My older sister, who no longer possesses her girlish figure, dresses skimpily on all occasions. Her style elicits comments from strangers that range from "yuck" to allusions to her "profession." I told her I was uncomfortable accompanying her when she's dressed in a way that prompts strangers to say such negative things. I didn't criticize or judge -- just stated my feelings. She said she wasn't angry but then accused me and the rest of the family of picking on her. She continued to verbally assault me and our mother although my mother had nothing to do with it. Now she is not speaking to me. Was I wrong to tell her I was uncomfortable?

-- Tired of Being Mooned

Unless you count the gym or Loehmann's dressing room, I haven't been mooned on a regular basis, so I'm not going to tell you it's something you should have just grinned and borne.

But I think you're wrong to see your sister's response as anger. Pain and humiliation are more like it, with the verbal assault as merely a nasty, protective front. Change the definition of nasty, and the aggressively sexy clothes are the same thing -- a hiding place, since she's effectively telling the world, "Stand back: I am really screwed up." Throw in the current silent treatment, and her demons have scored a hat trick.

I may be making a mountain out of a moonhill, but it's pretty clear even from a short letter that your sister is heavy with sour feelings that she can't deal with and expresses abysmally. No doubt it took guts to express what you justifiably feel about her, but to say you "didn't criticize or judge" seems a tad disingenuous. Of course it was a criticism, and a blistering one -- she embarrasses you.

You can't fix everyone who's broken and you can't un-say what's been said. But you can factor in some compassion. This is about you only in that it hurts you to see her treated poorly. Right? Then say so. Also add that if she's both aware and unfazed she invites strangers' abuse, you won't bring it up again.

Dear Carolyn:

Back in 2000, you mentioned that looking for romance on the Internet is always a bad idea. Two years ago, I probably would have agreed with you, but recently I have noticed that many happy, emotionally stable, good-looking, intelligent people are turning to online personals in their searches for Someone to Love. Has the social climate changed since you last weighed in (or, more importantly, has it changed your mind)?

-- Unplugged in NYC

The more accepted online matchmaking becomes, the more people will use it, and the more people use it, the better the pool will get. Yes, the climate has changed -- though not so much that meeting in person in the context of a healthy life has ceased to be the best option.

What hasn't changed at all is my opinion that shopping for a mate is a bad idea, regardless of where you shop.

Circulate, great, make friends, get out, live.

But declaring "I want Someone to Love" and then hitting the stores are a prelude to grabbing the first thing that looks halfway decent and happens to be on sale.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or, and join Carolyn's live discussion at noon Fridays at