Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 3, 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.

Other mail can be directed to Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.

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washingtonpost.com: Carolyn is running late today, but should be here by 12:30 ET to start answering your questions. Apologies. -- Liz


Carolyn Hax: Hey guys. Sorry about the delay--I just celebrated a severe muscle spasm in my shoulder with 1.5 hrs in a walk-in clinic waiting room. I'm having a little trouble typing (how you will distinguish this from normal weeks is up to you) but let's give it a shot.


Noseyville: One of my casual acquaintances (I only see her at happy hours) often gives me unsolicited advice about my relationship with my boyfriend. She'll start out asking me a simple "how are you" and no matter how I respond, she launches into advice. Her take is that since I don't constantly glow with love, I must not love my boyfriend and should dump him. This is not just when I see her - she's sent me emails to this effect. I'm at the point where I ignore her emails and hope she doesn't show up where I'm going. But still, I don't understand why she can't just mind her own business.

Carolyn Hax:"I'm curious--why does this interest you so much?" If you ask it without anger, it could bring an interesting response.


Washington, D.C.: My mother just died suddenly and I am trying to figure out how I am supposed to be grieving with all the daily stuff of life tugging at me all the time. I have little kids who need to be fed, etc. and can't do what I'd like to do which is take a 10 day nap. Is grief a project? A lifestyle?

Carolyn Hax: Oh no, I'm sorry.

Re project or lifestyle, it's actually a little of both. The word I usually see and use is "process." Your brain has to turn over all the million tiny implications of this loss, and it takes a while to get through them all--first the mere fact of it, followed by the realization you can't pick up the phone to call (often after something happens that would normally have you reaching for the phone), followed by the frustration that you won't get so many questions answered (usually after a question comes to mind that only she could have answered).

At first these little moments can be overwhelmingly emotional, but as you get used to them your emotions adjust, and maybe you cry less (I won't say the crying stops), and the time between moments expands.

This takes some people longer to get through than others, and I;m sure that's due to combinations of temperament and depth of the loss and whether your circumstances allow you time to grieve. Yours don't, which will make it harder, but almost no one gets a 10-day nap. Find time as you can, call in troops if you have them, and don't be afraid to be human in front of the kids.


Baby and no call: I feel like a heel. My friend had a baby and I didn't call her until a 2 weeks went by. I figured she was going to be tired, busy, and have her hands full with family visiting. I know, I should have at least called just for a brief "congrats" that first week. There was no reason for not calling except that I wanted to give her some time to adjust, and didn't want her to feel like she had to make time for me.

I never realized until I read your column that I probably hurt her feelings. Maybe the woman's friends really just don't know that she needs them right now.

Carolyn Hax: Definitely a possibility, and that's why I hope she just says something instead of letting her resentment build up.

Some people also pointed out that it's not always a given that everyone knows; new parents do need to get the word out somehow, because friends/colleagues/non-inner-circle-dwellers don't want to be in the position of having to ask, in the unlikely event something terrible happened.

Anyway, moral of the story seems to be that e-mail is good. Calls aren't as bad as everyone fears, either, since a family can always choose not to pick up.


Curious: Do you ever find yourself in a position to take your own advice? For example, have you ever had to answer a question about a dilemma you'd never faced, only to find yourself with the same problem later, but you knew what to do because you'd thought about it ahead of time?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, yes. It has been helpful more than once to have done the homework ahead of time.


Washington, D.C.: Do people ever actually read their letters to you before sending them off? I am thinking of the first letter in today's column: "My boyfriend is jealous, possessive, and freaks out when I talk to other men, even strangers on the street." Um. Who does not look back and this and think, "Whoa, time to dump him?"

Carolyn Hax: People who have pre-rationalized so much irrational behavior that they don't even notice it when they put it in words? I'm not sure I can explain it, but I do think we all can claim credit for having done it ourselves at some point, to some degree. If you're not sure, think of a time you've been defensive about someone.


New Haven, Conn.: To the woman whose mother died...grief is not something you can control. It just is. How you respond to it is within your control, to some extent.

I was in this position and I can only say that while I frequently wished I could somehow make my kids and husband temporarily disappear so I could just sob my heart out, in the long run, their very presence made life worth living.

And the distractions of daily life kept me from crawling into a pit of grief that I couldn't get out of. Sometimes having to get up, take a shower, fix everyone breakfast and pack lunches is the only reason I ever left my room. Occupational therapy.

So sorry for your loss.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you.


Pocatello, Idaho: So here's my question -- I'm in the doghouse with my girlfriend because I attended a friend's sister's wedding and did not tell her I was going to go nor that I had gone. (On an evening where she and I could not be together anyway.) She does not like my hanging out with this friend because he is in a severe womanizing phase of two years duration -- which has nothing to do with me -- I don't support or condone it or have any desire to live my life that way. Yet, the GF has big issues with this - "I should have told her, it's an openness and honesty issue, why do you spend time with him, etc." My thinking was don't tell, don't ask, no big deal, I'm going to go to support my friend and for no other reason. Your thoughts? It's been a little cold lately.

Carolyn Hax: This is exactly today's column, isn't it? She is controlling you to ease her own insecurity, essentially accusing you of being untrustworthy, and instead of standing up for yourself, you've reduced yourself to sneaking behind her back. You are not a 13-year-old hiding from Mommy. Get out before you get any deeper into that hole, and remind yourself that while she's entitled to find your friends morally repugnant, she's not entitled to tell you whether you can or can't spend time with them. If she doesn't like your choices, she can dump you.

Conveniently, you have that same license with her.


Baltimore, Md.: Atypically, I got kind of dressed up last Saturday night and wore a sundress with a low-cut top. I went out to a work friend's birthday party. When I got there, I realized two bad things. I was way overdressed (everyone else was in jeans) and I only knew one other couple at the party. So I started to talk to the one couple, and the woman pointed out that the loudest, drunkest guy at the party was totally looking down my shirt. I sort of laughed uncomfortably and tried to shrug it off, but she wouldn't let it go and kept joking about it and saying she was going to send him a drink in my name. I think she was being territorial about her boyfriend, so I made an extra effort to talk to her and not the boyfriend.

But the whole time I felt really uncomfortable. I spent the rest of the party holding a drink in front of my chest and left early and had a terrible time. Now I'm mad at myself for sucking up to someone who was rude to me. Any suggestion on how I could have handled the situation better? It wasn't worth getting confrontational over, but it's been sticking with me all week that I let a rude comment ruin my night.

I should have just gone and talked to the guy who was looking down my shirt -- he was at least having fun and was probably nicer.

Carolyn Hax: Probably true.

Also true is that if you knew exactly how to respond in that situation to salvage your un-self-conscious good time, then you'd be in the company of about 1 percent of the population. So, get out of it what you can: Maybe make a mental note that, from now on, any time you notice someone in a bad spot at a party, you'll make an effort to make the person feel welcome.


Re: no baby call: I get that a baby is a life changing experience. Even though I'm not married and have no kids I understand. But being single and trying to make it on one's own is also hard. I feel that attitude just furthers this idea that one lifestyle is oh so much easier than the other. It's not true. Having to deal with a breakup is really difficult but I guess that's not something the writer has to deal with anymore. I'm sorry if I don't have the time to call my friend who's just had a kid but really I have my own problems. It doesn't mean I'd care for her any less. It's just that I have to look out for me during a time like that. When I'm in pain I think reaching out to her should be done when I feel ready. I'm certainly not saying that sadness trumps happiness but happiness is a hell of a lot easier to experience than sadness. I got two vibes: she needed some sort of validation and attention from her friends and the "what about meeeeeeeeeee." Ugh.

Carolyn Hax: That's not fair at all. First, a new baby is not uninterrupted bliss. It's joy mixed with terror, fatigue, depression, intense feelings of helplessness, loneliness and inadequacy. And poop. And the occasional family member who brings only opinions and doesn't know when to leave.

Second, no one was saying that breakups aren't hard. But someone who has been there for friends' breakups shouldn't have to examine her own conscience for wanting these friends to at least acknowledge a such an enormous event in her life. She's hurt. I suggested she tell her friends she's hurt. The correct response when someone does that is, "I meant to call, and I'm really sorry I didn't." There's no occasion for a my-life-is-harder-than-yours discussion here.


Grief is Physical: I'm sorry, Washington, D.C., about your mother. One of the best pieces of advice a friend gave me when I lost my dad was that grief is like a physical illness -- that's why you need that 10-day nap. Please call in as much help as you can with your kids and cancel as much outside activity as you possibly can; you need the rest. Don't try to live a normal life; this is something you need time and help to get through. My grandmother once said that the pain doesn't go away but your ability to cope with it grows. Hang in there.

Carolyn Hax: Pulling this out for emphasis: "You need the rest." Emotions are physically draining. Thanks.


Washington, DC: I'm trying to bite my tongue here but finding it hard.

My sister told me that it would be a waste of paper for me to include separate inserts in my wedding invitations about the reception location.

Yet she had a destination wedding last year that "wasted" tons more energy in terms of plane flights, gas etc, than a measly reply card.

Can I politely point this out to her? Or better to just nod and smile -- like all other unwanted advice related to wedding planning. Argh.

Carolyn Hax:"Thanks, I'll consider that." It/she doesn't deserve to get any traction.

And for the love of marzipan doves, don't pull out the, "But she did X and Y," arguments here. Or anywhere, come to think of it.


Perplexed in D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I've got a big dilemma. I just got engaged to a man I love but who can be a total jerk. To make matters worse, he and my mother don't get along (they are WAY too much alike). They both want their way for the wedding (he wants something small and she wants to plan a big affair). I'm stuck in the middle. From the beginning, this engagement has been a feeling of dread and gloom for me. Everytime I stick up for myself, I feel they both knock me down in someway. What's the best way to communicate with strong personalities (bullies if you ask me) and get them to back down and compromise??

Carolyn Hax: Get to a therapist, stat, and deal with your mother issues before you marry them.


Los Angeles, Calif.: I am pregnant with my first child and due in 7 weeks. (YAY!) I seem to be carrying all up front, and this prompts lots of comments about how "big" I am, etc. I am at the point where I am tired, cranky, and VERY aware of exactly how big my belly is.

Yesterday, a coworker actually said to me, "wow, you're getting bigger." To which I wanted to snap back, "wow, you're getting older." But instead I just sort of looked at her and nodded.

Any thoughts on how to handle the "you're so big comments"? I don't want to be a total cranky b---y pregnant lady, but seriously - I don't know if I can take 7 more weeks of these comments!

Carolyn Hax: It's a compliment about the baby, not a insult to you. Roll with it. (Heh heh.)


Boston, Mass.: I just accepted an opportunity to transfer to a new city. The job sounds like it will be a vast improvement professionally. I also have been in a rut lately personally and was actively looking to move to the area for a change and a new adventure.

Now I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of the change and everything I'm going to need to do to make it happen. Tell my boss. Transition all my work. Get rid of my apartment. Find a new apartment with nice, friendly roommates. Drive across the country. etc etc etc. I still think it is the right thing for me to do, but I'm freaking out a bit now that I've actually agreed to do it.

Carolyn Hax: Write a big list, prioritize it, chip away at it. It's the (organized) way to get anything done that's too big to dispatch in a day. You'll be fine.

BTW, if the new city is completely new, build in the expectation that it might take a move or two before you get the living situation right.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn --

I love your columns and advice. Last week my boyfriend's brother announced his engagement, and asked my boyfriend to be his best man. Since everyone has scattered around the country, he wants his bachelor party to be in Vegas. My boyfriend and I have long agreed that if/when we get married, there will be no strippers or debauchery at our respective parties -- just a good time for us and our friends to celebrate the union, not disrespect it. How do we reconcile this with giving his brother the crazy bachelor party he said he wants? What is the appropriate response/course of action for me, without being unfair and a party pooper? What do we do for every bachelor party my boyfriend gets invited to from here on out? If I feel that going to a strip club for one's own wedding disrespects the bride, isn't it still disrespectful to her if you do it for other people's weddings? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: I hope your BF tells his brother he won't arrange anything that would make it hard for him to look his new sister-in-law in the eye.

Conveniently, this covers brides who have no problem with the stripper thing, since there are plenty of them, and it covers what to do re future bachelor parties to which your BF is invited. All these couples are consenting adults; as long as you don't contribute to any deception between them, and don't partake in anything that would require any deception in your own home, then I think your duty as a guest is covered.


Pregnant Comments: I have to admit that I am completely guilty of making dumb comments to pregnant women like "wow - you've grown so big!" But really, I don't mean to sound obnoxious. As a woman who plans to be pregnant some day, I still find myself totally amazed at the process. I just think it's so cool and sometimes my mouth gets ahead of my brain. So please, give us a break.

Carolyn Hax: Well said, thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I'm having lunch with my ex-boyfriend tomorrow. He broke up with me in May and this will be the first time that we've spoken or seen each other since the spring. I'm only going because he keeps asking (via email/phone) and I got tired of blowing him off. What are we supposed to talk about? I don't want to rehash the relationship or listen to latent apologies. Frankly, I think that the only reason why he has been pushing lunch is because it is the "right thing to do" after abruptly breaking up with me.

I realize that this is only going to last one hour, but I wouldn't mind some insight into how to make the one hour less stilted and uncomfortable.

Thanks in advance.

Carolyn Hax: Give it a chance. You don't know what he's going to say. You should also feel free to say a civil version of what you said here, if what you suspect turns out to be true, and leave when you're ready to leave.


The White Lie Capital of the World: Washington, D.C.: My wife isn't as social as I am and prefers to stay home frequently, while I enjoy going out with friends and/or family.

So, most of the time, when I go see my friends (mostly couples), my wife isn't there. I'm fairly certain my friends think she doesn't like them, which is completely not the case.

Is it okay to make up little white lies about my wife having to work or having family or other obligations, or should I tell them the truth that she just doesn't like going out often and is at home enjoying some peace and quiet? I'm afraid if I tell the truth, my friends will really think she doesn't like them.

Carolyn Hax: I don't see why they can't just come to understand that she's a homebody, especially if you lead them there (and invite them over occasionally). The fact of introversion is much better understood than it used to be ... right?


Is this really happening?: My husband has been unfaithful. It all came out a few months ago, but I'm still pretty angry about it. During that time, he bombarded me with lie upon lie. Looked me in the eye. Lied some more. Called me his "crazy wife" to one of the other women when I questioned him and her about things not adding up. I don't know how to get myself back. Some days I feel so lost. We're working on things, but sometimes it just feels like an act. We'll be involved in some normal activity and I'll be thinking, "You a-hole." when he's not actively doing anything a-hole-ish. We're in marriage counseling and that has been helpful. However, I'm still experiencing emotional chaos. One minute I'm fine. The next I'm re-living the whole thing. I know there are people who move beyond the betrayal and rebuild their relationships, but I have no idea how it's done. Maybe it's just too early?

Carolyn Hax: Or maybe this isn't one of those cases where you can move beyond it, or even should. Please make the goal of your counseling to explore what happened and why, and leave the space for "desired outcome" blank; I think it would be a mistake to limit your goal to rebuilding the relationship. What's right for the marriage isn't, if it's not also good for you.

Also, counseling for you alone might be productive, to help you sort out your own feelings from the ones getting tossed around in the marital sessions.


Lunch with an ex: Not that there is only one reason to be in contact with an ex post-breakup, but her reasons for the lunch seem shady to me.

He keeps pushing? She gave in because she was tired of dodging? That doesn't sound healthy.

From having been in this situation where the ex was controlling while we were together, I get those vibes from her letter, and would recommend she either ask for a raincheck or cancel altogether. Having history with someone is enough of a reason to NOT see a person as it is TO see that person - she should weigh what she's getting herself into.

Carolyn Hax: Excellent point, thank you. "Please stop pushing for this; I'm not interested" is a perfectly legitimate response to a repeated, unwanted invitation.


Wife-to-be: Why is the girlfriend (not even a wife yet) who's saying "no strippers for you" to the best man boyfriend not a "control freak"???

Just wondering...

Carolyn Hax: I didn't say she wasn't; that answer could have gone in two directions, the stop-controlling direction and the people-please-don't-plan-a-skeevy-party-for-your-

future-sister-in-law's-future-husband direction. I chose the latter, easily could have chosen the former, and wish I'd had the presence of mind to include both. But that's what follow-up postings are for. Thanks.


Helping Hubby With Stress: Carolyn, how do I help my hubby manage stress better? He snaps at everything and internalizes what doesn't come out in the snapping.

I've suggested yoga, walks, talking about it, etc. but he insists he's managing it well on his own (when it's obvious he isn't).


Carolyn Hax:"I feel hurt by it, so please consider that you're not managing it as well as you might think." Just don't drop it on him when he's stressed.

In the end, though, you've got control only over your response to his stress response, and that could mean anything from doing research to find out what a therapist would try to teach him to do, to learning your own methods of anticipating and handling his snapping episodes.


Re: Lunch: Hi Carolyn,

I'm the original poster. The boyfriend was not controlling. I think that he knows that the break up was abrupt (no fight, we recently went on vacation together) and he feels badly about it. I think that he is trying to make amends, but I would have preferred that he did so about 1.5 months ago. At this point I would just like to put things behind me. Sorry if my use of adjectives was misleading. Thanks for your advice. I'll just go and see. It's only lunch.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


Carolyn Hax: Finally: To New Haven, please write to me directly, and understand that an anonymous forum is not the place for this. Your identity will be kept confidential. Thank you.

That's it, sorry to start on a late note and end on a cryptic one. Thanks for your patience, and hope to see you next week.


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