Dear Carolyn:

I'm hoping you have some good advice for my friend, who's gotten himself into deep manure. He has fallen really hard for a woman who says she's taken but keeps giving him mixed messages. First she said she would break up with her boyfriend, so they got together, but then she changed her mind, said she wanted to remain "friends," and let her boyfriend move in with her, but still spends hours hanging out with my friend every day cuddling and kissing.

My friend is so in love with this woman that he can't see that she's treating him (and her boyfriend) extremely unfairly. He keeps making excuses for her -- "she's really torn," "it's complicated." Is there anything you could say to him to bring him to his senses? He won't take it from me, but you're an impartial outsider.

Mixed Messages

They have "hours" to cuddle and kiss "every day''? These people need jobs, not advice.

And you need a pop quiz: I'm an impartial outsider, you're a partial outsider, which makes us both . . . ?

(Clue: It's not "Red Sox fans.'') If your counseling has come to naught, my counseling you to counsel him will only come to naught by a more circuitous path.

Unless they're invited in, outsiders can accomplish only so much, since people like to do what they like to do without outside interference. That's part of the problem. (And sometimes also a good thing, since there's also a limit to what outsiders can know about a couple's inner mechanics.) In this case, there's an added complication. Why would he take any advice, of any quality, from anyone, when he doesn't think anything's wrong?

The other part is that, if he really does need outside help to understand something is wrong here, I doubt even an emergency judgment transplant would save him. He has problems of which this girl -- this current series of bad choices -- is merely a symptom. Insecurity, instability, immaturity, inexperience, unscrupulousness, I can only put on my blindfold and guess.

But you, as his friend, probably have some idea. And it's his behavior that should concern you, not the girl's.

Not that being his concerned friend means you can or even should change him; you can't and shouldn't. It just means that you can advise him, from your position as an insider in your own relationship with him, on whatever those underlying problems may be.

Now you just need him to invite you to.

Dear Carolyn:

I overheard a conversation about wedding gifts, and one friend insisted the amount you spend on a wedding gift depends on the lavishness of the reception. She said that if the reception is at a very fancy place and the meal is very expensive, you should spend more than if the reception is simpler and less expensive. I find this very troubling because I always preferred to give gifts based on how much I can afford to spend. Is it necessary to spend more because someone is giving a very lavish wedding?

Trying to Live Within Our Budget

I find it troubling because it transforms a celebration of love into prostitution for gifts. You give from your heart, not from your filet mignon.

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