DEAR CAROLYN: I found out that my boyfriend deletes all his emails, including ones from me. I was so surprised when I heard this because I've never met someone who doesn't keep any personal emails.

I was a bit hurt and upset because we've had some heartfelt email exchanges, especially when we did long-distance for a year.

Admittedly I am somewhat of a sentimentalist and enjoy reading old messages, or at least knowing they are available to be read at any time.

When I asked him the reason, he said the messages themselves don't matter so much, it's the feelings they bring out. He also explained that he doesn't delete my messages immediately after reading them, but maybe a week or a month later, after the messages have exhausted their use.

I can't believe he doesn't value our correspondences enough to keep them. Since then, I'm having a hard time writing to him at all, knowing my message eventually will be deleted.

I don't want this to be an issue, and I don't care about his email management per se, but it's been on my mind for longer than expected. Advice?

C.

DEAR C.: Please don't take this the wrong way -- man, I want to be your boyfriend.

A clean email queue -- I'm just going to close my eyes and feel it for a second. Sigh.

You do realize, I think, that what you have isn't just an email-sav(or)ing difference, but a difference in the way you live your emotional lives. That's why you haven't been able to shake this off as you expected you would -- and that's why it is an issue.

For a sentimental person to pair off happily with an emotional modernist, both need to feel gratitude for the difference, versus pain or contempt, and neither can harbor the goal of changing the other's approach.

His preference is about him and yours is about you; if you remain unconvinced of that, then the path I see for this relationship is a frustrating one for you both.

So can you, Sentimental, appreciate his uncluttered emotional shelves -- or will you keep buying him knickknacks and then feeling rejected when he doesn't display them?

And can you, Modernist, regard her nostalgia as a warm place that's available to you when you want or need it -- or will it always be, in your eyes, the unholy spawn of silliness and a hoarding compulsion?

The way people show affection isn't in itself a measure of how much affection they feel -- effusive gestures can be empty, of course, and quiet ones both powerful and profound. He could be archiving emotions just as you tuck away mail. But believing this intellectually isn't enough: The quality of his affection has to be there, as does your ability to appreciate the way he chooses to show it.

The way to judge these is to see whether each of you is getting what you want and need from the other. How you measure that is up to you, with only one ground rule: You can tell someone what you want, but you can't tell anyone what to give.

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