Dear Carolyn:

I am a 21-year-old female, and this weekend I will be moving into a house with three roommates (all guys) to save money on rent. When my mother told my grandmother this, she assumed I was moving in with these guys to have sex with them. I can only assume this is because of the time in which she was brought up, because I have not given her any reason to think I sleep around. Her comments make for a very uncomfortable family gathering this Thanksgiving. What do I say to change her thinking while not offending her or the rest of the family?

--L.

When was your grandmother brought up, during the Roman Empire?

Unless she asks you to "pass the potatoes, you slut," this is a subject begging to be dropped (though it would make for livelier-than-average holiday-dinner conversation).

Presumably, your mother disabused Granny of her group-sex notion the moment she expressed it. Let that be the last word. The conclusion she drew is a howler, a dispatch from deep in the weeds. Repeating, rehashing or otherwise revisiting the issue automatically gives it more credit than it deserves--and tells Grams her concerns were on target.

As far as you're concerned, none of this ever happened. If she brings it up, give it the someone's-off-her-meds treatment--playfully, of course. There's no call for disrespect.

Dear Carolyn:

Help. My friend's wife insists on flirting with me. It's bad enough that she does it in front of him, but when we're alone (which I try to keep to a minimum) it's worse. Normally I would say something to her, but there's one small problem: She is extremely critical of other people and has a way of convincing her husband he needs to hate people she doesn't like. I am quite sure if I mentioned something to his wife, no matter how artfully, she would do her best to poison my friendship. How exactly do I get this woman to stop the flirting without losing my friend?

--Yikes

Oh no. Toxic Spouse Syndrome. Your poor friend.

If you say something, you not only risk banishment by the banshee, you also risk humiliating him. And, clearly, his wife is doing a fine job of that on her own.

Which is probably the point: She flirts to get a reaction out of other men--attention, discomfort, anger, doesn't matter--then waves that reaction in her husband's face. A real power jag.

The best way to react to this is not to react at all. From now on, she flirts with you and she might as well flirt with the side of a barn. You aren't charmed, you aren't annoyed, you aren't uncomfortable, you aren't pleased, you aren't angry. You just are.

Until, that is, your first opportunity to excuse yourself politely. Then what you are is gone.

She may turn against you out of frustration--resisting her "charms" will come as a fat slap in the ego--but you won't have handed her any ammo against you. Granted, someone like her will know how to improvise (lie), and someone like him just might believe it. If it ever gets that messy, though--if she's lying and he's buying--stay clean and get out. There'll be no more friendship to save.

Dear Carolyn:

I am a 22-year-old gay man who just recently started dating this guy. He is really nice and we are getting along great. There is just one thing that bothers me about him. He can be very needy. He likes to see me almost every night. When I tell him that I cannot because of other obligations, he gets upset, then I feel bad and give in. I just need some time either by myself or just with other friends so that I can really process what I am feeling for this guy. I have told him these things and he says it is no big deal if we do not see each other, but every time we are not together he gets depressed. How can I tell him that just because we are not together every night does not mean that I do not have feelings for him?

--Washington

Fortunately, there is a way to tell him--but you have to use these words exactly, so you don't upset the elusive balance of phrasing, semantics, tone and inflection that will finally get his attention:

"See ya."

I suppose, since you seem to like this guy, you can try retraining him first. Set aside for a moment that he's infantile, insecure and manipulative, and give him the grown-up treatment--"I'm sorry, I have other plans tonight, I'll call you tomorrow, bye." If he demands more, ask that he please not. If he ignores your request, simply leave him alone--I'd suggest indefinitely--to contemplate how richly his neediness strategy is paying off.

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