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Tell Me About It author Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax
(The Post)
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Tell Me About It
Hosted by Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, Nov. 26, 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 30-something 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.

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.


To read the most recent responses, click "Get New Responses"
or select "Automatically Update Page."

Philadelphia, Pa.: I married a young woman I had been involved with for two years. We have been married for a few months now. However, as time goes on, we find we have less and less to talk about. It seems almost impossible to avoid: Once you've gone through the getting-to-know-one-another phase, conversation topics become more mundane. She does not like to discuss the news because it depresses her. Everyday questions -- what's for dinner, how was work, what do you want to do tonight, etc. -- are often met with one-word answers. Since I initiate most of our conversations, I get a bit frustrated by her chilly responses. I've asked her what she wants to talk about, and it goes downhill from there.

So, I feel compelled to ask you: What do people talk about after a few years of being together?

Carolyn Hax: Not to drop another downer into the conversation, but I don't think one-word answers are what happen when the getting-to-know-you stuff ends. After a few years, some people still talk just fine, about all kinds of stuff. Others slide into logistics, pleasantries, stretches of perfectly genial silence.

This is something more, I'd guess a profoundly unhappy wife. Have you tried asking her what;s on her mind, whether she's happy, etc? The next step for communication this broken-down is counseling.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I am having an abortion this week. I feel very strongly that I have made the right decision. However, a friend that was in this position before suggested going to a psychologist after the procedure.

Since my insurance doesn't cover counseling, I would appreciate any info you have on low-cost options (I seem to recall you giving out info on this sort of thing before).


washingtonpost.com: This from the Nov. 12 discussion:
Carolyn Hax: You can also try taking a shortcut and calling the professional association that oversees the type of therapist you want to see -- say, the American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, association of Marriage and Family Therapists, etc., and ask for names of practitioners who keep evening hours.

Also found this in the July 27 discussion:
Carolyn Hax: For a list of information and counseling resources. The National Mental Health Association Information Center might be the best bet -- 1-800-969-6642, then press 4.

Finally, this was a guide in the Post this summer:
Help Yourself: Resources for Reduced-Fee Psychotherapy (Post, July 24, 2001)

Hope that helps. -- Lisa.

Carolyn Hax: Wow, Lisa, thanks.

And D.C.: I think it's smart that you're lining up resources now, because there's no sure way to predict how you'll react to something until you actually get there -- but I also would suggest not letting your friend rattle you too much. This is SUCH a personal thing, and women's responses to it hit just about every point on the pain spectrum, from whatever to devastated. Your friend may have been less certain than you are, or more emotional by nature, or more religious, etc. The only right way to go through something like this is the way you feel you need to.

MetroCenter, Washington, D.C.: For Philly --

You are describing the first year of my marriage! Thank God my husband and I got counseling. I loved him, still do, wanted to marry him, glad I did, but once married, felt profoundly depressed and trapped. I don't know if I'll ever fully understand why. A combination of a lot of things. We had to learn to communicate as husband and wife and, five years later, we are chugging along just fine. It took us a year to get our bearings once we started counseling. Don't let anyone kid you, being married isn't a walk in the park and having to work at it doesn't mean you shouldn't stay married. Give it a shot.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks for the backup, and congratulations.

Family Matters: Carolyn, my husband hates my family (part of the reason is they didn't initially like him when we started dating). It is such a heartbreaker for me because I'm really close to my family. He has nothing nice to say about them (even my siblings very young kids). He always calls them nasty names (specially the kids), he calls them brats, idiots, stupid -- you name it, he's called them that. He is always accusing me of always defending them (true), and putting them before him and my son (NOT true). I am really getting sick of it but we've gotten into many fights about this and it doesn't change. I don't know what to do at this point. I know I can't make him love them but I want him to at least leave the kids out of it (he was saying nasty things about my 1 1/2-year-old niece because she had a cold that my son contracted when they visited). He never calls my niece by name, he calls her an ugly creature. This is really hard on me, I just want to yell out and just punch him. Thanks for letting me vent out!

Carolyn Hax: Yikes. Sorry to make this ask-someone-else day, but, wow, do you two need counseling. This is serious [poo], and it's not about your family, it's about the way he feels about you. Trust me.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Carolyn,

I met a guy a couple of months ago at a bar. No hook-up. Great conversation. He called me the next day, never heard from him after that.

I randomly saw him recently. Got his number by being a sleuth (did not have it before) and called him. He called me back the next day. Great conversation again, and he asked me out. We did not set a specific date to see each other, but he said he'd call the following week.

He has not called me back and it's been nearly three weeks. Would you call one more time, or chalk it up to carelessness and move on?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, drop it. You tried. His loss, it sounds like.

Any Town: If a fellow proposes to his girlfriend, acknowledging that he expected her to be on the fence about her answer, but "wanting to make his feelings for her clear," and he goes out and buys a lovely and expensive ring that she knows he will be stuck with if she says no, does that strike you as a passive-aggressive move? It does to me.

Not the girlfriend, just a bystander irritated at apparent emotional manipulation but willing to accept your verdict if you think I'm being unreasonable.

Carolyn Hax: It's only a problem if the GF pledges her life to him because the ring was final sale.

I wouldn't say you're being unreasonable -- you see these two together, so if you get a passive-aggression vibe, I'm not going to question it -- but you might be making the mistake most bystanders make, which is to forget that it takes two people to create a screwed up relationship.

Union, N.J.: Whenever my son, 23, is visiting from D.C., as he was this past weekend, he and his girlfriend, 22, are constantly fighting via their cell phones -- mostly about what he's doing when he's not with her. He's also called me or e-mailed me from Washington when they have an argument. I sent him a book about couples communication, but . . . . I want him to be happy, but this doesn't sound like happiness. Is there anything I can do except mind my own business?

Carolyn Hax: And what do you know, a great example drops in my lap -- the Case of the Jealous Freak Girlfriend. The bystanders in this situation see an insecure, controlling harpy who's torturing some nice guy, but the nice guy is playing a part here too, if only by sticking around to get yelled at. That's where a mom can step in, lightly. Focus on him, ask if he's happy, listen well, give him a place where he can be himself and be comfortable. Otherwise, yeah, you do have to MYOB, especially when you feel a wave of freak-girlfriend criticism coming on. You'll be tempted, but then he'll just keep seeing her and you'll just feel bad.

Boston, Mass.: Carolyn,

I met a great guy a month ago. Nothing too heavy other than we've agreed we're "dating." He lost his mother last year around Christmas and the one year anniversary is coming up very soon. I want to be there for him, but don't want to smother him either, since we're just beginning to get to know one another. How do I support him while giving him appropriate space?


Carolyn Hax: The definition of "support" is different for everybody, so all you can do is pay attention to him, see where his moods take him, be compassionate. Maybe he'll want to talk, maybe he'll want distractions, you'll just have to judge on the fly. And when in doubt, ask. "Wanna talk, see a bad movie, be alone?" It's early, obviously, but it'll be interesting, i think, and telling, for both of you to see how well you read and react to each other. Some people just click this way, some don't, some learn over time. All part of the process.

Carolyn Hax: In fact, listening/paying attention is the best thing you can do, but the next best is to be yourself, period. React naturally. You never want to have to knot yourself into ambulatory macrame just to find a way to please somebody. No one should be that much work.

Charlotte, N.C.: Carolyn, great column!

My boyfriend of seven months and I recently broke up. It's been a long-distance relationship, with him living in Boston. He is going to grad school and has asked for time to figure things out and whether or not we have a longer-term future together. I care about him very much and am understanding of his need for time and space. I think I would benefit from it as well. But how do we maintain a balance in our friendship? I don't want to drift apart from him, but I also feel like I have to maintain a certain distance.

Carolyn Hax: Drift. Assemble a life without him, so he gets his space and you don;t get stuck waiting around for your life to start. Besides, if anything ever comes of his ruminations on your future as a couple, -you'll- be in a much better position to see what -you- want and need.

Cape Cod, Mass.: I gotta ask. As a shoe lover from New England, have you ever checked out Provincetown for fun kicky shoes? I go there all the time. No one can party like drag queens.

Carolyn Hax: I haven't -- Cool tip, thanks. they aren't all size 12DD, right?

New York, N.Y.: Carolyn,

My boyfriend of two years still won't tell me that he loves me. I know he does, and he tells me that I should read his actions rather than words, and I also know that's true and I'm probably being all stupid and girly about this, but is it terrible that he can't say it?

Carolyn Hax: Well, yeah. People have their own utterance schedules and I'm always loath to judge them, but after two years, methinks he can come up with more for you than a lame deflection. I guess context would be the deciding factor. Any other "issues" there, sources of dissatisfaction with the relationship, emotional frustrations?

Englewood, N.J.: How do you end a five-year relationship? I've been dating the same woman for five years and I don't feel we would be compatible as a married couple. Marriage has been very much on her mind lately.

Carolyn Hax: You end it NOW, that's how you end it. She has her hopes up, and letting her keep them up is cruelty. "I don't think this is working." Whatever. Just no gratuitous criticism -- nobody's wrong, just wrong for the other person.

New York, N.Y.: Carolyn,

Would it be really stupid to ask my boyfriend of two years if he ever wanted to marry me? How do couples bring this up?

Carolyn Hax: If you want to marry him, propose. If you;re trying to find out what future he envisions for himself, ask him that. I'm inclined to say couples who are groovin' don't so much "bring this up" as come across it in the natural flow of things.

For Boston, Mass.: I met my partner sort of this way-two months after his father died. He'd started working out hard at the gym to get his mind off it. Really, really difficult year or two after, with lots of questioning, weeks off, etc. But it passes, just have to allow for some things that don't seem to make sense at the time. Now 13 years down the road seem absolutely worth it.

Carolyn Hax: Good call, thanks.

GetMeOutOfHere: Hi Carolyn and Lisa,

I recently moved from D.C. to the South. I'm very Muslim. With all this going on in the world, I, unfortunately, look it too. I've lived in this country, been educated here, and all my best friends are from here. So, I don't expect to be looked at much differently. At my new job, however, people just say horrible things about all Muslims. I'm quite scared. I'm afraid to go to Human Resources in case it leaks out that I "squealed." I'm on a visa and thus getting canned is not an option. What's surprising is that the people who say the most offensive things, in the most nonchalant of ways I might add, are the intelligent ones. In this economy, I feel it'll be the "Muslim guy" who'll get fired first when the chips are down, especially when the intelligent engineers have no problems being offensive. They won't take up for me, that's quite obvious. So what do I do? Who can I go to?

-- Want to move back to D.C.

Carolyn Hax: Ugh, I am so sorry, and embarrassed, and pissed that people are squandering the American moral high ground this way. Not to make your pain about me or anything ... sorry ... anyway:

You HAVE to go to HR, to -protect- your job, not emperil it. The best friend you can have right now is a paper trail. If the company investigates, it might get out and you might hear about it, but your environment already sounds plenty unpleasant and it is so wildly against the law for you to be let go because you're the "Muslim guy."

Not knowing how safe it is there for you, I don't feel comfortable recommending this outright, but at least consider speaking up on the spot -- in good spirits, if you can summon any. Maybe you can win your own little war against ignorance.

New York, N.Y.: Boyfriend who can't say I love you:

He's just pretty closed off emotionally. We don't have any "issues," but he's loathe to express his feelings. But he's a wonderful person, and I love him so much that I feel like that balances it out.

Carolyn Hax: Ooh, careful with that. You have needs, too, and being the give-give-giver can make for an exhausting life, not to mention a sad one.

North Pole USA: Total Fluff question -- is it OK to use the leftover Christmas cards from the last several years? I have a lot of friends that I want to send cards to -- but things are a little tighter this year and I know I have a lot of leftovers. If you got the same Christmas card that you got last year would you be offended?

Carolyn Hax: If I did get offended, you would have my permission to regard me as a petty jerk who is not worth having as a friend.

Ho ho ho, I gotta go. Thanks all, type to you Friday.


That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company


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