Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 20 2006 6:39 AM

Good, Bad, and Ugly

My mother tells me how flawed I am—and she tells everyone else we meet, too.

1_123125_122976_dearprudence_02

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,
Every time my mom and I meet new people or she introduces me to her friends, she points out some flaw in my appearance. I have round, slightly protruding eyes in a round face, so I hear a lot about cow eyes and a moon face. My out-of-proportion figure ("She's top-heavy, just like her father's mother was") and acne scars are also favorite targets, as is the way I dress. It wasn't until I left home and lived on my own for quite a while that I realized other mothers don't treat their kids this way. I asked her once why she does it, and she told me I don't look right and people deserve an explanation why. This has been hurting my feelings since I was a young child. Please don't tell me to discuss my hurt feelings with her. If she finds out she's getting to me, I'll never hear the end of it. I already know I'm ugly and am horribly self-conscious around strangers.

—Feeling Ugly

Dear Feeling,
I bet you look just fine. It's your mother's hideous soul that's the problem. Believe me, people to whom she makes these repulsive comments are not judging you, but her. Since you have brought this up with her, and she gave you her pathetic explanation, you're probably right that further discussion won't reform her. You need to distance yourself from her physically and psychologically. You're a grown woman—you don't need to spend that much time with an abusive mother. But you do need to address the damage she has done. Cognitive therapy, which would retrain the way you think about yourself, could be a good starting place. The Beck Institute Web site explains cognitive therapy, recommends books, and has a list of practitioners. You also need to learn that you're attractive. If your acne scars bother you, talk to a dermatologist about treatments to reduce them. Go to a department store and let the makeup artist give you pointers on how to emphasize your best features. Make an appointment with a personal shopper to find clothes that will flatter your figure. (Remember, many women have paid plastic surgeons to give them the "problem" of being top-heavy.) If you do find yourself in a situation in which your mother insults your looks, pretend you didn't hear her, and put on your most confident smile.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I live in a small apartment with a married couple. They're friends from high school, but I've never been particularly close to either of them. We ended up living together because it's an expensive city, and it seemed like the best option. Now that I live with them, I find them and their relationship incredibly frustrating and childish. She's patronizing, selfish, lazy, and uses sex as a weapon; he's fussy, sarcastic, and indulges her every whim. I'm in a serious relationship myself, but they make me reconsider ever getting married. I know I shouldn't be bothered, but it's all unfolding within a few feet of me. Often I catch myself about to open my mouth to tell her to grow up and him to grow a spine. I can't move because our lease goes for a while yet, and after that I'm moving to a different city anyway. Besides, if I moved they would be offended. I don't want this to ruin our friendship, but I'm worried if I keep ignoring it I'll just snap one day.

—Annoyed at Home

Dear Annoyed,
There's an adage that you never know what really goes on in someone else's marriage—but you do. Few marriages, however, would look good under this level of scrutiny. Why worry about yours being like theirs? Each marriage has its own dynamic—one that would probably seem weird to a roommate observing it. As for being unable to bear this situation yet having no other options—that's hard to buy from an unencumbered, young, single person. If your sanity is at stake, why not look for another roommate and tell them to do the same. Don't be concerned about offending the couple. When they're whispering in their bedroom it's probably about how they can't wait for your lease to expire so they can have some privacy. And if you decide to stay, just think of yourself as living in one long Neil LaBute play.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I am a thirtysomething professional who has been married to his college sweetheart for a few years. We have no kids. She's everything a guy could ask for: intelligent, pretty, and all my friends and family love her. We're very happy together. I recently met someone who I run into frequently—on the bus, at the gym. We've only had a couple of superficial conversations; nonetheless, I cannot get this woman out of my head. I can't even be sure that the feelings are mutual, although based upon her body language, I'd say she is interested. I find myself daydreaming about her and wondering, "What if … ?" I have never cheated on my wife (came close once and was very glad that I didn't follow through) and have no intention of starting anytime soon. Now, though, I find myself almost avoiding my wife for no other reason than that I am so mixed up. I'm too young for a midlife crisis, but I can't stop thinking about this other woman.

—Mr. Head Is Spinning

Dear Head,
This woman now has the kind of glow that inevitably fades with the tooth-flossing reality of marriage. But guess what, Ms. Wonderful slurps her coffee in the morning, spends too much time on the phone with her mother, and she farts. She's another real person, not just your fantasy figure. There's nothing unhealthy about a crush on a frequently seen stranger or a co-worker. (I do draw the line at married people who find true love online. Sign off the chat room and pay some attention to your spouse.) The test is what you do with these feelings. If you enjoy the fantasy for what it is, but don't act on it, it will eventually fade. But continue to withdraw from your wife and you'll certainly provoke a crisis. Fantasize about this: What it would feel like to destroy a good marriage not because you've found someone better, but just because you've found someone else.

Advertisement

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My new girlfriend is wonderful. Funny, smart, well-educated. But how come she has to answer eight to 15 cell-phone calls per evening? She has one of those damn BlackBerrys, and she's forever checking e-mails and sometimes getting phone calls every minute. I am not exaggerating. Does this mean she's just popular? Or am I competing with (and losing to) a cell phone?

—Can't Even Beat a Cell Phone

Dear Can't,
She may be wonderful, but she's also rude. We live in a time when people increasingly think it's more satisfying to ignore the real world and disappear into the virtual one. Unless her work leaves her unavoidably on call, she is refusing to give you the courtesy she would extend to the other patrons at a concert. As lightly as possible, tell her you're getting jealous of her electronic devices and that you'd like more of her undivided attention. If she interrupts this conversation to take a call, tell her to take a hike.

—Prudie