Dear Carolyn: From what my daughters boyfriend has told me of his childhood, his mom sounds cold, unloving, even borderline abusive. Hes quick to reassure me that shes changed since then. But I cant unhear what Ive 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? Uncharted Territory
Carolyn Says: This is actually two questions. The first is how to handle what youve heard, and the second is how to handle what you witness.
For the former I recommend, yes, the benefit of the doubt, but you cant half-heart it, or else youll take the slightest of her transgressions as license to believe the worst.
So try looking at yourself through this lens for a moment. Page through your memories of raising your daughter, and fix on a couple of your lowest moments. Times you yelled, times you acted selfish, 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, human and duly mended, but you also need to know that, if phrased just so to someone who wasnt there and doesnt know you, these could paint a scary picture.
When you meet the boyfriends mom with that in mind, maybe you can upgrade your well-just-see to a truly open mind. Think of it as innocence until she proves herself guilty.
As for any mistreatment you witness, handle it as you would any other: Stick up for the target. Anything from a raised eyebrow to a full-out I believe you owe X an apology can let people know unkindness is unwelcome here.
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 with her. I find it annoying, and Ive 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? D.
Carolyn Says: Putting someone in an awkward spot is the exact opposite of what etiquette exists to accomplish. But this isnt about etiquette.
Youre trying to have a say in what you do, which is your right, even if your methods might be problematic. (You are asking her to change her behavior which is OK occasionally, but not repeatedly and not as your only solution.)
She, meanwhile, is trying to have a say in what you think and feel, which is a boundary violation. Its also bad for a relationship. For that matter, so is the aural cheese-grater that is a speaker phone.
Usually the best way to handle behavior as boorish as hers, since the chances are slim that she confines it to phone-bombing, is not to date it anymore. If youre not there yet, then change your own behavior: Hi, everyone! Girlfriend, call me back when youre free, click. That puts you fully in charge of whats yours to control.
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