Q. I am a woman in my early 20s, and I decided a while ago that I do not ever want to get married. There is a long list of reasons: I don't want children; I don't know how you can predict at 30 that you'd want to be with the same person when you're 80; and I don't want all of the marital problems people write in to you about.
Whenever marriage comes up, and relatives or other peers ask me why I don't want to get married, I feel like I'm in a rut. If I list my reasons, especially to someone married, it can feel preachy or insulting. If I say something like, "It's just not for me," I am either met with sympathy ("Oh, there's someone out there for everyone!") or questioning ("Are you a lesbian?"), or they try to convince me marriage is the answer. Any advice on what I can say in these situations?
A. You're under no obligation to satisfy people's curiosity about your beliefs.
That gives you such wide latitude when answering questions that you can offer anything from "I'd rather not get into it" to an exegesis on non-marriage that will persuade your loved ones with eye-glazing finality never to broach this topic in your presence again.
Since you seem disinclined to shut people down and eager to be understood, maybe it's time to consider a phrasing of the truth that's less of a red cape to the pro-marriage bull: "I'll consider getting married only when I find someone I want to marry."
It not only sticks to (and gently reframes) the marriage-isn't-for-me truth, but it also will remain true no matter where your life takes you -- something you can't say for "I do not ever want to get married," no matter how certain you are. Yet it still makes clear that you don't see marriage unto itself as a goal.
And even though some will find room for debate, or offense, in the most airtight remarks, I'll-cross-that-bridge-when-I-get-there is about as judgment- and debate-proof as a position on marriage can get.
Q. I have known my boyfriend about five years. We dated casually, on and off, for the first four, but we've gotten serious over the past eight months. I truly adore and love him. We're always laughing and touching and smiling. We talk every day and see each other often. This weekend, he is taking me to meet his extended family out of town.
I have no doubts that he feels deeply for me.
But he has yet to tell me he loves me, or express verbally how he feels for me.
He will be 27 soon. He is buying a condo and starting a new job. He seems to be making all the arrangements to settle down.
Eight months into our relationship, shouldn't he be able to express how he feels for me? I want to be married in two or three years. I love him, but I am willing to walk away within the next six months if he can't be more open about whether he sees a future with me.
How can I get him to express what he feels?
A. I'll give you a moment to take your schedule out back and bury it.
Now. What is more open or expressive than bringing you out of town to meet his extended family? Maybe you're not in the dark so much as impressed by only one kind of light.
Words are important, of course. Mature people also tend to say the difficult ones when they need to, even when putting emotions into words doesn't come naturally to them.
This isn't just about what your boyfriend "should" be able to do, though; it's also about when. Certainly there's room for different opinions on I-love-you timing? There's a suspiciously quick range, a what's-the-holdup range, and a-healthy-pace-is-your-own-pace range, no? Wide ranges, all?
There's no substitute for talking, since you and he might see intimacy and your relationship differently, and mind-reading has a lousy track record for reconciling such differences.
But before you initiate any Talks, please renounce your schedule long enough to get to know your boyfriend better. Chances are, after four casual years with him and eight intense months, you have enough information to understand how, when, and to whom he communicates what is important to him. Instead of just waiting for him to speak your language, or pushing for it, make an effort to learn his.
Once you've done that, and lived with the results for a while, and broached unmet needs -- his and yours -- to give each of you a chance to fulfill the other, then it will make sense to decide whether a future together makes sense.
• Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her online at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.