Dear Carolyn:

For the past three weeks, my roommate's friend "Jane" has been sleeping on our couch. Jane asked if she could stay the first night and has not mentioned her living arrangements since. She does not pay for anything nor does she help with the housework. A few months ago, Jane moved out of her boyfriend's home and moved in with a relative. From my understanding, she is staying with us because she is lonely there. I talk to my roommate about this every day, and she says she feels the same way but does not want to be rude by asking Jane to leave.

I want to tell this girl something but have not because Jane is my roommate's friend and not mine. Is there any way I can say something to her to give her a hint without being a total bitch?

--Tired of the Bum

I'd say it was about time you unleashed your inner bitch--but she probably moved out two weeks ago in disgust.

You sound like a very nice person. Your roommate sounds like a very nice person. Your couchmate sounds like a very pitiful person. You sound like you're all made of oatmeal.

As long as you're all using and resenting and tiptoeing around each other, you aren't generating one good feeling among you and nobody's helping Jane.

Tell your roommate Jane needs help, and you'll be happy to talk to her if she's not comfortable doing it. Then sit the squatter down and say, "I like you, I care about you, and I'm sorry you're unhappy right now, but you're not getting any happier on this couch. Would you like to talk about what brings you here every night? Would you like some help finding a place?"

And somebody open a window. I'm feeling claustrophobic.

Hello, Carolyn:

I desperately need your advice. I dated my ex-boyfriend over the summer, but broke up with him before school started. We're still friends and I see him often because we're on the same sports teams. My problem is he seems to be moving on in his love life and I'm getting nowhere fast. Let me stress that I like him only as a friend, but it really makes me feel like a big loser when he's back into relationships and I'm still almost pathetically single. To make matters worse, I'm really shy and it's pretty hard for me to find a boyfriend.

--Virginia

Know what's really pathetic? Hearing someone call herself pathetic just because she doesn't have a boyfriend. Ugh. Who says anyone needs a boyfriend or girlfriend? Who is feeding you this wretchedness?

Being shy is a tough break, I know. But if you read my mail, you'd see that far more people are shy than aren't--and that we're all afraid we look like total losers. We should be; we are all total losers sometimes, a big, stammering, tripping mob of morons. And trust me, it's a blessing. Otherwise, we'd have no humility, no stories to tell, no lessons to learn, no empathy for others and--it pains me to type--no sense of humor. We'd be smug, unapproachable twits.

I fail, therefore I am!

So don't be afraid to fly solo for a while, to reach out to new friends, to try things you think will brand you with the fat capital L. If you succeed, there's no better feeling; if you fail, well . . . you'll be that much more interesting.

Besides, do you really want to go through life hiding behind a boyfriend? Never choosing your own path? Never making your name? Never feeling the sun hit you first?

Go to school, play your sports, meet new people, be happy for your ex. And rewrite your definition of "big loser" to read: "anyone who needs a crutch to feel cool."

Dear Carolyn:

I've recently returned to the dating world after five years of marriage, and I'm a little rusty.

How can a guy know if a woman's mention of her "boyfriend" is something serious (as in, "You don't have a chance, Chester") or something less than serious (as in, "See how desirable I am? You could have this if you play your cards right")? I have been out of the loop so long I can't tell if I even have a chance with any of the women I'm interested in.

--E.

If women are citing boyfriends to prove how desirable they are, then I'd say Chester needs to stop hanging around junior high cafeterias.

Here's what "boyfriend" means: "No dates, thanks, I'm in a committed relationship." Anything else is manipulative and juvenile.

But by all means, confirm either way. If you like someone who has uttered the "B" word, tell her you hope you aren't overstepping any bounds, but you hoped she might join you for dinner. Nothing to it. Of course, you lose either way--she's either straightforward and taken, or playing games and icky--but at least you all learn where you stand.

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 at washingtonpost.com/liveonline.