Tell Me About It,
Hosted by Carolyn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, Feb. 5, 2001; 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 34-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.
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Washington, D.C.: Dear Carolyn,
There are so many books, articles, and advice columns out there, that I'm beginning to wonder if anyone has an answer to that so often asked question, "WHY WON'T HE PROPOSE?. Perhaps you could shed some light. I'm 26 and have been in a committed relationship for more than four years. I am now living with my bf. The problem is, the ring doesn't seem to be following. We talk about marriage as if it is an absolute, but to be honest, I'm getting so tired of waiting. As one of my girlfriends likes to say, "I'm the cutest and the thinnest, I'll ever be now, so if he's not going to propose, I want be back on the market, before it's too late." As "Sex in the City-ish" as that sounds, I'm starting to wonder if she has a point. How do you know when you've waited long enough? We have both shown our commitment through moving to follow each others dreams, first me and now, him, but why is marriage alluding us? What are your thoughts on the subject?
Carolyn Hax: Thoughts, in no particular order:
Your friend should be shot. I for one like myself SO much better than I did at 26, and if that were true because of weight or looks alone then I'd be guilty of the exact same shallowness that women constantly accuse men of demonstrating. How can you possibly expect a guy, or anyone, to "respect" you or love you for your glamorous personality if you're reducing -yourself- to a piece of meat?
You don't need a book to tell you WHY HE WON'T propose because you know exactly why. He doesn't want to marry you. Maybe that's just true now -- if he's 26, too, that's still pretty young for a guy -- and maybe that's true forever after and he hasn't decided to move. I don't know. The only answer that matters here is what you, in your heart,, soul and gut, feel you need to do about this. Do you love him, are you happy as-is, can you continue to be happy as-is, and if no to any of these, what is it you feel you must do to get happy?
Which brings me to the last thought. DOING is good. WAITING blows, and I am continually amazed by how many women take charge of every other portion of their lives and yet wait wait wait for the marriage thing. If you aren't living the way you'd choose, do something. Propose, leave, embrace shacking up. Whatever.
Boston, Mass.: Hi Carolyn, although I'm a longtime reader and fan of these chats, the only time I've written in was to call you on a comment you made about Drew Bledsoe (he is NOT a punk!). It's taken two years, but I finally have a real question for you. I will try to make this as short and concise as possible. My situation: 25-year-old guy, single (dated, but never been in a real relationship). All of my really good friends, both male and female, are involved with someone, except for one. Lets call him Jeremy. Now, Jeremy has recently become involved with someone who I will call Rebecca. I'm extremely, sincerely happy for Jeremy, who is as good a guy as I've ever known and deserves nothing but the best, but at the same time, his thing with Rebecca is getting to me for three reasons. 1. Because I don't have him "on my side" (i.e., as a single guy) any more, 2. Because he was the last one "on my side" and now none of my close friends are like that, and 3. Because Rebecca is EXACTLY what I'm looking for myself. Jeremy still hangs out with me and our group of friends, and sometimes includes me in some of things that he and Rebecca do, but it's pretty apparent that most of the time we hang out Rebecca will be there. This is problematic because the combination of Jeremy being involved with someone, and being around Rebecca (and knowing I'll never have her) makes me miserable...not so much during the time we hang out, but after whatever we're doing is over and we go our separate ways, that's when the misery hits me. He and Rebecca are in that "new couple bliss" stage where they do almost everything together, so it's not easy to isolate time with Jeremy that doesn't include Rebecca. I'm hoping that this thing I'm going through will just be a phase that I will suck up and accept without getting miserable every time I'm around them, but until that happens, I'm not sure if I should tell Jeremy about this or not. He knows about #1 and #2, but he doesn't know #3 and he doesn't know the extent to which these things get to me. Telling him could be bad, because I certainly don't want to put him in a position where he has to choose me or Rebecca, or have any guilt about being with her...that's obviously not fair. I also certainly don't want to stop hanging out with Jeremy, he's still a great friend and I want him in my life. However, it's apparent that whenever Rebecca is around my misery will manifest itself, and I can't have that either. It's just not healthy for me to feel like this. What can I do?
washingtonpost.com: Drew Bledsoe is a punk. -- Lisa.
Carolyn Hax: No no, he's a born leader with a laser-guided arm. He throws to the other team in the fourth quarter during close games purely to demonstrate his generosity of spirit.
My condolences on the Rebecca Tragedy. There is just nothing you can do in these situations except hurl curses at your past lives for screwing everything up for you -- but even then the satisfaction is minimal.
Maybe that's why doing nothing about the Rebecca thing directly is the best way to go, and instead doing whatever you can for that soul ache you've got. Go out and do something outrageously selfless, like becoming a Big Brother or Best Buddy. Or take this dismal opportunity to try something you've always wanted to try (assuming it's not a controlled substance), like a program abroad or learning a language or planning a trip. Think outside your circle of friends, and think as big as you need.
I wonder how many Big Things have been rooted in not getting Rebeccas. Anyway.
Arlington, Va.: Hi Carolyn --
Just wanted to write and let you know that you saved me from a wedding and a marriage that were a HUGE mistake. I wrote to you two years ago regarding my fiance and feeling I was having/not having toward him, and you told me to take time to myself and thing things through...THANK YOU!! I broke off the engagement and three months later met the man of my dreams -- we've been married five months now. Bless you bless you, you are my hero!!!!!
Carolyn Hax: Wow. No pressure ...
Congratulations, and thank you for checking back in. It;s a happy thought, but it also never hurts to remind me occasionally that you guys aren't just living on paper.
New York City: I'm with a wonderful man who I'm very compatible with in many many ways. If it weren't for his past -- divorced with a joint-custody child -- I'd seriously consider the long-term possibilities. Actually, I HAVE considered them, except I usually stop as soon as I think about the instant family and other unwanted day-to-day operations I'd inherit. I can't help but cringe at the thought of all the things that I don't want to have anything to do with. I don't want my future husband's ex calling or showing up at our house. I don't want to have to help the child un-learn the bad upbringing (thanks to the mother). I don't want to bring up my own children in a family that's not completely their own.
I get quite annoyed when these thoughts go through my head. And I don't know how one goes through with a process, any process at all, where one comes to terms with the fact that they'll have to compromise their own ideas of how their future family should be. In the meantime, I don't think I'm being fair to the man who has asked me to spend our lives together. In fact, we're supposed to be looking for a place together soon. Part of me thinks that until the question is popped FORMALLY, however trite this may sound, anything is possible, so I should just enjoy the ride. Part of me knows that I have the power (and foresight?) to just nip it in the bud. I know it'll hurt a lot, the day I say "no," but I'm also hoping/looking for something that'll enlighten me and make the situation a win-win.
Carolyn Hax: The situation is already win-win for the person who wants it, and I'm not convinced that it's you.
1. So the ex-wife calls or shows up. So what? She and her ex-husband have a child to raise, and her appearances in your life to handle the business of raising should be a welcome part of your life. Better for the kid, so better for the father, so better for you. Unless she's a screaming stalking nutcase, it just isn't sounding that bad.
2. Any children you have will be in a family completely their own AND HIS KID WILL BE PART OF THAT FAMILY. What a horrible genetic elitism you have.
3. What's so wrong with giving an unhappy kid more love and a solid, stabilizing influence? Of all the opportunities to "give something back," to use a barfworthy phrase, that has to be one of the winners.
4. I admire your honesty, but your assessment of the situation scares the hell out of me. If you don't feel 1-3 completely and on your own, don't even move in with this guy. The last thing the kid needs is to see you come and go (and bonus, resent him/her while you're there. wow).
The way you "compromise" your view of how your future family "should" be is to accept that reality laughs -- no, snorts -- at "shoulds." If you're not comfortable loving the hand that you're dealt, please fold soonest.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,
How does one go about finding a good marriage counselor? I've barely been married six months and I'm already at my wits' end. I feel like I have a roommate who expects sex, not a husband.
Basically, he's really busy and prefers to spend what downtime he has by himself, not with me (unless it's bedtime). When I get home from work he hardly looks up from the computer to say hi. When I do actually get his attention he often makes me feel (and sometimes outright says) that he's fulfilling an obligation to me; that is, he'll spend a few hours with me on Saturday if I'll leave him alone for the rest of the day. Sex is a nightmare -- I have trouble getting in the mood if he's been ignoring me all night, and he says he isn't more romantic because I'm never in the mood (and therefore it isn't worth the effort since he won't be getting anything out of it).
Anyhow, I've been trying to talk with him about this for a month and have gotten nowhere. I know he has his side to this story as well. What could I expect from a marriage counselor? Do they just make you talk to each other and work stuff out, or do they suggest things? I love my husband a lot and find it ridiculous that's it's gotten this bad this quickly. We just need some help. Thanks.
Carolyn Hax: I'll say. Call the Women's Center out in Vienna -- (703) 281-2657 -- and either make an appointment there or ask if they can recommend other centers more convenient to you. Another way to find someone, just in general, is to ask a trusted doctor, or check with your health plan at work if you have one, or ask a clergy person, or go through a counseling center sponsored by a local faith/hospital/university. The faith-based ones often provide nondenominational services -- just be sure to ask. Good luck.
Somewhere, USA: My boyfriend rents out the apartment in his house to a family with four kids. This family is, too put it nicely, lower class. They haven't paid a full month's rent or utilities since they moved in, have been in and out of jobs, etc. Which is, of course, a problem because my boyfriend could use the income. But the real problem is the renters' behavior -- they are constantly yelling at each other, at the kids. The kids ue -foul- language, and (mainly the mother) screams at, threatens, and hits the kids. She screams things like, I don't know why I ever had you, and today actually said, "If you don;t stop crying, I'm going to take my fist and nail you. I'm not talking my hand, I'm talking my fist" -- to her 6-year-old daughter. What should/can we do about this? Their lease is up in a month, and my boyfriend is worried that if he calls Social Services that he won't ever get the money he's owed (which he probably won't get anyway). Who can we call, and should we wait until they've moved out?
Carolyn Hax: I'm sure people with the appropriate training in this will weigh in (because they always do, bless em) but just off the cuff I say screw the money and help those poor kids -immediately-. Call social services while you can still back it up with the facts. I'm sure he needs the income but geez.
Arlington, Va.: Carolyn,
I appreciate you "to the point" advice, that is why I am going to ask you this: when a guy tells a girl that they are monogamous but not committed what does that mean?
Carolyn Hax: Not sleeping with anyone else but leaving the option open. Nice catch!
Medford, Mass.: OK, here's the deal. I am a 23-year-old nice girl who has always have dated men my age or older, none of them treated me well. Last week I went out with my roomie and some friends, and her little brother (19). He was crashing at our pad that night (no one had been drinking anything), he lives locally at home while going to his freshman year of school. He has always been a nice kid, and until recently always thought of him as "a kid." We were alone and he made a move on me. Part of my brain was thinking "wrong, wrong, wrong!" other part is thinking "wow!" So, we made out.. completely innocent he didn't push things. I don't see him as a kid anymore. He is a mature, nice, sweet, caring, articulate man. He also happens to be stunningly attractive. BUT he IS 19. He thinks I am a goddess and wants me to eventually be his girlfriend. He wants to rub my feet, take me to dinner, give me massages. He said he wants to spoil me. The whole nine. He is an amazing person, and we get along but I have known him since he was 10 and I was a freshman in high school. He is 19, my roommate's little brother. He is more experienced than me, he is definitely a good person. He told me to "communicate with him and things will be fine" he doesn't want to rush me. He said if he was 24 and I was 28 I wouldn't bat an eye. His sister/my roomie thinks it is kinda weird but is cool with it. But I feel like I committed a major felony. I feel GUILTY. Part of my wants to close my eyes and jump. Part of me is thinking, "What the HELL are you doing?" and wants to run. The other night we were hanging out and he was being really sweet, I ended up leaving early because I felt like I couldn't breathe. Maybe I am scared of something working and getting close to someone, and the 19 is just an excuse. I don't know. When we were messing around it was emotionally intimate and oddly comfortable, when it was JUST US it felt fine. But when it went into the outside world it felt weird. I want it to work but I am worried this guilt might cause me to screw things up. I feel like a criminal. Am I crazy?
Carolyn Hax: Yep. Good is good and it's even better when it's legal. Enjoy.
Somewhere in the Poconos: Hi Carolyn and Lisa! I have a question regarding the hands-off policy between friends. The old college group recently got together for a ski trip. While there I met friend of a friend's boyfriend (Bob). We hit it off rather well. Turns out he was at a New Year's party with some other friends and has apparently "hooked up" (which I think means they kissed at midnight and maybe a couple more times later) with one of my other friends (Mary). Mary and I aren't as close as we used to be, and it's pretty apparent that Bob is interested in me. They haven't gone out on a date since New Year's and the next time they saw each other was at the ski trip. I'm a bit lost on what to do here. Thoughts?
Carolyn Hax: Well, I'm totally lost. If Mary and Bob aren't currently together, then have at him.
San Antonio, Tex.: Hi, Carolyn
I have a question about giving money to friends who don’t ask for it.
I’ve been friends with someone for almost 20 years (since we were 14). Just recently, after 14 years of marriage, her husband left her and their two children. She managed to get a small amount of child support from him only after dragging him kicking and screaming through court. (he’s obligated to pay less than $500 a month for the two children he brought into the world and he said he felt like he’d been raped!). She loves her job, it’s fairly stable and secure, but frankly, it pays squat. So, she’s a single mother of two making bout $20K a year plus the $4,800 a year from child support. She never complains, but it is painfully obvious she is in dire straits when the simplest purchase (new shoes for the kids) throws her budget out of wack (we’re talking pay-less shoe store not Nike!). I think she’s doing everything she can. She is not an irresponsible person. She works extra jobs when necessary, but career advancement is limited without a college degree (She’s in night school, but come on, with two small children that need a (paid) baby sitter while she’s gone, she can’t exactly go full time so it’s slow going). I on the other hand am single, no kids and make over three times her salary. I’m obviously not loaded, but could help her out. Should I offer to help her out?
Carolyn Hax: My gut says yes, but I'd like to field suggestions from people on this one. Maybe if you gave directly to the children, it would be easier for her to accept? Say, set up some sort of saving or trust for them. Fire away, please.
Anonymous: I have a new co-worker who is very unhappy, moody, rude, disrespectful, etc. Well on Friday she was on the phone trying to straighten something out. She looked over at me for some assistance and I tried to explain to her what had happened. Then she went back to the lady on the phone and all of a sudden she looked at me with a stern look and YELLED at me. Both of our bosses had meetings going in their offices, but didn't say anything and I was so shocked that all I asked her is if she was yelling at me and she yelled back yes I'm yelling at you. Now we are not on speaking terms, I feel as though she needs to apologize for her bad behavior. I have to work with her so I am not going to be petty about the situation, but she seems to be acting very childish about it all. There is another co-worker in our office whom she is using as a go-between because she doesn't want to speak to me, which I think is very immature, considering this woman is almost 70 years old. Now I don't know what to do, I have never had anything like this happen to me before. By the way she doesn't seem like the type that I can just sit down with and straighten this out, she is a very cold, hard person. Please help me.
Carolyn Hax: Try anyway. Explain calmly that, whatever your differences, the two of you need to work together and therefore those differences need to be set aside. If this thing festers and affects the other employees and/or the efficiency of the office, you'll be seen as part of the problem, whether you started it or not.
No name, no state: I'm scared. I broke up with my boyfriend and at first he begged me to come back. Since I have decided not to he has taken a bitter nasty course. He wants everything back he ever gave me as a gift. He won't stop trying to contact me. I'm going through the break-up process, but I have never been threatened like this before. He has told me that "You are going to pay for all the things done by previous girlfriends." Will calling the police only make things worse? I feel sick to my stomach and scared that he will come after me.
Please, help me.
Carolyn Hax: Call the domestic violence division of your local police department -- ask for it SPECIFICALLY -- and also read "The Gift of Fear," tonight, and I'm not kidding about that. Screen your calls, don't answer his e-mails, don't have any contact with him. Please be very careful and trust your instincts if you feel frightened by a particular situation.
Maryland: Re: San Antonio:
Savings and trusts are a great idea, but it sounds like this mom needs help now. I think playing the occasional gift of shoes, clothes, toys prefaced with "I saw these and just thought they would be perfect for junior" would be most appreciated. If you have free time, maybe you can offer to babysit while she takes classes. And you can make her feel that she's not really a recipient of charity by asking of her kids have any outgrown clothes/toys for a friend of yours' kid or maybe a charity you like to contribute to. And bless you for wanting to help!
Carolyn Hax: Nice stuff, thank you.
D.C.: To San Antonio: Offer to babysit or hire the kids, if they are old enough, to do odd jobs around the house -- mow the lawn, wash cars, etc. Kids who are 12 or 13 love to buy their own clothes, etc.
Carolyn Hax: More! More! thanks
Re: San Antonio's Friend: Maybe offer to take care of the kids, or have a standing night to have them over for dinner once a week? Little things that won't hurt her pride...
Carolyn Hax: The standing dinner date is good one for anyone who's struggling, period, not just financially. Thanks.
Re: San Antonio: Carolyn, I like your suggestion about $ to the kids, but it sounds like this friend needs money now. How about volunteering to baby-sit while she goes to school? No charge. From one friend to another. I've helped out friends this way and it's as appreciated and less embarrassing than accepting money. Hey, while you're there, hide a $20 in a coat hanging in the closet.
Carolyn Hax: Convert generosity, cool.
Confused: Carolyn --
Love your chats! Got a question for you -- I am 25-year-old female, who just got out of a long term relationship in August, but since then, I have met a great guy who I have a lot of fun with.
The problem? I keep analyzing him as a prospective husband, rather than just enjoying the time we spend together, and I am not sure what I should do. I feel like it's not okay to spend time with someone if they aren't "husband material." I am not 100 percent sure if the guy I am dating is or isn't but I feel like I have to figure it out and if he isn't just move on.
Do you think that it's okay just to have fun dating, or should someone just analyze a guy for marriage material, and if he doesn't fit, move on?
Thanks for your advice.
Carolyn Hax: Why is a fun person not marriage material? That's what I want to know.
New York City: Carolyn, thanks for the itemized response to the divorced-with-a-child question.
The current situation is not as bad as I may have hinted at. I'm fine with his child and even the ex. Both he and I know that we could raise a great family (including HIS child) together.
I just don't want to. And yet I'm not sure, when I do come out and say "no," whether or not I do have a good reason for not being with someone who I love, besides that I'm uncomfortable with his past, the mistakes he made, the immaturity/lack of good judgment in marrying the wrong person, etc. Of course, he's not the same guy he was so many years ago.
I thought I'd just write to let folks know that they didn't just read about another poor child in a broken family.
Carolyn Hax: This brings to mind that hotel-date-rape question that got everyone in a twist. How many of us are prepared to stand behind out pasts and say, "I got where I am now based on bulletproof judgment alone"? I have absolutely no doubt, zero, that your youth contained some doozy decisions that simply never produced a baby. Well, his did. My answer is the same, condensed: If you can't stop judging these people enough to put your whole heart into loving them, then leave. I mean it.
Deepest Reaches of Hell: Carolyn,
Please give me some advice on this one!! My two best friends are in the middle of a little war and seem intent on putting me in the middle of it all. She thinks that he sabotaged a project she was working on, he and I know differently. He's mad at me for not "taking up his side" enough.... She won't speak to him at all, so he's -technically- unknowing of what she's said...
To make it worse, he and I are dating and she doesn't (and shouldn't for a long list of reasons) know that...
How do I keep my boyfriend and my good friend and not go crazy in the meantime? I don't want to have to make a choice here, but I do know what I would choose if I have to.
-Caught in the Middle
Carolyn Hax: Wait a minute. You know for sure that there was no "sabotage" ... but you haven't corrected her on it ... but you're secretly dating the guy ...
Normally when I see drama like this, I turn the TV off.
Tell your friend you're dating the guy -- because you can't use "best" friend and lie to her face in the same plotline -- and then put the two of them in the same room and tell them to talk. OR whatever. I've lost interest.
Arlington, Va.: What is The Gift of Fear and where can you get it?
washingtonpost.com: Book by a security consultant named Gavin de Becker, available at all bookstores. I have a copy. Good book. -- Lisa.
Carolyn Hax: What she said. It's a must read, and not only if you're being threatened. It just changes your whole perspective on people.
Another Idea: When I was growing up, my family also struggled financially. I still remember an aunt who would "reward" me every time I did something good -- like achieved a good grade or started a new sport. Or when I wanted to learn an instrument at school but couldn't pay for it, she help me rent it as long as I invited her to every recital/concert. After each concert we'd go out for a special dinner to commemorate it.
Other rewards ranged from a shopping trip to something I considered "cool" as a child.
Just an idea. She got more involved in my life too, and I will always treasure the memories of what we did. But looking back now, I realize she was trying to help our family too.
Carolyn Hax: That one choked me up. Thank you.
Wedding Hell: Carolyn,
Is the MOH expected to pay for the bride's wedding?
Bridezilla has made it very clear to me that everyone else in the wedding party is paying for the pieces (photographer, dj, flowers, etc). She is left paying nothing for a wedding 10x as fancy as my own and demanding things I did without since I couldn't afford it. I am in grad school and can't afford this right now, am already footing the bill for the gown, etc., and bridal shower. But she is starting to get nasty about it. Everyone else in the wedding party is related to the bride and groom.
Am I a bitch because I don't think I should pay or what? How do I get myself out of this?
Maid of Horror
Carolyn Hax: Thanks, the bridal horror bar hadn't been raised for a while.
Explain pie-sweetly that you were under the impression that the maid of honor supports a bride emotionally, not financially, and if you were mistaken you'll gladly withdraw from her narcissistic freak parade.
Thank you: Carolyn,
Just wanted to thank you for your comments on Friday. I had a lovely visit in Albuquerque with my grandma, and she was thrilled to have the family all together in one place. I'm grateful for your calming advice right before I got on the plane!
Loving Granddaughter to Lilian
Carolyn Hax: Yaaaay. A lot of people sent in comments that older people and those who've had strokes are often relieved to talk about the past. The long-ago memories are much more solid and accessible, and therefore so much less frustrating to share. Just for future reference and for others in the same boat. (Thanks, all, who mentioned that.)
Carolyn Hax: That's it. I'm fried.
Thanks for stopping in, type to you Friday ... and talk to you, if you can stand it. Olsson's downtown, 7 p.m., this Friday. I'll be in the Nixon mask. Oh, and in honor of the holiday I do so love to hate, there will be a special online hour next Wednesday at 2, in addition to the usual Monday/Friday drill. That's more of me than -I- can stand. Bye. Have a good week.
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