Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 5 2004 10:30 AM

Strings Attached

Can you really have a relationship with no emotional involvement?

9_dearprudence_01

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

Dear Pru,

Love your column and your advice. Truth IS stranger than fiction and sure makes for a good read. Here's my truth, and I hope you can advise, please. I'm 60, divorced twice, quite successful, three adult children, no lady friend, and lonely ... but no real desire to be in a "relationship." She's 70, slender, pretty, beautifully dressed, and pleasant. We have ongoing business contacts and enjoy chatting. And she's offered to be my mistress. Pursuing such an arrangement might answer my need for an intimate friendship without the "relationship" issue. I'm frankly intrigued. She holds a part-time job, and I'm assuming she would continue working, visit my home a few evenings a week to cook dinner or dine out, with companionship at bed time. Although I wouldn't ignore her, I'd have no great interest in where she was or what she did otherwise. I've never been cheap and would offer cash and nice gifts, perhaps trips ... like Paris. I'm sure she envisions the benefits my success might bring to her lifestyle. I like the idea of a friendship that could be discontinued at will but worry that this could quickly deteriorate into emotional entanglement, hers or mine. From your sage point of view, how does a woman view being a mistress? Should we negotiate and get on with it? Are there some ground rules here?

—Thinking It Over

Dear Think,

Nothing like a home-cooked meal followed by sex with a woman you basically don't care about. Assuming you are not trying to put one over on old Pru, here's the answer to what we will assume, for the moment, is a sincere question. You sound as though you don't particularly like women, have ice water in your veins, and can't manage a relationship. Anybody who views emotional connection as an "entanglement" and the byproduct of "deterioration" perhaps ought to steer clear of anyone except a paid companion. The only mitigating factor here is that you say that it was the woman who suggested this business deal. The idea of a 70-year-old call girl is somewhat unsettling, but hey, maybe she's as out there, emotionally, as you are. (And "mistress" is probably not even the right word, connoting, as it does, being the girlfriend of a married man—which you are not.) As for how "a woman" views the arrangement you have in mind, this woman finds it an oppressive way to score presents and trips ... or even to get some lovin'. One or both of you most likely will come to regret it. Perhaps you should consider an escort service.

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—Prudie, disparagingly

Dear Prudence,

I have a problem that is really irritating, and I hope you can help. My husband and I are having twin girls soon. While I absolutely love being pregnant, I do not like the fact that people who are not close to me are asking questions about my pregnancy that I find inappropriate. I cannot believe there are people who ask if our twins were conceived using fertility treatments or "naturally." More than one person has asked if we will be having more children or if my husband will have a vasectomy. I feel these are highly personal questions that should not be asked unless you have a close relationship with the mother-to-be. They are certainly not questions I feel like discussing with the cashier at the grocery store. Is it just me, or do all pregnant women go through this?

—Vexed/Texas

Dear Vex/Tex,

The cashier at the grocery store? Wow. And the vasectomy question is really out of this world. From your letter it would appear that a lot of people have decided that everything is their business, so the only avenue left to you is to communicate your displeasure, nonverbally. Just raise your eyebrows and look at the person for a long beat. Then change the subject. If the questioner is really thick and repeats the inquiry, feel free to say, "I cannot see how that is any of your business." It is hard to imagine that all expectant mothers of twins go through this, so perhaps it's something in the water in your part of Texas that emboldens people at the sight of a big belly ... or maybe the word "twins." Enjoy the babies.

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—Prudie, intrepidly

Dear Prudie,

I have a difficult family situation with which I need some help. I have been married for five months now, but we've been together for five years. His father has always been rather "complimentary" toward me, but over the past year his behavior and comments have gotten worse. He is divorced from my mother-in-law but has since remarried. He makes comments about my body and tells me that I'm beautiful (not in the nice, father-in-law sort of way either). At a family gathering where I was wearing a slightly low-cut evening gown, he tried to take a picture down my dress. I am not the only one he does this to, either. He comments about my brother-in-law's girlfriend, and he even made comments to my mother at my wedding shower. To make matters worse, his behavior humiliates my husband and my sisters-in-law. How do I deal with this? So far all I have done is start to wear turtlenecks whenever I am around him. Is it OK to say something?

—Disgusted Daughter-in-Law

Dear Dis,

Turtlenecks will not solve your problem. This is a long shot, but you say that only in the last year has the inappropriate attention heated up. It is often a tip-off (for men and women) that there has been a change in brain function when sexual banter or acting out is noticeably intensified. Because your father-in-law is married, you and your husband might suggest to his wife that he have a physical exam. Should his behavior prove not to be tied to an illness, Prudie gives you permission to avoid spending time with him. If the whole family feels as you do, this should not be a problem. Good luck.

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—Prudie, proactively

Dear Prudence,

My parents have been married for nearly 30 miserable years. My father is verbally and emotionally abusive to my mother, cursing and shouting at her and telling her what an inferior person she is. (Which is not true; my mother is a saint who has cared for others her entire life, and she's an intelligent woman, too.) Lately his abuse has even extended to my mother's mom, who lives with them. My mother seems to be spiraling deeper into depression. She has refused to divorce him because of the financial consequences and has also refused to go to therapy. My father is aware of his actions but seems to enjoy keeping everyone around him miserable, so therapy and a change of behavior don't seem to be an option for him, either. I love my mother and hate seeing what is happening to her. Every time I go home to visit, it seems like I have to spend so much time placating my father, a man whom I have always feared. I just need advice on how to act around my family—what can I do to make their situation better?

—Distressed 

Dear Dis,

Because there's no imminent crisis (like battering or suicide), the thing for you to do is try some "bibliotherapy." Type in "emotional abuse" on Google. There are numerous books and support groups available. Please know that your situation is not uncommon. It is actually a publishing niche. You might also tactfully give this information to your mom. It might be useful for you to talk with a counselor. The hopeful thing for your own future is that you will learn from your parents' mistakes and avoid getting into a hostile-dependent relationship yourself. Good luck.

—Prudie, informationally