Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 8 2005 7:24 AM

Like a Virgin

Making a new start in a small-minded community.

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Dear Prudence,
I am stuck in a situation that—unfortunately—I have brought upon myself. I am 18 years old and have had sexual intercourse with three individuals. I have recently decided that I would prefer to abstain from that activity until I am married. This, however, does nothing to change the past. The area I live in and the church I attend are environments in which people are eager to condemn sex before marriage, and equally eager to share dirt on how far people have gone, how many partners they've had, how old they were when they lost their virginity, etc. A "friend" I'd confided in told an individual that I was dating about this, and the news seems to be slowly making its way—often in a highly exaggerated and nonfactual form—to others. So, my question is, how do I respond when people ask me about this? And when is the appropriate (or wise) time to share my past with someone I am dating?

—Made My Own Bed

Dear Made,
Regarding how to respond when people bring this up, Prudie cannot believe anyone would bring this up! If such a clod does open his trap, close him/her down with a "Whatever are you talking about?" It is not all that hard to communicate that the questioner is on shaky, not to mention impertinent, ground. As for when to discuss your past, that time in a relationship usually reveals itself. However ... the less specific you are, the better. It is enough to say you are no longer a virgin. Supplying the names and numbers of the players is not a good idea. And Prudie salutes you for your wish to become revirginized. The horse may have left the barn, but that doesn't mean it needs to stop at every hitching post.

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—Prudie, forwardly

Prudie,
Recently I ended it with my boyfriend of 13 years. The reasons for this were many—infidelity, lying, manipulation, and emotional and physical abuse. I met a wonderful man who sparked everything back up inside. Although my ex is many things, I do still care about him like a friend. I want to remain on good terms with him. Why is that important? I'm not sure; maybe because I've remained friends with every ex. My new love is pushing me to get a restraining order, never talk to the ex again, and completely wash my hands of him. I've always been independent and don't really take kindly to being told what to do. I know that my new love is trying to protect me, as he knows full well what I went through with the ex. But how do I tell him I'm a big girl? I may need guidance once and a while, and even a little shove, but not an iron fist. I don't want things to end with this new guy. I care for him very much and have fallen very fast for him, despite my best efforts to take things slowly. I feel like I'm caught in the middle.

—Confused

Dear Con,
Your dilemma reminds Prudie of the old gag: "There's no accounting for taste," said the woman when told her son was wanted by the police. Why in the world would you want to maintain a friendly relationship with a man from whom you fled due to infidelity, lying, manipulation, and all the kinds of abuse there are? To maintain your perfect record of being friends with all the exes is nuts. Prudie's with your new boyfriend about washing your hands of the ex, but you cannot gratuitously get a restraining order as a gesture. The bad boyfriend—the one you want to keep in your life—has to have threatened you or currently be stalking you to justify a restraining order. Prudie thinks you need a few sessions with a therapist.

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—Prudie, unsympathetically

Prudence,
What is the best way to turn someone down when asked for your phone number? In some instances, lying and claiming to be involved is not an option, such as when asked out by an acquaintance who is aware that you are available. What's the best response, without being rude?

—Just wondering

Dear Just,
If you don't care if the person might figure out that he got the bum's rush, be off by one digit. Or ... as someone did in a television show, write down a few too many numbers. Or ... as Warren Beatty used to do before he was married with a family, he would tell people to call him at a hotel at which he did not live. Prudie is guessing, however, you don't live in a hotel. If you do give the number out in order to be kind, you will just wind up making up something on the phone about why you can't go. It might be more painless just to say, when asked for your number, that you're doing very little these days because of your puppy/cousin/doctoral thesis or a project at work.

—Prudie, evasively

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Dear Prudence,
I recently married a wonderful man and have encountered quite a quandary. Prior to the wedding, I made a sincere effort to establish a relationship with his parents, a seemingly "white picket fence" couple. As I got to know his mother, however, she would have several glasses of wine during dinners with just the two of us and discuss how unhappy she was in her marriage. I always tried to steer the conversation elsewhere on these occasions and began to see less and less of her for fear she might confess to the affair I suspected she was having, and I would be obligated to tell my fiance. During one of our wedding showers, she had a few too many and pulled some of my family to the side to tell them she had been in love with another man for 10 years and wanted to leave her husband. Aside from the sheer inappropriateness of her actions, I was left wondering what to do—she didn't confess it to me, but I still know about it. She takes "trips" with her friend nearly every weekend, and always wants to pull me aside when my husband and I visit to tell me the latest reason she's unhappy with her marriage. I want to get along with her, but I cannot put myself in the position of being her ally. To be honest, it's so obvious to me that she's having an affair that I can't figure out why my husband—or hers—doesn't know. When it all comes crashing down, I don't want to be in the middle. My allegiance lies with my husband, but I don't want to make a rookie mistake by telling him what she's divulged to my family and to me. Do I spill the beans or keep this to myself?

—In the Middle

Dear In,
The wild card here is that Prudie believes, generally, that husbands and wives not keep secrets from each other. In your case, however, she will make an exception. Chances are that both husbands—yours and hers—know about her unhappiness, her booze problem, and her stepping out. For some people, it is less painful to play dumb. And if neither man knows, so much the better. Do not interject yourself into this sad tale unless asked. (You can only wind up in the middle if you put yourself there.) And you've learned an interesting life lesson about the seeming "white picket fence couples," wouldn't you agree?

—Prudie, reticently