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I dote on my men

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  March 24, 2010 10:22 PM

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In Maryland to see Mom today. Seeing sister in New York tomorrow. Seeing high school boyfriend tonight. Will watch "The Simpsons" and eat Italian ices with him. Italian ices: not a euphemism. Sometimes I party like it's 1994.

Yesterday's chat is worth a read. We talked about everything from OT comments to open marriages.

I like that today's letter starts "Oh Meredith." I can just hear the letter writer letting out a great big sigh.

Q: Oh Meredith,

I am hoping you can help me. I recently ended a disastrous, short relationship with a man I'll call Mitch. Mitch and I have stayed friends, as we are in the same graduate school program. We are much better as friends, but it would be lying to say I didn't still have a slight crush on him. My problem is, being around Mitch so much - hanging out, eating dinner together, going to movies like any regular friends do - I have had kind of a revelation about how I behave around men.

Specifically, I wait on men hand and foot. Looking back at past relationships, I see myself doing all of the cooking and cleaning. I even make a point to pick up after my brother when I visit him. My mother and the women in my family have always been the same way, so for lack of a better term, maybe this is cultural.

The reason this comes up now is that Mitch has pointed out my behavior lately. He doesn't like it; he believes this is a control thing with me (is he right?). He tells me, "you should have more equal relationships." Maybe these instincts I have are bordering on unhealthy. I hate making men feel like children, coming along after them, cleaning up and running errands for them. That's just how I think you should demonstrate caring for someone. How do I fight back these instincts and have a balanced relationship?

– June Cleaver, Seattle

A: JC, I see two issues here. Issue No. 1 is your Cleaver-ness. Issue No. 2 is Mitch.

As far as Issue No. 1 goes, you've got two options. Your first option is to find a guy who wants a woman who will do his laundry and wipe ketchup off of his face. Those guys exist. They're looking for a few good moms.

Of course, the better option is to be conscious of your habit. You learned from the women in your family that babying and cleaning are ways to show love. And they are, for sure. But it feels even better to be appreciated for the skills that make you unique. Your sense of humor. Your intelligence. Your ability to host a good pajama party. I fear that you dote on the men you date – and maybe men in general – because you undervalue everything else you have to offer them. Or because you underestimate their ability to value the right things.

When you find yourself cleaning up after a guy, ask yourself why you're doing it. Is it to be polite? Or to feel as though you're less dispensable? Or are you playing "wife" as your family has defined the role? Whatever the reason, it's a bad habit, and as Mitch says, it can alienate a romantic partner. And there's no easy fix for bad habits. It's like biting your nails. You just have to keep an eye on your own behavior. But asking the "why" should help.

Issue No. 2: Mitch. I want you to be careful about this friendship. You spend a lot of time with Mitch, and he has a lot of power. If your feelings for Mitch continue and grow, please do what June Cleaver would never do. Tell him that you're still into him and that you'd like to try dating again, this time without offering to do his laundry. Rock the boat. Make a mess. You don't even have to clean it up.

Readers? Is it wrong to dote on a partner? Can she break her family's habits? Is Mitch out of line? Is Mitch just a friend? Am I undervaluing cooking and cleaning as ways to show love? What are the gender issues going on here? Share.

– Meredith


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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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