A year ago he left home and got married, and now there's a child on the way. Yet every week he still brings his dirty washing round to his mother's place. She irons his shirts, buys his underpants and gives him fresh napolitano sauce to take home. They speak on the phone every day - more often if there is an important decision to be made.
Paolo is my husband-to-be's best friend. It may sound absurd, but he is representative of Italy's growing army of mammoni - or mummy's boys. A recent survey found that one in three Italian men sees his mother every day. Seven out of 10 unmarried men over the age of 35 live with their parents. And far from being objects of derision, these men are celebrated and respected.
I experienced this phenomenon first-hand when I first met my fiance two years ago. My friends and I had left home more than a decade earlier. We had been working constantly since then, had bought our own flats and learned how to cook. By contrast, most of his friends still lived at home - sometimes with their girlfriends. Meals were something they turned up to. Cars were something they borrowed. Household chores were something someone else did.
One explanation for the difference is the education system. In Italy, the average degree course lasts seven years. Some, such as engineering and architecture, go on for up to 10 years. And when students finally graduate at the age of around 30, it's far harder to get a job. The national unemployment rate is 9. In parts of southern Italy, it is as high as It makes financial sense to stay at home. Sometimes, though, it's a matter of choice: More important perhaps, is the cultural significance of the family.
It began as an interpretation of the Roman Catholic faith. Now it is an integral part of Italian culture. This sense of family underpins the concept of mafia itself - and it is present throughout society.
As a result it is entirely acceptable to remain within the family until one's 30s or even 40s. Anyone doing so will inevitably spend more time with their mother. Far more than in the UK, Italian mothers tend to stay at home while their husbands go out to work.
The average son spends around 15 minutes a day with his father. By contrast he spends hours and hours with his mother. So he learns to take his every cue from her, while she learns to be in control of his every thought or movement. She decides what he wears, whom he sees and what he eats.
That is why Italian men speak to their mothers so often even after leaving home. They are often unable to make a decision without her input. This can be incredibly frustrating for the female partners of these modern Peter Pans. Even before they meet, the man has a blueprint of his wife-to-be imprinted on his soul: As soon as they get engaged, the competition between future mother-in-law and fiancee begins.
She puts too many onions in the tomato sauce; she doesn't iron his shirts properly; she just isn't good enough. Throughout their married life it isn't her he turns to for advice, but his mother. It only ends when the couple have a child of their own. Then the grandmother relinquishes her role - effectively passing it on to her daughter-in-law so that the cycle starts all over again.
This may all sound rather amusing, but it can have serious consequences. A study by the European Institute of Psychoanalysis analysed the careers of men from a range of European countries. It found that in Italy, the continuous control exerted by mothers over their sons actually damaged their career propsects. These men depended so much on their mother's judgment that they found it hard to cope in the outside world. A large proportion of Italian couples were also found to have problems caused by interference of his mother in the relationship.
Luckily, my husband-to-be is pretty much the opposite of the typical mammone. He's managed to break the cycle, which is probably the reason he's marrying a Brit. Anecdotal evidence suggests many other Italian men are doing the same thing. He spends most of his time trying to avoid calling his mother. He bakes bread, irons his own shirts and mine and vacuums the flat. He even buys his own underpants. Carmel Allen I don't have trouble believing that a third of Italian men see their mothers every day.
What I find incredible is that two thirds of them don't even if they do at least speak to them every day on the phone. And I should know: I married an Italian in Perhaps I should have read the early signs better. He lived in a fabulous, spotless penthouse apartment overlooking the domes and piazzas of a beautiful northern Italian town.
It was dazzling, and so at first I didn't spot the spiral staircase that led down to his mother's place on the floor below. And the row upon row of shirts on hangers that didn't have iron creases down the sleeves but were pressed without folds on a sleeve attachment.
Why did I think he sent them to the launderette? Even the fridge with fresh milk and cartons of ready-made food should have spelled danger. But instead I chose to believe he must make use of the local deli. Love is indeed blind. Although, it has to be said, I didn't think his mother was behind all this Gatsby-like order because at the time I was only 18 years old , it was inconceivable that a man of 30, and more than 10 years my senior, could possibly have that kind of relationship with his mother.
It didn't even cross my mind. Having come from a family of eight children with three brothers who'd been at boarding school and then left home as soon as they possible could, I don't think I've ever seen my mother kiss any of them, let alone pair their socks. So two years later we married in England.
At the last moment his mother decided she didn't feel up to coming and so he had to call her that day too to make sure she was feeling better.
When she saw the photos she was shocked to see his shirtsleeves hanging far too long for her liking under his suit cuffs. For the next few years I quite enjoyed the help an overprotective Italian mother affords. I was only too happy for someone to do his shirts, send up the occasional food parcel and for her cleaner to polish the parquet.
There was a tricky time when I insisted the spiral staircase be removed and she then took to tending to the flowers on our terraces. But one day I came home to find her out there in floods of tears. He doesn't love me any more than you even though I do all the things I do. She'd spent 33 years cooking and cleaning for someone only to see him fall for someone who didn't. Her life as a mother and housewife suddenly seemed a waste rather than a vocation.
The truth is that few men I know would stop a woman - wife or mother - from making their life easier by doing the boring stuff. A few years later I came back to London we divorced but he still lives above his mother so she must be smiling now and I met a smart crowd of Italian men living over here and working in finance.
I quickly realised that there was nothing unusual about the close relationship between my husband and mother-in-law. Sometimes we'd all be out in London when a chorus of mobile phones would trill and it would be their mothers calling just to say buonanotte and check they'd eaten well that night.
Little did they know their offspring were desperately trying to cut the apron strings and lived on a diet of cigarettes and alcohol during the week and Es at the weekend. Very early one Sunday morning I got a call from a police station. One of them had been stopped outside the Ministry of Sound in his Porsche and they'd found a wrap of coke in his jeans.
Could I recommend a barrister? If his quite famous parents found out, especially his mother, she'd never forgive him and he'd bring shame on the family. He got off with a fine and compulsory counseling. It seems he had a lot of mother issues. Another one of them ended up in therapy for years, swapping hard drugs for Seroxat, before finally returning back to a town about half an hour from his parents'. He much preferred the quiet life now he told me.
He'd found peace in his life and had bought a dog. Only his flat was too small for it so his mother looked after it and he took it for walks at the weekend.