Carolyn:

I have been seeing a guy for five months who is really great except for one thing. Sometimes he doesn't show respect for my needs and pouts when I try to set limits. He has been trying to move things forward with us since the beginning. Maybe something inside me sensed it wasn't good for me, because I have been resisting. We have almost broken up twice, and actually I fully believed we had broken up until he called me last night and got me to reconsider. We have a lot in common and get along really well, except for this one area. He likes to get his own way and is very pushy about it. He has told me he will try to curb it but that I will have to push back because that is the way he is. I think this is his lesson to learn, about how to accept what the other person needs. But does he have to learn it with me?

--Washington

No.

You were expecting something more thorough?

NO! NO! NO!

Ignoring your needs and limits, along with his big rush to intimacy, are two early signs you're with a controlling and potentially abusive man--emotionally, physically, pick one. (As if the disrespect and that godawful pouting weren't reason enough to punt.) Some other warnings to watch for: jealousy or possessiveness, efforts to isolate you from friends and family, "jokes" that put you down in public. Doubt me? Notice how deftly he's worked you over already.

Or just ask your gut. I can hear it now: "Buy new shoes!"

Sorry. That's my gut. Heh heh.

Yours is the one howling into the void: "Something is just not right."

Carolyn:

My life has been drama central for the past couple of months. I got in touch with a former flame after 10 years. She came into town for a friendly meeting--in her words, "to put thoughts of me to rest." The first five minutes revealed she had a boyfriend of five years. Taking that as a huge clue, I acted with decorum but kept things flirty and fun. Despite my best intentions, I couldn't get her out of my skull. She was suffering from similar symptoms. We mutually agreed to scram out of work on a school day and meet on neutral ground. Sparks started flying.

The next weekend she came down for a covert visit. We had a great time, and she pulled the plug on her beau. Since then we have spent every weekend (about eight) and a week's vacation together. Things are great.

So, here is the problem. She gets calls from her old beau and feels guilty. Since we are in different towns, I start feeling insecure and she starts questioning what she has done. Given that we dig each other in a big way, what is my smart move?

--The Spoiler

There. Move there.

You didn't say rational move ("If she's unsure, you don't want her"), or Labrador move ("Relax, she'll chose you") or $3.99 drugstore Zen move ("If you love something, set it free"). You said "smart." Smart, in a street sort of way, is realizing the bird in the hand was good for five years, and you're the schlemiel in the shrub.

Smart in this case is also paranoid, insecure, excessive, rash and richly problematic (as long as we're being thorough). So don't pack the truck just yet, not until you get a better idea what is and is not worth worrying about. I'll give you two hints to get you started.

Is: you.

Is not: people who aren't you.

Right now, you're way too caught up in the latter. Dumpees will call, dumpers will feel guilty, new guy will feel threatened . . . blub blub blub. (Me with head underwater till this goes away.)

Do you know who rarely ends up at Drama Central? The person who makes up his mind. Your past and your recent two months have given you plenty of signs to where this thing's going. Read them.

If you're just reaching for 10-years-ago bliss (along with the same 10-years-ago problems), or if you're gloating over your success as Spoiler Man, then you've only just begun to feel weird/incomplete/insecure.

And if you love her? Tell her. Get this baby rolling.

Dear Carolyn:

Boyfriend says he's breaking up with me if I don't quit smoking. I am so not ready yet! I don't think it's fair. Do you?

--D.C.

I am so with your boyfriend on this. You can smoke if you want--but he can leave if he wants. Sorry.

I'm curious, though. What constitutes "ready"?

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 or at noon Friday at washingtonpost.com/ liveonline