Ms. Behavior®: Mama’s Girl

Dear Ms. Behavior:

My mother is really losing her marbles—so much so that my girlfriend Jan (who is a saint) and I are planning on moving her into the apartment over our garage. The problem is that Mom never has approved of my being gay, and doesn’t particularly approve of Jan.

We want Mom to come and live with us, but only under the circumstances that she is kind to Jan, and polite to all our lesbian and gay friends. I’m not sure how much of this she will understand, but my friends think that because it’s my house, I should lay down the law before Mom moves in.

Do you have any advice?

—Mama’s Girl

Dear Mama’s Girl:

You have every right to set the rules, but if your mother truly is “losing her marbles,” don’t count on her being able to follow your directives.

Let’s say you want your mother to speak politely and kindly to Jan, but your mother sneers, and refuses to call Jan “Sir,” as per your instructions. What exactly will you do about it?

What if your friends pull into the driveway, and your mother yells, “Greetings, you hairy fucking dykes” from her garret window?

If your mother were a child, you could withhold her cookies or her WiFi to punish her bad behavior. However, if misdeeds arise as a result of a demented state, you won’t be able to hold her responsible for acting out. You’ll ask her repeatedly to change her behavior, but she may not be able to follow your wishes. This will be highly frustrating, unless you somehow are able to turn it into an opportunity to cultivate acceptance. (Practice now by saying, “Om shanti shanti.”)

It’s lovely of your girlfriend to allow your apparently homo-intolerant mother to move in, but you two should expect some upheaval in your relationship, and perhaps plan for couples counseling on an as-needed basis—at least until your mother reaches the point that she becomes universally sweet and loving, which sometimes happens when only two or three marbles remain.

Dear Ms. Behavior:

I happened upon a notebook that my partner keeps. On one of the first pages was a list of items under the title “New Year’s Resolutions.” Number one on his list: “No more hustlers.”

I am outraged to learn that the little you-know-what has been frequenting prostitutes, and yet humiliated at having found out by reading his private notebook on his private desk. On the one hand, at least he has the decency to know he should stop. On the other, who knows how long he’s been lying to me or at least keeping a major secret.

Is it improper for me to confront him, given the manner in which I discovered this information? Or should I keep my mouth shut, and hope he can stick to his plan for 2009?

—Snooping Husband

Dear Snooping Husband:

Because your partner left the evidence on his desk rather than in it, either he trusts you a lot, or he wanted you to know that he enjoys the occasional (or frequent) company of hustlers.

Confronting him comes with a price. Your snooping—though perhaps not as naughty as consorting with prostitutes—will be perceived as a betrayal. Essentially, your bad behavior will be an opportunity for your partner to deflect his guilt about whoring around by expressing his indignation at your actions. So, you’ll be forced to defend your belief that secretly screwing prostitutes is indeed worse than snooping.

As for your thought about letting it go without mentioning it, with the hope that his New Year’s resolution will stick, consider that your partner’s past behavior may predict what he’ll do next.

For example, does he normally keep his New Year’s resolutions to diet and exercise? Or does he typically take an oath on New Year’s Day, but then return to a diet of Krispy Kremes and lattes?

The real question is this: Are you capable of keeping your mouth shut after learning where his mouth has been? If so, you have magical powers of equanimity and self-containment, and Ms. Behavior would like you to consider becoming her personal guru.

© 2009 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to [email protected]. She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.

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