I recently got in touch with my high school sweetheart (aka the love of my life). He said I had uncanny timing since he’d just gotten divorced, and we met at a club and talked and laughed for hours. He e-mailed later saying I was really sexy, and he’d had a great time. I started e-mailing him about topics I find interesting, like overpopulation and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. First, he was into it, but we had a heated debate about how to control overpopulation (which I feel very strongly about) and suddenly his e-mails dropped to two words at most. What happened? Did my passion for protecting the environment and humanity scare him off?

— Opinionated

Do you want a boyfriend or a bar fight?

You’d like to believe this guy just wasn’t man enough to handle the issues: \”Did my passion for protecting the environment and humanity scare him off?\” Oh, please. No, probably the fact that he just got divorced, and the idea of bringing a combative woman into his life fills him with about the same joy as the prospect of adult circumcision.

If your in-person chat was anything like the e-mail exchange you forwarded to me, one or both of you must take your conversational cues from humorist Fran Lebowitz. (\”The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.\”) Of course, e-mail brings out the worst in those with a tendency toward monologue over dialogue. At least in instant messaging there’s an in-the-moment opportunity to correct misunderstandings. But only face to face do you have all the information — the ability to notice that something you’ve said has caused the other person to boil with rage, fall asleep or go over and sit on somebody else’s lap.

What’s with all the typing, anyway? You haven’t seen the guy since high school, but instead of snuggling up to him over a bottle of wine on a red velvet banquette, you’re home alone pounding out position statements on Mahmoud Abbas. Come on, is the point getting to know each other or proving what a little Miss Smartypants you are? If you simply like to hear yourself talk, why not save him the aggravation and just leave yourself long, rambling messages on your answering machine?

Now, let’s say you want to save the spotted owl and he’s sending out e-vites to a spotted owl chili cook-off. And maybe he traded in his Hummer for an 18-wheeler with the bumper sticker \”Proud Supporter of OPEC,\” and spends his free time pouring used oil down the drain. The big issue in a relationship actually isn’t the issues. I just read a comprehensive study about this by University of Iowa psychologists Shanhong Luo and Eva C. Klohnen that really surprised me. It’s personality similarity that’s the best predictor of whether they’ll be happy together. Maybe that’s how America’s strangest bedfellows, Republican apologist Mary Matalin and Democratic apologist James Carville, make it work. Or maybe they just have some really stupendous sex: \”You dirty, dirty liberal!\” \”Say that again, and you’ll see at least one WMD!\”

In other words, you don’t have to open your head, extract all political thought, and refill it with lime Jell-O. You (and whoever) do have to start with a base of good feeling to bridge disagreements — honeymoon first, irreconcilable differences later. Luckily, it generally doesn’t take much to bond with a guy: Just undo a couple of buttons on your blouse and ask him about himself; no need to get right in there and club him over the head with a baby seal.

Lust for lifeless

I’m 20, and I’ve been with my 29-year-old boyfriend for almost four months. It’s been a month now since we’ve had sex. When I ask what’s wrong, he just tells me he doesn’t have an appetite for it. Should I believe him? And if he’s sincere, what are ways we can be intimate without sex?

— A Little Frustrated Here

There’s such a thing as \”friends with benefits,\” but nobody talks about having a boyfriend with benefits. Ideally, that’s redundant. Maybe the guy’s gay. Depressed. Cheating. On medication with sexual side effects. Or, maybe he’s trying to get you to do the dirty work and break up with him. Forget about him for a moment and think about you. Here you are, 20 years old, in the prime of your girlish hotitude, investigating ways to be intimate without sex — with a guy who can’t even be intimate about his lack of intimacy. This should lead you to the essential question: Why are you still there? Sure, your relationship must have its benefits. Well, benefit. You’ll never get a suspicious cold sore from polite conversation.