Dear Carolyn:

A serious ex-boyfriend--that is, he was a very serious boyfriend and is now an ex--has invited me to spend New Year's with him at a great great party. He and I have had some issues with being exes. He's now dating someone and I don't want him back, though we both do miss what we had for several years.

Question: Is this an unhealthy way for me to ring in the new millennium?

No, because the new millennium is MORE THAN A YEAR AWAY.

Grr.

And no, not if the new girfriend's going, too. If that's the case, the unhealthy way to celebrate would be to pass up a great great party just because your ex will be there. New Year's symbolism is ruthlessly overrated.

If you're going to be his date, "great" may still apply--just don't assume either of you will be rational when the going gets bubbly.

Dear Carolyn:

I am coming up on my fourth anniversary and my husband still doesn't help out with the chores. I am tired of doing them all and working full time and going to school and trying to raise a 3-year-old while he is either working (he has his own business), playing golf or just lying around. Do you think it would be wrong of me to stop doing his laundry or cooking for him, or is this part of my role in this world? I don't believe in the whole the-man-brings-home-the-bacon- and-we-fry-it-up-in-a-pan. He does pay the bills; he thinks this is his role. We are 25 and 26 years old. --What Should I Do?

I count a job, school, chores and two 3-year-olds.

Oh, and one screaming doormat. Your "role in this world"?

Tempting as it may be to cut off his hospitality supply, it's a pretty hostile act--so save it for when you're feeling pretty hostile.

To keep you from getting there, try putting your fatigue in writing. List all of it, everything you do in a day--going to work and whatever home-related errands or phone calls you squeeze in while you're there, plus classes, plus all the little 3-year-old juice-fetching and face-washing you add on top of that.

If your husband truly believes life is fair, he can't object to keeping a list himself. Do it for one week, compare.

Enjoy.

If the list works, he will feel bad, awful, unforgivable or, if you really score big, floral. Note that I didn't say "useful"; enlightenment won't necessarily translate into actual household help. A guy set in his guy ways may have to be asked to please fold this laundry and buy these groceries and make that bed, thanks so very much, for years before you reset his ways. Which is, if you're keeping track, more &#$@* work for you, but it helps if you keep telling yourself that you're training your part-time replacement.

If the list doesn't work--if he can stare at what I'll guess to be a 20-to-1 chore imbalance and say, "So, Cinderella, what's your point?"--then this isn't about chores at all. It's about respect, and it's not going away without outside help. (I mean a marriage counselor, but a housekeeper couldn't hurt.)

Dear Carolyn:

Your answer to most people claiming to be under the influence of a "guilt trip" is that the guilt is one's own creation. I don't understand this. Mothers especially have the ability to push all our buttons, to make us question our own decisions and feel bad, read "guilty," about not doing what they expect from us.

Example: The holiday dilemma. I feel bad--sad, nostalgic, lonely--about having Christmas away from my family. That is not guilt, it is my own problem to deal with the realities of change as we grow. But when my mother calls and tells me how sad she is, blah blah blah, am I supposed to be the coldhearted daughter and not feel anything? That's the feeling I call guilt, and I wouldn't have it if she would be a grown-up about it, too.

--A.

I feel mad--annoyed, peeved, internally torqued--when parents roll up their expectations and beat their kids over the head with them. But you wouldn't feel the blows if you mustered a little faith in your choices--if you knew, to use your example, that you really would join your family if you could. Which you would, right? What's so cold about telling Mom that?

Granted, resisting doubt isn't easy if your mom's got an itchy button finger (though, for the record, I think a mother is allowed to say, "I'm sad you won't be here" without being accused of blackmail). But a blackmailing mama just means you have to take her into account when you make these kinds of decisions. If you miss a family holiday; if you marry someone she scorns; if you drop out of med/law/business school to devote more time to your taxidermy--you have to stand tall and stand ready to say you've done the right thing. It's called confidence. Not only does it cut the wires to all those buttons, but it's entirely one's own creation.

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