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Originally published Monday, November 12, 2012 at 5:30 AM

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Impressions aren't just invented; behavior must speak for itself

Advice given about how to make a good impression.

Syndicated columnist

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Baltimore is not even girlfriend ready, forget about wife, mother, and the rest. She... MORE

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Dear Carolyn

DEAR CAROLYN: I'm really striking out with my boyfriend's friends. The last three times I've seen them, I had horrible menstrual cramps that had me cross-eyed with agony, a work crisis that I had to keep running outside to keep phone calls for, and a major beef with my boyfriend for forgetting to tell me we were meeting up with the guys for drinks.

So it's no wonder that his friends' impression of me is that I'm anti-social, uptight and snappish. As we are probably going to get engaged soon, I'd like to change their impression, but I doubt I would buy it if someone apologized to me for being rude on three separate occasions. How do I change my image?

— Baltimore

DEAR BALTIMORE: Starting now: Stay home when you feel sick, don't let your fights spill over into other people's time, and don't try to manage people's impressions of you. Your behavior has to speak for itself.

I've kind of buried the middle one, but it's huge. A "major beef" over a forgotten piece of information? Really? And it spilled over into the evening? Any negative impression you made on witnesses is accurate, I'm afraid.

If you want their next accurate impression to be a good one, then learn to manage your anger. Fuming has no place when something has gone wrong by accident; save it for when people do harm with intent. It also has no place at an occasion you're sharing with others. Either step away and resolve the problem quickly, agree to talk about it later and shake off your foul mood, or excuse yourself graciously and go home.

This self-control is a courtesy for others, but exercise it mainly for your own sake.

This might not apply here, but it so often does: If your "major beef" was a flare-up of a recurring argument, then please also resolve to declare peace, even if it's just a sustainable agreement to disagree. If you can't do that, then consider ending the relationship.

Recurring fights don't fall under the "All relationships are work" umbrella so often used to shield them. Instead, they're like jealousy: symptoms of something serious. Rearguing the same old stuff says you two aren't mature enough to either settle your differences or part ways.

Even if the recurring-argument issue isn't relevant, the larger point is: The only way to change your image is to change the ways you choose to behave.

DEAR CAROLYN: We are planning a tiny, no-frills wedding ceremony next month and, a few weeks later, a casual party for friends/family. We are fully independent and happy with the state of our material possessions.

Still, I suspect that not having a gift registry will seem odd to certain members of my family and their social circle. Can we say anything to dispel any worst assumptions — i.e., that this is an unstated "cash only, please" request?

— No Registry Wedding?

DEAR NO REGISTRY: No, that will only make it worse. Just be your natural, non-greedy selves and that will suffice for those whose affection for you is paramount. Those who relish finding things to complain about will do so no matter how you try to pre-empt them. The less you say on the topic, the less can be used against you.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax

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