DEAR AMY: I'm thinking about asking my girlfriend to marry me, but I'm not sure. We've been together for about two years but have known each other much longer. We have heavily overlapping social circles.
We get along very well most of the time, but when we do argue it tends to be about politics, about where we should live and other big-picture things. When we argue, she has a tendency to be dismissive and unyielding. I'm worried that what seem like nebulous or abstract differences will eventually become concrete and create problems.
Am I making too big a deal of these things? I'm worried about waking up (in 12 years) at 40 and realizing that I've compromised on things that were really important to me.
Can you help clarify this for me? — Vexed Boyfriend
DEAR BOYFRIEND: The real clues to your future challenges exist not in the nature of compromise but in how these agreements are reached. If you are consistently giving in to someone who belittles or dismisses you, then that's not compromise — that's being dominated and bullied into submission. And, yes, you would definitely regret being married to that.
To have a successful long-term relationship, you and your partner need to learn how to talk, fight, visit and revisit issues — and how to leave some things well-enough alone. Successful relationships are those in which both partners feel they share basic values and approach big-picture issues as a team.
Your intuition is a gift. Pay attention. You know that things will have to be different for your relationship to succeed. If you are contemplating having children with your girlfriend, her current attitude toward you would make her a poor parent.
Does she want to learn to express herself differently? Does she want to be in a successful and peaceful partnership with you? If so, the journey toward change could start with a couples counselor. I highly recommend it before marriage.
DEAR AMY: My boyfriend recently broke up with me. I still love him. The reason we broke up was because I agreed to tutor a male co-worker during lunch breaks.
I have been faithful to my boyfriend. He called me a flirt and told me women should not engage in any conversations or activities with other men. I keep a professional personality at work and never get personal with colleagues. My boyfriend said that one thing leads to another and that I could end up regretting something. I respect my colleagues and trust myself not to do such a thing.
Is this the case with every relationship? I am curious to know if the vast majority of couples feel the same way, or was I dealing with a jealous guy with a double standard. — B
DEAR B: If you are part of an exclusive romantic relationship, both parties should make an effort not to place the relationship at risk (that also applies to Mr. Jealous, by the way, who would rather break up than deal with this).
This relation-equation is also dependent on partners' trusting each other to exercise good judgment. You should be able to work with, have lunch with or tutor a colleague. If your boyfriend's standards only apply to women, then yes he has a double standard. At the very least, his unreasonable jealousy is a red flag. Please don't pine for him.
DEAR AMY: I really saw myself in the letter from "Emotional" that I read in your column today. Emotional said she was frequently criticized by family members for her "nasty tone."
I have often been told that I have a certain "tone." I feel I'm saying fairly neutral things, but it's not the words that seem to offend people, it's the tone. I'm not sure if I have the guts to ask my family members to impersonate me on camera, the way you suggested in your answer, but the mere thought of it makes me eager to pay more attention to my own tone. — Emotional Too
DEAR TOO: Tone is everything (she said through clenched teeth). I give you credit for trying to change.
(Send questions via e-mail to askamytribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.)