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Tell Me About It
Hosted by Carolyn Hax
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2002; Noon 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: 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."

Washington, D.C.: I have been dating a man for three years now. Twice, in the past month or so, he has gotten drunk and belligerent. Belligerent to the point of getting physical with me. He had never done such a thing before. He says it will never happen again. How do I know this? Even if he doesn't do anything like this in the next three months, or six months, or two years, how do I know he won't do such a thing in five years?

Carolyn Hax: "How do I know this?" You don't. You can know history for this kind of thing, which says he will do it again, and again and again and again.

You can also know how much he cares about your well-being. If he does nothing to prevent this from happening again, please take it as a clear indication that it's just fine by him if he puts you at risk of serious physical and emotional harm. Talk and promises are bullbleep. He gets help IMMIDIATELY -- pick up phone, dials, goes within two weeks -- or you're outta there. And if "physical" was physical enough for you to fear for your safety, you're outta there now. Questions? 1-800-799-SAFE.

Carolyn Hax: Ran that question first because I saw it first. -not- a veiled V-Day slam. Truly.

Angstville: Carolyn:

So it's another Valentine's Day -- and it looks like I'm going to get blown off by a woman I had asked out ("Hey, I'm pretty busy this weekend. Maybe some other time.") It's not like that this person was my soulmate or anything like that, but it still feels crappy.

In my head, I know I have a lot to offer and that someday, everything will click with someone. But emotionally, how do I get through this? You have had a lot of discussions recently about goals and age. I'm in my mid 30s and I thought I'd be married by now. I have no regrets because I've never been that close to anyone. At a certain point, I start to wonder why people younger than me are in relationships/married, and I start to wonder if it will ever happen, despite what I know about myself.

Thanks for letting me ramble, if you have any ideas, I'd appreciate them.

Carolyn Hax: Never been that close to anyone, meaning ... anyone? or just not a woman romantically? If you haven't had any truly satisfying relationships, including with friends, siblings, parents, then focusing on your unmarried state could be distracting you from a larger problem -- which would then keep you from fixing it. First thing I'd do is try to find a pattern in your dealings with people. If there is one, next step is to see whether it has bothered you, or whether you're comfortable being that way. If it bothers you, then try to trace its possible origin(s), which will then point to possible perspective and/or behavior changes that might knock you out of the old pattern. (BTW, for those who ask what one does in counseling -- that sequence I just laid out is a pretty big part of it.)

Denver, Colo.: Hi Carolyn:

I recently read in your column about the woman who is having doubts about staying with her s.o. because of his depression.

I have two friends who are going through this right now. She left him (after being married for just over a year) because he didn't get help for his problems. But now he's been in therapy for a while and seems to be getting better. She's moving on with her life, is dating someone else, and is planning on filing for divorce in a couple of months.

She is my better friend of the two, and I think she's making a mistake by going through with the divorce, or at least not talking to him and seeing how he's changed and if things could work. He is a good guy.

He'll be heartbroken when the divorce is final, and I know he wants at least one more chance with her.

How can I convince her to relent just a bit and see him in a new light? There's a lot of back-story here I've left out for brevity, but I'd like your advice.

Carolyn Hax: Advice is, stay out of it. No matter how sad that seems for the guy, for her, for etc. You can't know what went into her decision, nor can you know what went on between them. Maybe she isn't a good person up close, maybe he isn't a good guy, maybe they're both awesome people and simply don't belong together. Maybe she knows full well how much he has tried/changed, but feels no desire to go back, in which case persuading her to "relent" could be a complete and utter disaster.

Maryland: A lot (at least a dozen) of my friends and/or acquaintances are getting engaged. The women they are marrying don't treat them well, are often WAY too young (18) and have young children. These men are miserable yet seem desperate to "have someone." So what do I say when I hear the news? "Congratulations"? or "Are you nuts"? It seems irresponsible to drag kids into this mess. They seem (and say) that they just want to have a girl.

Why do people believe that happiness can only come with someone else?

Carolyn Hax: I have no idea, since the vast majority of our collective unhappiness comes from bad dealings with these somebodies-else.

As for what you can say, I'm just going to rub my face, cry and say, nothing. Or "Are you nuts" or "Please don't breed," whatever makes -you- feel better, because that's all you'll get out of it. Anyone who marries an 18-year-old with children because "they just want to have a girl" is too far gone for words.

Somewhere USA: Carolyn,

My good friend has had a very rocky marriage of several years -- at various times she has thought of leaving her husband, but things improve enough that she decides. Complicating factor is that they have a 2-year-old, so for the baby's sake she doesn't want to leave unless things are irreparable.

Amidst all of this, she's dying to have another baby -- she loves being a mother, and wants a brood. It seems to me like that's one of the worst ideas she could possibly come up with, although I haven't expressed that to her. What's your opinion on bringing another child into an unhappy marriage? If she were your friend, would you say something?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, I'd be screaming from the highest piece of furniture that could hold me. Holy selfish cow, Batman.

I'm going to switch topics midstream to shoes. This is making me nuts.

Los Angeles, Calif.: I am NOT happy.

I have been working since the end of September (I am just out of school and starting long term full time work for the first time).

I don't know if it is time to say I hate this particular job and look for something else or if it is just having to work in general. No three weeks off at Christmas, four-day weeks because you arrange for no classes on Friday, plenty of time during the day to see the sun because you can always study later.

So, what do you think? Any ideas? How long SHOULD it take before you have adjusted to working instead of school so I know if I've reached that point and just hate this job?

Thanks for any advice.

Carolyn Hax: No four-day workweeks?! No three-week holidays?! Holy sweatshop, Batman.

I think the Oh Please chat is at 1.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day: At what point does "it’s the thought that counts" not cut it? I mean, if your significant other (or even someone else very close to you) can’t even choose a gift that you’ll enjoy, what does that say about your relationship? (And it doesn’t even have to be an object -– planning/doing something that you don’t enjoy is just as bad.) I can understand if you’ve just started getting to know one another, but after a certain amount of time, your S.O. should know you well enough -- and care about you enough -- to make an appropriate gesture that you’ll enjoy. (And, no, I don’t think gifts are THAT important, but they’re bound to be given in the course of a relationship, and getting lame ones could be a symptom of the unhealthiness of a relationship.)

Carolyn Hax: Oo, this is a sneaky one. Good question. It's the kind of thing you find yourself wanting to dismiss as shallow -- as if you have to be pretty materialistic not to be happy someone went to the trouble to buy you a sweater, and instead be deeply unsettled because said sweater was fluffy and purple.

But if your partner of three years has seen you in nothing but black, I think you're entitled to wonder. Maybe the fair balance is to wonder about it in context. What is the perpetrator of purple fluff like otherwise? Oblivious, attentive, strong-willed? Then you can look at a bad gift as a possible extension of character, which can then help you decide if this is a character you like. E.g., he's a goofball, and it would make complete sense for him to see the sweater, and like it for no particular reason because it reminds him of Grover, and want to see you in it, without its even occurring to him that it's not you. So, is this a character you enjoy, or not? Or, he's sick of the black and thinks you should dress more softly and buys gifts to match his will. Do you like -this- in a person, or not? Or, he's seen you in a black fluffy sweater and saw fluffy in another color and genuinely thought you'd like it. Etc.

Point is (finally ...), you continue to weigh the whole person, vs. letting it all ride on one sweater--but you use the taste in sweaters as part of that whole.

Silver Spring, Md.: In response to Los Angeles unhappy worker: Put in your time working hard and then propose, in lieu of a raise, more vacation time or a flex-time schedule. Lots of employers are happy to save the $$. Mine was, and that's why I'm still at the same place I started after school. (Eventually the raise came too.)

Carolyn Hax: Good points, thanks. Also, grad school might be the thing -- or academia, which has that same schedule -with- pay (sort of) as well as a great sense of purpose. Or an outdoorsy job, or [alt-career path here]. There are a lot of ways to avoid the 40-hour march.

But before any of this works, that attitude has GOT to GO. (Not you SS -- I mean L.A.)

Washington, D.C.: To Los Angeles -- going from school to work (and vice versa) is like culture shock from going to a new country -- instead of comparing it to where you just came from, figure out what there is to enjoy about where you are.

And if you can't stand the people, the duties and the pay AT ALL TIMES (because you're going to have issues -- albeit mostly fixable ones -- with all aspects at some time), then it's the job.

Carolyn Hax: Can't beat getting paid. And not having a paper due all the friggin time. (I was sooo glad to be out.) Thanky.

Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

Valentine's Day dilemma! Please advise. Of course, I have screwed around and forgot to mail cards to my folks. They are always so thoughtful AND timely. Should I go ahead and overnight them?

Carolyn Hax: Any reason you shouldn't?

Fluffy question: My boyfriend and I do not celebrate Valentine's Day. We decided scheduled romance isn't all that romantic, and we have enough romance elsewhere in our relationship not to need it. Plus, we were so against the holiday when we were still single friends, it would be hypocritical to change our minds now that we're friends in love.

Problem is that people ask me what we're doing for the holiday, and they react badly when we say nothing. OK, that's their problem, but how do I explain it to them without coming off as better-than-thou or something?

Carolyn Hax: Don't explain it?

Shoes: Wedding, in New England, outside, Lobster Boil. What kind of shoes do I wear?

Oh, and I'm the bride.

Carolyn Hax: What month, what surface? (E.g., "July; sand.") This is precision work we do here.

Shoe Question: Carolyn--

Shoe dilemma: can I actually wear suede clogs in the winter? I mean you can't wear suede in the summer, and clogs in the winter is weird (I'm a guy, BTW). Since I got them asa gift, I'm kinda stuck with them. Help.

Carolyn Hax: Yes, wear in winter, sockless if you're truly brave. Fall would be ideal though, as well as early spring. What really matters here, though, is that someone bought you, a guy, suede clogs as a gift. You sound like a man with cool friends.

Part two of angstville question: Re: Angstville: What if his answer is that he has had plenty of other satisfying relationships, just not one with a significant other?

Carolyn Hax: Part two is either to figure out whether he approaches love relationships differently for some reason. If yes, then he tries to understand why, so he can learn to treat them the same as any other bond -- and if no, he's just patient, I guess.

Maid of Honor vs. Friendship: Dear Carolyn:

Today I asked the maid of honor in my May wedding to refrain from talking about her own wedding plans at dinner tonight with my fiance and I because he and I both feel self-conscious that our financial priorities make an extravagant wedding undesirable for us.

My maid of honor, though not yet engaged, is planning a large, formal September wedding for her and her boyfriend. I am not to play any role in that wedding so no worries about my shirking any obligations to assist her there.

In response to my request to refrain from wedding talk over dinner, she said that she didn't think it was fair for her to be in my wedding but not to be invited to discuss her own plans. She did purchase a dress in wear in my wedding for $50. Is it appropriate for me to offer to refund the cost of her dress and ask that she excuse herself from participating in my wedding and devote her attentions to her own plans and I'll seek someone who's more willing to work with me?

Carolyn Hax: Yes, do it, so she can seek someone who isn't going to muzzle her just for making different choices.

I'm sorry you have financial limitations, but hey, join the rest of the world. The problem is that you're feeling self-conscious about them, and that's -your- problem. You don't have money! So? You think this makes a negative statement on your character?

The only negative mark is the one you earn for making this her problem, too, by declaring her wedding a not-talk zone. If you feel she's being insensitive about it, then by all means, SAY that to her. Otherwise -- this being your maid of honor and all, and therefore I assume a very close friend -- the protocol is to be happy for her, period.

Cyberspace: Carolyn --

Sort of a silly question, but I was really bored the other day and started looking through the online personals. To be honest I was mostly looking for the trashy type that make interesting gossip rather than anything serious. But lo and behold, I actually came across one that looked genuinely interesting.

I don't know if this is just Valentine's Day loneliness or what, but I'm considering writing. What does one say? It just seems like such an artificial way to meet someone -- like those plastic Christmas trees I hate so much.

And the proximity of Valentine's Day also causes me to second guess myself. Arg. I know I have nothing to lose, but I don't even know if I want a relationship right now, but the unknown beckons.

Carolyn Hax: If you want to do it, do it. Just be honest with yourself about what you're in it for and what you're expecting, and be honest in your response to the ad. You know. Say something like: "What does one say? It just seems like such an artificial way to meet someone -- like those plastic Christmas trees I hate so much."

Clogs, part two: Thanks. But it wasn't my friends, it was my grandfather -- although I think my mom picked them out.

Carolyn Hax: Oh well. Cool family then.

Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I have found out that my best friend's boyfriend has been cheating on her, repeatedly, for years. They live together and she doesn't have anyone but him (and me). What do I do? I'm afraid that if I tell her, she won't believe me and will end our friendship. And then she will be left with only him. HELP!

Carolyn Hax: -Best- friend? Tell. Tell tell tell. I'd be bleeped if you didn't tell me.

Washington, D.C.: Thanks for any advice. My sister is in Chicago and is being stalked by her ex boyfriend. They broke up two years ago but in the last five months has started to threaten her. It has REALLY been escalating and she's really scared. He hasn't done anything to her but she e-mailed me a letter he sent to her and it seems VERY threatening to me. "I wish you would die. I wish I could make you stop ... etc." I'm trying to support her and convinced her to go to the police for a restraining order but it made him mad. She told his mom who said he's "off his meds." I told my sister to just pack up and move. (that's what I did with a ex who was making me "uncomfortable." He was a cop) Does anyone know anything about Chicago laws? I don't know if he can me committed but he needs to leave my sister alone. Thank you for any advice you can give. Sorry it's so long

Carolyn Hax: Moving is not a bad idea but it alone isn't enough; he can always move with her or travel. Whether she stays or goes, she needs to make sure he gets no response to his letters, calls, whatever -- she has to completely shut him down -- and she needs trained professional help. Call the police non-emergency number and ask if there's a stalking/domestic violence expert on staff; if not, she needs to tap other local resources though the domestic-violence networks -- RAINN ( and the national hotline I published above. She should also be reading "The Gift of Fear" right now. If nothing else, what you can do here is to get her to recognize this as life-and-death.

Her "wedding" a non talk zone?: Carolyn, I was surprised at your response on the maid of honor and the expensive/non expensive weddings, for one reason only: the MOH is planning a September wedding for an engagement that hasn't occurred yet. Doesn't that sound less like an excited soon to be bride and more like someone who needs to one-up her actual soon-to-be-bride friend?

Carolyn Hax: Quite likely, but the answer is not to shut her down, it's to say, "I feel like you're competing with me." If I'm looking at a possible offense by someone else and a known offense by the person writing in, I have to go with the latter.

Sterling, Va.: Carolyn --

Got a quick valentine question. I have been married for almost 10 years and I hold the position that I am no longer under any obligation to partake in the Valentine's Day silliness. My wife begs to differ, her position is that if I "loved" her I would look forward to needlessly spending money on a silly manufactured custom. I have absolutely no problem buying silly cards for my daughters to exchange at their school parties, but I feel that my wife and I have gotten past this nonsense. Your thoughts?

Carolyn Hax: Well, -you- have gotten past it, but your wife hasn't. And you're slamming her pretty hard for it. Which is probably more of the problem than some annual non-flowers -- that an your seeing it as an "obligation" or not. Your marriage sounds about as touching and heartfelt as a President's Day car ad.

Not that I'm taking your wife's side, either. Any declaration about romantic gestures that begins with "If you loved me ..." is suspect at best. And I would object if she never did sweet things for you. But, dude, you're putting up a hell of a fight against showing a little affection. Hate the manufactured occasion, okay, but when was the last time you created one of your own?

Carolyn Hax: 1:40, egads. Time to go. Thank you, Happy Show Some Love for Something Day, and type to you Friday.

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

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