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As Thanksgiving approaches, you may be making plans to bring a new sweetheart home to meet the family. A cornucopia of tasty food, warm, fuzzy group photos, charades. What could go wrong?

The first time I introduced a serious girlfriend to my mother, I was nervous they wouldn't get along. We arrived in the afternoon and, after introductions, I went to make some tea. When I came back, I put a mug down in front of my spot and then handed one to my mother. Where was the third? In my flustered state I'd blown it and forgotten to make a third.

Later, my mother had a habit of trying to nose in and mediate fights we'd have during visits. I'd sometimes even call her when my girlfriend and I were having problems. Guess whose side she took?

Perhaps I was a bit of a mama's boy back then. These days, though, I like to refer to myself as a "reformed mama's boy." And, in an attempt to scare us all into shaping up this Thanksgiving and onward, I put out a call for guys to share wisdom they'd gleaned about the man-mom-girlfriend triangle.

You can probably guess who I heard from instead.

So, herewith, a few tips on how not to be a mama's boy, from the boys' ex-girlfriends.

Tip No. 1: Don't just sit there

Lindsay told me about a 12-year relationship with a guy who stayed mum a little too much around his mum.

"Early in the relationship, I was visiting during a holiday and at the time I was very slender and obsessed with my weight," she said. "His mom was ripping a strip off me about how skinny I was and how I was controlling my boyfriend's diet."

Concern about her son's eating is perhaps legitimate, but where was the son himself while his girlfriend was bearing the brunt of this harsh criticism? "He was in the next room overhearing everything, and did nothing."

A decade later not much had changed. Lindsay's ex's mother was pressing her to have kids, even insisting it was her "duty" to do so.

"He was on the couch in the next room. Again, not saying anything," Lindsay said.

I know we men sometimes like to pretend we don't notice these tête-a-têtes, but we do. This weekend, get into the kitchen and take some of the heat.

Tip No. 2: Make decisions without your mommy

"My ex was the only son of a single mother," Jill told me. "He defaulted on his student loan and so bought everything in his mum's name: his house, his motorbike, his car, his business. Everything he did was in consultation with her."

Jill says that even though she understood his mother would want to have some say in where her loans went, it set a dangerous precedent. "It made me feel like she'd always have a say above me, about things like my own home."

"A year after we broke up, I ran into them. He was civil. She told me how proud she was that he was now with someone smart, beautiful and willing to contribute to their empire."

The lesson: Your mother may be making the turkey on Sunday, but for the rest of the year, if you're older than 12, it's probably time to make your own lunch.

Tip No. 3. Risk losing your mother's love

Jen Kirsch, who blogs about the dos and don'ts of relationships, couldn't avoid falling for a mama's boy herself.

"When we moved in together he didn't tell his parents right away," she told me, explaining that her ex was worried his mother wouldn't approve. "Sometimes he'd get on the phone and shush me. And I'd wonder, 'Is that his mother or another girl?' "

But Ms. Kirsch says she doesn't always view "mama's boy" as a negative. "My brother was a mama's boy, but in a good way," she says. "He had a warm relationship with our late mother. But my ex … he always walked on eggshells with his mom. He would complain about her being controlling of him, but he would always comply with what she wanted."

This, I think, hits on the crux of the problem. It's good to have a loving relationship with your mother, of course, but if a man fears it will cause an irreparable breach if he confronts her about problems in her behaviour or their relationship, he'll never really grow up.

According to at least one mother, losing a mother's love isn't something a man needs to worry about.

"That could never happen," she said. "I want to take responsibility if there is a problem with the way I'm acting, but I might not be able to always see it. I'm constantly trying to be all-knowing, but I realize I'm not. So I need you to tell me how you're seeing things and how you feel. I'll listen."

Thanks, Mom. And Happy Thanksgiving.

Micah Toub is the author of Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks.