Question: I have been with my boyfriend for 21/2 years. It appears he would like a family and marriage, but I'm not sure it is with me. When he speaks of the future, he says "the woman I marry" or "my kids," but not "our children."
He knows very well that I want a family and that my reproductive timing is coming to a close, now at 33. We are not engaged or living together.
Complicating things more, we have had career changes that meant starting anew, maybe moving. He hints about moving home, across the country from me and my family. I feel as if when he pictures a future, it is not with me.
He says he doesn't know what the future could bring. He could move home. He could stay here and advance his career.
Do I risk what I want - a family, children - for a man who may or may not want that, who may move home and decide this is (I am) not what he wants? How does one know?
Answer: One doesn't.
But one does know when one is dating a straight shooter.
At least, he hasn't been one yet, and instead has communicated in hints, carefully chosen nouns, and broad pronouncements of helplessness in the face of this smoke-and-mirrory thing called "The Future" (cue spooky music - Woooo-oooo! The other name for it: "preserving options."
You, meanwhile, compound that problem by immersing yourself in the role of hint-interpreter and status-quo-preserver, instead of looking squarely at him and saying, "About that woman you marry. We're on Year 3. Are you in, or not?"
Give him that opening to become the straight shooter he has failed to be. You're not 22 and not just a few months into this, so don't act as if you are and don't stand meekly by while he does.
Important disclaimer: When you're years deep into someone and not being treated to the directness you deserve, a "Now what?"-type query tends to be more rhetorical than anything else. That's because you have two answers already: Yes, he's OK with letting you dangle, and yes, that alone warrants questioning whether you want a life with him. Your direct query would serve mostly to provide you with confirmation and him with due notice that you're done, done, done parsing hints. If he refers again to an uncertain future, end his suspense by noting that it won't include you.
Question: My girlfriend and I have wonderful friends who like to cook for us when we visit. We take them out for dinner to reciprocate, but I don't always feel that's enough. What is the proper etiquette to show our appreciation? My girlfriend doesn't think giving them money is appropriate.
Answer: No money, yikes. Dinner out is an appropriate way to reciprocate, but, more important, these are "wonderful friends." That means the best way to reciprocate isn't to bean-count, but instead to be a wonderful friend right back at them.
There's no one-size-fits-all way to be wonderful. You just have to pay attention to what they value, see whether you have any of that to spare, then provide it without strings attached - just as, presumably, they give of themselves to you.
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.