Dear Carolyn:

Hi. I'm 14 years old and one of my friends has started smoking. She says it's to lift her mood occasionally, and that you just never hear about the ones who don't get hooked because of the anti-tobacco propaganda machine. Since I frankly don't make a habit of studying statistics, I can't debate with her on that. I told her I thought she was an idiot but I wasn't going to bug her about it. However, I'm still worried, and even though she wouldn't blame me if she did get cancer, emphysema, low fetal weight, etc., I'd still be mad at myself for not trying harder. So what am I supposed to do? Wage an anonymous war? Endlessly send her clippings about dying cancer patients? (I mean, this is all presupposing I have a right to meddle with her life. If not, then I should just bug off, right?)

--K.

Time to mobilize the anti-self-lobotomizing machine.

First, ask if it will lift her mood to smell and have yellow teeth and develop these nasty little wrinkles around her mouth that make her look like she always just sucked a lemon.

It's a waste of your freely flowing breath, but it'll be fun to ask.

Then, you can explain why her argument about the nonaddicted smokers is rather impressively stupid. They do exist--she's absolutely right about that. And I think it's nice that people on her planet can choose to resist nicotine addiction. But if the same were true here on Earth, that would mean the millions of people who got addicted and grew massive lung-eating tumors and died a slow horrible early death therefore chose that route over hers.

I think not.

But more disturbing than addictions, bad smells and perma-puckers is a 14-ish-year-old who's actively seeking to "lift her mood." It's not so strange to want to do that, or even whine about needing to; this is America, after all. In caffeine we trust.

But going to illegal lengths to get that boost is to beg for a screwed-up existence. Think about it--what chemical will her mood need next? One reason alcohol and tobacco are reserved for adults is that it takes maturity to distinguish between wanting something to enhance the way you feel, and wanting something to change the way you feel. (Not that adults are all great at recognizing this.) Though it appears subtle, the difference is huge: living life vs. escaping it. Your friend is escaping--from what, I have no idea. But talk about your tough habits to break.

Whether you meddle or not, there's a limit to what a friend can do to reverse self-destructiveness. What you shouldn't do, though, is support anything that goes against your conscience. When she insists on being an idiot, the most effective response is to butt out. Literally: Walk away.

Dear Carolyn:

I'm 22 and I recently broke up with my boyfriend for myriad reasons, mostly because he lives 900 miles away in a very depressed area. There are no jobs there and I don't want to give up my career opportunities. He thinks I'm being selfish. I'd like your opinion.

--Baltimore

Selfish is wanting your girlfriend to compromise her future to please you. Exquisitely selfish is berating her when she doesn't go along with your plan.

Sounds to me like he forced a decision--career or him?--and you took Door No. 1. Smart move.

Dear Carolyn:

I am a single, clean-cut, good-looking guy who has had much success in generating conversation with women while on the subway and in other public places.

What about the next step? Is there a way of turning that momentary dialogue into a possible date without the woman thinking I'm desperate or a serial killer? I bet this question runs through a lot of nice guys' minds--and a lot of women's minds who wish they could meet nice guys on the Metro rather than bars where we are not likely to be found.

--D.C.

Now, now. Nice people go to bars, too--they just feel pressured to pretend they hate bars. But it's true that once bar exhaustion sets in, meeting strangers suddenly requires--eeee!--effort.

It also demands an anti-psycho plan, particularly on that rolling freak farm we call public transportation. My inner paranoid female says you can avoid scaring people by offering your phone number instead of asking hers (an evolved-male maneuver) and proving you're employed (a sign that you're at least a minimally functioning member of society). Combine ingredients, stir:

"I'd like to continue this conversation," he said, handing her his business card and suavely pulling the "stop" cord on the bus.

Extra points if the card includes a famously legit e-mail address (imsingle@whitehouse.gov) and a main switchboard number, so she'll know you're not some guy in unwashed underwear in a dark basement waiting waiting waiting for her call.

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.