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Steve and Mia | Waxing philosophical

To give a girlfriend cosmetic advice can be a hairy proposition

Steve is a 50-something married man who's been around the block. Mia is a 20-something single immersed in the Center City dating scene. They may not agree, but they have plenty of answers. If you'd like an answer to your romantic troubles, e-mail them at S& or write: S&M c/o Daily News, Box 7788, Philadelphia, PA 19101.

Q: Any ideas on how I can tastefully (if possible) ask my girlfriend to get a Brazilian or French bikini wax? Not that there's a big problem or anything, but I would find it so much hotter. I think she's a little self-conscious about her body image, so I need to be tactful. (Also, to any women wondering what to get their boyfriends/husbands for Christmas, here you go. Many guys don't care about presents anyway.)

Steve: What do you mean, guys don't care about presents? I'm holding out for a 4.3-liter V-8 Lexus SC 430 with two-tone camel and ecru leather-trimmed interior and espresso bird's-eye maple wood trim. (Are you reading this, Mrs. Steve?)

As for your question, your instincts are good. Men must always tread lightly when offering cosmetic advice to their women. Instead of asking her to do it, first ask her what she thinks about it. Isn't it painful, Mia?

Mia: Only about as painful as ripping off an entire eyebrow in one swoop. In fact, multiply that by at least a couple dozen times and you'll get a sense of what a Brazilian feels like. I don't suggest a woman go through that pain for a guy who's merely her boyfriend. You've got to really love a guy to subject yourself to the pain and indignity of that procedure. It's way more embarrassing than a gynecological exam.

Still, once it's over, the results can be pretty impressive. And it lasts about six weeks. In your case, though, I suggest your girlfriend stick to razors - that is, unless you're willing to undergo the hot-wax treatment yourself so your nether regions can match hers. Fair is fair, right?

Q: I HATE Christmas shopping. Especially because my husband comes from a giant family - six brothers and sisters - and I somehow get stuck buying gifts each year. You think I could suggest that the family do a "secret Santa" thing, or would I look like a cheapskate?

Mia: I don't know if you'd look cheap, but since it's not your family, it might be tricky to suggest a new holiday tradition for them. Instead, why not make your husband take over some of the shopping? Now that you can do everything online, there's

really no excuse for him not helping out.

Steve: Mia is right, of course: Marriage is an arrangement of shared responsibilities. But most men I know hate shopping as much as you do. Talk to your husband about ways to make this easier. You can divide up the gift-buying or, if he really hates shopping, he can take over some of your chores to free up more time for you.

Q: What is the proper etiquette for returning a gift from a boyfriend? I've been dating a wonderful man for nearly a year, and he gave me an early Christmas gift - a hideous bracelet that I wouldn't be caught dead wearing. I didn't know what to say, and I didn't want to lose him, so I said, "It's beautiful!" Am I stuck with it now? Can I get away with only wearing it a couple times and hope he doesn't notice? Would it be wrong for me to take it back and pick out something else?

Mia: You're right that this is a delicate area. You don't want to hurt his feelings. On the other hand, it would be wrong to let him waste his money on a present you don't like. After thanking him again, why not say, "Sweetie, I think I'd prefer this in white gold," or whatever. Remember, the tone you use is key.

Afterward, when you get a chance, look around for something you like better and exchange it. What's important is to let him know just how much you appreciate his taking the trouble to buy you a present in the first place, and how much you appreciate him, too.

Steve: There are things you could do to avoid wearing it, but subterfuge is always more difficult than truth when it comes to romance. Mia's right: Tell him how you feel, but in a nice way. *