Dear Carolyn • From what my daughter's boyfriend has told me of his childhood, his mom sounds cold, unloving, even borderline abusive. He's quick to reassure me that she's changed since then. But I can't unhear what I've heard. I know the default is to be cordial when I meet her and give her the benefit of the doubt, but how do I handle it if she puts him down in my presence?
Dear Uncharted Territory • First, how to handle what you've heard, and second, how to handle what you witness. For the former I recommend, yes, the benefit of the doubt, but you can't half-heart it, or else you'll take the slightest of her transgressions as license to believe the worst.
Page through your memories of raising your daughter, and fix on a couple of your lowest moments. Times you yelled, times you acted selfishly, times you said something mean. Now imagine your daughter spinning these tales for a therapist. Yikes.
You may know these were deeply regretted exceptions, typical and human, but you also need to know that, if phrased just-so to someone who wasn't there and doesn't know you, these could paint a scary picture of you. Of anyone.
Dear Carolyn • Often when my girlfriend calls me or I call her while she is with family or friends, she will announce that she has put me on speaker phone, at which point I am expected to converse with whoever happens to be in the room. I find it annoying, and I've expressed this to my girlfriend. She in turn finds it annoying that I am not more enthusiastic about speaking with her friends. Which of us is on the right side of etiquette, in your opinion?
Dear D. • You're trying to have a say in what you do, even if your methods might be problematic. She, meanwhile, is trying to have a say in what you think and feel, which is a boundary violation. It's also bad for a relationship. Usually the best way to handle behavior as boorish as hers is not to put up it anymore.
Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.