Advice on manners and morals (July 17, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
July 17 2008 7:06 AM

The Constant Cuddler

Why won't my boyfriend hold me as we drift off to sleep?

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Dear Prudence,
I've been dating someone for a few months, and things have gotten serious very fast. We are highly compatible and have had no difficulty resolving the few minor disagreements we've had thus far—except one. I'm a cuddler. I want to hold my partner and be held by my partner at night. Preferably all night. My partner will hold me for the first five to 10 minutes in bed, or I him, and then he will tend to move to the opposite side of the bed for the night. At first I hinted that I'd like more extensive touching at night, and he said he'd make an effort to fulfill my cuddling needs. I switched to gently but clearly asking him for more contact in bed at night. But after a disappointing weekend, I tearfully explained to him how sad I was that we don't hold each other at night. He then told me that it's uncomfortable for him—too hot and confining. Is it unreasonable to ask a partner to change their sleeping style to accommodate this particular show of affection? Maybe one night a week? Sleeping entwined with my lover is a very tender experience for me, and I intensely don't want to lose this lover, yet I'm finding it very hard to accept that he is unwilling to find a way to make this meaningful act a possibility for us. Am I wrong?

—Unembraced

Dear Unembraced,
Boy, have you come to the wrong place. I'm of the "My dearest darling, your toe is touching my leg. Could you move it, please, so I can sleep?" school. Your boyfriend is not trying to hurt you, but if being entwined with his beloved for the night makes him feel as if he's sleeping with a boa constrictor, it's going to be almost impossible for him to change. Enjoy the cuddling you get before you two nod off, then accept that when you're asleep, you're supposed to be unconscious, and it's unfair to expect your partner to be meeting your needs at that time. Your request for one eight-hour shift of nocturnal tenderness does sound reasonable, until you think of it from his point of view. There he is, staring at the ceiling at 3:00 a.m., thinking, "Jeez, her head is like a bowling ball. Maybe if I lift it off my chest very gently, and drop it on her pillow, she won't wake up." Concentrate on getting your quotient of bodily contact with him during waking hours, and don't sink a promising new relationship by bursting into tears because your man likes to sleep like a solitary log.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
A few years ago some friends and I started a book club. It now has about 30 women on the e-mail list, and anywhere from four to 15 coming to each month's meeting. It's been wonderful, and the value of it goes far beyond the literary merits of our choices. About a year ago, a woman joined through one of her friends. She likes to, as she says, "play devil's advocate" and argue for argument's sake. A few new members haven't returned, and the scuttlebutt is it's because she's made them feel unwelcome. Whenever we begin to select the book for the next month, the bully sighs loudly and makes faces at the suggestions other members make. Then, when we select the book, she will say things like "Well, that's not the book I would have chosen." I ran into a beloved member who has been absent for a few months, and she mentioned that she wasn't going back because she and the bully had gotten into a "strange argument" and she wants to avoid her. I can't imagine kicking someone out of the book club, but it kills me to see people not return because of one member, or to see the meetings becoming less enjoyable due to her behavior. Help!

—The Browbeaten Book Clubber

Dear Browbeaten,
You could try a literary approach and suggest reading Memoirs of a Geisha. Then focus the discussion on the despicable bully Hatsumomo. But surely your Hatsumomo wouldn't get the reference. I'm afraid if you can't start imagining how to kick out your bully, be prepared for your book club to become a monthly version of the play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You. Get together with the founding members to discuss this problem. If they agree that something has to be done, then a couple of you should have coffee with the bully. Tell her that you should have discussed at the beginning that there are unwritten rules of civility governing how members of the group treat one another, and you want to lay these out for her now. Explain that lively discussion is one thing, but argument is another, and she needs to tone it down. Ask her to please stop the sighing and face-making; it's alienating longtime members. Maybe that will be enough to propel her out. If she continues to come and contains herself, all is fine. But if she comes and can't, then politely but firmly tell her you're sure she'd be happier if she found a more freewheeling book club.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I've worked for a small company for the past few years and get along great with the owner, who is also my direct boss. She and I have a similar outlook on life, and I feel I can go to her when I have a problem. Just not this problem. My boss is anti-Semitic. She actually believes that all Jews are rich, cheap, rude, and stuck-up. If we have a client with a Jewish-sounding name, she points it out, rolls her eyes, and says what a pain the person is going to be and that she hates dealing with them. She'll say these things, and worse, in front of many of the long-term employees. No one says anything, but I cringe and change the subject. I'm afraid if I say something, she'll fly off the handle, which she sometimes does. I'm applying to grad schools, so I'm only going to be here for another year or so, and I have bills to pay. In general, my boss treats me really well. Unfortunately, these conversations are starting to piss me off. Should I say something and risk her wrath, or just keep my mouth shut?

—Feeling Like a Coward

Dear Feeling,
No one should have to listen to bigoted tripe, no matter what the position of the bigot. You are unlikely to change this woman's prejudices, but your terms of employment should not mean you have to nod and smile when she launches in on her slurs, either. The next time she starts in, say with all the calmness you can muster, "I don't share your views on this, and I'd really appreciate not discussing Jewish people anymore." Be prepared that she may fly off the handle, and that it may change your relationship. (It's hard to imagine she'd go so far as to fire you and send a former employee out into the world saying she lost her job because she was sick of listening to her boss's anti-Semitic rants.) You are planning to move on with your life, and when you look back on your time at this company, you'll be glad that you decided speaking up was the right thing to do.

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am in my late 20s and have several younger siblings. When I was 10 years old, my father had an affair. I found out because my parents were fighting, and my mom decided to "get back" at my dad by telling me. It crushed me. None of my other siblings were either old enough to understand or even born yet. The next day, my mother told me to never tell anyone about it, that it was a family secret. My dad apologized to me. My parents went to counseling, reconciled, and are still together. I obeyed my mother and never told a soul. In my early 20s, I brought it up to my mom. She pretty much told me that I should have gotten over it by now, as she did. A few years later, I tried to bring it up again, and she rebuffed me. Is it wrong of me to be extremely angry with my mom for dragging me into that mess? Is it OK to be angry that they went to counseling and fixed themselves but forgot about the devastated 10-year-old at home? (Apparently, she is still not too concerned with me.) Am I right in not telling my siblings?

—My Siblings' Keeper

Dear Keeper,
Your mother should never have put you in the middle of their maelstrom, but I have to agree with her that there is something off about your dwelling on this childhood event. Try to unpack what continues to trouble you so much. Sure, a 10-year-old would be devastated to be told by her mother that her father was unfaithful. But you're an adult now and should be able to see your father's infidelity in different terms. Such things happen—a lot. It didn't wreck your parents' marriage; your subsequent siblings are evidence of that. You're right, parents shouldn't use their children to punish each other, and by swearing you to secrecy she only added to your burden. But you've given her a chance to apologize twice now, and both times she's been hostile and defensive—let's assume that's going to be her permanent approach to this subject. So, what you need to do is understand that your parents are two flawed people, like everyone else, including you. Recast this event not as a monumental moment of devastation, but as a stupid thing that happened long ago. If you can't, then, like your parents, find a therapist. As for telling your siblings—why would you want to do to them what your mother did to you?

—Prudie