Advice on manners and morals (Nov. 13, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (Nov. 13, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (Nov. 13, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 13 2008 6:40 AM

The 40-Year-Old Infant

Mom and Dad's baby talk is driving me batty. Can't they see I'm all grown up?

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Dear Prudence,
My parents' lives began when they had babies and ended when those babies reached about 6. From then on, they've lived in this semi-delusional world, refusing to acknowledge that their "wittle durl" has grown up. I'm now 40 years old, and they still "tawk to me wike dis," making it pretty much impossible to have a real conversation with them. When they do slip and speak to me adult-to-adult, they actually correct themselves to baby talk. For example, "You looked nice" is quickly repeated as, "Her wookied sooo PURRRRTY." Every single thing that happens reminds them of "when ooo was wittle." Now, I could somewhat handle this when we lived across the country from each other and contact was limited to phone calls and a visit every few years, but now my job has brought me within easy driving distance, and I'm finding that I just can't take it. I've tried to gently correct them when they do this, but they don't hear me. I don't want to be irritable every time I'm around them, and I don't want to cut them off. They are my parents, after all. My husband says I can't outright say anything to them about it because it would hurt their feelings and, at their age, wouldn't change anything, anyway. What do you think?

—Not a "Wittle Durl" Anymore

Dear Wittle,
I'm not suggesting you do this, but I do wonder whether a kind of shock therapy could work with them. That is, next time you're visiting, during dinner turn your plate of spaghetti over on your head, then grab your bottom and say, "I make a pee-pee in my pants!" Your parents have been talking to you this way for the past 40 years, which makes this one long-running folie à deux. I agree with your husband's assessment that the likelihood of convincing them that Goodnight Moon is no longer your favorite book is small. Nonetheless, I think he's wrong to say you have to participate in their delusion. Stop being so gentle and explicitly tell them that now that you're 40 years old, you need them to speak to you as an adult. Explain that, from now on, when you're visiting and they slip into baby talk, you're going to slip out the door. Then do it. Either they will reform, or you won't have to take it. You mention that they had "babies," so I'm assuming you have siblings. Unless they are all so damaged from their upbringing that they are in cribs somewhere sucking their thumbs and waiting for the tooth fairy, perhaps they can join you in presenting a united front to your parents. All of you could say you want an end to the baby talk and perhaps suggest that your parents seek counseling to figure out a new way of relating to their children. If all this fails, then when they call wondering where their "widdle, biddle baby-boo" is, you can say you'd love to see them just as soon as you become old enough to learn how to drive.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I recently married a wonderful man with two children. We met via an online dating service and were married within months. He's a great husband and father to his children as well as my child. Our sex life is pretty good, however I'm not sure how to tell him I need a lot more "warming up" in bed before we get down to business. I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I don't feel like a kiss or two is sufficient enough to get me hot, bothered, and ready to go. I enjoy making love with him, and I don't want this to become a bigger problem down the road. Any suggestions?

—Not So Hot

Dear Not So Hot,
The good news is that when he does get down to business, you enjoy it. You'd be in a much worse situation if the hors d'oeuvres were superb, but the main course was always undercooked. Clearly, during his previous marriage, this was how conjugal relations were conducted. But you're his wife now, and you have to make your needs clear—surely he will be delighted to please you and expand his own pleasure and repertoire. You need to talk to him, but do it at the right moment. That means not just before or after you've made love, because it would be a mood killer. Pick a time when you two have plenty of privacy and are feeling cozy, and tell him that your lovemaking is wonderful, but you're someone who needs a lot more foreplay. If you're uncomfortable describing what you want, look at the books on the Web site of the American Association of Sexuality Educators Counselors and Therapists, and see if anyone could help you give some guidance to your husband. You could also order some of the Better Sex videos—you two might get so hot and bothered during movie night that you won't even need hot, buttered popcorn.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I was recently at a party with my girlfriend and some of her friends. Most of the people in attendance were female. One girl called a male friend to get him to come over and bring some other guys. To entice him, she said, "There are four beautiful girls over here. One has a boyfriend, though." To which my girlfriend replied, as she pretended to push me away, "What? You mean, 'Mike,' my brother?" I felt belittled. Is this a harmless joke? Am I being oversensitive? My girlfriend says it was just a joke and that I shouldn't take it seriously. I love her, and I love her sense of humor 99 percent of the time. I have talked to her about these kinds of jokes before; she said she would try to think about me before making jokes that might offend me, but I feel like a prop in her stand-up routine from time to time. Do I have a right to be offended by this "harmless" joke?

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—Belittled

Dear Belittled,
Are you sure we're not dating, Mike? Because, like your girlfriend, I've gone through life having to explain, "It's just a joke!" If your girlfriend is only offensive 1 percent of the time, then she's got an outstanding ratio of laughs to pain. But it's that 1 percent that can really sting. Humor requires risk. When it works, as when Barack Obama referred to himself as "a mutt" during his first press conference as president-elect, it's a delight. When it doesn't, as when he said he wasn't going to try to contact any dead presidents in the manner of Nancy Reagan, it calls for an apology (which he gave to Mrs. Reagan). Since you say you enjoy dating your jokester, she should appreciate that most of the time you can take it, and when you can't, she needs to back off and say she's sorry. But I doubt there was any deeper meaning to her ill-conceived party gibe other than the irresistible opportunity for a laugh.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
About a year ago, my first love contacted me after a 20 year silence. We had dated in high school for three years and had our first sexual experience with each other. I was so in love with him, but he split up with me and broke my heart. He found a new girlfriend and married her after we graduated. They had a child and moved out of state. At first, he contacted me through a classmate-finder Web site, and we chatted online several times. Eventually, he said he would be in my area and would love to see me. When we met and hugged, the emotions came flooding back. He felt so good in my arms, and his smell was the same as I remembered. We talked for hours. Since then, we have been e-mailing, texting, and talking on the phone. We are both still married, but I can't stop thinking about him. We want to get together so badly. I love my husband very much, but I can't let go of what I feel for my first love. I think maybe I never really let go of him; I'd just locked all of those emotions inside, thinking that's all I would ever have left of him. But seeing him was the key that let them loose, and now I am very confused and want him back!

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—Torn Between Two Loves

Dear Torn,
When he took you in his arms, suddenly you both transported to the back seat of his Mustang. You were young again! You'd never heard of a 401(k)! You didn't have a spouse who yelled just yesterday, "Is it too much to ask you to replace the toilet paper when you finish the roll!" You must feel as Proust did upon experiencing the memories evoked by eating a madeleine: "And at once the vicissitudes of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory—this new sensation having had on me the effect which love has of filling me with a precious essence. …" However, unless you are hoping to wreck two families, I strongly urge you to forget about being filled with your former boyfriend's precious essence. You seem to be trying to make the case that your life for the past 20 years has just been an attempt to hide from what has now been revealed: You and he belong together, and you can no longer resist your fate. However, I'll bet his truth is pretty much the same as it was 20 years ago: He'd like to sleep with you, but he plans to live with her. Have you told your husband about seeing your old flame? No? I didn't think so. So before you lead yourself into one disastrous vicissitude, tell your high-school Romeo that the reunion is over.

—Prudie