Original "Tell Me About It" columns will appear in Sunday Source while Carolyn is on maternity leave. The following are excerpts from spring 2003 live discussions on washingtonpost.com.


My 21-year-old daughter, Ellen, who's in college, has agreed to "help support" a younger woman ("Rachel," 18) who is trying to stop drinking. Apparently the support entails trying to keep temptation away from Rachel, standing up to other friends who try to tempt Rachel into drinking and calling Rachel's boyfriend if Rachel succumbs.

I told Ellen that Rachel needs -- badly -- to be responsible for her own behavior. I said that Rachel will never learn that responsibility if other people are always looking out for her. I said Ellen was signing on to be a surrogate mother to Rachel.

I felt strongly enough about it to deliver what amounted to a motherly sermon. Now Ellen is a little ticked at me. I know my daughter well enough to know that her caring side often leads her into this type of situation. I've seen her hurt before because she needs to care for people so much.

So -- am I being overly protective myself? I just think my daughter isn't seeing what I'm seeing.

-- Heart of Dixie

Howdy. How's your taste for irony?

I think Ellen needs to ask herself why she needs to play mother hen to feel good about herself. The dependence here goes both ways, and that's what concerns me. Especially since, if you don't mind my saying, she seems to have learned from the master.

Okay, you really are her mother hen, so you do have some license -- but still, she's 21! Step back and let her screw up, the way you want her to do with Rachel. You should always feel free to point out -- once -- a pattern she might not see, but otherwise, if she wants to invest all her energy into living other people's lives for them, then that's her prerogative.


Been dating a great guy for about 21/2 months now. I'm 24, he's 25. The relationship has been pretty physical, but we aren't having sex. I actually have still got my "V card," mainly because I've never been in a relationship that has developed to that level. Haven't broached the topic yet in this relationship although it seems likely to come up in the near future if things continue on the path they are going. One friend suggests I hold back from telling him for as long as possible because it will freak him out and make him feel under pressure, possibly throwing the relationship off-kilter. On the other hand, I feel I should just tell him as soon as possible so he can get over any freaking out he needs to do sooner rather than later. Do you think it's dishonest to hold back from telling till later?

-- Anywhere, USA

Tell him when the moment feels right to tell him. If you're not sure when that is: When you feel like you're keeping something from him, then you've passed the moment. It's not about freaking him out or not, it's about being yourself and finding out whether you're someone he likes. Boo to your friend for not telling you that.

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