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It's the belittle things ...

I'm 24 and my boyfriend of five months is 28. He was adamant about knowing the number of sexual partners I've had. I'm not comfortable sharing that, but he said he had to know what he was getting into to take the relationship to the next level. He's had 14; I've had four, but I told him two. It was an honest mistake two were hookups and I forgot them. Honesty is super important to him, but I'm stressed about coming clean. He doesn't even like that I have guy friends, so he was really upset about the two boyfriends, and wanted complete details. When I didn't want to tell all, he claimed I was hiding something. He's sometimes condescending, yet if I don't respond in a pleasant fashion when I'm upset, we'll have to have a long talk about it. Still, I'm afraid I'm misrepresenting him. He's a great man, always tells me how wonderful I am, and appreciates the little things I do like cooking dinner. I feel he deserves my honesty, but how significant is my actual number of partners? Distressed

For Rick and Ilsa, it was "We'll always have Paris." What will your parting words be, "We'll always have Guantanamo"?

And make no mistake: You should part pronto because the relationship you're in is pretty much a textbook case of abuse. Sure, the average guy gets rattled at the thought of his girlfriend naked with previous boyfriends or even the sight of her, fully clothed, talking to some guy friend who isn't a disfigured, 85-year-old gay troll. The appropriate response is playing it cool, not taking the girlfriend home and waterboarding her for hours.

You actually were honest with your boyfriend you told him you "didn't want to tell all." That should've been that. Being in a relationship doesn't mean signing away your right to privacy. Anything short of "My last three boyfriends are buried in the backyard" or "I have these weird red bumps all over my girlparts" is information you don't owe anybody. While guys will get curious, an emotionally healthy boyfriend doesn't demand to know who, how many, how often and how well your being double-jointed worked out for you and the last dude.

As for what sheer numbers say, your sexual history could look like a line for free tickets to Coldplay; it's your ethics that predict whether you'll cheat. This is all about control and confession and forgiveness on his terms. It's classic abuser behavior: Isolate you first, from your guy friends; later, from anybody who might talk some sense into you. Cut you down, build you up a little ("What a lovely stew!") and cut you down some more. He's essentially smacking you around, then kissing your booboo. And no, he's not literally smacking you around now, but that's where emotional abuse often leads. What are you waiting for, a sign? Two black eyes? A couple broken bones? Or, maybe something in writing; a death certificate, perhaps?

Get out. You're acting like this guy's girlbot, doing and saying what you're told, because you're not ready to be in a relationship. Being ready takes having boundaries and enough of a self to tell a guy to accept 'em or walk. I know, this is the last thing you wanted to hear; in fact, you're probably distraught at "misrepresenting" him. Not to worry, I get that he likes your cooking. What I'm worried about is what happens the night you burn the mac 'n cheese. Lemme guess: You fell down two flights of stairs ... in your ranch house.

Busybody heat

I'm 37, but my friends say I'm acting like a 50-year-old woman because I'm not interested in dating now. I have two girls (12 and 17), two jobs and I'm a very hands-on single mother. Is putting my kids first really being a 50-year-old lady? Happy In My Life

Yeah, you're happy, but your friends are stressed. Luckily, it won't take much to change that just go from "I'm my kids' mom" to "I'm some lady my kids see stumbling in with a hangover in the morning after I have a one-night stand with some guy I picked up at the bar." Just what the world needs, another hands-off parent. And, what's with the idea that 50 is the age your teeth fall out and fly into a glass? Your friends must mean well, but are probably projecting their own fear that "single" is the prelude to dying alone and being eaten by your cats.

Help them understand the difference between blissful and blissfully unaware: You'd like to be told when you have the back of your dress tucked into your underwear, but if you say you're happy, it's because you're actually happy, not because nobody's pointed out how miserable you'd be if only you knew better.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail adviceamy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com).

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