I admire the advice you give others, and I think that some of my friends and I could use it right now. I'm enrolled in a yearlong program for continuing education. Our class is small (only a dozen or so people), and in the past few months, we've become quite close. One girl, "Rita," has talked frequently about her husband, who has been stationed in Iraq since the class started. Rita and her husband have a 1-year-old and are building a house, set to be ready when he comes home. Unfortunately, he was killed recently in an accident. Understandably, Rita is shocked and devastated, as are we, her friends. We know she's not close to her family, nor is she close to his, and so—as her friends—we wanted to rally around her and let her know that we love her. However, there is the concern that we don't want to seem as though we're smothering her. As a group, we just want to give her the support she needs and still leave her room to grieve. Can you suggest some things that we can do for her that won't seem like an intrusion? Thank you.
How kind you and your group sound. And your letter validates Prudie's belief that friends are the family one chooses. So many Americans are serving abroad now, and the deaths are heartbreaking. What you can do for "Rita" and her very young child is to offer emotional support—and help. Take over dinners, offer to grocery shop, propose child care if she could use some time alone ... in other words, let her know that all of you wish to help ease her burden. Be assured that kind concern is always appreciated, even at a time of profound sorrow.
A few weeks ago, my friend of over 15 years came to visit me for a long weekend. We had not spent time together without our children or her husband (I am divorced) for over five years, and I expected it to be a fun get-together with an old friend. Now I am questioning whether I can continue to be friends with this person. She was selfish and high-maintenance, and worst of all, she removed her wedding ring when we were out on the town so she "could feel like a single girl again." Although she had no takers, despite her overtly flirty behavior, I was still shocked and dismayed at her ability to so easily pretend she didn't have a loving husband at home. Am I being ridiculous in questioning this friendship and whether I can continue it? This woman has been my dearest friend for almost as long as I can remember. I am in an extremely difficult position here, as I have never had a friend behave this way that I knew of. Am I wrong to judge her?
—Surprised and Disappointed Friend
Prudie, herself, has been called judgmental, but she believes that everyone, to a greater or lesser degree, is judgmental. To receive information is to involuntarily form an opinion about it. If it happens that people don't measure up, you are not an unforgiving goody-two-shoes to reassess the relationship. Trying to cheat on one's spouse and involving a friend in it, yet, has more negative weight than, say, being a demanding houseguest. At the end of the day, you will have to decide for yourself if your diminished respect for her makes a continuing friendship impossible. By all means, don't blame yourself for being too stiff if you decide you just don't feel the same about her. This is definitely her bad.
I love your column, and I think you give out some really good advice, so here goes ... I'll be marrying a wonderful guy ("Bob") next year. He's everything I could wish for in a man. In fact, this summer we'll be moving in together. The problem? My parents. I'm sure you've heard "my parents don't like my boyfriend/husband" lots of times, but please hear me out. While Bob's parents absolutely love me (and vice versa), my parents want nothing to do with him or his family. Why do they feel this way? Because Bob's family doesn't make the six-figure income my parents do. I know Bob doesn't have anything to prove to my family, and I know I can't change their opinion about him. However, their behavior toward him is very hurtful. Situations like this have caused major, unfixable rifts in my family in the past, and I'm trying desperately to stop the cycle, but if it's the Grand Canyon they want, then I suppose I have no choice. Any ideas about how to solve this? And hell would freeze over before they got psychological help, so that's out of the question. A side note: They have offered to pay for the wedding (which will be small), but I get the feeling it's only out of "obligation." Should I let them or fund it myself (which I'm capable of doing)?
—Thinking About Disowning the Family
When you ask how to "solve" this problem, Prudie thinks of the Zen proverb: "There is no solution; seek it lovingly." This problem cannot be solved; it can only be managed. There is no way to infuse your folks with new values at this stage of the game. If they judge people by the income they rake in, the situation is too Bonfire of the Vanities to hope for improvement. What you and your fiance can do, and should do, is ease away from them, but without any formal announcements. They may, in time, catch on that you've become more comfortable with the in-laws and perhaps tone down the snobbery. As for the small wedding you have in mind, it is customary for the bride's father to pay for the wedding if he is able. It IS his obligation, so short of all-out warfare, let it proceed that way. You and your intended are not the first kids to have this problem, and Prudie predicts you will do just fine.
I have been with my live-in boyfriend for about a year now. Before we got together, he was in a relationship for four years. He has remained friends with his ex, even though she is still in love with him. He pretty much bends over backward for her, talks to her almost everyday behind my back, sneaks to go visit her and her family sometimes. And to top that off, he still has her pictures in our house that he refuses to throw away. When I confront him about all of this, he gets PO'd and says that he only does what he does because he feels guilty about breaking off their relationship and tells me that I am overreacting. My question is: What do you think of all this?
This chap is not so much guilty, my dear, as ambivalent. To remain "friends" is one thing; to bend over backward, converse every day on the sly, have photographs become an issue, and annoy you in the bargain is a whole other story. Tell Mr. Vacillating you don't think he's quite over what's-her-name, and you've decided she needs him more than you do. What's going on now is no way to live. Over and out.