Carolyn:

I have a friend who recently moved here. The problem? She's so, so cheap. She was this way in college; always sponging pizza or leftover Chinese food off us, and we were too nice to eat in front of her without offering her any. Now, most of us are in grad school or just graduated. She's the only one of us with a full-time job, but she's still reluctant to put in her share. She complains about the cost of everything; it's almost her only topic of conversation! We are sick of her. I am so tempted to just dump her as a friend, but I feel bad. She has few other friends, small wonder. Should I give up, or is there a nice way of telling her how bored we are of money money money?

--Washington

There are mercy killings, so why not mercy insultings?

"You are boring, obnoxious and cheap."

Though that's more mallet-to-the-head than mercy killing, I suppose. Go ahead, find the nicest way you can put it. Just tell her, please, that there's nothing appealing, interesting or warm about harping on money. It's like a toothful of spinach--she really ought to know about it. Besides, if the alternative is ditching her entirely, neither of you has much to lose.

Dear Carolyn:

My sister and I are close in age and also very good friends. She is a brilliant neurosurgeon. I enjoy moderate success in my own career. The problem does not exist between my sister and me but rather in people's assumptions of how I must feel as the average sister of a talented brain surgeon. From childhood to present, I've been disappointed by teachers and friends who compare us and ask me questions like, "So what happened to you?" As a result, I am losing my desire to get to know people on any meaningful level and fear that any new people I meet will become so fascinated with my sister that I'll just sort of . . . fade into the background. I've always been very driven to succeed but I'm starting to question the point of it all.

--L.

If all the bright people were brain surgeons, where would the rest of us hide?

I could get into the risks of seeking happiness by comparison, but you're your own tutorial on that. I'll also leave the "point of it all" unexplored, since we all know there isn't one, and an exegesis on that hardly seems the way to cheer you up.

So let's talk movies.

(Settle in for a long one, guys.)

(Come on, I don't do it often.)

Ever seen a little 1993 sapfest called "Rudy"? Or the inescapable "It's a Wonderful Life"? Just caught both of these again, and was reminded of what should be a psychic staple: That winning is, pardon the pun, relative. Oh sure, cross the finish line first and you win. But that's so . . . linear. Try picking the winner here: The jock who comes in first; the folksy equipment manager at Massive State U. who persuaded said homesick jock not to drop out of the program; the non-jock who finished last and was damn happy to finish; the entrepreneur grossing billions off everybody's footwear; the spectator inspired by it all, including the shoe ad. Well?

Here's a better one: The people who fall out of bed, take a shower, dress badly, eat their responsible bowl of bran, catch the bus and teach our miserable undercivilized overcommercialized snot-nosed brats how to read. Winners?

Not to the people giving you a hard time. Not to the society that thinks Pamela Lee's personal life actually warrants attention. (Except as a punch line.) (Pardon the pun.) Not, sadly, to you.

The truth is, you can just as easily find a brain surgeon annoyed that she's not Christy Turlington as you can an auto-show babe who thinks she drew life's longest straw. It's all in how you define winning. "Burning the fewest hours of your days wanting wishing wondering why you aren't someone else," that's the definition I like.

You say you're "driven" to succeed. You need to ask yourself why; then you need to give yourself a brutally honest answer. Then you should probably stop talking to yourself.

If your answer's anything but, "I enjoy a job well done," you're basically inviting everyone who's better than you at something (there's always someone) and everyone who's eager to point that out (hordes of them) to grind their heels in your face. And what's the point of that?

Dear Carolyn:

My girlfriend is angry with me because I asked her to not read through my old journals. Most of it is bad writing and I'd rather not have anybody read it. She started to do so without asking me when I happened to walk into the room. I've thought about trashing most it of anyway. What do you think?

--A Writer Who Doesn't Want to Be Read

Keep the journals, trash the girlfriend. What a nosy, self-righteous twit.

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 noon today or at 8 p.m. Monday at washingtonpost.com/liveonline