Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 29 2006 6:23 AM

Kitty Litter

Is my girlfriend's cat wrecking my marriage hopes, or does she just refuse to move on?

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Get "Dear Prudence" delivered to your inbox each week; click here to sign up. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Dear Prudie,
I can't believe I'm actually in this ridiculous situation. I am in my late 30s, dating a wonderful woman the same age. We've known each other for seven years, been best friends for five, and have dated for two of those. Why the wait? My girlfriend is a widow. She married her high-school sweetheart when she was 21 and he died in an accident less than a year later. Understandably, she has been hesitant to move forward with any commitment to another guy. I decided a long time ago that I wanted to marry this awesome woman, but I have been sensitive to her need to move slowly. I have tried to show her that I respect her love for her deceased husband and her slight sense of guilt in "moving on." When I finally thought the time was right, I asked her to marry me. She said that she wasn't quite ready and she wanted to hold off on marriage plans until her cat died. (Strange as it sounds, I felt it was a reasonable request since she and her husband got this cat together when they were married.) This cat, Pumpkin, was 16 when we made the agreement and seemed to be on his last legs. Prudie, that was almost three years ago. I hate to pressure my girlfriend to break our agreement, but this cat is a freak of nature that is ruining my chance at happiness! What to do?

—Non-Cat Lover

Dear Non,
Believe me, Pumpkin, who is now the equivalent of 80 in human years, has long since moved on. Your girlfriend did suffer a terrible loss when she was young, but that was heading toward two decades ago. Either she is truly stuck and needs some counseling, or she doesn't really want to marry you but enjoys your company and stringing you along. I have the feeling that once Pumpkin turns into a pumpkin, your girlfriend may enter an extended period of mourning over him that leaves her unable to contemplate marriage. While Pumpkin might have nine lives, you have only one, and you have to get going with it. Tell her you need her to set the date now, or you'll have to look for someone with less emotionally complicated pets.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My husband's father left his mother before my husband was born. Although he'd already had three children with her, he announced that he "wasn't father material" and took off. He never paid child support. My husband has seen his father four times in his entire life. He did receive a letter from his father when he graduated from college, hinting at a desire to pursue a relationship and the possibility of "helping out his dad in his old age." My husband responded in a letter that the time for a relationship had long passed and that he wasn't interested in beginning one now. We just had our first child, and my husband's mother, brothers, and sister are asking whether we're going to tell his father about the birth. My husband intends to tell our son, should he ever inquire, that his grandfather is dead. I feel this is dishonest, but am not sure what to say. My husband doesn't want our son to ever worry about the possibility of his leaving—he fears that knowing a father could do that would make him insecure. Is my husband right?

—Mommy in the Middle

Dear Mommy,
Your child is quite a ways from being able to form the word "Da-Da," so you've got years before he wonders as to the whereabouts of his missing grandfather. Your husband's father may be dead to your husband, but he is not dead. That your husband has announced his decision to tell your son he is says he is grappling with his own feelings about his father, and his anxieties about what kind of father he will be. He surely wants to be an honest one. Someday your husband's father will die, and you want to tell your son the truth about that. Since the other family members (including grandpa's ex-wife!) are urging your husband to contact his father, it sounds as if his siblings have some kind of relationship with the man. I generally think it's worth reconsidering decisions involving family relationships ("I'll never speak to him again!") when the appropriate moment presents itself. Your husband is at such a moment. It may make the most sense for him to stick with having no contact, since the man was never a father to him in the first place. But why not let one of the siblings send a letter and photo announcing the new grandson? It doesn't mean a relationship has to follow—and all requests for money can be ignored. But anything that would help your husband let go of his understandable bitterness about his father will likely help his own journey into fatherhood.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
For as long as I can remember I have been accused of being overly sensitive and having thin skin. My response to an attack has always been to remove myself from the situation or room to let things blow over. When I'm alone, I tend to continue the fight mentally, insulting the person or defending myself in the privacy of my own mind. After a short time, I usually forget about whatever issue ruffled my feathers in the first place and move on. If the attack is too much to forget, then I simply act as polite as necessary and pretend to have forgotten. I have been advised and instructed by family members and co-workers that when involved in any kind of disagreement that I need to face things and talk about them. This has never worked for me, as I usually end up in an embarrassing puddle of tears. How do I face mean people without spitting insults in retaliation or crying my eyes out for all to see?

—Thin Skin

Dear Thin,
Unless you're running for elective office, it's unlikely you're actually under constant attack. Part of you knows you're overreacting to casual comments or meaningless slights, yet you continue to see your life as a series of assaults. Yes, when one is in a disagreement, it is generally better to try to talk things out, but not if your catalog of disagreement runs as long as the U.S. tax code. It is a huge help that you know you have a problem. However, the problem is not how to retaliate without crying, but how to close the gap between reality and your perception of it. You need therapy. I've recommended it before, but cognitive therapy, which deals with retraining how you think about your problems, could be a good place to start. You might also want to take a look at the book How Proust Can Change Your Life, which explores the lessons in the life and work of the notoriously thin-skinned writer.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am to be a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding next year and offered to have a shower. I was given a list of approximately 100 ladies. I am a college student and live at home. My mother has hosted many large events in our home and all have turned out wonderfully, so the bride is excited about my having it, but I am uncomfortable that my parents would have to pick up most of the tab. The bride has further informed me that due to financial restraints from her parents, I will not be allowed a guest on my wedding invitation. I am currently not dating, but I have to admit I was a bit offended.

—Bewildered Bridesmaid

Dear Bewildered,
First, the bride is correct that she has no obligation to invite a Mr. X to her wedding. And why would you want to bring one? Weddings are famously conducive venues for meeting a new Mr. X. But attending the wedding may become moot when you deal with all that the bride is incorrect about. To summarize Emily Post's Etiquette: The shower should take place within a couple of months of the wedding; the shower guests should be wedding guests; the event should be intimate. Tell the bride that since you have plenty of time to get the guest list into shape, you look forward to a list whittled down to 20 or fewer friends—that's the maximum you can comfortably host. If she insists on inviting every female she knows, you must bow out of shower-hostess duties. Then be prepared to be involuntarily bowed out of bridesmaid and even wedding-guest duties—as you're not fulfilling her desire to turn her wedding into an episode of Supermarket Sweep.

—Prudie