Dear Carolyn:

If a friend did something (a pattern) that was the last straw and you reacted by making a mean comment, and the person has now pretty much taken his ball and gone home . . . and even though you know that person isn't going to change, you still kinda miss him . . . then how do you approach that person? Or do you just let sleeping dogs lie, and figure it's their loss if they can't address it?

I was justifiably upset by the treatment and got no apology for it, but I'm not proud of my snotty comment either.

Backing Down?

If you lost your cool and got snotty, and if you value the friendship more than you resent the straws, then it's your loss, too.

Which you can address properly and without obligation by apologizing for your snotty comment. It's appropriate because snapping was bad no matter how much worse the provocation was, and it doesn't obligate you because you can apologize and still choose to exit the friendship.

Which is crucial here, because (I believe) it's going to be his response to your response that tells you decisively whether his is a friendship you want.

Dear Carolyn:

I'm soon to be divorced; my wife had an affair and is still with that man (divorce not my idea; I still love her, but she says we're done). How do I refer to her now? "My estranged wife," "the mother of my children," "the woman I married''? Also, how do I refer to him? I suppose he was her "lover." But now that they're dating openly, is he her "boyfriend''? Our children also realize he is more than just "mommy's friend." How do I refer to him when they ask about it?

Trying to Figure It Out

Painful. I'm sorry.

"Mommy's friend" is fine, as is "boyfriend," as are "my ex" and, for sticklers, "my estranged," since everyone who needs to know details already knows. "The mother of my children" and "the woman I married" are great if you want everyone else to know, along with how bitter you are, but please resist for your kids' sake. In a pinch, there are always "Mary" and "Bob" (extra points if they're the real names).

Dear Carolyn:

I frequently find myself in situations where people assume any male friend I'm with (at lunch, at a store, at a party) is my boyfriend or husband.

Can you think of a tactful way to explain that my friend and I are not romantically involved, and that I am single and looking, without making my friend feel I am embarrassed at the assumption?

Just a Friend

"I'm desperate so please don't let this guy scare you away."

I can't see where embarrassment comes in, unless you're aware of feelings on his part that aren't quite as strictly platonic? And I can't see where explanations come in, no no.

I can't see why, "Oh, we're just friends," won't suffice -- when absolutely necessary. Meaningless misreads by people in restaurants or in stores aren't even worth a correction.

So if the problem is really that you fear missing that One Perfect Chance Meeting because you dined with a dude that day, you don't need tactful phrasing so much as tactless advice: Relax.

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.