Hi Carolyn:

After dating for a year, I got engaged to my boyfriend, "George." At the time we got engaged I was in school, so we decided to wait until after I had finished to announce the engagement to our families. His parents found out, and they are thrilled. The problem? My parents. My mom doesn't like him because he is (1) not a college graduate (he is currently putting himself through a combined undergrad and master's program), (2) not a Catholic, and (3) he looks like her ex-husband. She has told other members of my family behind my back that she does NOT like him and does NOT want us married.

A few days after my graduation and before I "dropped the bomb," my parents came out with a list of reasons we are bad together -- including that I am going to be putting him through college (he has a scholarship and aid package, so I'm not). In addition, I am going to grad school next year, which will take loans, etc. -- but financially, we will be set and secure. They also complained about his smell, his hair, his eating style . . . I feel stuck between two sets of people I love and have nooo clue what to do about it.

Help!!!!!

"Remember, your parents know you better than anyone in the whole wide world, and if they think you two don't smell compatible, they may be smelling something you can't."

I had to try it. And now I'm certain: That is the most pathetic objection to a future son-in-law that I have ever heard.

Here you are, all ready to love, respect and heed your parents -- and they come up with this? When you have your little talk with them, which you now must have, put it exactly like that. You love them and you respect their opinions, except when those opinions sound like the puny rantings of dysfunctional minds. (Rephrase at your discretion.) If they're going to try to change the course of your life, they're going to have to come up with at least one legitimate reason for you to do so. His education? Taken care of. The money? Taken care of. The religious difference? Weighed, and overruled. The smell-hair-manners thing? The mere whiff of it offends.

They may simply be covering, risibly, for a bigger objection. If you manage to sweat that truth out of them, then weigh it carefully. They do know you well, and they can see things you can't. But if their best shot is an irrational one, it's not your fault when they miss.

Hi Carolyn:

I am getting married to a wonderful man. His sister has been the bane of my existence since I've known him. She's condescending and just downright hostile. I have never done anything to provoke her. She has told me time and time again that I'm too young (I'm 25 and my fiance is 34), that I spent too much on my wedding dress (I didn't tell her how much it cost), that I am making her brother spend too much on our honeymoon (he arranged it, I didn't).

I really am not trying to be difficult. I've tried getting along with her. My fiance thinks I should just be the better person and ignore her, but it's pretty hard to ignore her when she continues to insult me.

-- A.

Your only mistake has been treating this woman like a rational human being. It is the first law of in-laws: For every logical opinion they have of you, there are going to be 20 visceral, lifelong, possibly subconscious and totally inscrutable prejudices that will rise to greet you the minute you walk in the door. These can be good, and these can be really, really bad. But you know this.

Your fiance's right; ignore her. (Try regarding her with pity. It helps.) Though it would be nice if he stepped up on your behalf, and asked her to shut her pie hole.

Carolyn:

I'm a 28-year-old single male. Something happens consistently and way too often when I meet women at work and in social situations. Within the first few minutes of conversation, they find a segue to volunteer ANY information about their boyfriends, fiances or husbands. I've always taken this as a considerate but not-so-subtle sign of "No vacancies here, fella." Yesterday I met a single woman, and she used "my fiance" three times in two sentences. Are these signs I'm coming on too strong?

Dave

Maybe you should stop hitting on married women. Maybe some women are sooo happy to have a boyfriend/fiance/husband, they delight in the myriad ways they can use him in a sentence. Maybe it's your breath.

My generic advice for mild dating ills: Consider what you might be doing wrong. Are you standing too close? Bragging? Drooling? Then make changes if you need to, and reserve future self-doubt for the real insults. Besides, casual mention of one's relationship is a much more subtle and forgiving way of saying they're off the market than saying, "Nice try, stud boy, but I'm off the market."

Write to Tell Me About It, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or tellme@washpost.com, and join Carolyn's live discussion at noon today or at 8 p.m. Monday on The Post's Web site, www.washingtonpost.com