Advice on manners and morals (March 6, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
March 6 2008 7:18 AM

It's No Secret

I told a friend her husband was hiding things from her. Now I can't handle the fallout!

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Dear Prudence,
My friend and I reconnected just over a year ago after no contact since high school. We picked up where we left off and started spending a lot of time together. She married her high-school sweetheart, and they have a beautiful daughter together. My boyfriend was telling me that he doesn't want to get married because all the married guys he knows are miserable and keep secrets from their wives. Although my friend's husband is not one of the miserable ones, he did tell my boyfriend a secret he "keeps from his wife." My boyfriend then threw this in my face during our marriage discussion, and while venting to my friend about my boyfriend, I told her. Now I feel terrible because she wants to know this secret. I don't know what the secret is, but I regret putting their relationship in turmoil. I also fear this will affect our friendship. There is no chance that this secret is infidelity. For all I know, it could be a "secret" surprise for her. She has grilled her husband, and he assures her that he has no secrets from her. I have apologized several times for mentioning it. I wasn't thinking, and I didn't think she would be this upset.  My boyfriend doesn't really remember or know the details of this "secret." How do I reassure my friend that her husband is not lying to her and convince her to let it go?

—Secret Spiller

Dear Secret,
Congratulations! In your boyfriend's quest to prove that all marriages are unhappy and built on deceit, and yours to prove that your boyfriend is a jerk for holding such views, the two of you have managed to release a plume of carbon monoxide into the atmosphere of this happy marriage. Who wouldn't be "this upset" to be told, "Oh, by the way, your husband is keeping a secret from you, but don't ask me what it is, and so, anyway, to get back to my problems …" And since you don't know what the secret is, how can you reassure her it's not infidelity? (My guess is the husband confessed he was attracted to someone else. But who knows?) About the only way you could undo this is if you were to find out that your boyfriend was fibbing, and there was no secret—that he made up the story for his own purposes. In the absence of that confession, there's nothing else you can do, so stop exacerbating things by continuing to whine about how sorry you are. I agree that you have damaged, perhaps fatally, this re-established friendship. But I see one way your friend and her husband could get back on track: when they unite in agreement that they're sorry the two of you ever came into their lives.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence Video: Touchy-Feely Father-In-Law

Dear Prudence,
I'm engaged to the most unromantic man on earth. For Valentine's Day this year, he bought me a box of wine, garlic bread (!), and a card that said, "I'm glad you're my wife," which I'm not—I'm his fiancee of two months. (He obviously didn't even read the card before he bought it.) For my birthday, I got $60 in cash. We've never been on a vacation (in four years together), he's never taken me away for the weekend, he's never surprised me with dinner reservations to a decent restaurant, and he has never sent me flowers. I've dropped hints, I've been direct, I've tried to focus on the positive, and I'm over it. And, yes, he is financially able to do something nice for me. I, on the other hand, have put lots of thought and consideration into the gifts I've given him and the surprise plans I've made for us. I've considered simply not trying anymore, I've cried, I've written him a letter letting him know that although I don't need flowers and chocolates every day, I do need to feel special every once in a while. How do you convince an otherwise charming guy that dates and romance do matter?

—Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Dear Actions,
I do find the garlic bread a bold move for Valentine's Day. Maybe he was making a Shakespeare reference: "And in some perfumes is there more delight/ Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks." For the four years you've been with this guy, he has demonstrated a dunderheaded inability to act like a conventional boyfriend. Yet you say he is "charming," and you accepted his proposal. So, if you want to be married to him, and happily, you must stop thinking of his inability to do romance, presents, or even vacations as a quirk that needs fixing, because you can't fix it. Accept that if you want to go on a trip, either you plan it or you end up staying home breathing garlic on each other. But decide now if you can live with this, instead of marrying him, producing a bunch of kids, then heading to divorce court because for your anniversary he got you a savings bond.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I have recently accepted a new job and am leaving my employer of five years. The company has provided me many opportunities, but I am ready for a greater challenge and a better salary. That is not, however, the only reason I have decided to move on. The person who manages my department has been very difficult to work with. He mismanages the department and on occasion makes unethical business decisions. Additionally, he has said inappropriate things that could be construed as sexual harassment and discrimination. Before I began with the department, there were seven other women who quit in a three-year period. I work in an almost exclusively male industry, and this behavior is often swept under the rug. Many of my friends whom I have confided in over the years urge me to finally say something to the department director before I leave. I have made past attempts, all of them futile. My friends believe I have a moral obligation to report the manager so that the next person in my job won't have to suffer. But I would rather leave on the best terms. What should I do?

—Resignation Obligation?

Dear Resignation,
You need to examine what you feel obligated to do and what you feel able to do—and what the consequences are. I talked to employment attorney Philip Gordon of the Gordon Law Group in Boston. He said that given your circumstances, you do not have a legal duty to blow the whistle. But he said that if you go ahead, you should do so with the knowledge that even though you are leaving the firm, you could find yourself subject to retaliation or bad-mouthing within your industry. The law provides ever-stronger safeguards against such payback, but Gordon says proving it can be a wrenching process. You have spoken up over the years to no effect. So, how much attention is the department director going to give you now that you're on your way out? To take this on would be an admirable thing, but you have to want to, and your letter says you don't. If you decide to leave with just smiles and handshakes, go ahead without berating yourself. Gordon adds that if another woman comes along who does take legal action, then you can help her by making yourself available as a witness.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My parents are coming up on their 25th wedding anniversary. I am excited for them and was planning on throwing a small party for friends and family. My mom got wind of the idea, and now she wants to throw herself a full-fledged wedding, complete with cake, dress—the works—because her wedding was not like the weddings people are having today. I think it's in poor taste—you've had your day, it's now time to step aside. My siblings say if she wants another wedding, let her have one. Am I wrong about this?

—Unsure

Dear Unsure,
With all the advances in obstetrics in the past 25 years, just be glad your mother doesn't want to call you up in front of the guests and re-enact your birth. I'm with you that it's somewhat creepy to watch a long-married couple pretend they're young again (and I hope your mother doesn't choose one of the "hot bride" wedding dresses). But I agree with your siblings that if that's what she wants, keep quiet about it. Remember, since some guests will find it moving, and others will find it appalling, everyone will be entertained.

—Prudie

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