Dear Carolyn:

I'm 13, and I have this friend who tells a stupid rumor about my sister right in front of all my friends and me. She says she saw my sister and her boyfriend making out, or says someone told her my sister and some of her friends aren't virgins. I can tell she's lying 'cause I can catch little hints, and I know my sister and her friends aren't like that.

I don't know if I should tell my sister. I don't want her to go to my friend and yell at her 'cause my friend will be really mad at me and tell everyone I'm a "tattle-tell." But she is my sister! And true friends don't gossip about a person's family.

--Rumors

You yell at her. This is no friend.

You're not being a friend, either--to your sister. Do you know what it takes for a person to insult your family in front of you? A total lack of respect, for you, for them, for family in general. Mostly for you, though. You have to say something. Do something. Get angry.

But calling the girl a liar won't do it--because you really don't know if she is, for starters. No matter how close you are to people, there will always be things they keep private. And the truth of the rumors is totally irrelevant here. For the sake of argument, let's assume they're true. Does that make the gossip okay? Hardly. So next time the rumors fly, ask your friend to have the decency to leave your family alone.

This isn't brain surgery, you know.

If she gives you a hard time, ask her the burning question: Why is someone else's life such a big deal to her?

No matter what she comes back with, people with integrity (you . . . right?) always have power over people without it (your "friend"). It's the power to walk away. Next time she trashes your sister, let her have it; if she tries it again, leave.

Being 13 may buy her one more chance (any older, and I'd drop her on the spot), but after that, you're outta there--the room, the friendship, everything.

Then they can talk about you behind your back--you might as well be prepared. Having principles may not be brain surgery, but it does leave you open to abuse.

Still, they haven't invented the abuse that's worse than knowing you were too craven to speak up. The reverse of that, strange as it may sound, is that you'll feel closer to your sister for defending her--even though she'll never know you did it. Because you aren't going to tell her, because people should never have to hear the vile things said about them.

If you like your gratification more immediate, being good has a tasty byproduct: It makes your friend look really bad.

Dear Carolyn:

I'm looking for some possible safe first-date ideas. I want to ask out a very sophisticated woman, but it's one that is going to take some time, and I don't want to be too forward. Please help!

--K.S.

Avoid the shellfish, look both ways before you cross and wear a condom. How's that?

For first dates, I say, go boring--nice but non-ambitious dinner, thank you, good night--so it's about your personality, not your performance. (Unless your personality is a performance, in which case, pull out the stops. The babes will be duly impressed.)

That means The Great First Date Conundrum is . . . which restaurant? I think you can handle it.

If you try for "sophisticated," though, you're going to try too hard, which makes for the finest first-date squirmathons. Instead, pick a place you like that makes you feel comfortable, even if it's Sammy's House of Suds. That way, you'll relax (as much as can be expected when you really really want to impress someone) and the atmosphere, the food and even the price will be a reflection of you. In return, she'll be able to tell early on if that "you" is something she wants to witness again. The answer may be no, but at least it's an honest, I-gave-her-the-real-me no. The alternative is forcing her to sort through various facades to find out--something your true sophisticate will hardly care to try.

Carolyn:

Whenever I touch my boyfriend on the arm or neck, he always seems to want a massage someplace else. For instance, he'll say, "You know what would feel good right now? If you rubbed my shoulder." He does this constantly, and I guess I like the spontaneity of touching someone because I genuinely want to, not because I'm told to. What do I do?

--Baton Rouge Masseuse

What's wrong with repeating what you just said? There doesn't always have to be a strategy, beyond "be diplomatic." Next time he asks, say you'll do it this time--and then point out that you see affection as a gift, and you wish he'd stop exchanging it.

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