DEAR AMY: My girlfriend and I have been in a close relationship for more than five years, and all signs point to marriage way down the road.
However, I keep a few close friends, both male and female, and one in particular has my girlfriend irked. I have never had any romantic interest in this girl, and I have been honest and open about my meetings with her to catch up.
My girlfriend sees this as an issue, and it has caused us a fair amount of stress as we debate whether this is OK.
While I care strongly for my girlfriend, I care about keeping my friends as well. Your thoughts on the matter? Can close friends of the opposite sex be maintained in a relationship?
— Good Guy
DEAR GUY: This question (or a version of it) is asked so frequently lately that it leads me to diagnose a new relationship ailment: CFC — chronic friendship confusion.
So listen up. It's not really that complicated.
Close friends of the opposite sex can be maintained while in a “couple” partnership.
Close friends of the opposite sex cannot be maintained exclusive (or outside of) the "couple" partnership.
After five years together, your girlfriend should be comfortable with all of your other friendships. How would you make her comfortable? You would include her in your friendships. You would be completely transparent, inviting your opposite sex friend to your home or to go out with you and your girlfriend.
You would give both women ample opportunities to get to know each other in case they, too, wanted to strike up a friendship. You would not spend time alone with this opposite sex friend unless your girlfriend was comfortable with it.
And if after doing all of these things your girlfriend was overly jealous or possessive of you, you wouldn't marry her.
DEAR AMY: As a mom of several children ranging in age from newborn to young adult, I am often in conversations with the parents of my children's friends. Often, their children will repeatedly and rudely interrupt our conversations. These interruptions are not important, sometimes repeatedly telling the parent they want to go, they are hungry, they are bored, etc.
These interruptions are not preceded with an “Excuse me” or anything.
At what point is it OK to tell the offending child something along the lines of, "I'm talking with your mom right now. Please have patience, and we'll finish our conversation, and then you can have your mom all to yourself."
I've taught my kids to start with “Excuse me” and then wait until I acknowledge them.
I just can't stand trying to train an adult who is interrupted multiple times by her children. Are other people not teaching respectful conversational skills to children?
— Frustrated Mother
DEAR MOTHER: It's not appropriate to try to train or actively parent other people's children when the parent is standing there, but you have leeway (and leverage) when you are involved in a conversation and a child interrupts you.
If you are speaking, and the child interrupts, you can say, "Wait a minute, honey, I need to finish my sentence before you speak."
If the other person is speaking, and the child interrupts, you'll have to be tolerant about how she handles it.
I agree that parents don't teach respectful conversational skills to kids, but I'm not sure this is a recent development. Many adults I know seem to lack these skills too.
DEAR AMY: Responding to "To Work or Not to Work," I have been a stay-at-home mom for 22 years.
I've heard it all from people telling me I should work. People should never feel guilty for taking care of the family. You will reap far better rewards being there and guiding your children. All the material things cannot replace time spent raising your family. Life is too short; kids grow up too fast. Enjoy every moment!
— Happy at Home
DEAR HAPPY: My mother was also a stay-at-home mom for 22 years, and then my father left. Without a profession, it was a struggle to find decent work. Staying at home is a privilege many moms do not have.
Send questions via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Amy Dickinson's memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.