Carolyn:

I'm about to get in trouble with my lovely wife again and would like your perspective. My mother-in-law is a thoughtless and manipulative vodka-mop. I've dealt with smarter asses than her before and pay little mind when she's rude to me, but am not wired to overlook ANYONE's rudeness to my wife. As a result, visits from the Mop get messy. My wife has a LOT of reasons to feel good about herself, but her mother can and does blind her to those things, and the blindness can linger for weeks. To make matters worse, the Mop tries to lure me into helping out in her "teasing"--"Did you know you were marrying someone so dense?" My wife tends to freeze at these moments, and says she gets more upset if I, um, "playfully" return fire. What can I do?

--A.

You can, um, "stop." Stop returning fire, stop egging her on, stop making this the Mop-and-Wiseguy Show.

Not only because your wife asked you to, though that's clearly reason enough. Stop because the drug that the Mop and other monsters crave most deeply is attention, and you're delivering--big, huge, with a lemon twist. You're a riot for sure, and, yes, you're very clever. Pat pat. Clever enough to grasp that you complete the Mop's vile circuit: She baits, you bite, she gloats, you gloat, your wife tries to become part of the chair. You like the sound of your voice too much to truly stand up for her.

It's time to stop the Mop. When the vodka hits the fan, one of you--she, preferably, but you, probably, given the circumstances--must simply put your foot down. Say, as cool as sour cream: "Please do not speak like that to either of us." No insults, no witticisms, no wars of the smartypants (smartypantses?). If the abuse doesn't end there, the conversation does.

Just make sure your wife agrees to this plan. The most important thing you can do here, really, is respect her opinion, since her mother so brutally won't.

Carolyn:

I'm a college freshman, and I've got this pattern in my friendships with guys that is killing me. All through high school, my close friendships with guys were ruined by attraction. Either I developed a crush on him, or he on me. And now I'm at school, where it's supposedly so easy to form nothing-but-friendships with the opposite sex. I think it's really important to have just-friends who are guys, but I'm seeing the pattern all over again. I'm afraid to get too close to anyone who might be attracted to me, for fear of leading them on, and I am forming friendships with guys I hope for more with--but nothing in between. Is this "When Harry Met Sally" phenomenon some weird hangup that I have? And how can I fix it?

--Ready to Just Be Friends in Ohio

Help! Help! I'm locked in a candy store!

When there's a movie about your hangup, it's tough to call it your own. Even tougher when humans have been wrestling with it since their eyes first met across a crowded cave. Here's what they've worked out so far:

1. Men (if they're not gay) are attracted to women.

2. Women (if they're not gay) are attracted to men.

3. College freshmen are attracted to everybody.

4. Dogs rule!

College freshmen also, if memory serves, spend a fair amount of time suspecting they're freaks, and so it might help to hear you're not one, on this count at least. You weren't one in high school, either. You say attractions ruined your friendships, but you probably made friends in the first place because of attractions. Can you honestly say you chose anyone then--or that others chose you--with zero regard to looks, moves, chemistry? Even now, aren't you avoiding the ones you don't like-like, the ones best suited to be your platonic friends?

Three pieces of advice: Enjoy it, be patient, enjoy it. One day, you'll come off this sugar buzz, and you'll think your weird hangup is that all these cool, interesting men seem so utterly unattractive.

Hey, Carolyn:

How far do my parents have to go to be accommodating to my in-laws? My husband's sister lives in the area and my mother feels compelled to invite her to family events and holidays. While this might not seem like a big deal, my sister-in-law never gives a straight yes or no answer and often cancels at the last minute without offering any explanation, making us tell my mother. Should I tell my mother to stop asking her?

--Virginia

Nope, not your job. Your husband should have asked his sister long ago to stop being rude.

But before you get too worked up: These invitations sound clearly compulsory. Unless your sister-in-law is one stop from brain dead, don't you think she's figured that out?

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. Monday at washingtonpost.com/liveonline