Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused

Advice on manners and morals.
May 11 2000 11:30 PM

Dazed and Confused

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudence,

I will soon be earning a Ph.D., and my divorced parents, who live out of town, would like to attend the graduation ceremony and spend the weekend. It is important to me to share this with both of my parents, but the trouble is they hate each other. My father and stepmother will not voluntarily spend time with my mother who, for her part, only likes to be around them so she can show off her passive-aggressive charm. When I graduated from college, both parents came, and it was a nightmare. I ended up shuffling between them for tense visits and fending off complaints about the inequitable allotments of time. I want my folks to enjoy the moment, but I want to enjoy it, as well. As I enter my third decade of life AD (after divorce), I am getting tired of this. Any advice? How can I get them all to play nice?

—Confused at Caltech

Dear Con,

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Since all your parents used the occasion of your college graduation to act out, Prudie decrees that it's a new day. What might be useful is to send identical letters saying you are requesting a truce on the part of the so-called grown-ups so that you can celebrate your great day without a "divorced people" war going on. You might articulate that if any of the recipients feels he or she is unable to be civil, it is your wish that that person forgo the festivities. Prudie thinks, well, hopes that seeing a direct request, in writing, will shape this crew up. And many congratulations on your achievement, Dr.

—Prudie, admiringly

Dear Prudence,

Having enjoyed your sage advice for nearly a year now, I must ask for some myself. After six months of marriage to a terrific man whom I've known for two years and lived with for one, I thought paying off consumer debt would be the hardest thing to work through as a new wife. But the other night life took a surreal turn. Husband announces he needs to talk to me, drops his wedding band in my palm, then blurts out, "I'm a fraud—I was never in the military and I made up everything I told you and others about my combat experience." He further explained that he began the story to "keep up with" some very colorful friends and the lie kept growing. Then he had an epiphany after my nearly referencing said military experience in front of his parents, who of course know whether he was or was not in the military.

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I can understand the male need to tell of exploits and adventures, but I find myself wondering why he waited so long to set the record straight. I'm a bit confused as to whether this constitutes a major or minor betrayal of trust. In other respects, I have total trust in him, and we really are in love and best friends to boot. By the way, I told him to put the wedding band back on ... that I was more upset that he felt the need to lie in the first place than that he wasn't really an ex-soldier. Thanks for your continued excellent insights.

—Suddenly Confused Wife

Dear Sud,

Perhaps your faux fighting man spent too much time playing with GI Joe while bemoaning his fallen arches ... Prudie, obviously, doesn't know the details. It sounds, however, as though this whopper was an aberration and a wish, as opposed to being one of an habitual string of falsehoods. It is interesting that made-up military service is not an uncommon lie with men who are often well placed in business or in politics. Perhaps they think it confers instant machismo, if not bravery.

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Just as an aside, when Prudie was in Australia recently there was a major brouhaha about an anchorman in Darwin who got tangled up in the falsehood that he had, two decades earlier, been on the Olympic swimteam ... though he had the good grace to say he came in last. He was fired—but there was a public outcry that that was much too harsh a punishment. For all Prudie knows, he may be back at the anchor desk. In any case, to calm your husband, suggest that you visit a counselor together. That way you will get to say, in front of a trained third party, that you attach no major importance to this episode, and he will get to explore why he needed to invent this tale. Prudie likes the idea of a trained third party because then the discussion will be guided in a way that will be positive and fruitful—as opposed to you two trying to come to grips with it with no real understanding of the dynamic.

—Prudie, hopefully

Dear Prudie,

I am in a serious relationship with a loving, caring, trustworthy and attentive man. He would do anything for me, he is always willing to listen to me, he finds me beautiful, etc. Additionally, he is intelligent and is on his way to a successful career. But ... (there's always a but, right?) he is a very prosaic, down-to-earth character. He can act romantic, but there isn't any romance in his soul. He is perfectly content buying a house in the suburbs, having 2.5 kids, and being an all-around upper-middle-class guy for the rest of his life. I can't help feeling there's more to life than what he wants out of it. In short, he is safe ... but dull.

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But am I being stupid? Loving is an act, not an emotion, and I do and can continue to love this man. There is no such thing as a perfect man, and in all other respects but this, he is wonderful. I just don't know what to do. Should I compromise my knight in shining armor dream that will never come true anyway, or should I content myself with less than I want? Please help me before I do something I might regret.

—Confused

Dear Con,

My goodness, three "confused" Prudie readers in one week. Things are not good out there, are they? But before Prudie's computer crashes with women e-mailing in hopes of getting your beau's name and number, she will try to help you figure this out. For one thing, loving someone is an emotion as well as an act. How one feels determines how one acts. If you don't love this man with all your heart, do him the favor of calling it a day. Though you seem to acknowledge your unrealistic, if not immature longing for the proverbial knight in shining armor, you feel you may be "settling" for someone safe. And the word "dull," as you use it, is often code for a guy who is not a ladykiller. The doubts you have are no way to enter a marriage. (And they would no doubt make a less than optimal situation for the two kids and their .5 sibling.)

As for a guy with "romance in his soul," that part tends to become less important with time ... and if this man is as crazy about you as you say, chances are that you can turn up the heat and teach him to share your ideas of romance. You seem to know that his qualities have great value to a relationship, so Prudie would ask you to weigh all his pluses against an idealized notion that may not exist. Just so you will not think Prudie is hedging, she thinks highly of a man who is "loving, caring, kind, trustworthy, and attentive, willing to listen, intelligent"—and admiring. The knight in shining armor you can find in picture books about the middle ages. And do remember that a man who is "down to earth" has his feet on the ground.

—Prudie, clearly

Dear Prudence,

I have been dating a married man for two years. It's the typical "I'm not happy, my wife treats me like sh##" story. But the killer part is I know this to be true. He tells me over and over how much he loves me and he wants us to be together, but he has made no effort to make this happen. I've been there for him through all the crap she puts him through. I have never asked him to leave her, but I have asked if he has the kind of life he wants. My question to you is: Have I wasted two years of my life on this man, or should I continue to be patient?

—Waiting

Dear Wait,

Prudie thinks if you continue to be patient you will be a patient ... of a psychiatrist. The relationship is causing you nothing but grief and anxiety. If this man really wanted to "be together," he would have begun divorce proceedings. He has not done so and you don't need to be a psychic to know he is stalling. As for having wasted two years, they will not have been wasted if you've learned that borrowed husbands are heartache and trouble. One wonders why men stay in unfulfilling marriages, but they do, and that fact in itself is a big fat road sign that the guy's emotional furniture is not arranged. You are better off making a break.

—Prudie, firmly