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Quitting old turkey

I'm a 23-year-old woman and my boyfriend is 37. We've been very happy and communicate well, but I recently started hanging with a guy my own age, and I ended up having feelings for him, too. I hate going behind my boyfriend's back when he's fully committed, but my biggest fear is that my family will think he's too old for me, and their approval means a lot. I need to choose soon because I hate lying to people I love. How do I decide who's right for me, and what should I base my decision on? Confused

Write each guy's name in ketchup on your kitchen counter. Find a pregnant iguana. Clip its toenails and scatter them in a circular pattern around each name. Walk outside and ask the first person you see their name. More than eight letters? Go with the older guy. Fewer than eight? The young dude. Or ... just dump both, leave the iguana to lick up the ketchup, and throw yourself at the next guy who asks you the time.

No, I'm not kidding. At this stage in your life, this is as good a method as any for deciding who will stay and who will go. The truth is, nobody is particularly right or wrong for you because there isn't a whole lot of you to be right or wrong for. In fact, if you're like a lot of people in their early 20s, you're a larva in shoes. With boobs and a job, you probably look the part of an adult, but at best, you're the test market for Smirnoff Ice and probably have a hard time with existential questions deeper than "Bleu cheese or ranch?"

Yet, chances are, pretty much all you have are questions big, looming ones like "Who am I?" that you can't duck by answering "Who am I with?" Do yourself a favor: Admit you aren't sure who you are, and start trying on selves like day-of-the-week underwear.

So, Saturday morning, you're a blank slate, tabula rasa, but after a weekend matting your hair into dreads, you slouch into work all tabula Rasta. Tuesday, maybe you throw on a Che Guevara T-shirt and march to your cubicle as girl revolutionary. Oops, the office know-it-all tells you the guy was actually a mass murderer. You slink to the bathroom, turn your shirt inside out and vow to sneak out early to celebrate capitalism at the mall.

Your real problem isn't choosing between the two guys, but the fact that you seem to approach life like a contestant on The Price is Right, glancing nervously at your 12 inbred relatives in the audience for hints at the answers. Take your biggest fear, for example. It isn't that your relationship won't meet your needs, but that it won't meet your parents'. Ma-ma! That's exactly why you shouldn't get serious with any guy right now, especially a much older one. Since you don't know who you are, it's easy to fall into being who you think he wants. And instead of looking for your own answers, you're prone to lean over and, essentially, cheat off his SAT.

To figure out what's right for you, have the guts to throw yourself into what could be wrong for you. Take risks. Make mistakes. Date mistakes. Live it up. Just not so much that you end up maimed, pregnant or dead. In the wise words of the ancient philosopher Sir Mick Jagger, "It's OK letting yourself go as long as you can let yourself back."

Tough lovelorn

A guy wrote you, furious that women never ask him out. I think he was crying for help, and you just hammered him. Why not tell him, "Talk to women you like. If one responds positively, ask for her number"? Give the guy a break! Play Nice

If my goal in life were being mean, I'd go to a mall and yell "Hey, ugly!" as people walk by. I could also drop nice big slabs of generic advice on people who write me rather than going to the muss and fuss of solving their actual problems.

This guy was angry and hated women, so much so that he'd not only given up on dating but planned to launch a boycott of female-owned businesses. Do you really think the answer for a guy like this is hitting on more of the ladies? "I hate you, will you go out with me?" ("Ooh, Monica, look at that sexy bulging vein in his neck!") The absolute last thing this guy needs is "a break." He's been giving himself breaks for years: "Women should ask me out!" Yes, and Scarlett Johansson should stalk you, and the surgeon general should issue an advisory that lying on the couch sucking down Doritos and beer is the single best way to prevent heart disease.

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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