Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 23 2005 6:27 AM

Monster-in-Law

What to do about that other woman in your man's life.

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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.)

Dear Prudence,
I have a wonderful husband, but the World's Worst Mother-in-Law. She is mentally ill, manipulative, and abused my husband in countless ways when he was growing up. My husband spent all of his life prior to our marriage taking care of his mom. Now that we're married and have moved away, she is still at it from a distance. She sends photos and letters from ex-girlfriends, had a family friend send a wedding invitation to us as "Mr. XXX and guest." She has told him twice she has cancer, only to admit she made it up after several weeks of torment. I hate this woman for what she has done to him and what she continues to do. I refuse to have any contact with her. I've expressed my anger about this to my husband, but he continues his relationship with her. While he doesn't react to her sabotage attempts, I feel that he is disrespecting me and our marriage by continuing his relationship with such a toxic woman. What can I do?

—Fuming and Frustrated

Dear Fume,
Get thee to a marriage counselor, and take him with you. With luck, a neutral third party can open your husband's eyes to the fact that his mother's behavior doesn't even come close to acceptable. It is often difficult for a grown child of such a parent to break away, but with some edification and therapy he might be able to do it. It would be drastic to put your marriage on the line, but the frustration and exasperation may leave you no other choice. Good luck.

—Prudie, supportively

Dear Prudence,
I recently found a full-time job after looking for four years and two months. Yes, I'm one of the people you hear about on the news. I've worked part time, lived like a pauper, increased my skills, networked, did everything you're supposed to do, but it took that long. I became extremely depressed, my credit is ruined, and it will take me years to dig myself out of this hole and rebuild my life and self-esteem. That's not the reason I write, however. The reason is the way my friends and family treated me through this long ordeal. (I want to point out that I never asked to borrow, nor was I offered money from anyone, and I was $100 away from homelessness, and my apartment was being foreclosed on. I sold it in the nick of time and lived off the proceeds plus my part-time salary.) Even though they all knew exactly what was going on, they would constantly ask incredibly callous questions: Why don't you have health insurance? Why don't you get your hair dyed in a salon instead of doing it yourself? We never see you anymore!! Why don't you want to go to dinner and the movies this weekend? Why don't you buy a new car? Got the picture? The answer I wanted to scream was: "Because I'm broke! What part of that is evading you?!" I'm truly disgusted with all of them. Many people would say forgive them all and move on. They've all bitterly disappointed me with their tactless comments. I feel I need to make new caring and sensitive friends. I'm so hurt and angry I don't even want to share my good news with them. Thank you.

—Finally employed

Dear Fine,
If, as you say, people close to you knew of your dire situation, didn't offer help, and asked all those lame questions, it just proves something Prudie has long believed: When you're born dumb, you're dumb forever. How perfectly insensitive and thoughtless, not to mention hurtful. When family and friends leave something to be desired—and in your case this is an understatement—it is time to choose more wisely. Do whatever makes you feel most comfortable—ignore them, forgive them, tell them off, or cut them off. And you have Prudie's very best wishes for a successful new life.

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—Prudie, optimistically

Dear Pru,
I have a situation about which I hope you can offer guidance. My boyfriend and I have been together for quite some time, eight years to be exact. (He's 30, I'm 26.) We have talked about marriage, even looked at rings, but that's as far as it's gone. I love him very much, but I'm worried that I will be a girlfriend forever. He knows that I want to get married and one day start a family, and he tells me he wants the same. I also know he's been hurt in the past and has a fear of commitment—but after eight years you'd think that commitment would not be a problem. I keep wondering if I am wasting my time with him. We don't live together and only see each other on weekends, due to conflicts in our schedules. I hate the idea of starting over with a new relationship, but staying in a dead-end one is no better. Please help.

—Confused

Dear Con,
Eight years? You are certainly entitled to start singing "Adelaide's Lament." Prudie thinks people who have "kept company" for two years shy of a decade and have looked at rings should call it official or call it a day. Without histrionics or ultimatums, you should tell him that the time has come. If he puts you off, tell him it's been lovely, au revoir, and it's been a pleasure.

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—Prudie, unequivocally

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I have been dating for a while now, and although we are very happy together, I find myself in a predicament. When we first started dating, he bragged to me about the lavish gifts he would buy for his previous girlfriends and about the expensive flower arrangements he would send. I told him that I'm not the kind of girl who needs or really wants to be showered with gifts. I would much rather have my partner by my side than a new bracelet on my wrist. But now I feel like kicking myself for making those statements. Even though I am only 23, I have never had a man give me flowers. I have always dreamt that when it would happen it would be from someone special. I feel that this guy is that someone. It's been three months, however, and in that time Valentine's Day has passed, and still no flowers. I feel he has taken my statement too literally to mean no gifts, period. Now I find myself looking wistfully into flower shops, hoping that he will realize how badly I want just that one gift. So my question to you is: How do I politely/subtly let him know that I want him to buy me flowers without rudely coming out and saying so?

—He Doesn't Bring Me Flowers

Dear He,
Prudie has made this mistake, herself—though never with flowers ... or jewelry. There are times when one just feels that declining is the polite thing to do—in effect saying, "Oh, no, don't bother." Sometimes we say certain things to show that we are gracious, well-grounded, or maintenance-free. With time, Prudie has learned to let nature take its course, if you receive her drift. As for retracting your statement of oh-no-you-mustn't, when the time seems right (perhaps walking by a flower shop?) you might say that you wish to amend a previous assertion. Tell him that now that you're an established couple, you would happily accept whatever would pleases him to give you, and you actually love flowers. Prudie hopes this does the trick.

—Prudie, florally