Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love

by Carolyn Hax

Published by Talk Miramax Books

191 pages, 2001

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Not Suffering Fools

Reviewed by Pamela C. Patterson


Everyone needs a friend like Carolyn Hax. You know, the kind of friend who tells it like it is, who gives you the naked truth whether you really want to hear it or not.

Do these jeans make my butt look big?

Of course they do. If you didn't eat six doughnuts at break every day you wouldn't be asking me that question.

Brutal honesty has its merits, and nobody does brutal honesty better than Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax. In her syndicated column, "Tell Me About It," she dispenses wisdom to the 20-something crowd (even though she herself is 34) and cuts to the quick with her rapier wit, taking no prisoners. If you ask her advice, you'd damn well better be ready to dodge the arrows she's going to sling your way.

A familiar refrain among advice-column supplicants is lack of success in the romance department. Hax noticed that people looking for love seemed to be making the same mistakes, producing, as she says, "a virtual catalogue of the most counterproductive ways to interact with other human beings." So she turned that catalogue into a book, compiling 59 common dating gaffes and the reasons to avoid them.

The result is Tell Me About It: Lying, Sulking, Getting Fat and 56 Other Things Not to Do While Looking for Love. This amusing little tome is just the right size for carrying in your purse or briefcase, in case you need to consult it surreptitiously while your date is in the ladies' room or has gone off to the kitchen to fix you another drink.

But be forewarned, using it as a dating manual will get you a nasty slap on the wrist from Hax. The query "Do you know of any classes or seminars on how to improve your dating skills?" brings up No-No Number One: Reading Relationship Books or Otherwise Training to Date. Notes the author, "I called it a dating book just to humor the marketing people."

From the jump, Hax is at her acerbic best. She doesn't sugar-coat the harsh realities of relationships in the new millennium -- there's more than one reference to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, and she's not afraid to point out which behavior patterns will beget them (see "Having Sex Before You Mean It" or "Hiding the Other 27 People You Date").

She smacks the clueless upside the head with her comments on Creating an Intimacy Imbalance: "If he hears your deepest secrets before the entrees slap the table, and you know none of his, why does he need to be there? Wouldn't an inflatable date be the same?" Hax concludes with this nugget of advice: "Lay down your cards one at a time, slowly, alternating turns. Don't yell 'FIFTY-TWO PICKUP!!!!' and expect him to care about the mess. He won't."

She offers the voice of reason on Stockpiling Porn: "I'll need a shower after I type this, but I will concede that the occasional randy magazine for the occasional randy male is hardly worth the trip to my soapbox -- especially if the photos are arty and the articles fig-leafy and no one ends up in a meat grinder. Maybe you could throw it away when you're done?"

What Hax does find remarkable is the apparent inequity between the sexes where porn stashes are concerned:

Three years [as a columnist], thousands of letters, and not one documented case either of a woman with a sizable porn stash or of a guy horrified ! to find porn sites on his wife's computer. Not one rumored case. Not one fake case.

Maybe you're keeping her to yourself.

Hax is ruthlessly blunt when discussing the rank odor of desperation, in the section titled Being Desperate, Seeming Desperate, or Even Standing Next to Desperate Without a Protective Suit:

Going to a bar solely to find a relationship? That's desperate. So is complaining to anyone, anywhere, about not having a booooyfriend. So is clogging someone's answering machine, unless you have a crisp sense of humor about it. (See how it's done: Rent Say Anything.... See how it's not done: Rent Swingers.) More than five minutes' worth of makeup (excluding nail care)? Desperate. So is overthought or overtight or overover clothing. So are weepy 2 A.M. phone calls. So is believing your life is incomplete without a codependent, I mean, significant other. So is waiting for that significant other before you buy a home/travel/get nice stuff for your kitchen/start your life.

There's more, but I think you get the point.

I must admit that I laughed out loud numerous times while reading this book. Consider the following one-liners:

On Scanning the Room for Better Prospects While We're Trying to Talk to You: "If there's someplace you'd rather be, we'd like you to go there."

On Pining Silently for Your "Friend": "If you are pining, you are not 'friends.'"

On Believing for a Second the Person You're Cheating With is Going to Dump the Spouse and Marry You and Live Happily Ever After and Never Cheat Again: "Please."

Clearly, the woman does not suffer fools gladly.

And neither should you, seems to be the overriding message of Tell Me About It. If you feel like you're looking for love in all the wrong places, take a look inside this book. You might actually be enlightened -- or at the very least, you'll learn to lighten up. | September 2001


Pamela C. Patterson is relieved to be well past the dating phase of her life, although she remembers it all too vividly. She has never been accused of stockpiling porn.