Hi Carolyn:

I am 16 and have a very complicated life right now. I'm very busy and trying hard to work toward opportunities for my future. People often say I'm very mature for my age, but sometimes I still feel like a child. I have never had a boyfriend, been asked out on a date, kissed, nada. It is getting rather frustrating and I don't know what I can do. I know that I don't NEED a guy, but I'd like to have someone there to make me laugh and comfort me when I have problems at home or school.

I can't talk to my parents about this because they grew up in a different culture and won't approve of my feelings. What type of guy should I look for, and how can we start a relationship?

--Advice Needed

There's serious entertainment value in a teenager wanting a boyfriend so she can have fewer problems--but I'm not going to exploit it because, frankly, it sounds like you've been through enough.

"Mature for your age" isn't a compliment if you've never been a kid. Where is this pressure to succeed coming from? You? Your parents? Their culture? Caffeine? Wherever it comes from, it seems to say that a social life isn't a productive use of your time.

The question "What type of guy should I look for?" tells me a social life would be a very productive use of your time. (Hint: You date people, not types.)

At some point, everybody has to go from being a child to an adult, from having no idea there's a world beyond your navel to having (one hopes) some sort of perspective on being one of 6 billion souls. That transition is what your teenage years are about, and so to reduce them to an opportunistic sprint toward Getting Into College or whatever it is you're chasing is to tragically miss the point. The point--the full glory (or is it gory?)--of adolescence is not in escaping the doubt-infested, abjectly humiliating social-calibration process, but in embracing it.

Have I talked you out of dating yet?

Of course I haven't.

But since you're starting a little late, I'd pass on the boyfriend--first-time driver plus eight-lane highway equals splat--and work on making good friends. Besides, laughter and comfort are easiest to find among our own kind, and I can't imagine another lonely, overworked, self-conscious 16-year-old girl with strict parents who just don't get it would be terribly hard to find.

Hi Carolyn:

I'm having a major problem with my boyfriend of two years. He's mid-thirties and getting serious, I'm late twenties and getting scared.

He's fun to be around, and we're unusually compatible in lifestyle and outlooks, but he's terrible when it comes to emotions. He bottles his up completely, and refuses to interact with me emotionally, good or bad. I realize he has issues--child abuse and has been divorced--and I would like to support him. I know his ex tried to get him in counseling, and he dropped her like a hot potato. Yes, defense mechanisms, I know.

I know you can't force a sick person to seek help. My father has severe depression and has made my family a living nightmare for years because he feels it is more "honorable" to deny it. I also know if I tell him to go to counseling or else, I'll be out the door. Should I cut my losses, or do you have a creative idea for cracking his shell?

--Maryland

I do! Just take this quiz:

Troubled, stubborn, emotionally inaccessible, defensive. Quick, whom have I described?

I'm afraid the counseling you need here is for you, to find out why you're dating your father.

Hi Carolyn:

I was curious to know if you believe in the theory "what goes around comes around." Specifically, if a man is rotten, do you think eventually in his life justice will be served and someone will treat him as badly as he treated a former girlfriend? Yes, that would be me.

--Houston

I don't think there's a celestial bean-counter making sure he gets his, if that's what you mean. But I do think he will make sure that he gets his. Absolutely.

If a guy mistreats his girlfriends, it's safe to assume he's a jerk all around. And for every jerk out there, there are 10 people who relish every chance they get to make a jerk pay. Loneliness, unhappy relationships, high staff turnover, bad service--these are unpleasantries a guy can look forward to if he hasn't learned how to treat another human being. (I don't even like to think about what an alienated waiter can do.) So just curl up with your dolly and your straight pins and enjoy the karmic show.