Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 9 2007 7:34 AM

My Mourning Jacket

Just how long am I supposed to grieve over my late husband?

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Dear Prudence,
I unexpectedly lost my husband two and a half years ago. We were married 17 years and had a wonderful, happy marriage. I can honestly say that the only regret I have is that we didn't have more time together. After several months of debilitating grief, I made the conscious decision to put my life back together and believe that I could be happy again. I know that's what my late husband would have wanted. About a year after he died, I met a wonderful man by  pure chance. We fell in love, and were married 22 months after my first husband's death. Not all, but many of my family, friends, and co-workers are critical of this marriage. When I was the long-suffering widow, everyone was supportive and caring, but now that I have found happiness again, people say that I didn't grieve properly and that I rushed into this relationship. One (former) friend even said that I was acting like my late husband never existed and she couldn't be my friend anymore because, unlike me, she still loved him and missed him. I miss my late husband every day. I probably always will, but I have discovered that grief and happiness can co-exist. I am a 49-year-old professional woman. My husband makes more money and has a nicer home than me, so being taken advantage of isn't the issue. Do these people have a valid point? How long is it proper to wait, and how do I handle it when people say these hurtful things?

—No Longer a Widow

Dear No Longer,
Thank you for your observation that grief and happiness can co-exist. How sad that some of those who should be most pleased for you have decided they know better than you how long you should mourn. In any case, meeting someone a year after your husband's death and marrying two years later is well outside the limits of anything that should raise eyebrows. You don't owe anyone an explanation. But since you are troubled by the comments of some friends and family members, tell them what you told me: that you will miss your late husband every day of the rest of your life, and that you know he would want for you—as you would have wanted for him—to find love again.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I'm writing after another embarrassing meal with my parents. My husband, sister, brother-in-law, and I went out for brunch with my parents at a nice restaurant. My dad talked and laughed loudly and described in too much detail a burning poison ivy rash he had on one nipple; he joked that "the milk comes out hot or cold, depending on the side." As if this was not enough, my mom chimed in, "Remember when Debra [not my real name] had that bad nipple rash from the chlorine in the pool?" I gave her a disapproving look, hoping she would realize how obtrusive her comment was, but she just said, "What?" and offered more details. Holiday meal times with them often involve off-color jokes and lots of disgusting bathroom humor. My sister and brother-in-law think Mom and Dad are a hoot. I find it embarrassing that they don't appear to understand appropriate public behavior. My husband and I plan to have children, and I want them to understand propriety as they grow up. Should I confront my parents about this ongoing behavior? If so, how do I do it without appearing condescending or ungrateful?

—Losing My Appetite

Dear Losing,
Hey, Sis, I don't remember the one about your chlorinated nipple—how did I miss that? Because I grew up in a family in which stories about the bodily functions and embarrassing mishaps—preferably both—of those gathered around the table were the main topic of conversation, I can assure you that confronting your parents about how uncomfortable they make you feel will only cause them to dredge up vivid memories of your toilet training. Frankly, your father's story had me laughing, and since at family events, he and your mother have an eager audience in your sister and brother-in-law, your disapproval will always be trumped by their enthusiasm. This is not to say you don't have a legitimate gripe; the problem is, there's not much you can do about it. Family get-togethers are not a daily occurrence, so when they happen, do your best to mentally tune out the toilet jokes. When you become parents, you will set more socially acceptable standards in your own home. However, my theory about one's appetite for inappropriate table talk is that it is both a function of conditioning and genetics. Don't be surprised if your perfectly raised children come home from a visit with your parents saying that when Grampa and Grandma talk about poopy at the table, it makes them laugh so hard they spew milk out their noses.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
I'm a fiftysomething professional who has been very happily married for 25 years. My wife and I have been very good friends for 10 years with another couple with whom we share many interests. They are our best friends, and it would be difficult to lose them. The wife of this couple made several overtures last year, which I rebuffed with as much joviality as I could muster, followed by a feigned chuckle. I didn't mention this to my wife at the time, but did tell her months later. This caused much distress. My wife wondered if the woman was just kidding and perhaps it all was more in my mind than in our friend's. Then last week, it happened again. I treated it lightheartedly again, but what now? Should I mention it to my wife? Should I tell the woman that's it, we're done, we're out of here? Should I say, "I love you as a dear, dear friend, but please stop?" At this point, she could say, "What, you thought I was serious? Interested in you?"

—Not Interested in Her

Dear Not,
After more than a year of propositions, yes, it's time to stop the feigned chuckling and deal with it directly. First, tell your wife it's happened again—even though she reacted badly, you don't want to tacitly deceive her about the situation. Then tell your friend, "Marilyn, nothing is ever going to happen between us. I have told my wife about this. We both love you and Charlie dearly, and we want to continue our friendship. You have to stop this immediately so we can." Sure, she can act like she doesn't know what you're talking about, in which case the woman not only wants to screw you, but she has multiple screws loose, and you might lose her friendship anyway. She could also be so embarrassed that she pulls away from the relationship. Ideally, she will apologize, stop the advances, and you all will get back to normal if your wife is a confident and forgiving person who can still stand to be in the same room with her.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I have been together for a little over six months. When we started dating, he was very open about the fact that he had been married briefly during his stint in the Coast Guard, and been divorced for a few years. He says she was a mistake, and he married out of homesickness and youth. My problem is that she seems to be everywhere. We visit his parents' house quite often, and family photos with her in them are displayed all over. We live in a small town, and she frequents the place I work. I've mentioned the pictures and having to see her around town to my boyfriend a few times, and he always answers in an offhand way that he can't ask his parents to take down family photos, and that short of moving, I can't entirely avoid her. I try to make a point of ignoring her presence in the pictures, but it's eating away at me that she's always there. His parents never particularly liked her, and I know they wouldn't mind putting a few pictures away if they realized I was uncomfortable. Am I being immature for wanting her gone for good? Is it rude to ask them to take down family memories even though most are of her and only one or two other people?

—Not Jealous

Dear Not,
Six months is not long enough for you to ask your boyfriend's parents to redecorate for your emotional comfort. At this point, they probably don't even register that the ex is in the photos, just that it's a nice shot of the trip to Yosemite. You say you're "Not Jealous," but if that were the case, a few snapshots of her wouldn't be "eating away" at you. Think about it—you're obsessed over a long-finished relationship with a woman your boyfriend has no interest in and his parents didn't like. There is, however, a way to at least symbolically bring her back into your boyfriend's life: by making your insecurity over her an issue in your relationships with him and his parents.

—Prudie