Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: Most of my friends have specified "no gifts" on their invitations for their kids' birthdays and I always abide by it because: (1) Why say it if you don't mean it?; and (2) If we throw a party for my baby, I will say "no gifts" and 100% mean it.

Yet every time I go to a birthday party where this is specified, I'm one of the only people who hasn't brought a gift for the kid and I feel terrible. What are we supposed to do?

Carolyn says: Not bring gifts, as instructed.

And don't feel terrible, either. You're being tough on yourself just for not conforming, and that's an impulse worth breathing deeply through till it passes.

You can help the cause here, too: When you have a party for your child, specify that you'd prefer not to receive gifts but will be collecting X for Y charity, if anyone would like to contribute. That way the can't-arrive-empty-handed crowd will have an outlet, people with too much stuff won't be weighed down by more, and people in need will get a break.

Love vs. lust

Dear Carolyn: Just a few thoughts about the wife in your recent column who loved her exes more than she loves her husband. I think people confuse feelings that meet their fairy-tale expectations as "in love." I think of those as lust. The men she wrote about only gave her an illusion that she "loved" them, because it fit the fairy tale she wanted.

I truly believe that a successful relationship, and real love, is about being on the same page and having open communication between you and your partner.

People need to let go of the fantasy they built in their heads. Although it's nice and gives you good feelings, it motivates you to fit pieces of someone into the fantasy while ignoring other pieces of them that don't fit — until you can't ignore them anymore. It's best to look at someone whole from the beginning.

Carolyn says: Open communication, yes, thank you — plus acceptance of each other's truths and frailties. It's when you can share your worst and still feel loved, by someone you find attractive, and it's mutual.

Another view

Re: Being loved

The French have a saying that someone is always kissing and the other being kissed. Whether my experience is typical, I can't say, but very few of any relationships I've had or witnessed were really symmetrical. Such is real life, I think.

Carolyn says: The French also eat cheese and bread and pastries and never get fat, drink wine copiously to no ill effect, and raise their bebes sooo much better than Americans do that it's a blessing they have their natural sense of style to take comfort in or else they'd be horrified by having to share a globe with us. Or so the U.S. bestseller lists tell us with unremitting glee.

I think that line is depressing.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.