When my husband's mother passed away, we were a month away from our wedding. My first contact with his two sisters was when they were whisking her belongings to their cars, before even making arrangements to have their mother's remains taken to a funeral home. They fought long and loud over who got what, even as their mother was lowered into her grave. After all this, my husband refused to send them a wedding invitation. I can't say I was disappointed, but my current problem is an extension of this. Their mother possessed three rings. My husband kept the wedding ring set. The sisters inherited the other two. They are extremely upset over the fact that I have willed my wedding ring to my daughter from a previous marriage. My husband calls my daughter his own, but they make rude comments about how wrong it is that I am not keeping the ring in the family—they say I'm not family because they didn't witness any marriage. They make threats to sue my daughter for the ring after my death. Should I have the ring buried with me, or should I just hope my girl can deal with the situation?
—Ring Around the Collar
Don't jump into the grave any time soon just to stick it to Goneril and Regan. Since you and the sisters are of the same generation, it's likely that to make good on their threat to sue your daughter, they will have to use the services of a medium. Or maybe their desire for the ring will give them a longevity boost, allowing them to finally twist it off your cold, dead finger. In other words, it's not worth worrying about. Don't be surprised if over the years this pair comes up with other equally inane issues to badger you about. But your husband made an amateur move in excluding them from the wedding as punishment. They sound like professionals at manufacturing grievances; you two shouldn't have given them such a juicy legitimate one.
One of my best friends is bulimic. She is an average size for a 14-year old, and I do not feel she needs to lose any weight. A teacher has found out about her problem and is going to confront her family, but she doesn't seem to care. Sometimes she says to me, "I have lost 10 pounds in the last week." I don't know how to respond. I told her that I will always be behind her, but I don't support the decisions she's making. She got upset and walked away. Sometimes I try to stop her from throwing up. Sometimes, when she says she needs to go to the bathroom, I insist on going with her but she never lets me. I don't know what to do. I don't want to lose one of my best friends, but I don't want her to hurt herself before she gets help, either.
You are a good friend, but this problem is too big for a 14-year-old to handle. It's a relief that a teacher knows about this and is going to tell her parents. You should also tell your parents what you've told me. They should call your friend's parents to reinforce the severity of the situation. You are not being disloyal to her by doing this. Your friend has a serious illness and she needs treatment—part of what makes bulimia so dangerous is that people who have it try to hide it. You have already helped your friend in standing by her and being honest enough to tell her you are upset by her behavior. You can't be responsible for monitoring her, but if you know the bulimia is continuing, you should continue to tell adults—your parents and even the school guidance counselor. And make sure you talk to them about how this makes you feel—it's very hard to see a friend hurt herself and not be able to stop it.
I'm in a personal moral bind involving a very close friend I've known for 10 years. The quandary involves his extracurricular activities. He is now engaged to his girlfriend of 11 years, with a wedding date set for the fall. He's told me that over the years he has had long-term affairs with several women (most of whom I know) and continues to fool around. Recently he gave me his word that he would stop with his latest fling. I know now that he has not kept his word. The late-night phone calls to me from his fiancee as to his whereabouts confirm this. I cannot be an accessory to his philandering. And I see disaster whenever I'm with the two of them. I also do not want to lose my friend of so many years; I just want him to get better and behave like an adult. What do I owe him? His fiancee? Myself?
—Stretched on the Rack
Getting engaged to the woman he's cheated on for 11 years did not reform him, so think how little his promise to you must have meant. He's a compulsive cheater who is unlikely to get better. You have to decide if you enjoy him enough to accept this. Behavior you would find intolerable in a spouse can sometimes be overlooked in a friend. (His future spouse obviously has a higher tolerance than you.) Whatever you decide about continuing the friendship, you have no obligation to assist in his deceit. Give him a heads-up that from now on when his fiancee calls you late at night looking for him, you're going to be direct and tell her, "I assume he's with 'Cindy.' " Because you're concerned about their impending disaster, you could also have a talk with the fiancee. But since she's put up with an ongoing disaster for more than a decade, if she wants to formalize this mess of a relationship, she has psychological issues as intractable as your friend's.
What can you tell me about Canadians? I live in the Southern Hemisphere and for the past two and a half years, I've been dating a sixtysomething Canadian intellectual who lives and works here. We get along beautifully most of the time, but on occasion we slip into what he refers to as cultural conflict: He does and says things I find offensive. If I tell him I don't like it, he accuses me of being narrow-minded, unsophisticated, and insular, and tells me how Canadians are way beyond all that uptight stuff. He told a friend of his about our favorite sexual fantasy. He recently took my hand and placed it on his crotch, in front of a male friend of mine, as the punch line to a story he was telling. He thinks it's OK to have noisy sex when my children are within earshot. Is this man as typical of his nation, as he claims? Or am I really that uptight and parochial?
There's a reason the expressions Saskatchewan Swordsman and Calgary Casanova are not as well-known as Latin Lover. (Although I concede I am given pause by the phrase Canadian Mountie.) Give your old goat credit for originality—I've never heard anyone ascribe being from above the 49th parallel as an excuse for inappropriate crudity. Tell him either he stops violating your perfectly reasonable sense of propriety or you'll really remind him of home by giving him a dose of Arctic chill.