Dear Carolyn:

I recently fell in love with a wonderful woman who I hope will be part of my life for a very long time. My problem: My friends and colleagues are highly educated people who greatly value intelligence and professionalism. My girlfriend, however, habitually uses double negatives when she speaks and comes across as being ignorant and of low intelligence. In truth, she can run circles around most people with her mathematical skills, but that doesn't come out in conversation. I "can't think of no way" to either help her appear as intelligent as she is or just get over my own embarrassment when we're with my friends and colleagues. Is there a way to gently coach her about how others perceive her? Or is it shallow of me to be bothered by it in the first place?

Double Negative

That you saw past the grammar suggests you're not shallow.

That you're worried her grammar will make you look bad to friends suggests you're shallow.

That your friends might not see past the grammar as you did, or might judge you for her grammar, suggests they might be shallow.

That you're inclined to engineer her public image makes you presumptuous.

So. Let's just frame the grammar issue as a potential liability for her professionally, or a cheese-grater-to-the-ears liability for you personally, and work from there.

Either way, the most important thing to consider is what she wants here. Loving her the way you do, you might already know whether she's one to want to be corrected or to be left alone.

But if you're not sure, you can either wait till you are (recommended), or broach it before you explode (understood). Maybe: "Are you grateful or insulted when people correct your grammar, assuming they'll love you regardless?" Assuming you'll love her regardless.

Dear Carolyn:

I am 29, a grown adult with (too) many responsibilities. I am not lacking in relationship experience. This is why my behavior is so strange. When someone truly impresses me, beyond mere physical attraction, I become an adolescent all over again. I'm an excellent conversationalist, yet when I'm facing this particular woman who works in my grocery, all of that becomes useless. And what's really frustrating is that she's given signals she might be interested. I tell myself to just talk to her, but then this mental wall erects, and I become dumb and clumsy. This does not sound dire on the surface, but it worries me. Isn't there something psychologically wrong when I can't even make myself get to know her? I would please ask that quick answers I've received from friends and acquaintances, like, "Just do it," be avoided. If I could "just do it," I wouldn't be writing you.

Somber Admirer in Indiana

Then just don't do it. Plan B. Go buy groceries and just nod. Or smile. Or, in a devil-may-care moment, say hi. Do this until seeing her becomes so routine that your faculties start to return.

Plan C: Forget cool. "When I try to talk to you, it comes out dumb and clumsy."

Striking up conversation, cold, with someone attractive is the hardest thing in socialdom; adrenaline is both normal and tough to shrug off. Familiarity takes care of both problems, since head rushes can't and don't last.

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