Prior to dating, we saw each other at least once a week. After breaking up, first I wanted to take some time off from seeing her, and then she realized she wanted some time off. I now haven't seen her in two months, though we still email. I'd like to see her some time -- we are/were great friends -- but should I wait for her to propose something, or should I make another effort at it?

Carolyn Hax: Given the length and depth of your friendship, and given that you still email each other, I don't think it would be inappropriate to say you miss her and ask if she's ready to see you again. You just need to be ready to take no for an answer, because pushing for a yes, sulking or guilt-tripping her would make it inappropriate.

And now, having said that--what do you think you have to lose by not waiting? I really am just throwing this out there; not knowing the subtleties of your breakup, I can't even lean one way or the other.


Therapy: I need therapy -- someone to talk to about a lot of things -- but I can't afford paying $100/hour. I know there's got to be an alternative...suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Clinics (start at universities and teaching hospitals); providers who charge on a sliding scale based on income (call the professional orginization of the type of counselor you seek); clergy members who are also licensed mental-health providers; group therapy vs. individual. It's not a comprehensive list but it should be enough ideas to get you started.


Abusive sister - help: If your sister and her husband have kids you need to act -- now! Even if she isn't aiming her venom directly at the kids they are living in a poisonous environment.

Also let the husband know you are there for support. If there are other male family members the husband may feel more comfortable "unloading" to another guy. I'm not saying that's right, just the way he may feel.

Carolyn Hax: Right re kids, thanks. I assumed there were none b/c none were mentioned, but it was a bad assumption.


Frederick, Md.: From your Wednesday column:

"Either make a sincere effort to understand or keep your snit to yourself."

I reread the letter and your response and only one of you is having a snit. (Hint: it's not the letter writer.)

The letter writer seemed to want information and understanding and you derided her for demanding some sort of petty validation. I think you were way off and seemed very defensive in your answer.

Carolyn Hax: I believe the letter writer was being extremely judgmental. I also realize not everyone will read it that way.


Sister of abused: She should spend as much time as possible with the abused sister. And, if the husband ever does something in front of her, call him on it. See what he says.

Carolyn Hax: Another great suggestion, thanks, on spending as much time as possible with the sister. The calling-out of the husband, though, is treacherous ground. If he does have the potential to be violent, a confrontation could mean punishment for the sister, when everyone else has gone home.


Re: Abusive sister: The original question is about the sister being abused, not acting as the abuser. The answer is still the same, but the last poster got it switched around.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting--I read it as a suggestion to give the abusive husband someone to talk to, on the theory that an angry, bottled-up person might be less so if there were healthy outlets around. But I look again and you're right, the sexes were mixed up. Thanks.


Arlington, Va.: I have an interesting curveball for you. One of my best friends told me this weekend that she started dating a woman a few months ago and they are in love. Of course I told her that I'm really happy for her that she found someone that makes her so happy. But...she has been straight for her 30 years (well I suppose 18 or so of those). Also, she says that she's really not attracted to women, hasn't harbored any latent gay or bisexual tendencies up until now and can't even say that she's attracted to her girlfriend for her looks as a woman. Apparently she is attracted to her for her soul and for who she is, which is great. I have absolutely no problem with this except that I'm not entirely sure about the sustainability of a relationship where one person isn't truly attracted to the sex of the other, but is truly attracted to the other person. Do you think this is possible to sustain? Have you heard of this before? Do you think this has a chance of being a real, life-long relationship? Not my business anyway, other than to be supportive and happy for my friend, but I'd just love a little insight on this.

Carolyn Hax: The only insight I can offer, on the fly at least, is that the issue may be less the sustainability of this relationship than it is the credibility of your friend's comments. Not that she's lying to you or even BSing herself (tho both are possible)--it just sounds to me like she's still turning things over in her mind, and so her feelings themselves are a work in progress.


Two way street...: I also think that mothers should not be judgmental of those without kids. There are many reasons (chosen or not) why people do not have children. But I find a lot of women with children condescending about how much free time I have, or how relaxed my life must be - when it is not!

Carolyn Hax: The error isn't in the choices themselves, it's in the part about exercising, accepting and respecting your own and others' choices. We could trot out different configurations all day--single moms, stay-at-home dads, childless couples who take crap from family, infertile couples, it's endless. In every group there are saints and morons.


abused sister: I had a live-in boyfriend who many of my friends thought was emotionally/verbally abusive. I denied it because I didn't want to believe it. Enough people telling me of the "red flags" - and one friend sending me a list of abusive behaviors (which she highlighted in red type the ones she knew about) eventually led me to see the light. But it takes time and gentle persuasion. And if one of them called him out on it... I would have probably been "highly discouraged" to see that person again.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the firsthand account.


Wait a minute...: How can Liz produce your chat at 1:00 and then do her own chat at 2:00? Unless this're only chatting for an hour!

(Gasp of shock and horror)

Say it ain't so!

Carolyn Hax: I ain't so. Say hi to Producer Paul.


Arlington, Va.:: For the person seeking inexpensive therapy, don't forget about the almost universal Employee Assistance Programs most companies and agencies offer. They are free, completely confidential, and usually offer up to three sessions a year. Good luck!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. The provider in those sessions can also be a resource for lower-cost ongoing care.


young and single: Carolyn, love your chats! I'm 24, doing exactly what I want with my life professionally, and have lots of great friends. I've dated a bunch of guys but just haven't met the right one yet. I know someday I really want to get married and have a family. A small part of me is scared it might never happen. It's the only doubt I have about my future. Is this normal?

Carolyn Hax: Thank you!

Not having any other doubts about your future scares me more than being in doubt about meeting "the right one" at 24. I understand completely the sense of security that comes from knowing what your future looks like, and I especially understand how appealing that security can be when you're a couple of years out of the structured academic chute.

However. Life is just not that secure. You can have your friends, career and just the right spouse and suddenly find yourself knocked so far from your path you don't even know where you are, much less where you;re going.

So instead of worrying about how to get that last piece to fall into place, it might be more productive--downright liberating, in fact--to challenge your vision of what life is supposed to be like, and how open you are to taking more of life as it comes.


Vermont: Can you ever tell a friend that you are sick of hearing about her child and how wonderful/exciting/time-consuming/beatifying it is to be a parent? I now avoid her calls and haven't seen her in months. I'm fine with that, but others believe she deserves an explanation, but who wants to hear, "You're boring me silly with your treacly parenting monologue?"

Carolyn Hax: She deserves an explanation. Maybe along the lines of, "We have nothing in common any more." Either that'll be enough, or it'll jog loose your opportunity to elaborate that your conversations aren't conversations anymore.


re: best friend dating a woman: There are sooooo many possibilities on this; it could have been written about my last girlfriend when we started dating; I was her first girlfriend. One possibility: she IS attracted to women, she DOES like this woman a lot, she IS NOT attracted to this particular woman and can't figure out why, but feels like she owes it to herself to give it a shot.

Somewhat painful ending for me, but the ex is now living happily ever after with her new gal, who she is attracted to-- and I think that's a pretty common experience for women who want to get comfortable before they come all the way out, even to themselves.

Carolyn Hax: Nice point, thanks.


Chantilly, Va.: I have heard you say something along the lines that the way to tell if you are in a good relationship is to decide whether you are happier in the relationship or alone. I am someone (at 25) who is not comfortable with being alone. I fear that this makes me stay in relationships in which I am unhappy because it seems better than being lonely. If that is the case how do I break this cycle? How do I get comfortable with the thought of alone? I've got plenty on my plate between work, grad school, hobbies, and friends...but still the silence of myself and my thoughts scares me.

Carolyn Hax: I started an answer a couple of ways but then I kept getting stuck in the same spot: why? What is it about the few spaces in your full life that drives your impulse to fill them?


Vienna, Va.: Carolyn, at what point do you forgive and forget, and at what point do you cut your losses.

My family and I have never had the healthiest of relationship. I believe that they are here for guidance -- they believe they are here to control. So we have always had our issues. Last week I started a discussion about wanting a wedding outside of a Catholic church (hypothetically) and they went through the roof. Not 12 hours before they had been complimenting me on how proud they were of me and the next thing I know they are screaming at me that I am "shaming them".

Not 3 days after this "little tiff" they are acting like nothing was wrong, nothing happened, while I am reeling still from having my mother essential call me a whore.

What do I do? Let them go, and say enough is enough? I fear talking about it again will just force the issue to get ugly again.

Any advice would be welcome.

Carolyn Hax: Yours sounds like an extreme version of what I think the majority of adult children have to negotiate with their families. You are you, they are they, and the overlap sometimes can chafe--so, how much unpleasant overlap are you ready to take on?

There are as many answers as there are people, but the process seems pretty universal: You figure out what you won't tolerate, and back away slowly until you reach a distance that feels tolerable. For some, it's just a matter of learning not to care so kmuch, or of revealing fewer details about personal thoughts and decisions. Others have to back their way to the other side of the world and screen their calls.

What often determines the proper distance is your understanding of your family's limits, too. Your family, for example, feels it's appropriate to say just about anything and then go back to the cheese and crackers. That's useful information, because knowing upfront that they have no boundaries allows you at least to consider the possibility that you can get used to it and learn not to let them get to you.

And then if that doesn't work, you can ease a step or two back and reveal less to them, and if they're still getting to you then you can start seeing them less as well as saying less, and so on.

I realize your question was what to do in response to this specific incident, but I really think the only peace you'll find is in answering the larger question of how close you can be to the fam.


Northern Virginia: Carolyn, thank god you are doing this chat early this week, I really need help: I have been dating a wonderful guy for 3 1/2 months that I met online. He just recently moved and I am supposed to go visit him this weekend. I saw that he has updated his online profile with his new city info, so he is obviously still looking. This is a MAJOR problem for me. I stopped dating and removed my online profile once we started having sex. My question...should I talk to him before I go visit or do it in person this weekend? To complicate things, I am driving his car to him so he is counting on me coming. I don't want his need for me to come to cause him to be not completely honest with me about his intentions.

Carolyn Hax: What do you hope to accomplish by talking to him? In other words, is there something he can say to explain his updated profile that will make you keep seeing him? I think you need to think that through before you raise the subject, live or by phone. And then you need to decide the right thing to do about the car.

I'm not saying you should necessarily hand him car keys and a breakup as a fait accompli (though that is one legitimate option); if you want to hear what he has to say, then do hear it. I just think if you're torn, it's tempting to let him make your decisions for you, and that's not the best way to get your needs met.


Bethesda, Md.: I am a married mother of four children who works full-time. Children are 4, 6, 10, 12.

This weekend I'd like to get on a bus, train or plane and go somewhere far away and maybe never come back. I don't think I'm going to make it until the youngest kid is 18. Life is not horrible. I just can't cope any more. Always tired. No time alone. No time to be wife.

Carolyn Hax: Please please please talk to your husband. Tell him you're losing it. If he can't or won't be supportive, find a counselor, miss some work hours and get talking. And before you say you can't, look at what you're considering (even in jest) and think how good a mom, wife and employee you'd be if you were phoning it in from the abyss. Reach out. Save yourself, save everyone.


Alexandria, Va.: I suspect that my roommate may be pregnant. We've been friends for years (10-plus) and currently share a small (800 square feet) apartment. It has been months since she's had a drink...even a small glass of wine and she has also apparently kicked a lifelong smoking habit. She appears to be gaining weight and made a special trip to the store to buy a scale recently, not to mention she is constantly at the doctor's office. Do I have a right to ask? Considering our living quarters? Am I ignoring the possibility that she might just be trading in an unhealthy lifestyle for a healthier one?

Carolyn Hax: Could be pregnant, could be ill with something that requires a medication that can't be mixed with alcohol and that causes weight gain. I think your friendship of 10 years gives you license to ask if she's okay, but she also has license not to share her circumstances with you unless and until she's ready.

Besides, if she is pregnant, you'll find out eventually.


Sick of listening to friend go on about her new baby: When you have a new baby it's like falling in love. You're all wrapped up and in awe and can think and talk of nothing else but the baby. Your friend will eventually come back down to earth. Give her another chance.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, but some people who fall in love and talk about nothing but the new guy/girl are on the moron end of the scale. If the second and third and final chances have been granted, then it's probably time to end the friend charade. (But then it's probably also not fair to say it's all about boring baby stories.)


Car Service: Northern Virginia is still checking his online profile? She doesn't trust him.

Carolyn Hax: Ding ding ding! Thank you.


London, UK: Dear Carolyn:

(Online only please)

My friends and I basically think you are always right. I preface my question with that point not for purposes of shameless flattery but because I really could use good advice on this one: I'm in the middle of writing my master's thesis and I'm having all sorts of panic attacks. Largely because this experience reminds me of when I was writing my undergraduate thesis, which took place during a rather dark time in my life. I think I have PTSD. I'm getting treatment/meds, but as for the thesis -- should I just barrel through it, get it over with asap and move on with my life, knowing that I'll turn in something that isn't my best (but that I'll pass)? Or should I take time out, delay my plans, and really try to do my best work? I think my problem is this thesis, and I just want it out of my hair asap. I don't know if I'm being rash, though, esp. considering that future employers might not look highly on a low grade.

Carolyn Hax: Can you barrel through it, and then not turn it in? I don't know how much flexibility you have in your plans ... but my reasoning is that, once you've got a finished product, you'll feel less stressed, and that'll allow you to look at your work more objectively. If it's better than you thought, you can then turn it in, and if it needs work, you can give it some less-pressured attention.

I do appreciate the shameless flattery, but it gave me performance anxiety.


Pregnant roommate: You wrote, "she also has license not to share her circumstances with you unless and until she's ready."

I would agree if they weren't living together, but as it is I strongly disagree with you. The roommate has a right to know now if she's going to be forced to move, find a new roommate, or start living with an infant. Those are big life changes that require some advance planning.

Carolyn Hax: Right right, thanks. Unless her plan all along has been to place the baby for adoption--but the roommate wouldn;t know that, and would be worried, and so should at least be told not to worry.


Anywhere, USA: I just started to see a new psychiatrist and psychologist. I have been very unhappy and unsatisfied with previous therapists Do you have any guidelines or resources I can check out in order to make sure I am getting the most from and the appropriate kind and amount of help I need from these expensive, but, in my case, very necessary, professionals?

Carolyn Hax: I think it would be interesting, with the potential to be extremely productive, to pose this question to your psychologist and psychiatrist--even literally, in a how-will-I-know-you're-doing-a-good-job? kind of way. This is a question you have a right to ask and that they should be prepared to answer. To give yourself a frame of reference, I would suggest also going to the two governing and both reading up and placing a call or two to establish what you have a right to expect from your care.


Detroit: A much younger co-worker invited me to a bachelorette party later in the summer. I'm older and married and feel awkward going, but she wouldn't have invited me had she not wanted me there. Do I go and honor our friendship or take the easy way out and lie about another commitment? I feel torn, I don't know if I would enjoy the experience, but I feel guilty not attending...

Carolyn Hax: Go if you think you'd enjoy it, don't if you don't. I wouldn't worry about any sense of obligation. And if you're still torn, ask which you;re more likely to regret--going when you have an awful time, or not going when it turns out it would have been fine?


Fairfax, Va.: My husband goes to happy hour once or twice a month with friends from work. He drinks too much to drive home, but persists in doing so. I'm so upset that he'd do something so stupid. He won't listen to me...I've offered to pick him up or go back to get the car the next day.

Went to a counselor and realized that he is unable to stop drinking socially once he's out. I'm to the point I don't want to go to events where he's drinking. He thinks he doesn't have a problem and I am at wit's end on how I can deal. I know you have to realize you have a problem to deal but he's not there.

Carolyn Hax: What are you prepared to do to get him to stop driving drunk? Right now, you're essentially looking the other way. Would you call his work friends? Pick him up at the bar? Leave him? You need to toss these around, figure out your limit, and stick to it. There's also Al-Anon to help you with your figuring.


Pregnant roommate: Ask if she's ok, of course--that's what friends do. Just please, don't start the conversation with "Are you pregnant?"

Also, to counter a previous poster, getting a new roommmate and/or moving is NOT a big life change. I've been doing it for various reasons almost every year. It's annoying, yes, and inconvenient. But compared to what you suspect your roommate is going through? Not a "big life change".

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for both.


Broken hearted in D.C.: My boyfriend of three intense months broke up with me last night after a little over two weeks of stressful times that resulted in taking the stress out on him in a very unfair manner. I've entered therapy regarding my stress issues and am completely committed to working on this, but he's so stressed that the idea of working on "us" just puts him near a breakdown state. I really feel that he's "the one", and before the last two weeks, he's agreed that we're meant to be. Is there anything I can do to help fix this? His parents and roommate think we should split, so I don't know if he has anyone besides his inner monologue to tell him that this might be worth saving. (He said that his parents were the ones that tipped him toward a break-up). I love this man dearly and regret my actions more than anything I've ever done in my life. Please help.

Carolyn Hax: It sounds like a breakup wouldn't be the worst thing. If there really is a solid core between you, then you'll figure that out and find each other again when you're ready. But if there's more intensity than subtance between you--"three intense months" is a three-word argument against "happily ever after"--then that'll only get in the way of your work to de-stress yourself. I'm sorry.


Carolyn Hax: Okeydokey, gotta go. Thanks for switching days, and have a great weekend.


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