Carolyn Hax Live: Matching bridesmaids, nicknames, and "baby brain."

Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 7, 2008 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 day in The Washington Post Style section and in the Sunday Source, Carolyn Hax offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there. 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.

A transcript follows.

Carolyn's Recent Columns


Carolyn Hax: Hi, everybody. I'm here and back to the same slow-computer problem as last week. Will do me best.


Calgary, AB: To the mom from today's column: the beauty of children and parenting is that things are always changing. I was so attached to my older son, partly because we are so much alike and I really "got" him, But when he went away to college, my younger son who I adore but didn't feel as connected to, have built what I think is a really fun and loving relationship. I love them both so much and I now I also love our equally close and yet very different relationships.

Carolyn Hax: Nice thought, thanks. You're so right that it's a dynamic process.


What's in a Na, ME: I have three long-time friend/family members who have recently changed their first names. One changed it from her childhood nickname to her given name. Another changed it from her given name to a made-up childhood nickname. And the third changed not only her name, but "her" gender as well, so that we have to remember to use not only the new name, but the new pronouns as well.

All three have made it clear that they want everyone to use the new names, even though we have decades of experience with the old ones. I am honestly torn about this. On the one hand, my desire is to respect their decisions and to use whatever names they prefer. On the other hand, I have a reflexive objection to redefining one's identity in this way: It feels like an attempt to erase/redefine our shared past in a way that makes me deeply uncomfortable.

The transgender case is particularly difficult because of the pronoun problem I mentioned above. I find myself becoming awkwardly self-conscious in order to avoid making mistakes.

To what degree are we obliged by friendship, love, and good manners to indulge these name changes?

Carolyn Hax: To a complete degree. This is how they want to be identified, so you comply. It may force you to change something you liked, and you make stumble occasionally while you try to break a very old habit, but that's just something you do when you care about someone. In return, I would hope the people requesting these changes would be patient with you and not freak out every time you slip.

I have a reflexive objection to your reflexive objection, and here's why: Changing a name or even sex isn't an attempt to "erase/redefine our shared past." It is an attempt--usually undertaken after much discomfort and reflection--by someone to change his or her own present and future. You call these people by their names X times a day, week, month. They've lived with identities they disliked for 24-7-365-current age. Your discomfort, real as it may be, just doesn't show up on the radar here. You'll adjust, you'll live, and if you do both graciously, these friends will take note.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn I know you get these all the time but I really could use some perspective. Where have all the manners gone in dating? I met someone online, went on a couple dates, he was polite, showed interest and appeared to be someone worth getting to know. He made an effort to be in touch with me when he was busy with work. Called me over the weekend and since I was out running errands asked me to call him when I got home. I did and haven't heard from him since. Yesterday I checked my online account and saw that he had severed our communication through the site (we hadn't used it in weeks since we were seeing each other in person) He didn't even have the guts to write a note saying he was sorry but it wasn't going to work out. No explanation, nothing.

I was shocked at how rude I thought this was. I know in my bones that I did nothing to warrant this action. I firmly believe that people should be told when they are wrong. In a very calm but perplexed voice I left him a message saying that I was surmising that he wasn't interested based on his action and was disappointed because I thought we had agreed that we both thought it polite to just tell someone you weren't interested and that it wouldn't have been a big deal (I mean geesh it had only been a couple weeks of dating). And I would've have shown him that courtesy had the situation been reversed.

Now I was a little hurt but more shocked at how cowardly he behaved. Is this what happens these days? Do you think I did the right thing by pointing out his bad behavior? Seriously, what gives?!

Carolyn Hax: If it made you feel better, then you did the right thing in pointing it out. If it made you feel worse, then file that away for next time and just let the doinks think they got away with one.

I do think you need to expect there will be a next time. I could probably fire off a good rant about where all the manners have gone, period, but you have enough specifics here that I don't have to.

Just about everyone hates awkwardness. Some people get it more than others, some fear it more than others. Now, just about everyone has the internet. So, now people who most fear awkwardness can hide all they want behind electronic dodges.

If you date at all, just by the nature of dating you're going to be meeting a lot of new people and you're going to be in more situations where awkwardness is common. So, you're going to see manners break down no matter what. Date online, though, and while not everyone will be rude, you will be choosing your dates from the pool with the highest concentration of people who can't handle awkwardness. So, get used to what just happened.


Nevada: Hax, love your chats.

Please explain to me why it is so bad for a parent to like one kid more than another.

I like one of my parents more than the other. People are different and like different kinds of people.


Carolyn Hax: I thought the whole point of my answer was that it was natural. Oh well.


Lo, ST: Hi Liz! Are you here or are you preparing for your chat this afternoon?

I really missed chatting live during the show, (even though yaplet was really annoying).

Carolyn Hax: Speaking of Lo, ST: we have a new Ho, ST. Everyone, say hi to Elizabeth Terry, who is taking over for Liz as my regular producer, starting today. Liz's expanding empire needs her now more than I do, yay Liz. We had a nice run--almost five years, apparently. (I had lost count.)


Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I'm your typical Washingtonian 30something great career perpetually single woman. I date here and there, but have only ever had one real relationship (i.e., the kind where you actually have to go through a break-up instead of just drifting apart) in my life. I have lots of great friends and am mostly happy except for the whole prospect of being single forever, having kids on my own, thing. I've tried to make peace with this but I just can't accept being single forever. My question is whether this is something to seek counseling for. First, to see why I can make plenty of friends but can't seem to do the boyfriend/girlfriend thing, and second, to find a way to be okay with being single permanently. But I worry that I'm just trying to "do" something about something that just requires patience. I would love to go see a therapist and have him or her say "it's you" because then I could fix it. I'm worried it's not me, it's just the situation because I have so many friends in pretty much my exact position. Any thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Any internal struggle is something you can bring to counseling. Here's the thing that I think people seem to forget: Seeing a therapist is no more of an investment than you want it to be. Apply your typical-DC-careerist mid-set to this, and realize you are the -consumer- here. You're in charge. You can set up a phone conversation to "meet" someone. You can set up six to find the best fit. You can set up one session for no other reason than to see if you want to have a second session.

You're wondering, so, why not try it on?


Portland, Ore.: I can't believe I'm wasting a question on this.

To satisfy my morbid curiosity, what is the modern day significance of an army of bridesmaids and groomsmen?

I know you are biased so maybe the nuts who insist on this can chime in. It seems like a must-do-cause-everyone-else-does sort of thing.

Sadly, there seems to be so much competition, hurt feelings, unnecessary expense, rejection, etc.

How many people think about why they are doing it? What are they trying to achieve? Is it all about the photo? Is it to ensure that none of your friends will look nice given their ugly dresses? Can't you just have more pretty flowers around?

Friends can support you without matchy dresses. Photos will still look pretty without matchy dresses.

I'm not trying to play dumb. Aside from "it's what people do" I don't understand how it enhances a wedding that can't be had in some other creative way. Besides, the wedding industry is a racket created to make people spend money they don't need to. So all these people are being taken advantage of.

Carolyn Hax: What a great way to break in a new producer. If I have time at the end of the show, I'll post the best three answers. If I don't have time (I have to run out to do a school pickup) I'll amend the transcript later.

This is good. I've spent nearly 11 years now trying to answer this question, to no avail.


Washington D.C.: Carolyn I really need you. An on going issue with my husband. He wakes me up quite, er, affectionately every morning--not looking for sex but just kind of all over me. I hate it. I don't think it's him, I'm just am not ready for that sort of attention first thing. I feel invaded and just want to be left alone. It's like a giant alarm clock is pawing me and I can't make it shut off. I've tried to talk to him about it but he thinks I'm being cold and rejecting him. Today I blew up and said "enough!" Was I out of line?

Carolyn Hax: Unfortunately, no. I say "unfortunately" because, in theory, blowing up is not on the list of ideal ways to communicate with one's spouse. However, when your efforts to talk civilly have been rejected, and when emotionally you're regarding his affection as an invasion, "ideally" goes out the window and you just need to get your message across. "Enough!" is a clear way to do that.

Of course, now you will have to add damage control to an already difficult conversation, and since that conversation won't happen unless he's receptive to it, you probably need to start by acknowledging his feelings. "I realize my reaction was probably a slap in the face, and this is not where I wanted things to end up." Then you get into your feelings: "I feel very frustrated when you ignore my requests to be left alone in the morning." Then you explain, again, that you're not rejecting him as a person, you're rejecting this as a way to wake up. It's not like you can prepare yourself for it, since, presumably, you're fast asleep. All you have is your visceral/reflexive reaction, and since he's the one making the conscious choice to show his affection, he can make the conscious choice to wait until your head clears.

This will probably go a lot better if you can think of a situation where, for reasons of temperament, he asks you to make an adjustment you'd rather not make. Just about everyone has something that gets on their nerves for some irrational reason. If you can liken your need to be left alone in the a.m. to one of his quirks, you'll have something he can relate to, something to counter the complaint that you're being cold.

Which is out-of-line, by the way. His taking this personally, accusing you and ignoring your specific request to be left alone has little red-flag buds all over it. If you can't set limits with him without getting guilt tripped, then that's manipulative behavior on his part.


DC: Bridesmaids exist because when you're wearing a ball gown, you need someone to hold your dress up when you use the bathroom.

Carolyn Hax: But this doesn't explain the matching mauve satin. Plus, it raises the new question of why a bride (barring genuine cultural dictates) would choose a dress that's so big it eclipses all toilets.

The Top Three will successfully justify the whole wedding party phenomenon.


Melfa, Va.: Carolyn,

I am old enough to be your mother, yet I am regularly impressed by the wisdom evidenced in your responses -- until last week when you took off on the smoking woman who wanted to have a baby.

I am the oldest of four born to smoking parents. My siblings and I are all in our 50s and 60s with no health problems. I am a smoker and married a smoker and we have a beautiful Phi Beta Kappa daughter with no health problems. I never argued with the non-smoking message that she brought home from school and I am thankful that neither she nor her husband smoke.

While my husband and I still smoke, we do not smoke in our house (or in anyone else's), and have definitely cut back over the years.

As my grandmother also smoked, I can testify that over three generations it is quite possible for a smoker to have perfectly healthy, smart children. Granted, we know more about the consequences of smoking than we did 40 - 50 years, ago, and I would never encourage anyone to take up the habit now.

While you generally encourage a compromise position, you were totally on the husband's side last week. Would you have had the same response if the husband were the smoker and the wife the non-smoker who was withholding sex? I think not.

Compromise: Wife cuts down smoking while pregnant and agrees to smoke only outside/in the garage after baby is born.

Carolyn Hax: Actually, yes, I would have taken the same position. There was a reason I used neutral language in my answer.

While a smoking father could, theoretically, do all his smoking outside forever after, and therefore away from the baby's bloodstream (as a mother clearly couldn't during the nine months of gestation), it would take that father out of the room countless times during the child's life--leaving whom, holding the bag? Daddy quits or I'm not having his baby. I appreciate your appreciation for my advice in general, and I'm sorry you took exception to this position of mine, but I've put a lot more thought into it than one discussion session, and I'm not budging.

Here's why. While you cite all these healthy generations of smoke-bred babies, you have to know that one person's experience--even one family's experience--means squat as an indicator of future outcome. Just as you all came out healthy, another set of babies will die by miscarriage (smoking heightens risk), SIDS (smoking heightens risk), asthma (smoking heightens risk. Your "beautiful Phi Beta Kappa" betrays how far off you are--it's not about looks or brains, it's about lungs and life. And just as some people start smoking as teenagers and die in their 90s (my grandma), others die hideously in their 50s of lung cancer. Do you have a stick these mothers can pee on to tell them whether they have the won't-die-of-miscarriage/SIDS -or-get-asthma-or-die-hideously-of-lung-cancer genes?

Smoking is a choice. An addiction, yes, but one that grown people overcome every single day. Is it excruciatingly difficult for some people while others can drop it cold turkey? Sure thing. People's bodies are different in that way, too.

Combine the fact that smoking is not necessary, and that its risks to fetal and child health are extensive and extensively documented, and you have a no-brainer. These days (I'm not retroactively judging mothers of the '70s) there is absolutely no excuse for remaining a smoker while having kids. No mother has any right to compromise a child's ability to breathe because she doesn't want the "stress" of quitting. Can't handle stress? Don't have kids.

If I were smart, I would have used Nick's analogy instead of all this verbiage: When you put a baby on a train track, sometimes the train does come--but also, sometimes, it doesn't and it's a perfectly safe thing to do. So how many people think it's okay to put a baby on train tracks?


being single: You know, after being a frequent reader of your chat for so long, I'm very thankful to be single. It's funny that all the reasons to remain blissfully single are writ large every Friday, here, but yet it seems that "I'm still single" is a huge complaint. (I had to post this after the rude awakenings post...)

Carolyn Hax: I know. I maintain that of the four possible combinations (unhappily single, happily single, unhappily coupled, happily coupled) unhappily coupled is far and away the worst. Thanks.


New Producer: So since she's Elizabeth, we can still call her Liz, because, you know, we've all grown so attached to calling the person-behind-the-curtain Liz anyway. She shouldn't have a problem, right ? It's just a name, and we're being made to call her something different ? Gosh, how inconvenient for us. One of the best things that ever happened to me was that freshman year in college there was a Liz in my suite of 6 women... so no one called me Liz because we already had one! People automatically calling you a nickname you don't want is a whole 'nother thread.

Carolyn Hax: At least no one misspells Liz.


WashingtonPost-land: Carolyn, will you please comment on Charlotte Allen's "Women are Dumb" editorial from last Sunday? Pleeeaasse? (Pretty please?)

How do you feel about major newspapers such as the Washington Post publishing editorials from non-qualified editorialists espousing eugenics as a way to definitively argue that women are the dumber sex?

Carolyn Hax: I thought it fell flat, but it didn't upset me. When I heard/saw the uproar I was concerned that my outrage meter was broken, so I tried again and it still nothing.

Remember, you just submitted your question to a non-qualified commentator. I'm just a person with opinions. Charlotte Allen is just a person with opinions. Granted, we are both educated and presumably worked our way from smaller works on smaller platforms to commentary in a major newspaper. But that doesn't change the fact of our output as one person's opinion.

Is it an opinion I'd have published, or that deserved The Post's imprimatur? Like I said, I thought it fell flat. The romance novel thing, for example--there's such an obvious dumb male counterpart that all I could think was, huh? But then I just figured she was trying to be what she was criticizing; I thought the "Charlotte Allen will spend her fee for this on more shoes" or whatever it was in the italicized credits, was the wink that relieved me of the need to be outraged.

If anything, I was disappointed that the piece didn't go where I was hoping--that once again, there's a percentage of American votes available to the candidate who comes across as the coolest dude in the pack. You think we would have learned.


Cleveland Park, D.C.: Has anyone swooned yet during this chat? Just checking.

Carolyn Hax: ajdsg

I just did. That was from my forehead.


Oof: Hi Carolyn!

I had a first date last night with a new man. We had a good time and agreed to do something tomorrow. At the end of the night, though, he was starting to get kind of, um, pushy about a certain agenda he apparently had for the night. It felt gross and tacky and I want to cancel tomorrow's date. Should I tell him that's why I'm doing it in the hopes of curbing that kind of thing in the future?


Carolyn Hax: Yes, please do. Thanks on behalf of humanity.


Burke: Howdy Carolyn! How do you go from being a guy a woman enjoys spending time with and talking to to someone that a woman views in that way? I feel like I'm a good guy, but the whole dating thing just doesn't happen... like in almost 24 years. Thanks. Happy Friday!

Carolyn Hax: Well, it's not going to happen with everyone. If it happens with no one, I suppose there could be all kinds of reasons. However, if I'm going to play the odds, I'll pick the thing that 1. is a universal deterrent that 2. outsiders size up quickly and 3. the people who have it rarely recognize: neediness. There is little more attractive than someone who is thoroughly independent. Independent doer and independent thinker.

If you are already, my apologies--it's just a guess by the odds, nothing more, since I don't know the first thing about you.


Baby Brain Mush?, Arizona: Carolyn:

Eeek! I just spent last night with some old friends who now have toddlers and babies. I LOVE kids, and want some of my own. Nothing I've ever heard about childbirth, morning sickness, diapers, etc. has ever bothered me. But these women last night were saying, as if it is accepted fact, that one's brain turns to mush and one gets stupid after having a kid. That this is a hormonal thing. Really? Really? I like my brain. A lot. It's one of my favorite body parts. Sagging boobs and fat belly I can deal with, but is this true, must I give up my brain if I have kids? If so, is this permanent? Please advise.

Carolyn Hax: Um. What was the question again?


Humanity: Seriously, to the lady looking to cancel the date. Thank you.

Carolyn Hax::D


Arlington: I asked out a friend of mine, but got turned down. Wait, wait don't stop reading - this one has a twist! She explained that she didn't want to go out with me because I have depression. I'm in treatment and have gotten better since I was first diagnosed five years ago (all things she knows). I am feeling a lot of mixed emotions about this. Part of me does appreciate her honesty, but another is unsure what this means for our friendship - she doesn't want to have to deal with my depression in a relationship context, but is okay with being friends? But then another part thinks it's her right, though, since hey depression is a big deal. I could go on, but I think you get the idea, so thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Being the mate of someone with depression would introduce a level of coping and decision-making that being the friend of someone with depression just wouldn't. If this women knew she didn't have it in her to provide the kind of support and flexibility you would need from her as your partner, then good for her for not only recognizing that, but for having the decency to be honest with you about it. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Unless of course she's just phobic about mental illness and doesn't care who knows about it. But the important thing here isn't deciding exactly who your friend is and what her decision meant, it's establishing a range of possibility and leaving you to work out where she falls on that range. And so, the range allows for her to be a decent person who made the call she needed to make, for her own reasons and for reasons that don't rule her out as a friend.


Washington, D.C.: I hear so much advice about how people who are happy are that way because they "decide" to be happy. And how you should want what you have, rather than want things you don't have. I suppose it's good advice, but I'm having a hard time with it. I absolutely cannot stand my job or even my chosen career path. But I'm about to have my first child, and there is no way I can leave this job. I've been trying to convince myself to like this job and decide to be happy, but it's not working. My career is depressing me. I cannot pull a brain washing job on myself to make it better.

Carolyn Hax: I don't think it's so easy, that you can "brainwash" yourself into thinking bad is good. If that were true, we'd all be encouraging people to stay in abusive relationships and just think happy thoughts.

Reframing something, at least to my mind, is more along the lines of thinking bad can sometimes be necessary, as long as it isn't actively detrimental to anyone's health. E.g., you hate your job, which is bad, but you're having a baby, which is good, and so this bad job is serving a good purpose--and that alone might be enough to nudge it up from "unbearable" to "somewhat tolerable."

And if it isn't, then it's time to subject your "I can't leave" stance to some hard scrutiny. If you're so miserable that there's no good to be found, then it can start to become a health issue. It is rare when there are absolutely no choices whatsoever; more often, we see ourselves as having no choice because we're not willing to make any changes dramatic enough to allow for choice.

Another example --I don't mean to suggest this is your situation--is that people often think they can't leave a job because they need the high income. But, if they need that income to pay a big mortgage, there's always the possibility of a smaller house, or a cheaper city, or fewer other expenses, etc. So a miserable situation really points to undertaking two mental exercises, not just one: Try to want what you have, and, alternately, try to think creatively about ways you can change what you have.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Depression

Except that doesn't he get to decide that perhaps he doesn't want the friendship of someone who sees depression as such a burden to a relationship? I'd be really hurt. And I think I would question whether I want that person's friendship anymore.

Carolyn Hax: Of course, he's certainly free to do that. But that seems awfully, "Yeah, well, same to you!" I mean, how is this any different from saying to someone, "You're great, but I'm a homebody and your dedication to your career is such that I don't see being your partner"? You can love and respect someone and not be suited, and I don't see why it has to be taken as an insult.


Can we be just friends?: For Arlington--my wife has a genetic disorder that gives her low vision. At its worst, she was legally blind in both eyes needed extensive visual aids for most tasks and could not drive. Over the last 4.5 years, we have had 9 surgeries in Cincinnati plus travel to the surgeon every 6-8 weeks. For 3 years in the middle, I had to do all of our driving as she was incapable of it. She has had transplants that could fail anytime in her lifetime and she would be back to legally blind.

I knew all this going in and I was willing to make the sacrifice of completely rewriting my life to include all the medical issues. I would not have done it any differently. However, not everyone is up to being a caregiver. It's hard and sometimes I wonder why I didn't find someone easier--but I love her.

Having met some people with depression where it is a full-time job to treat and handle and there are times when the depression is stronger than the medication...I can understand someone who may not feel strong enough to cope with that. Do not feel that your friend values you any less, but actually more to be able to tell you that she wasn't up to coping with some of the possibilities. It is better for you to find out now when it isn't a problem than when you are in the middle of a crisis and need the emotional support of your partner and find that it isn't there. Be grateful that she was honest and then find the limits of the new relationship.

Friendships without benefits are also very important.

Carolyn Hax: So well said, thank you.


Whaaatsville, Md.!!: Carolyn Hax: "... I'll amend the transcript later."

You DO this??!!

I never go back over your transcripts. Now I have to go through ALL of them ... #@%!!

Carolyn Hax: No, I don't usually do this, which is why I announced it beforehand.

And I will have to come back to it, by the way--we've been swamped. I don't know how long it's going to take me to pick winners. I think I'll just post as the opener to next week's session.


Westerly, R.I.: I remember going out to lunch with a childless friend a couple weeks after my first daughter was born. It was my first outing with the baby and I was distracted about baby crying, breasts leaking, etc, plus I was tired. At one point she said, in all seriousness "You know, I've noticed you're not as sharp as you used to be." I couldn't think of any response, so I guess she was right.

Carolyn Hax:"But you're just as charming as you've always been."

Just a little I-feel-you-pain bouquet.

You know, there is some documentation for the phenomenon of becoming forgetful, taking longer to think of words, etc., while having small children--and while I'm not even going to try to tease out how much has been attributed to hormones, sleep deprivation, changed priorities, etc., I will say that it's ridiculous to judge friends or the childbearing process by this measure.


Carolyn Hax: Have to go--thank you everyone, and see you next Friday, after my week of wedd-whacking ...


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