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Dear Carolyn: At a recent social event I was talking to one of my boyfriend's co-workers. I mentioned I'm applying to grad school, and said my top choice is a program in the area -- I don't want to move away from my boyfriend. The co-worker, whom I don't know all that well but have always thought to be a nice guy, then busted out with, "Don't take this the wrong way, but you could do a lot better than your boyfriend." I was so stunned and hurt that I didn't say anything and just stared at him. Must have looked aghast enough, because he then said, "Just kidding."

I don't really want to hang out with the co-worker anymore, because I thought he was totally over the line -- but my avoiding him is now confusing my boyfriend. How can I explain why I don't really want to hang out with the co-worker without hurting my boyfriend's feelings -- or causing a huge rift between the two of them? Small white lie?

-- D.C.
A: Or, big wet kiss.

You're writing back to me all aghast, aren't you.

First of all, dodging this co-worker is an overreaction. Even if he was hitting on you (though I suspect not, since his advice would send you out of town for grad school), what he said was hardly sooo awful that it's worth risking the social equilibrium at your boyfriend's workplace. He has to show up there every day, you don't. Surely you can be a grown-up and behave toward this co-worker as if nothing had ever been said.

Assuming, of course, I don't persuade you to see the guy in a new light.

It makes sense that you'd give your boyfriend the benefit of the doubt here. Problem is, you don't even acknowledge the doubt. I could take the exact same facts, and argue the guy was actually trying to warn you that your boyfriend's "totally over the line" somehow.

Even if that's too drastic in interpretation, you still have to consider that co-workers can see sides of people their private-life cohorts can't, and vice-versa. So if your boyfriend were notorious for taking liberties with his timecard, say, or disappearing for lunch-hour trysts with someone other than you, or clipping his toenails in his cubicle, or whatever, you might not have any idea. Unless, of course, someone liked you enough to feel indebted enough to try to drop a few hints your way.

I'm not trying to persuade you that your boyfriend is evil incarnate (and the LAST thing I want is to inspire people to spy on their mates at work). I just want you to open your mind to other possibilities, and to give your judgment a chance.

If you're worried that this is a betrayal, don't be. Real trust comes from this kind of internal scrutiny. It's blind trust that suffers, and deservedly so; you need to be careful never to grant people that.

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