Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Recognize the signs to avoid the breakup blindsiding
Washington: Recently I've been caught off guard by a few relationships that have dissolved to the real surprise of me and other friends.
How can you tell if your relationship is going to work out for the long haul?
I know you're not a psychic and I'm not looking for a crystal-ball answer.
I'm just wondering if there are certain signs that might indicate one way or another.
Carolyn: The only answer that doesn't get into crystal-ball territory is to pay attention to actions. If you're building hopes and impressions on what people say (or what you want to believe), then you're likely to treat lukewarm actions as a "mixed message," when in fact they're a clear message.
If someone is all over you, for example, but not available to you, then don't expect much. The actions are everything. It's also important to anticipate your own weaknesses, the soft spots and blind spots that are ripe for someone to exploit.
You'll get an answer to proposal, one way or another
Anonymous: My boyfriend's birthday is tomorrow, and I am going to propose. (Yay nontraditional gender roles!)
I have been planning this for a long time, but of the dozen or so people I've told, about eight have responded with some variation on the "never propose to a man" party line.
The remaining four say "Good luck," but with this sickly look on their faces.
I have chosen to ignore the naysayers, but I'm starting to actually sort of freak out now. Do you think there's any truth to that logic?
Carolyn: If your boyfriend wants to marry you, then he will be over the moon.
If he doesn't want to marry you, or if he's interested in marrying you only for the opportunity to punch his tradition ticket just so, then you'll be better for finding that out now, vs. after you get strung along/used as a prop.
Nipping Mean Girl syndrome before it gets out of hand
Durham, N.C.: My daughter, an only child, is 9 and likes to have her friends come over, usually singly but sometimes in pairs.
Her friends are all nice kids, but occasionally I spot what seems like the beginning of "mean girl" behavior — nothing overt, which I could smack down immediately, but whispering between the two kids who aren't mine. My daughter is mostly oblivious to this, but I think sometimes it bothers her.
What should I do when I see this happening? These kids are too old to automatically behave as I tell them without its affecting their relationship with my daughter.
I kind of want to call a meeting of all parents of girls to talk about "mean girl" behavior, but maybe that's overkill.
Carolyn: I'd start by seeing what your daughter has to say. Ask some leading questions, and wait patiently for the full answer.
She might have some good ideas about dealing with it, and if she asks you, then you can collaborate on some.
If it comes from her, it will be so much more effective.
The next place I'd go is to their teacher, in confidence. I would bring it to the Parental Panel as a third resort.