Tell Me About It

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 14, 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.

Mail can be directed to Carolyn at


Rockville, Md.: So I totally dropped the ball this summer and gained weight after having lost a noticeable amount during the year. I'm totally freaked out about seeing people when I head back to college. Can you help me out with a mantra or something so I'm not hiding out in my dorm room for all of fall semester? Thanks...

Carolyn Hax: How about this: "I'm still me." Weight on, weight off, both are just tweaks to the final product.

Something else. If you act like it's shameful, that's how people will read it. If you act like it's just another day/pound in the life, then that's how people will read it. Make sure you have clothes that feel good on you, and get out there.


Washington, D.C.: I am friends with a woman who evaluates friendship based on how much time she spends with the person. She often throws parties at her home and I've seen it where someone will not be able to attend a few parties in a row, and she accuses them of not liking her and promptly shuts them out of her life. Also, if you can't attend a party, she asks why, instead of letting it be at you saying you're sorry you won't be able to make it.

I think she's nuts for practically keeping attendance records on her friends. What do you make of this behavior?

Carolyn Hax: It all sounds like more work than I'd want to do. As for what it says about her, scorekeeping and paranoia can just as easily be the mark of sick person as a bad person, so without knowing more (and without a license) I don't feel comfortable getting into it. If you're not already close to her, I would suggest staying at arm's length. And for all her friends, I would advice going to her parties or not based solely on whether they want to go to her parties or not, meaning, without regard to the threat of her blackballing them.


McLean, Va.: How would you suggest moving an almost three-year relationship forward when the other person is dragging their feet on making life decisions? Yet, they say they want to be in a relationship.

Carolyn Hax: Get on with your life as you want to live it. Really nothing more to say.


Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Thanks for taking my question. I'm a guy in my late 30s, and have never been in a serious relationship -- mostly for lack of trying, or even dating. I haven't resigned myself to a life of solitude, nor do I attach all my dreams to any woman that has seemed interested (though given my inexperience that can be tempting). But because of my age I feel there's an expectation from those in my "appropriate" age range that I should be in the "advanced" class, when I'm still taking the remedial. Is it possible to be open with someone about that without scaring them off?

Carolyn Hax: I think this is true of any ... "otherness," for lack of a better word, and any revelation thereof: It will scare off the people it should scare off, and it won't the people you want. In other words, someone who feels it's important to be with an adept socializer/communicator will probably not be interested in you, or -right- for you--whether you speak up about it or not, in fact. On the other hand, someone who herself feels or has felt a little mystified by it all will either recognize a kindred spirit, or come at people's social seasoning with a more open mind.

The trick really is to put yourself in a position to meet a broad variety of people, so you have a lot of chances to find a good fit; to put yourself in a frame of mind not to take rejections too personally; and to avoid putting yourself in situations where you know you won't feel at ease.

Finally--don't get too caught up in the "expectation" part of it. Your consciousness of your own circumstances has probably obscured your view of others'; people are all over the place on this stuff. It's not like you're the only person in the whole world who didn't get the memo.


Hear what they're saying:"yet they say they want to be in a relationship." They ARE in a relationship. They just don't necessarily want to "move it forward" the way you do.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn:

What do you make of someone that you don't know well but will run into occasionally who will not acknowledge you. I'm talking about after being politely/civilly greeted and the person makes an effort to NOT say something, even though you have to pass right by each other and there was no one else around as a distraction?

Do you ignore them in the future?


Carolyn Hax: I would probably keep saying hello, due in roughly equal parts to training, curiosity, disbelief, optimism and a perverse sense of amusement.


Boston, Mass.: In response to DC: Dropping friends who tell you they can't make it to parties sounds like an overreaction. However, in a slightly different situation... ceasing to invite certain people if they repeatedly never respond to invitations, don't return phone calls, or say they will come to your parties and then don't show up is, I think, reasonable. Can we agree that it's not OK to blow someone off just because you've been friends for a long time? And that if you do this, you shouldn't be too surprised if the invitations stop coming?

Carolyn Hax: Sure, we can agree on that, as long as we're also agreeing that this has nothing but a tangential connection to the original post. That one was talking about scorekeeping, this one is about RSVPing, which for some reason has taken a sudden and distressing turn toward extinction.


Virginia: How should a girl successfully ask out a guy?

Carolyn Hax: Take one line from Group A, and one from Group B:

Group A

1. "Would you like to continue this conversation over a drink/coffee?"

2. "I have two tickets to X. Would you like to go with me?"

3. "If you're free on X, I'll be at Y."

Group B

Assume the worst, and enjoy whatever you get beyond that.


Re: the person who won't say hello back: You'd really just keep saying hello? I can think of three or four reasons why this person might be refusing to respond to another person's greeting and none of those situations would be ameliorated by increasingly persistent greetings. Could be mental illness. Could be something weird the greeter did to the greetee. In short, I'd get more info before advising that the person just keep it up and see what happens.

Carolyn Hax: Point well taken, thanks. But I didn't advise "increasingly persistent" greetings, but instead just continuing to do what I would normally do even if this person were a complete stranger. If we were the only two people on the sidewalk, passing each other by, I would say hello. That's all I meant.


To Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Me: Dated from 16-18 (exclusive but not serious), did not date 18-21. Dated 21-27 two different women. At 27, told my girlfriend honestly that I liked her a lot, but did not see spending my life with her, because I knew that she was looking for that commitment. We parted ways. 27-33 did not date. Thirty-three found the woman who at 37 would become my wife and have been with her ever since (just past 5th anniversary).

I didn't understand the advanced commitment until the right person came along and suddenly it seemed right. I knew that this was a person whose priorities were at least as important to me as my own. Someone I was willing to make compromises for and someone I did want to spend my life with.

Don't push it. Learn what you want and how to live it. When you find someone you want to share "you" with, you will know and you will then learn to adapt to that sharing.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for sharing!


Oakland, Calif.: Had a cool summer romance that started stalling once the great guy starting school again, along with full-time work, sick grandparents etc. In a discussion last night on whether this is the end, the guy apologized for not being around as of late and said unfortunately his schedule is unlikely to change. We're supposed to meet up tomorrow for a sort of last rites. I know I can't put up with feeling as if I'm in a long-distance relationship when he lives a mile away, but I'm wondering if I should offer suggestions on how to make it work, or should I let it go? I didn't entirely shut the door last night (and in a letter), but he also didn't offer solutions, so I'm not sure if with his schedule he even wants to try to attempt any second chance. Any help would be appreciated. For what it's worth, he's one of the best guys to come along in my life in so long.

Carolyn Hax: Any second chance will be on the same terms you've plainly rejected. So maybe you didn't shut the door, but what will propping it open accomplish? From the looks of it, he either comes to you of his own initiative with the desire and ability to spend more time with you, or this is it. I'm sorry.


Falls Church Feeling "High School-ish": From last week:

''Falls Church Feeling "High School-ish": Well, are you going to ask her??

Carolyn Hax: Yeah. Well?''

Yes, I wrote to her (I don't have a phone number). She hasn't responded. I have my answer, I think.

Carolyn Hax: Probably. Sorry it didn't work out. When you do see her in two weeks (right?), do your best to keep it in perspective--this is an oh-well, not an oh-no.


Silver Spring, Md.: Thanks for answering the comment from the dude who feels like he should be more advanced in dating than he is -- I feel the same way, as a 31-year-old female. I have great people skills and lots of friends (mostly female) who I love, but the idea of going on dates just turns my insides to jelly. I get so nervous and awkward that all I can think about is getting this guy away from me so I don't have to feel this way anymore.

It's not very productive, and I don't know what to do about it.

Carolyn Hax: Normally I'd suggest you put yourself in proximity to men in situations that bring with them a shared interest or purpose. The most common example is work, and it explains why so many couples meet at work: You get acquainted and used to each other without the freight of all that dateyness. Other examples are the usual volunteer gigs, rec teams, community theater, whatever else floats the boats in question.

Not that it wouldn't work here, it may--but you describe such a visceral reaction that it sounds like something also worth taking up in counseling. Even if it's just nerves without a big story behind them, having someone else bring new ideas and experience to the problem could move things along better than trial and error alone.


New York, N.Y.: Hi Carolyn.

Approximately one year ago I met someone, I fell in love, and, after six months of bliss, it all went straight to hell: Long story short, it became clear (after our breakup) that he wasn't the person I thought he was. Now, four months post-dumping, I'm seeing someone new, and he seems great. Nice, cute, smart, caring, generous, and respectful of who I am and my needs, etc. However, I simply can't fall for him in that dumb, crazy way I fell for the last guy, for whom I ignored all kinds of red flags and tried, for months, to make reality fit into my expectations/hopes. Is this a good thing? I want to believe that it is. I think about the new guy and want to see him all the time, but

I can't, after nine or 10 dates, say that "this is it," something I said with the last guy and about which I was clearly wrong. Is this growing up (I'm 30) or have I lost something? I am consciously trying to take it slow; I'm very, very scared of getting hurt again, but I do want to make sure I give him--and us--a fair chance. Or not, if it turns out that he/we don't deserve one. I'm not even sure what my questions is. I guess it's about dating after a bad breakup, and how you throw yourself back into it even when you know that the greater the present happiness, the worse the future pain might be. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Your last line is where the action is--the answer to how you throw yourself back into it is, you don't. You take on only what sounds appealing to you, you take it on slowly, and you pay careful attention for any sign it's becoming too much.

As for the greater happiness, greater pain, sure, that's true--people who bury the love of their lives will have a lot more grieving to do. But you're actually talking about something else, about the pain of burning fast, bright and then out. Actually, the mental image I have is, "I just body-surfed in a storm and got slammed face-first onto the beach" pain.

That's very different from a deep, rewarding, lasting kind of love, which often does move in a distinctly non-dumb/crazy way. The pain is different, too--it's just, "I miss this person" pain, and that's only when it's over, not after 6 months in or, worse, from the beginning on a daily basis.

Use your experience with the former (raging hormones) to recognize that it's not a productive thing to look for in a relationship. How you define, and find, the latter (raging contentment) is up to you, but don't push it. "Nine or 10 dates" say you still don't know the guy well. If you want to know more about him still, then, great, and if you don't then stop seeing him. It's okay just to wait till you're ready.


Washington, D.C.: I know someone who also used to be a nervous wreck before dates. It turns out she just didn't feel comfortable with the guys she was going out with... when the right guy came along, she was excited about going out to meet him. If you're nervous and feel awful, don't force it, you may just need to be patient and find someone you feel good with.

Carolyn Hax: did she have male friends with whom she was comfortable? That's what I'd be looking for, to gauge the magnitude of a problem.


Alexandria, Va.: My family continues to use my ex-boyfriend for legal advice/services (ie, home sales and purchases, and power of attorney, etc.) We dated for a little under two years and have been broken up for a little over one. Now he's working on something for my father which means that he will be meeting family members that I had intentionally never introduced him to! It's just so frustrating!

Carolyn Hax: Why? What specifically bothers you about his presence? Did he overstep boundaries when you were together and now you feel really invaded? Did he dump you and you resent having to relive it? Does he just get on your nerves? The answer will probably be, regardless, to ask your family respectfully that they get their legal counsel somewhere else, but your reasons would, I think, say whether you have a point, or are over- (or under-) reacting.


Baltimore, Md.: Carolyn:

I'm so frustrated. The boyfriend of a year (next week) is horrible about planning but I am a planner. I've been patient as he worked a summer job with long hours with his promise that things would be different when fall rolled around. Now as I try to get him to plan some fun weekends in the fall he gets defensive and pushes off planning ahead. What gives? I realize this is partly a personality difference in needing to plan versus not planning but I approach him in a non-threatening way and he responds like I'm trying to pin him down to plan the rest of his life or something. How do I communicate with this attitude?

Carolyn Hax: How about this--stop communicating, please! If all you;re saying is, "I want you to be this way, not that way," then it's not helping either of you.

Sounds to me like it's about acceptance anyway, not verbiage. Instead of trying to hold him to his promise to get better (probably made, after all, just to please you), see his non-planning as an immutable part of his character. Then live your life accordingly--you behave the way you like to, and let him behave the way he likes to.

Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but at least you won't be in this constant battle to create something that doesn't occur in nature. That's just misery for all involved.


Homicidal in California: My husband spilled 10 ounces of breastmilk when dropping our baby off at daycare this morning. How do I keep from killing him when he shows up at my office to fetch what I've just managed to squeeze out?

Carolyn Hax: Um, you can lay off the guy? I know it's hard, I know you're tired, but he's also tired, and I'd hardly describe facing you right now as easy. Spell this--A-C-C-I-D-E-N-T; breathe like this--big breath in, big breath out, repeat; and when he gets here, kiss him and say, "Thank you for coming all the way here to deal with this."


Help me let this go: Last week I had a disturbing run-in with a stranger that's still weighing on me.

A child was running wild and I stumbled over him-and his mother got irate with me for daring to touch her child. I am not a quick thinker, and in such situations I'm usually most worried about not escalating a confrontation (because you never know who might actually punch you).

But afterwards I get preoccupied with what I should have said, and angry that there's this idiot still walking around thinking that I am rude and not realizing that she is disgustingly self-centered. I can't reach her, but how can I get the incident out of my head?

Carolyn Hax: Maybe if you tell your head it's possible the mom is now reliving and regretting how quick she was to snap (since maybe she didn't realize at first it was an accident, and instead reacted in a primal and/or sleep deprived and/or venti-addled way), that will distract your head from the really disturbing thought, that the mom not only is really an idiot but has also passed her nature and nurture along to a new generation.


Phoenix, Ariz.: Carolyn, I read something different in the non-planner question than you did, based on her comment that when she suggests future plans together, he acts like she's "trying to pin him down."it's not that he's a non-planner in the sense that he won't make a studying schedule for his LSATs or something. He's dragging his feet about committing to spending time with her in the future, and I think that's a red flag after a year. Right?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I read it the way you did the first time. Then I read it again, caught this--"Now as I try to get him to plan some fun weekends ..."--and changed my answer. "As I try to GET HIM TO plan." Which, if he's not a planner, and she knows he's not a planner, says she's pushing him to be someone he's not.

If she's willing to do all the planning and he won't even agree to show up, then that might be a red flag, sure--but it also might mean that he doesn't want his weekends to be pre-programmed. The only red flag there is the one flying over Fort Bothofyoupleasejustfindsomeoneelse.


To the Baltimore Planner: I am also a planner by nature; my husband is not. How do we make it work? I plan our weekends/events, and have learned over time on which things he would want to be consulted and on which things he couldn't care less. He appreciates my planning, I am content with having my time more scheduled, and peace is kept in our household. The perk is that I've also learned to be a little more low-key about the need to have every minute of our time together pre-organized. Unexpected events can bring big joy!

Just wanted to offer encouragement that it is possible to turn this frustration into a win-win. You can do it!

Carolyn Hax: Go, team!


RSVP'ing: I could BE the girl the person described that stops inviting people and decides "that's it" when they don't come to any invited functions or parties.

It can be exhausting to be the person who "puppets" a friendship. Does the other person ever invite the friend to do things? Do they see each other at all? Or is she always the inviter, and the poster is the invitee?

I recently decided to stop inviting people to do things who I'd invited in the past and they could NEVER make it. Mainly because I felt like I was doing everything, I felt stupid like the person was silently slapping their forehead and thinking "will this person just GO away already!" and would only see some people if I made the effort. I was open to them contacting me, and it never happened. I never made a declaration, or got mad. I simply stopped inviting and waited. And they just sort of faded away.

Some friends I continue to invite and they almost can never come. It's almost cartoonish, but they do write and say they wish they could but they can and to not give up on them. It's a two way street.

I think it can be persnickety, but it can also be self-preservation. No one likes being turned down repeatedly and then not invited to do things. Maybe the friend finally decided to see if people would meet her halfway?

Carolyn Hax: This is all fine but, please, don't confuse these healthy second thoughts and frustrations with what's going on in the original post. It is -not- okay to demand from people the reasons they have to decline an invitation. It is -not- okay to cut people out of your life without possibility of parole for so mild an offense as RSVPing "no" to three consecutive parties. Sure, stop inviting them--but if they reach out to you someday with an invitation, are you really going to say, "No, because in 2005 you declined three invitations in a row"? Judgment good, arbitrariness bad.


To Homicidal: Sorry, Carolyn, it has to be said... don't cry over spilled milk!

Carolyn Hax: But in this case, it's don't shoot/clock/maim/flog/otherwise go medieval over spilled milk.


Washington, D.C.: As the years have gone by when doing the chats and writing the columns, have you noticed the types of questions you receive have changed? Originally I guess this was conceived a 30 and under advice column, but now I guess 7-8 years in the audience that writes to you has gotten older and I was just wondering if you had seen any difference?

Carolyn Hax: Not just seen, but encouraged. It was conceived as a column for younger readers primarily because it seemed like chutzpah for me to presume to know anything beyond what I actually knew. Of course, it still is, but I feel like I've lived enough and you guys have taught me enough for the column to shake off the original limits.

One point I'd quibble with is that the audience writing to me has gotten older. It's not what I get, but what I answer, that has changed the most. I've always gotten mail from all ages. In fact, some papers never ran the "under-30" tag.

Well, two quibbles. The column turned 10 in May.


interference vs. intervention with kids?: Your answer to the person who fell over the toddler and got yelled at made me remember something that happened last week. I was visiting a national park and while I was standing at a partially fenced overlook at the top of a huge cliff, a child came very near me and proceeded to crane his neck and lean over an unfenced portion of the cliff looking downward. I smiled and said hey, would you like to stand behind this rail and look? and stepped back to let him in front of me. I didn't stay there but turned and began to leave. His mom (who was nearby but not within reach of him) proceeded to lecture me about how he was just fine where he was, that it was good for him to be adventurous, she was his mom and would make decisions, etc. I apologized for being concerned and left. But geez. I didn't want to have to watch people scrape a five-year-old off the rocks 200 feet down. Is there any way to say, "I wasn't judging your parenting; I just was concerned for your son's immediate safetly in the moment" without it being a federal case?

Carolyn Hax: Nah, you handled just right, both in the way you invited the toddler to move to a safer place and in the okay-sorry-bye. Even if the mom really did think the kid was fine and needed to be adventurous (!), the ONLY correct thing for her to say to you was, "Thanks!" Strangers should be up on her parenting philosophies and intervene accordingly on her behalf? That's insane. You were in fear of an imminent splat and did your best. Likewise, though, you aren't going to get through to someone who's defenses are that high, nor is it really your job to. Okay-sorry-bye.


Beach City, Fla.: Do you think its a good idea to get involved in something (with someone) that you know is not going to be long term and not going to work out in the long run?

Carolyn Hax: Depends on your temperament, and the other person's, since some people can handle it and some can't. Your having to ask probably means you're the latter, but it could also just be that you've never really given much thought to what you want out of relationships and why. I think a lot of people are programmed to think MUST ... HAVE ... POTENTIAL, but it's not like we have to move to every beach we visit on vacation. If you're careful not to treat as permanent someone who you know is going to be temporary--interpret as needed--then what's to say you can't be better for the experience?


To Falls Church Highschoolish: Sometimes though someone won't reply in a situation like this bec they know they're going to see you in a few days/weeks and want to suss out the situation a little better, get to know you more in a social situation (but NOT in a dating/alone situation or at least not yet). So you kind of have your answer, but it's not necessarily the last word. If you can play it cool and act (or better yet: really feel) that it doesn't matter then you can maybe still swing it around.

And if that doesn't work and she doesn't change her mind, there's always the good chance that you can meet someone else there. Or even just have a good time.

But you have to play it cool and not get flustered by it.

Carolyn Hax: Good point, thanks. Sorry it's coming so long after the fact. I must have read past it earlier.


Re: Easily Annoyed Column: I used to get really annoyed by people in general too, until I found out about a food sensitivity that was making me cranky. I'm totally serious. I have been "easily annoyed" my whole life. I had some physical symptoms that prompted me to figure out the food issue, and when I stopped eating the offending food I was amazed that my crankiness also disappeared.

Since I'd been like this my whole life I always thought the way I felt physically was just normal for me. It wasn't until the physical symptoms started getting worse that I realized something was up. I figured it out by doing research on my own, and cutting out the most common food culprits until I found the problem one.

Just an idea for the letter writer to consider.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. Maybe all these pissy moms are sensitive to Goldfish.


For Rockville: It's also extremely likely that the only people who would analyze, let alone comment on, your body are the people who are profoundly insecure and body-focused themselves. Surely you can trust your friends to have more interesting things on their minds. Think of it as a litmus test.

Carolyn Hax: Another good one I missed, for the collegiate gainer of weight. Thank you.


Carolyn Hax: Oops, I guess I should officially sign off. Thanks everybody, hope to see you here next week, go sox.


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