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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 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.

This Week's Columns: Sun.| Mon.| Tue.| Wed.| Thu.| Fri.

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Carolyn Hax: Hi everybody. I've got an ugly but much easier URL for people to join or support the ALS walk: Join the Hax Pack

The "artwork" is the logo I drew (all by myself! and it shows!) for the front of the T-shirts, and if time permits I'll have Nick's illustration up soon, too. Again, the T-shirts are white with black, and you can get one by walking on the Mall with the team on Oct. 21, sponsoring the team or contacting me directly at haxpack@earthlink.net.

Finally, thank you to all who've participated so far. I'm encouraged by our progress in such a short time, and we've got a really great group forming for the walk itself. For those who have requested shirts by e-mail, hang in there -- I'll be in touch as soon as I know when the shirts will be arriving.

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Washington, D.C.: Just a question about the "adapted from a chat" columns. Have you (or could you see yourself) changing you answer from what you said online to what we see in the paper, particularly for clarity or tone or to add in stuff you thought of later?

Carolyn Hax: We chose the word "adapted" precisely because it allowed me room to clean up, round out and expand upon my answers. Just about every adapted column so far has had such changes. Some answers also have been compressed; the answer in the paper will appear as a single Q-and-A, but online you'll see that the first part of the answer came in one post, and the second part came when I revisited the issue farther down in the transcript. What I won't do is take ideas from others and present them as my own.

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Ann Arbor, Mich.: Two questions that have occurred to me:

First: "online only." I read your column and discussions online only since I now (sadly) live outside the boundaries of having The Post delivered. Don't a lot of people do this, even if they do have the WP on their doorstep, simply due to the ease of online? I've always thought "online only" placed the question in a far broader sphere of potential discovery than something that could go in the paper!

Thing Two: Also related to online consumption. Since I read the discussions pretty consistently, if not the same day, the columns made from them are not really very interesting. Are there really so many more people out there who consume your work in print that the rehashing of discussions is drawing in an audience that you don't already have?

I'm not meaning to sound critical -- I think you do a great job -- and I almost always agree with you or see the situation in a new light, but I still wish there was more original inquiries in the new columns instead of stuff from the discussions. I can understand wanting to devote more attention to some of the online questions, but maybe that could be billed as something else entirely, like Online+ where you could revisit those online inquiries and still have the opportunity for people to respond. (yeah, I know about the comments section). I have no doubt that you get a million questions, just based on the fact that you are almost always in the most read items in the Post.

Finally, and not related to any of the rest of this stuff, a good friend died recently of ALS, at 60 yrs. old, far before his time. It robbed many people of the benefit of his being on this planet, and I imagine the same was true for your mom. Wish I could be in DC for your walk -- I"ll be there in spirit and will contribute somehow.

And finally: Nick's cartoons are totally amazing and brilliant. Even when I don't get them!

All the best,

A Fan in Ann Arbor

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the Qs, and I'm sorry about your friend. I think it's one of those things people understand only when they see it--in part because I'm reluctant to describe an ALS death in detail out of respect for the people out there who have it. If you can get the word out on your own somehow, that would be great. I feel strongly that we who know are the only ones who will make enough noise to get this thing the attention it needs, and thus the money, and thus the cure.

As for your questions: I'll revisit "online only" because there seems to be so much confusion. My online chats appear online. My columns appear in the paper and online--same version in both. That means out-of-area readers have access to everything.

And that means "online only" limits an answer to the chat transcripts only, which limits both my flexibility in answering and therefore your chances of getting answered. I do respect it, though, in cases where people specifically don't want their answers in the actual paper. Maybe that's what people need to specify--but, again, only when there are telltale details, please.

On your second question, I appreciate your honesty. The reason for the adapted columns is not to revisit the questions, but to make the transcripts available to the readers who don't follow the chat. They are in fact the majority of my readers. I realize it's not as compelling if you;ve seen the stuff before, but adding four columns of new material would have killed the column you know. I can't sustain the depth of the original three columns on the schedule seven columns would demand. So, this is what we believe is the best of all worlds, until cloning science advances.

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Washington, D.C.: I totally bombed on a first date last night. I'm talking total disconnect between brain and mouth... everything that came out was exactly the wrong thing to say. Can you remind me that it's not the end of the world that someone thinks I'm a complete moron and that I shouldn't just curl in a ball and hide like I want to?

Carolyn Hax: It's not the end of the world.

Have you considered admitting to your temporary personality breakdown in a request for a second try?

Opinions on this idea encouraged. I've done it once myself, so I'm not completely out of my mind, but it was for a second try at a job interview, not a second try at a first date.

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Arlington, Va.: I worry. I worry a lot-about little things and about big things (money, security, work, when someone doesn't call me back, when I get sick, etc). Right now I am worrying so much I want to throw up. I can't concentrate at work. My work is a lot of writing/thinking and the only time I feel like I get anything done is when I have concrete things to do, like making copies or mailing letters. I am bored, even though there are things to do. And I worry about all of this -- so much that I don't do anything but worry.

I just am feeling like I am so stuck and I need to start thinking about things differently. I want to be motivated to do things and I want stop worrying. When I talk friends/family about it though, all I get is "Quit worrying!" or "You're over reacting."

How do I make changes to how I think? It seems like it should be so easy, but despite my efforts, I always fall back into the same pattern.

Carolyn Hax: Please consider that it's not a matter of the way you think, but instead a matter of the chemistry in your brain. I'll give the usual disclaimers, that I'm not a licensed anything (except driver, which I don't think counts) and that I don't believe every behavior problem can be diagnosed away. However, you can check all the boxes I'd offer as arguments to get a professional screening: longstanding problem; acute problem; problem resistant to attempts at solutions; problem directly interfering with ability to function; problem suppressing quality of life. Please get checked.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Carolyn -- I'm 25, have a 29 year-old boyfriend. We've been together a year (friends before that), are totally compatible and in love and want to be together forever blah blah blah. Great. But then he let something slip that made me think he's gonna propose over the holidays (as in, a month or so from now), and my first thought was... "HOLY SH-T!"

Huh? What's wrong with me, aren't I supposed to be starry-eyed and daydreaming about calla lilies or Pottery Barn or something? I love the idea of being with this guy for the rest of my life, and marriage obviously figures into that. Why is the thought of looming engagement making me bug-eyed?

Carolyn Hax: No matter how bug-eyed you are, your eyes aren't bugged enough for me to see into your mind from here. Which is probably a good thing, since I kind of just grossed myself out with that image.

You have three great things going for you. You know exactly what you need to think about, you have time to think about it, and your thinking receptors haven't been clogged by monogrammed tableware. Turn over the idea of marrying him, sleep on it, see what turns out.

And then tell us in a few weeks, because we're total voyeurs.

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So...: Did they give you the second shot at the interview?

Carolyn Hax: Heh. It was with The Washington Post. So, yes.

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First date...: It was their first date too. Everyone gets nervous and flustered and ends up sounding like an idiot. If anything, I find that it's endearing, because being flustered and acting a bit like an idiot tend to be signs of excitement and interest, and are therefore pretty flattering. I wouldn't worry about it at all, and it doesn't even deserve a second thought except to tell the person, "I'm sorry I came across as a total dork, but it's just because I had a really great time and was a little nervous about going out with such an attractive and intelligent individual. Can I take you to dinner and prove I'm not a totally lost cause?"

Carolyn Hax: I like it, thanks.

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Re: Washintgon, D.C.: Asking for a second try by apologizing may not be the best of ideas. I was on the receiving end of one of those (not a date, but hanging out for the first time with a new friend). He called to apologize for acting weird, and it made it just a little creepier. My personal suggestion would be to wait awhile (regardless of whether or not you choose to bring up Date 1 again) for the details to blur, and then try to expose your sane side to them as much as possible. If you get the second date, don't mention the weirdness on the first -- it just seems pathetic. Likely the person will just chalk it up to nervousness anyway and be blown away by how much better you are the second time around, which is what you want. No blubbering explanations needed.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting point. In a way, the next one takes care of your concern by being quick and breezy (and not apologetic), which makes I think for a nice middle ground:

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Date bomb: I've done this and followed up with what you suggested. When I told him I hadn't felt like myself, he was very understanding , assured me I was very charming (dunno if I overreacted or he was just being nice), and we went out again and it was lovely.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Baltimore, Md.: My best friend, since freshmen year of college, is sometimes a lousy friend. When she is single she is a lot of fun and always hangs out. When she is in a relationship (like now), she disappears and I don't hear from her for weeks on end. Recently, I've called her four times in a row, asking her to call me back and she keeps saying she will, but has yet to do so. I am disheartened and very hurt. I have spoken to her before about how she hurts my feelings by being neglectful, failing to respond to my invites to spend time together (she lives about an hour away), but she keeps falling back into this rut of being a crappy friend. If she and I didn't go so far back I would have given up on her. My problem is I have a history of floating from friend to friend because I feel like I am always disappointed, so I am trying to hold on to the friends I love. Do I say something to her again, or do I just ignore it and her, until I meet new people?

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to offer Door No. 3: Remain friends with her knowing she's going to be less available when she's in the throes.

It's not exactly a charming trait and if you don't want to keep the friendship, then that's a reasonable call to make. However, you seem to have a few good reasons not to give up on her. You've got history, she's fun to be around (when she's around), you have your own incentives for being more forgiving.

Just hanging onto her, though, won't help much with the larger issue you seem to have, both with her and with other friends, of being "always disappointed." For this to work, you have to take to heart the part about adjusting your expectations to reflect -who she is-, and not just what you want from her.

What you want is important, in that you don't want a stable of friends who provide you nothing you care about. It's just that you need to get the things you care about from people as they are. If your old best friend gives you something you want and need, then stay friends, but realize the only way you'll get these things is exactly the way she's able to give them. In her case, that's on a cyclical basis.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I'm disheartened by the truth I've found in the phrase "The squeaky wheel gets the oil." It seems as though those people who complain and demand their way through daily life get freebies and pampering. I just turned 24 and for the first time politely spoke up about a really terrible dining experience, feeling half proud of myself and half embarrassingly high-maintenance. But I got a free meal.

Because this is the way it is, what stops people from seeking out miserable scenarios to score free stuff? Is is the unpleasant aura that accompanies dissatisfaction or are the rewards for negative behavior too high? Why aren't patient, considerate customers rewarded with discounts while those with fists flailing are? I see logistical reasons but it just doesn't seem fair. Maybe I'm focusing on these few trees and missing a forest of "do unto others..." people. This is less question than general wondering. Thanks! Love the chats!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! If you don't like one, you can return it for a full refund.

I'm surprised by your negative feelings about what you did. The situation you describe isn't about whining to me, it's about empowerment. You were a paying customer who got a "terrible" product. You were not only within your rights to speak up, you were doing the restaurant a favor, since in one alternate scenario you stay quiet but never eat at that restaurant again (and, no doubt, advise a few people away from it).

And so you weren't squeaking for grease, you were playing a standard role in commerce--no different than if you had exchanged a shirt after you realized you'd bought one with a stain on it. Goods are a little different from services, in that you can me made whole with a new shirt, but since services are an experience, you lose a little something with the bites of terrible food. That's why hotels and restaurants often throw in freebies or discounts when a customer is unhappy.

As for the whiners-make-out-like-bandits extension, sure, yes, that happens--there are abusers. But since people who take advantage ruin it for everyone else, we who bother to think it through choose not to abuse the system and complain only when something genuinely goes wrong. Right?

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Devil's Advocate to Date Bomb: What makes you think you'll feel differently on a second date with this person? Do you really want to have another date where you come away feeling like a dork? I recently had a date where I felt somewhat awkward--and managed to dump my drink into my plate. The second date was really no better, so I decided that we just weren't a good fit.

Carolyn Hax: It's a really good question. Make sure you were off your game for your reasons, and not because this person threw you off your game. Thanks muchly.

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Minneapolis: Instead of "online only," which seems to be confusing some folks, why not switch to "chat only," which is clearer and has fewer letters to type, too?

Carolyn Hax: I would, except I don't want readers using it lightly since it means I can't use their unanswered questions in future columns or their part of the transcript in the paper.

Really, what I'm asking is that people stop designating the use of their material, except in the rare case where there are details that would be obvious and embarrassing/painful to people they know who read the column in the paper but never ever online (which is a pretty narrow category these days). I appear in various media, and submissions to me are for use in all media.

Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: How long is the ALS walk? I can't find information on the length of the walk anywhere on the site.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: It's three miles, but you don't even have to walk it. Just stand up (or sit down) and be counted. That's the real deal, the number of faces in the "we care about this" category.

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Washington, D.C.: What do you do it's dating that throws yoou off your game? I am awesome; really I am. But dating seems so contrived that it never goes well. The one time I actually fell in love was the one girl I just met and didn't even realize we were dating until weeks later.

That has happened to me once in 34 years. So I guess it's back to dating...? Gotta do something that improves the odds!

Carolyn Hax: You can put yourself in proximity. You hear all the time about people who meet at work, who meet in school, who meet in the halls of their apartment building, who meet a friend of a friend--hell, who run off with their best friend's SO. Why? Proximity. You get to know someone over time, with common interests already lying out in the open, under natural circumstances--where date circumstances are artificial and instantaneous (ready, set, talk!) and interests need to be trotted out for the other to inspect for possible commonality. The real wonder is that anyone -can- feel like him- or herself on an early date.

How you get proximity is harder, and up to you--but it involves being part of some larger community or another, on at least a semi-regular basis.

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ALS death: Hi Carylon.

I am one of those who doesn't know a lot about ALS. All I know is that Stephen Hawking has it and seems to live a full life. Do you think that is contributing to the lack of attention? And is there a site where one could learn what your average Joe or Jane goes through so that people could know more of what happened? I gather you took care of your mom? What did that mean? Maybe a write-up or article in the paper with the caveat that it will be graphic so some may not be comfortable but so that those of us who would like to know more about what you and your mom went through could know would be of some use? If nothing, it would help get the cause out.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the honesty. Stephen Hawking is a (very) rare exception. ALS is terminal, no exceptions, and most people die within 2-5 years of their diagnosis. My mom made it only 15 months (though she viewed that as merciful). Maybe this week I'll write the piece you suggest, and post it at the end of the chat with a disclaimer.

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Arlington, Va.: This is a stupid question, but I'm feeling stupid. Is it really possible, do you think, to get over a lost love, or must I simply endure until I meet some wonderful person to make me "forget" what I have lost? I'm getting tired of greeting my memories each morning.

Carolyn Hax: Your question isn't even remotely stupid.

It is possible to get over a lost love. That doesn't mean everyone does. Also, there's room in the term "get over" to include a whole range of experiences. Some people never stop caring, but the memories grow less painful with time. Some people think they'll never stop thinking of the person, until one day they do. Some people get to the point where they feel a twinge of pain every time they recall the person, but the time between recollections is long enough to fit a full and rewarding life.

What I don't see in that definition is painkilling through replacement. Maybe you will meet someone wonderful, but making peace with the ex is a separate thing. Trying to combine them just turns out to be a way to avoid dealing with the loss.

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To Minneapolis: Please keep in mind that there's a difference between expecting people to hold up their end of a bargain (serving you a decent meal when you've paid for it) and taking advantage of others. If the meal was horrible, you shouldn't have to pay for it.

Do you feel "unentitled" in other areas of your life? How is your self-esteem? If you feel this guilty about standing up for yourself in other ways, might some therapy help?

Or maybe restaurants just throw you off. There have been enough stories about what happens to bad customers to make lots of us leery about bringing up problems in that setting, but that doesn't let the problem restaurants off the hook.

Carolyn Hax: Good distinction to make, thanks.

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"That would be obvious and embarrassing/painful to people": I seem to remember one chat (a few years ago) where someone wrote in about their friend giving them the cold shoulder since their wedding. Then someone else wrote in and she said she thought she was their friend, and she was giving them the cold shoulder because the fiance had hit on her. I don't think the first writer had requested online only, but still it was interesting and I think helpful that they were hashing it out with you and the readers as intermediaries of sorts.

Carolyn Hax: Hey, we want as many cage matches as possible.

In fact ... I just reminded myself that I missed an opportunity for one a while ago. Paging the husband and wife who argued over cleaning ... she would travel for business and complain when she got home that the house was a mess? Even though he claimed to have cleaned it top-to-bottom? If you this is you and you're still out there dueling, come back. I got a post from the wife that I saw only after the fact, and forgot about it the following week. I think it was sometime this summer.

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Flip Side of "Squeaky Wheel": As a waitress, I can tell you that sometimes there are benefits to being the appreciative customer, too. This is particularly true if you remember the names of servers that you like and ask to sit in their sections when you return to restaurants. If you become a "regular" for a server (and aren't a stingy tipper), I promise that, more likely than not, they will remember your name, drink order, likes and dislikes, and the names of your kids. Servers do everything they can to keep their regulars happy, and managers will sometimes offer free drinks and the like to keep them coming back. So speak up for the good stuff too! It really can pay off.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks.

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Northern Virginia: Dear Carolyn. I try to be an open minded person. But can anyone who wants to "find friends" on the Internet really just be looking for friends? My boyfriend is edging ever closer to worrying me. He likes to find people (and I assume, just girls) on the Internet, though I don't know for sure what purpose. I hope this doesn't sound as bad as I think it does; most people reading this think they know exactly what purpose. Of course, I jump to the same conclusion. But have I jumped too quickly to the obviously conclusion. Or are my instincts I dead on. Is there a benefit to finding people on the Internet to meet, or am I obviously staring a future cheater in the face? What is the best way to ask him what he is looking for, or how to dig deeper and find out why?

Carolyn Hax: I'm sure there's a guy or two out there who wants only female friends and prefers meeting them on the Internet to meeting them in person in the course of his day-to-day life.

And if you've picked one of these two guys from the other 3 billion, then you've got nothing to worry about.

The rest of us who haven't met these two guys will think you're dating not a future cheater, but a past, present and future cheater who gets a certain kick out of picking up women on the Internet in plain view of his girlfriend.

If he's also meeting male friends, and incorporating all these friends, male and female, into a social life that includes you--or if I've otherwise misread your question--I will rewrite my answer.

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Thank you notes: This may be better for Miss Manners but hope you'll answer.

With the impending holiday season, I started thinking that my nieces and nephews have never EVER sent a thank you note, or even acknowledged our gift verbally (phone call, said thanks the next time we saw them, etc) for their birthday and/or Christmas presents. This is a pattern that's 10+ years old. I think rather than blaming the kids for this, it's their parents fault for not teaching them that "please" and "thank you" are part of adult life.

With a cash crunch this year due to health reasons, I would rather not give these kids a gift.

Question is - what to say to their parents when they ask why we didn't give them gifts this year. Sister in law WILL ask - she likes to cause trouble.

Carolyn Hax:"We were a little tight on cash this year, and it didn't occur to me our gifts would be missed."

And then you silently beg for her to ask why, so you can explain that you never heard a peep out of any of them.

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Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn,

Love your chats! Just wondered if my friends and I could get your two cents about a sticky situation with one of our other friends. She is a great person, so much fun to be around, and we have been friends with her for years.

The problem is, she started dating this guy about six months ago that none of us can stand. The important thing is that he treats her well and makes her happy, and I really am thrilled for her that the relationship is going so well, since she hasn't always had the best of luck with romantic relationships. But she's been asking regularly for us to go on double dates, hang out with them for extended periods, etc. All of us have made really concerted efforts to get along with this guy and like him, for her sake--but we still find him obnoxious, offensive and annoying, and it becomes exhausting to hang out with him.

However, I'm running out of excuses why I can't go on such-and-such day trip or concert when she's bringing along the BF. Still love hanging out with her individually, but I don't know how to keep ducking her invitations. I know it would hurt her feelings to know that her friends didn't like her boyfriend, and I feel like it's none of my business anyway as long as he respects her and makes her happy. So how do I avoid the toxic BF but maintain a really valuable friendship?

Thank you!!

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to ask you a strange favor. Can you name a widely-known fictional character who fits your description of the boyfriend? Because I'm having a hard time imagining someone who can be both so offensive you don't want to see him even in the context of a group activity, and yet so good to her that you think he is good for her.

Of course now with splintered viewing habits we don't have the common currency of "George on Seinfeld" any more, so you may have to go back a bit to find a true cultural icon. But I think I need this to get an answer. Thanks.

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RE: Thank you notes: I forgot to send my uncle a note one year and he never sent me another gift after that. I still feel bad about it, all these years later.

Carolyn Hax: That seems a bit extreme to me. I would cut out only an egregious repeat offender.

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Anywhere: After two years of mutual flirtatious banter, I asked my doctor (specialist) out on a date. He said yes. Is this a really really bad idea?

Carolyn Hax: Only if you don't get a new doctor (specialist) asap.

Peanut Play Time: Make your own answer, using: "Only if he just did your ______ surgery."

Amuse me.

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"On the Internet" varies: If the boyfriend joins online discussions of, say, books or movies or classic Jaguars, finds some participants more interesting than others, and e-mails them privately, that's one thing -- as long as it's not limited to the opposite sex ("Gee, for some reason only women like Anthony Trollope"). If he just trolls social networking sites to meet women, that's another story altogether. Not that a cheater can't take advantage of both situations, just that there are some nuances here. That said, I'm going with your "gets his kicks from looking for women in full view of his girlfriend" instinct.

Carolyn Hax: Another good distinction to make, thanks.

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Anonymous: Hi Carolyn,

Love your chats. The first anniversary of my father's death is coming up and I have no idea what to do for my mom. Other than going back home to be with her and my brother for a few days, how can I help get us through it? I am having a hard time figuring out how to honor his memory but avoid sitting around moping all day...any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: If there was something he particularly enjoyed, supported or believed in, a planned activity around that something would probably be a nice outlet for you--call it a focused distraction. If there's a grave marker, cleaning it up and planting bulbs there (as the season permits) is also a way to honor him that gets your family focused on a common purpose, and has the benefit of giving your mom a nice memory in the spring or summer. Otherwise, don't be afraid to treat it as a regular visit. You are the living; in addition to remembering him, your job is also to live.

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RE: Thank you notes, again: Yeah, plus I don't feel right around him anymore. Like he hates me for this one error. Luckily, I don't have to see him much. He did tell my mom the reason, too.

Carolyn Hax: I've never met the man and what I know about him is what you wrote in, what, five sentences. And I can tell you this with absolute certainty: This is an angry person.

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George on Seinfeld:...was both obnoxious AND a bad boyfriend. I think what the poster is describing is a friend with a much higher threshhold of pain than the rest of the group

Carolyn Hax: Maybe, but I still can't imagine the person. The guy I visualize is the loud, bad-joke-telling, nudge-nudge-wink-wink type, and here's the problem I run into: if the jokes are bad and harmless, I see a guy who's also harmless (if annoying), with whom the occasional group outing is certainly bearable. If the jokes are bad and offensive, I have a hard time seeing him as good for and respectful of my friend. My experience so far tells me that doesn't happen, though obviously I might be missing a lot of possibilities.

You're right about George, but I wasn't suggesting him. Just using him to illustrate the idea of a persona most people know.

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Fictional Character: It wasn't my question but what about Darcy? He was just an introvert who came off as rude, but man, he did right by Elizabeth. I'm a dork I know.

Carolyn Hax: No! I like that (and love "P and P"). I still think I'd put up with his presence just to make my friend happy, but that could be the secret Darcy crush since late adolescence talking.

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Washington, D.C.: I could BE the Arlington worrier. You say "get checked," but what does that mean? Most insurance doesn't cover mental health (at least mine doesn't). What are the local resources we should turn to?

Carolyn Hax: In addition to my usual disclaimer of not being able to vouch for individual providers, the site here also disclaims, saying there was no "independent investigation of any provider listed." But, finally, here is a place to start:

www.mentalhealthscreening.org

And not to vie for a place in the disclaimer hall of fame, but I would urge you to check the credentials of any health care provide to whom you entrust your care, with mental health practitioners at the top of the caution list.

Once you get started, you'll be in a chain of knowledge that will (or, heh, should) include people who can help you work around your lack of insurance coverage.

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Ethics anyone?: Your doctor is absolutely prohibited from dating his patients. In fact, I believe that there is even a waiting period (one year?) after a patient stops being a patient before a doctor can date him/her. Any doctor who would agree to date a current patient is not someone you should date. Are you sure he knows that it's a date and not just a friendly activity?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. You're one of a few who posted.

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Bad First Date: Not that this is really helpful, but this reminded me of a first (and only) date where I spent the whole time using "air quotes." I had to finally sit on my hands to stop using them. I think I was just so nervous I didn't know what else to do with myself - but I took it as a "sign."

Carolyn Hax: This is "extremely entertaining," which I file under helpful.

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To Northern Virginia: Please do not let your good sense be clouded by trying to rationalize behavior that is suspicious.

Carolyn Hax: This actually picks up a theme from last week. When your brain says horses, don't contort yourself looking for zebras.

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Fictional Character: I can't think of a fictional character. But, I have an annoying co-worker, who is constantly laughing like a drunk cowboy, tossing around inane trivia like he's Alex Trebek, usually has some rouge snot somewhere in his ungroomed facial hair, is always talking about how cool he was in law school, and hijacks every conversation by telling a 45 minute story that is not related to the subject matter at hand. We finally resorted to just telling him to shut up, so that we could stand him in our shared lunch room. He does. I would rather not socialize with him ever, because he drives me nuts. But he says really respectful things about his girlfriend and obviously loves her. In fact, we just heard a twenty minute diatribe about their trip tp the grocery store to buy noodles and how they got in a fight about who is cuter.

Carolyn Hax: Now -these- are amusing. Another coming:

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This isn't a fictional character:...but it's really easy to imagine my brother-in-law as the boyfriend. At his heart, he is a really nice, sweet, well-meaning guy. But you have to get past a LOT to get there. Past a laugh that sounds like a cross between a gargle and a braying donkey. Past an almost complete ignorance of basic table manners. Past a conversational style that comes off as extremely pontificating and condescending.

There's a really great guy under all of that, but it's really hard to remember that when confronted with a donkey laugh through a mouthful of half-chewed pizza. It's so much easier to like him in the abstract, at a distance of several states away, than it will be when I'm dealing with him on a daily basis at Christmas.

So I'm wondering if that's what the original poster is confronted with. Though to the best of my knowledge my BIL is single at the moment.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, both of you.

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Obnoxious BF: I have been in this situation and just sucked it up and hung out with my friend's BF. Over time, he loosened up as he got to know me better. Could be that the BF is nervous around her friends (esp. if they are long-time, close ones) and that nervousness comes out as some obnoxious behavior. Some people react to new people by talking too much, trying to impress others, etc. Maybe that's why the friend wants him to get to know her friends better... b/c she knows what he's like when he's a little mellowed out.

Carolyn Hax: It could be this, in which case it would seem worthwhile to give the guy a chance ...

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Re: Obnoxious Boyfriend: I think my brother-in-law may be of a similar character. He is wonderful for my sister and niece, but I can't stand to be around him - my husband and other sister can't stand him either. I don't know who he would be like - but he's a know-it-all who will argue with anyone who disagrees. Not in a nice "we're having a discussion" arguement, but full blown "well, you're an idiot and that's why you think that". It's very toxic to be around someone who is always saying that you're stupid. But he doesn't treat my niece or sister that way. Maybe that's the kind of person the boyfriend is.

Carolyn Hax:... and it could be this, where it would seem worthwhile to keep an eye on this situation. Not to say it's happening here, but I have seen a situation that started off similar to this, and as it played out it became clear that the poor treatment did in fact extend to the immediate family. A toxic surface usually means toxic core; an annoying surface can be many different things on the inside.

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New York, N.Y.: Dear Carolyn,

How do you get over regret? My husband's best friend died last night. Less than a week before, he seemed to be on the road to recovery after surgery for a brain anuerysm and my husband was able to visit him. I didn't go because I had to work at the time and we thought we'd be able to visit again over the weekend. When my husband visited him, Friend asked where I was and if I was going to come visit. We wanted to go down again but Friend's wife is an irrational piece of work and she told my husband not to come again because Friend needed the rest. Trying not to make waves because he was afraid he'd lose all access to his friend, my husband agreed. Over the weekend Friend had a series of strokes, each more serious than the last, which left him brain dead. My husband was able to make it to the hospital and see Friend for all of five minutes before friends of the wife asked him to leave. It turns out none of the husband's friends were able to see him and the wife blames all of the friends for his death (even though she was told these strokes were a possiblity).

So now I'm left with this unbelievable pain of knowing that Friend asked after me and I never got to see him and it's all that horrid woman's fault. And I'm furious with her and my husband is furious with her and all of Friend's friends are furious with her. How do I deal with this? How do you get over this kind of regret and rage? I have no pity for this woman because of what she's put Friend through these last few years. But feeling the way I do is a dis-service to Friend. He wouldn't want me to feel this way. Any suggestions on how to overcome this (and not snap the woman's head off at the funeral -- if we are even "allowed" to go?)

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I'm sorry about your friend.

I'm also sorry the wife made it so hard for you all to be there for him at the end.

While I don't excuse her behavior and especially don't excuse her blaming everyone, you need to be careful, for your own wellbeing, not to fall into the blame trap yourself.

The reason your friend died before you could see him isn't his irrational wife, it's that he had an awful medical condition that doctors couldn't fix, he couldn't fight and you couldn't predict. It is profoundly sad on its own without the extra bitterness of pointing fingers.

Also, it's the rare person who's at her best when her world is in chaos. Clearly, again, most people do better than this wife seems to have. But certainly life is more than covering the issue of punishment. Let it go, miss your friend, comfort your husband.

As for the regret--which almost got swallowed by the rage there--the best thing you can do is remind yourself you did your best with the information and circumstances you were handed. That includes the fact that you were led to believe he was on the road to recovery, that you had work to do (which, in light of the recovery indications, was a small matter only in retrospect), that the wife was doing what she thought she had to do to protect her husband. It didn't work out better for reasons well beyond the scope of the decisions you made. Please don't beat yourself up.

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Richmond, Va.:"Getting over" does not equal "forgetting."

One can get over a broken heart, but never forget. I guess the difference is how you respond to the memories, not that you have them. Do they take over, affect your day, change your attitude? I still have memories, even regrets, but I stopped responding to them in ways that feed the victimhood.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the parting shot.

Bye everybody, thanks, and type to you next week. Have a great weekend.

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