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Short version: Girl likes guy, we've been dating for a few months, and I want to kick things up a notch on the seriousness level, i.e. exclusivity. Some friends/relatives say (in general, not about my situation) that in relationships, the guy has to bring up the exclusivity issue, otherwise the woman comes off as desperate (I'm 33 if that matters, and he's 31). This discourages me, yet I've been playing it really cool myself and feel like if I don't say SOMETHING I will burst. Do you think men are scared off by women who broach the exclusivity issue first? I'm not used to being the aggressor, but I really like this one, and I'm afraid if I wait too long I'll lose my opportunity. Are there successful relationships out there where the woman did the pursuing, or am I doomed to WAIT for some guy to broach the subject?

-- Alexandria, Va.

I think waiting is doom, along with playing games, hiding true thoughts and intentions, behaving according to gender stereotypes, and choosing your actions based on what you think someone wants you to do.

Do what feels right, and see if the person still likes you when you do what feels right. How else will you be able to judge if this guy is the right one for you?

Carolyn: Yesterday my goddaughter, who is 15, told me she is bisexual AND that she has a girlfriend. She has always been verbally abused by her mother, and grew up pretty neglected by most of her family. Could this be a phase? Is there an organization that can help me figure out what to say to her? I was at a loss for words when she confessed this to me yesterday. She said she wasn't sexually active.

-- Washington, D.C.

She doesn't need the right words, she needs love, support, and a reminder that your love and support aren't contingent on her sexuality, phase or no phase. A good organization to try is PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

Like yourself first
Carolyn: I am 34 and have been very competitive and perfectionist since I was a child. Although I am not obsessed about it, I find myself frequently worrying about how to do better, whether it is my job, family, the way I am raising the kids, etc. I also expect my family to share the same beliefs. I sometimes realize this may not be the best approach, but then after a few days I am back at it. How do I change the way I look at things?

-- Herndon, Va.

I think the perspective you need to change is of yourself. The key to not being life-competitive is to be able to like yourself just fine when you're not the best at something, or even when you're really bad at it. Chances are you cut your friends that break -- i.e., you still like them even though you're fully aware of their flaws -- so you just need to take the extra step and do the same for yourself. And probably for your kids, too, since I imagine you see them as an extension of, and therefore reflection of, yourself.

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