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posted: 9/29/2013 6:14 AM

Listen to that inner voice; it was right the first time

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Q. I've been divorced one year after a four-year marriage. We shouldn't have gotten married, I knew that at the time, and I accept that I made a huge mistake when I full well knew better. I'm intent on NOT repeating that mistake.

I've recently attempted dating again, and the issue is that if a guy says anything my ex-husband could have, would have, or did ever say -- opinions about life, relationships, politics, family, etc. -- then I completely lose interest. They could be otherwise amazing, and share just one unacceptable view with my ex, but as soon as the words come out of their mouths, I'm done. I can hear it coming sometimes and in my head I'm begging them not to finish the sentence.

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Am I being too hard on myself, and everyone else, looking for someone who has absolutely NOTHING in common with my ex? Or do I need to decide and isolate which of these opinions are truly deal-breakers -- things that contributed to the hostility between me and my ex -- and worry about those? Or is any flag a flag, even if it's more pink than bright red?

A. There are two possible origins to such reflexive rejections: Either these men are revealing key similarities to your ex-husband, and therefore you're right to stop seeing them -- or you're overreacting to perfectly innocent statements because you're still not fully healed.

Two possibilities, but they point to only one piece of advice. Trust this reflex, don't try to override it.

Why? Because if it's a red flag about the guy(s) you're dating, then the reason not to override it is obvious.

And if the red flag is about you, then it might be tempting to try to "fix" it, to talk yourself into being more rational about -- and fair to -- the men you date, before you're ready for that. Any effort to fix it would involve forcing yourself to proceed with dating while tuning out your "No!" voice, and while knowing you can't trust your own reactions to people. And that's like diving into the deep end without knowing if you can swim.

With your history of getting married even as your little voice screamed "nooooo" -- when you "full well knew better" -- that's like diving in knowing last time you sank like a stone.

I realize I advise this to the point of self-parody, but please find "you" before you go looking for someone else.

Weigh what these men have said, yes, to see why you reacted so strongly. More broadly, though: Learn to hear your inner voice, to heed it, to look back to see whether it was right, and to tweak your understanding of it accordingly. In the meantime, learn to inhabit the life you have instead of trying to push it somewhere else.

Q. I'm 17 and I need help with how to respond to my father, who has an "interesting" personality quirk.

He does not deal well with unexpected loud noises. I've already learned to warn him if I'm going to do things like turn on the vacuum, hair dryer, blender, etc. But God help me if I accidentally drop something and it makes a loud noise or I maybe clank two plates together loudly! It will definitely result in a critical comment.

It was an ACCIDENT -- I didn't mean to make that loud noise and disrupt him. But even if I say, "Sorry," he'll still respond with, "Whatever," and say something clearly conveying he was disturbed.

I'd like to let him know that I don't need to be chastised for something I did not intentionally do and for which I apologized, but I also don't want to come off as disrespectful or sarcastic. (Sarcasm doesn't go over well with him either.) When this kind of thing happens again (and I'm sure it will), would it be disrespectful or sarcastic to just say, "I don't need to be chastised for something that was accidental"?

A. Heightened sensitivity to sound is a health issue; his nastiness about it is a personality issue.

It's also something best not addressed when his neurons are still clattering with the latest crash. Instead, talk to your dad at a calm and quiet time, in a calm and quiet way: "Something's on my mind lately. I understand you're sensitive to loud noises, and I'm happy to warn you when I'm about to use the blender. I'm human, though, and sometimes I drop things. When you then criticize me for that, especially after I've apologized, I feel angry/resentful/frustrated."

That is neither disrespectful nor sarcastic, nor does it challenge him just as his nerves are up in arms.

If he still snaps? Then see this as a lesson on difficult people: You can't make anyone join you on the high road, but you can remain there yourself.

• Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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