Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 25 2002 12:52 PM

Unwanted Advances

9_dearprudence_01

Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click hereto sign up.Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudence,

I shall try to keep this brief. My 5-year-old son is in a yearlong music course that meets once a week. The classes are expensive; he loves them and is doing very well. (You will see the need for that info later.) He has made a fast friend in the class, another little boy whom he adores. The boy's mother and I began to chat, as moms do. She seemed like a very nice woman, and we had a lot in common. She invited my son and me over for a play date—and herein begins my problem. When I arrived at her house, it was apparent that she and I had a lot more in common than I thought: namely, her husband. When I saw their wedding photo, it was all I could do not to run screaming from the house. Nearly 14 years ago, I dated her husband for a brief but horrific period of time. He was insanely jealous (for no reason), possessive, and verbally abusive. After I broke it off with him, he spent a number of weeks stalking me. He would call my home and place of business dozens of times a day, park himself in front of my house, send me semi-threatening unsigned letters, etc. After I changed to an unlisted phone number, he continued to call my office as much as 20 times per day. My boss became involved, and only after he threatened to contact the police did the harassment stop. His parting shot to me occurred some months later after I had begun to date another man. He proceeded to call this man at work "just to let him know" what kind of woman he was involved with. (He also left me a message to let me know what he had done.) I will leave to your imagination the expletives he used to describe me. Thankfully, that man (to whom I have been happily married for 12 years) knew what a wacko this man was and told him to take a hike. Needless to say, though many years have passed, I want no possible contact whatsoever. The lovely woman he is now married to continues to invite us to their home and has now invited us to her son's birthday party. I feel terrible snubbing this woman and her son; they have done nothing wrong, and I genuinely like both of them. I have thought perhaps I should tell her the truth, knowing full well that if she asks her husband about me, he will tell her nothing but lies. I do not want to withdraw my son from the class for the reasons I stated earlier, but it may be my only option. Prudie, what would you do?

—Still Creeped Out

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Dear Still,

What an amazing situation! Here's how Prudie sees it. First, one cannot expect a wife to keep a story like this from her spouse, so you can't level with this woman—even telling her the story in broad strokes—because her husband would certainly rebut your story, and the relationship between you and the woman would be splintered. Alas, in this case, honesty is not the best policy. It could, in fact, conceivably create trouble in their marriage and even encourage this man to try to get in touch with you. To finesse the situation, just say your husband's business life dictates your social life, so much as you'd like to, you are unable to socialize with the parents of your son's friends. This way, you can see her—as two moms—and the little boys can maintain their friendship. However, to lessen the chances for disaster, look for a new music program for the next school year. Good luck.

—Prudie, coincidentally

Dear Prudie,

My wife told me the other day that when she called her friend's office (she is the head of a prestigious school), the secretary said "Dr. X" was in a meeting and would call back. When I heard this, I said, "How did she suddenly get a Ph.D.?" I thought perhaps she'd received an honorary degree. My wife thought maybe her friend had been taking courses and had actually gotten a Ph.D., or at least an Ed.D. I said I hoped that she was right because people who have gotten honorary degrees and start calling themselves "doctor" are usually laughed at ... especially at a school where some of the academics have earned their doctorates. Well, it turns out I was right. The friend had been given an honorary degree at her alma mater's commencement. Do you agree that in the academic world, one opens oneself to ridicule by taking on the "doctor" title when people will know it was not earned (dissertation, defense, etc.)? I think friends needs to advise friends when they're going to be ridiculed. This is especially sensitive stuff in a time when two famous historians have been found to be plagiarists. What do you think?

—Wrote My Own Thesis, Every Word

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Dear Wrote,

Prudie will go you one better. Being more of a strict constructionist on this matter than you, she thinks only physicians should use the honorific "Dr." Though technically entitled to it, Prudie finds it kind of pompous when Ph.D.s wish to be called "Dr." (Think Henry Kissinger.) Prudie once introduced someone with a doctorate by using her proper name and was corrected by her: "That's Dr." As for tacking on "Dr." for an honorary degree, that's truly fraudulent, if not laughable, and anybody who figures it out will think your friend is pretentious beyond the beyond. But ... Prudie suggests you say nothing to your friend because it will not be appreciated, and she almost certainly won't knock off the "Dr." bit. While it is true that friends don't let friends drive drunk, when it comes to pomposity, there is no way to set them straight without making a mess.

—Prudie, earthily

Dear Prudence,

I am currently dating someone whom I think may be Mr. Wrong. I have dated many people, but he is the first person with whom I am completely happy. I learned, however, that he had a first love who broke his heart about two years ago. (She cheated on him.) He tells me he is now over her, but I question the truth and validity of this statement. Why do I doubt his sincerity? Well, for starters, he gets very emotional when he talks about her. Secondly, he refuses to listen to sad songs containing lyrics about first love, etc., and claims those songs bring back hurtful feelings. We had a fight over a gift she gave him before he finally consented to throw the gift away. Get this—his idea of throwing it away was to give it to me to keep. I enjoy being with him, but I refuse to be with someone who may still have feelings for someone else. How do I tell whether he really is over her or not?

—Confused

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Dear Con,

You ask Prudie ... and she tells you the answer: No. He is not over her. This chap is far too weighted down carrying the torch (and too wounded, and too regretful) for you to continue with. The ghost of Christmas past, as it were, is haunting your romance, so why don't you tell him to take back the present he couldn't part with and to be on his way? This means, of course, that now you can listen to whatever songs you like and look for a replacement beau who is not living in the past.

—Prudie, forwardly

Dear Prudence,

I was in a happy four-year relationship with a guy that I thought was happy with me. Suddenly, he started acting strangely, and after an emotional discussion on both our parts, he asked if we could take some time apart rather than ending it totally. He said he wanted this because he loved me and couldn't imagine life without me, but needed to do this so he could see what an idiot he was being. I asked if there was someone else because I wondered and because it had happened in my last relationship. He repeatedly said no. I even let him know that if there was, I would be better off with him being honest. He still denied it. He contacted me during our "time-out," telling me he missed me, and we even had lunch. Well, I've found out for sure there is someone else. I don't understand this. Why will guys not admit it? Cowardice, taking the easy way out, what? It would have hurt, but it hurts so much more now.

—Brokenhearted, Chicago

Dear Broke,

You ask why guys don't come clean? In short, my dear, no balls. Here is their annoying thinking. 1) By denying there's someone else, chances for a scene are diminished. 2) It's easier (emotionally). 3) They think maybe they might want to come back—hence the wish not to burn bridges. 4) And they probably think this approach will hurt less. Try to be philosophical and accept him for what he is: gutless.

—Prudie, regretfully