Mom’s apron strings strangle late-life love

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Bob Levey

Ann Landers has been gone for some time now, and I’ve never seen myself as a replacement. But one recent day, the phone rang with a question that was vintage Ann:

“How do you keep a 90-something mother out of the love life of her 60-something son?”

The person doing the asking was the love interest of the 60-something son. She is 60-something herself.

I know both lovebirds well. I like them both tons. I can easily see them starring in one of those gooey travel commercials, where the lucky couple is sitting on a veranda Somewhere Warm And Southern, sipping Mai Tais and looking searchingly into each other’s eyes.

But the only searching going on at the moment is by the love interest. For help.

The situation in brief: The 60-something son is an accomplished professional who still works full time. He is honored and respected within his field.

He became a widower about three years ago. His adult children are grown and gone. He had recently dipped deep into a lonely funk.

So one day, he picked up the phone.

His love interest had been a friend — but no more than that — in high school. She was glad to hear from him. She is single, and always has been.

They met for dinner. Then another dinner. They joked about how they had been meant for each other at 16, so why not half a century later?

Something clicked, and kept on clicking.

She moved across the country to spend a summer in the same town (but not the same house). All was well until, one memorable day, The Mother appeared.

“She poisoned the well right away, by telling me that she had never liked her son’s wife,” the love interest told me.

Then, within a week or so, she was treating the love interest as if she were married to her son. “She advised me on clothes and jewelry. She told me her son’s favorite foods, even though she knew I never cook.

“She even started telling me how to do my hair. She was pure horror-show stuff.”

But her son wasn’t. “He was warm and caring, so alert to The Real Me,” the woman told me. “I really thought we’d have a future.”

However, in best Ann Landers fashion, the situation soon reached a boil — followed by a boiling-over.

The mother insisted that her son’s love interest move into his house and take care of him. Yes, she did the insisting. He did not.

The two lovebirds caucused. He apologized profusely, but he said he could never ditch his mother, or disrespect her. “We’re stuck with her,” the son said.

At which point the woman trotted out the famous question — the one that Tonto allegedly asked the Lone Ranger in his hour of need.

“What do you mean, we?”

She left. She broke off contact. Months later, it’s still broken.

But so is her guy’s heart. He calls her about six times a day. She never answers. He floods her with e-mails. She never replies.

Quaint soul that he is, he even sent her a special delivery letter (when’s the last time you’ve sent or gotten one of those?). She read the single sheet inside — “full of tears and more tears and pleading” — and didn’t respond.

Finally, she called me. “I’m caught between being a witch and preserving myself,” she said. “What should I do?”

I told her I had three answers — one for each of the three people in the drama. Here they are:

FOR THE MOTHER: Are you serious? And if the answer to that is yes, what benefit do you think you are bringing to this situation? As Ann Landers famously and regularly said, butt out.

FOR THE SON: You’re in the toughest position. But I suspect you have a handle on how to handle it. After all, you have 60-something years of experience with The Dragon Lady. You will never persuade her to become Snow White. And you can’t pretend that she isn’t in your life.

So, rather than getting tearful with your love interest, you should assure her that you aren’t a marionette whose strings can be pulled. You’re a grown man who makes his own decisions. And you’d like to give late-in-life love another try.

FOR THE LOVE INTEREST: Aaaaaragh! Any court in the land would find in your favor if you told the old lady off, in very unladylike terms.

But she’s not the long-run issue. You and her son are. So try to see that relationship for what it is or isn’t, irrespective of the mother.

You may still elect to pass. But for a few weeks, by your own account, it was a “magic rediscovery.” If there was some “there there” at the beginning, it may still exist.

TO ALL THREE: Ann Landers would tell the mother to grow up, the son to grow a backbone, and the love interest to bide her time. I’d tell the mother to go away, the son to stop begging, and the love interest to run as far as she can run.

Sorry, Ann, but this one can’t be saved.

Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.