How can I stop abusing my girlfriends?

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 28 2010 7:10 AM

Abuser Seeks a Way Out

I'm an emotional bully to all my girlfriends. How can I change?

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
Two years ago, a woman who lives in my neighborhood, and whom I had considered a good friend, spread some vicious lies throughout the neighborhood about me and my family. I found out about the rumors and attempted to talk to everyone who'd heard them. Instead of returning my phone call asking for a chance to discuss the issue, the rumor-spreading neighbor sent my husband an e-mail complaining about me. We've barely spoken since; at neighborhood social events, I've been cordial but cold, saying hello and moving on. Here is the problem: I walk my dog every day, and she sometimes passes me in her car. She waves at me. I ignore her. Recently, her waving behavior has become frankly bizarre. She will roll down her windows and put her arms out the windows and wave at me with both hands. Last time she drove by, she honked her horn at me for several seconds while waving out the window. Do I continue to ignore her? Should I give in and wave back?

—I Just Want To Be Left Alone

Dear Want,
You ex-friend sounds unbalanced, and it's unpleasant that as you're going about your business near your home, you have to deal with her craziness. Surely she understands why you're no longer friends and knows that she's never made an attempt to make amends. However, there's something elemental in the human psyche that takes deep offense when normal social rituals of recognition are ignored—think how disproportionate your anger is when you let someone ahead of you in traffic and you don't get a wave of acknowledgement. This woman deserves to be invisible to you, but your acting as if you can't see her is now causing her to be so visible that your life is more unpleasant. So I say be the bigger person and disarm her by raising your arm and returning her wave. Plant a phony smile on your face, call out, "Hi, Martha," then be on your way. It won't solve the problem that you have a nut for a neighbor, but it might mean that you avoid a horn-honking assault from her when you're simply out enjoying a walk.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My ex-girlfriend's mom can't stop writing on my Facebook wall: giving me advice, telling me she cares about me, and debating my politics. I am not in touch with my ex. What should I do?

—So Over This

Dear So Over,
Situations like yours are why "defriending" was invented. Don't worry about hurting her feelings, just drop Mom.

—Prudie