Advice on manners and morals (July 24, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (July 24, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (July 24, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
July 24 2008 6:54 AM

Hey, Teacher, Leave Those Kids Alone

My girlfriend gets very close to her students. Should she back off?

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Dear Prudence,
My girlfriend, who is in her mid-20s, is a kind, smart, talented teacher and coaches several sports. We love each other very much, and I believe this is the woman I want to spend my life with. She has bonded with a lot of her players, almost all of whom are boys no older than 16. As a teacher and coach myself, I understand this bond and support it completely. However, with a few of them she makes an effort to get together outside of school or practice. She's attempted to go running with them, take them out for dinner or lunch, or just plain hang out with them. She texts back and forth with them often. When I've broached the subject with her, she writes it off as me being silly and tells me that she just feels bad that "Roger" doesn't have a mother and his father's drunk all the time, or that "Jack's" mother neglects him and he has no one to turn to. Am I actually blowing this out of proportion, or should I be worried about her behavior?

—Worried Coach

Dear Coach,
Next movie night, you and your girlfriend should rent Notes on a Scandal, which is about a dedicated young teacher who has an affair with a needy teenage boy at her school. Not to ruin the suspense, but let's just say it doesn't turn out well for the teacher. Your girlfriend may think what she's up to—hanging out, going to restaurants, running together, and texting constantly—is providing support and help for students from difficult circumstances. But it's very likely these boys are going to see her behavior as something else, namely dating. And some of the parents might start wondering if she's playing the field. Surely her school has guidelines for what is appropriate after-hours contact with her students, and I doubt what she's up to fits within those guidelines. It's fine if she has warm, encouraging relationships with lonely kids, but if they're truly in need, she should be finding more appropriate ways for them to get adult guidance. Whatever her motives, she doesn't seem to understand that acting like a teenage pal is beneficial for neither the boys nor her career. If she thinks you're being silly, ask her to consider what the administrators and parents would do if it were you making dinner plans and texting with teenage girls. If she truly won't listen to your concerns and act more like a grown-up, then you need to run in the other direction.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
A year ago, I volunteered to have my family over to celebrate my niece's 4th birthday. Her birthday was on a Thursday, and the party was to be on the following Sunday. On Friday I received an irate e-mail from my sister because I hadn't called my niece on her actual birthday. She then called me at work and berated me for being so thoughtless and told me how upset my niece had been. I actually cried at my desk. After I was able to compose myself, I called my niece fully prepared to grovel for forgiveness. But as one would expect from a 4-year-old, when I apologized for not calling, she simply said, "OK" and was excited when I told her we were having ice cream with her cake on Sunday. At this point, my guilt turned to anger because I'd agonized over hurting my niece, but it seemed my sister was projecting her own issues. I love my sister dearly, so this has made me second-guess myself and question whether I am a bad sister and aunt. Am I thoughtless, or does my sister have "the world revolves around me and my children" syndrome?

—Dreading Birthdays

Dear Dreading,
Your situation could be Exhibit A for the thesis of Joseph Epstein's essay in the Weekly Standard, in which he wrote, "In America we are currently living in a Kindergarchy, under rule by children. … Children have gone from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments. ... Such has been the weight of all this concern about children that it has exercised a subtle but pervasive tyranny of its own." So, break free of your chains! The fact that you were enlisted a year in advance to host a birthday party for a 4-year-old tells me that unless your sister gets some perspective, by the time this kid is 14, she's going to be a monster. Make a vow that no matter how wacky and demanding your sister gets, you will be an appropriately loving aunt to your niece, but not a sycophantic courtier at her tiny throne.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I have found out that my husband must have been, on several occasions during our more-than-two-decade marriage, unfaithful to me. I went to see my gynecologist for a simple yeast infection and asked if I would need to have my husband take medication to make his infection go away, too, as we have done in the past. She was confused and asked me what kind of infection I was talking about. When we were abroad, I would occasionally get trichomoniasis from contaminated bath water, according to my doctor, and he would prescribe a pill for my husband to take, too. My current doctor floored me when she explained that it was virtually impossible to get the infection in any way but through sexual intercourse. I feel like a fool, but maybe my previous doctor felt squeamish about "ratting out" my husband. I am sort of numb but surprised that I don't feel angrier than I do. Our marriage has had its ups and downs, but right now we are in a very good, loving place. I'm normally a forgiving person, and I can't muster up a lot of indignation about something that happened a long time ago. While it's clear my husband has strayed physically, I am certain he never strayed emotionally. Should I feel more anger than I do? Should I make a scene and confront him with this information? I would like reassurance from him that this will not happen again. But even if he promises it won't, can I trust him? On the other hand, I hate to risk spoiling the loving relationship we have built over the years by raising recriminations. Should I have the conversation or not?

—Torn

Dear Torn,
Of course you don't have to have a stereotypical reaction to this news. You don't have to make a scene, and you don't have to do anything that you feel is expected but you don't want to do. Keep in mind, though, that this information is fresh, and an emotional shock can take a while to absorb. But having found this out, it sounds like too much of a burden to force yourself to understand and process this news alone. You have three achievable goals: to let your husband know what you know, to get a sincere promise that he won't stray again, and to keep your marriage intact and happy. Discuss with your husband what the doctor told you. He will see from your manner that he is a lucky man and you're neither a basket case nor seeking revenge. Tell him you don't want to know the details of his infidelity, but that he needs to own up to it and, most of all, assure you it's in the past. Understand that when your numbness wears off, what feels OK now might hurt like hell. And accept that you might find yourself wanting short-term marital counseling to help the two of you stay in your good place.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
I cannot stand my best friend's husband. Yesterday, he told me that I was the biggest loser in their group of friends because I made the least amount of money. He remarked that his sister is stupid for staying in a marriage with a man dying of cancer. He constantly uses misogynistic expletives with all women, but especially his wife, my dearest friend. He does all of this in the name of humor. And when I become upset after being continually insulted, he claims that I am too sensitive and that others do not mind. Because I once dated one of his friends and am friends with his wife, he also knows intimate details about me that he has brought up in group conversations. I love my friend, but I hate her husband. Should I put up with this? If so, how? And am I really being ultrasensitive? How do I salvage my friendship with her while avoiding him?

—Frustrated Friend

Dear Frustrated,
Boy, your friend must have really wanted to get married. That's some primo material her husband's got there: disparaging people because of their income, trashing loyalty to a dying spouse, calling his wife misogynistic names, revealing private sexual information. Maybe he could become head comedy writer for Kim Jong-il. No, you should not have to put up with this, but be prepared that your friendship might not survive your honesty. Tell your friend that she has a thicker skin than you, you can't stand to be talked to the way her husband talks to you, and it pains you to hear him disparage her. Tell her that unless he can tone it down, you need to socialize with her solo.

—Prudie