Dear Carolyn:

Recently I broke up with my girlfriend. I heard through a mutual friend that she felt that there wasn't enough emotional intimacy between us. What is emotional intimacy?

-- Colorado Springs, Colo.

It's not having to hear secondhand that your relationship lacks emotional intimacy.

I hate myself for saying that, too. Just not as much as if I'd let the opportunity pass.

For something that causes a lot of complications, intimacy is a stunningly simple idea. It's the mutual sharing of self. You show her yours and she shows you hers. Feelings. Please.

For example, she says, "I don't feel close to you," and you say, "I'm afraid to say how I feel, so I put up a massive front." Simple.

Which is where things get complicated. Given a choice between admitting they feel stupid/scared/lonely/left out/confused/ugly and scalding themselves with hot coffee, most people would go for the joe.

Understandably -- the yearning at least to appear desirable is as primal as the yearning for love. So the makeup goes on, the stud cars get leased, and true feelings get stuffed in a box.

But no love can be complete unless both parties reveal themselves completely, and that includes all the secrets they shudder to tell, all the lumps they spend pre-date hours dressing to conceal -- everything that really might scare away a prospective mate. Cruel-joke aficionados take note.

In the end, you have to let the urge to get to know someone outweigh the fear of getting hurt. So if you don't want to be 50 years old hearing 12th-hand from your 63rd ex-girlfriend that you shut her out emotionally, you're going to need to drop your defenses.

Maybe not all of them on the first date (please not all of them on the first date), but appropriately -- with time, and trust, and reciprocity, and faith that you can be vulnerable to someone, even get terribly hurt, and live to try again. To the right person, that alone is desirable enough to even out (most of) the lumps.

Hi!

My boyfriend of a few years (we're both in our mid-twenties) is moving back into his parents' house. His lease is up and he'll move into another place in about six months. I'm personally big on not relying on parents if you consider yourself an adult (he's not doing this out of necessity, just convenience), and I'm having a hard time respecting him because of it and am not looking forward to hanging out in his childhood bedroom. Am I being bratty about this?

-- East Coast

Maybe he's personally big on not prostrating himself logistically and financially just to keep his autonomy intact during a temporary lease gap. Have you asked?

He could also be just another senseless apron-string casualty, but unless you've voiced your concerns, you're in a weak spot to question his maturity.

Meanwhile, whether you've spoken up or not, you have been with this guy for "years." Didn't you see this coming? Did you arrive at this crisis with a full tank of respect for him, or had it already run a bit low? Think hard. A decision that can easily be read two ways, especially one of principle, screams to be taken in context.

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

liveonline.