Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 10 2005 8:23 AM

The Mother Fusser

When your friendship with Mom gets too close for comfort.

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

Hey Pru,

How do you handle a meddling mother? As the only child of a perfectionist mother, I have been presented with some unusual challenges. My mother and I have a fairly close relationship, and I would consider her one of my closest friends (though I don't tell her EVERYTHING). Here's my dilemma. I mentioned to her that I met a young man and we seemed to "click" really well. Through our conversations, I found out that he at one time worked in the same "agency" as my mother. After our talk, the following day she felt it necessary to call people she knew to "get the scoop about him." She called me several times that day to inform me that he was a playboy, womanizer, etc. She also called to tell me that he was married and had only been so for about a year. This was information I was already privy to and told her that he's currently going through a divorce. (He and his wife separated because she had an affair shortly after the marriage, and they no longer live together.) Is it wrong for me to be burning hot about what she did? I figure it this way: If he is all that the other WOMEN my mother spoke to say he is, I will see that in due time.

—Burning Hot in the South

Dear Burn,

As the only child of a somewhat perfectionist mother, herself, Prudie can tell you that your mom was exercising her maternal—if somewhat busybody—instincts to spare you a heartbreak. You really have to face the fact that if the verdict on this guy from more than a few people is that he is trouble, he is trouble. Granted, it is more indelible to learn one's own lessons, but your mother was trying to fast-forward your information so you could save some time, not to mention grief. Should you be intent on learning everything firsthand, then stop giving your mother personal information. It is Prudie's hunch that if you continue with this man, you will learn that your mother's "informants" were correct.

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—Prudie, predictively

Dear Prudie,

I have been with the same man for about eight years now, and I love him very much. The problem is he keeps telling me he wants to spend the rest of his life with me and marry me. I should be happy, right? Wrong. After all this time, he is still married to his first wife. Their marriage has been over for a little more than a decade, but they've never bothered to get divorced. Moreover, when I mention it, he says he'll do it soon, and then nothing gets done. We have been living together for six years, and I'm fine with that. I don't even need to be married to the guy, but what bugs me is when he introduces me to someone, he calls me his wife. I've asked him to stop that because then people call me Mrs. X, and I don't like it one bit. I finally gave him an ultimatum, and now he says I don't love him. I don't know what to do. Please help.

—Not Mrs. X

Dear Not,

If you are sincere about not needing to be married and are fine with living together, lay down the law: You are to be introduced by your own name, and he should please refrain from pledging that "he'll do it soon." Tell him that whenever he feels like getting off the dime, you will be more than happy to discuss the new developments—and maybe a new name. In other words, you'll stop nagging him to formally end the marriage if he'll stop pretending you're his wife. P.S.: Being legally bound to someone with whom there is nothing going on—for a decade, yet—suggests that he may be going for a world record. Or … she won't let him go. Or … it's more economical this way. It's your call.

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—Prudie, thoughtfully

Dear Prudence,

Through one of the dating Web sites, I made the acquaintance of the most wonderful gentleman. After a few months of talking daily over the phone and chatting via the Internet, the friendship developed into a wonderful, intimate long-distance relationship. We took turns visiting each other monthly. For the past 13 months, there hasn't been a day that we weren't together or at least talking on the phone. One month ago I felt a distance that wasn't mileage. So in a carefully worded e-mail, I asked where he saw the relationship going. Well, he responded in what essentially amounted to a "Dear Jane" letter, though written is the kindest possible way, full of affection and caring thoughts, declaring his love, respect, and admiration for me, etc., but the bottom line was that he felt he wasn't sure he could leave New England and migrate to N.J. He wasn't sure he could adapt to the environment, and he was quite sure I wouldn't be able to adapt to life in New England. He continues to call frequently during the week, declaring his love for me, how much he misses me, etc. He has never been married, and I'm sensing that the issue is not really the distance as much as it is commitment phobia. Do you feel there is any reason for optimism that absence will make the heart grow fonder?

—Sleepless in N.J.

Dear Sleep,

This could go either way. It could be commitment phobia (or some other emotional stop sign), or it could actually be the geographical situation. You might try this approach: Offer to give New England a try. (Prudie loves it, by the way.) If he is resistant to such a trial period, suggest that the telephonic declarations of love end because it is now clear to you that he is not really interested in finding a way to be together. The answer for you is to get him into experimental mode or cut him loose, along with your losses.

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—Prudie, experimentally

Dear Prudence,

I am fairly new to the dating scene after a lousy 12-year marriage. "Once bitten" is a major factor for me, so when I date a man and think things are getting too serious, I'm outta there! I met my present boyfriend three months ago, and I'm really thinking that I want to commit to him. Those three little words are on the tip of my tongue, but I'm afraid that HE will be the one running for the hills if I say them. How do you know when it's safe?

—R.L.

Dear R.,

There is not a timetable for those three little words and no rule about when it's "safe" to say them. One way to be "safe," if you're concerned, is to let him say them first. However ... some men wait until they are told first because they, too, do not want to send someone running for the hills. Should there come a time when you feel you really want to tell him, do it, and trust your instincts. Also remember that saying, "I love you" is a remark on your feelings, not a pledge of anything. The dilemma you speak of has to do with the fact that, for some people, those "three little words" carry with them a bunch of other implied words … like "This is it," "I'll love you forever," or even, "Let's get married." As for the cads in our midst who say those words to be manipulative, they are actually thinking of another three words: Talk is cheap.

—Prudie, providentially