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Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 19, 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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Was that you?: Are you pregnant again? Last night I saw someone who I thought looked like you, (but I've never really seen you I just go by the pictures you've posted, which you say do'nt actually look like you so I'm probably wrong) but she was pretty far along. If by any weird chance it was you, congrats!

Carolyn Hax: Thanks! But no, not pregnant (though it's possible I look like am carrying another person). I

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How bad an idea is this....?: Hi Carolyn--

I've read for years and thoroughly enjoy your column and chats -- so, thanks! Here's the question: what should I consider before encouraging my husband to apply at the same mid-sized (around 500 people) company as me?

It's a completely different department and function, but I have a management position and am fairly visible, whereas he would have a visible but much more menial position due to a completely different set of job skills. We have a very good relationship, but I think he is a little insecure about the differences in our careers. Any thoughts from you (or the 'nuts)? Thanks so much!

Carolyn Hax: Does your company even allow spouses to apply? Some have strict rules against it to avoid even the appearance of nepotism.

If not, then mentioning it is a fine idea, but mostly because withholding the information could appear as if you're making the decision for him--either because you don't want him there, or you don't think his ego could handle it. If it would help him professionally, then you tell him about it, and then you sit down together to discuss any potential problems with the idea.

What I wouldn't advise--what I would emphatically not advise--is encouraging him to apply. You don't want to do anything that would appear as pressure. This would be true if you were equals or if he had the upper hand, but it's especially true when there's even the slightest possibility he has an inferiority complex. Any move onto a mate's territory has to stand on its own merits, and so the mate has to stay as far out of the decision as possible.

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Mount Privilege: Dear Carolyn,

Am I the only one creeped-out by Sunday's letter from "Anonymous"? I keep picturing a small, insulated, privileged world where everyone's totally blas? about the fact their kids are experimenting with illegal/addictive substances and putting themselves and others in potentially destructive situations. Gossipy, overly-negative people aren't high on my list of favorites either, but wouldn't the writer's time be better served doing, say, community service work with her kids rather than organizing a lynch mob against someone who finds adolescent irresponsibility objectionable?

Carolyn Hax: Another reader wondered if there was an even more sinister back story there, that these kids were "good kids" because they were small-private-school kids, and that other teenagers who did the same things but weren't living in a Ralph Lauren ad would have been judged more harshly in this parent's eyes. Both make the same challenge, that one person's realism is another person's denial. I;m not sure there's enough in the letter to be sure, but it does raise interesting things to think about.

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Reston, Va.: Carolyn, I love reading your chats. I never thought I would have a reason to submit until today. The brief version of the story is I met this guy at a friends party. He was from out of town but we really hit it off. He came to visit this weekend and come to find out he is married. I am not sure what to think. I really liked him and now I am just hurt and confused. Any advice on how to reconcile my feelings would be good.

Carolyn Hax: You're not sure what to think? Come on, you just got handed one of the few easy ones life will ever throw you. You're not invested in this guy, you lose nothing by saying, "Seeya." You thought you had something, but now, five seconds later, you realize you were wrong. Buh-bye.

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That tantalizing "I": Your first response ends with "I," as if you were going to go on and explain this business of how/why you might look pregnant, and then changed your mind. Don't toy with us!

Carolyn Hax: ... guess I should rethink the muumuus.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

What is the normal time for a boyfriend to tell you he loves you? I feel loved and valued, but it's been nearly seven months. I feel starved for it, and am not sure what to do. I really don't want to bring this up to him, because things are so good. But it makes me sad sometimes.

Carolyn Hax: There is no "normal" time. If I were even to say, "Seven months doesn't seem that long to me," I'd be undermining my true belief, which is that the context is the whole point here.

What do you know about this guy? Is he cautious, calculated, taciturn, hard to know, a person of few words? Is he some other way that would suggest he'd be slow to express what he's feeling?

Or is he usually out there, vocal, demonstrative? And if he's the latter, does your gut tell you that he'd be one to say he loved you if he felt it, or is the charisma just a front for someone who is extremely guarded where it counts?

You have your answer already somewhere, and so use that answer to pose this next question: Is this something you should be upset about (in that his heart may not be in it, or that emotionally your styles don't align well), or is it something that makes perfect sense and really isn't a problem?

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Middletown NY: Will someone please come up with a new rule -- man pays, woman pays, take turns, split it -- and stick with it? Because I've known plenty of men hwo get offended if the woman offers to pay, and vice versa. I'm not talking about replacing common sense and decency with strict rules. It's just that we've got this system that dates from the times when a man had income and a woman didn't, and we seem too enotionally attached to it to trash it completely, but no one has figured out quite what the new rules should be. And whatever set of rules and guidelines you go by, someone is going to be offended.

What do gay couples do?

Carolyn Hax: There is a rule already, there is! And it works: Whoever initiates the date pays for the date. And if it happens that the man always initiates, he conveniently gets to ask himself first how he feels about doing all the asking, before he wades into the morass of how he feels about always paying. If one feels uncomfortable about being invited and treated so often, s/he can propose an extension of the date--dessert, movie, club--and pick up the tab for it.

Once a couple is established as a Couple, then the nature of their relationship takes over as the rulemaker. Who makes more, who wants extravagant things more, who has more in his or her pocket that night, etc., all come into play, along with both of their notions (and suspicions) of "tradition." If their own system doesn't evolve naturally, then it's an opportunity to see if they can talk about things naturally.

In all, a pretty great system.

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Arlington (and not pregnant): let's all repeat together: "it is not OK to ask if a woman is pregnant" "it is not OK to ask if a woman is pregnant". What is wrong with you people?? You do not know Carolyn (even if you did, it would not be OK), and if that was her, you have either insulted the $-%# out of her or are putting her in the awkward position of having to admit or lie and deny something she was not ready to announce. Let us pitch these questions to the dump heap along with "when are you getting married" and "when are you two having children". They fall under the "if you have to ask, you should not be asking" category.

Carolyn Hax: Hey, I chose to answer it. In my millisecond of non-thought about it, I just thought I'd 1. dump any speculation (since it does come up every few weeks) and 2. spare some poor pregnant woman of having to be thought of as me. I'm not insulted; it probably wasn't me and a lot of people look like me.

And I'm posting this because if I could find a way to say, "Don't ever ask these questions!!!!" in every single column and chat without being accused of redundancy, then I would do it. Tahnks.

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Carolyn Hax: Hey, the T-shirts just came!

Which reminds me, I forgot to make my pitch today--the walk is this weekend, Sunday a.m. at 10 (registration at 9). Read all about it at www.alsinfo.org. If you go to Kenny's page to donate or sign up for the walk, you can see the illustration on the back of the T-shirt. I'll get a link to Liz in a second.

And finally ... I badgered her rep and finally got Zuzu's pawprint on the dotted line, and she will be there, with Nick on a leash. Thank you to all who have turned out so far for the cause; for those who haven't yet, there's still time, and we need you. As promised, I will describe what it's all about at the end of today's session.

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Somewhere near DC: Ack! My husband turns 55 today. What should I get him????

Carolyn Hax: Cake, balloons, foot-rub and something thoughtful, preferably something in stock that doesn't need engraving.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm supposed to go to a party for my work group tonight. It's kind of important, but I don't want to go. I don't like the people in my group, and I am in a bad mood today anyway (not sure whether they are connected -- I've been feeling blue for a while). I don't know why I feel so strongly about this, but the idea of going to the party bothers me. What to do?

Carolyn Hax: As a general rule, I think you should suck it up and go unless you have a non-self-indulgent reason to believe your going would do your career more harm than good.

I would also start looking into those lingering blues. A deep (and hard to rationalize) resistance to going to social things is a symptom of depression.

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Rockville, Md.: sister woes.

Have had a non-relationship with my elder sister (6 years) for years. Basically her comfort-zone is small talk. Mine is feelings and philosophical ideas. She's just extended the hook again. I feel guilty not trying to have a relationship with her and also not willing to have my hand slapped, again, for trying. Any question I ask--whether it's "what did you like about that?" or "what did I say that made you angry" is labeled judgemental and too personal. Should I just ignore her completely?

Carolyn Hax: No, you can set aside your natural impulses by being conscious of how poorly they play with her. You gotta be you, I do believe that--but not out loud at all times in all conversations. It is not unprincipled to shift into small talk, even if you don't like it, for the greater good of maintaining a tie to your kin. In fact, if you can find a way to share your feelings and philosophical leanings in a way that acknowledges and reflects the realities of your audience, the benefits might extend beyond your elder sister.

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Confused: My boyfriend's mother just last week sat me down for three hours during which she catalogued every little thing she thought was wrong with me: from that I laugh too much, to basically asking what my intentions are with her son. He still lives at home, and after a very stressful few days, I am now very tired and sad. I've had little support from him and his whole reaction to this has been that I'm overreacting. I am 26, and cannot help but feel that I am too old for this b-llshit. But on the other hand I still really love him. Help?

Carolyn Hax: Okay, that is the funniest attempt at self-censoring profanity that I've ever seen. Enjoy it now before the scrubbing bubbles get to it.

As for your relationship, don't enjoy it now. You will get over leaving someone for whom you still feel some love. If you stick around and eventually even marry this fetid mother-son team, it'll be years before you get the smell out of your clothes.

I suspect it's an obstacle to leaving that the mother will think she has "won." But some insults are better swallowed than rebutted. In the long run (or tomorrow, whichever comes first) you'll be grateful for it.

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Anonymous: I have depression and an anxiety disorder. I am painfully shy in social settings, especially when I don't really know anyone. Simply talking to women, not even like flirting, is really hard for me to do. I don't really have a lot of confidence in myself, but I really do want to change. I just don't know how to begin.

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, we just talked about this in the past few weeks. Not about the anxiety disorder issue, which also came up, but the one about using proximity to your advantage in meeting people when you're shy. Can anyone in the peanuterati remember where that was?

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Birthday, 55: When I first read your answer, I thought you said she should buy her husband something in stock. Like in stocks and bonds kind of stock.

Just an idea! Perhaps some shares of whatever he likes....

Carolyn Hax: I'll take shares of what I don't like. XL. Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: If they don't have XL, then XXXL.

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Just Far Enough Away: Hi Carolyn! Love the chats, and LOVE Nick's cartoon today. That one's going on the fridge, right next to the giant cabinet of dog treats and toys.

I wonder if you can help me with some proactive anxiety regarding baby and mother-in-law.

My husband of a few years (mid-30s to my early) wants babies. I grew up in an abusive home and so my perspective on family is a little different (less reverent?) than most folks'. I never much wanted kids but my husband is so so good and kind and loving, he'd make a great dad, so I'm working on getting at ease with the idea of babies in a couple years, after I'm done with school.

But. I've never been around babies; neither has my husband. I don't know what I'd DO with a baby! From distinguishing regular crying from hie-thee-to-the-doctor crying, to knowing when or how to introduce Junior to a toothbrush, I got nothing and am scared I'd mess things up. Seems like this is where Junior's grandma would step in, traditionally. My mother is out of the picture for obvious reasons. That leaves my MIL.

She's nice enough and did a mostly good job with my sweet husband, but I prefer her at arm's length. It's not her fault, but the whole idea of "family are people you trust and want around" got beaten out of me as a kid. So how do I get past envisioning having a baby as a prison of polite chatter and forced-feeling bonding with a MIL who is, right now, the only "how do I raise a baby" resource who even remotely exists in my life? Dinners with the in-laws are excruciating prisons of politeness and necessity, and that's just once a month. How do I open myself up to possibly months of near-constant visits and calls and helpful advice?

I admit this is messed up, sure. But give me some points for not writing you to ask "how do I raise a baby all by myself with no help, advice, or comment from anyone but my husband?" I'm not THAT locked into my own head.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to answer this with a caveat, that you be sure you're comfortable with the idea that any peace you've made with your abusive past is a dynamic thing. Introducing a baby and all the stresses that come with one, especially stresses that may have you reliving your own bad experiences, may at times dictate that you seek outside counsel to help keep you ... centered, for the lack of an old-agey word.

As for outside counsel with babies, it is available EVERYWHERE, often in places you don't want it and don't ask for it. Bitter snort.

Some of it--a lot of it--is already available in you. Just because you haven't tested it (and are suspicious of its source) doesn't mean you're absent all knowledge. You learn pretty quickly the difference between a hold-me cry and a call-the-doctor cry. You just do. And you also learn that in the infrequent times you're not sure, you can call your pediatrician to walk you through it, because that doctor would rather you called in error than didn't call in error.

If your doctor isn't that accessible, get another doctor. Same if you don't get a good, thorough, supportive answer--plus phone numbers--to the question, "Where do I go for help when I don't have any prior knowledge of babies, and any family or friends I can really count on?" Help lines staffed by nurses, for example, are all the rage in health care now, and the Web is one big support group (one that should be researched first, but what shouldn't?). (more)

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Carolyn Hax: Furthermore, don't discount (yet) the resources you already have. It wouldn't make you a failure as a woman or something silly like that if your husband leads the way until you feel more comfortable. And, you can't predict how you'll feel about your MIL under changed circumstances. You can anticipate and prepare, but don't take that so far that you close the door on the idea of her. A baby could introduce a commonality that you've so far lacked, and that could help your relationship.

Looking ahead, the baby days are often ones of isolation, but having a child means meeting people with children. Make the effort and you could have a community of trusted advisers in just a year or two.

And finally ... since I've long since forgotten parts of the question ... please make sure you want a baby, and aren't just trying to please people you love. In tough times, knowing it was your free choice to have kids is something you'll fall back on for strength. Good luck with it, and check back in sometime.

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Abused mom-to-be: I would also suggest that this woman do some therapy before seriously considering having kids to work on her idea that family=bad. It's really not fair to your potential children to keep their grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins at arms length because of your past experiences with your own family. Since your inlaws sound like perfectly nice people, your kids really deserve to have an extended family that includes them (more than once a year).

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for this. There's a lot here I had to leave alone, lest you all start throwing rocks at me for taking even longer.

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For Confused: Carolyn,

Love the chats, but disagree slightly with your advice to Confused. It's entirely within possibility that the BF's mother was following a cultural impulse when initiated the unpleasant chat. For lots of us (I'm Indian), it's perfectly normal for parents to have "the talk" with a prospective son or daughter in law. I'm not saying it's acceptable, or even much fun to endure, but it could have been been well-intentioned but misunderstood by Confused.

It's worth a serious talk with her BF. He may want to stick up for her a bit, and help negotiate cultural differences with a bit more diplomacy?

(My brother's wedding and planning endured many of these "chats" with my non-Indian SIL. In the end, it took support, clarification, and the trust that the in-laws meant well. They are happily married for a year now.)

Carolyn Hax: Noted, thanks. A lot of people mention when there's a cultural difference involved, which I guess means either there isn't one, or she isn't aware it's involved, which would seem like ignorance on her part (as well as bad communication on the boyfriend's). Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm in a long distance relationship that has been going on too long (going on eight years). My boyfriend suggested, two years into the relationship, that he move here. He has made various gestures, but nothing concrete. He has made many visits here to "look for an apartment" but his plans are so tentative that nothing every comes of it. It's obvious to everyone, including me, that this guy loves me. His behavior is driving me nuts.

Carolyn Hax: It's obvious you're trying to compartmentalize the guy and the behavior, when they're really the same person. Either accept that this is the way things will always be with him, or that he isn't the guy. I'm sorry.

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Sensitive Question: Is asexual an actual orientation? My brother is a college student and doesn't seem straight, gay, or anything, really. Absolutely no interest--and we've had pretty open conversations, I think. I guess I'd let it go, but I don't think he's really as happy as he could be. I've suggested counseling for other issues (avoiding this) and he's not that interested in giving a shot.

Carolyn Hax: At some point your ability to help someone leaves off and his need to make his own decision begins. Since it sounds like he confides in you quite a bit while taking no action, you can make, "So, what are you going to do about it?" the theme of your responses to him. Not verbatim, mix it up a bit, so you don't sound like a doink and so he doesn't tune you out.

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Follow up re: Anti-social: Hi Carolyn --

You said, "A deep (and hard to rationalize) resistance to going to social things is a symptom of depression." My question is, what's hard to rationalize?

I'm somewhat introverted, and often find it hard to go to parties (especially) when I've been spendng a lot of time with people. Recent example: Was at a conference one weekend, had no interest in socializing the next weekend. But sometimes I wonder if that's normal "recharging" or not.

Carolyn Hax: By hard to rationalize, I mean that it's out of the ordinary for you to be resisting this, and there's nothing out-of-the-ordinary about it that would explain why you couldn't go.

A non-party example: You have a road trip planned, of a kind you've done frequently (and without a second thought) in the past, and your feelings for the people you're visiting haven't changed, not that you've noticed--but you can't seem to get your butt to the car. Haven't even packed and you'd planned to leave an hour ago.

better?

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Re: Small talk: I don't mind small talking sometimes. But that's ALL she ever wants to do. She won't budge from it and I just don't have that much small talk in me. I live in the moment. At times I have literally kept a list of events so that I can tell her "I did this, I did that" which is her MO. But should I really live that way just to keep the relationship going?

Carolyn Hax: Is it really "living" that way? Or is it being that way on X occasions a year? Even if you have to make a conscious effort to limit your exposure to X times a year, when she'd rather have 3X or 4X?

I'm not in the business of pushing people to do things they don't want to do. But, I do think there's usually more than one way to frame things, and I get the sense you like your frame and really don't want to change it. Which, now that I've stumbled upon it, is an argument for maintaining at least some tie to your sister--the possibility there is more common ground than you think.

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Baltimore, Md.: For Just Far Enough Away: Don't think of your mother in law as "Family." That label is causing you to shriek and back away. Think of her and her husband as friends you need to get to know well. A good therapist can help you to learn how to do this. A good therapist can also help you to discover if you really do want children as well, once you've resolved your issues left over from your abusive childhood.

Carolyn Hax: Interesting idea, thanks.

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For Painfully shy: I used to be very shy until i realized that being shy is really is very self centered. It all about what will they think of me, I look stupid/goofy when I speak, nobody will like me, I will die if anyone asks my opinion in front of others, nobody is interested in me, poor me nobody is talking to me and on and on!

Please think about this and realize that its not all about you and life is too short to waste on being self focused hence miserable!

Carolyn Hax: This is so true, thank you. Make it unwittingly self-centered. There's an extension to this that I think people sometimes miss: People who talk too much about themselves/don't ask a lot of questions aren't always arrogant; some are shy/introverted, and thus concentrating so hard on getting their half of the conversation out "normally" that they lose track of the other half.

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Pawsville, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

How would you handle a situation in which your ex makes it difficult to see the dog that you once shared? I've asked to see him, but my ex can never make time for me to come over or for us to meed somwhere like a dog park. I know this is not like getting joint custody of a kid, but I really miss the dog.

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I'm surprised he doesn't want the help--it's a generalization, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a dog owner who would say no to a special-guest walker (free!), or a nice place for the dog to stay (FREE) while he's away. Have you tried that approach?

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Three Little Words: Years ago I was dating a girl, and things were going along quite well. One night I thought she said "I love you". I wasn't ready yet, and instead of being honest, I said "I love you too". The only problem, she hadn't said she loved me ¿ I didn't hear her correctly (I know, it sounds like a "Seinfeld" episode, but I swear it's true). Things went south from there. Fast forward a few years, and I had met The One. I was too scared of mucking things up again, so I waited for her to say "I love you" first. Happy ending, 11 great years later we are still together.

I'm not suggesting to the poster that her BF is a doofus like I am, just that a person's history as well as their personality factors into these things. And good luck!

Carolyn Hax: You say up-mucking doofus, I say destiny. Thanks for inviting us all into your personal Seinfeld episode.

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Re; Small Talk: Maybe she's avoiding the "deeper" talks because they don't go well, the two of you just disagree - since the writer says her sister calls her judgmental (and, to me at least, fair bit of judgment comes through in that email- sister shallow, me deep).

There are just some topics or modes of conversing that don't go well between certain people, and I don't see the problem in avoiding those modes in order to preserve the aspects of the relationship which are valuable - i.e., why I don't talk to my Yankees fan friend about the Red Sox, why I don't talk to my mother about politics.

I think, in other words, there may be more to it than the sister's alleged willingness to live only on the surface; maybe the surface is the only place that works for her in this relationship.

Carolyn Hax: This is a thing of beauty. Thank you.

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For Sensitive Question: Sexuality is recognized as a continuum -- from absolutely hetero- to absolutely homo- and everything in between. Viewed that way, bisexual would be the midpoint. Further, there's raging libido to none. Maybe brother falls to the "none" end of the spectrum.

Carolyn Hax: An answer to the part of the question I ignored. I agree with all of this, except I think it's problematic to use it to help the brother come to terms with who he is. If he's unhappy with the way he is, the line of exploration should be into why he has no libido, and whether that can change. If he's happy but struggles with not feeling normal, then the range-of-normal conversation his its place. The risk in confusing the two would be in his resigning himself to a state he doesn't like and could fix if he tried.

And, to be fair, there is a time for resignation--as a precursor to acceptance--when it's clear there's no chance he can change even if he doesn't like it. But it doesn't sound like we're even in that time zone yet.

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Angry-Ville, Va.: Carolyn, I was in a bad mood this week due to nothing going right for me at all. Amazingly enough however I went to my class, trying to remain quiet and reserved, but for the first time in YEARS people - especially the guys - wanted to be near me. Why does it seem like people are only attracted to others who are going through rough patches? None of these people paid one bit of attention to me at any other of my happy-go-luck moods. Are people that messed up? Or am I seeing it wrong?

Carolyn Hax: It's your smoldering visage, and its promise of tortured, passionate release.

It's also just one day. I think you need to be hot while p*ssed off and not while not for at least the rest of the semester for it to count as a trend.

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Washington, DC: Do 35 year old guys like being asked out?

I know a friend of a friend. He came to a recent event I had. I did a follow-up invite to another group event, but he has plans. Do I take the next step and invite him out? Or do I sit back and let him take the pace?

(Am I 12 years old?)

Carolyn Hax: That would explain his having "plans."

Lie low for a while, and if in a few weeks/months/whatever you still care, and if you have a good thing in mind to invite him to, give it another shot.

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Blech, family drama: I am burned out on my relatives. It could take me all day to explain why, but let's just leave it as "it's been a bad family year." I don't want to spend the holidays with them any more, or at least not this year. I have said as much. I'm tired of their crap and pretending that we're a happy family and either getting ragged on or ignored.

However, my immediate family is just me and my mother. She is generally feeling quite hurt by everyone's behavior, but doesn't want to give up on trying to get their love.

I suggested that this year we take trips away on The Big Holidays, and she liked the idea, to the point of starting trip planning. Now, however, she is all, "Our family is shrinking! I don't want to lose them! Don't you want to keep your family?"

Argh. I know where this is going- so much for getting away, it'll be another year of faking it. Anyone have any suggestions as to how to fake Christmas cheer and love about people that have acted crappily all year?

Carolyn Hax: No! Don't give up on the trip(s)! Maybe you could steer your mom toward a happier compromise by suggesting other, non-holiday (and so less fraught) visits with the family she wants to see.

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Zuzu!: Gotta say, I really love Nick's cartoon today! What kind of dog is Zuzu?

Carolyn Hax: I'll pass it along. She's an American Staffordshire terrier. For those who don't mind blurring breed lines a little, that's a pit bull.

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Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I value your opinion and read your column and chats religiously. Could you tell me what you think are the signs that a husband is having an emotional affair?

Carolyn Hax: Thanks. I imagine the signs would vary depending on what is normal for you guys, but I would think distraction, less availability, unusual irritability or impatience with you, and a general sense that something is "off," like stories that don't scan. For an affair-affair, I would throw in sudden change or interest in his own appearance.

What do you think you're seeing?

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Holiday Survival: Is it too early to bring up the pot in the bathroom trick?

Carolyn Hax: Is it ever too early? If people want to e-mail some of their holiday forehead-slappers to me, I've started collecting them to post on the Big Day (probably earlier in December than later this year).

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One Day Does not a Stereotype Make: But it may be interesting for the writer to step back and watch herself a bit more - I remember one time I had an eye injury, and two guys, both of whom I liked, both started paying an inordinate amount of attention to me; and it made me wonder if I were more standoffish under different conditions, less vulnerable? I still don't know the answer, but it's not a bad idea to step outside of yourself once in a while, and try to see how you might appear to other people, and whether the appearance fits the reality.

Not that you should change yourself, but I don't think it ever hurts to be at least aware of your effect upon others -

Carolyn Hax: It could be as simple as your being different and getting their attention for that reason alone, but it is, I agree, a worthwhile exercise. Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: I'm still here--just looking for that URL.

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Carolyn Hax: Here's the (ugly) link to Kenny's page (and the back of the T-shirts). It might be too long to work but if so I'll fix soon:

http://fightals.alsinfo.org/site/TRC/Events/General?pg=peditor&fr_id=1184&px=1232762.

If you want to buy one, email me at haxpack@earthlink.net

Thanks!

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Who pays?: Carolyn,

I have the opposite problem from the southern gentleman in your column today. Because I am more-recently divorced and on a tighter budget than my lady friend, she has insisted on paying at least half the time, which was fine.

Lately as we have gotten more serious, she has gotten a clearer picture of my debts and responsibilities (child support, alimony), and insists on paying for practically everything. This puts a dent in my ego and a strain on our relationship. I'm all for equality, but I don't want to be a "kept man."

We've agreed to stick with "cheap entertainment" for now--any other advice to weather this situation?

Carolyn Hax: Just be open with her, honest with yourself, flexible in your approach and you'll figure something out. Remember, too, that she enjoys your company and pays because it makes sense that she does, and doesn't need to have baggage of stereotypes past.

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Carolyn Hax: That's it for today. Bye, thanks, and type to you next week (or see you Sunday). For those inclined to stick around:

A lot of you have asked me to explain what exactly happens to a person with ALS, and I said last week that I would spell it out, and run it this week with a disclaimer. So here is the disclaimer: Don't read this.

I will save the graphic description for the very end.

But seriously, I do urge anyone affected by this to stop reading now. Knowing I was going to write about it this morning, I lay awake last night trying to recall everything I needed to include, and then I lay awake with the images of it. I get panicky just recalling it. This is NOT what someone who has ALS needs, since having it (or anything else terminal) is a process of making peace with it. ALS also behaves differently in different patients, and I wouldn't want to scare patients with my mother's experience when the disease may progress glacially in them, and allow for a much higher quality of life. Short version: Stop reading!

To the now logical question, why am I still going? Here's the long answer: Take my word for it, please, that I really, really am not cut out for the business of fund-raising. Frankly, I hate asking anybody for anything. Just for this walk, I stalled until 30 days before the event itself before I mentioned anything in this chat, and I have relied heavily on people close to me who are less inhibited--thank you, Kenny and Nick--to assemble a walking team. (If anyone at The Post is reading this: Hi. I would love it if you joined us; I just never figured out how to ask you. Message board?) The only, only reason I am doing this is that I still, over five years after my mother's death, cry when I think about what she went through. I see the fact that I have a platform as an obligation to use it, to shorten even by the slightest bit the time between now and when no one has to cry about this any more.

Here is a technical description, courtesy of Web MD:

"ALS is an incurable, progressive degenerative neurological disorder. For reasons that are not understood, the nerve cells of the brain and spinal cord that control voluntary muscle movement gradually deteriorate. As a result, muscles waste away, leading to paralysis and death, usually in two to five years.

"The only nerve cells affected are the lower motor neurons, which control a wide range of things like movement of your limbs, swallowing and even some aspects of breathing. But the senses and thinking processes remain normal. Pain does not accompany the disease at any stage."

In other words: Your heart and digestive system rely on involuntary muscles, so they keep working. But when the muscles that control swallowing atrophy, you start to choke on your food. As it worsens, you risk choking on a liquid diet, then a sip of water, and eventually your own saliva. You drool. You have to clean out your own mouth (if your arms still work) to keep from choking.

The "some aspects of breathing" that are affected are your ability to breathe. So, you spend every day trying not to choke, as you slowly suffocate. Patients who don't go on ventilators (a lot choose not to) mostly die by suffocation. Your brain, again, is humming along just fine in most cases, so you're alert to all this while you become entombed in your own body. So that's the ALS I saw--15 months of it.

This is what I'm asking for help to defeat. Thanks.

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Vienna, VA: Carolyn, I think this is the correct link to Kenny's page: http://fightals.alsinfo.org/site/TR/?pg=personal&fr_id=1184&px=1232762

I love your chats and can't wait to see you Sunday! (I'm on your team!)

Carolyn Hax: Sorry, I'll fix it in the transcript. I was in the wrong mode when I did it. Thanks.

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Carolyn Hax: For those not inclined to cut and paste:

The URL for Kenny's page..

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