Question: This is a pretty painful question. Over the last two years (since graduating from law school) my love life has been a mess; I've had about 10 pseudo-relationships that burned out quickly and have had to recognize I'm the common denominator.

I discussed this with friends and they gave me the "tough love" talk: I move too quickly. Specifically, I jump into bed too quickly and wind up coming off as easy.

This was exceedingly difficult to hear, but corroborates comments a few boyfriends have made. Now I feel just ... awful. I don't know what I'm doing wrong or how to change, and I feel like this contradicts all the messages I've gotten in my adult life about sex being fun and not a power chip.

I'd like the next relationship to have half a chance; what can I do?

Answer:If it helps, it was a pretty painful question to read, too.

Not just because you're obviously hurting but because it sounds as if your friends' well-meaning honesty crossed the fine line between constructive and corrosive criticism. Do slow down, please. Way down.

But "stop jumping into bed with new men" ignores happy outcomes beyond that limit, where men and women have turned early sex into lasting relationships. To have gotten to the relationship point with 10 different men over two years means you've managed to find the One Who Could Be the One every third month or so. What are the chances that so many people have really been so promising? You don't have to be a misanthrope to think: very, very slim.

So I don't think the issue here is your jumping into bed — it's jumping into new men. I.e., it's not the sex, it's the hope for romance at breakfast afterward. If you've been with a guy for only a few dates or weeks, treating your involvement as a full-blown sexual and emotional commitment confers more status on your relationship than your knowledge of each other is ready to support.

Unfortunately, of the two, behavior is easier to change than expectations are; telling yourself "No sex until we've dated X months" and adhering to that isn't easy, but it's clear-cut. Telling your enthusiasm and daydreams to sit in a closet till your mutual affection, rapport and trust with a new boyfriend prove worthy of them? That involves the hard work of identifying, and admitting, why you so badly need the validation a "love life" provides.

Repairing the source of the need is the answer here. Then, more fulfilling things will follow, no matter how gaily you kick off your pants.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.