Miss Conduct

A worried boyfriend wants to know, can exes ever just be friends?

Plus, a mom trying to rescue a troubled couple.

Lucy Truman

My girlfriend and I do not live together, but stay together every night unless one of us is out of town. Her ex is going to be in town for the weekend, and he will be staying at her place for a night. I trust her and understand that he is now only a friend, but the fact that she asked me not to stay the night makes me uncomfortable. Her reasoning is that there is no need to flaunt our relationship. I feel that she is choosing his feelings over mine. What do you think?

K.S. / Somerville

Whether you’re arguing about exes or gay rights, the first person to refer to the normal functioning of a romantic relationship as “flaunting” loses. “Flaunting” one’s relationship is feeling each other up in public; frequent posting of sugary sentiments on each other’s Facebook walls; calling each other those special private names in front of friends intentionally. (We all slip up now and then, schmoopie.) Staying the night with one’s significant other, mentioning one’s significant other in conversation, holding hands on a walk through the Common — that’s being in a relationship, not flaunting it.

If your girlfriend’s ex is bothered by the fact that she is in a relationship, that is his problem. If it would cause him visceral pain to curl up on her couch for the night while the two of you close the bedroom door, he could cough up the cash for a hotel. I’m willing to believe, on your say-so, that your girlfriend isn’t carrying a torch for her former beau. However, by this point in everyone’s lives, her feelings of responsibility toward him are just as misplaced as feelings of romance would be.

My mother has taken on a homeless, drug-addicted couple whom she is convinced she can help and has given them a large sum of money. She sometimes uses me as an excuse to say no to further requests from them, which makes me fear a confrontation if I should bring my family to her house. I’ve consulted the experts (a lawyer, a therapist), and the consensus seems to be that I can do nothing but watch. This is taking its toll on my family and me. I am seriously considering whether there is any point in continuing the relationship with my mother.


M.E. / Boston

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I hope writing out your letter (edited here for length) helped you make your decision, because two things are clear to me: what you need to do, and that you know what you need to do. A person who is of sound mind and god-awful judgment can’t be stopped, legally, from making an absolute hash of her life. Oh, you could destroy yours trying to save hers, for sure, and drag your own spouse and children through all that hell as well. But the outcome for your mother will be the same.

If you are going to “divorce” your mother — either sever your relationship or impose major boundaries — continue to seek the advice and support of professionals, along with your spouse and friends. These folks can support you in your decision as well as check you if you are seeing the situation as too black and white. There may be ways of protecting some of your mother’s money from her misguided charity or ways of keeping her in contact with her grandchildren. It’s hard — and I’m not there, so I can’t begin to know how hard — but you have to protect your own children and your spouse and build a good life for and with them. My thoughts are with you.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.