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Be faithful to yourself: End relationship

My boyfriend of four years has suddenly started suspecting me of cheating. He's obsessed with the idea and finds "evidence" such as used phone minutes or underwear on the floor that's just normal stuff. I go to work and come home to him. I am absolutely not cheating or even considering it. How can I convince him I am faithful and not always looking at other guys when he is constantly accusing me? How can I get him to trust me when I never broke his trust to begin with?

You can't. More important, you shouldn't. But put the underwear in the hamper anyway, please (whoever's it is).

It is your job to be faithful, not prove you're faithful.

Here's why. Your mate can confiscate your cell, lock you in a closet and dust you for fingerprints daily _ memo to scary people, this is a hypothetical, not an instruction manual _ and that still wouldn't prove your illicit lover isn't the locksmith downstairs who knows Morse code and wears mittens.

You cannot prove a negative. That's the "can't."

The "shouldn't" stems from that, since someone who is asking you to do the undoable is forcing you to fail.

And, therefore: to feel stressed, to feel frustrated, to feel helpless, to feel dirty. If this is what you want out of your relationship, then good luck.

And if this isn't what you want out of your relationship? Good luck. So many relationships fall into precisely this jealousy trap; raise your hand if you haven't ever watched "So how was your day?" deteriorate into "So where were you?" and "Who were you just talking to?" when the passion fades and exposes the insecurities.

So many relationships do this that it's seen as normal, a rough patch, something you surely can fix.

Wrong. Because the accused can't prove innocence, the only way to "fix" anything is for the accuser to satisfy his suspicion and drop it already, either by declaring his trust dead and breaking up, or by choosing to trust fully.

Once your relationship has sunk to the constant-suspicion-and-accusation phase, though, forget it. It's already over. Because:

The accusations mean your partner doesn't trust you.

The distrust means your partner will suspect your innocence claim is a lie.

Your inability to prove you're not lying means further distrust and interrogation.

Which means it's time to celebrate your cardboard anniversary: Pack up your boxes and go.

Trying to generate interest

I'm at the age where lots of friends are getting engaged. I'm very happy for them, but not very happy that it seems like all certain friends ever talk about _ when their boyfriends will propose, what kind of ring they want, how they need to get engaged soon because they want an October wedding.

Should I suck it up and deal, or would it be okay to speak up?

Both are okay. Neither, however, will make these friends interesting, which is the real problem you hope to solve.

E-mail tellmewashpost.com; fax (202) 334-5669; write "Tell Me About It," c/o the Washington Post, Style Plus, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

Washington Post Writers Group

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