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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 13, 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.

This Week's Columns: Sun.| Wed.| Fri.

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Miffed in Minnesota?: Hi Carolyn --

I'm a little confused by today's column. It sounds like the relationship was going to end when the woman moves away for her new job. From the rest of the question (and your response) it seems like that isn't the case, but the writer explicitly says it in her question (We do not plan to stay together, but intended to enjoy this last summer together verily.) Is there something that went over my head, or is it that the writer is only worried about her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend seeing someone else during their last summer together?

Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. Nothing went over your head. The writer was just prepared to lose her boyfriend to Fate, not to another woman.

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Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year and abstain from ALL types of sexual activity. It's the first relationship I've had where I've done something like this and the result seems to be that it moves really slowly but really powerfully and consistently. Am I missing out on something? How do I know if I'm missing out on something? I'm 25.

Carolyn Hax: We're all missing out on something. What matters is if you feel good about what you have, and if not, why not. It's not a perfect science.

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Northern California: Love you, love your column, love your chats. Posting early, because I won't make the chat. Wondering if you or the peanuts have some tips for this.

What do you do when a male co-worker directs all conversations to your chest?

I have been round and round the professional block, but I've never dealt with this before. I have to talk to this guy because we work on the same projects, so it's not like I can avoid him. It is really icky. Oh, yeah, and insulting, but that seems obvious.

The guy literally stares at my chest for an entire conversation, with only the briefest of glances up at my eyes every couple of minutes. Do guys realize that they do this? Part of me wonders whether he even realizes he's doing it, or if he does and just thinks I don't notice.

Is there a subtle way to get him to make eye contact for longer than a millisecond? Or am I going to have to have a very uncomfortable conversation with him? (I might add that I don't particularly like him, and the only reason I talk to him is because I have to. So I'm kind of hoping for a weenie way out.)

Thanks for any thoughts you got.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.

Have you tried bending your knees/dropping your shoulders a little bit, basically lowering your eyes to his eye level? It's something that could make your point for you, without your having to say a word about it. It seems especially apt because it's one way to get small children to look at your face while you're talking to them.

(By the way, I'm directing this answer at your shoes.)

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Possibly Vegas, someday: I would love to hear what you and the nut gallery have to say about eloping. Is it truly such a selfish act? It seems to me that a wedding day is supposed to be about the two people bonding their lives, not about the rabble of distant cousins and rubbery overpriced chicken and white foufy fabric. Does it really cause THAT much heartache to the parents?

I should note that both my boyfriend and I are only children, no siblings, so this is the only wedding his parents, and mine, would have. I should further note that we've both been clear that neither of us ever wants to have any children, thus "taking away" the only other major milestone my mother was apparently looking forward to for decades.

I see eloping as saving them and/or us a bundle of money (my friends are all marrying off and my jaw drops when I hear what weddings wind up costing) but they seem to see it as me denying them... something.

I never had the girlhood fantasy of the princess fairytale wedding. I guess I missed all that. So I don't want any part of it. I don't even want a diamond ring.

We've been living together for four years. White?! Who would I be kidding?

Carolyn Hax: Have you considered a small ceremony with both sets of parents as witnesses? The tyranny of weddings isn't just that they're expensive rubber-chicken pushers. It's that they're seen as being absolute, as if this or that Has to Be Done--or Not. A wedding can be as personal as you want it to be. Don't get so caught up in being different and rejecting the bridal-industrial complex that you reject everything else with it.

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Re: Northern California: You should have called this chick on what she is doing to make this guy focus on her chest.

It could be too tight top, too revealing top, etc. Give the men a break.

Carolyn Hax: The twin bullseye tattoos are very tasteful, I was told.

Thanks for speaking for the no-voluntary-muscle-control set.

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Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry. It just occurred to me there is of course a no-voluntary-muscle-control set, one that deserves better.

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Carolyn Hax: So, thank you for speaking for the brain-as-styrofoam-peanuts-for-the-skull set.

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Re: Northern California: I usually snap my fingers and say "Hey, they don't talk" and smile to show I'm not angry but I do expect to looked at in the eye.

They're baffled for a second at the audacity, but frankly if you're THAT uncomfortable continuously they can handle 5 seconds of discomfort.

Has happened to me many times regardless of how conservatively I dress and most of the time they have no idea, and they don't ever bring it up (or look there) again.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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This sucks, Va.: My wife and I have some issues to deal with. We've had many arguments about them which have not resolved the issues. They're probably not resolved because we just argue instead of talking or working them out. I should point out that these issues are not minor and cut to the foundation of who we are, individually and together, and potentially reveal some major transgressions. After we calm down, it seems like a good time to deal with them but we don't seem to have the energy. The issues then seem to come up during the course of little disagreements and make those tiffs rise to a thunderous roar. We know we have to settle the larger things but don't. The little things carry the weight of the larger unresolved issues so that we've turned into sparing partners instead of partners. How do you break the cycle? I feel like we could get somewhere if we could lay out our problems without the fear of abuse or reprisal (on both parts) but work, children and life keep getting in the way. Marriage counseling is an obvious solution, but that just feels like it will take every bit of energy we have left.

Carolyn Hax: No, the status quo is taking every bit of energy you have left. It's also teaching your kids to handle problems the way you're handling them now--big defenses, little intimacy--which can't be what you want. So, stop making excuses and do what you need to do, be it marriage counseling or just making an appointment with each other to talk without distractions, interruptions or an audience. Pick a weekend, arrange for the kids to stay with someone or for someone to stay with them, and get away together somewhere quiet. It's possible.

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Un-PCville: Oh geez, are we really that over the top PC that you have to apologize for that?

Carolyn Hax: It's not "we," it's "I." I just hit the button and thought, "palsy," and wished I had said something else. So I said something else.

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Re: Northern California: Is it possible that this person feels awkward and is actually avoiding eye contact as opposed to staring?

Carolyn Hax: It is possible. But this person should venture over to ears or shoulders when talking to women, just as a precaution. Foreheads work too.

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No city, state: Dear Carolyn - Recently you've featured a few columns on childhood friends that have over the years, grown apart. I have a similar situation but with an interesting twist. How do you a situation when two childhood friends separate because one wanted to end the friendship and years later the other friend discovers that the other passed away. The friend contacts the family, expresses condolences, but is faced with the question, "What happened to the friendship?". Should I explain that she was the one to end the friendship? I think the family is looking to understand choices she made throughout her life to help sort through the grief. I'm torn if I should tell them, in a gentle way, the truth or just pass it off as "two friends parting ways".

Carolyn Hax: I don't see why you can't tell a kind version of the truth. "She outgrew me," or something like that. If they're looking to understand her, help them understand her.

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Well-endowed-ville: I object to the conclusion that the woman must be drawing the attention in some way. For years I've dressed to deflect attention from my chest but I get it anyway; it's made me needlessly neurotic. I realize now (though it still hasn't changed the way I dress) that in polite society, men should control themselves, even if a woman IS wearing a bullseye.

In D.C. one summer, when I was getting harrassed on the street a lot, my mother's solution was to tell me: "Wear another sweater." Can we please agree that that's untenable?

Carolyn Hax: We agree that's untenable.

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Infer too much?: I read the post from "This sucks, Va." three times. Nowhere in the post did it mention kids yet you mention kids in your response. Do you edit the questions before posting? Does that not lead to a potential bias?

Carolyn Hax:"I feel like we could get somewhere if we could lay out our problems without the fear of abuse or reprisal (on both parts) but work, children and life keep getting in the way."

It's okay, I'm tired on Fridays too.

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Baltimore, Md.: How do you recommend dealing with the feeling that you should be so much better than you are? I have a good job, significant other, relationships, hobbies, etc., but I sometimes get the sense that it's a failing when I watch TV, play a computer game, go out to dinner, etc. when I could be putting in more overtime at work, visiting my parents, making the dinner myself, or just generally contributing more to the world.

Carolyn Hax: It's funny, this question can go so many ways, depending on the context and ... really just on who you are. It could be, for example, that you just need to give yourself a break, and realize that a good job, SO, relationships and hobbies can take a lot out of a person--esp if you;re an introvert--and so what you see are indulgences are your way to regroup.

Or, it could be you're at an age/stage where the usual stuff isn't enough any more, and you need more of a sense of purpose out of your life, and this is the beginning of some hard thinking.

Or it could be that you have perfectionist tendencies and could benefit from some scrutiny into why you feel pressured not to have frailties, or it could be you have some anxiety.

I mean, wanting to feel better than you are? Welcome to breathing.

If none of the possibilities I threw out there sounded like you, then maybe the best start would be to incorporate some "appointments" to be better. Schedule a visit with your parents, or pick one day a week you work late, or one day a week you make dinner. Start slowly, and focus yourself a little better. If that doesn't work then you can try bigger steps.

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If Stooping Doesn't Work: And the "they don't talk" line is untenable, for whatever reason, I'd try "Is there something on my shirt?" Not as confrontational, but still alerting the starer that it's not going unnoticed.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Huh: As a guy who loves to see a beautiful woman, I don't think it matters if she's topless. After any normal, and natural primal impulse to look at something/someone eye-catching, simple courtesy in the workplace demands that he stifles his further impulse and focusses on her eyes for the rest of the conversation.

Carolyn Hax: I'm weeping with gratitude.

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The kids question: One day I want to have kids and the next I don't. Is that normal? One day I will think about "what it all means" and think that kids are a great way to honor my marriage. The next day I am looking at my body thinking that there is no way I want to be bigger than a size 2 or 4 (yes, I am very vain). I constantly worry about meeting financial goals for retirement. How will we fund college AND our retirement? Please don't tell me that the love of a child will make me forget my retirement goals. I can assure you that it wont. We sacrifice every day for our future by living below our means.

Yes, I know my reasons are awful but I can afford to be that way since we are not trying to get pregnant right now.

My husband is on the fence, too. We are also fairly neurotic and both have OCD issues. While we still live fine lives--I am sad about bringing a child into the world and turning it into a ball of nerves.

I am 35 and husband is 36. Are our concerns normal or are we simply not quality parent material?

Carolyn Hax: Oh my goodness. Recognizing that a child might be too stressful for you, given your nature, -does- make you quality parent material--you just might be better off using that material to come to the decision not to have kids. You are being brutally honest with yourself about the qualities that you don't think would serve a child well, and that is the most important element of a good decision.

I heard Weingarten quoted me recently, that I thought choosing not to have kids was the most unselfish decision a couple could make. This is exactly what I was talking about when I said that--it's a decision stemming from the kind of calculations you're making, about the day-to-day (all the way up to end-of-life) implications of what this choice, yea or nay, would mean for your potential children. Essentially it's, "Given who I am, would my children be happy?" Do you know how hard it is to say no?

As it happens, on the opposite end of the spectrum is having kids to "honor my marriage." That's what vintners and jewelers are for.

And to answer your initial question, yes, questioning and flip-flopping are normal. But anyone with serious questions and/or serious flip-flopping should hold off.

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Workplace Etiquette: For the guy who thinks it's okay to stare if the woman is "asking for it" by dressing provocatively, a question: Your male boss insists on wearing tight, ill-fitted suits, that draw attention to private areas of his body. Okay to stare because he's "asking for it," by drawing attention to those parts? Or would you refrain from doing so, out of respect and, one suspects a desire to keep your job? Ditto if the woman in question were your boss - would you still think it's "okay to stare," or would you be able to contain yourself, again out a desire to keep your job? So clearly it's not something one is completely unable to control, it's a question of what you choose to control -and you might want to think about how why you're choosing not to control yourself in certain situations. Because you don't have to, because they're in a lower status position (or equal), because they can't hurt you? I don't know, you'll have to figure it out. But clearly it's a lot more complicated than "she's wearing a tight shirt, so I get to stare."

Carolyn Hax: Well done, thank you. I was too disgusted (and pessimistic) to try.

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Alexandria, Va.: For This Sucks, I have three words: counseling, counseling, counseling. It's entirely possible that one party is clinically depressed or has anxiety issues. Or they just may be overwhelmed. Counseling is the best way I have ever discovered to figure out just what's going on -- and it provides benefits that just going away together (although also a happy -- and necessary -- thing) just can't match.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. If the time alone to work things out isn't enough, they'll soon know it, in which case I hope they keep this in mind.

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Chantilly, Va.: Hi Carolyn,

I don't know if I should be asking this, but here goes: I dated a guy for almost a decade. We were engaged to be married, but I called it quits just before the wedding due for the most part to some specific behavior on his part. Fast forward two years, and we recently started talking again. He wants to get married; says he's changed and issues have been resolved. I do trust him, but understand there's a leap-of-faith element to it.

It all sounds fantastic on paper, but I have an awful feeling in the pit of my stomach and my heart (although my brain says "yes" loud and clear). Is it nerves or could there be something more? I don't know how to resolve these feelings nor how to assess them... I'm terrified. Advice?

Carolyn Hax: You "recently" started talking again. Give this new phase some time before you commit to anything--and if he resists your very reasonable request to take things slowly to figure out if this is the right thing to do, then give the pit of your stomach an ice cream cone as thanks for saving you from a bad situation. You can certainly trust him to mean what he says about changing, but whether it's the change you need to share a happy life with him is -not- his decision to make, and so it has nothing to do with trust. Except perhaps trust in your own judgment, and in time to tell you what you need to know.

One caveat: If you have a history of getting sucked in with this guy, and struggling to get back out--and if part of the problem is that you dread his pressure when you try to break up, and you rationalize around your unhappiness as a way to avoid facing him--then don't give it time. Listen to your gut and say no thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I seem to get involved with men who are very brainy (which I like) but who tend to be talkers. I often find myself feeling as though they're on stage and I'm invisible. The last one, who claimed up and down that he was in love with me (after less than two months), was baffled when I told him he couldn't be in love with me, because he hadn't even gotten basic information or expressed any curiosity about my life or my beliefs; he was in love with an image.

Is there a way to gently work with these guys so that things aren't so one-sided, or does that constitute an impossible task of trying to fix self-centeredness?

Carolyn Hax: I think you might be mistaking verbosity for brains. Some of the smartest people out there are the ones who know how to listen.

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HR Department: I'm surprised no one has mentioned the possibility of going to Human Resources to address the staring issue. Companies -have- to take that sort of inappropriate behavior seriously, and it's in everyone's interest to document what's going on.

Carolyn Hax: Some have, I just haven't gotten there yet. I wanted the other possibilities out there first--that calling attention to it once could stop it, that it might be shyness not boobness--before we made it a matter for the permanent file.

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Washington, D.C.: Re: Chantilly, I bet she "didn't know if she should be asking this," because she suspected your advice would be to run in the other direction... because that's what her gut is telling her, and gut instincts are sometimes more reliable than directions from the heart (or brain).

Carolyn Hax: Substitute "usually" for "sometimes." Thanks.

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Baltimore, Md.: Carolyn, how do you deal with writer's block? I have a bad case of it today. I have an interesting story to work on and I just can't concentrate. I guess this is a general procrastination question, but if you have any writer-specific tips, it would be much appreciated. I've been pecking away at one project for days and it's not even half done.

Carolyn Hax: Walk away, do something else that's productive but doesn't involve writing, then come back and make a list or outline that forces you to organize your thoughts. Once you know what you're trying to say, you'll have less trouble saying it.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm pregnant with my first child and just found out we're having a girl. I'm ecstatic, but my in-laws, since they found out I'm pregnant, have been demanding, in snide and sarcastic ways, that we produce a boy. They've also made some scathing comments about having girls. Now that we know it's a girl, I'm very hesitant to tell them, especially since my side of the family was overjoyed just to hear she's looking healthy, let alone that she's a girl.

Any ideas for how to let go of all the nasty girl comments everyone has made? I'm not sure what, exactly, they expected me to do about the sex of the child anyway. It's not like I had anything to do with it! It's just causing me angst when I'd like to be reveling in nothing but pure happiness right now.

Carolyn Hax: These are in-laws! Let your husband tell them the sex and hear all the nasty comments.

As for how you deal with knowing how they feel, you marvel that people who could make these comments could also raise your husband, who presumably doesn't see the world the way they do--and you realize now (the sooner the better) that looking for "pure happiness" is no way to find happiness. There's always something. If this is your something, then, well, it would be a lot better if you could have warm and supportive grandparents for your kids, but it could be a lot worse, too. They may even surprise you and be nuts about your little girl.

If it helps, if there weren't always something, we'd have nothing to talk about or laugh at. Since you're about to get into that world--try reading a storybook with only nice uncomplicated things. You'll want to run screaming by the second page. Anything interesting has an edge to it.

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RE: Chantilly: Awful feeling in the pit of your stomach?

Unless she is prepared to live with that forever (hooray for Zantac!), she should give this guy a pass.

While there is something nice about the familiar and it can be easy to say "Dump him!" when you haven't slept alone in 5 years (I wouldn't know - I am single), I can't imagine what sort of behavior jarred her out of her comfort zone after 10 years together and an impending engagement. There is something very "inertial" about relationships and I think her heart is telling her to stay out. Also realize that it is really OK to believe someone has changed and that they can do better but you are still just done with them. Just because someone "fixes" themselves for you doesn't mean you are obligated to take them back if you don't want to.

Carolyn Hax: Beyootiful last two lines, thank you.

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Wheaton, Md.: Carolyn: A couple of nights ago, I walked in on my husband (of one month) using our computer. That's not unusual, but what was unusual was his reaction. He seemed startled, then immediately shut the laptop -- I assume, to prevent me from seeing what was on the screen. I did not say anything, but this has been eating at me ever since. I assume he was viewing porn. I'm actually fine with most of the garden-variety porn found on the Internet, but what if it was something really twisted, or even illegal? My ex was into very deviant porn that crippled him sexually and destroyed our marriage. I know it's okay for couples to have some secrets from each other. I know my imagination is probably running wild over nothing. My husband has never done anything to make me believe he's anything other than a normal, heterosexual male (unlike my ex, with whom I ignored many warning signs). Should I ask him what he was looking at, and get it out in the open? Or assume it was nothing serious and get over myself?

Carolyn Hax: You have a history with this, so even if you try to assume it was nothing serious and get over yourself, your shadowy animal brain will never believe you and will always be looking and wondering. So, ask. Just make sure you make it clear--to your animal brain, and to him, too, if you have to--that you aren't punishing him for someone else's transgressions.

That shouldn't be hard in this case, though. Even if you didn't have a history, it would be perfectly normal for anyone to ask after a reaction like the one you describe. "It looked like you were trying to hide something from me. What's up?"

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Brainy Guys: Carolyn, it is clear you don't know enough engineers. It is quite possible to be very, very smart, and uncontrollably talkative. Sometimes, it's called Asperger's, others, it's called dorkism. If this lady is dating one of my tribe, she shouldn't hesitate to tell him to hush up once in a while. Being smart and rational, he should be able to learn.

Carolyn Hax: I know plenty, believe me. I thought I had hedged enough with the "might" and the "some of ...," but now I see I didn't. I also wouldn't have thought of what you suggested, thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: When I was born (this was the late 70s, before people routinely were able learn the gender of their babies pre-birth) my dad's father said to my mother: "Why did it have to be a girl?"

My parents' second child was a boy, and was named for my grandfather. The entire time my grandfather was alive, I knew I was not as valued or appreciated compared to my siblings, simply because I had the audacity to be born first, and be female.

So, my advice to the mom is to NOT tell your daughter how nasty her grandparents were when she was a mere fetus. If the grandparents are heinous people, the kid will figure that out for herself.

Carolyn Hax: Useful, thank you.

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Bay Area, Calif: Hi Carolyn,

How do you feel about the "no initiating" rule for women when they are interested in a man. I've had some dates with a man (who I've known for many years). He's said that he wants me, but is no good at making plans - but does respond to my e-mails. It's quite frustrating.

And as a second part to the question, a new guy has come into my life, and I am quite sure that he is interested. But he is also my chiropractor. Again, the no initiation rule is frustrating, combined with the possible date-no-patients rule (lots of rules!)

Do guys really run from women who express interest in them because they see it as desparation?

Carolyn Hax: You must be new around here.

Rules are worthless. When there are laws or professional boundaries involved, you respect them, but for navigating everything else, courtesy and judgment are more than up to the job.

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To Wheaton: Also, due to your history with this particular issue it may be that you're seeing it where it isn't. It could also be something as simple as he was making an online purchase he didn't want you to know about (it could have been something for you) or he's planning a surprise for you like a trip... or he could be chatting online with his mistress. He could also very well be watching porn. Your initial theory could be true, but then again it could be completely off base.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.

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Midwest: Our new neighbors (right across a courtyard) like to be, um, amorous right in front of their 10-foot windows. They haven't bought blinds yet. It's a twist on the "our-neighbors-are-loud-when-having-sex" question. Should we say something?

We obviously have a much different issue if they want others to see them...

Carolyn Hax: Do you have blinds?

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Re: Baby Girl: I would be very concerned about these in-laws. Maybe they'll shut up until the kid is born but then what? Will they tell her she's worth less than a boy? Will they only give her pink frilly things and tell her she's not smart? You better deal with this now because this grandchild has a lot of years ahead of her.

Carolyn Hax: The answer to what you raise is here:

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RE: Pregnant with a girl: My grandmother was your in-laws. My mother chose to be happy about having me and then taught me grace under pressure when I had to deal with them (no, she never accepted that I was a girl). It's helped me learn how to deal with the difficult people that we deal with every day

Carolyn Hax: Yay mom. Thanks.

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Courthouse, Arlington, Va.: Hey Carolyn -- I am currently seeing someone who just has be the last to close the bar or keep the party going all night. Everyone loves them because they are so fun and inclusive (including party with the bar stuff), but I am exhausted and really know that this "party person" is not the real them. I don't want to stifle this beautiful energy - I would just love to have in sane amounts. Suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Find someone else. Until you have proof to the contrary in the form of not closing down the bar or keeping the party going all night: This is the real person.

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But what if the PARENTS are the heinous ones?: Do kids figure that out, too? If teens have watched the 'rents bully and exploit the grandparents their whole lives, can they eventually catch on or do they just keep perpetuating the cycle?

Carolyn Hax: This is an interesting offshoot of the my-parents-had-a-bad-marriage posts of a few weeks ago. What emerged from those is that some kids grow to recognize the pathologies of their home lives, find ways to differentiate themselves and learn healthier ways of interacting with people. Some go with what they know.

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I'm astounded: That a woman could be upset that she was getting a healthy granddaughter.

Carolyn Hax: I'm not. Negative people will find ways to be negative. They're drops of water, always traveling to the lowest possible place.

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Carolyn Hax: I was going to sign off now, but that was too depressing. Hang on.

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Midwest Voyeurs: Have you learned anything new?

Carolyn Hax: Too ick. One more try:

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New in Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I am the Country Mouse recently moved to the Big City -- D.C., to be precise. But I am having serious trouble adapting to the coldness. How is D.C. cold in the middle of the summer, you ask? It's the people.

Nobody smiles on the street or says hello or returns a smile. Are the beautiful people of D.C. consititutionally barred from being friendly? Is it like surrendering your right to vote?

Frankly, I've been here a month and I'm ready to move back to the farm (even if the farm is only a town house in some suburban community). I can't be alone in noticing this! Is there some secret handshake nobody's shared with me yet?

Carolyn Hax: No! I find D.C. very smiley, though often you do have to smile at it first. Please be patient with it, keep trying, keep smiling at it, explore new neighborhoods. It's like anywhere else (even the suburban townhouse communities)--some smile and some don't, and the two can be three miles apart.

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Repulsive Preferences: Carolyn,

I think your response to the person who didn't want to participate in their partner's repulsive sexual preferences lacked something, namely, detail. There is no way to tell if the complainer is unusually prudish and doesn't want to engage in practices almost as common as intercourse, or if the repulsive partner wants to dress up like a pony and be whipped around the bedroom.

I think it makes a big difference. Is the complainer refusing to experiment even a little, while fully expecting their "normal" desires to be met, or has the complainer been confronted with something so outre that they are fully justified in refusing to try?

Don't you see any gray area here? Is it possible that the repulsive partner, rather than being pushy or coercive, has been trying to encourage the complainer to be adventurous and accommodating? If it doesn't involve other people, non-consenting people, animals, or bodily harm, is there a reason why the complainer won't offer satisfaction to the partner even once?

Carolyn Hax: I don't see any gray here. Pushing is wrong when it comes to sex. Prudes have a right to their prudishness.

If, as in one of your examples, the complainer is happily receiving while refusing to give, then there's something to that--but the answer isn't to pull the you-do-this-for-me thing that was in the letter. It's to talk about the imbalance and try to find a mutually non-repulsive way to correct it.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it. Thanks everybody, hope to see you here next week.

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