Dear Carolyn:

Things between my partner and me are at a very tense point. We have been together four years and live together, and lately he has been getting very upset with my lack of commitment -- meaning, I don't want to get married, buy a house, etc. I've been holding off on making any choices about my life, in general, hoping that I would naturally kind of get on board with these things. We really love each other and I could see having a family with him, but I want to do other things first. I know this is very broad, but what should I do?

Chicago

Ah. The old naturally-kind-of-get-on-board-with-these-things thing.

For someone you love, here's what you do. Figure out what you want. Figure out why. Figure out whether these goals actually create a legitimate obstacle to commitment. Figure out how to articulate these things to him. Then tell him this well-thought-out truth.

And be prepared to stand by your choice and move out. It may be fair for you to have and pursue your own interests -- even if that interest turns out to be "I'm 22, I need to live more" -- but it is not fair to let someone hang indefinitely while you do. Give him the information he needs to decide his next step for himself.

If you do all your thinking and you can't come up with any clear what or why, then you're essentially saying you want him to give you a nice, secure home from which you explore other things -- and that you can ditch when you're finished with it. Which means your next round of thinking needs to address the fairness of what you expect vs. what you're willing to give.

Hi Carolyn:

How do you handle a co-worker who repeatedly ignores your request that he stop doing obnoxious things? He eats smelly food, I tell him it's smelly, he acts annoyed and continues to eat it, day after day. I know our boss would do nothing if we told him. We all share a large office and there is no getting away from him. What do we do? By the way, that is only one example of the things he does.

D.C.

I shudder to think what the other examples would be. Parts his hair in the middle? Goes HAW HAW HAW when he laughs? Displays pictures of ugly family members?

You show up at work to do a job. Part of doing almost any job is adapting to the disparate crew that shows up with you, and the resulting sensory sideshow.

There are limits to how offensive that environment can get, by law, and if this guy's "obnoxious things" rise to the level of a hostile work environment, then "nothing" isn't one of your boss's (legal) options.

But if this is just about yesterday's scampi, then it's solely a matter of taste, and therefore your burden to bear. Asking the guy to change his behavior to suit your taste requires either a lot of tact or a lot of nerve -- and I think you've already discovered the kind of response you're going to get, day after day after day, from having a lot of nerve. So, a new tack. Have you offered to buy the guy lunch?

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