Q.I have been getting more involved with a friend of mine. We have a complicated history of dancing around possible romantic interest, which we have finally decided to act on.
However, I'm beginning to question his character. He told me he was a smoker, and when I interjected my surprise because I have never smelled smoke on him, he explained in great detail all the ways he goes about hiding it. I accepted this and moved on. Then, later in the evening, he laughed and said he would never smoke a cigarette!
Well, after much pulling of information from him, he told me he had been "just kidding" about smoking a pack a day.
But the scary part was that, at one point of this "joke," I honestly couldn't tell which was the truth. Looking back, he does this kind of thing all the time, so sometimes it is hard for me to tell if he is telling the truth. I am always honest with him, but shouldn't this be a two-way street? Is this a sign that this relationship is one to exit gracefully?
A. You just can't take a joke, can you ... fortunately, you can tell him where to stuff it.
This isn't about lying, since he eventually does share the truth (though clearly he can lie, expertly). This is about his using your simple expectation of honesty against you for cheap yuks, and, more important, amusing himself with your ignorance for hours. What occurs during those hours isn't a joke or a relationship -- it's a power trip.
That's its own exit-gracefully sign.
When you do exit, expect him to try the can't-take-a-joke tack, but don't buy it. The whole point of a relationship is to have a safe place to be yourself, and, for this guy, your natural vulnerability isn't enough; he manipulates you into a state of artificial vulnerability to him. Respect is another two-way street, and cruelty doesn't even belong on the map.
It's especially important to recognize his tactics for what they are if your "complicated history" has anything to do with losing your willpower when you're around him. Call him a liar, and he'll rightly want to persuade you of his innocence. If instead you say your idea of a joke is very different from his, and this difference has bothered you enough to be a deal-breaker for you, then you're in the realm of your opinion, which isn't his to dispute. Hang tough.
Q. I have never thought tattoos are particularly attractive. To me, they seem like just a form of self-mutilation. I never dated guys who had tattoos.
My husband did not have tattoos early in our relationship, and only when we were seriously involved did he decide he wanted one. I told him my feelings about them, but he still really wanted one. I also don't believe anybody's got the right to tell another person what they can or can't do with their own body.
He now has several tattoos. He apparently likes how his body looks with them and believes he is "making himself more attractive to me," even though I have plainly told him his tattoos have not made him so. I loved his body just the way it was, and of course I continue to love my husband despite the tattoos, and thank God, am still attracted to him.
I had hoped he would get to a certain point, be satisfied and not get any more, but that doesn't seem to be happening. What if he's never happy until he's totally inked up? My worst nightmare would be for him to turn into one of those men who are totally covered in tattoos. I need some objective advice.
A. He'll never be "one of those men who are totally covered in tattoos" because he's not those men. No tattoo will make him someone else.
Obviously I can't promise you'll remain attracted to him when he's a walking needlepoint sampler. I do hope you'll at least consider, though, that the reason you're still attracted to him now isn't that he has left juuust enough bare spots, but instead that you still love who he is.
I hope this not because I think it's a magic solution, but because doing so will be a step toward wanting what you have. The steps you're taking now are toward an imagined point in the future when you can no longer abide him -- one built on wanting what will likely never be.
So while I sympathize with your disappointment, and say "Huh?" along with you at his (presumably oblivious?) "making himself more attractive to me" comment, and suggest you have a kitchen-table summit about the idea of remaining attractive to each other, I think acceptance, difficult as it will be, is the only choice you can trust not to let you down.
• Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her online at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.