Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

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Advice on manners and morals.
Nov. 11 2004 6:40 AM

Paranoia Will Destroy Ya

When your co-worker has a distracting phobia.


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Dear Prudence,

I work in a municipal building where I am constantly in contact with the public. Understandably, my co-workers and I are naturally outgoing types. However, a more "behind the scenes" department has its office right next to ours, so the two departments are often in contact with each other. There is a woman from that department who is driving me (and a few of my co-workers) absolutely nuts because she reacts to us as though we have the plague. If I pass her in the hall, she will back up to the wall as far as she can so as not to be anywhere near me. I am not the only one she does this to. She will walk the whole perimeter of a room to avoid me and my co-workers if we are sitting in the middle of it. Just today, she literally stopped and walked backward when she saw that I was crossing her path. And she's not subtle about ANY of it! I think this goes beyond quirky. It really gives me the creeps, and I'm not trying to be insensitive, but it's getting harder and harder for me to resist the urge to look at her and ask just what the hell her problem is. Any tips on how to approach this diplomatically?


Dear Plague,

A shrink is what's required, not diplomacy. This poor girl has a phobia ... that's what her "problem" is. The behavior has nothing to do with any of you, and the woman you write about is lucky she is able to be a "behind the scenes" person. Just think about it: Someone starts walking backward to avoid a co-worker? Prudie hopes that an acknowledgment of the strangeness will make it less an irritant and more a condition that calls for compassion and understanding. Prudie suggests you ignore the weird conduct with this in mind.


—Prudie, obliviously

Dear Prudence,

I have been dating a girl for over a year and a half whom I truly love and with whom I share much in common. We are extremely compatible emotionally and in most ways. However, although I am sexually attracted to her and I find sex with her pleasant, she prefers sex according to a rather rigid "blueprint," which quite honestly is very predictable and has become less exciting over time. Although I have at times rather strongly hinted about my own need for some variation and greater spontaneity, due to a history of some minor sexual abuse trauma in her past, I am hesitant to "push the envelope" any further than I have. At the same time, I operate under a history of my own; I have had a number of relationships in the past that were sexually much better than this one but that I ended owing to reasons of incompatibility in other areas. The discontent I feel about sex is now relatively minor, but I sense it growing stronger over time. What would you suggest?


Dear C.

Because you are hesitant to "push the envelope" and are tiring of the "blueprint," the thing to do is encourage this great girl, the one with whom you have much in common, to let a professional counselor help her separate sex with someone she loves from the unpleasant history. The fact that you two HAVE sex means that she is capable of progress. Something else that might be useful is to have a therapist guide you with some approaches about how best to push the envelope.


—Prudie, therapeutically

Dear Prudence,

There's a married couple my husband and I have been friends with for years. They recently had twin girls after a couple of years on fertility medications. Although I am generally happy for them because they have wanted children for a while, they have turned into jerks. And what is sadder is that after 18 months, their girls are also LITTLE jerks. It is not that I don't know about children; I have seven nieces and nephews, two I practically raised until they were school-aged. When this couple was spending the weekend at our house (they live several hours away), I was yelled at by the girls' father because I flushed the toilet while the girls were sleeping and the noise would wake them up. He also told me that I shouldn't make any noise like walking up the stairs or snoring because the babies would wake up and scream. And scream they do, and they chew on EVERYTHING and cry for hours if you take it away. Does this make the girls jerks or the parents jerks? I loved my friends before the girls, but now neither my husband nor I can stand having to deal with those kids, so we don't deal with the parents either. So who is the jerk here? Us? Them? The girls?


Dear Jen,

Prudie has never thought of babies as jerks before. Perhaps a more apt term for them would be spawn of permissive, if not nutty parents. To be a guest in someone's home and instruct them not to flush the toilet or to snore (!) is unacceptable. Clearly, parenthood has thrown these two for a loop, and most likely the friendship you had enjoyed will not resurface—if ever—until the twins are way past the crying and chewing stages. It is too bad your friends don't know that kids who are exposed to the sounds of everyday life get used to them and do really well.


—Prudie, regretfully

Hi Prudence,

My father-in-law seems to be having a midlife crisis. He used to be a responsible, respected churchgoer. He held down a steady, well-paying job and was an elected town leader. About four years ago, he and my m-i-l separated (did not divorce), and the company that employed him closed. Now, he is sleeping with numerous women (including prostitutes) and pretending to have committed relationships with some of them simultaneously. The immediate problem is that my husband and I cringe when we see him. He is sexually obsessed. He tells dirty joke after dirty joke and makes a lot of sexual references in every conversation. The final straw is when he involves other people. For example, we went out for coffee at a restaurant the other day. When the waitress came with our order, my father-in-law complimented her: "Nice mammaries—I mean memory." I find this sexual harassment. My husband and I were uncomfortable and embarrassed. We've tried ignoring the comments, not laughing at his jokes, or changing the subject, and it's not working. We need a more direct approach. My husband still loves his father, but he's quickly losing all respect for him.

—Still Cringing

Dear Still,

A more direct approach is to stop the socializing. Related or not, no one needs to be subjected to hanging out with hookers and listening to leering remarks about the waitress's chest. When you say that some of the girls are prostitutes and that he used to be a responsible, respected person, it is entirely possible that the old goat is having brain changes. The behavior makeover could very well be a symptom of a neurological problem. Your husband should suggest a medical work-up and then take it from there. Good luck.

—Prudie, guardedly