Carolyn:

I am 17 years old. I just finished high school and attend the local community college. Next year I would like to transfer to a school in South Carolina, where my boyfriend of two years will be going as well. The problem is, my mom is totally against my going to school anywhere out of state. You see, my three brothers all left home recently--two are getting married--so I am the only child left. My mom has always lived her life through her kids, and she is quite difficult to live, or even hold a conversation, with. I want to go to this school because it is a school for communications--my major--and I don't want to live in New Jersey forever. What should I do?

--Trenton

Oh, so last one out is a rotten daughter? Way to support your kids there, Ma.

Listen. Your mother is putting her needs above yours, which is not in the Motherhood job description (at least not while she's young and healthy). It's also cruel; children are built for guilt, and so all a mom has to do is make one unreasonable request of her offspring and they're pretty much guaranteed to haul that weight for life. Or until they can achieve some misplaced measure of justice by yanking their own kids' chains.

Promote world peace! Break the cycle of guilt.

Mama's nest is empty, and she's going to have to find some other way to fill it, and it's not your job to do it for her.

Unfortunately, your South Carolina alternative is zero improvement on your mom's languish-in-Jersey plan. Stay with Mom! No, wait, go with the boyfriend! Stay or go, don't you recognize in yourself the exact mistake you see so clearly in your mom? You're living through someone else--the only difference is, he's outside the family instead of in. One day, though, it won't be a boyfriend, it'll be a husband, and then you'll have kids, and then what's to keep you from doing the same thing to them that your mother's doing to you? Remember, you learned dependency from her.

So unlearn it. Ask yourself where you fit in. What would you want if neither of them was around?

You want to transfer to a four-year communications program. Save your hand-wringing for that. Get some killer grades and start researching schools nationwide--the last thing any fresh-out-of-high-school 17-year-old needs is to limit herself in any conceivable way, and narrowing your choices to Here vs. There is doing just that.

Once you've gotten into some of these schools, then you can agonize about which state you should live in. Mom's influence points to the state of hysteria, but don't fall for it. Way too close to home.

Dear Carolyn:

My girlfriend, who is very attractive, will find some girl who would put Elle Macpherson or Cindy Crawford to shame and ask me if she is as pretty or if she is thinner. What is up with this? I know I am not a 10, more like a 5, so can't she be happy being a 9?

--D.C.

She wants the truth, give her the truth: that she'll never be happy, or particularly attractive, as long as she wants to be someone else. Insecurity is not beautiful.

Hi, Carolyn:

What do you think is a reasonable time to return an e-mail--a personal one, not a work one? I ask because I wrote to a good friend several weeks ago and have yet to hear back. I guess he didn't get it or has a lot to do, but really, I wouldn't wait two weeks to return a phone call. Do you think e-mail is treated differently? I suppose our society thrives on instant gratification--I e-mail, you should e-mail back quickly and with equal enthusiasm and excitement!

--Washington

Do I have to?

E-mail may be a splendiferous thing--it's so easy now to stay so much closer to faraway friends--but too often it's just that: easy. Tap-tap, howyadoin'? One howyadoin' multiplied by your average number of friends plus your average number of family members plus your average number of mini business exchanges (dozens? hundreds?), combined with your Recommended Daily Wad of spam, and pretty soon you've tap-tapped your entire life into a VDT-illuminated hell.

Responding is good. Responding is polite. Responding when you're good and darn ready is the unwritten e-mail right, particularly for the people you e-mail at work, since they are, allegedly, working. Speed!? Equal enthusiasm!? And excitement!? Pressure pressure pressure. Not what I want in my in-box.

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. Monday on The Post's Web site, www.washingtonpost.com