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Hi there, Carolyn: I thought in college that I'd gotten rid of any remnant shyness through a strict regimen of parties and other things I believed I should know how to deal with. It was fun, if a little painful, and seemed to be having a good effect. But now that I'd like to be a little more myself, and by that I mean more free in conversation with less internal censorship, I'm finding that people often just look at me oddly.

This is all coming to a head right now because my boyfriend of two years is trying to get me to do more things socially. He's already been patient for a year while I wimped out on all but our closest friends. It's just that I can't seem to find a happy medium between being politely social (and somewhat superficial) and being someone whom I can respect in these situations. Blah.

-- R.
A. If I could pay you enough money to get you to agree to be your good weird self in public, I would pay it. Cash money. Cold hard clams.

It's not that I want to embarrass you. Not at all. It's that I want to increase my chances, if only by one, of running across someone interesting at some future social thing.

Forget your pain. What about our pain, the short-attention-span cocktail-partygoers of the Earth?

OK, so maybe the unedited you is a little off-putting. But couldn't that just be the consequence of your retreating back underground? You admit you haven't been out among the polloi for at least a year. Social bantering isn't like riding a bike; it's more like . . . throwing a spiral. The first few after a long layoff will be ugly wobbly duck things, and your arm will be sore the next day.

For your purposes, that translates into spewing a few head-scratchers before you fully limber up the connection between your brain and your tongue. And many of us, considering how weird we all are in the dustiest parts of our minds, are inclined to let an oddball utterance slide. Sometimes even two. Get circulating, and before you know it you'll be genuinely social. (It's not an oxymoron.)

A passive-aggressive acquaintance

Dear Carolyn: Do you have any suggestions for dealing with passive-aggressive hostility aimed in your direction -- the kind that is not overt enough to respond to?

I am frequently and consistently on the receiving end of sighs, grunts and under-the-breath comments from my boyfriend's best-friend's girlfriend. She seems to be resentful and insecure when I have good news, and happy and self-satisfied when I fail at something. We do couple things together, and I think this woman sees herself in competition with me, for what I don't know. These are long-term relationships we're in, and I don't see avoiding her as an option. Up until now I have ignored her, because I think she's just insecure, but I envision this getting worse as the life decisions become more important.

-- New York City
A. I guess you could start failing at everything. That might soften her up.

The ignore-the-grunts approach is perfectly sound, since this is clearly her problem, not yours. She's the one hung up on you, and she's the one too snivelly to own up to it.

But her disapproving bodily noises must get old, so consider facing her hang-ups for her. Next time she simmers, just ask: "Have I offended you in some way?" (Unspoken translation: "What crawled up your (bleep) and died?") Force her out of her hiding place. She can choose either to stand behind her criticisms, or she can lie her way out of them -- thus forfeiting any moral superiority she's convinced herself that she has. It's a win-win prospect for you, and life doesn't spit those out often.

The best times are free

Carolyn: I have a friend who is financially constrained at the moment. I enjoy her company a lot and although we want to do stuff like movies, weekend getaways or dinners, she is unable to. I am not financially constrained at the moment and I frequently offer to pay for her (gladly), but obviously she is resistant to my picking up the check too often. I wonder if there is a more tactful way that I can continue to offer to pay until she is ready. By the way, we do a lot of free stuff in the area, too.

-- D.C.
A. Then do more free stuff, and use the money you save to buy a DVD player, a mondo TV and some elaborate takeout. Instant movie-slash-getaway.

To be financially constrained is to loathe constant reminders that one is financially constrained. Unfortunately, and regardless of good intentions, that's how frequent offers to pay come across. What you really want is her companionship, and that (I hope) is free. Keep it cheap and don't press.

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