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Tell Me About It author Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
(The Post)
Post Magazine: Hax on the holidays
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Tell Me About It, LATER
Hosted by Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, Dec. 4, 2000; 3 p.m. EST

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 30-something 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."

Today's 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: Okay, I have to let the cable guy in. 2 secs...

Somewhere, USA: Carolyn,

My boyfriend's brother is currently the VP of a well known dot-com company. Whenever we go out with his family, his brother picks up the check. However, when we go out on a double date, his brother still picks up the check every time. My boyfriend also works at a dot-com company, given he doesn't make nearly as much as his brother, but he is definitely well off. I have expressed my discomfort about this, and said we should take turn picking up the tab. He still won't do it. What is the best way to address this? I pick up the check next time? (Which I have no problem doing..but I wouldn't want to make my bf look bad)..

Carolyn Hax: Sorry about that -- my regular door-answerer was late in getting home.

Anyway. All you can do is state your case to your BF and let him deal with it. You don't want to be showing him up in front of his brother. BTW, not to run away with a small thing, but it is kind of a bad sign that your BF won't do what's right here.

Washington, D.C./Nuttyfamilyville: Hi Carolyn,

Here's a question for you: my finance and I want to hold a dinner two nights before our wedding for our parents and family elders (my aunt and uncle). However, this being the 2000's both of our parents are divorced. His father recently remarried and my father has a longtime partner. Both of our mothers are single and not dating. None of the divorced parents particularly like each other but they no longer fight-at least mine don't, there are occasional legal details to be sorted out for my fiancee's folks. Let's just say they do not particularly enjoy each other's company and they don't make efforts to talk to each other. They have all been to family occasions where they are all together but usually there are lots of other people there. Is it fair to expect them to come to this dinner (10 people total). We were hoping it was a way to spend focused time with them during the wedding week madness and that there differences could be set aside for the night. Too much to ask?


Carolyn Hax: I don't know. You have to weigh the benefits to you against 1. the strain on them plus 2. the strain on you for undertaking all that strain management. Is it worth it to you? Also, be careful about wedding-festivity overload. You have a nice thought there with the quality time but, regardless, the quantity time will have you all wanting to hide in a closet by Sunday.

Washington, D.C.: My roommate's boyfriend is around quite a lot. I've decided that I can't tolerate the fact that he makes the place messy and uses our stuff (thus utility expenses) but doesn't contribute to cleaning or the bills.

Possibly relevant background info: I have an okay relationship with the boyfriend and don't think he's a bad guy. I'm a neater-than-average person. And, I don't really care about the money for the bills so much as the awareness that he's contributing to the expense. (I would MUCH rather he clean the bathroom than give me $20 for the energy bill.)

Should I approach my roommate or the boyfriend to address my concern?

Carolyn Hax: The roommate. But know before you start exactly what you hope to accomplish, and keep your demands meetable. Say, he pays 1/3 utils, 1/3 of a maid's fee.

Lonelytown USA: Dear Carolyn,

I hope your "snap out of it" attitude can rub off on me!

Brief scenario -- I dated a man for eight months who was a louse and a cheat. But I was in love with him. But then he cheated on me this summer while I was on a business trip. We broke up and he has just informed me via e-mail on Thanksgiving day that he is marrying the woman with whom he cheated.

I don't want him back. I am glad to be rid of him -- sort of. But I'm feeling oh so lonely this holiday season. I've got good friends, a fulfilling job, a supportive family. But I haven't started dating since the breakup. I haven't even met anyone I'm interested in dating. So why do I feel so sad and abandoned and rejected still?

How do I try to put the jolly back into my Christmas season without thinking of him and how happy I was last year at this time and how happy he is now?

I can snap out of it normally but everything I see right now reminds me of him.

Blue Christmas

Carolyn Hax: If I had a snap-out-of-it answer for this one, I'd be typing to you from my 10,000 square-foot Manhattan co-op. Sometimes, the wounds heal slowly. Sometimes, the wounds from the more lousy people take the longest even though we see them coming from the horizon on in. It's as if we add the hope that we can persuade them to change their evil ways for us on top of the usual hope-it-works hope, and the weigh of the two pulls us under.

But. Slowly doesn't mean never, and the holidays are as good a time as any to find renewal of sorts around you. Do absurdly nice things for people, from loved ones to fellow drivers to the needy. I see a lot of jolly in that, along with a chance to stay busy, which is key.

Accokeek: Death chair! Death chair!


Fairfax, Va.: Re: Comment from holiday discussion
Which Carolyn has more shoes? Good Carolyn or Evil Carolyn?

Carolyn Hax: I think it's a wash, but Evil has higher heels and more boots.

Los Angeles, Calif.: Dear Carolyn and Producer,

I feel like a heel, and I need some advice. I'm a transplant, and my lovely boyfriend invited me to his equally lovely parents' house for Thanksgiving. I'd never done a holiday with anyone but my parents (I'm 25), and intellectually I know it would be different: my Mom is Mediterranean really knows how to throw a holiday. However, I was not prepared for the reality.

Sorry to say, I really hated Thanksgiving at the BF's parents' house. The food was lousy, I was bored stupid, and I would have rather stayed home alone than experience it. Nevertheless, I sent a thank-you note and was polite but not overly enthusiastic in my gratitude for their graciousness. Now, what's the best way to avoid having to accept their invitation (if it is indeed offered again) without offending everyone involved?

Carolyn Hax: Well, look at it this way. Most relationships end, so who knows when this'll be a moot point.

Or is that too dark for a Monday.

I'd decline a couple of times, then accept one as a token, then decline a couple of more and so on. Also, you should feel free, as you get closer to the BF and the family, to bring a little of your own touch to the festivities. Lightly, lightly at first, so you don't stir up resentment. Also, now you can be prepared for the boredom and bring books or other stuff to do, and also plan little side trips. It sucks, but it's not the Death Chair.

HUH???: Death chair? What on earth was that about?

washingtonpost.com: Sorry -- reference to the previous holiday discussion.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, great idea. When you're reading the first hour, you won't notice how slow I'm getting in the second.

Richmond, Va.: Carolyn,

Last weekend my husband and I visited his family (we didn't get a chance to see them over Thanksgiving). We went out with a group of folks, including my hubby's brother. Now hubby's brother and I are very close, but a couple of things happened that I'm still trying to figure out.

During the evening, slightly intoxicated, he told me he wanted me to set him up with any friend I might have who is just like me. Not such a big deal, but later in the evening, a little more intoxicated, he sat in my lap -- straddling my legs lap-dance style -- and hung his arms around my neck. Definitely not your typical in-law embrace. Hubby wasn't around for this.

So what gives? Does my BIL have a thing for me? Or was he just drunk and affectionate? I'd rather not bring it up to him, hubby, or anybody else, so your advice is much appreciated.

Carolyn Hax: I'd call that a big deal, geez. But I think you have to go with pretending it never happened, but with an asterisk: Put a little distance between you and the brother so as not to fan the flames of the crush. Ew.

re: Happy Holidays Grinch: I'm Jewish, and as the years go by, I notice fewer and fewer Hanukkah cards (it's not that Kwanzaa cards are growing, there's just more Christmas cards). By the time I'm done holiday shopping, I'm evil Grinch. (95 percent of my gifts bought are for Christian friends, I just get sick of making homemade cards with glitter for my parents at age 25 when everything's sold out or cheesy.)

My solution has been to wish everyone I see "Happy Hanukkah" or "Happy Kwanzaa." It throws insensitive assume-we're-all-Christian-in-the-U.S. off track, and a few times, I've gotten back an "Omigosh, I'm Jewish, how'd you know!" or a "Gosh, how sweet, thanks so much!" back.

What's the harm in "Happy Holidays?" I say it often, and I even say "Merry Christmas" if the person is obviously Christian (bedecked in bedazzled Santas). But lately, it's the most activist thing I can do is to challenge someone else's ideas. I hope I run into the Happy Holidays grinch at Hallmark. Sheesh.

--Cindy Lou Jew

Carolyn Hax: I like your post, but it was the signature that put it over the top. Brava, clap clap clap.

Arg: Is it OK to be annoyed that my parents invited me over to talk and catch up and then spent the whole time running around Xmas decorations and watching TV? What about if this is a week after I get raked over the coals for dreaming of trying to fit not-seen-in-a-long-time friend time during Thanksgiving break and had could I think of not spending family time?

Carolyn Hax: Hey, sure, be annoyed. But it seems as if it would be a lot more productive if next time you did what you thought was best, diplomatically of course, instead of caving in to parental pressure and then resenting them for it.

Chinatown: I hope to find a Death Chair under my Chanukah bush this year!

Maybe with the LA-Z boy reclining feature.

Carolyn Hax: Great, then they can just slide you out when your Time comes.

Chicago, Ill.: Hi Carolyn,

Why is it that when a girl wants a no strings attached relationship, she comes off sounding like a slut, but it's OK for a guy to feel that way? I'm currently in college and just have too many things extra-curricularly-wise to do that keeps me from having a steady relationship. But I would like to date people off and on, but not have too many expectations. Is it fair of me to let guys know before hand that this is the way I want it to be, and if not, when should I tell them?

Carolyn Hax: Call me naive ("naive") but I think it's just as okay/just as slutty for men and women to pull the no-strings thing, depending on how they handle it. Have sex indiscriminately, and you get tagged. Rove around with your judgment intact -- honestly, no leading on, no drunken trysts -- and you might even elevate yourself in others' eyes.

Baltimore: OK, left over from last hour, but --

It was so nice to see that my family isn't the only warped one out there. I guess relative to reindeer poop electric forks and homemade crotchless panties (don't ask) are on the normal scale -- or -- (to try to link this to the "problem" hour) do you think we all need counseling?

Carolyn Hax: I don't know. I think it's the non-warped who are the first ones on the couch. What do you do with this world if you can't laugh at it?

Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Are you losing your edge? You were way too soft on the question of feuding family being asked to be civil during their children's wedding. They should absolutely be expected to appear at the dinner and wedding to show their love and support of the newlyweds.

I recently looked at my parents' wedding album and found a picture of a woman I didn't recognize. I asked my mom who she was -- right there, in the middle of the "family portrait" was the woman my grandfather abandoned my grandmother for. I asked how my grandmother could have possibly dealt with it. My mom's response: Your grandmother has class.

I suggest the Newlywed's family show a little class themselves.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, but come on, how much class do the bride and groom plan to ask for? There's already the rehearsal dinner, the wedding itself, probably the Sunday steam-table parade. All that behaving over all those days is legitimately taxing, and there's a scary trend in weddings to keep upping that tax into a four-day slog. Enough.

Alexandria, Va.: Carolyn,

Do you disclose to your BF reasons why your parents dislike him if not his fault? BF is an ordinary nice guy, but nothing spectacular in parents' view (which is somewhat traditional, conservative, and of different ethnic culture than his). We each visit the other regularly on weekends, long-distance by a four-hour drive, but parents are becoming displeased that BF doesn't push me to leave his place sooner out of concern for my safety when driving at night.

Admittedly, I've been too spineless thus far to tell them, well, it's MY decision when I leave, not his, and I CHOOSE to take the risks that they are worried about. (I always leave early enough to arrive home by midnight, which I think is reasonable.) But even if I do tell them so, do I tell him? We're 27 and 30, not teenagers, but they live near me and still have me call them on the minute at my departure and arrival, which I do so as not to trample on their feelings. It's not his fault that the driving is such a big issue to them.

Please, please, please answer online if you can! Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Please please please stop being such a wuss. Because of your refusal to correct your parents' erroneous impression, you're setting your BF up -- blind, no less -- to be disliked for no earthly reason. The ethnic difference is enough for the poor bastard to pick through without your leaving the other land mines unmarked. Deal with it.

Boston, Mass.: Death chair! Death chair!

Carolyn Hax: I'm starting to feel like I'm in it. What time is it anyway?

Columbia, Md.: This is a tough one for us (but I am sure an easy one for the advice/shoe goddess!). My husband and I are having a baby in a few months and will be going down to one salary. Therefore, we are currently saving saving saving. We have some friends who buy us very expensive gifts at holidays and while we have reciprocated in the past, we just can't do it this year. We will all be getting together for a small holiday gathering in a few weeks and we just don't want to do a gift exchange. There are 10 of us and everyone gives gifts to everyone... way over our budget right now. We are planning RSVPing to the party and just saying we really aren't in a position to be buying lots of gifts this year, but we have a feeling that will be met with "well, we are giving you gifts anyway" which will make us really uncomfortable. There is nothing worse than someone giving you a gift and you not giving them one! How do we handle this and still be polite? These are lovely people that we enjoy spending time with. We tried to kill the gift exchanges in the past, but with no luck... but this year we really need to reign in our finances! Help, Carolyn!

washingtonpost.com: Baking. Fudge. Cookies. Linens/bar ware/kitchen stuff from outlet stores -- nothing too fancy. -- Lisa.

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, what Lisa said. Bake bake bake. They'll see that you put in the time, which is everything. Unless they're jerks.

VA -- no problems today: Back to wacky Christmas traditions -- in my step-father's very Catholic family, someone always "stole" the baby Jesus out the manger and replaced him. Some years it was with an ornament, some years a pickle.

Carolyn Hax: If I had problems, I forgot them. The pickle is way cool.

Raleigh, N.C.: Carolyn --

You write beautifully and I love the way you simplify things.

My problem's pretty cut and dry, though, so I'm just asking for advice --

I went ice skating last Friday with a bunch of friends, some of whom had never, ever been skating before! After 30 minutes of walking the rail all the way around the rink, I was desperate to go around just once, all the way, without stopping. Three-fourths of the way around I saw the cutest guy I've seen in an awful long while -- skating backwards. I don't know what I thought I was doing, but I skated right up to him, put my hand on his arm, and said, "Wow, you're really good at that. Could you teach me?"

Cue him and I skating together for the next two hours straight -- talking about absolutely everything, and me falling -way- harder than I should have for this guy. Turns out he's 24, the second-youngest criminal defense attorney in North Carolina (apparently he went through undergrad and grad each in three years.) He didn't ask for my number when the rink closed. Should I assume he just wasn't interested? The way things were going I honestly expected him to (I would have asked myself, but he'd mentioned that all his friends were out of town at a wedding -- hence the skating by himself on a Friday night -- so I invited him to come hang with my buddies afterwards, which he refused, without offering a reason. I was too embarrassed to ask for his number after that.) I'm 19. Think it's possible he just figured the age difference is too much? Can a five-year age difference ever work, when you're as young as he and I are? (Meaning that obviously a relationship between a 40- and 45-year-old is a different story.) He -did- mention maybe seeing me there next week (although I'm not sure that it wasn't just a courtesy comment) but I'm hesitant to go. Maybe I'm obsessing over something that just wasn't meant to happen.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, a lovely compliment.

Issue one, the age -- a 24-year-old man in good standing is probably going to shy away from a 19-year-old. Whether he should is debatable, though. It's not that big a stretch to begin with, and 19 is, in maturity terms at least, far more than two years away from 17. So it could work.

Issue two, the non-phone number. Since you gave clear opportunities to see you that he didn't take, "could" might be a moot point. Who knows. I'd go to the rink again and see who shows up. It's a nice, low-key way both to find out if there's something real there (meaning, him) and, if so, to find out more about each other in a controlled environment.

Maybe when I'm 80-something and still blathering away, you can write into me with an update in the form of a "how we met" story. I'm sure I'll need the copy.

St. Mary's, Md.: To the gift exchange question -- how 'bout you and your husband write a letter to every well-meaning gift-giver telling them how much their friendship means to you? Put years of laughter and tears into the notes; make them realize how much you appreciate the impact they've made on your lives. I'm sure that will mean much more to them than bar glasses or sheets. (Sorry, Lisa! ;-)

washingtonpost.com: No apologies! Good suggestion.

Carolyn Hax: Just as long as it isn't too gooey. Oh oh oh I know -- do you have old pix of them or of the group that you could have copied? Priceless but cheap.

D.C.: Carolyn,

I hope you can answer this question during today's chat -- I really need some good advice, soon! Sorry for the length of the post!

My girlfriend and I have been together for 3 1/2 years. She's in her 40s (I'm 30) and this is her first relationship. It has been a bit rocky -- we are very different people. However, I adore her and have really tried to make things work. We have been going to couple's therapy for a few months.

After a super-rocky two weeks (where GF has been moody and I can't figure out what the issue is), she has proposed have a discussion tomorrow night about "spending time apart," and also about going our own ways for Christmas (we planned to visit my family -- we visited hers at Thanksgiving).

I'm not sure what the "spending time apart" thing means -- we already spend "time" apart, so I figure she probably means separate apartments. Seems to me that neither of her suggestions are likely to result in us moving the relationship forward -- I suspect she is just hesitant to have a flat-out breakup, so she is proposing separation that will result in the long, slow death of the relationship.

Her mother was visiting this weekend and completely gave me the cold shoulder. Ick. This doesn't feel good. I asked her if she could make it to our therapy appointment this week, and she said she didn't know (she cancelled last week). I don't know whether I should agree to the "time apart," fight for the continuation of the relationship, or just let it go.

Please help.

Carolyn Hax: I think you have to agree to the "time apart." I mean, what are your choices? Privately, you can start accepting it as a breakup, but to her you offer your willingness to see where she wants to take things.

One more Christmas tradition?: My husband's family has the Fruitcake Scrimmage. Every year, someone gives his Mom a fruitcake and on Christmas Day, before dinner, they play football with it till it falls apart.

Carolyn Hax: I hope you wear helmets.

From Lisa: "Fruitcake scrimmage!! Fruitcake scrimmage!"

Independently Poor Too: For the Christmas exchangers on a budget:

I'm not much of a baker, but have taken to forcing narcissus bulbs in pretty little dishes for friends. Can easily be done for less than $10 (that's a fancy bowl, fancy marbles, fancy ribbon).

It's a little late -- flowers won't bloom for Christmas -- but they'll be sprouted with buds if you start soon, and January needs flowers more than Christmas anyway.

washingtonpost.com: Amaryllis are also great. That's my family less-than-a-stock-portfolio gift. -- Lisa.

Carolyn Hax: I'm going to start hoarding these ideas.

Rockville, Md.: Hi Carolyn,

Blue Christmas's question brought up another question that I've been wondering about....why, oh why, do people call (or e-mail) their ex's to say they're getting married? I've never understood that. Is it to rub the ex's face in it or what?

Carolyn Hax: Actually, I find that more humane than letting the grapevine do it.

Seattle, Wash.: Background: Girlfriend and I broke up a few months ago. Things just didn't work out, no animosity or anything.

We have an overlapping circle of friends, so occasionally events occur where I think she will be. Am I being totally lame by completely avoiding these events?

Carolyn Hax: No early on, yes as a permanent strategy. Where's the line? I'm not sure, but when you start missing your old friends, get your butt back out there.

Falls Church, Va.: Hi -- fellow animal lover here. You sort of touched on this Friday. When do you give up your pets for the sake of a relationship? My guy and I have been together for about eight months, but I am not ready to say that this is true, forever love. He is allergic to my cat -- itchy skin, watery eyes, NO breathing problems. Because he is uncomfortable, he will only spend limited time at my place. I would never choose my pets over a real human love, but I am not ready to give them up for a "Maybe" love. Am I being selfish? Or keeping up a wall of some sort?

Carolyn Hax: Until you're at the point where you'll be sharing a home, I say keep the kitty. Sniffle sniffle.

Bethesda, Md.: My co-worker's boyfriend wants to purchase breast-enhancement surgery for her as a Christmas present. She said she's a bit hesitant, but only because of the cost. I think it's a free world, and if he wants to purchase the surgery, she should go for it. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I think if she's hesitant for any reason, the boob job's off. Ick.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, I'm reindeer pooped. Thanks for the questions, the endurance and the howls, and type to you Friday. Oy.

Triumph the Insult Comic Reindeer: Yes, Carolyn, yes, the death chair is a very funny and wonderful tradition...FOR ME TO POOP ON!

Carolyn Hax: My heart is bursting!

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