Help! I’ve Fallen for the First Decent Man I’ve Known—My Neighbor.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 27 2014 6:00 AM

Won’t You Be My Lover

My neighbor is the first decent man I’ve known. But what if he doesn’t want me?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a 29-year-old single mother of children ages 2 and 4. I left my kids’ father because he was addicted to heroin. I’ve always held a decent job and have been able to take care of myself. Dating has been difficult as I work full time and I do not wish to bring any men around my children. I moved to a new neighborhood and immediately took notice of my neighbor. Just before I arrived his girlfriend had moved out, and they have a child together. She was addicted to opiate pills. A friendship between him and me started and now we hang out, talk, or text on a daily basis. He’s a very good father. Our kids play together. I regularly cook meals and he eats over. He talks to my kids in a way a father would. He does things for me I could never get any boyfriend to do, like snow removal, and all the fix-it problems in my house. He looks out for me and I look out for him. There has never been anything romantic between us. However, I do have very strong feelings for him. I am pretty enough but all of his past girlfriends are beautiful model types. He could have any girl he wanted. I’m hoping he wants me. But I’m afraid to take the jump and ruin the friendship. I’m biting my tongue every time we hang out.

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—Hopeful

Dear Hopeful,
I know there are those who would say that if you have to ask if he’s interested in you romantically the question answers itself: He isn’t. But I don’t have such a robotic view of men. Yes, it could be that he’s shaking his head at the fickleness of fate for having brought a lovely woman with an admirable heart and soul into his life yet for some reason neglected to spark in him desire for her. Or it could be he’s feeling you two are creating the kind of happy domestic life he always wanted, but respects that you’ve put him in the friend zone even if he wishes it were otherwise. You are in a delicate spot. Your relationship thus far has been wonderful not only for you two, but for the three children. How important for the kids, who have all suffered from having a parent who’s an addict, to see that adults can be healthy and reliable. That shoveling snow for you has turned your neighbor into Sir Walter Raleigh means your life has not tossed many decent men your way. You’ve got the man of your dreams right next door, and I think it’s worth it to take the risk. Usually, a hand on the small of the back, a certain kind of look, even standing a little too close is enough to get the message across. Your message, however, isn’t simply that you want to get laid. You need to know if he wants to move your friendship into romantic intimacy. So one night, when the kids are in the other room, and you two are doing the dishes, tell him you have to confess that your feelings for him are not strictly platonic. Explain that if he doesn’t feel the same, you hope your friendship is strong enough that there doesn’t have to be any awkwardness between you.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been married to a very nice man for 40 years. We have raised a family, he has been an excellent provider, and to my knowledge has been faithful to me. He comes from a family that’s not emotionally close, but he is a dutiful son to aging parents who live nearby. My problem is that my husband never calls me by my name, either a nickname or by my given name. He just starts speaking to me, but without any sort of address. He does call others by their given names, and I cringe to hear him say other people’s names over and over. I’ve tried not answering him if he fails to address me, then he’ll just say my name sarcastically. I am hurt that I have this void in our relationship and I long for my husband to call me something. I have had this sad discussion with him a trillion times. I went to a counselor by myself who consulted with a renowned marriage therapist, and all they could suggest was that it had something to do with my husband’s relationship with his mother. He is not interested in couples therapy.

—Call Me Something

Dear Call Me,
Maybe you can start wearing a coach’s whistle on a lanyard and whenever he starts with his, “Hey, hey, you there,” you can give him a few blasts. Call Me, I understand this is painful, and it’s more than odd that after 40 years and a trillion conversations, your “very nice” husband hasn’t found it in him to be able to call you Sweetums, or Honey Pie, or Charlene (preferably if your name is Charlene). Yet here you are, all these decades later, and he won’t comply with this simple, understandable request. You have two choices: Forget it, or keep at it. After 40 years of what you describe as general contentment, just accepting that this is a quirk in your otherwise good spouse might liberate you. But if this will haunt you until death do you part, then I think you should try again with a behavioral therapy tack, and this time stick with it. Tell your husband that if he wants you to respond to his requests or comments, about a third of them have to be accompanied with your name or acceptable nickname, spoken in an agreeable tone. Without both those conditions being met, you’re not going to respond. Then no more talk from you to him about it, just action (or inaction) for as long as required.

—Prudie

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