Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 18 2007 6:37 AM

Poison Penned

How can I get an embarrassing letter back from the man I sent it to?

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Dear Prudie,
About a year into my current relationship with N, I had a brief but intense affair with B. In my infatuation, I was convinced that smarmy, boorish B was the love of my life. Soon, however, B became insecure about my continued attachment to N and broke it off—whereupon I wrote him a lengthy, painstaking masterpiece of a love letter, with hopes of winning him back. Shortly thereafter I realized how stupid this was—and more important, how wrong B had been for me all along. I have also been happier than ever with N since then and hope to share a future with him. While the affair itself is utterly dead to me, the letter remains an anguishing, shameful residue. I want it back. It's not that I fear it'd be made public somehow. (I did discuss the affair with N—leaving out the part about the letter.) I just hate the thought of letting this deeply personal thing I crafted remain in the possession of someone I now emphatically regard as a stranger, wholly undeserving of such a gift. I also hate the thought of contacting B at all. Yet the matter continually bothers me and I want to be free of it. What's your advice on how to get it back, or how to let it go?

—Belle Lettriste

Dear Belle,
It sounds as if you've read Les Liaisons Dangereuses one too many times. What a cad B is for not understanding that your cheating was a sign of your sophistication, not your perfidy. How dare he not be persuaded by your epistolary masterpiece, and instead retain a document of which he is so undeserving. Oy gevalt, get off it already! You think the issue is what to do about this letter, but the real issue is the casualness with which you treat people you supposedly love. You sent the letter to B, so it's rightfully his now—if he hasn't put this glorious manuscript through the shredder. What's the point of asking for it back except to incite more drama (and what's to stop B from keeping a copy even if he did return it)? Be grateful N is either the forgiving type, or a chump, and stay away from quill pens.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I'm a married woman, late 40s, with five wonderful children. My husband is a year younger than me. It disturbed me initially, because I just did not want to be married to someone younger. But my friends encouraged me, saying it was OK and that if I liked him, I should not let our age come between us. We got married but never told anyone he was younger. For some time, it still bothered me, since I didn't want to look older than him—and I didn't. Even after five children, I used to get a lot of compliments about how young I looked. About three years ago, he decided to get a permanent wig stuck to his head, which made him look at least 20 years younger than his age, and now he looks as old as my 20-year-old son. It makes me uncomfortable to go out with him, as I look so much older now. He knows how I feel about it, but doesn't really care, because he's enjoying the attention. He seems to have gained some confidence since his hairdo, and is really friendly with younger women. I am miserable.

—Older Wife

Dear Older,
When people talk about someone having a younger spouse, they are referring to years, not months. Your husband just doesn't qualify as a younger man. Let me also assure you that having something that resembles a dead muskrat glued to his head does not make a man in his 40s look like a college student, it makes him look like a fool. But instead of feeling terrible about how old you look, go get a makeover. Then people will be wondering what that attractive woman sees in the guy wearing a rodent.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I am the youngest child of two great parents, who are both now in their 70s. They are in relatively good health and mentally sound. While home for the holidays (the first time in almost a year), I noticed that their house has become very dirty—dust everywhere, grungy bathrooms, crumbs on the kitchen counters, etc. The dishwasher doesn't work properly and still-dirty dishes are put in the cupboard. Mom was never a white-glove type, but the house was never dirty. I'm afraid that the dust and mold in the house could eventually make my parents sick, and that the unclean conditions could attract mice and bugs. I have two dilemmas. One, I want to pay for a good thorough cleaning for the family home but don't know how to give this gift to Mom and Dad without offending them (especially Mom). Two, I would also love to hire my sister to do the cleaning; her family isn't doing well financially and she lives very close to my parents. How do I make these two offers?

—In the Dust

Dear Dust,
It's clear that your parents need a regular housekeeper or service, not a once-over. Are they financially able to pay for this? If so, touchy though the subject might be, you need to tell them that you were concerned that the house seemed less clean than usual and that it's time they took some of the burden of maintaining it off of themselves. If they can't afford it, before you bring it up, consider whether you want to cover or chip in for a monthly cleaning. As for hiring your sister, unless she has worked as a housekeeper, I'm afraid it's just too touchy for one sister to offer to pay the other to scrub their parents' toilet.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am married for the first time (five years) to a man who has three children from his former marriage. The children and I get along pretty well, and they are sweet, intelligent, and polite. My husband insists on buying them what I feel are exorbitant presents, and it drives me crazy! I am sort of a tightwad, but I also keep us in the black instead of the red. I come from a family of seven, and we could not afford to buy everything we wanted. I feel I'm better off because of this. Maybe I'm also peeved because my stepson drives a truck that my husband bought, while I'm driving the same car I purchased over 12 years ago. When I mention this to him, he says, "Well, then buy a new car"! I don't want to purchase a new car until we get his new car and truck paid off. I love my husband to death, and he is a good and generous man. He loves his kids, and since he sees them mostly on weekends, he is only trying to make them happy. Despite all the gifts, the kids never initiate phone calls; my husband always has to call and this makes him very sad, even though all his children have their own cell phones (I do not). Should I just back off and learn to accept this? We both work, and he does make more than I do, but half his check goes to monthly insurance and child support.

—Ticked Off

Dear Ticked,
Keeping your mouth shut is an investment in the future of your marriage and your relationship with your stepchildren. He may overindulge them financially, and they may not be as grateful as you would like, but if you set yourself up in opposition to his kids, you will lose, even if you nag him enough to get him to cut back on the spending. Despite your qualms, you say you like your stepchildren. Assuming you want to stay married to their father, you will be involved with them for the rest of your life. How much satisfaction will you get from seeing more money go to you, not them, at the expense of the good feeling you all now have? You married a man with three children, that means you have to share him with them. You've been doing so graciously so far. In years to come, you'll be glad you kept it that way.

—Prudie