Dear Carolyn:

I'm feeling bad about being rude to strangers. The latest case: I went into a deli to buy a soda, and there was a man at the cooler getting a soda, too. No big deal. Except the man decided to get cute by trying to psych me out with the door. He'd close his halfway, and I'd slide mine open and reach for the soda, and then he'd shove his door open again so I couldn't get the soda, so I'd have to close my door and wait for him to close his, and then he'd do it again. Finally I just gave up, and he kept sliding his door and saying, "Hey, I'm just giving you a hard time. Haha. You know?" I finally asked him coldly if he was done yet, and he looked embarrassed and paid for his soda and left.

I was embarrassed, too, because I'd been rude. I was also a little nervous because I thought it was weird. I wouldn't mind so much about this one incident, but this kind of crap keeps happening to me. Am I overreacting?

--Oversensitive in Seattle?

Two words: black belt.

Your response was dead on. Teasing, by definition, has a playful, innocuous face--but usually it's neither. It's about power. Taunt someone that way, and you're saying, "I know your vulnerabilities, I've learned the buttons, watch me push." Where do you think we got "yanking someone's chain"?

If teasing is between people who love or respect each other, and if the disher also takes, that's okay--healthy, even, if you don't make a habit of it. There's nothing like a good laugh at our own expense to restock the humility shelves.

But if you're teased when there's no such history, no equal footing--say, by some random dude in a deli--then you're being told, "Look, pretty girl, I'm in control."

Very, very creepy.

Your gut apparently warned you of that and gave you the right answer: "No, you're not, you freak." If anything, you were kind.

Dear Carolyn:

If you tell someone you love them and get no response, how big a loser are you if you get sick of waiting for them to say it and try again?

--USA

The response doesn't matter. If you say it to hear it, you're a loser. Say it to mean it, and you're not.

Carolyn:

I'm a female sports fan, very knowledgeable, very vocal. I always thought this would endear me to guys, but instead it seems to annoy them, as if I am invading their turf. How do you think I should handle it?

--New York

If your goal is to be accepted as one of the guys, get another goal. This is just the I-love-you question with beer and sweat.

People have highly sensitive alarms that go off in the presence of too much effort. As a woman who digs sports, you're doubly suspect. First, you stand out as "other," just as a man would if he were making unwelcome inroads into a predominantly female world. (Allegedly. I've never actually seen this part of the theory tested.)

Plus, some men are still a little jumpy from the sex-role riot of the last few decades--and if you want to party with every single one of them at once, quick, go to a sports bar.

But if you just like sports for sports' sake, then your only burden is the standard social one: to make sure "vocal" doesn't migrate over to "obnoxious and loud." But when it comes to acceptance, any real fan will respect another, even if she's just a girl.

Carolyn:

What is your take on significant others meeting the other's families? My boyfriend has declined several invitations to meet mine--after insisting that I meet his entire family. It feels like I had to pass an "interview," and that he doesn't have to do the same. Am I overreacting?

--Maryland

Nope. If his family matters but yours doesn't, he should cease to be significant. Give him one more chance to prove otherwise.

Dear Carolyn:

How do you tell a friend that her boyfriend is using her like toilet paper? She pays all living expenses, two-thirds of the mortgage and for any special things. In turn, he's always critical, likes nothing she does, dislikes all her friends and finds anything slightly American phony. He's German. I try gentle hints, but the response I get is "He's German." I think he's a jerk but have never said so directly. Should I?

--Dallas

Tell her, absolutely--you say it so well. And tell her she owes Germany an apology.

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 at washingtonpost.com/ liveonline.