Carolyn:

My girlfriend lived with her last beau for two years, and although she says it was more for convenience--cheaper rent, room for the cats, etc.--and other roommates were in the house, I still think these are pathetic reasons to share a room with someone. I feel she is hiding how much she cared for this man. I am an adult (29) and have had serious relationships before, so I completely understand we all have fallen in and out of love at one time or another. But I feel very unsettled about her lax attitude toward living with someone. How can I overcome this speed bump in an otherwise perfect romance?

--Maryland

How do you know it wasn't just a scrupulous attitude toward her cats?

You want her to change her answer to something less "lax," so you might as well make it more interesting, too.

But I'd be more inclined to take her explanation at face value, and deal with it. Assume she told the truth (better than the alternative, don't you think?), and cohabited without intent to marry. Now walk yourself through the remaining possibilities using the Official Tell Me About It Flow Chart:

1. Does the cohabiting make her, in your eyes, a brazen slut or an impetuous minx?

Slut: I think we're done here.

Minx: Proceed to next question.

2. Is she still the minxy, shack-up type, or do her values more or less align with yours now?

Minxy: That's her real problem, then, isn't it? Not her casually cohabiting past? If you truly chafe at her values, end it here. There's nothing perfect about this romance.

Conscientious: Proceed to next question.

3. Has your every move as a twenty-something been exemplary, a source of personal pride?

Yes: You're lying.

No: Proceed to next question.

4. Can you accept that "past" means past tense, over, done?

No: Is your girlfriend reading this? Hey, he's judging you! Run! Run!

Yes: Excellent. Resume perfect romance. I'm happy for you both.

Carolyn:

I am 30 and my wife is 26, and we have been married less than one year. I feel that the romance in our relationship is one-sided. I often write my wife love notes or e-mail to let her know I am thinking about her. I buy her flowers or a gift when I see something I think she would like.

The thing is, if I send her a note, sometimes I don't even know if she has read it. And if she does say something, it is usually in passing, like, "Thanks, that was nice. What's on TV?" I would love just once to receive a love note or flowers from her. I have asked her about it, and she just said, "Sorry, but I am not good at that stuff." What is there to be good at?

--Men Like Flowers, Too!

Thinking, for one thing. Surely not everyone's good at that. Or expressing affection, or picking out gifts, or crafting the elegant verbal coo. There are all kinds of things for your wife not to be good at.

That's probably why yours is such a popular whine, this so-and-so never does such-and-such the way I'd like. But really, it's a popular trap. The way someone shows love is the human answer to snowflakes: It's wholly and beautifully unique. When you fixate on flowers, you risk overlooking the more genuine gifts--and whether this person's really meant for you or not.

Let go of your wife's failings and feel out her strengths. Does she do other nice things for you, like embrace your friends as her own, or pick out your clothes, or call your mother just to say hi? Does she make you happy? Has she improved your life?

Take a good look at the answers here: They represent the way she shows love. So maybe it isn't romantic or even particularly affectionate. It's hers, and that's what counts.

If you come up blank, the question becomes: Why did you marry her?

Dear Carolyn:

I just found out that quite a few of my co-workers think I whine too much. I had no idea I was doing this. What can I do to curb my whining?

--Wendy Whiner

Short answer: When you hear a whiny sound, shut your mouth till it stops.

Long answer: Many things can make a person relentlessly negative. Hating your job-life-self is the obvious choice, but wanting attention or feeling underappreciated can do it, too--"Feel sorry for me! Please!" So can being shy--you doubt your deftness at conversation, so "Gawd, I hate this weather" comes out instead. And "Gawd, I'm buried in work." And "Gawd, that traffic."

Zzzz.

You'll feel self-conscious, but really listen to yourself for a while. See if complaints are your way of filling conversational gaps, eliciting sympathy, whatever. Recognize when and why you carp. Then, when you hear a whiny sound, shut your mouth till it stops.

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 8 p.m. tomorrow or at noon Friday on The Post's Web site, www.washingtonpost.com.