Evan Levey doesn't look like the kind of guy who has his mom on speed dial, but he calls her up to five times a day, sometimes late at night on the way home from a date. "I think I like this one," he'll say. He strides into a coffee shop on New York's Upper East Side and sets his BlackBerry on the table. Six feet tall and tan from golfing, he's dressed in a starched light-blue checked shirt. At age 27, he has four entrepreneurial projects in the works. Between meetings, he serves as the operations director for 74th St. MAGIC, a children's activity center. It just so happens that his mom runs the school that houses it. She has a hand in his home life, too. He has sheets and towels that she selected in his apartment, which is only a few blocks from her own. And yes, Mom also picked out the pictures on his walls—frames and all. But he doesn't see anything wrong with this arrangement. "My mom is concerned about my life in a really good way," he says.
When Wendy Levey arrives at the coffee shop, her son orders for her (decaf iced latte with skim milk), and later, after she has told the story about dressing him up as Tinkerbell for Halloween when he was 10 months old, he wipes a smudge of makeup off her face.
Evan in no way resembles Psycho's Norman Bates or even the stereotypical bathrobe-clad loser still bunking in his childhood room well into adulthood, but he's a mama's boy just the same. In today's world, guys like him are hardworking, happy, and unabashed about their mother love. Alexander Bie, 24, who works in public relations in San Francisco, lives 10 houses away from his mom. He often skips happy hour with his coworkers to go grocery shopping with her. "I say, 'I'm sorry, guys. Mom comes first,'" he says. "They're like, 'What's wrong with you?'"
According to Jeffrey Arnett, the author of Emerging Adulthood, the answer is . . . well, nothing. Adult men cling to their moms these days because they're in no hurry to settle down, he says. "Since people begin new families around age 30, they have this longer period where they don't have anyone."
This makes Mom their steady date. Sage Harrison, 30, who works for careerbuilder .com in Dallas, took his mother on a company trip to Cabo San Lucas. She was the only woman he trusted not to embarrass him. "At the parties, she was working for me," he says. "She was talking about me and building relationships with the executives. No date would have done that."
But, Arnett says, today's moms are just as responsible as their sons for the delay in cord cutting. From the start, these women wanted a less hierarchical relationship with their offspring—they were pals rather than taskmasters—and they had fewer children than their own parents, which gave them more time with each kid.
A mom who functions as a caretaker, financial adviser, champion, and friend all in one can be a huge bonus for a guy—especially one busy with work. Levey's mom carries—and freely distributes—all five of his business cards. "My mom pimps better than I do," he says. Maybe that explains why mama's boys can be such overachievers. Think Harry Truman, FDR, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. But couples therapist Rachel Sussman sees plenty of brainwashed men. "A lot of moms have their sons thinking, 'No one's going to love you the way I'm going to love you,'" she says. "I've been in sessions where guys defend their moms while throwing their wives or girlfriends under a bus. They have mothers who really guilt-trip them, and they don't always understand what it does to their relationships."
Ex-girlfriends of mama's boys often view their overbearing rivals as the worst kind of other woman. Claire, a 35-year-old woman who asked not to be identified by her real name, once dated a 38-year-old millionaire whose mom would come to his house every Thursday bearing groceries, then do his laundry and cook him dinner. She'd even nap in his bed. Claire accepted this for a year and a half—until the couple retreated to a luxury resort for a vacation. As Claire hauled the bags into the room, her beau walked out to the balcony to call his mom. "I heard him waxing poetic about the ocean view," she says, "and I realized it should have been me out there, the two of us taking it in together, instead of him on the phone with his mom."
When Levey meets a prospective girlfriend, he makes no effort to hide his cozy relationship with his mom. "It's a big part of me," he says. "I'm very close to my mom, and what she thinks about a person means a lot to me."
Women don't run away when they hear this sort of confession, Sussman says. Many think it's cute; it suggests that you'll treat them well, too. But, she adds, if you don't set boundaries, you're in for trouble.
"Whoever you're married to comes before your parents," Sussman says. "I'm talking for all couples counselors. We believe the predominant relationship is the marriage. If you have a parent who doesn't understand this, you need to reeducate the parent."
Mike Adamick, 33, a stay-at-home dad in San Francisco, agrees. He might go thrift-store shopping with his mom, maybe even try her Jazzercise routines, but he has his priorities clear. His mom will be joining him, his wife, and their 3-year-old daughter in a tiny apartment during a visit to Rome. But in four years of marriage, he has never once placed his mom's views above his wife's, not even when it comes to what movie to watch. "I don't want to make it a competition," he says. "To side with my mom over my wife isn't going to happen."
For his part, Levey remains content to let his mom have her say. "The responsibility for what to put in my picture frames transfers at some point," he says. "But why right now?"