Dear Prudence: I’ve fallen for my neighbor. But he may not want me.

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

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.

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—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

Dear Prudence,
My fiancé has two sons, one in elementary school and one a freshman in high school, with his ex-wife. He and I met after the divorce and he has joint custody of their children. I am very happy to say that his two boys and I get along very well. But we are having serious problems with his ex-wife. Since he and I started dating, she has been on the warpath. She has called child protective services on us, stating that we do not feed the boys, that there is animal filth in our home, and that I inappropriately discipline the kids. CPS visited our place and interviewed the boys and found nothing to support these claims. She has stalked us through a grocery store and falsely accused my fiancé of buying pet food instead of paying child support. Now she has told the younger to take photos of our house and send them to her so she can “investigate.” We don’t want to demonize this woman to her children but we also don’t want them to be used as weapons against us. How can we talk to them about their mother without depicting her in a horrible light? Or are we trying to shelter them from something they have a right to know about?

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—Hurting

Hurting,
It’s hard not to demonize someone who’s a demon. CPS has enough to handle without having to investigate made-up accusations. The ex is lucky indeed that you two didn’t pursue a false claim charge against her. She is a dangerous woman. She’s demonstrated she’s willing to try to use government agencies against you and your fiancé. She’s stalked you. She’s cruelly manipulating her kids to try to harm you and their father. You two need to talk to a lawyer about her escalating behavior. You need protection, and so do the children. It could be that it’s time for your fiancé to try to get full custody. Given the pressure the boys must be under when they’re home with their mother, it could be very salutary for them each to see a therapist. The boys know what their mother is up to, and while you don’t want to be enlisting them in a war against her, I think it’s more than fair that their father and you discuss what’s going on, talk about how you both feel, and give the boys a chance to air their feelings. You two can say that it makes you both very sad that she would say hurtful things about you and also try to involve them in a situation that should just be between adults. Their father can add he doesn't know why she’s doing this, but he feels she needs help and hopes she gets it. The boys should be told that of course they love their mother, but if they need to get any concerns off their chest, you and their father are there to listen.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My fiancée and I are getting married in October of this year. Both of us were raised in families that moved constantly, hers with the military, and mine with the federal government. We have great relationships with both sides of our family, who since we were in college have begun to settle down in Virginia. My fiancée has nieces and nephews being born and while we don’t envision children for ourselves in the near future, we do plan on taking that step at some point. Two years ago, after my fiancée finished college, we moved from Virginia to Texas. Life in Texas has been good. I have a job that offers potential for advancement and my fiancée has a job that is giving her awesome experience in her field. There are fewer opportunities in the part of Virginia we want to move back to than here in Texas, but we miss our families and love the idea of starting our married life with the large, rooted family neither of us ever had. What should we do?

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—Gone to Texas

Dear Texas,
First let me quote an adopted Texan, Davy Crockett, who wrote: “I must say as to what I have seen of Texas it is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here.” OK, maybe Davy’s move to Texas ultimately didn’t work out for him, but you certainly can attest that Texas has been a good place for you two to seek your fortune. I understand your longing to have family nearby, and it is a good reason to consider uprooting yourselves —someday. But stay put for now. You are two young people who are in the enviable position of having found satisfying work with prospects for advancements in your chosen fields. Pursue that! Because you’ll be economically independent, you can start racking up those Southwest Airlines frequent-flier miles by getting back to Virginia frequently. When you’re more established, and when you’re ready to consider starting a family, you will be in a better position to see whether a move to Virginia will work for you. In the meantime, enjoy your adopted state. The Alamo is lovely this time of year.

—Prudie

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