Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 26 2004 9:24 AM

What You Don't Know Might Hurt You

When your good deeds help another's infidelity.

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Oh, Prudence!

The drama I am mired in. When I was in high school, I had a friend (we'll call her Minnie) who had a "whoops" pregnancy. I was her Lamaze coach and helped her through the whole thing. Then I was entrusted to be the godmother of her first son. She had always been fairly responsible but went wild after the father and she broke up—while I was in college and she was trying to raise a son on her own. (Her family had forced her to move out.) Therefore I often got my godchild for a weekend. She'd drop him off on a Saturday, tell me she'd be back "later," then return on a Monday or sometimes a Tuesday. When she was in her early 20s, she met a really nice guy. They got engaged, and a couple months later, she discovered she was pregnant again. They moved up their wedding date and have lived happily for the last seven years. She's had two more children since then ... and I am godmother to them all. If she hadn't had her son, I probably wouldn't have stayed in touch with her past high school because we've both changed so much. But those children are wonderful, and I love taking them to museums and places their parents don't. One day last week, Minnie calls me out of the blue to meet for lunch. She informs me she's been unhappy for at least four years, has had an affair, and asked her husband for a divorce. And I've been taking these lovely children (they really are great kids) for a weekend a month—ostensibly so she could have some "alone time" with her husband. Turns out she's been using that time to cheat on him. I HATE that I am involved in her duplicity. And now the kicker: Can I take the godchildren on the weekends? I live in a tiny, tiny apartment. Four kids are difficult to fit in there. I said yes, worrying where she would shove them if I didn't. I love those kids, and I am on "their side" in this, but am I just facilitating her not being a good mother by taking them? I love those little guys a lot. I hate to think of them feeling abandoned by everyone, including me.

—Sincerely,

Stymied

Dear Sty,

First of all, you've not been involved with the duplicity. What "Minnie" chose to do with the time you had the kids has nothing to do with you. Were you unavailable, she would have found another way to fool around. As for how to proceed, it is wonderful that you understand that you may be the kids' only source of stability, and the bonus is that you really love them. You cannot ring off because your apartment is small. Of course when they visit, you will all be honorary sardines, but make it fun. On weekends, make your place the Airbed Hotel, or spread out sleeping bags. You might also take a stab at "reminding" your friend that she needs to become more responsible and concentrate on her children. You really sound like a saint, and it's a good bet those four little ones will feel a grateful bond to you forever.

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—Prudie, admiringly

Dear Prudence,

My sister is getting married to her fiance about six months from now. They have been together for about five years. The problem is that he cheated on her a couple of years ago, and, supposedly, she forgave him. Although things have changed for the better since the incident, she claims that things will never be the same again and that there is always going to be a trust issue because of what happened. Although I would love for my soon-to-be brother-in-law and my sister to commit to a lifelong union, I don't want my sister to be in a relationship where she still has doubts. I love her very much, and I don't want a part of her to be unhappy for the rest of her life. I told her that if she feels this way, maybe they should postpone the wedding to think it through and sort it out before she gets married. However, she said that since the reception is already booked, it's hard to back out. How can a wedding be properly postponed, and what advice can you give regarding her situation?

—Very Worried Sibling

Dear Ver,

That the reception is already booked is a feeble rationale for going through with a marriage about which one has doubts. Invite your sister to weigh a divorce against a lost deposit. As for how to postpone a wedding (or even call it off), the procedure is the same as for announcing one: Send a printed card saying the nuptials have been postponed/cancelled.

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—Prudie, preventively

Dear Prudence,

I'm a 34-year-old recently divorced woman. I was married for five years, though we were together for eight. My brother is about to propose to his girlfriend and asked if he could buy my old engagement ring. He already has his eye on a similar one in a jewelry store and is willing to spend the money. He doesn't want to tell his girlfriend where the ring came from if I consent. I think this is crazy and that women care about the ring's origins. I also feel insulted that he would even ask. Am I being oversensitive? What would you do?

—Rung Out

Dear Rung,

Prudie thinks perhaps you are being overly sensitive. Your brother had no way of knowing he would upset you by asking to buy the ring. And women feel differently about this issue. Some have such terrible memories associated with the marriage that they can't stand to look at the ring; others need or would prefer to have the money, so they sell it; still others regard it simply as jewelry. Because many women are thrilled to be given a family heirloom as an engagement ring, your brother may not be correct that your future s-i-l should not know its origins—though, granted, a ring from a divorce situation is not quite Grandma's treasure. If you don't want to part with it, fine, but your brother's request should not be construed as an insult. As for what Prudie would do, here's what Prudie has done: She's kept engagement rings only from those men she has married.

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—Prudie, ringingly

Dear Prudence,

I have been involved with the same man since I was 17. (We are now both 30.) While we are not married or engaged and have no children, we've lived together for several years. We jointly own our home, have made major joint purchases (furniture, central air, etc.), and generally do all the other things that married couples do—have parties, go on vacation together, help out with each other's families, attend social functions with our respective colleagues. How do I respond when I am asked, "Why aren't you married?" I get this a lot and really think it's a personal question. I am at a loss about what to say in response. Please help!

—Stumped and Annoyed

Dear Stump,

Depending on how you feel about the questioner, you can use friendly diversion or dismissive humor. An example of the former would be to say, "Things seem to work really well the way they are … and have been for 13 years." An example of the latter might be, "We're saving up for a license." Just because a question is asked does not mean it merits an answer.

—Prudie, responsively