The Scent of Another Woman 

The Scent of Another Woman 

The Scent of Another Woman 

Advice on manners and morals.
March 15 2001 11:30 PM

The Scent of Another Woman 

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Prudence,
I have been married for five years and have two small children. Well, for about a month or so my husband has become very jealous. He has always been jealous, but not like this. He thinks I'm having an affair with his sister! I am not. She is like a sister to me; we talk about everything, like all women do, but we're not involved that way and never will be. I have never done anything like that so I don't understand why he has become so jealous. Quite simply, my husband is driving me crazy. I can't go to the store without him thinking I went to visit some guy—or his sister. I have never given him any reason to think I'm having an affair. Sometimes he will smell me to see if I smell like a man's cologne. At first it started as a game for him to smell me, but now he does it all the time, and it's not a joke anymore. Please help me. I don't know what to do anymore. I don't want my kids to see us fighting all the time, and I don't want to leave him because I love him.

Sincerely,
—Tired

Dear Ti,
What is going on with your husband, between the accusations and the sniffing for clues, is not normal. Something's gone haywire in his head. To unjustly suspect male dalliances would be bad enough, but to imagine a lesbian liaison with you and his sister is really unhinged. Prudie's favorite therapist, Dr. Shari Thurer, regards mental difficulties such as you describe as obsessive compulsive neurosis—often triggered by stress in an individual's life. Reasoning with such a person is usually an exercise in futility. Your husband needs a psychological intervention and perhaps medication. On occasion, Dr. Thurer says unfounded jealousy may signal the onset of outright paranoia, but this is less usual. She asked me to pass on to you an example that illustrates the absurdity of some obsessions. She had a patient whose partner insisted she was having an affair with the dog. Of course this was fantasy ... but after she gave the dog away, he accused her of getting together with the cat! So Prudie is pulling for you to persuade your husband to seek help, and, with luck, he will say goodbye to his suspicions, along with his imitation of a bloodhound.

—Prudie, therapeutically

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Dear Prudence,
I am a 38-year-old man, married for 10 years to an affectionate and kind woman. After years of struggling financially, we have finally settled in to a nice life together, and every thing is great for us ... with one exception. Soon after we got married, my wife gained substantial weight and has continued to gain since. I admit that I'm shallow about such things. I am appalled by her appearance, which obviously has very negative effects on our sexual relationship. I have tried many times to talk to her about her weight, but it always results in anger and tears on her part, guilt and frustration on mine. I am very active and physically fit. I bicycle, lift weights, and roller blade. (Of course, she has all of this equipment as well but she refuses to use it effectively.) I'm tall, muscular and good-looking, and I work in a very public place where I'm often approached by attractive women. Of course this only increases my frustration. Is it time for an ultimatum? An affair? A divorce? Counseling? Or should I just be the good husband and shut the hell up and be thankful that she's not a screaming harpy?

Sincerely,
—Shallow

Dear Shall,
People gain weight for a reason. It can be a physical-chemical system out of whack, a compensatory behavior for something that feels missing, armor against sexual relations, or a compulsion. You say your wonderful-in-every-way wife gained the weight after your marriage. Some misguided women think, "Aha! Now I've snared him ... bring on the chocolate cake!" Prudie's instinct, however, is that's not what's operative here. Because you have brought up the subject with the only result being tears, you need a mediator. Your wife knows there's nothing going on in the bedroom—and she knows why. You are perfectly within your "rights" to want to remedy this situation. A trained therapist can guide you two through this issue. Something needs to be done, and you are not shallow to be turned off by a wife of Hindenburgian proportions—though Prudie wishes to say now, before the e-mails crash her computer, that some men are actually attracted by what they're calling "plus sizes."

—Prudie, encouragingly

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Dear Prudie,
I am 28 and crazy about a 23-year-old woman at work who seems crazy about me as well. Hitch: Her 21-year-old boyfriend is coming to town after graduation in a few months to live with her. Officially just friends, we've been spending more and more of our free time together. In the last few days we've ended up back at my place, tipsy and wrestling on the couch. Aside from my heart palpitations, that is the extent of the physicality. Sure does seem like we're dating. She has indirectly implied that the existing relationship is serious, which has kept me from making any specific overtures. I fear telling her how I feel will sober her up and scare her back to his side. The boyfriend is in town for the week, and while I'm brooding at home alone, I'd like to figure the whole thing out. In short: What is she doing?

—Giddy yet Stumped

Dear Gid,
What she is doing is weighing her options. Visiting Boyfriend Week will give her a clearer idea of how she feels. When the coast is clear—that is, when the competition has gone back to school—you and she need to stop wrestling and talk. It is unlikely you are feeling this connection all by yourself. Do not fear "scaring her back to his side" with a declaration because, in this instance, you have nothing to lose. You will only let her know that you are wanting and willing to become a couple. If she turns you down for the other chap, well ... better to know now.

—Prudie, forthrightly

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Dear Prudence,
My mother, whom I see every other weekend, never hesitates to rag on almost all of our relatives' shortcomings. It is monumentally depressing to listen to this, and I have asked her repeatedly to stop. She actually once started talking about how my father used to get off on watching female mud wrestling! When I told her I didn't need to know that, she called me a prude. I'm no prude, and I have no illusions about the sort of person my father was (he died when I was in high school), but I don't think most people want to hear sexual details about their parents ... not to mention hearing recitations about his financial incompetence, inability to avoid being taken advantage of, or anything else that no longer matters. What is the most effective way to deal with this? She does not have a computer and therefore will be unable to read your response.

—Quandarized in N.Y.

Dear Quan,
Your mother, alas, sounds like an embittered woman with no taste and little judgment. You have asked her before to spare you details of everything that's wrong with family members, and stating your wishes obviously has gotten you nowhere. She is not going to change, so barring cutting her out of your life, just tune her out when the recitals begin, then quickly try to change the subject.

—Prudie, knowledgeably