My parents divorced a few years ago. My brother and I, both adults, were saddened, and were even more dismayed when we learned that our father's affair had precipitated it—he had always been a strict and moral man. The woman with whom he had the affair seemed to be a gold digger. After my parents split, our father moved across the country to make a "fresh start," and the gold digger and her young children followed. For a while, he flew in a couple of times a year to visit us. Eventually he married the gold digger. We were not invited to his wedding, and he didn't tell us about it until later. Neither my brother nor I have ever met the gold digger. This Christmas, we sent him a gift, but neither I nor my children received anything from him. He did call on New Year's Day, and we had a pleasant conversation. I feel very hurt. Clearly, my father is choosing the gold digger over us and his grandchildren. I'm contemplating writing my father a letter (probably very similar to this one) to explain how his choice hurts and disappoints me, and inviting him to come spend some time with my family. Do you think writing the letter is a bad idea? Would it be better to seethe quietly and not make a fuss? Or simply to extend an invitation to visit us? Are there other options for improving our relationship, or is it time to just let him go?
—Far Away and Forgotten Daughter
Dear Far Away,
Of course you'd rather not give up on your father, and you'd like to maintain what relationship you can. That means accepting some painful, even inexcusable things: He's not the man you thought he was; your old relationship with him is dead; he has chosen his new family over you. I agree that a letter is a good idea, but it should not be like the one you sent me. Rehashing his bad behavior and how he's hurt you is not the way to go. He's already built some thick walls around his guilt, and a letter like that will only add to the fortification. Also, his new wife may be a gold digger, and surely would like his previous family to fall down a mine shaft, but you're digging yourself into a psychological hole by dwelling on her. After all, your father is responsible for his own behavior. Write him a letter that acknowledges it's been painful for you to have drifted so far apart, and say you are searching for a way for you and your children to feel closer to him. Tell him that it must be hard to keep all the parts of his life divided, and that you and your children would like to meet his wife and stepchildren. Say you know things will never be as they were before the divorce, but you still love him and your children still want him to be their grandfather. And send the letter to his office, not his home.
Dear Prudence Video: The Snonker
I've been married to a wonderful man for five years. About a month ago, I walked in on him watching a pornographic video, and I'm pretty sure he has no idea that I saw what he was doing. Our sex life is usually incredible, but ever since this incident, I've felt very down. Every time we're intimate, I wonder if he's just thinking about the women in his videos, I'm feeling less attractive, I wonder what he's doing when I'm not around, I'm suspicious when he doesn't respond to my advances, and worst, I'm feeling less attracted to him. When he asks what's wrong, I don't know what to tell him. Should I talk to him about this to try to resolve my feelings, and if so, how? Or is this something that women just have to learn to live with?
—Talk or Deal
Among the wonderful things about the personal sexual videos that unspool in our heads is that they're free, legal, and enclosed in a sealed container. You get to retain these deeply private thoughts even as you two share the greatest intimacy. You say your sex life has so far been incredible, so there's no purpose in knowing if, during these encounters, your husband has had fleeting fantasies that you have DD breasts—just as it's unnecessary for him to be told that every so often you pretend he's George Clooney. This doesn't mean you should continue to withhold the information that you walked in on him while he was watching porn. He's surely picked up that something is wrong, and it's not fair to make him wonder why you seem so distant. Try not to be judgmental about the video, but be honest enough to say that you are surprised at how powerfully it's affected you and how insecure it's made you feel. Since your marriage is good and your husband is wonderful, you two should be able to air this issue, and he should be able to reassure you that his indulgence has nothing to do with his feelings for you. But if you continue to feel unmoored (or in the unlikely event your husband confesses his helplessness in the face of his porn addiction), seek some individual or joint counseling so your marriage doesn't founder.
I am African, and I've found that a lot of times when people meet me, they ask the dumbest questions. (Do you live in trees? Do you have houses? etc., etc.) Now, I understand that people in the United States know next to nothing about Africa because of what they see (or don't see) in the mainstream media. My response used to be to explain, but lately, I've been taking the sarcastic route. For example, if someone says, "You speak really good English," I say, "Thank you, and so do you," or if someone asks if we live in trees, I answer enthusiastically, "Yes, and our tree is right next to the American embassy tree." But sadly, there are cases where this has gone right over the recipient's head. What is the proper way of dealing with ignorance without having to spend time explaining yet again, or coming across as having a chip on my shoulder?
—Tired of the Dumb Questions
You don't say what the circumstances are in which you have to answer these appalling inquiries (although praising the English of someone who speaks with an accent is a harmless compliment). If you're dealing with clients or customers, you're under different pressure to be courteous than if you're chatting with a stranger in line at the bank. If you're in a work setting, saying simply, but with a small shake of the head, "No, we don't live in trees," allows you to be both polite and to express rue at being asked such a question. As for everyone else, I like your sarcastic answers. And I don't think it's sad; I think it's rather wonderful that you can land a zinger without the target even knowing he or she has been hit. But you are also under no obligation to respond at all. An incredulous look can have its own eloquence.
I met a great guy at a board-game party, and we really hit it off. There was a lot of one-on-one interaction, joking, and flirtation between the two of us. When he knew the answers, he'd whisper them to me, when I knew, I'd whisper them to him, our knees and arms were touching most of the night, and he even grasped my hand at one point. My two girlfriends even noticed, and after we'd left, they said that the flirtation was completely mutual. The guy came with us to the door when we left, and asked if I had any plans for the rest of the weekend. I said I didn't. I was sure he was going to ask for my number or suggest plans for later, but he didn't (granted, the window of time was not enormous as I headed out the door), and I'm really disappointed. I'm 26, so I've had my share of dating experiences, and I've concluded I generally like for the guy to take the initiative in the beginning. Is this misguided? I just think I've gotten better results when the guy takes the lead (or at least thinks he does!). Is there any way to still salvage this initial spark?
—Wishing for a "Closer"
He may have monopolized your time over Monopoly, but when the crucial moment came, he acted as if he hadn't a Clue. There's a good chance he has been brooding about how dorky he seemed at the door, and the longer he's gone without tracking you down, the dorkier he feels about it. It's also possible that he was about to ask you out when he remembered he's, ah, actually dating someone else and he should behave himself. But why torture yourself wondering? Forget your rule about the man making the first move and either call, e-mail, or friend him on Facebook—whatever is easier for you—and give him another chance to demonstrate he's capable of non-Trivial Pursuit.