Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 4 2007 6:09 AM

Age Isn't Everything

Are some people just too old or too young for wedded bliss?

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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 recently married a wonderful, but considerably older, man. We both were divorced; my marriage was short-lived, and his lasted 14 years. We each have a child from these previous relationships. I love him dearly. About a year into our marriage, I've realized the problem with an older partner—he's already experienced the things I still look forward to: building a home, planning for future vacations, even having pets. He's convinced he's outgrown all these things because he's already done them. I have so much respect for him and our relationship that I'd like to be able to live with that, but don't know if I can. I find myself wanting to experience some things whether he's with me or not, things like getting a pet. I don't want to disrespect him, but I don't want to squander my best years waiting to grow old!

—Young Thang

Dear Young,
When you were dating, were there clues to the problem you're now facing? Did he think a romantic dinner consisted of making it to the Early Bird Special? Did he ask you to get him a truss for his birthday? If he thinks he's too old for vacations or pets, maybe he wasn't looking for a wife, but an assisted-living attendant. While you make him sound like he has one foot in the grave, you give the impression you have one foot out the door. Do you really want to leave a second marriage of only a year? You need to initiate a series of talks with your husband about what you each want out of life, so you can find those things about which you already agree, those you are willing to give up, and those he is willing to experience again. Tell him you two need to make a new life together; you haven't simply signed up to watch the rest of his go by. After all, he may have previously visited Machu Picchu, but he hasn't been there with you. Try to build on what brought you together in the first place—it had to have been something more than a desire to watch PBS pledge-night reruns of The Lawrence Welk Show.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I got married two years ago, when I was 19 and my husband was 25. I have never been happier, and am very much in love. However, when people find out I'm married, they respond in ways that I can't help but find insulting and hurtful. I have had bewildered looks, comments insinuating that I am naive, and reminders that "statistics show" young marriages tend not to last. My own mother, who had a short-lived marriage at my age, has hinted several times that I would be better off not married and that my marriage is temporary. A few weeks ago, I met a girl my age who, upon finding out I was married, responded with a sympathetic, "I bet you must have been scared!" as though I was some sort of medieval child bride. I have even been asked if I got married due to an unexpected pregnancy! How do I handle these comments?

—Not a Child Bride!

Dear Not,
I wonder if the people commenting about the quaintness of your being married then turn around and pester the thirtysomething single women they know about why they aren't married. You need a phrase to brush off these comments. Try something like, "Actually, we feel lucky we found each other." In just a few years, women your age will be getting married in droves, and you will hear far fewer remarks. However, it's one thing to dismiss the comments of acquaintances and another to have your mother trying to undermine your marriage because of her own history. Tell her now that you're married, you'd like to stay that way, and would appreciate if she'd stop referring to your vow as just a whim.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My best friend and I met when we were teenagers. We loved each other dearly (I thought) for 30 years and managed to get together frequently though we lived in other cities. Our husbands were friends. Many years ago, my girlfriend and another woman who lived in her city also became friends. It never bothered me until the last few years of our friendship. Then my friend had an affair, divorced her husband, had a nervous breakdown, and, I discovered, ended our friendship. The last time we spoke was on the phone, and we said we loved one another. That was eight years ago. I was sick at the time, had job problems, and my parents were ill. When I sent an invitation to have some fun together, she didn't reply. I sent her a wonderful gift on her birthday and received a card (mailed from my city) thanking me. I have spent all these years wondering what happened, but felt too proud to call. I am not afraid of rejection from her. I just do not want her and her friend laughing at my letter or the call I might make. I recently found out from her ex-husband that my friend is ill. I would like to offer my good wishes, but I can't seem to pick up the phone. What should I do?

—Frozen

Dear Frozen,
It sounds as if you were both going through terrible times and each felt abandoned by the other. Instead of addressing this, you let the misunderstanding fester. It's also possible that when your friend was having her crisis, she realized by then that you and she were only going through the motions of being close and that she preferred to make the distance permanent. But whether you truly don't mind being rejected by her, or are just telling yourself that, once you prepare yourself for that possibility, what have you got to lose? It's unlikely you two will ever be as close as you were, but having you back in her life could possibly be a great comfort to her now. Whatever happens, you will be glad you started the new year right by picking up the phone.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am the mother of a smart 6-year-old boy who has lately been coming to me and saying, very earnestly and with a little anxiety, that he does not want to die. I don't let him watch violent movies or cartoons. Some people may even think he lives a sheltered life. I don't want to lie to him and tell him he will not die. However, I don't want him scared and anxious. This is such a heavy load for a 6-year-old to bear. Am I doing him a disservice by telling him he won't die, but giving him some peace until he is older and can better comprehend life-and-death matters? Or do I start now to let him know that everyone must die and he shouldn't fear death, and hope it won't lead to psychological consequences? I am at my wit's end.

—Scared and Anxious Mother

Dear Scared,
I talked with child psychologist Dr. Zeynep Biringen about your problem. She pointed out that part of what makes being a parent so hard is that it forces you to confront your own shortcomings and work on them. In your case, you are probably telegraphing your anxiety about how to make him less anxious, thus raising the anxiety levels of both of you. Before you address his question, you need to relax and understand that death is a normal thing for a child his age to wonder and even worry about. As far as answering his question, your son should hear the truth from you, but you can tell him the truth in a gentle way. Let him know that all living things eventually die, but that humans tend to live a very long time. Explain that there's the best chance in the world that both you (because he may actually be worried about your death) and he will live to get very old. Dr. Biringen points out that your son will be listening as much for how you deliver this message as for what you say. You will greatly reassure him by being able to answer his questions with ease and calm.

—Prudie