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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
Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2001; 3 p.m. EDT

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.

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."

College Park, Md.: Carolyn --

I wanted to get your advice on whether or not there should be chemistry immediately with someone new. I have been on three dates with a new guy. He is very nice and we have common interests, but there is not much chemistry for me. I am unsure whether to keep going out with him and see if chemistry develops. Or if I should try to meet someone with whom I have more chemistry? In the past -- it seems I have had chemistry with all the wrong men. So I am trying to give nice guys a chance. I am 33 and would like to settle down at some point. I just don't know if there is a happy medium out there - a nice guy with whom I have chemistry. What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: As with all relationshipish things, there's no right way or wrong way here. However--I either said this or hinted at it about a month ago (I am 34 and starting to forget things)--I've come to think that being friends with people first and letting chemistry develop, or not, is maybe the healthier way to go. Then when you become angry or tired or otherwise chemistry-challenged down the road a few years, you still have this solid base of friendship to rest on.

Missing Transcript: Is the transcript for Friday missing from the archives or were you just happy...to take a vacation day? We don't like missing our Hax fix!

washingtonpost.com: It was cancelled -- see Friday's page. And I saved the questions that were submitted and they're in the pool today. -- Lisa.

Carolyn Hax: I had the opportunity to have lunch with my sister, and I jumped on it. I guess I've decided to carpe a few more diems than I have in the past. I'm sorry, though, that it meant a last-minute bailout.

Ames, Iowa: HELP! My husband's 18-year-old daughter (by first marriage) is living with us. She is a nice enough individual and gets along great with our 2-year-old (they adore each other). The 18-year-old is going to community college and we are trying to get her to complete a degree so she can do something besides flip burgers all her life (what she's doing now).

The problem? She's announced that she's pregnant, she doesn't know who the father is (too many options apparently) and she wants to keep the baby. This girl is not mother material and never will be. I want her to either get an abortion or give the child up for adoption, but I can't force her to do anything (believe me, if I could force her I would). How do I approach this subject with her without getting into a screaming match or getting into the, "You're going to end up poor white trash on welfare -- you can't even take care of YOURSELF, let alone another human being!" etc. How can you reason with an irrational 18-year-old?

Carolyn Hax: Hold your nose and treat her as if she's a rational one? And hope she rises to the occasion?

Facts, as far as I can tell: She is 18, a nice enough person, at least minimally convinced of the value of an education, pregnant, planning to stay that way, highly unlikely to listen to your dissenting opinion, and great with your 2-year-old.

Look at it this way. There's something to work with here -- and she's going to need huge amounts of help, so you might as well get to work. Why not walk her through the various things she's going to have to know/do/arrange to have and raise this child? Offer to talk with her -- NON JUDGMENTALLY, or you'll lose her -- about her financial situation, health, etc.

And you'll need to drop the hostility. The "not mother material and never will be"? Unless you know something you're not saying here, that's highly, highly unfair. She's 18, of course she's not mother material. INstead of damning her for life, though, your energy would be much better used toward helping her -become- mother material. For the poor kid's sake, if nothing else.

New Jersey: Carolyn:

I agree with you that Frustrated (the man engaged to the abuse survivor) needs to lighten up on his fiance. He should also address his issues with control, on the off chance that he's on the road to becoming abusive.

But it's okay for people to want to get married in the Catholic church, even if their parents are more devout than they are themselves. And it's okay for them to want to meet the requirements for that ceremony. I don't know whether you've got your own issues with Catholicism, but your answer hints at that possibility.

Carolyn Hax: I don't. I would have teed off on that miserable excuse for a man regardless of the specific faith he chose to hide behind. 'Scuse me, specific parents' faith.

For the record, though, I do have a hard time, a very hard time, with the annulment requirement. A marriage is a marriage is a marriage, and to declare 30, 10, even two years with someone as, whups! Fake! strikes me as making a mockery of the whole process, not preserving its sanctity. The marriage was real, then it failed. It happens. People are flawed. So why not just work with that truth, and try to make something good out of it? They're flawed, but they learn, and they try again.

Confused: Recently I asked my boyfriend of two years for some time apart. We were moving toward getting engaged and I realized my mind was wondering. I tried to break it off with him to get rid of any ambiguity of what was going on and to try and enjoy this taste of singlehood I've never liked before. He basically asked we try a no contact period first which has turned into a few days of no contact and many e-mails, phone calls, e-greetings. Some are initiated by me, but mostly I feel like I'm being sold our relationship. So what to do from here? I don't want to continue leading him on that everything's fine. I've tried this is not a rejection of him but exploration of being on my own, something I've never really done before. He seems insistent on reminding me of what we had and taking a break throws it all away. I feel increasingly disrespected the more he calls and tries to dissuade me from being on my own. Is a clean break next?

Carolyn Hax: Sounds like it. His disrespect for your request seems like a good thing to ponder in his absence ... or at least the fact that you see his attempt to woo you back as disrespectful. The whole value--beauty, really--of being on your own is that it can put you in touch with your own judgment in a way you just can't be when you're sharing decisions with someone. Plus, once you get to that point, you'll feel more confident in your judgment when/if you're back into a sharing position. Sounds like he could use the time, too.

Dallas, Tex.: I would love your take on my situation. The company I work for recently promoted me (sounds good right?) to a position I really don't want. My previous position was eliminated. True, I can learn a lot in this new job and possibly make a bit more money. But one of my friends also recommended me for a position at another company. That job might not pay as much but it will be more fulfilling and that company will help pay for grad school. I'm torn. If I stay in my current job I can already feel that it will make me unhappy and more stressed. If I leave now I will likely burn some bridges because the people who promoted me thought they were doing me a favor. Should I put in more time here even though I don't like it or should I go for the interview with the other company. My friend tells me I have great chances there. Thanks for making me a little less stuck.

Carolyn Hax: It's just an interview, nothin' to lose by checking out your options. Besides, unhappy and stressed are bad.

Iowa: This kid is screaming out to be loved. Probably explains the promiscuity and the desire to keep the baby. She wants to be needed and loved, which unfortunately means she should probably not become a mother. Perhaps you could 1. start giving her the love and attention she so needs and 2. leave her completely in charge of the 2-year-old for a few weeks. Supervise her, so that she does not get into any trouble, but I bet a couple of weeks of “parenting” might help her change her mind.

Carolyn Hax: Good stuff, thanks.

Apologies, again, for the pace -- I've got another bad connection ... might be time for a new laptop ... sob ...

The Great Midwest: So I've just moved out to the Midwest and got to be friends with this guy, "Steve." He and I started spending a lot of time together just as he was getting out of a long distance relationship. A few weeks ago, we hooked up -- he was concerned about hurting me because he's not ready to get into something else, but I explained that was fine by me (as it truly is). We hooked up a few more times, and then he declared that we should just go back to being friends. Fine by me, but we've returned to spending tons of time together (usually late at night), and the other night, as I was driving him home, he reached over and started rubbing my neck. To me this isn't usual "friend" behavior, but I am admittedly somewhat paranoid about these sorts of things. Oh, for the record, we're both in our early 20s. Is there any hope here? Thanks.

Carolyn Hax: I have no idea, and it sounds as if he doesn't have one, either. Instead of torturing yourself by reading his gestures like tea leaves, take what he says at face value -- You Are Just Friends -- and work from there.

Re: Ames Iowa: For the woman with the pregnant step-daughter -- success is possible. I had a baby at age 20 and went home to mom and dad's house. I know the father but he hasn't been much help. I'm now 25 and have been living on my own with my son for two and a half years. I hold a full-time job and will graduate with my BS in June. My parents were there to help me, but they never did it for me. The best thing you can do is be there to help her like Carolyn said, but make her stand on her own two feet. The rewards will be handsome.

Carolyn Hax: Thank you, and congratulations on the life management under difficult circumstances.

Washington, D.C.: Carolyn,

I'm sorry, but having read your columns and chats over time, it's clear that you have some issues with religion and people of faith. At best you merely devalue folks' beliefs (e.g., why someone would want to have a Catholic wedding, even if they aren't a strict believer), at worst you're downright hostile. More than one person has pointed this out to you -- don't you think its time you honestly address this? Maybe just cease answering questions involving religion?

Carolyn Hax: 1. No need to be sorry. I do have issues with faith--but they are consistent with the issues I have with everything else. Pettiness is pettiness, regardless of the venue in which it's playing out.
2. I have been extremely honest about my faith, or lack thereof. I do not believe in God.
3. If I come across a question in which I believe the questioner is caught up in surface and/or inconsequential issues and missing the deeper ones, I'm going to point that out. I'm not going to tiptoe around that problem or, worse, avoid it just because that issue happens to be, or involve, organized religion.
4. Likewise, I'm also not going to grant automatic Profound status to something just because it involves religion. That's prejudice of a different sort. People are good, or bastards, regarding restaurant checks, and they're good, or bastards, regarding faith.
5. Had this guy not been a bastard, or had he had the balls to claim his faith as his own vs. hiding behind his mommy's choir robe, mine would have been a dramatically different answer.

Hope that clears things up. I'm happy to keep talking about it.

Washington, D.C.: Just curious. Do you interact with your friends, etc., the same way you do with the folks in this forum? I'm just wondering if people have a hard time being close to someone who uses such rigorous logic when addressing life's questions. I'm sure they respect your opinion tons, but you're pretty tough. I'm just wondering if there are many people out there who can live up to your standards.

Carolyn Hax: I have no idea how I come across in this forum, but I think I'm just as sloppy in life as anyone else.

Texas: Ma'am, there are bastards and there are capital B cross the t with a hot-poker Bastards. I think that Frustrated marriagin' guy (bovine citified jackass) should step in front of a fast moving person conveyance, or for the lady's sake, perhaps go for a long coastal swim at dusk wearing bacon pants.


Carolyn Hax: I could do fer a shot of tequila right now.

I don't see this as a non-sequitur.

Thank you!

Carolyn Hax: Speaking of which, I'm going to make this one a double -- i.e., stay on till 5. Either a makeup for Friday/bad connections or a nod to flying fur, however you want to look at it.

Washington, D.C.: Carolyn:

In response to New Jersey. I went to Catholic school for nine years, married in the Catholic church, attend church every Sunday and did not find anything about Carolyn's response that even hinted that she has issues with Catholicism. The point was that he was being insensitive to her past and using his religion as an excuse to do so it just happened to be Catholicism. I believe Carolyn's response would have been the same, no matter what religion was involved. See the bigger picture: It's not about religion, it's about his insensitivity.

Carolyn Hax: Thanks, I appreciate it. Though I do recognize that the fact of my classifying some religious rituals/requirements as petty or trivial or, in the case of the column in question, merely less weighty than a person's past abuse, is offensive to some people on its face. That's why I do think I would have tread more lightly there had he attempted some, hell, ANY, moral or spiritual defense of his position, vs. the appalling invocation of parental will.

Delaware: What type of shoe does one wear with bacon pants?

Carolyn Hax: Some kind of vegetable fiber. Another meat would be overkill.

From Lisa: "Bacon pants! Bacon pants!" I must protest my working conditions.

Albany, N.Y.: Carolyn:

I just started seeing a therapist. This is the only time I've ever gone to one, and I've only had one appointment, but a couple of things surprised me. First, I was expecting that the therapist wouldn't say much and I would do most of the talking, but she actually offered her opinion a lot. Also, after I left the appointment I felt pretty down -- which may be because I realized that making progress is going to take time and will likely be painful.

Does all this sound normal?

Carolyn Hax: The feeling down is normal, I think -- I know a whole lot of weeping goes on when you're first confronting this stuff -- though I would hope for "down with promise," meaning, faced with newly resurfaced ugliness but encouraged that the ugliness was being addressed.

As for the therapist's advising you, that's your call. I think people in the counseling field in general shy away from steering people in a specific direction, and prefer to kind of coax their patients into finding their own way. But the more important issue is your comfort with the person you saw. If you felt you were being guided too much, either speak up or try someone new.

Annapolis, Md.: Met a nice guy a few weeks ago. We had a few nice dates. Then he got confused and/or decided to go back to his old girlfriend. Word from mutual friends is that he's not doing well and she's not being nice. I'm inclined to stay away from this whole mess for a while and let him sort it out. However, setting my romantic interests aside, I realize that he truly is a nice guy and if he really is doing poorly I'd like to drop him a line to say hang in there. Is there any way to do this effectively? Or am I now just doomed to be "the other woman" and should stay far far away?

Carolyn Hax: Yeah, hang back. If you want him, there's no way you can pull off the "Just trying to be a friends!!!" line-dropping with a straight face.

Charm City, Md.: -Major Fluff Alert!!!-

Can I wear calf-high black Doc Martens boots with above-the-knee skirts? I say yes, my BF says it's "too sexy." (As if that's possible, and anyway, it's not like they're kinky stiletto-heeled beauties.)

Carolyn Hax: Why not, just watch for monstercalfitis with the half-height boots.

And on a possibly unfluffy note: Unless you're asking your BF's opinion about the outfit's office-worthiness or you're hitting bars in a gold bikini, I'd watch out for the "too sexy" police. My controlly alarm went off on that one.

Serious Question: I'm having dinner with my ex boyfriend who is involved with a new girlfriend and I haven't met anyone yet. I decided on mauve tailored pants with a cream sweater. Charcoal pumps or dark brown (not quite chocolate) flats?

Carolyn Hax: Wear indifference to the whole issue of which one meets someone first -- genuine, faux won't cut it -- because it is [bleeping] meaningless. Cheers!

Bozeman, Mont.: Carolyn, I pride myself on being able to get along with all of my coworkers. However, the new guy in the cube next to mine sings constantly. Mostly themes from '80s sit-coms. I listen to "The Facts of Life" daily. I am going crazy here, and yes, I've politely mentioned it to him. No change -- I think he does it unconsciously. Moving is not an option. Suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: A Walkman full of nondistracting classical while you work? Low volume, though, so you don't hurt your ears.

Or sing along.

Oh I don't KNOW.

Calling you on the carpet: Actually, Carolyn, I don't think you've ever come out and said baldly "I don't believe in God." Did the Orthodox priest that married you know that?

Carolyn Hax: No, because I didn't, then. It was coming, but still a rumbling off in the distance somewhere. Had he asked, though, I would have owned up to my ambivalence.

Washington, D.C.: This may win the award for the most insensitive question of all time, but here goes. My friends are driving me crazy. They're all suffering varying degrees of anxiety in the wake of Sept. 11. One is severely depressed, another is scared to leave her apartment, and the third is convinced that this is the beginning of Armageddon. I, on the other hand, am carrying on more or less as before. In fact, I've never appreciated life more. To be honest, I'm sick of listening to them worry out loud. I believe life is too short to fritter it away worrying about something beyond your control, but it's all they want to talk about these days. At first I was sympathetic, but it seems they're just getting more and more irrational and letting their fears control their lives.

Am I being an insensitive clod? I know people respond and recover from this sort of thing in different ways, but I'd like to find a way to preserve friendships and keep my sanity.

Carolyn Hax: Have you said what's on your mind? (The buffered version, of course.) You don't want to get into a MY-stress-response-is-better-than-YOUR-stress-response pissing contest, but at the same time, you are watching your friends react counterproductively to pain, and if this pain were, say, a bad breakup, you'd say something. Right?

And before someone says it ... no, I don't think putting a bad breakup in the same discussion as 9-1-1 necessarily trivializes the latter. Emotional distress is emotional distress.

Washington, D.C.: For the person with the singing next-cube-neighbor: I used to sit next to the loudest telephone talker in the world. I asked him to quiet down repeatedly, but it was an unconscious action on his part. Since he was good-natured, I took to lobbing wadded up pieces of paper over the cube wall whenever he started in. Simple, harmless, and it became a running joke. My aim was fantastic by the time I quit that job, too.

Carolyn Hax: Splendid!

Somewhere USA: Carolyn,

A few years back, my best friend treated me quite badly and (by my decision) our relationship ended -- I was too hurt by what she had done to continue having her in my life. We haven't spoken since. I don't regret that decision -- I miss having a best friend, but I don't see how that particular friendship could have ended any other way.

My problem is that I can't seem to get over it. I think about her on a daily basis; I always think I see her on the streets (we live in the same city, although I've never seen her here), she pops up in my dreams. I guess this is similar to a bad breakup -- I felt really betrayed by what she did, and it felt like a pretty big rejection. So how do I move on from this? I thought that this would pass with time, but it hasn't -- I still feel as hurt as I did three years ago.

I'd love your take on this. I don't want to get that friendship back, but I would like to get rid of her ghost.

Carolyn Hax: I'll be honest, I don't know what keeps pain same-day fresh for three years, beyond the generic answer of "unresolved stuff." Meaning, there's something about what went down that you've never fully examined/understood/resolved. How you go about doing that is to some extent a matter of personal style, but calling the friend, ruminating deeply on possible hard truths about yourself and/or therapy are the three most obvious deghosting options. Good luck with it.

Manassas, Va.: Dear Carolyn and wonderful Lisa,

A dear friend has fallen prey to a remora. He has terrible taste in women, and this female has attached herself to his face and will not, short of death, be removed. I can't stand her -- she's manipulative, demanding, jealous, emotionally unstable, and is raising three daughters to be Just Like Mommy. ("Gee, DADDY never does anything like this with us!" one daughter warbled, right on cue.) Okay, this is his (gulp) choice; he's big enough to be a grownup and this is his business. But, as I said, I can't stand her: I loathe manipulators, and her emotional instability gives me the creeps. (She gets a lot of attention for her problems and so is not about to give them up.)

The problem on our end? My honey says, "You have to get over disliking her." I say, "No, I don't." The reasons I dislike her haven't changed any, so my repulsion hasn't changed any. I'm perfectly willing to go down the years disliking and avoiding this female but it really bothers him that I'm not buddy-buddy with this creature. We've talked about it but can't resolve anything. Have you got any suggestions?

Carolyn Hax: Of course you don't have to get over disliking her, but maybe you and your (hard gulp) "honey" can agree on your finding a workable, long-term approach to dealing with her. E.g., civil hello, avoidance when possible, boilerplate banalities when not, restraint from spewing hateful thoughts for the entire drive home afterward. Maybe?

Carolyn Hax: BTW, had to look up "remora." Nice one.

Tit for Tat: Hello --

Won't be around tomorrow but I will check the archive in hopes that you answer my question. I appreciate it.

So, at the risk of sounding like I'm in high school, I'm still going to pose this question.

My friend Dan and I are really really close. We've become closer but not quite dating over the past year. We stopped talking for about a month when he did something that really upset me. The problem was that over the period of time we weren't talking, my birthday came and went. I thought that he would use this opportunity as an olive branch and go ahead and give me a call at the very least. This didn't happen and eventually I was the one to reach out and start hanging/talking again. He alludes to the fact that the problem was his fault but never apologized.

OK -- now the high school part. Fast forward four months -- Dan's birthday is this week. Call me bitter, but I really don't want to celebrate it. He is not asking me to either but I think he would be hurt if I didn't acknowledge it. He has friends that are not even as close as we are and they will take him to dinner and buy him gifts.

I don't feel good about buying him a gift right now. But I thought a card with some nicely written sentiments inside would be OK.

What do you think?

Carolyn Hax: I think you should stop talking about birthdays and go to Dan with the fact that you feel lingering anger about the way he never came fully out into the open on the whole Issue you guys had. Either he's sorry for what he did, and therefore should say so explicitly, or is not, and should therefore say so explicitly. You two never repaired the damage, you just painted over it.

Somewhere, USA: Carolyn: How do you strike the perfect balance between wanting to commit to someone, but not pressuring him? I've been going out with the most wonderful guy for five years. We've talked about marriage quite a bit, but fell as though he'll never be to the point of making a decision. I have no intention of pressuring a guy into marriage, but no intention of waiting for years and years either.

How do you decide when enough is enough?

Carolyn Hax: If you are not happy with your circumstances, then leave them. Whatever comes of it, you'll feel SO much better to have your integrity back.

Webster's: Bacon pants

Duck shoe

Glass bowl

Reindeer poop

Death chair

We're going to have to start posting a glossary to newcomers can keep up!

Carolyn Hax: Actually, "glass bowl" was Kornheiser. But we can add "remora," which is "any one of several specialized fishes that have ... a suctorial disk on the the head by means of which they cling to other fishes and to ships."

From a dictionary in need of a better editor.

And while I'm here (my connection is getting worse, so I'm piggybacking answers): I answered that last question too quickly. What I meant was, you should never just sit around and take circumstances that make you unhappy. He won't marry you? Then think hard about WHY you want marriage so badly, and if you come up with something substantial -- e.g., you want to be with someone who -wants-, of his own free will, to invest in a future with you--then you have to recognize that you two have a substantial and untenable difference of opinion. And you have to go.

Home, Tex.: Hi Carolyn,

What is your favorite musical group or song?

Carolyn Hax: I don't have any permanent faves. Right now the song I want to blast most is Nickelback's "How You Remind Me." Though I suppose there's always Beethoven's Ninth.

(I figured I owed this one to everyone with "The Facts of Life" stuck in his head.)

Rosslyn, Va.: Somewhat of fluff question.

Husband is having birthday party for me at a small bar/club. Best friend was obviously invited to this being best friend and all. She told me that she would not come to the party because she doesn't like clubs (this is no bigger than my living room and is not a "club" but rather a neighborhood bar with some music). I simply told her my feelings were hurt and she said it was unfair for me to invite her someplace like that knowing she doesn't like clubs (but she likes bars so she can smoke and drink). I have not tried guilting her into coming or anything but she is mad at me because my feelings are hurt. I guess my mother always taught me that for good friends, you go out of your way and I guess I thought she would go to my party because she is my best friend. Are we both being petty here? Hard for me to see straight.

Carolyn Hax: She's being a pill.

Okay, my head hurts. Thanks for running along with the marathon, a special thanks to Lisa (mwa!) for agreeing to produce it, and type to you Friday, really, I mean it this time. Unless someone wants to buy me lunch. Have a good week.


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

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