Dear Carolyn:

I have a younger brother who seems to hate our family. He is jealous of any small success any of his siblings may have, even though he enjoys his share of professional success also. He does not have many friends, I think because he tends to put others down, although he has a lovely girlfriend. I worry that he may be depressed. I don't know how to approach him, because he tends to deflect any gestures I make to get closer to him. Can you suggest any way his family can reach out to him?

--Maryland

"Hate" is such a strong word. Are you sure it's not just "want to run screaming barefoot over earthworms to get away from"?

If you think he's really in trouble, I'd go with the lovely girlfriend. She has both things you want: his side of the story and his ear.

But I'm not convinced backing off isn't the better move. In fact, since he's all but asked you to do that, not backing off might come across as disrespect.

Think about it. Your family's pretty successful, and also pretty tight, yes? And you see nothing but good in these things? Now imagine not being able to see anything in yourself that's better than what you were born with--what you achieved just by breathing. Imagine not having any real sense of yourself outside the family. Suddenly, all that good doesn't sound all that good.

It's just a theory, but I'm willing to bet your brother is stuck in that spot. Before you make another pass at "reaching out" to him, consider just giving him space.

Dear Carolyn:

I know golf is a poor analogy for love, but I've got a great long game and can't putt worth a nickel (which is paraphrasing what my platonic girlfriends tell me).

There's this girl in my class I've chatted up. I'm an amateur artist of sorts, so I drew her a quick pencil sketch--it was really cute--and she was amused and impressed. But now I don't know how to follow it up. I just have a feeling that "Let's see a movie" isn't going to work--we're too busy right now with school. But if I overcompensate after having gone a little over-the-top with the picture, I fall into the "you're scaring me, dude" situation. I keep trying to trust the "vibe" thing, but my faith is faltering.

So, when the wind's at my back, should I shoot for the green and risk hitting it in the lake, or two-hit and hope my putting game pulls through?

--Tiger

Go for the 9-iron, then beat your analogy silly.

Keep your faith in the vibe. If the vibe rejects "Let's see a movie," go with something more spontaneous and therefore less threatening--"I'm getting coffee, wanna come along?" Just aim for the windmill and don't think so much.

Putt-Putt is a great analogy for love.

Carolyn:

I have had a huge crush on this guy in one of my classes. We were friends and had been hanging out, until finally he told me he was interested in more than just friendship. I was ecstatic, of course, and we made a date for that weekend.

Anyway, he stood me up and didn't call. I called him the next afternoon to find out what happened, and he said something came up but was very vague. He's a pretty shy guy, so it could have been a case of nerves. I'm just curious as to any theories you might have. It's been three weeks now and I haven't heard from him at all.

--College Town, USA

Maybe he left his brain in his other pants.

You had the guts to ask him, and that's good, but now you're grilling yourself, and that's just prolonging the pain. Some questions don't have answers.

Dear Carolyn:

How do I respond to a friend who sharply criticizes me, and then tells me it's for my own good to make me a better person? This friend is a fun girl most of the time, very witty and the life of the party. Yet when she directs comments to me about an outfit, the way I'm wearing my hair or something I said that she thinks is inappropriate, she can be really vicious. And I am not being overly sensitive--I can respect a friend who tells you the truth. I've told her to keep her comments to herself, that I am happy being the imperfect person I am, but she continues to do it.

--San Francisco

Uh-uh, there's no "most of the time . . . but." She's a control freak, full time, and you're her pet power trip.

Tell her that if the only way you can get the criticism to stop is to avoid her entirely, you're ready to give it a shot. And that her outfit totally sucks.

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. tomorrow or at noon Friday at washingtonpost.com/ liveonline.