Carolyn Hax is on vacation. The following are excerpts from summer 2004 live discussions on www.washingtonpost.com.

Dear Carolyn:

If you are lucky enough to meet someone in your early twenties, smart enough to want to wait to get married so you have time to grow, get to know yourself and the other person, get established in a career, blah, blah, blah, how does one determine how long a wait is too long? Do you just know when the time is right? Is it practical or reasonable for a couple to date six or seven years when that little biological clock is ticking?

Charlottesville, Va.

If you met in your early twenties and six or seven years have elapsed, your little clock may be ticking, but not so loudly that you can't concentrate.

There's no one answer to this question, since the "time is right" question is one best answered in hindsight. We all think we know what we want at any given time; it's only when the consequences of a choice start filling the mailbox that we question our soundness of mind.

So, the best thing I can recommend, and I strenuously recommend it, is that you feel utterly comfortable being yourself, your best and ugliest self, in the presence of this person before you decide it's for real. If you're holding back X opinion or Y news because of how you fear someone will react, you're not there yet.

Dear Carolyn:

I e-mailed you a couple of weeks ago about some not-so-open-minded comments my boyfriend had made when we were visiting his parents. I thought perhaps he was just more relaxed and reverting to the way he grew up while he was around them, but this morning he made some comments that just horrified me -- I've spent the entire day at work in tears.

He grew up in a conservative neighborhood, but given that he is such a loving, caring, nature- and animal-loving guy, it is so difficult for me to believe he actually believes what he's saying. I don't know if he's just trying to push buttons or what, but I can't see myself with someone who is so narrow-minded as to believe that just because someone has different color skin or a different sexual orientation than he, they are less entitled to earn what he has earned in life.

So, considering that in all other aspects he is a wonderful man and we care for each other so much, how do I negotiate this? FWIW, we've been seeing each other for about four months -- pretty seriously the entire time.

Washington, D.C.

Why are you so invested in this guy after four months? And why are you so afraid to address something that obviously horrifies you? And worse, to explain it away lamely ("reverting to the way he grew up," "conservative neighborhood," "barf'') as a way to avoid having to deal with it?

SAY something. If you can't SAY something, you have no relationship. Period.

And if you can't deal with the answer you get when you SAY something, then you aren't ready to have a relationship.

The general answer, by the way, is always that he is who he is. Confronting him will just get you the specifics.

Write to Tell Me About It, Sunday Source, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or tellme@washpost.com and join Carolyn's live discussion at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.