My boyfriend of five years was a father figure to his two stepdaughters from his last relationship, and gets teary-eyed when he doesn\’t hear from them. The problem is, he\’s sneaking calls to them — only calling them or their mother from work. If one of the girls calls him at home, he goes into the other room and gets off the phone quickly. It\’s not that I can\’t trust him, but part of me feels that their mother\’s still on his mind, too. Bringing this up causes a heated argument. He says I\’m insecure, it\’s driving him crazy, and makes him feel hesitant to visit them. Is his behavior suspicious, or am I paranoid?

— Uneasy

Crime of the century! Right up there with genocide, roadside bombings, and slapping around old ladies. Go ahead, accuse him, based on all the damning evidence at hand: \”Why, you … you … really good dad!\”

You don\’t mention finding lipstick on his collar, or a bill for three hours at a motel. Maybe what\’s really getting to you is a crayon you pulled out of his jacket pocket, along with a charge slip from Toys \”R\” Us. You can get away with accusing him of having an affair with the mom, but it\’s a little too Wicked Witch to scream at him for maintaining a relationship with the kids: \”Admit it! Admit it! I know you bought her a Happy Meal! And her sister, too!\”

Sure, he\’s sneaking calls to them. Consider this: Guys sneak beers, and maybe cigarettes, but never broccoli. They don\’t usually double back from work to mow the lawn, or tiptoe out in the dead of night to return library books. But, when decency gets criminalized, the decent get sneaky. Chances are, you made it clear that you weren\’t willing to share this guy\’s attention, not even with a couple of kids. That\’s probably what made him pull back to self-preservation mode, the diplomacy of \”What she doesn\’t know won\’t hurt me.\”

Here he is, not even their official dad, and he gets weepy when he doesn\’t talk to them. This is the stuff Hallmark TV specials are made of, yet you\’re turning your relationship into an episode of Prison Break. You admit, \”It\’s not that I can\’t trust him.\” No, it\’s that you\’re irrational and insecure, and making his life hell is probably your way of controlling how much of it he diverts to people who aren\’t you. Come on, after five years, you don\’t know what he\’s made of, or whether he still has the hots for the last lady in his life? If he is running away with her, he\’s an awfully slow runner. Like, at this rate, he might be able to beat Stephen Hawking across my living room rug.

Granted, he could leave you for the mother — or for some chick he bumps into at the mailbox when he\’s sneaking a call to the kids, but keeping him on a choke chain won\’t prevent it. Try a different strategy for a month, and see where it gets you: Admit to him that you\’re insecure, and that his sense of duty isn\’t cause for concern but cause to be with him in the first place. Encourage his relationship with the kids, and give him the leeway to conduct phone conversations in private, without the Soviet State of Girlfriend listening in. You might just come to see him for what he appears to be: a guy on the phone because he cares about his kid\’s math grade, not because he\’s recruiting housewives to remake your relationship into the suburban version of Hef and the triplets.

Humping to conclusions

I think my girlfriend has \”boundary issues\” with men. She\’ll have her ex over for lunch, just the two of them. She insists they\’re just friends, and I believe they aren\’t getting physical, but this private lunching seems disrespectful. She also greets male friends with a peck on the lips. I think lip-kissing should be for one\’s boyfriend only, and don\’t like being put in a position where my trust is continually tested.

— Bugged

Public lunches aren\’t a sign of respect or a cure for infidelity. In fact, plenty of cheaters enjoy them, and immediately afterward, run out to the parking garage to have each other for dessert. As for your girlfriend\’s lip-kissing hiyas, unless they, too, lead to the parking garage, isn\’t your real spat with your preconceived notions, not her? Chances are, you\’re one of those guys who thought he lucked out at landing a free spirit, then found her free-spiritedness a bit much to bear. You\’d probably be more comfortable with the kind of woman who lunches in restaurants and only shakes men\’s hands. Just don\’t mistake this for any guarantee that, after lunch, she and the waiter won\’t be out in the parking garage with the rest of them.