Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 1, 2007; 12:00 PM

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.

This week's columns: Sunday| Wednesday| Friday


D.C. 'Burbs: My wife, who as far as I know has never worn makeup, including on our wedding day, and looks absolutely stunning without it, is now doing a Tammy Faye Baker imitation because she "just wants to look pretty." Is this cause for concern? We're in our 30's and have been happily married for six years, if that makes any difference. I've told her I prefer her natural beauty, but it doesn't seem to be helping. There's no indication she's involved with anyone else or anything of that sort. I don't understand it. Can you help?

Carolyn Hax: Anything that results in a non-ironic Tammy Fayeing is cause for concern. But it doesn't have to be a sign of an affair or anything drastic; sometimes people just hit a point where the changes in their bodies or lives alarm them and they start to, for lack of a better term, self-medicate. If that;s the case with your wife, you're on the right track with the compliments (though don't expect miracles; one compliment, even from an important source, is almost powerless against a sudden surge of self-doubt). What may help is a ally in reason--get her a gift certificate to a high-end spa for nails, facial and ahem makeup consultation. Perfect support for anyone's quest to look pretty.


Moving cross country: Hi, Carolyn.

I sent this last week, so forgive me for sending it again, but I really need your advice. I have been keeping a journal for about seven or eight years. I write every morning and use two and half fat bound books each year (although at the beginning I used various ones, so I have way more than 20...maybe 35-40). We are moving cross country in a few months and I was thinking of destroying the old ones from when my life mostly sucked and just keeping the newer ones where my life has been fabulous (4 years). My mother and husband think it would be an atrocity to destroy the old ones and think I should keep them all. I plan to live another 40 or more years. Am I really supposed to keep these forever??? Plus, my husband and mother have sworn to destroy them if I die before them and I don't have any kids and if I did, I wouldn't want them to read them anyway. Help! Will I regret this? I am a writer and I know my favorite write of all times destroyed her high school journals and everything thinks it's a great loss...but come on...are my husband and mother right about this?

Carolyn Hax: You can undo not destroying them, but you can't undo destroying them. Until you're sure-sure, don't do it. I'd also recommend reading through one or two you have in mind to destroy. See how you feel after that.


What to do?: A fairly traumatic thing happened to me about eight years ago. I thought I moved on, got some therapy, worked through it, etc. I haven't thought about it in years, except maybe in passing.

But it's back and in a seemingly big way. We're talking dreams, anxiety, days where I don't want to see anyone or do anything. I really thought I was done with this and so it's not only mysterious as to why all this is happening now, it's extremely disappointing to me.

I'm disinclined to return to the therapist's couch, as it was very emotionally draining and difficult. But other than just sort of waiting for this to pass, I don't know what to do or how to stop this from happening again.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. I'm disinclined to suggest therapy to someone who makes an explicit point of not wanting therapy, but it seems to make so much sense here--if only just to help you solve the mysery of why this is back and why in such a big way.

I understand and sympathize with your not wanting to get emotionally re-drained. However, I wonder if that will be the case this time, or if instead it'll be like a tune-up vs an overhaul. And even if it is draining all over again, wasn't the first go 'round ultimately worth it, given how many peaceful years you got from it?


Rings and Relocating: Carolyn, I'm relocating to a new city with my longtime boyfriend and EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. constantly told me that if I were smart, I would get a ring first. I guess the whole mentality was that it's a little bit of a "garauntee" for my essentially uprooting my life and the risk of no job/friends in the new city. Personally, I thought I was okay without it but the pressure really got to me and I started getting scared and thinking that maybe I -did- need the extra assurance.

I know that it's my own free will but it's really hard to deal with the fact that every time my exciting move came up, I would get a lecture about my not being permanently attached. I think women get this a lot more than men, I talked it over with my boyfriend and he hadn't even thought of it that way. Because we had been thinking of getting engaged anyway, we've decided to do it before the move (or at least, we told my parents our intentions before the move, even if there isn't any "official" engagement yet and it may happen after the move, but the point is that the commitment is there) and you wouldn't believe the difference it has made. It's kind of sad really and as much as I tried to brush people off or tell them that we were fine as is - it was really hard not having the support of my friends and especially my family. My parents were the worst offenders and I think they were trying to make sure I had a safety blanket, but it sucked.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the story. It's a great example of how well-meaning people can make a real mess. First, they pressure you into a decision that might not be best for you. Has it occurred to anyone involved, for example, that after you move, you might want to break up with him? And that it might be perfectly fine? Can anybody promise that your moving and then getting dumped wouldn't turn out to be the catalyst to the most productive period of your life? Shouldn't your (his and your) judgment be treated as more valuable than capital-C commitment?

Second, they send you a message that you're the weaker or less valuable part of the pair. It's like A Man is a great interest rate that you're lucky to get and should lock in before you lose your chance. But what does that make you? Designated supplicant?

The best insurance either of you can have when you undertake a move like this (or any other big move) is that there are no guarantees it will work out. So whatever you do has to be for your own reasons.


Tammy Faye: Trust me. The novelty of make-up will wear off. I'm one of those people who look fine without make-up but every few months I put it on for some occasion and feel like I look nicer so I end up wearing it for a while. Then one day I'm in a hurry so I skip it, another day I don't have anywhere to go so I just wear mascara and lipstick, another, I have a deadline so it's only lipstick, get it. I agree with the spa gift certificate thing if you live anywhere besides the South where the Tammy look is very popular. She might come home with more make-up if she lives in my town. And BIG HAIR to boot.

Carolyn Hax: Ha. Good point. Thanks.


Daddyland: My wife drops off our soon to be one year old daughter at day care and I pick her up in the afternoons. It used to be the highlight of my day when I would see my little girl's face light up when I arrived. However, lately she has been getting quite fussy when we're about to leave the daycare provider, crying and fighting me when I put her in the car seat. It broke my heart the first time I experienced it. Should I be concerned? Is this a phase she's going through? She returns to liking daddy when we get home. Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Change is tough on little people, and it's tougher at some developmental stages than at others. This usually comes out at moments of transition--mom to caregiver, caregiver to home, play to bed, house to car, etc. If it persists or if you'd feel better knowing the specifics, talk to your pediatrician. You might find your daughter is at an age where this is typical, and therefore good.


Clifton, Va.: Holding my best friend's bachelor party tonight. And the suite booked at the Ritz in Georgetown and 10 strippers all booked. Food catered, etc. Now his fiance is saying no. She agreed months ago since her sorority sisters are having her bachelorette party at The Mandarin with at least the same number of male strippers. She refuses to cancel her party but insists I cancel her fiance's since I am the best man. I will be out about $5K if I cancel. If its okay for her it must be okay for him. Her dragon of honor is behind this. I am just going to tell her we canceled and are going out and then hogtie my buddy and take him to Ritz and duct tape him to a chair. My girlfriend is going to bachelorette party with a hidden camera and $2K from me for the male strippers. The video should be very incriminating! If the fiance complains she will be on Youtube!

Carolyn Hax: Would the two parties please negotiate a treaty of adulthood and cancel all strippers? Thank you.

I'm posting this as a valentine to the divorce attorneys in the audience today.


Dupont Circle: When do you call it quits on an old relationship and move on? I'm moving to the same town as an (recent) old flame and I think we both still have feelings for one another. Before things fell apart it was getting pretty serious and we were both thinking long term. The distance probably aggravated personality differences and made communication difficult but career differences and family illness made her call it off in the end.

Carolyn Hax: Were the things that broke you up part of your individual characters, or were they matters of circumstance? Discuss. (Internally to begin with, and openly with her if you find yourself leaning toward circumstance.)


Washington, D.C.: How do you know if/when you want to have kids? I am the eldest of two, my sibling will come under our guardianship when my parents have passed on. My sibling's disabilities, while not particularly severe, are severe enough that I question my luck/ability to have a "normal" child. (Disabilities are of the birth defect nature.) The thought of two special-needs "kids" terrifies me enough that it weighs heavily on my desire to have kids. Thankfully this is not on the immediate horizon, but likely in the next 1-3 years. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: If you haven't already, I would get professional help in assessing your risk of passing on this particular disability. There is a science to this, expanding every day. Your gynecologist should be able to refer you to somebody.

Also factor in that even a kid without special needs will have the normal substantial needs. I don't say that to be discouraging; your willingness to put your sister's needs above your own speaks to good parental instincts.


Cancel All Strippers: And donate the money saved to charity. Jeesh.

Carolyn Hax: Beautiful, thank you.


Washington, D.C.: I know this is late in the hour,'ve mentioned lately the need to find the appropriate distance from your parents to have healthier interactions that respect boundaries and advice as children grow older, etc. I question whether that is the best advice. Is it best to maintain a pleasant front with your parents, or strive for closeness and honesty in the midst of confrontations, frustrations, etc? I mean, it isn't pleasant but it can be seen as an honest attempt to want to be understood by your parents. I struggle with this a lot, because my mother and I are often at odds -- sometimes I try to let things go (which I think is what you advise) but then I feel bad when I think that she does not/will not really know me.

Carolyn Hax: I would never endorse "appropriate distance" as a policy for every adult child. In fact, I'm not sure I'd endorse anything for everybody ... except maybe canceling the strippers ... but anyway. My whole point with the boundaries advice is for people to find a good position with their families, and do their best to stick to it. For some that's effortless, and either their families are easygoing, or the kids themselves are, or both parties feel reasonably content with their peculiar brand of dysfunction. Power to them all.

For others, finding and sticking to that comfort zone takes thought, effort, articulated limits, power yoga, calibrated visits and often a key assist from a trained mental health professional and/or single malt scotch.

And so my advice is geared toward helping anyone in any of these situations figure out where the limits are, and how to enforce them without losing a sense of home.


Washington, D.C.: I am dating a wonderful guy and am lucky enough to get to meet his family in a few weeks. My concern is not in meeting them, but rather in not making a nuisance of myself.

My boyfriend has not seen his family in over a year due to his deployment abroad and his family's travel abroad. And he's about to leave for another year abroad. I want to make sure he spends quality time with his family. I don't want them to think that I am monopolizing his time while we are there. I have already offered to "disappear" for a few days so he can have some alone time with the family.

I've also made it clear to him that I don't expect to be a "guest". I am happy to help cook, clean, shop, take care of kids, whatever. I don't want to be a bother to them.

Do you have any other suggestions on how I can make sure he gets quality time with the family while ensuring they get to know me too?

Its a delicate balance and I want to make sure I do everything I can to make it work.


Carolyn Hax: Just the fact that you're aware of his family's claim on him--and, egad, encourage it vs. resent it--means you've already got it right. Trust yourself to know the right balance when you see it.


Steamboat Springs, Colo.: I'm leaving my girlfriend, we own a house together. It's for many reasons I won't get into -- let's just say she's emotionally abusive. Our therapist has advised me during one of my "alone" sessions that if I'm going to leave her, the best way is probably cold turkey where I leave a note and just go. She's threatened suicide, etc., which is why I've stayed in the past. Here's the problem: I can't find a place to live until July. I can't move out temporarily until then because she'll destroy all my things. So what do I do? Do I tell her now? Or keep pretending things are fine until then? Obviously it's really hard on me to act like things are fine, but it might make a bad situation even worse if I tell her... help?!

Carolyn Hax: If you feel it is best to get out now, then move your stuff into storage, and get out now to your temporary place. I say this as a direct response to your direct logistical question--the rest I leave to the professional on the scene.


New York, N.Y.: While I totally agree with your column today and the responses regarding moving without a ring, can't you agree that there is a shred of truth that your boyfriend is more committed than not if you are married? Plus, as you always say, with all the person's friends bringing it up, perhaps there is a question of this particular fellow's commitment to the gal?

Carolyn Hax:... which a ring won't solve. All the information she needs to make a decision is already available in some form. That's all I'm saying.


Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn, I love your chats and columns and have a question about how to avoid hurting anyone's feelings on the one hand vs. excessive meddling on the other. Three of us were good friends in college, two women best friends/roommates and then me a third wheel but unresentful about it. About six/seven years after college one of the best friends goes through a divorce and basically stops being friends with us other two -- in the meantime another six/seven years have gone by. I think it hit our mutual friend quite hard; me too, for that matter, but I have suddenly started hearing from her again and am really glad about it -- she's in a better place in her life and I am glad to resuscitate the friendship. But I don't think she has contacted the mutual friend and I am inclined to encourage her to do so, but is that meddling? Or should I just tell the mutual friend about it in a general newsy way, or what? I'm having flashbacks to the cattiness of teenage girls, who might lord over one another the relative intensity of their friendships, and I don't want to do that to my good and esteemed friend, the uncontacted one, or for her to have those kinds of flashbacks herself. Help?

Carolyn Hax: Seems to me the Big Thing you don't know is -why- the friend who estranged herself has chosen not to get in touch with the former best friend. There could be so much you don't know. So while it wouldn't necessarily be your business to knwo what happened, I think you should at least act with the understanding that there might be more to it.

All of this is to say: Mention to the back-in-touch friend that the other friend would love to hear from her, too. It's true, after all, and it's pretty non-invasive, and, most important, it's an opening for her to talk about it if she wants.

She could also deflect the whole topic, which will then leave you with the pleasure of telling the other that you're in touch with her long-lost ex-best friend. Which won't be easy, but then I guess you just say you're sorry.


Dallas, Tex.: Hi Carolyn! Any tried-and-true ways for increasing your self-esteem? I'm in a job that has shot my confidence down over the last two years (just a few months until I switch jobs), and I'm doubting myself, my contributions, my inherent value, etc.

Carolyn Hax: Concentrate on things that you do well or enjoy doing. This can include spending time with people whom you feel better for knowing. (Not to be confused with people whom you feel superior for knowing. Common mistake.) And don't think too hard about it, either--sometimes just hiking or listening to good music or eating better, especially if incorporated into your daily life, can be enough.


The Wow Factor....: Again I find myself dating a really nice woman. But the truth is, she just doesn't "wow" me. What worries me is that I have never dated (beyond a date or two) anyone who wowed me. As I'm well into my 30s at this point, it seems like that might never happen.

I'm reasonably happy with life, fairly well adjusted, from a loving home, it's just that none of the women I date really get under my skin.

Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Would you be wowed by the version of you that you present in one or two dates? Even if you really would be (she said skeptically), I doubt you believe that every worthy element of your character is there for the viewing in the first five hours of knowing you. Give people a chance.


Not wanting therapy and traumatic experience: I had something similar years ago (dealing with a sudden, violent loss of a loved one). I did therapy, coped, adjusted, peace -- just like the writer -- and then it all backed up on me about 10 years later. I went to two (honest, that's all it took) sessions with the same person I had seen previously. Her familiarity with the situation helped tremendously and helped me fine tune what was stirring it all up. She suggested a few things I hadn't realized, and BAM, it all shifted. I went back again for "final tweaking" to extend Carolyn's tuneup analogy, but I was on the path again.

Don't assume just because the work was SO HARD before (and I know it was) that it will be again. It's so much harder descending back into the pain and living in the dark days. Give yourself another hand up and out.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks--it's always more persuasive in the first person.


How do I ask for help: My husband is in the hospital -- two weeks and counting. Teenage kids. Everyone wants to help, but expects me to tell them what I need. I don't know what to ask for or how to ask. I'm so tired -- keeping life as close to normal as I can. I'm also so stressed with his illness.

Carolyn Hax: Sit down, right now, and list the top 10 things you feel are letting slip, or that wear you out logistically, or that you keep forgetting about except at 3 am when you start the toss-and-turn. Making dinner? Driving people to things? Keeping up with the household chores? Then, hand it to the person you feel closest to or trust most to understand (not always the same person, actually).

Also, don't rule out your kids as a resource to help you. Having something concrete to do can be a huge help when you're feeling powerless, which pretty much describes both having an ill loved one and being a teenager.

Finally--I'm sorry about your husband. Hang in there.


Washington, D.C.: I hate my best friends boyfriend. I'm not alone, our whole group thinks that he is bad for her (unemployed, problems with alcohol, and too many other issues to list). My mother always told me not to get involved, that no matter what I will look like the bad guy. But its so hard to sit back and watch someone I love be involved with such a bad guy. Unless there is actual abuse involved, is it ever appropriate for me to tell her how I feel about him?

Carolyn Hax: Tell her how you feel about her. Specifically, if/when you notice she's unhappy or changing for the worse, then it's your place as her friend to point that out--the more facts the better. "You cry almost every day now," or, "You've dropped so many of your favorite things from your life," or just, "I miss you."

But naming the guy as her problem is a non-starter. For one thing, he isn't the whole problem, since she's the one who picked out an unemployed drinker to be her special companion. And, attecking him will usually only trigger an impulse to defend him (ie, to defend her choice of him). I'm not saying that by focusing on her you will get through to her, just that you give yourself a better chance.


Self-esteem: Volunteer! Do you have a pet? Sparky & I used to visit nursing homes with Pets on Wheels. It was surprisingly fun - great watching someone love your pet and great seeing your pet make someone just light up.

Any kind of candy-striping type thing - human contact, making someone feel a little better has always made me feel pretty dang good about myself.

Carolyn Hax: Or, if no time to volunteer, just give. It is an (apparently now-proven) pleasure, not a sacrifice.


Strereotype Police, Alert! Alert!:"...agree with the spa gift certificate thing if you live anywhere besides the South where the Tammy look is very popular."

Hmmm...I appreciate that the poster infers that she's Southern, but I lived in the South for 10 years and found this comment both incorrect and offensive. Just sayin.

Thanks for the chats, they are terrific.

Carolyn Hax: How about, "anywhere besides a region where the Tammy look is very popular"? Or is region too broad ... since you're right, spackleface knows no borders.


Re: Steamboat Springs: He needs to get a lawyer, too. Since they own the house together, there will need to be some sort of settling up at some point. Regardless of whether one of them buys the other out or they sell and split proceeds somehow, there's a lot of interaction involved. However, the poster can send a representative to all of that rather than go in person - if the therapist is recommending a clean break, having someone to act as his agent in this transaction is critical. Do do otherwise would open him up to umpteen zillion opportunities for her manipulation and abusiveness to do their work upon him.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


In the Lonestar State: You have probably answered this before, but I am flummoxed now that it's me. My husband and I (together for 12 yrs.)really want kids and we are experiencing infertility of the diagnosed variety. We have opted to pursue adoption. What do I say when people ask (incessantly) about when we are planning on having kids and I don't want to tell them about the adoption? And what do I say when I want to tell them about the adoption, but don't want to discuss my fertility issues? These are friends and extended family. I don't want to be rude, but people fail to see that you might not want to discuss your reproductive "issues" with them, no matter their familial relationship to you. Some people ask continue to ask depite having been brushed off only weeks before.

Carolyn Hax:"Please know that when we have something we'd like to share, then we'll gladly share it."

Woould you feel comfortable saying that?


Estee Lauder said it best....: Lauder said something along the line that only women with a doggedly inflated view of their beauty don't wear makeup. Um -- she is right, too. What has happened is that your wife has finally realized that she may look good but she will look even better with makeup. My guess is she is reaching an age where she thinks her skin is starting to sag a bit. I imagine that only she notices it. I have great skin and look younger than my age but I can tell a difference in me at 34 and what I was at 26.

Carolyn Hax: I just saw this. Gag! The woman was selling cosmetics! Some people just don't like the feeling of stuff on face, and have no illusions that the faces they were born with--and have grown to accept, thanks--will magically become 3-d magazine covers when mascara is deftly applied.

That, plus aging skin is a call for less makeup, not more.


Georgetown: Carolyn,

Love the chats.

I want to get engaged to my girlfriend, and we've talked about it -- it is just that I cannot swing buying a ring just yet. I have a lot of school loans and it will take a while of saving. Should I borrow and go further in debt or what?? With pressure from all around about sizes of rings, etc, and the going propaganda from the Jewelers taht I should spend 2 months' salary, I am looking at a long time of saving. Help!

Carolyn Hax: I have an adjustable plastic flower ring that I will give you to use if you can't find one on your own. The best part is, if she is more upset about the plastic flower ring than she is happy to marry you, then she just saved you years of married hell.

Counterpressure to the jewelers: Plenty of women don't even have/wear engagement rings. Some think diamonds are trite and would prefer another stone. Some are bothered by the politics of diamonds. Better to know your would-be bride than to know the industry line.

And, finally--thanks!


Estee Lauder...: what she said was, "you're not selling mascara, you're selling hope."

Carolyn Hax: Brutal. Thanks.


In law hell: In laws (husband's family) email me all of the time and put me on a guilt trip about not visiting them - and especially about not visiting their widowered father. It's been worse in the past year since I had a baby. I have no inclination to visit them. My husband is not close with his family and also has no inclination to visit. They email him. He ignores them and has even blocked their emails. I can't be that callous so I'm always making excuses. My husband tells me to just ignore them. I think he should either visit these people or tell them why he won't visit so they will leave me alone. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: He does owe you that. But since that doesn't seem to be on your menu, I think instead you need to be direct with the relatives yourself. Something along the lines of, "Please understand your emails will be to no avail, as [Husband] will be the one to decide on any visits." Making excuses only prolongs the agony.

It also sounds like you aren't so sure about his decision ... ? If that's the case, then you either need to talk to him about it, or (given that he probably refuses to) find a way to make peace with it.


Laurel, Md.: Carolyn,

Enjoy reading your column and chat. Ten years ago or so, I became real good friends with a female colleague. I am male. It was strictly platonic. We could discuss anything and we were both pretty outspoken so it was a great friendship. We both moved onto different companies. We keep in touch for awhile. She stood me up on a lunch date and she stopped returning my phone calls/e-mails. So we drifted apart. I had her birthday in my outlook calendar so it would pop up every year. Now fast forward about five years. I sent her a birthday card two years in a row. The second year she sent me an email asking if this was still a good e-mail address and that she wanted to contact me. I responded with my contact info. Never did hear from her. This was about a year ago. For what ever reason I have been thinking about her and would like to try to reestablish our friendship, just because I enjoyed it so much. It was such a nice and rare platonic relationship with a female friend. Should I make an effort to contact her or should I let it go? My recollection is I always did the initial pinging to set up the meeting. Am I over analysing this and should just call her? Her birthday is September so I would have to wait several months to wish her a happy birthday.

Carolyn Hax: I think you're overanalyzing this and shouldn't get in touch. She knows where you are, knows you're interested in getting in touch, and hasn't gotten in touch. I'm sorry.


Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry, too, that I took so long for that post. (And probably for others today.) I forgot to eat lunch, duh, and now can't concentrate any more. So, bye! Thanks, and I'll type to you next Friday.


Steamboat Springs, CO: Carolyn- you misunderstood my question. I don't HAVE a temporary place, it's not available until July... do I tell her or just grin and bear it until then?

Carolyn Hax: My advice was to get your stuff to storage till the July place is available; the specifics of where you go in the interim therefore aren't as demanding, since it's just you and a toothbrush vs you and a sofa. Friend's floors, a hotel, whatever you can afford and/or cobble together.


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