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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
Friday, Jan. 24, 2003; Noon ET

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 Wednesday, 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.

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


San Francisco, Calif.: Hi Carolyn,

I was wondering if you have any books that you'd recommend on the subject of self-help or relationship help? (In addition to your chats/columns which I regularly tune into and find very helpful!)

Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. I actually can't make recommendations because I don't read self-help. I've always found good novels or even TV shows and movies to be just as insightful on the human condition and a lot more fun to get through.


Virginia: Carolyn, I'm fumin' mad. I dated a wonderful guy recently but broke up with him because I felt the relationship moved too quickly, even though he was just about perfect for me. Now, I find out he's dating someone new -- not just anyone, but this fat, absolutely revoltingly heinous chick, and he won't return my calls. I wanted the relationship to slow down, not to lose him completely to some obese hog who gives me dry heaves when I look at her. Can I butt in and say something to him? I'm so mad I can barely keep my cool.

Carolyn Hax: Can't believe he had all this, and chose someone else. Men. I tell ya.


Richmond, Va.: I'm in my late 20s and normally a very laid back -- go-with-the-flow type of person. But it seems that the older I get, the worse my PMS mood swings tend to be. I am getting very upset and frustrated over things that usually do not bother me. The other PMS symptoms are getting worse as well -- cramps, bloating, back pain, and etc. It's getting to the point where I can't control my mood swings and that is the part that scares me. I have a good job, great family, my own place, and to top it off -- a wonderful boyfriend who has been nothing but patient and understanding -- so no outside stress. My question is: Is this normal? What can I do to help get my mood swings back under control? Not only do I not like this, but I don't want other people in my life to have to deal with this each month either. Any ideas?

Carolyn Hax: See your gynecologist.


Break up guy from last week: I posted the question Thursday, planning to broach the situation to the ex Friday evening. However, the situation was forced to a head Thursday night. Things went a little better than I thought. She had some doubts about me as well, which strangely, made me feel a bit better about the whole thing. Still you are right; it's no fun being on either side of a break up. Now I'm dealing with the "did I make a huge mistake?" feelings, but I think that is somewhat normal. I've been a longtime reader of these chats and your column, the advice is a treasure. Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: So no real-time break up? Oh well. Thanks, and glad it worked out.


Single Guy: Lloyd Grove was talking about the dating scene in Washington in his chat today. Looks like plenty of available single women out there. Care to play matchmaker today, Carolyn?

Carolyn Hax: Helloo, of course there are plenty of available single women out there. How many millions of people are in the D.C. metro area?

If you guys can agree on a place to go, I'll post it and anybody who wants in can go there tonight. That's about as matchmakey as I'll get.


Umm: What's with the speed demon?

washingtonpost.com: Again with the complaining. You. Go away, come back and read the transcript. -- Lisa.

Carolyn Hax: I'm skipping all the hard ones.

Ready, set, complain.


Clarksville, Md.: My boyfriend and I seem to "bicker" about everything. When I think we are having a discussion about something, he tells me we are "fighting." When I ask him the muddy pawed dogs off the couch and he agrees -- then lets them on anyway he tells me I am nagging. Is this a symptom that can be fixed or are we never going to get it right? It is hurtful to me when he insists I am arguing when I'm not. I didn't know anytime I wanted to discuss something meant we were arguing. Please advise. I'm not sure if I should hang in there or walk away. I've tried to change my behavior.

Carolyn Hax: It's behavior, but also communication, and a little power-jockeying -- and the hardest part of getting along with people is sorting through these three things to see how much is your fault, how much is his, how much is nobody's and how much is too much.

Just your muddy-paws example can have multiple outcomes, all fine: He follows through on his agreement and keeps dogs off; you chill and stop caring about a mud because it's just a couch; he lets dogs on and you throw dogs off and it's okay because you both stop pointing fingers; you go find other people whose couch-mud philosophies better align with your own. Which is right? The one you both can live with in peace.

You're not living in peace, obviously, you're driving each other nuts. I'm sure there's plenty of responsibility to go around, but I will say this much: His blaming you (for "fighting," "nagging") is a way of shutting you down, and it's not a good sign.

That's what I'd approach him with at this point--that you know you're not going to agree on everything, but that you need to be able to air differences without being dismissed as a nag. If nothing else, that's the only way you'll find out whether you have major irreconcilable differences, and therefore should walk away, or have only minor reconcilable ones, and therefore should just learn to talk.

And if he won't even talk about that, you've got your answer, too.


Arlington, Va.: It's interesting that you suggested books and movies instead of self help books. I am a single girl who is a huge book and movie fan and often find myself wondering if I expect relationships to be be more like books and movies so I get frustrated and give up on someone too soon.

What do you think? Can books and movies make you expect too much?

Carolyn Hax: Depends on the books and movies you're relying upon, and what you expect of them. If you're watching glossy romantic comedies, then, yeah -- not a lot of Hollywood Boulevard hookers land the misunderstood mogul in the end.

But watching "In the Bedroom," for e.g., can give you a pretty unforgettable insight on what happens when one spouse withholds her feelings from the other. And even from a howler like "Pretty Woman" you can take away something inspiring--that being honest and rough around the edges can make the artifice of so-called beautiful people look ugly. (Helps if you're Julia, of course, but the sentiment's still solid.) Some real philosophers and social scientists have spoken through fiction over the years; it's just a matter of finding them.


Woman with Mom Friend from Previous Post: Carolyn -- I was the person whose friend would not ever go out or relate to me without her kids (her choice). I used your advice and specifically asked -- why don't we have a women's outing -- no husbands or kids and only talk about us. She was reluctant at first, but I held firm and told her that if she didn't make time for herself as an adult than she was doing herself a great disservice. Well, it worked. We chose an upscale restaurant where there wouldn't even be other people's kids, and spent three hours lingering over dinner. Her husband took care of the kids, and did call twice during dinner because the kids were misbehaving, but we didn't rush to get home -- she told him to deal with it. It was a nice change. In fact over dinner we talked about how she saw her role as a woman (as opposed to mom or wife) and even about the fact that one day when her kids are grown, she is going to have to fill her days with something else besides parenting. She also opened up and admitted that she and her husband see each other as mom/dad and not lover/friend and that she was afraid that they no longer communicated or related like they used to so that when the kids were grown, she'd be left with a man she didn't know. It was a major break-through so I just want to say thanks for the advice.

Carolyn Hax: Wow. That's huge, congratulations. I hope you guys keep it up for both your sakes, but in a way I'm hoping for it most of all for those kids and their dad. They need this time together -- now, so they can just get to know each other better, and also later, so they can see mom as a person.


Philly, Pa.: Besides the first date, when do you think it's too early to ask a woman when her time of the month is?

Carolyn Hax: Ew. Always. I've never been asked that by anyone other than a doctor, and I hope I die with that streak intact.


Somewhere, USA: Hi Carolyn,

I don't know if you remember me, but I wrote into the chat last summer. My dad had reamed me out on the phone for being a horrible daughter with guilt trip after guilt trip and told me never to contact him again. He was not doing well health-wise and I was just about to leave the country on a month-long business trip. You advised me to call him before I left, I did, and it went well. We restored our relationship for a few months, then it happened again -- he called and told me I was a disappointment to him, and that I was breaking up his marriage to my mom (they fight about me a lot).

Anyhoooo, we paid the obligatory holiday visit (me and my husband, who is part of the reason my dad's so peeved). My dad has been really sick lately, and my mom has been really worried (heart condition). He's in bed most of the day and can't exercise because he's got bad knees. So anyway, I thought the visit went great, but then on the trip back home, I talked to my dad on the phone and he started up on my husband, telling me to leave him, etc. Then last week I got an e-mail from him telling me that I was disowned (similar to the first incident), and to never contact him again. Then I talked to my mom this week, and she said he can't stop talking about how much he misses me.

This drama has impacted me less and less each time around, but it leaves me wondering what I should do. His words don't hurt as much anymore, but I am getting tired of this crap. Should I try to maintain a relationship with him and swallow his words without batting an eyelash, or avoid him and have contact mostly with my mom (what I've been doing for the past year)? Any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Ugh. Tough situation. Short answer, try to figure out how much you need to deal with him to avoid feeling guilty when he dies, and do that. I know that probably sounds callous, but it's about what you need now; he has forfeited his right to your concern about him. Either that, or there's an undiagnosed mental illness there, which again wouldn't be your fault, and again would dictate your limiting your contact with him to what you thought you could handle.


Internet dating: I went out on this date with this guy after talking to him a bit. It wasn't a bad date or anything, but I didn't feel any romantic connection. He e-mailed me yesterday asking if I want to do anything this weekend. I would hang out with him as a friend, but not much more. Do I e-mail him back and tell him this? Or do I just say no? Or just go out with him and don't tell I don't foresee romance? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Go, see how it goes, don't say anything. If you come away from date 2 feeling like you want to be friends with this person, you make the next call and ask him out--saying you want to keep things platonic if that's okay. If you come away thinking you could live a full and happy life never seeing this person again, starting now, then you don't call and turn down date 3 if and when he does call.


Baltimore, Md.: I think I messed up. Boyfriend and I discussed marriage after daring for six years. We both agreed to marry. I wait for the proposal, which hasn't happened in six months since the marriage discussion. I cry every other week about his lack of action, and now I've made both of us miserable. He claims it's not a financial reason holding him back, that there is absolutely no reason he can't propose right now. He just hasn't done it, and says he won't do it when I am miserable and unhappy. However, my unhappiness comes from him not proposing. Catch 22, ah? What's a girl to do now?

Carolyn Hax: Dunno, but this girl is asking herself how many new ways people are going to come up with to torture each other. Egads.

As far as I'm concerned, you guys were engaged when you "both agreed to marry." What has ensued since then is a six-month mind-bleep. As regular readers know, I studiously avoid advising people explicitly to stay or go, but since I'm on a roll today (see column), I'm advising you to walk. Or, run. Or, get down on your knee and propose. Waiting and weeping is never the way to go.


Burke, Va.: Wanted to run one of my philosophies of life past you. Lots and lots of jobs out there are "cube mole" types of jobs. Yet ask any young person what they want to do when they grow up, no one says "I want to be a cube mole." So my philosophy says that the odds of finding a job that is your bliss are pretty low. So you find one with people you like and a workload you can live with -- and get your jollies outside of work. Cynical?

Carolyn Hax: Practical. But also a little too pat and dire. What the moles do in those cubes can be pretty dramatically different -- W. Post reporters and editors, just to use a local example, are cube moles. Satisfying work if you can get it, and the same is true of a lot of quick-to-be-dismissed white-collar 9-to-5 stuff.


The weird dad who disowns the daughter: She could write snail mail letters to him every week or so. I'll bet he would love them.

I hope she won't give up on him.

Carolyn Hax: Nice thought, thank you.


Washington, D.C.: I just found out that my now-married college ex is having an affair. This is why ended our relationship of four years ended approximately three years ago. I'm not carrying a flame for her, nor am I really bitter. But I am a bit peeved at her lack of respect for committed mates. I'm considering dropping her husband an anonymous call with irrefutable evidence that his wife is having an affair. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: No no no. Not your business any more. And I don't believe you when you say you're not bitter. I'm not going to blame you for that -- you feel how you feel -- but I will if you act on it and then pretend you did it on principle or something.


Cambridge, Mass.: Please tell Somewhere, USA that either she or her mother should speak with her father's doctor right away about his erratic behavior. A similar situation happened with my (now deceased) father-in-law. His horrible mood swings turned out to be related to his medical condition. Believe me, it makes all of the hurt and confusion vanish once you realize it's the disease and not the true person who turns mean.

Carolyn Hax: Another good thought, thanks.


In a Pickle, Va.: Friend asks to borrow money -- have it but not really. Don't understand why friend doesn't have it (knows friend makes similar if not same amount of money). Told said friend that I didn't have it due to other obligations but may have it on payday next week (also when said friend will be getting paid) -- friend says that would be great next week. Feel guilty if I don't do it, but really don't have the luxury myself to loan the money. Said friend is using it for pleasure not to get out of jam.

How do I get out of jam?

Carolyn Hax: Easiest way is not to get into jam. "I'm sorry, I'm not in a position to lend you the money." End of story.

Since you semi-caved the first time, backing out will take a little more finesse, but not much more. "It turns out I'm really not in a position to lend money, even after payday. I'm sorry."

Neither one of these should be uttered with an ounce of guilt. I mean really.

Just a side note -- how much a person makes doesn't necessarily tell you how much that person has.


Washington, D.C.: Hmph. I learned everything I needed to know about marriage (and life) from the "Monty Python" movies.
1. We are all individuals.
2. Always look on the bright side of life.
3. Don't marry anyone who weighs the same as a duck -- she's a witch.
4. Don't marry anyone who thinks that every sperm is sacred -- you end up having to sell the surplus kids for lab research, to feed the rest.
4. Never light the Grail-shaped beacon unless you want a spanking.

Carolyn Hax: No argument here.


Arlington, Va.: Long time reader, first time submitter.

Long story short -- my wife asked (well, demanded) that I help out more with household chores, specifically cooking and taking care of the bills. Not a problem. Now, whenever I try to do either activity, my wife turns into a hovering, condescending, pain in rear who nit piks everything relating to how I'm doing the tasks she asked me to start doing. What gives?

Carolyn Hax: Spillover anger, perhaps? Were you less than helpful before, and for how long? She might also be hanging on to her martyrdom a bit. I have a theory that people (in most cases women) who do EVERYthing at home while a spouse who "doesn't see dirt" gets off scot-free get used to the superhero role, and in fact derive some of their self-worth from it (since the marriage has usually long since stopped making them feel good), and so find it hard to relinquish the reins when somebody finally does step in to help.

It's a theory.

When you are not in the middle of a chore and not feeling angry, ask her how she feels about your contributing now, and whether there's a reason she stays involved when she really could just leave the cooking and the bills to you now. Or, if you don't think you need a whole conversation, you can say next time she hovers, "Hey -- I'm happy to be doing this, and I've got it under control." Smile.


Re: Disowning Father: WAIT Carolyn --

Perpetually "disowning," abandoning, and ordering away loved ones is very much an early-warning signal for Alzheimer's disease. This situation sounds medical and not merely mental. People afflicted with early-stage Alzheimer's become aware that they are losing functional skills, and they become hostile, defensive, and try to mask their progressive losses. He's probably terrified. His family should be watching for unsafe activities (leaving stoves on, doors open, etc.) and should carefully monitor his driving skills, lest he become dangerous.

Carolyn Hax: Okay, WAITing! there are other thoughts coming in on this, too:


Annapolis, Md.: A thought regarding the father with the heart condition and his erratic behavior. It might be worth checking out whether any of his meds have the potential for causing the behavior. I've had individuals working for me whose personalities adversely changed as a result of such medications. After the causality was recognized and the medication changed, they became their former selves.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you. Another:


For Somewhere: Carolyn,

I think you were on the money with the mental illness thing. Another possible reason is brain anoxia. Often times, people with congestive heart failure just can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to the brain and then often act as if they are mentally ill. Been a cardiac nurse for over 15 years and seen it plenty. Just a thought anyway.

Carolyn Hax: Another good one. Thanks everybody.


Washington, D.C.: Thoughts on STDs? If someone gives you something and swears up and down that he doesn't know that he had it, is he a dirtbag anyway? I am inclined to forgive him, but a few people have said to me that they thought he was an idiot for not knowing/not getting screened, etc.

Carolyn Hax: Pleease go with your first inclination. For one thing, I think it speaks well of you that you lean toward the charitable and I'd hate to see you trade that in for a harder line, even if your friends are right.

And, your friends may not be right. People can have STDs, and be completely asymptomatic, AND be conscientious about their health. Depending on what the STD we're talking about, there might have been no way for a test to catch it -- or he could have gotten tested once a year like a good boy and have contracted something since.

You need to read -- www.ashastd.org -- and your friends need to relax.


San Francisco, Calif.: Carolyn --

I'm scared to even ask this question. I'm the full-time mom of a 4-month old. He's a wonderful baby -- I really won the baby lottery. However, getting him to go to sleep and stay asleep is often a real struggle. I mostly do pretty well, except when I am also exhausted. Then I feel so much rage that it terrifies me. I find myself being rougher with the baby than I should, and even yelling at him. I feel awful every time this happens. I don't believe I abuse the baby, but I'm scared I could -- especially as he gets older and develops a will of his own. Growing up, I used to beat on my little brother when I was really frustrated. He and I have fixed the damage I did to him, but I'm scared of repeating this with my son.

I did an Internet search on child abuse prevention, but all I can find are fundraising organizations. I think I need to get help before something happens, but I don't know where to turn. I'm really scared of seeking help because I'm afraid they'll take away my son. Where can I turn for help?

Carolyn Hax: I'm so glad you asked this question. Please call your pediatrician -- Right Now -- explain that you're struggling, and would like referrals to therapists who specialize in working with new parents. Right now as in, right now. People lose their children when they -don't- seek help at a critical time like this.


Dumb Move in Maryland: I hooked up with a close friend (alcohol was involved). We don't want to date, and this isn't going to become a regular thing. But since then, we haven't talked much or hung out and things are generally awkward. Is there any way to save this friendship? (A time machine would be really nice!) Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: No no, time machine would ruin everything. Some of the most beautiful plot twists in life started as dumb moves. Call up Close Friend and set up dinner or coffee or drinks (no more than two please) or something and say here's to getting past this, because I miss you. You can do it. Go go go.


Alexandria, Va.: Help! I don't know whether I should tell my ex that I am getting married. Ex and I were together for five years, lived together for three. I broke up with him, started dating someone else shortly thereafter, we were right for each other, and we are getting married. It's only been one year since ex and I split up. Part of the reason for my indecision is he is very emotional and has generally had a hard time over the past few years. But I feel it shows a lack of respect to not tell and have him hear from someone else. What to do? Thanks!

Carolyn Hax: Show him respect. That's your decision. How he chooses to respond is his decision.


Anywhere: Interesting dilemma: Dating fantastic guy. Great relationship, very loving. He makes me feel good about myself, I do the same for him. The "problem" is that he is very affectionate, both emotionally and physically (poor me, right?). I am affectionate with him too (hold hands, cuddle on the couch during TV), much more so than I used to be (my family is NOT touchy feely), but not enough for him. Sometimes he will literally back me into a corner looking to cuddle, get in my face, won't leave me alone when I ask him to, etc. I say that this kind of behavior makes me feel cornered and less likely to be in a warm, loving mood. He says he acts this way because I don't show him enough attention. What do you make of this? I realize that there are worse problems in the world.

Carolyn Hax: Whoa, WAIT a second. So a guy physically overpowers you, ignores your specific requests to respect your boundaries and then BLAMES YOU for it, and that's okay because people are starving in China? This is not an interesting dilemma, it's scary. Please think very hard about what this so-called affection of his is covering, and why you haven't put your foot down against it.


Arlington, Va.: I am the ex from the question about her getting married - I already know and really don't care. I'm over it and she doesn't think so.

Carolyn Hax: Snort.


Washington, D.C.: For the angry mom in San Francisco -- I used to handle child abuse cases in Family Court, and being proactive and seeking any and every kind of therapy, medication, whatever she needs prior to committing any act is EXACTLY what she should do. She's not going to lose her baby because she has the urge to hit him. If that was the standard, 90 percent of us would have grown up in foster homes. But she needs to get a grip on those urges.

Carolyn Hax: Reassuring, thanks.


Re: San Francisco: Here is some info for San Francisco. The info is off of their Web site:

Childhelp USA, National Child Abuse Hotline
1-800-4-A-CHILD(1-800-422-4453)

Available 24 hours a day. The hotline is staffed with professional counselors who utilize a database of more than 55,000 emergency, social service and support resources.

The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature and referrals.

Carolyn Hax: Particularly good, since we're coming up on a weekend. Thanks.


Washington, D.C.: Carolyn -- is their a good way to tell a friend you are pregnant, when that friend recently had a miscarriage? I'm about at the 12-week mark, and ready to start letting on (not the increased chest size hasn't already), but I'm not sure how to most appropriately do it. We run in the same circle, so I don't think it should be a group announcement, like it might have been. Any thoughts? Please?

Carolyn Hax: "I don't expect you to leap with joy, given the awful timing, but I'm 12 weeks pregnant and didn't want the grapevine to be the one to tell you." One-on-one only. It'll be hard to say and hard to hear but far easier than any of the alternatives. And watch the high-eyebrow thing -- the implied pity can be harder to take than the news itself. She's a big girl and you're her friend. You'll both manage.


Arlington, Va. (again): Snort if you will, not my intention. My point was that I am fine, I am happy for her, etc. I just wish she didn't feel like she has to walk on eggshells around me.

Carolyn Hax: I was snorting because it was funny, not out of contempt. So many of us think we have this horrible power to hurt someone, when in reality that someone is barely interested enough to shrug at us.

Anyway. Time's up -- thanks everybody, and have a good weekend.


Names: Are you really naming your children Ernest and Julio?

Carolyn Hax: Nope. Al and Fredo.


washingtonpost.com:

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


© Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company