Dear Carolyn:

Why is it wrong to want to change a partner for the better? I'm dating a girl I could see myself marrying IF she were just willing to make a few simple changes. Her clothes, for example. I can see why a woman feels the need to wear revealing outfits when she's trying to get a guy's attention, but now that she has a boyfriend, what's the point? Also, she has this tattoo on her lower back that I've asked her to get removed, but she stubbornly refuses. Finally, and most annoying, she has a lousy job. She has a college degree but works as a waitress. She's capable of so much more, and I don't see why she'd want to stay in a dead-end job. How do I convince her these changes would be in her best interests and, by extension, in the best interests of our relationship?

Frustrated

Don't you just hate it when a woman insists on compromising herself by being herself?

To see what's wrong, check your message: She's not good enough for you yet. You're presuming to know better than she does how she should dress and earn money. If you'd like, we can upgrade "wrong" to "offensive."

Some people wear revealing clothes because they're proud of their bodies. Some people get tattoos sober. Some people wait tables because they'd rather die than work in an office, or they'd like to open their own place someday, or they're weighing career options, or they're good at it and the money isn't bad.

Some people -- those who think it's ever their place to change someone -- will find new "faults" when old ones get "fixed."

Your girlfriend has chosen, for her reasons, to be a tattooed, partially dressed waitress. Maybe they're bad reasons. You don't have to like them. But if you dislike them enough to want her to be someone else, then do her a favor and date someone else.

Dear Carolyn:

I went on a first date with a guy I met through a mutual friend. The date was mediocre, and I don't want to go out with him again. He's called twice, leaving messages for me to call him back. I can either call back to say I don't want to go out again or not call back and let him get the point. The former seems excessive, maybe presumptuous. The latter seems neglectful, maybe rude. I'm surprised to find no consensus among my friends on which way to go. It seems like a scenario for which there would be a protocol. Is there?

Worried About Being "Nice"

That there's no consensus is the reason there's no protocol. Some dumpees prefer that you call them and some prefer that you trust them to get the point. Rejection is a many-splendored thing.

So without knowing which camp your mediocre guy puts himself in, you either Do Unto Others, or, if he's dropped any hints, you take an educated guess as to which he'd prefer.

As it happens, he left a great hint: He said to call back. So do it. Say you're sorry you're calling to decline, but you felt rude ignoring his calls. If he sees that as excessive, so be it; your intentions were purely polite.

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