Confirm comments from dad’s sweetie

Dear Carolyn: Three years ago, during my senior year of high school, my parents divorced. My dad has quite a bit of money and I was worried that he might get involved with “gold diggers,” but I liked his girlfriend, “Joan,” from the start.

I go to college out of state, so I haven’t had many opportunities to get to know Joan. But the other day, my brother told me Joan had, unasked, told my dad, “I just want to go on record that I don’t think you should pay for your daughter’s law school. I don’t approve.”

Unfortunately, this isn’t her first comment like that. She also thinks it’s unconscionable that my dad pays my college tuition.

I don’t consider his help something I’m entitled to, and I try to show that by working to earn spending money, making perfect grades, and staying out of trouble. I never expected him to pay for law school anyway. So her comments and assumptions hurt my feelings.

More importantly, I think it’s horrible that she would position herself to cause a rift between me and my father, over issues that are none of her business. I don’t care how my dad chooses to spend his money, but I’m furious that she is nice to my face while making these comments behind my back.

I am no longer interested in being friendly with her, and I don’t really feel an obligation to. I’m going home for a visit soon, and I think I should give my dad a heads-up. What should I say? He doesn’t know I know about the law school comment, and I don’t want to drop my little brother in the grease. – Maryland

It’s not fair to give Joan the hairy eyeball (been waiting years to use that one) based solely on a verbal hand-me-down. You need to confirm that’s what she’s saying.

Then, you need to state your objection. When it comes to bad social behavior, snubbing people without explanation ranks right up there with meddling in other people’s financial business.

Because the significant relationship here is between you and your father, he deserves a chance to correct any inaccuracies in your impression of Joan: “Things that Joan has apparently said have made their way back to me. I’m concerned and would like to know if they’re true.” You’re less likely to fry your brother if you avoid the law-school detail and instead cite Joan’s (apparently) repeat airings of her college-tuition opposition.

If Dad confirms, then you ask, “How is that her business?” Your dad may well disagree with Joan and agree it isn’t her business, therefore assuring your tuition and familial bond. If on the other hand he expresses respect or sympathy for her opinion, then you’ll need to make sure your objection is clear – that this is not about money, it’s about her inserting herself where she doesn’t belong, and about her seeming duplicity in opining behind your back.

Ideally this conversation will help you feel more charitable toward Joan, or at least less threatened. But should your hostility remain intact, then you need to set limits with her directly: “I have liked you from the start, but I would appreciate your staying out of arrangements I’ve made with my father.” Plainly, civilly and soon.

E-mail Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her online at 9 a.m. Pacific time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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