Listen to Dear Prudence on NPR's Day to Day.
I have a question for you. I'm a widow in my late 20s. My husband died a few months ago. I don't feel a smidgen of grief. Life with him was an absolute nightmare. He was horribly abusive to me emotionally, and I felt like a zombie. I reached the point where I hated him so much I wanted him to die (or at least go away). I probably would have killed myself had it not been for my cats. I love them beyond all reason. They don't scream at me for not going to church or taking out the trash or changing the litter box. There were no kids since we were married only a few months. On the day he died, I'd had a screaming fight with him that morning, and I told him I never wanted to see him again as long as I lived. I came home, and he had killed himself. I didn't feel anything but numbness. I called 911, and my biggest concern was getting the cats out of the room; I didn't want them to see any of this. I didn't cry at his funeral or at the grave site. I don't feel one iota of grief. All I feel is relief. Is any of this normal? It amazes me how functional I am. What do you think of all this?
Prudie can't say if your feelings are "normal," but they certainly are honest. Your frankness about the situation is something many people would go to great lengths to hide. We are conditioned to appear bereft after a death, even when that is not reflective of our actual feelings. There is always the possibility, of course, that you will collapse down the line with some kind of a delayed response … if only to let out the emotion of having lived through it all. But people feel what they feel, so don't beat yourself up about not feeling grief or reacting as you think you are "supposed to." And given the particulars of your brief mistake of a marriage, it would be tempting to imagine that fate stepped in to extricate you.
During one of my aimless walks around the neighborhood, I came upon a sign that read, "It's a Girl!!" posted in the front yard of a house. It was a large store-bought sign, complete with images of storks, pacifiers, and a birth date of four days earlier. Thinking that the new parents would be in the mood for some unsolicited congrats, I knocked on the front door and announced, "Congratulations! What's her name?" The response I got was hardly what I expected. A man, who I'm assuming was the father, answered the door, looked at me with a hostile expression, and said, "Excuse me, do I know you?" Then he slammed the door in my face. Now I understand that it's generally bad form to go knocking on strangers' doors, but when you place such a billboard in your yard, shouldn't you at least be polite? Was I the one out of line? I should also add that I'm a 33-year-old guy with no kids of my own.
In a perfect world (or a small town), your response to the sign would have been greeted with a smile. In bigger cities, alas, people do not welcome strangers at their door … given the statistics for criminals and crazy people walking around. You raise a valid point, however. One should not do public things if one is not looking to engage with strangers. There is a chance these people did not imagine anyone other than friends would respond to the sign. But if it makes you feel better, Prudie would have reacted graciously had it been her door and her baby—that is, if you were clothed and not carrying a baseball bat.
My husband of 20 years left me for another woman almost a year ago. We have two young children. They live with me but see their dad regularly and have a great relationship with him. He just moved his girlfriend in with him from out of state, and I am having a terrible time handling my feelings about sharing my kids with this woman. My children and I are very close, and I am an excellent mother who provides a loving home for them, but I have fears that they will like it better there and someday want to live there. Maybe it is more fun there or feels more like family to my kids because "over there" there is a mommy and daddy. I also feel less important because now they have a second mommy, and I feel a tremendous loss because of this. I have read every divorce book out there, and I have not found anything that has helped me understand or cope with these feelings. Could you help please?
Prudie takes you at your word that you're a wonderful mother, and it is for this reason that she feels the sad things you imagine are … well, in your imagination. What you are feeling now is aloneness, and so you're having these dire thoughts. It is very hard to disturb a child's bond to the mother—even a bad mother. So one way or another, you must make an effort to stop feeling insecure and thinking your children will find the grass greener "over there." Kids are smart. If you think it through, you'll be glad the other woman is nice to them. Some kids are made to feel awful by the "new mom." They are really going there to be with their dad, however, who you say is a good father. Try to see this from the kids' perspective, which is that their father's partner likes them. No one can woo your children away from you, and Prudie predicts the more generous you act, the better you will feel. Good luck.
I suppose with spiked hair, blue hair, stripes, and no hair, my question may seem like nothing at all, but do you have an opinion about guys with ponytails? There seem to be a lot of them wandering around these days. Just thought I'd ask.
—Maybe Out of It
Prudie does have an opinion, actually. She has always found it odd-looking—no doubt because for years ponytails were just for girls. Like Vassar. On a man a ponytail just seems evocative of teenage boys or young girls. (And a geezer trying to be hip with a ponytail is totally off-putting … right up there with a comb-over.) To put it another way, Prudie doubts she could be attracted to a man with a ponytail. However … word has it that Willie Nelson is, uh, worth knowing.