Confusion, anyone?

Dear Carolyn:

I'm 16, and my boyfriend's dad is engaged to a woman he's been seeing for a while. My boyfriend thought this was great, because his dad seems so happy. But there's a problem.

You see, whenever my boyfriend stays with his dad for the weekend, his stepmom-to-be flirts with him. At first he thought she was joking around. But now her insinuations have gotten much more serious. It's so serious he calls me crying. He doesn't want to have to tell, because his dad is so happy with this woman, and because he fears his dad will think he's trying to break them up out of resentment. What should I tell him?

Scared and Confused

First, confirm what he probably suspects: The fact that this all landed on his shoulders does, indeed, blow. It's a lot to take at 16-ish. And remind him it's not his fault. That's important.

Still, he has to tell his father, and I don't know if the words exist that can make this job more appealing.

It will help, though, if he follows the golden rule of ratting: Stick to the facts. If he gives his interpretation of what's happening ("She's flirting with me"), the father may not believe it, or may reflexively defend his bride-to-be. And that will only elevate the proceedings from difficult to trust-damaging.

If your boyfriend simply states what's happening ("When I visit, she says things that make me uncomfortable"), and cites specific examples, then the father can more easily take him at his word, and explore the implications himself. For all any of us know, the fiancee is innocently trying to win over her soon-to-be stepson -- just in an extraordinarily boneheaded way.

But wait! There's more. (We're almost there, I promise.) If his father's happiness is based on a false image of the fiancee, then it'll last only as long as the lie it rests on. When the lie collapses, as all lies do, his father will wish somebody had said something. No matter how much it hurt.

Dear Carolyn:

I have been seeing my girlfriend for over a year now. Things were going great until I came across a very intriguing woman over the Internet chat lines. She is a smart, funny, sexy lady and I find myself thinking of her often. My girlfriend and I were going to the same college in Florida, but this year she transferred. I don't really want to be in a long-distance relationship, and am contemplating calling it off.

Confused

Repeat after me:

Girlfriend -- real.

Internet girl -- imaginary.

Real friends -- good.

Imaginary friends -- sad.

Maybe this girlfriend has run her course. Nothing wrong with that. Or maybe you don't love her enough to want to make things work long-distance, and you figure your survival chances are slimmer than a super-model sideways. Again, nothing wrong with that, as long as you're honest about it.

Just don't tell me you're upgrading. Your Internet intrigue, assuming this woman can spell (assuming this woman's a woman), is merely two people sharing idealized versions of themselves in the safe confines of a blind, deaf and incredibly dumb medium. This is no relationship. Be honest about that, too.

Meanwhile, if you find typing to strangers -- yes, strangers -- more appealing than being with a full, warm, touchable human being, you've got some bigger questions to answer. Like, what is it about full, warm, touchable human beings that makes you run to a box?

Dear Carolyn:

I am a 22-year-old student lusting after an older man (41). I don't have a problem with the age thing -- I have dated older men before, although not this old. My last trip to California, I was invited to his house for a massage. It was wonderful, but the only problem is, he is one of my dad's best friends and he is scared of that. I told him I was a big girl and able to make my own decisions and he was a big boy and able to make his own decisions. I am going to California in a few days, and he has invited me over for another massage. I am really starting to like him. What should I do?

Confused in Arizona

How big can you be if you're both afraid of Daddy? I'd have a problem with that -- forget age.

Not to mention this whole gag-as-I-type-it massage thing. "Too craven to face his friend, the Allegedly Grown Man thought and he thought and he got it! He'd invite her home for . . . a massage!"

It was a funny "Friends" episode, but nonfictional adults are supposed to date, not engage in farce.

He tells Dad he wants to date you, then you ask Dad if he objects.

By the way, using "date" here is called "the benefit of the doubt." If this is lust-only, drop it. Spare your father the grief.

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