I recently got a tattoo of something really meaningful to me. It was a gift for my 18th birthday, and I waited for a long time before getting it to make sure it was what I really wanted. I love it, but people are constantly giving me their crappy, unasked-for opinions about it, telling me it’s “unattractive” or that I’ll never find a boyfriend who likes it. I can’t understand why someone would say negative things about something that is PERMANENTLY on my body, or why they would think I gave a damn about what guys think of it. How do I politely tell them I don’t want to hear their comments? —S.D., 18, Los Angeles

Congrats on your new tattoo! There’s nothing like celebrating a milestone in your life with a tattoo that has great personal significance to you. As a person with 14 or so of my own, depending on how I count, I’ve learned that, unfortunately, many people—even complete strangers—seem to think that you got tattooed for (or in spite of) them, and that a mere glimpse of your body art is an open invitation for commentary on it. I’ve also noticed that my tattoos garner a lot more unwelcome attention than my husband’s, because, as you noted, an alarming number of folks still seem to think that it’s unladylike or unattractive for a woman to have tattoos, which for some reason is something we should really care a lot about. So, let’s just take a second to scream about how stupid that is, which is step one in getting your frustration about other people’s nosiness out of your system. Ready? ARRRGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! Feel free to repeat this step as needed!

Now let’s move on to responding to people with actual words. I base my responses on who’s asking me about my ink. If it’s a stranger or a distant acquaintance, I just shut them down, quickly and politely: “It has personal significance.” Leave it at that. Sometimes, super-nosy people then try to ask about the personal significance, to which I respond, “Oh, it’s a long story,” or, if I’m in a situation where it’s possible to tell a long story, I simply reiterate that it’s personal, i.e., for me, not for them.

Sometimes, though, I do want to share that long story with people I love, like my parents and friends who just don’t “get” tattoos. My mother has always been iffy about my tattoos, and when I’d tell her I was getting another one, she’d make some remark like “the only women who have multiple tattoos are carnies,” or something like that. Now, I always sit down with her, show her the fresh ink, and explain the story behind it. I think this, plus the fact that I don’t intentionally cover my tattoos (unless I need to look super profesh for some reason), has helped her come to terms. This, and my desire for you to love and be proud of your tat, is why I’m not advocating wearing a sweater to family gatherings, unless you really just can’t handle the unwanted attention. The more often people see your ink, the less foreign it looks to them, and the less likely they are to comment. Unfortunately, that can take a very long time with some people—I find that the most irritating of my tattoo commentators are loved ones to whom I’ve already explained my ink too many times. After being patient with them the first few goes-around, I just use an updated version of the line I whip out to strangers: “As you know, I really like my tattoo. It has personal significance to me, and I wish that you’d respect that.”

I also bring up respect whenever someone makes a “boys won’t like that” comment about my ink—and since my first tattoo was a ring of Venus symbols, believe me, I’ve gotten that a lot. My response to that one is “I think any person I would be interested in dating would respect the choices I’ve made about my body.” Above all, don’t let any of these comments detract from your love for your tattoo. I’m sure it’s gorgeous! —Stephanie

I have depression. It’s severe enough that I never really know how I feel—about anything—other than depressed. I didn’t think this was fair to my boyfriend, so I broke up with him. I know I love him platonically, but I can’t count on any other feelings. Meanwhile, he’s very affectionate and puts 100 percent of himself into relationships, and that made me feel even worse than I already did. We tried just being friends, but it didn’t work, so now it seems like we might be getting back together, and I don’t know if I can do this. How can I be fair to him without feeling like an awful person? Is it worse to date someone that you know deserves better treatment, or to leave them no choice? —Katie, 18, Scotland/strong>

This guy sounds wonderful, but I think you’re focusing on the wrong things here. Although your depression may seem sad and pitiful, it’s actually a very tough beast that will try to distract you from tackling it by any means necessary while it has its claws in you, and you have to learn to put it in its place. At the moment, it seems like you’re more invested in your relationship than you are in building your coping skills, and that needs to change before you (and, by extension, the people you’re romantically involved with) can be happy.

Your instincts seem to be telling you that this is not a good time for you to date, and I think you should respect those feelings, but rather than end your romantic relationship because you want to protect other people from you, do it because you need to prioritize your own mental health. Do you see the difference there? You’re not selfish, and you’re not a monster who hurts people indiscriminately—you’re a girl fighting depression, which is a very real and destructive psychological disorder, and right now you need to devote all of your energy to doing that, because you deserve to be well.

You also deserve understanding from the people who care about you. My suggestion is that you sit this gentleman down and tell him clearly that you have to dedicate yourself to caring for your own brain right now, and that it’s too hard for you to do that while also trying to be someone’s girlfriend. Let him know what you need from him as a friend, be it a shoulder to cry on, an occasional afternoon at the pizza place when you’re feeling lonely, or respect for your boundaries while you take steps to manage your depression. Or all of the above! Then ask if he’s willing to provide you with that kind of support, without the romantic elements of your relationship, at least for the time being. If he’s not, let him know you’ll be in touch when you’re feeling a bit stronger.

When you have severe depression, you can be so flooded with sad and bad feelings that you become numb to them after a while. It takes effort to drain the flood and return to the regular tides of emotion. Right now, you need to concentrate on that battle without beating yourself up about a relationship. This is not just OK—it is necessary for your happiness. I know you have that fight inside you, or else you wouldn’t have written. You seem to have an enormous heart, and I think it’ll serve you greatly on your path to wellbeing. —Emily ♦

Got a problem that you want a total rando to lovingly try and solve for you? Send it on over to [email protected]. Please include your NAME, nickname, or first initial, plus your AGE and your CITY.