Question:

I'm facing a situation, and I honestly have no clue how to deal. I'm in a sort-of relationship with a man who is 13 years my senior (I'm 21), and we have a lot in common. I am genuinely attracted to him in more ways than sexually; he is just an incredible person. And he's already expressed his attraction toward me.

The only thing that's stopping us from going to the next level is the fact that he feels slightly uneasy about our age difference. He keeps telling me he wants to take things slowly, and that he doesn't want to "take advantage of my youth" (his words, letter for letter).

How can I show him that we've got real potential, and help bring down the walls he's placing in between us? Or, better yet, should I break down these walls?

Answer: I'm not saying he is manipulating you, but if that's his intent, he's doing a bang-up job.

Now, it's possible he really is torn about what to do. If his attraction to you is strong but he's embarrassed at his cradle-robbing impulse, or finds himself wincing at your 21-isms, or wants nothing more than a fling, then that push-pull could easily produce the result you're seeing: a guy who won't jump in and won't walk away.

You're both adults. Either you suit each other, in which case he should embrace you without apology; or you're mismatched, due to age or whatever else - in which case he should free you to find someone else. Or he admits his flingy intentions and stays only with your consent.

Don't romanticize his inability to make up his mind. Already it has you plotting ways to make up his mind for him. I.e., to win him over.

That's sucking your mental energy away from the task of figuring out whether he's right for you, which is the question when you're dating. Whether you're right for him is his problem to solve.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com.