Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 16 2003 10:42 AM

Throw Mama From the Marriage

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Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click hereto sign up.Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudie,

I'm,
gasp, in my early 30s and have been married for five years. I was just wondering: Is everyone cut out for marriage or long-term relationships? Does everyone's heart break from time to time within a seemingly good relationship? My husband is gentle most of the time, doesn't interfere in my life, is a good provider, doesn't smoke or drink, and, I believe, is not the cheating kind. The thing is, Prudie, I was hoping for a warmer life. My hubby was in his mid-30s when we got married and was living in the family home with his mother, older sister, and older brother. This is normal in our part of the world. Hubby treats these people better than he treats me. His mother cries when we leave town on vacation, calls her son five times a day, and counsels him on every little detail of our lives. I have asked him not to report our lives to her, and he's complied to some degree. One telling detail: Every time she needs cash, she has her son leave our home, go the ATM, withdraw money from her account, and bring it to her across town. There is an ATM very close her house, plus she has a son living with her. Isn't that bizarro? There's a lot more. At this point, I am no longer angry, just lonely and disillusioned. Is there a way to change this kind of thing? Do I just have high expectations? Your insight would be very helpful.

—Where's the Light?

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Dear Where,

In answer to your questions, marriage isn't for everyone, and of course there are imperfections in even the good relationships. Your particular situation, however, sounds like a severe apron-strings problem—beyond cultural. Or at least Prudie hopes it's beyond cultural, because it would be awful to imagine that catering to one's mother and freezing out one's wife is standard amongst any group of people. Your husband needs to be enlightened about Mama's manipulation. If he does not understand, for example, the ATM maneuver for what it is, he is surely in need of edification. That there's a son—still living at home—is the tip-off. It is fine for your husband to respect his mother, but he doesn't have to let her push you to the sidelines. Going to a couples' counselor would probably be the best approach—and if he balks, make it an "or else" proposition. If you do not, he will be dancing attendance on Mama long after ATM machines have been replaced. Good luck.

—Prudie, pointedly

Dear Pru,

When is it inappropriate for people to bring kids to an event, and what can you do about it? Recently I went to a very non-kid-friendly movie—the plot was pretty much sex, sex, sex, which was obvious from every review and preview—and there were two different entire families there. Each group of people contained at least four kids, ranging in ages down from about 8 to babies. The kids were running up and down the aisles and talking and yelling and crying and climbing over and under the seats and spilling soda on people all through the movie. No one, including management, said anything about it because the families were of a specific minority group, and I think people were afraid of seeming racist at the arty liberal movie theater. This is the only "art-house" movie theater in town, they serve wine and beer, and they don't show child-appropriate movies. What's the deal? Is it a crime to hire a baby sitter anymore?

—Annoyed

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Dear Ann,

It's not a crime, but for some families it's impossible or unaffordable. Like you, Prudie is of the old school, believing if an occasion is for grown-ups, people should stay home if no sitter is available. Lots of people disagree with Prudie, however ... hence little kids in wildly inappropriate settings. As to what you can do about it at the movies—at least because of content suitability—nothing. You CAN, however, complain to the theater management about kids who are running, yelling, talking, crying, climbing, and spilling soda. You could even report adults for the same behavior. Ignore the minority business, by the way; you are not making a complaint because of the person's ethnicity. There is an outside chance that, according to statute where you live, minors may not be where alcohol is served. If so, you could alert the liquor license people. And regarding movies where children do not belong, there's an outside chance that the parents read no reviews but simply went because of the title alone. Years ago Prudie's dear girlfriend was deeply embarrassed when she took her pre-adolescent son to what she believed to be a movie about farmers. It was Day of the Locust.

—Prudie, age-appropriately

Dear Prudie,

My wife and I are heading toward a bit of a showdown with her parents and need your advice. We've bought a house and established ourselves in an area that we really like and where we plan to stay for a long time. The problem is my wife's parents, who we've always enjoyed seeing on visits several times a year, are now looking for a house near where we live. It may sound silly, but we feel like we've got some rights here, as people who have already put down roots, to ask that they consider looking for a house at least a couple cities away ... somewhere close enough to get together but not so close that we're running into them at the store. Prudie, how do we explain that we do like them and enjoy their company, but we are not comfortable with them moving so close? Is there a tactful but stern way to convey this? By the way, age and health are not reasons for them wanting to move close to us. They're both relatively young and in good health and are not looking for us to be caregivers.

—Feeling Crowded in Texas

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Dear Feel,

This proposed homesteading act is somewhere between being needy, a compliment, and an attempt to take over. You are not nuts to wish for some (geographical) space between you and your wife and her parents. Without knowing the exact relationship prior to her folks wanting to play guess-who's-coming-to-everything, you would be well-advised to go on record as to how you both feel about it. The message should be that you love their friendship; you think living in each other's pockets will only lead to problems; this is the time when you need to shape an autonomous, grown-up married life; and you hope, for the sake of a continuing trouble-free relationship, they will continue with their visits ... "several times a year."

—Prudie, independently

Dear Prudie,

I have a bit of a situation. Several years ago, I dated Mr. Almost Right. We had been friends for several years before we dated and remained friends for a year or so after the relationship ended. He married and is now in the process of getting a divorce ... papers filed, etc. Well, we got back in touch and fell in love again. He has moved from Mr. Almost Right to Mr. Right. He actually learned from his failed marriage and is working to settle any lingering issues. His soon-to-be ex is happy for us and even told him to marry me (which we plan to do, in a year or so). So where's the problem? His mother. She wasn't particularly fond of us dating the first time and is downright unpleasant about it this time. We both live far from our hometown, but we both go back for occasions. Dear Mom has flat-out told him that due to his marriage still being legal, we are adulterers, we're going to burn for eternity, and she will not allow me in her home. This woman will be my mother-in-law someday, and I am extremely hurt by her attitude, as is my love. We both are seeking for an effective way to deal with this situation. I want to be the bigger person and let all this roll off my back, but it just doesn't seem feasible at this point.

—Feeling Hopeless

Dear Feel,

The good news is that your love sees the situation as you do. The most effective way to deal with the old bat AND her plans for you heating up in the hereafter is to steer clear of her until you are married. Then give her ONE chance to behave civilly to you. Prudie has always thought that people create their own emotional ambiance, and if your future m-i-l cannot see her way clear to welcoming you to the family, she will be the one on the outside. When you return to your hometown, simply hang with your family, and do not deal with the biblical scholar.

—Prudie, supportively