I am a female in my mid-20s. I moved home with my parents after finishing my degree in order to work and save for graduate school. We live next door to a single mom with eight children. She home-schools her children, with the result that the children are not very well socialized. Her eldest son is 18 year old and wanders around the neighborhood on his bicycle in various military uniforms. When asked, he claims he is in basic training for the Army, and that he is going to be a sniper. But since when does the Army allow you to do basic training at home? He has some developmental problems, few social skills (and no friends), and I fear he’s delusional. The problem is this: He’s decided he likes me and will wait in front of our house for me to get home. He’s asked to come into our house several times, just to see the inside of the house. Needless to say, I have not let him in. Today when I went home for lunch he came around the side of the house without me seeing or hearing him until he spoke to me, and he was within a foot of me. He’s young, strong, and taller than I am. I’m terrified that he’s going to decide I should be his “girlfriend” and become violent when I refuse. I’ve seen him attack our dogs with water guns and stalk his own brothers and sisters with fake rifles from the roof of his house. I’m undecided as to what I should do. My father believes the kid is harmless, which is easy for him to say; he’s not the one being followed around. My mom is as nervous as I am about him. I’d like to live to see graduate school. I’m honestly afraid that this person could become violent and hurt me, or worse. Should I talk to his mother, or take out a restraining order out against him? I’d like to resolve this in a way that won’t result in war with the neighbors, but I do not want this person anywhere near me.
Your father is wrong. You and your mother are correct that this troubled young man is potentially a threat to your safety. There is no father in his house, just, we may assume, a frazzled mom with eight kids, so you will not find help or supervision there. The military uniform, the ambition to be a sniper, the fake firearms, the nonsense about basic training, teasing your dogs, and even his size militate against trying to “handle” the situation. His obvious “attachment” to you and his strangeness would make a restraining order useless, assuming you could get one. It is terribly unfair, but the best insurance for your safety is to live elsewhere. Prudie knows this will impose a financial burden, or at the very least, having friends make room for you, but there really is no other proactive choice. Good luck.
My wife and I are friends with a number of married couples with whom we enjoy socializing. We’re all fairly young, and until two years ago all of us were childless. Now, three of the couples have children, and while we still enjoy socializing with them, we’ve begun to receive invitations to their children’s first and second birthday parties. There are often lots of babies or toddlers in attendance and they have entertainment, like musicians for young children. We end up gathered with the other childless friends in a far corner of the house and coming up with excuses to leave as early as possible. We love our friends, we think their kids are adorable, but my wife and I would rather be boiled in oil than attend another of these baby birthdays. How do we bow out gracefully or encourage them not to invite us, while still remaining friends?
—Married Without Children
This sounds so astoundingly like a no-brainer that Prudie feels the only reason you haven’t thought of it is because it’s so obvious: Just don’t go. Furthermore, it’s not necessary to “encourage them” not to invite you. Simply decline the invitation; be busy. It is a little surprising that people would invite childless peers to a baby birthday party, but they probably think it’s great fun. Your mentioning musicians for 1- and 2-year-olds reminds Prudie of the overdone kiddie parties that had begun even when Prudie’s kids were little (when ice covered the earth). One first-birthday party was so over the top that, in addition to a clown, the parents engaged a trainer and a chimp. Most of the kids were frightened by the clown, so they cried, and the monkey bit the birthday girl. Let’s hear it for Chuck E. Cheese’s.
My husband and I are retired and lived in a condo. My husband has become overly friendly with a divorced woman who lives in a nearby condo. I am not friends with this woman. He does all her handyman work free, hangs out with her outside, and goes over to her place to see her. There is definitely flirting going on between the two of them. Once, after we’d been away for a while, he hugged and kissed her on the lips. I have made my husband aware of the fact that I am not comfortable with his relationship with this woman, but he continues with the same behavior. Do you think this is appropriate behavior for a married man?
Appropriate? You caught him! If most women saw the spouse hugging and kissing a neighbor on the lips after a trip, a good guess would be that the guy’s life wouldn’t be worth a plug nickel. Prudie suggests you tell your geezer to move his handyman act into the woman’s condo because you’re kicking him out of yours. Then engage a lawyer and decide whether or not you want separate maintenance or a divorce. Because you say you are retired, you are not kids, and the old boy is clearly either bored or crackers. In neither case should you be the victim of his brazen behavior. His shenanigans are too in-your-face and you need no longer be a doormat. Good luck.
My relationship of 14 years ended a few months ago. It was kind of sudden to me. I knew she and I had issues, but we were working them out. I started to notice the little signs that she might be up to something else … going out with friends and family a lot, coming home really late, if at all, drinking more than usual, changing her style of dressing, sexier underwear, excuses that sounded rehearsed, sudden jump in cell-phone usage, constantly having her cell phone with her, taking calls in the back yard. One night she didn’t come home till 11 a.m. the next morning. I didn’t want to ask, but I finally did and she got defensive; said she stayed at a friend’s talking all night and didn’t want to come home. She then said that I should move out. She needed space and time. I was devastated. She says she loves me but that she’s not “in love” with me. A month later I stayed the night a couple times. It was just supposed to be for mutual pleasure. (Which it was, we enjoyed it a lot.) But I got emotional and I think I scared her because she realized she still cared, but didn’t want to risk the relationship again. I’m doing my best to keep my distance and keep communication to a minimum. It’s hard when there are kids involved. She said she wanted to be single and just be a mom without the stress of our relationship. She also said she didn’t want to feel guilty about going out and talking to guys. She also said she might try dating. Is it true that by the time you start to think someone is cheating, you are a month or so behind?
To be honest, it sounds as though she has already tried “dating.” I-love-you-but-I’m-not-in-love-with-you, alas, is just a lame way of saying goodbye. You have, indeed, read the tea leaves correctly: Going out with friends and family a lot, coming home late, drinking more than usual, changing her style of dress, sexier underwear, excuses that sounded rehearsed, a sudden jump in cell-phone usage, constantly having her cell phone with her and taking calls in the back yard are not things that faithful partners do. The not coming home till 11 the next morning pretty much spells out the situation. Because you speak of your 14-year relationship, Prudie is unsure as to whether or not you are legally married. * As for the one-month rule, Prudie has never heard of it, but it does have a certain logic. You have Prudie’s sympathies about what is clearly a loss.
After a somewhat uncomfortable situation at a store today, I decided to ask what you would have done in my position. I recently was given money from an uncle of mine as a congratulatory gift. I decided to use the money to treat myself to an expensive pair of designer shoes. Today I wore them to my job and when my lunch break came, I decided to go to a local thrift store I frequent. While waiting in line with my purchase, the gentleman in front of me admired my shoes. I thanked him for the compliment, but for the next few minutes he kept asking about them, strongly hinting that he wanted to know where I bought them. I tried to be evasive (this man was obviously in a different socioeconomic state than myself) and eventually gave him the lousy answer of “I don’t remember” (I couldn’t believe I said that). How do you think I should have responded? Thank you for your time.
—Curious in D.C.
You should have told him the name of the store.
Correction, Nov. 23, 2005: A earlier version of the article mentioned that the letter writer had been married long enough to qualify for common-law marriage. Using the term “common-law marriage” was meant as a shorthand because, although only nine states recognize actual common-law marriage, many people understand the concept. Only in states where common-law marriage is legal, however, are the marital estate and benefits considered.