Dear Carolyn:

My friend talks about her new boyfriend all the time, which I don't mind, but when she asks me (the one who is not experienced at all with relationships) what I think, I never know what to say. We're both sophomores in high school, and she tells me she loves being around him and counts down the hours till she sees him again. She admits she can't use the word "love" with him right now; they've only been going out for a month. But she's asking me about situations I've never been in before. All I have to relate to is other people's stories and opinions, mostly hers, so I can't tell her what my thoughts are. I would just drop it and not say anything but she's one of my good friends, and I don't want to make her feel like she's completely by herself -- even if she is.

I Don't Know

She isn't by herself -- she has you. And given your thoughtful letter, I think you know more than you think. You may never have had a boyfriend, but you've had relationships your whole life -- with family and friends, with pets, with classmates you don't like, even with your environment. How you handle them all does count as experience.

Clearly there will be some things you just can't relate to. But one of the biggest mistakes people make is to treat romantic relationships as different from their other encounters. Feeling love, expressing love, appreciating compatibility, listening and talking well, maintaining integrity, demanding and giving respect, lending and asking support, being honest, being yourself -- none of these is any more or less important in a romantic relationship than it is in a family tie or a friendship.

Listen to her boyfriend stories, hear them as interacting-with-the-world stories, compare them with your experience, and opine accordingly.

Or, don't, when you still don't know the answer; it's also just fine to say you wish you could help but you're just as lost as she is. Then she decidedly won't be alone.

Dear Carolyn:

How do you know when it's appropriate to say "I love you" for the first time? I've been dating a guy for almost a year, and things have been going really well but he hasn't said it yet, and I'm ready to hear it. I'm afraid if I say it I'll freak him out. Any thoughts?


You say you're ready to hear it. I say you're not ready to not hear it.

But which would you prefer: to go after what you want or to hide from what you fear?

You feel what you feel. It's a great thing. Granted, finding out he doesn't feel the same way would be a markedly-less-than-great thing, but think about it -- the way he reacts still doesn't change how you feel.

Unless he runs away. Very lame. If that happens, then you should feel free to revisit your feelings.

But if he's simply not ready to say it back, that's okay. In fact, there's your worst-case reply: "That's okay. I feel it and I'm still glad I said it." If you don't freak out, why should he?

Write to Tell Me About It, Sunday Source, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or and join Carolyn's live discussion at noon Fridays at