Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 8 2001 11:51 AM

The Adulterer Next Door 

 

 

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Dear Prudence,

Last week I brought my car in for servicing, and while driving out of the parking lot in a loaner vehicle, I spotted my next-door neighbor parked in his car and otherwise engaged with a woman who is not his wife. Luckily, my neighbor (let's call him "John") did not see me, probably due to the different vehicle I was in and the fact that he appeared rather, um, "involved," if you catch my drift. Herein lies the problem. Had I been on my own, I would have kept my nose out of this situation. (I am friendly with his wife, but we are not close.) Unfortunately, I had my 4-1/2-year-old with me, and he immediately noticed my neighbor's distinctive vehicle and blurted out "Hey Mommy, look at 'John' kissing the lady in his car!" I tried to tell a little white lie and advised my son that it was just someone who looked like "John"—but he wasn't buying it. My child is in the same preschool class as my neighbor's daughter, and they play together all the time. My son is very chatty and inquisitive, and I know he is going to say something to either the husband, the wife, or the daughter. My son has a memory like a steel trap, so I know he won't just forget it ... and there is no way to keep him apart from his little friend short of moving (not likely). What do we do???

—Unwilling Witness

Dear Un,

We don't do anything. The only thing you can control is whether or not YOU say something to "John" or his wife. Prudie does not mean to seem hardhearted, but any guy who is necking in a car dealership parking lot with a lady not his wife deserves anything he gets. It is too bad that his young child may have to deal with this, but there is really nothing you can do to silence a 4-½-year-old. You did your best by suggesting that "John" had a doppelgänger. Prudie would advise you not to try to get your son off the subject because that is a sure-fire way to make John-and-the-lady topic A for a long, long time.

—Prudie, inactively

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Dear Prudence,

I have two small children, ages 2 and 4, and my brother has four, ranging in age from 1 to 11. My parents are retired and drive several hours to visit all of us (my brother and I live in the same city) about once every month. Recently our parents were visiting and spent some time with all the grandkids. The experience was a disaster not only for me but, more importantly, for my niece and nephew. My parents are what is commonly called "type A." Their tendency to become anxious, impatient, and even enraged has not been tempered by a financially secure retirement and the freedom from most time pressures. Among other things, I heard them shout at my niece that she was "retarded" for allowing her younger sister to wander out of a staged photograph and yell at my nephew for being too "wimpy" to get the van's sliding door shut. I don't believe they're genuinely mean and nasty; I just think they somehow panic under pressure and blurt out their basest thoughts. They may not even remember it later. (My father, in fact, denied the whole van incident.) What can I do to protect my nieces and nephews—and my own children—from the damage to their self-esteem that these kinds of comments can cause? Should I refuse to leave my parents alone with their grandchildren? Should I speak in private with my niece and nephew to reassure them that they are neither "retarded" nor "wimpy" (or whatever the insult is that day)? Should I speak to my parents and tell them I won't accept such behavior and comments (and risk permanent estrangement)?

—Aghast at the Grandparents

Dear Ag,

Your instincts are very good. Prudie, in fact, likes all your ideas and suggests you implement each of them. Do not leave the kids alone with these thoughtless people so that if an out-of-line remark is spoken, you can deal with it on the spot. Do tell your niece and nephew that although their grandparents love them, they have bad tempers and little self-control. And tell your parents that if they don't get a grip on what comes out of their mouths, you may have to restrict the visits. Your folks are not only wounding their grandchildren, they are setting an unfortunate example of what grown-up behavior ought to be like.

—Prudie, supportively

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Dear Prudence,

I'm a 26-year-old mother of two and about seven months ago separated from my husband of six years. The separation was at my request because I didn't love him anymore and hadn't for a very long time. In fact, I spent most of my marriage wondering when it was actually going to end. We married young, after our first child was born, and probably not for the right reasons. But this isn't why I'm writing you. Since our separation I have fallen deeply in love with another man who just happens to be married and have quite a bit of baggage—to the tune of six children from three different women. But that doesn't matter to me because I love him for who he is and how he makes me feel. We want desperately to be together, but he can't bring himself to hurt his wife and children because of another woman. He says he would rather allow his marriage to die a slow death and have it be for other reasons than because of us. I have tried to end our relationship on three different occasions because it is so painful for me to stand in the wings, knowing how he feels about me, knowing how I feel about him, and unable to do anything about it. Each time, he begs me to be patient, says he loves me more than anything, that we can endure this. I'm running out of patience. At the same time, my soon to be ex-husband has started seeing someone else and is sleeping with her. He's been honest with me about his relationship with this woman, and much to my surprise, I am insanely jealous about it. WHY??? I know that I don't want to get back with him, but the thought of him with someone else is very painful for me. I don't know what to do with myself. What is wrong with me?

—Sincerely,

Lost

Dear Los,

Let's start with the simple one first: your jealousy regarding your soon-to-be ex. This is a natural feeling having to do with territorial instincts. Prudie knows many women who have a twinge—or several twinges—when the old husband makes a new alliance. Mind you, these are women who ended the marriage, wouldn't pee on these guys if they were on fire, but still feel that someone else has got something of theirs. It is a romantic rite of passage. Now ... as for your heart's desire and his request for "patience." To say that this man has "quite a bit of baggage" is an understatement. His situation actually sounds as though it would fill up the carousel from an off-loaded American Eagle flight. As Prudie has said before, borrowed husbands are usually more heartache than they're worth. If you meant the world to this man, he would not be waiting for "a slow death" to overtake his marriage; he would summon the grim reaper tout de suite. It is less muss and fuss for him to stay married and have an illicit, red-hot romance with you. There is a chance that if you break it off and mean it, the death of the marriage will be put on the fast track. There is also the chance that if you break it off, he will do nothing—and that will be your answer.

—Prudie, realistically

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Dear Prudence,

Over the past five years, I have become friends with a co-worker. Although she is bright and competent, she has several annoying tendencies, including hypochondria, a flair for overdramatization, and occasional melancholia. These tendencies were bearable when we merely co-workers, even though she would haunt my office, sitting down uninvited and rambling on. I am now in a position where I must rely on this co-worker for support on numerous key projects, and her endless prattling on about flattering new paramours, minor pet illnesses, and the petty slights of the copy room staff have become intolerable. How do I move this relationship to a better, more businesslike place? I have tried subtly turning our conversations to work subjects and ignoring her completely when she sits down and unbelievably speaks for 20 minutes, addressing the space beside my head as I type away. Nada.

—Confounded Co-Worker

Dear Con,

Prudie is not a believer in being held hostage to another's neurosis. Now that you have proved that subtlety is useless in this situation, you must speak to this woman as a Dutch uncle ... well, aunt. Tell her it has become necessary for you to move your business relationship back to a business relationship. Explain that during office hours, you both must focus on work—and only work. Let her know that as much as you'd like to hear all about her illnesses, those of her pets, the copy room snafus, and panting suitors, the personal visiting time has gotten out of hand, and you find it too distracting. If this doesn't do it, then you will have to go higher up to close this natterer down.

—Prudie, productively