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.

Dear Carolyn:

Do you think a 3.5-carat diamond is too gaudy (or not gaudy enough)? I'm 24, she's 22.

D.C.

Good lord. Skip the ring and buy a house.

Carolyn (To D.C.):

Don't ever try to trade buying a "thing" for buying an engagement ring you and your fiancee both like. Furniture, car and house will come and go -- ring is forever.

Washington

Eh, I suppose . . . but debt and rent can feel like forever, too, especially if you've taken them on because you got into an imaginary [bleeping] contest over the size of the "rock." Cringe.

Addendum to D.C.: If you must buy a ring, buy one you think your fiancee will think is beautiful. It is supposed to be an expression of love, not of wallet, and if you've been told that expressing the most possible wallet is the surest way to show love, I have a nice wall here for you to bang your head against.

Carolyn:

A ring is not forever, ever. My mother just lost her engagement ring but she's still got the house and some wonderful children, I might add. Oh yeah, and we've still got Dad, too.

Malarky!

Oh, right -- Dad.

Hi there, Carolyn:

My best female friend is marrying my best male friend and she is very happy. She's finishing up her master's and knows where she wants to live, what she wants to do and whom she loves.

I feel great about their relationship and in general feel great for them. I'm single, happily so . . . haven't figured out what I want to do for a living yet (I'm in this job only until I save money and get into a grad program) and I can't make up my mind what city I want to be in. I'm in transition.

I'm unsatisfied, but not unhappy. Life is good. However, my friend is genuinely worried about my not having everything set; it's not condescending or snotty or rude. And I think she (and her fiance) see me as broken for not having it all figured out yet. She says they both feel concerned about my state of mind.

I've told her I am in transition. I mean, this is life! The journey! Right? I suddenly feel defensive about a life I love, yet don't feel I should have to defend it. What's the protocol here?

New York State of Mind

Tell her you're feeling defensive. Really. For one thing, it's better than defending yourself and knowing that both of them are thinking, "Wow, she's defensive, we must be right about her."

And she needs to know, openly, that she's putting you in a bad spot. Explain that you want to be settled, of course, someday -- but at your own pace, not hers. Her pace is good for her. Your pace is good for you. Ask her please to respect you enough to let you live at your pace instead of continually pressuring you to do or be something else.

If she continues to badger you, can we please subject the "best friend" thing to some scrutiny? If you hadn't sung their praises so earnestly, I'd be railing about the condescension of it all.

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.