Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.

Advice on manners and morals.
Sept. 20 2007 7:24 AM

Prison Pal

What should I do now that I've found out my old friend is in prison?

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Dear Prudie,
Since I had not heard from my old work colleague/friend for several months, I decided to give him a call and catch up with him and his family. While trying to find my friend's phone number and address (which I had misplaced), I found a newspaper article from earlier this summer through Google that told me in graphic detail that my old friend was now serving a 14-year sentence, after being found guilty of rape and sexual assault from two years earlier. There were photographs of him exiting the court, and the addresses and other facts left no doubt this was my friend. I was shocked. Now I don't know what to do. We have a couple of mutual friends. When I called and asked them if they had spoken to him recently, they all said no, and obviously have no idea what has happened. Is it my place to break this terrible news to them? I had spoken to him many times over the last couple of years and there was no mention of any potential legal problems on the horizon. Should I contact his wife (whom I know less well) and offer my sympathies, or pretend ignorance and ask to speak to him?

—Googled & Gobsmacked

Dear Googled,
While your friend suffers from a catastrophic lack of restraint, I admire yours. As soon as I found the article, I would have forwarded it to the mutual friends, saying I know why our pal has been giving everyone the silent treatment. Obviously, you have discovered something horrifying about your friend, but this is public information, and I don't think you're violating any code by telling people. Over the long term, it's going to be difficult to keep the news of a 14-year prison sentence for rape from getting around. As for the wife, she must be in agony. It would be a kind thing to do to contact her. Don't pretend you don't know. Tell her you saw an article about what happened, that you are worried about her and the children, and are calling to express your concern and see if there is anything you can do. She may be grateful for your kindness, but if she is hostile or blows you off, understand how difficult it must be to have been so intimate with such darkness.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
My wife and I have been married for two years and are expecting our first child soon. She is very family oriented. I knew this before the marriage and have no issue with it; indeed, it was attractive to me. I grew up in a dysfunctional environment, and left in my late teens to make my own way. I've struggled with my wife's need to include family in everything—from discussing our finances with her family to nearly daily video conferences with her mother to an insistence that their problems are our problems. I offered to have her mother stay with us for four months (she's from abroad) immediately prior to, and after, the birth of our child. She's now staying with us and I think it's great. She is not intrusive, and doesn't insert herself into our married life. My wife, however, wants her to be in the room when she delivers our son. I do not. I want this to be a moment when our family is created, not hers extended. I want my mother and her mother to be there immediately before and after, but not during the actual delivery. My wife cannot understand my point. Help me!

—Expecting an Argument

Dear Expecting,
As you say, one of the things you liked your wife bringing into your life was a close, happy family. It's understandable that for anyone, but especially for you, such closeness can become cloying. Yet your marriage is fairly new and about to undergo a huge change, so now is the time to be flexible about boundaries, especially since your wife has different personal and cultural expectations about how a family behaves. It sounds as if you're lucky in your mother-in-law—she has mastered the art of being around without being in your way. You're right, you're setting yourself up for an argument if you see the birth as the moment your family is created but not hers extended, because to your wife, it's the moment your family is created and hers extended. If you've discussed your feelings with your wife about who gets to be ringside, and she insists she wants her mother there, don't try to push your choice on the person who's going to do the pushing. I think part of your concern stems from the fact that your mother, too, is going to be around, and maybe she'll also ask for a view of the action. That's unlikely, but if she does, explain there will be plenty of time for her to see her grandson after he's born.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
I have a best friend of many years. She has a long-term boyfriend. It's well known to her that I don't think he's a good partner, nor do I like him, but up until now, I've been able to be more or less civil to him. Recently, I broke up with my own boyfriend, and they generously let me stay with them while I was between homes. While I was there, I inadvertently left my e-mail open on the computer. Thinking he had lucked into my girlfriend's e-mail, he tried to check up on her by searching for his name. He turned up some things I'd written about him that were very insulting. He was upset and yelled at my friend, though later apologized, realizing that he hadn't actually turned up anything that incriminated her in any way. I was embarrassed by what I said and sorry that his feelings were hurt. I apologized to the boyfriend, though I probably can't really fix things between us after that. What else can/should I do to make up this mess to my friend?

—No CC

Dear No,
I can see why you don't like this guy. You said mean things about him on your personal computer, in your private e-mail, which he found out about when he took the opportunity to snoop on his girlfriend. And you're the one who feels terrible and is apologizing? Of course it was embarrassing to you, and apologizing is the sensible thing to do. Also sensible is his apology to his girlfriend after his tirade over what you wrote. But probably not forthcoming is the apology he owes you. You could have a private conversation with your girlfriend and say you don't want to belabor the point, but this whole incident has brought home to you your concerns about her relationship—adding that keeping her friendship is really important to you, and you won't bring this up again if she so requests. As for him, remain civil.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
My boyfriend of two years and I live together in an apartment and have a great relationship. We talk about marriage in a vague way—i.e., we both know what kind of cake and music we want, but there's no date and no ring. I'm finishing a master's degree, so I'm in no rush to get married. However, recently we've had discussions about buying a condo. These conversations are much more specific, and we are considering starting the process within the next year. I feel nervous about owning property together before marriage, even though I have no worries about the longevity of our relationship. Is this my inner grandma's voice thinking that the real-estate venture will be his proverbial "free milk" ticket and we'll never get married? Should I push the marriage-before-mortgage issue on moral grounds? Financial? How do I bring this up without becoming a bad chick-lit novel?

—Don't Want To Be Subprime

Dear Don't,
I don't believe that you have no worries about the longevity of your relationship. Everyone reasonably wonders from time to time—especially only two years in—if theirs is a love that will last. Your unease is compounded by the somewhat backwards nature of your discussions about commitment. It's wonderful that you two agree on lemon cake and big band music, but you seem to be waiting for a sign from your boyfriend that these choices have more reality behind them than his rotisserie league baseball team. Why be embarrassed that you want some certainty about your future before you come up with a down payment? You say you have a great relationship, so speak your mind. Tell him you realize you are uncomfortable with the idea of buying real estate together before making a decision about marriage. Then you both can figure out if you're happy leaving things status quo, or if you're ready to decide what's next.

—Prudie