Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 15 2007 7:17 AM

Perfect Stranger

I've discovered terrible things about my new wife. Should I leave her?

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Dear Prudence,
I was married a year and a half ago, after a probably too-brief courtship, to a woman who soon after the wedding was diagnosed as bipolar. I later discovered she had a previous history of mental illness that she had concealed from me. I feel as if I'm living with an emotional terrorist—I never know where or when the next bomb is going to go off. She is now on medication and things have gotten better, but better still isn't good. Intimacy, partnership, and equality are no longer real possibilities. We haven't slept in the same bed for over a year. Yes, we've tried counseling, and no, nothing improved. My wife is also financially irresponsible and routinely bounces checks. I discovered that she had tens of thousands of dollars in defaulted debt. I know that anyone reading this letter is going to say, "It's been less than two years, you were lied to, get out while you're still sane." But I feel tremendously guilty over the idea of abandoning someone who is mentally ill, and who in all likelihood could not survive on her own financially. Yet I also feel that I can't live the rest of my life trapped like this. I just need an impartial voice to tell me that if I end it, I'm not going to be condemned to hell for needing to move on in order to survive. If you're that voice, please speak up now. If you think I'm evading my responsibilities, please let me know.

—Torn

Dear Torn,
You're not goingto be condemned to hell—you're already there. Bipolar disorder is a terrible illness, though fortunately it can be treated and controlled. But your wife sounds as if she's a long way from stability, if she will ever get there. At the least, she was obligated to disclose her mental and financial history to you. She didn't, so your marriage began in deceit. You say your survival is at stake here, so the question is not staying or going—it's how you go while doing the least damage to a woman you cared for enough to marry. You should discuss with both a therapist and a lawyer your desire to help her make the transition back to being on her own. And while you're talking to that therapist, try to figure out how you entered into a marriage with a virtual stranger.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
As I child, I was called by a diminutive form of my given name, but as I grew older, I disliked the nickname and worked hard to get people to use my given name. A few people in my life are allowed to use it as a term of endearment—my mother, my husband, and my stepdaughter, with whom I am close. My college-age stepson recently moved back into our home after an absence of four years. Due to his past behavior (lying, stealing, refusing to work), I don't trust him and am guarded in my dealings with him. I avoid spending a lot of time with him, but am polite and try to treat him like family for my husband's sake. He has begun calling me by this nickname, which makes me cringe. Is there any way to tell him not to use my nickname, when he hears my husband and stepdaughter use it regularly?

—Proper Name, Please

Dear Proper,
What should he call you, Stepmommy Dearest? It's good that you're trying to treat your stepson like family, because he is family. He may be a troubled, unpleasant part of your family, and it may be understandably difficult for you to have him underfoot, but it must also be painful for him to be treated with such obvious aversion. You can hardly prohibit one member of the household from addressing you with the pet name others are allowed to use. Maybe your stepson is ready to leave his rocky teenage years behind; think of how beneficial it would be for him to feel accepted by you. So, when he calls you calls you Mimsy or Bipsy or whatever it is, just cringe and bear it.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am a 34-year-old businessman who looks 24. I've always looked younger than my age, but it doesn't bother me personally. (Once, when I was 20, I was mistaken for a 13-year-old.) In my profession, I nearly always speak with someone on the phone a number of times before I meet them in person (if ever). Business deals are started and often closed without two people meeting face to face. On the phone, due to my very deep voice, knowledgeable manner, and valuable industry experience, people tend to picture me as a 50-year-old. I almost always go out of my way to inform people of my age and/or years in business. When I end up meeting one of these people, it usually elicits some level of shock. Many people have actually said, "Gee, I thought you were older." I get the feeling sometimes that they feel duped or unsure of all the good qualities they believed I had. I've been avoiding meeting up with business clients lately because of these misconceptions. What should I do, besides put talcum powder in my hair?

—Looks Like a College Student

Dear Looks,
I will guard your identity from predatory cosmetic companies who would like to swoop in and extract some of your stem cells. If looking young is a liability, this is going to be crushing news to the makers of Botox and Restylane. Stop feeling self-conscious about your good fortune—preemptively reassuring people about your age and experience is bound to come off as oddly defensive. If clients remark on your youthfulness, you can say, "I'm lucky I got my parents' good genes—I'm actually 34." Then, enjoy your genetic jackpot for as long as it lasts. Just look at Dick Clark to know that eventually time catches up with even the most perpetually ageless.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
My husband and I are expecting our first child in June. I will have at least five showers. I was wondering if it would be acceptable to ask that one of my showers be a "gift card shower" from a particular store. We have picked out baby furniture from a store, and we know that furniture is not an item that an individual can go out and buy alone. We also know the possibilities of duplicate gifts from five showers. Should I just tell the people hosting the shower that if anyone asks what to get, to suggest a gift card from the store, or would it be acceptable to have the theme of the shower be "Babies 'R Us Gift Card Shower"?

—Mother-To-Be

Dear Mother,
If it hasn't been long since the wedding, I assume your friends are still recovering financially from your five bridal showers. To ease your burden of coming up with a theme for each of your "at least" five baby showers, cancel at least four of them. (How is it that someone ends up having five baby showers, anyway?) The theme of your baby shower (singular) is that you are starting a happy new part of your life and your friends want to help you with that transition. The theme is not scoring enough stuff to start your own baby-goods store. As for how to let people know what you'd like—it's customary for the hostess to tell the guests where the mother-to-be is registered.

—Prudie