Carolyn:

I have a great boyfriend whom I've been with for several years, and we just bought a house together. The problem: His mother thinks we're living in sin because we're not married. She tells her son this about once every three months. I have a major problem with people intruding on my personal life when they're not invited.

I can't say anything to his mom because she hasn't addressed me directly yet (although her last e-mail came perilously close to calling me a woman of loose morals), but everything the boyfriend has tried so far hasn't worked.

Of course, if we ever do marry and have kids, it will be, "Why don't you go to church?" We have an extremely honest relationship, so he knows how I feel. He's willing to fight his mother over it, because he agrees with my concept of privacy. I'm at a total loss here -- how do we get the woman to butt out?

-- It's Still Salvageable, Right?

It's more salvageable than a lot of things I've seen people try to salvage. Though that might not be saying much.

Still, you're not going to salvage anything the way you think you are. "We" won't get the woman to butt out, because "you" have little or nothing to do with it. Until she does address you directly, the mother is butting into her son's life, not yours.

It may seem like a fine distinction, but someone who decries "intruding on my personal life when they're not invited" has to be careful how she defines such an invitation.

Your boyfriend can, and should, tell his mom he loves and/or respects her but has made his own choice, and will no longer discuss it. Nicely but firmly. (Or is it firmly but nicely?) It is his rightful place to ask the woman to butt out, but don't expect him to get the woman to butt out. He has tried before, right? And failed?

That's because she can think what she wants, and she can say what she wants to her son. She can also be pushy, judgmental and obnoxious. All her prerogative. So get out of the hoping-she'll-butt-out business altogether. Life has pointless frustrations enough.

Besides, she can be toxic to your relationship only if her son grants her that power, and apparently he hasn't.

Try celebrating that, along with the many things you and your boyfriend can do about his mother: ignore her; trust your own judgment; rejoice in the relative infrequency of her butt-ins (at "once every three months," she's a rank amateur); take her less seriously; take yourselves less seriously; love each other; keep taking each other's side; screen your calls. In order of mounting importance.

Carolyn:

I love my girlfriend but I can't stand her relatives. How can I gracefully avoid social gatherings like cookouts without letting them (and her) know that I don't like them?

-- Maryland

To avoid letting them know: Decline most but not all invitations. That way you have courtesy cover and aren't making an obvious statement.

To avoid letting your girlfriend know: a very bad idea. Just as her relatives are part of who she is, your dislike of them is part of who you are. She deserves to know whom she's dating. Out with it.

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.