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The path of leash resistance

I'm 26; my boyfriend is 32. He called me "a woman about to bloom," and said he wants to be there to help. He started by pushing me to move out of my mother's house after my situation there became unbearable. I dreaded leaving my comfort zone, but now I'm thrilled to have my own place. He's also urging me to move up the ranks at work by dressing the part, being punctual and wearing makeup. His exact words: "You will wear makeup." No, I don't dress as nicely as I could, and I'm really makeup-free out of laziness, but I was in jeans, an old shirt and no makeup when we met. Lately, even if we're going to the mall, he expects me to look nicer. Sometimes I feel like a child being told what to do. When I overslept and was late to work yesterday, he said, "This is not acceptable." Granted, he's successful, works hard and is never late. Some of my friends think he's controlling, and others think he's pushing me to be my best. Which is it? He says he loves me for who I am, and then tells me to change. A Little Confused

You aren't the only one who's confused. Does your boyfriend often seem unsure whether to take you to dinner or to the dog park so you can scramble after an old tennis ball, and maybe sniff some Yorkshire terrier butt? Set the guy straight: You'll take advice, upon request not orders. You're his girlfriend, not his cocker spaniel.

OK, he's older, seems to know a few things and hasn't been late since he emerged from the womb. And you? In the words he must've borrowed from some ad exec on the pantiliner account, you're just "a woman about to bloom." He probably means well, but have you ever known a plant to flower because somebody's standing over it and yelling at it?

Don't be too quick to assume that his South American dictator approach to life-coaching comes from feeling personally together and secure. Chances are, beneath that titanium super-executive shell of his, there's a tiny, sweaty man living in terror of spontaneity, uncertainty and disorder. Avoiding those fears turns a guy into a control freak staving off his anxiety by micromanaging you from head to toenail polish, all the while insisting he loves you just the way you are.

That said, can you really argue with being on time and looking spiffy for work? Well, unlikely as it is that your boss will base her next round of promotions on which employees arrive latest and most undergroomed ... maybe your boyfriend's ambition is not your ambition. Figure out who you are and what you want, and maybe it'll coincide with what he thinks is best for you. Or, maybe you'll choose to take your chances that, say, avoiding what I call "The Purina Lifestyle" (cat-food casseroles in your 80s) won't hinge on whether you have the energy to apply eyeliner on Wednesday.

As for dressing up to please your boyfriend, what does dressing up mean to you? Is it no big deal, just a little thing you do to make him happy? Or is it what camping is to me, as somebody who sees "getting close to nature" as walking down a city sidewalk where there's grass growing up between the cracks? I can love a man to pieces, but if I'm cold, dirty and being chased by a bear ... suddenly, it will all become clear: Love is not the answer. A four-star hotel room with pulsating shower heads is the answer.


Guided mistletoe

My girlfriend asked me to her family's Christmas dinner. We've only been dating two months, and this speaks of commitment to me. Plus, I'm afraid I'll feel like I'm under a microscope. Is this too soon or no big deal? Holiday Retreat

Maybe she's picturing you as the groom trussed up like a roasted pig, with an apple in your mouth and a sign hanging from your tail that reads, "Just about married!" Then again, maybe she's just picturing the gloom: you alone on Christmas Eve with a six-pack and a frozen pizza. So, what kind of man goes with his girlfriend to Christmas dinner? Um, one who's hungry? Sure, it's possible somebody will read more into your presence. If drunk Uncle George asks, "So, love bunnies, what are your plans for the future?" feel free to reset his agenda with "Well, I believe we're going to the movies Thursday night." What matters most is whether you can stop seeing Christmas dinner as the relationship equivalent of a "gateway drug." Just as one puff of a joint is unlikely to turn you into a toothless crack addict, a second helping of yams probably won't cause you to wake up divorced, broke and living in your car.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com).

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