SENSE & SENSITIVITY
She loves the player, hates the game

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have been dating a man for almost one year. He has this ex-girlfriend who calls my house whenever she wants to. She called me once to tell me that he visited her apartment. I did not believe her, but when I asked him, he said that he had been there and that he was sorry because I’m “more woman than she ever was.” He went to a party and met (and kissed) a married woman from Maryland. They e-mail each other and he even told her that we are roommates. She calls my house, too, but from a blocked number. He says that there’s nothing going on between him and these women, but I want them to know the truth about our relationship, plus I want this sneaky mess to stop. Please let me now what to do. — Gwyn, Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Gwyn: So far you haven’t said anything that should make you believe you can trust this man. His behavior has been reckless, and, although you complain, he hasn’t stopped. Rather than try to get him to stop his promiscuous behavior, consider his actions a sign for you to walk away. You’ve been dating for a year now. That’s long enough to have a sense of whether you trust the person you’re seeing, whether the two of you are compatible, and whether you share a vision for the future.

He still wants to play around — with whomever he chooses. Don’t you want more for yourself? The only way you’re going to get it is to create space for a worthy partner to show his face. You will be wasting your time and energy trying to track down these women to show them he’s really “your” man. Let the joke be on him when you leave him to his mischief and he recognizes (if it’s possible for him, sometime down the line) what a great loss it is for you to be gone.

Cross-cultural romance reaches breaking point
By Harriette Cole
DEAR HARRIETTE: Our 24-year-old co-worker is in big trouble, and the whole office has taken sides. Four years ago, four men attempted to rob her and do worse. A man who was passing by risked his life to save her. Soon they were dating, and she fell in love with him and now they live together. After a short time, he told her he is Muslim. To please him, she began to do whatever would make him happy. She studied Islam and tried to be Muslim in some customs. They’re planning to get married. Recently, she spied a letter from the man’s mother that says she’s coming to America to see if this girl’s OK. If not, the mother will end the relationship under threat of disowning him. Some days later, she discovered another letter written to the man from Ghana, saying come home and marry the girl set aside for you since childhood. Now she’s whining that she’s not the only woman in his life, that she was ready to alienate her own family for him yet he is “betrothed” to another woman. She’s terribly mixed up and doesn’t know what to do. Half the office tells her to leave this “dangerous” relationship that will only get worse and worse. The others say stick it out, and wait and see. We are waiting with bated breath for your sage advice. — David, New York, N.Y.

David: Your friend has gone through a lot, investing all of her emotions in this relationship. It may work out in the end. His family may embrace her. Can she be sure? No, but nothing is absolutely certain in life.

Rather than feeling betrayed by this man, she needs to learn more about his culture. It’s common in traditional African cultures for marriages to be arranged, even when family members go abroad. Her friend is likely going through tremendous emotional upheaval as he attempts to wrestle away from his cultural values and traditions in hopes of marrying her. It would be best if both of them could figure out how to include their families in their union. Neither should so willingly walk away from the bedrock of their lives because, whether you like it or not, marriage includes family.

Given how she came to know this man, your friend individually could use counseling to sort through her emotions, shore up her confidence and gain clarity about her future choices. By the way, though her co-workers mean well, they (including you) should back out of this discussion. She has to make up her own mind. Your involvement only complicates an already complicated situation more.

He’s a nice guy, but sparks didn’t fly


DEAR HARRIETTE: A few months ago, a friend introduced me to a nice man from out of town. She thought he would like to get to know me. He and I have tried to remain in contact over the phone and via e-mail, but I was not initially that interested in him. He has begun to leave me messages with snide comments about our lack of communication. I don’t care for him and I really want him to take the hint! I also do not want to be mean. It might be different if he was nearby, but it seems silly to make the effort to get to know someone who didn’t make sparks fly. What should I do? — Marisa, Chicago, Ill.

Marisa: To be kind is to be clear with him. You said you have tried to stay in contact but it hasn’t worked out, and now he is upset about that. Call him and apologize for not being more responsive since you both agreed to make the effort. Tell him you appreciate the fact that your mutual friend introduced you and that you realize you are not able to continue trying to develop this relationship. 
He will likely ask you why. Simply say you both live in different towns. Your life is very busy, and you don’t want to hurt his feelings anymore by not being available to him. If he persists, stand firm. Be pleasant, but don’t say you really like him and don’t say if he lived nearby things might be different. If he asks you directly whether you would like to date him under these or any other circumstances, say no. And stop returning his calls and e-mails. He will eventually accept reality.

Distance no barrier to staying in touch

DEAR HARRIETTE: I appreciate your advice to Rama in Cincinnati, who worried about keeping in touch with her mother and grandmother. For more than 15 years, my mother and I had a “date” for a phone call on Saturday mornings at 9:30 a.m. Using a 3-cents-per-minute phone card, we could talk for an hour for less than $2. No matter how much we talked during the week, that hour was reserved for her. I still think about her every Saturday at that time, even though she’s been gone for four years. Tell Rama not to give up. — Kathleen, New York, N.Y.

Dear Kathleen: Thank you for the reminder. It is a blessing for anyone who has parents or other family elders still alive and communicative. Don’t squander that blessing. Stay in touch with your family members, even if you move away. As you point out, it can be affordable to place a long-distance call once a week, too. Plus, e-mail works beautifully for any elders who are comfortable using the Internet. When they are, consider getting a video-cam attachment for each of you so that you can see each other as you talk. That will make you feel even closer.

This question reminds me of what happens in my family. I am the middle child of three girls. My mother and my younger sister and her family live in my hometown. I live in New York. My older sister lives in Los Angeles. All three of us talk to our mother regularly. My mother recently told one of her friends that my sister Susan who lives farthest away calls her several times a day to check in. Distance does not have to be a barrier in how close you remain to your family.

Sex-talk dad a true male role model

DEAR HARRIETTE: I want to share a story with you: I received the “birds and the bees” talk from my father, not my mother. He explained to me that he loved my mother no matter what she looked like (both pre- and post-children) and that, actually, he was more attracted to her then, than when she was skinny! He explained that no matter what you look like on the outside, there will always be someone who loves you for who you are, and having confidence in yourself was the best way to carry off any shape and find that special person. Hearing all this from a male role model really meant something — I believe it is important to hear messages like this from both male and female adults. — Piper, New York, N.Y.

DEAR PIPER: Thank God for your father, and thank you for sharing that story. When we honor our bodies and our spirits, I believe we attract people to us who have the intention of honoring us as well. And, as your dad surely knew, the body changes over time. So, no matter who you are, your physical body will not remain the same. Your inner being, however, will!

A child’s love is unconditional - until taught otherwise


DEAR HARRIETTE: I thought I might offer a different perspective on Jen’s “dilemma.” I am a stepchild who grew up with two stepparents — my mom’s husband and my dad’s wife. It was hard enough dealing with the divorce of my parents, but when you threw into the mix a stepfather who never wanted to be a dad and a stepmother who wanted to ruin the other relationships early on, life was very difficult. My stepdad grew into his role and did a wonderful job until he and my mother divorced. We still have a good stepfather/daughter relationship.
My stepmother and I, on the other hand, wound up not speaking for several years. She relished the authority of parenthood but couldn’t seem to deal with the day-to-day issues of actually parenting, therefore alienating not only me but my brother as well. Jen needs to realize that having a stepchild could be a beautiful thing — or a painful burden. If the child thinks Jen doesn’t want her, she will stop trying to find love in Jen’s life, and that will also affect her marriage. I have an active relationship with my stepmother now, but had it been maintained earlier in life, it would have been much more fulfilling. I wish Jen all the luck in making the right decision for herself and the sake of her new family. The love of a child is unconditional, and she should do everything in her power to enjoy it while she can. — Star, Brooklyn, N.Y.


DEAR STAR: You bring up many key points, among them that a child’s love can be the most precious to experience. Children love with full hearts, unless or until they are taught otherwise. A child who is the product of a divorce and who is learning to accept a stepparent is faced with tremendous challenges of trust and loyalty. A stepparent has the opportunity to build and strengthen the trust of such a child, which — as you pointed out — can help foster a wonderful relationship. Is forging this type of relationship easy? No. But the alternative — of suffering a contentious relationship for years — is guaranteed to be more difficult to endure.

Is illegal alien faking love for a green card?


DEAR HARRIETTE: I’d like to respond to Danny in New York City, whose illegal-immigrant girlfriend was pressuring him into marriage so that she could become a citizen. You asked him if he really loved her, a very important question. But the question you should have also asked is, does she love him, or is she just using him so she won’t be deported? Any marriage based on threats to walk out — for whatever reason — doesn’t sound good to me. — S.L., New Orleans, La.


DEAR S.L.: In any true relationship that has a chance to flourish, both partners must be committed. In this situation when the woman in question is also an illegal immigrant, that’s more reason to be clear about her intentions. Otherwise, Danny could be duped into helping his girlfriend secure “papers” to stay in America without enjoying the benefit of having a loving relationship to call his own.
For the person who is trying to figure out how to stay in America while the clock is ticking, desperate measures may seem necessary. Even so, it’s best to be honest. If you are lucky enough to have made a real friend, ask your friend to partner with you on your journey to legal status. If you do that, the likelihood grows that you will not only gain legal status but also enjoy a healthy friendship that could potentially blossom into more.