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Tell Me About It author Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
(The Post)
Tell Me About It
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Tell Me About It
Hosted by Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, Oct. 20, 2000; Noon EDT

Carolyn will take 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 Friday and Sunday in The Washington Post Style section, Tell Me About It offers readers advice based on the experiences of someone who's been there -- really recently. Carolyn Hax is a 32-year-old displaced New Englander and eight-year newspaper veteran with still-married parents, three older sisters, a mad-artist husband and way too many shoes. Her "expertise" (she added the quotation marks, we didn't) is in bad dates, school pressures, strict parents and dubious decisions, and she specializes in stupid teenage stunts, which she likes to call "learning experiences."

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Carolyn Hax: Hey guys. Sorry for the last-minute cancellation on Monday -- couldn't be avoided though. If Lisa the Glamorous Producer is willing, we'll go two hours this coming Monday.

washingtonpost.com: Hey, I'm in. -- Lisa.

Cambridge, Mass.: Carolyn, your column from yesterday has me feeling guilty and confused. I've entered a grad program that is about 80 percent male. As a result, most of the friends I've made since I have been here are male. Am I cheating on my boyfriend (whom all my friends here know about) when one of my male friends and I grab dinner or a few beers one night? My boyfriend, by the way, knows about all my social activities -- so I tell him if I am going out with Brian, or Scott, one-on-one or in a group. Up until I read your column yesterday I was just fine in my platonic-friendship-ness. Now I feel like I have been "cheating"!

Carolyn Hax: Really? What did I say? I think what you're doing is fine.

washingtonpost.com: I saved the submissions from Monday, so if some of these seem a little out of it, that's why.

Philly: Hi, Carolyn,
Need your clear-eyed advice on this. A female friend of mine from work has been unhappy lately about a number of things -- husband, job, weight, etc. I don't pretend to understand why she is so dissatisfied. Anyway, she has posted personal ads on a number of Web sites and has a large and growing correspondence with a number of men.

She showed me a couple e-mails and I wish she hadn't. They were full of explicit sex and plans to meet in person. Her husband seems like an OK guy to me but she says I don't understand because I'm not married. Anyway she thinks what she is doing is just innocent fun and it makes her feel good.

What can I say to her to get her to come to her senses? Before she does something really stupid.

Carolyn Hax: You know, when people have their minds set on being stupid, it's pretty damn hard to dissuade them.

The answer to the "innocent fun" line is, if you really care about this person, "Actually, it looks more like self-destructing. I care about you, and I wish you'd take care of yourself."

There's always the other true answer: "If it's innocent, would you want your husband doing it?" But it doesn't sound like antagonizing her will get you anywhere.

Midwest: What's the protocol if a woman proposes to a man? I know there's probably no set rules, but should she get him something that would be like the traditional ring?

Carolyn Hax: Not if he doesn't wear rings. I'm not sure you need to give him anything. (I was proposed to sans ring -- marriage currently in progress.) Congratulations on your guts, and good luck.

Anywhere, USA: I appreciate the level-headed advice you dole out, so I thought Id stand in line for some myself.

My question: Is a lack of money a good enough reason to postpone getting engaged? My brother is asking to borrow money in order to buy an engagement ring. He can barely afford to pay rent and buy groceries (though, I suspect his girlfriend is helping out with the finances). I want to be supportive of my brother, but Im thinking he needs to stabilize his finances and plan his future a little more before leaping into marriage. My sibling loyalty and my better judgement are at odds here. Any advice? Please answer on-line, rather than in the paper.

Thank you,
A concerned little sister

Carolyn Hax: Okeydoke. I'm not sure a lack of money is a good reason -- if you want to be married, be married -- but a lack of clues is a great one. When a guy who bums money to eat thinks it's a good idea to bum money for jewelry, he's not using the good side of his brain.

Somewhere, USA: What do you think about a boyfriend who, throughout a committed 2.5 year relationship has responded to personal ads online? He says he's just looking for friends, but the ads he responds to are (of course) all women, and they send him semi-/nude pictures and e-mails saying things like "I'm not interested in a serious relationship right now, but I'm not averse to a sexual involvement." He's had offers for dates, hook-ups, etc., but denies that it's anything but a joke. He does show me most of the correspondence if I ask, but I still think it's odd. And it makes me feel insecure, as though our relationship isn't giving him what he needs. Should I confront him/tell to to stop? Do I even have that right? Or is he just not ready to commit, and should I leave him?

Carolyn Hax: That's one lame sense of humor he's got. Your call, but I would have bailed last week.

Virginia near D.C.: Hi Carolyn!

Do you or you producer ever sit around at Washington eateries and just complain about the people who write in?

Do you guys have less patience after doing this gig?



Carolyn Hax: What do you think, Lisa. Lunch? Or cocktails. Or lunch that lasts through cocktails ...

Actually, I think I was pretty durn patient on that last one.

washingtonpost.com: Lots and lots of cocktails. -- Lisa.

East Coast Guy: Okay Carolyn. I'm going out on a limb here and exposing myself to the full wrath of you and all your female readers.

I met a nice, attractive, interesting woman last week and invited her to dinner this past Saturday. As it was a first date with a relative stranger, I respected her wishes to meet me at the restaurant. I made sure I arrived first and since it was a beautiful afternoon, secured a nice table outside.

She showed up on time, looking lovely, and complimented me on getting an outdoor table. She then took off her sweater and I realized with a jolt that she is of the variety of woman who chooses not to shave any body hair.

I am an open-minded fellow. But I know there is no way I am ever going to find her fluffy and no doubt very clean armpits attractive. Although we had a pleasant time, I know I don't want to cultivate a relationship with this woman. But we have a mutual friend and I know this friend is going to want to know why I don't call her back. Should I tell the friend straight out? (The friend is also a woman, and she would probably not understand.) Or offer some standard excuse about "chemistry"?

And before you and your readers start in on what a pig I am, may I remind you of a certain discussion involving back hair...

Carolyn Hax: Actually, despite my ongoing campaign for back-hair rights, I'm with you on this one. Guys with moustaches make me shudder. (Nice defensive cowering, though. A-plus!)

If you make up some excuse to tell your friend, it may end up hurting the hirsute one somehow. Might as well just tell the truth.

Howard County, Md.: Re: Cambridge, Mass., you wrote in last week's column,

"And if going out alone with a guy who's not a co-worker, relative, established friend or castrato isn't a date, I must have forgotten what is."

Thought that a little harsh, myself, but you know in your heart if you're just hanging out with a guy or it's potential "cheat" material....

Carolyn Hax: Oh, right, thanks for reminding me. I still think Cambridge is just fine here -- I should have said *classmate* or co-worker, but I don't think it's hard to extrapolate.

In the Doghouse!: Carolyn,
Can you help a man? My wife is really pissed.
Last weekend we went to a wedding and I danced with a younger sister of the bride.
(Both the bride and the groom are friends of ours.) While I was dancing with the sister I got an erection. My wife noticed and got really pissed. At home that night she refused to have anything to do with me. She is still angry and this happened last Saturday. God, I didn't do it on purpose.

Carolyn Hax: Putting myself in your wife's shoes, I can't imagine that was a pleasant thing to see. (Hey, but at least she was looking!)

I also can't imagine what she's thinking by being *angry* at you. I mean, we're wired not only to find people attractive, but to respond accordingly -- and it's not as if marriage cuts all the wires. If she's ever been turned on by a movie or a book, she should, on some level, be able to understand that.

Then again, if you were the last person she ever got the hots for, that could be why she's so pissed.

Cleveland, Ohio: I am a 27-year-old male professional. I have not had a girlfriend nor dated anyone since I was 22 (over five years). The main reason for this is to concentrate on my career because I can get easily distracted when it comes to relationships. I met a beautiful woman at a family wedding last month She appeared to be 24 or 25 and we had a wonderful time sharing each other's company at the wedding. When I spoke to her over the phone she told me that she was only 18 but very interested in me. I was very shocked but in a frenzy I asked her to go out for an innocent romantic evening this Saturday to celebrate her birthday and Sweetest Day. I have no other expectations other than to share a romantic evening dinner with some live piano music afterwards. Is this wrong? Should I cancel the date? I have been inclined to cancel but at the same time I have led a very solitude life for sometime now and feel that I deserve at least one night of happiness.


Carolyn Hax: CANCEL, please. You now know that when you make the effort, women will be interested -- great. Make the effort with women closer to your size.

Wilmington, Del.: To the guy fearing hair on a woman: First of all, I wouldn't go with the truth here. Why not just say there was no chemistry? That's not a total lie, and it would avoid making either the friend or the date uncomfortable. It would also save the guy from sounding like an ass to someone who might think him one. That's the advice part. But second, I'm miffed that people could nix someone simply on account of a little hair under their armpits, particularly since it is a feature common to both sexes (as opposed to, say, back or facial hair) as an editorial matter, I'm really looking forward to the day when society makes sweeping judgments about women because they elect to buck the patriarchal system and not make themselves look prepubescent. But that's just me. (And I'm a guy, by the way.)

Carolyn Hax: I agree on paper, but in reality, I think it's hard to 1. blame a guy for getting used to a longtime societal standard (would you be saying the same thing if she didn't bathe? I mean, stench potential is common to both sexes, too.) and 2. ask him to drop a gut reaction because he "should."

As for what he tells the friend, I see your point -- but at the same time, because the hair isn't just hair but a statement of sorts, I don't think it's entirely shallow to reject it. I know a bunch of non-shavers, and to me it's a reflection of a larger part of their personality and life philosophy. If that's not his thing, so be it.

For hairy pitted woman's date!: Carolyn, he has GOT to tell the mutual friend! It could salvage an otherwise promising relationship. I have a friend who went through a hairy pit phase -- a group of about five of us girlies ridiculed her as only other women can do until she shaved. She now admits she was just being weird and she's over it. We all laugh about it now. This isn't Europe, mkay?? That woman could shave.

Carolyn Hax: Funny funny funny. Thanks!

I never know which question is going to be the button-pusher, but I should have seen this coming.

Presently Shaved Euro Girl: East Coast Guy needs to go spend some time in a foreign country, where he will be surrounded by absolutely drop-dead gorgeous women with fluffy armpits. It quickly loses its ick factor, I swear to you.

We're such a sanitized country, it's sort of scary. I've gone both ways and my boyfriend could care less.

I agree with you Carolyn, he should tell the truth. It will make her feel better in that she's not losing a guy with whom she might be compatible.

Carolyn Hax: Fur is flying!

It's the "fluffy," I think, that makes it. Thanks for weighing in.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn! Love the column! Lately, it seems as though most of my friends who are "on a break" from their longterm boyfriends still hang out with their former beaus and treat the relationship like it pretty much was to begin with, with the exception of some major details. I'm currently taking a break from my longterm boyfriend and he doesn't seem to want to remain close during the "break." He would rather us just really take a break. While I respect his decision, I find myself rather envious of my friends who have a great "on a break" relationship with their former beaus. Maybe I'm wrong but I though taking a break meant taking a break. Not hanging out together with mutual friends or going out to dinner. I know that a "break" can have several meanings, but what's a break and what isn't? Part of me feels like my friends are fooling themselves but at the same time I want the kind of "break" they're experiencing. Any insight? I greatly welcome it! Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: here's one: Comparing yourself compulsively to others can turn you into a babbling wreck. (See above.) Do what feels right and sleep peacefully for it.

Wilmington, Del.: So if I understand your column and your responses today correctly, you're saying that if you have a partner, you are not to make friends with someone of the opposite sex (assuming you're straight) by going out alone with him or her. Which is to say, group settings are the only way you are to meet and befriend people of the opposite sex, if you are in a committed relationship. Is that right?

Carolyn Hax: Again, I resist the idea of such a strict reading, but yes, I think accepting advance dinner invitations with a stranger of the opposite sex is over the line. But "Hey, let's have lunch"? Sure, why not. I think judgment has to come in somewhere.

Downtown: Am I cruel to thing the Doghouse question really, really funny?

Carolyn Hax: I was chuckling, so I hope not.

St. Charles Mo.: Hello:

My first time here. I have read some of the archives. Anyway, cut to the chase...

I am a 30-year-old male. Been married and divorced once each. I have recently postponed a wedding to a woman that I love very much. I am admittedly codependent. However, I finally realized (only took 2 1/2 years of living with her) that my needs are not being met. She is jealous of my ex-wife (normal, I guess.) She is also VERY jealous of the time I spend with my 5-year-old daughter. When her needs are not met she tends to deliver many ultimatums and well, frankly, throws fits. Not just at me but also her parents. Anything one does that she does not agree with can be an personal assault on her (her mother has lung cancer from smoking, that makes her mother selfish.) Without getting into all of the nitty gritty I'm curios of your opinion. I do have my own but am curious.

Carolyn Hax: Oh BARF. That's my opinion.

Your needs I can take or leave here, but your *daughter's* needs and this freak's cancerous mother's need are being trampled into the dust. That makes me mad.

This chick is toxic, and I hope you continue with your progress enough to see that your co-dependence has left you vulnerable to head cases like this.

Falls Church, Va.: Keep the beautiful hairy-pitted woman away from my husband! He is totally into the whole look, and I hate it. We have razor wars...he hides mine all the time. I'm not kidding. Nice guy, but weird sometimes!

Carolyn Hax: Not the post I was expecting to see...

Somewhere: Carolyn:

I have to say -- your answer regarding the 27-year-old cancelling on the 18 year old surprised me. Seems to be inconsistent with your previous preaching about age not mattering. She seems to be mature and can obviously hold an intellectual conversation with a 27-year-old. What's the problem?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, it's very consistent. My age-doesn't-matter answer always kicks in at 21. At 18, the cake isn't done yet.

Washington, D.C.: Just to comment on your last response -- I agree that marriage doesn't cut off attraction to others, but the husband was attracted to a real LIVE person he was DANCING with (as opposed to a fantasy person in a book or movie). Maybe that was why it was so upsetting/threatening to the wife?

Carolyn Hax: Sure, but to be angry at him for being male and having a body? What's the point?

WDC: For the dancing guy who got the erection:

Maybe your wife saw something in the way you were dancing that upset her, rather than just the erection. You are the only person who would know if you were dancing in an way that she thought was too much, in which case your erection would have confirmed her thoughts.

Carolyn Hax: Here we go -- good point, WDC. This would make it an argument over *voluntary* behavior, vs. involuntary, which makes much more sense. If this is true, [nickname I probably shouldn't use here], you need to upgrade your apology.

Carolyn Hax: Earthy today, aren't we!

Cleveland, Ohio: I work a 60-70 hour a week, fairly high-stress job, while my wife is a stay at home mother. My wife, 3-month-old son and I spent last weekend visiting my parents on the other side of the state. Things seemed to have gone pretty well, until each of us got a letter from my mother this week.

I have struggled with my weight and blood pressure for the past few years, more so recently because with the new baby, it's easy to get out of a workout routine and to eat fast-food rather than cooking healthy. My mother worries about it, no doubt because she has struggled with the same problems. I feel she's stepped over the line. She's accused my wife of not "taking care of" me and doing all the housework and cooking, etc. so I don't have to do any of it when I get home from work. Furthermore, she made up a list of things my wife mentioned from getting new carpeting to wanting to have two more children, and ran down why they are bad ideas (she sent this to me, fortunately my wife has not seen this).

It's my nature to sit back and let this go by, and attribute it to her being a new grandmother for the first time (these are new roles to everyone involved). To be sure, the ultimate answer is to lose the weight and get myself in shape. On the other hand, I could go to my Mom and try to nip this in the bud right now. Up until now my wife and Mom have gotten along pretty well, the last thing I need is for this to go on forever. It's causing way more stress and hypertension than anything at work has.

Any comments?

Carolyn Hax: Oh you have to nip this in the bud. Oh oh my. Your wife hears *nothing* about it, or all peace between them is over. You go to her yourself, and you damn well stick up for your wife. Make it as nice as you must -- "I love you Mom, but..." -- just make sure you do it.

Far away from Wall Street, USA: Hi Carolyn --

I'm recently out of school and have started my first "real" job. And, for the first time in my life, I'm no longer living at the subsistence level -- I have no major debts (thank you, thank you, thank you Mom and Dad), and my savings account finally has more than a few token dollars in it.

My problem is that I don't have a clue about how to get started with financial planning. My parents are no help -- they think $$$ should sit in the bank, which seems insanely conservative to me. On the other hand, I have enough sense to know that I shouldn't be putting all of my savings into the IPO of whoop-te-doo.com...

Do you have any advice or could you possibly steer me in the right direction? I'm not asking you for your favorite mutual fund, but I'm just trying to figure out how a 20-something with both short and long term goals can get started. I'm a reasonably intelligent person, but I find it all very confusing. Most of the books at the local bookstore seem to be oriented at people who are 50 years old or at people whose major goal in life is to be a multi-millionaire. Argh!

Thanks for any help...

washingtonpost.com: The post.com business section hosted a discussion in September with Beth Kobliner, author of "Get a Financial Life," which is aimed at 20-somethings. Transcript might be useful.

Carolyn Hax: I haven't seen it, but I think Lisa can be trusted. Usually.

A couple of quick things to weigh.

1. get into your 401K, if your company has one, as soon as you're eligible, and if there's a company match, max it out.

2. You should have some money sitting in the bank, even if it seems wasteful. It's good to have three months' worth of expenses (rent, car, utils, food) in the bank (money markets are good for this) in case of emergencies. The rest you'd be wise to invest.

Hope I didn't contradict that transcript, which I'll now go read...

That's all, folks. Thanks for a fun time, have a great weekend and type to you Monday.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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