Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend is a first-generation American, and his family is a huge part of his life. He is 25, and I am 26. We have been dating for six months. I discovered he has been keeping our relationship a secret from his family. And rather than simply omitting the information, he has gone to great lengths to prevent his family from knowing about me. For example, he recently graduated from law school, a milestone event to which I was not invited.

He justifies this by telling me his mother is an "aggressive, meddling Italian" who would interrogate him if she discovered he has a girlfriend. I have made it clear that I cannot be in a relationship with someone who allows a hidden agenda to restrict the activities we share. He insists that I "don't understand Italian mothers" and her interrogation would be more onerous than I realize. Do I demand that he reveal our relationship to his parents or wait to see what he will choose on his own?

The Secret Girlfriend

If that's really how Italian mothers are, I guess I don't understand them, either.

But I hope I know the difference between a mature 25-year-old and an adolescent with a law degree.

And between cultural traits and mindless stereotypes. And between reasons and excuses. And between taking responsibility and shifting the blame. And between a temporary burden and anvil on your head till death do you part.

And between a bluff and statement of fact. It's tough to make it "clear that I cannot be in a relationship" on these terms when you are in fact in a relationship on these terms. Either mean it or don't say it. As for demand or wait, I vote (C): Hold out for a guy with a spine.

Dear Carolyn:

When my boyfriend and I got together last spring, we each professed our commitment to stringlessness. When we graduated in May 2004, we moved to different ends of the country with no intention of continuing our relationship. A few months of e-mailing later, he left his new city and moved in with me.

Now it's seven months later, and I think he's getting ready to leave. There's nothing keeping him here but me -- he hasn't found a job yet, his name isn't on the lease, and he's never made any promises or declarations of love. I don't want to ask him if he's leaving, because I don't feel ready to hear the answer. I'm usually fairly invulnerable, but the trappings of intimacy got me this time.

How do I deal with this? I want to feel like I knew what I was getting into, we had a great time, it's fine. But I don't feel like that. I know that after he leaves, I'll be fine. I just don't know what to do in the meantime.

Stressed in New England

When love gets rationalized down to "trappings of intimacy," it's time for a new rationale. Repeat after me: "I love you, and I don't want you to leave." An actual feeling has to be better than a treatise on one, even when it's pain, even when it's on the chin.

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