Advice on manners and morals (Aug. 21, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (Aug. 21, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals (Aug. 21, 2008).

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 21 2008 6:52 AM

Unwedded Bliss

After a 30-year marriage, I don't plan to get hitched again. Should I tell my girlfriend?

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Dear Prudence,
I'm a widower in my late 50s. After my wife passed away almost seven years ago, I didn't date for four years. Everyone thought I was mourning that good woman (and I did), but I discovered that after 30 years of marriage I was free. I really like coming and going as I please and answering to no one. I dated a couple of women very briefly before I met my girlfriend. We've been together for three years. She is close to my age and divorced. I love her dearly, but I don't want to get married again (or even live together). Lately, she's been commenting about our relationship—asking where it's going and saying she wants to see more of me. I believe she's hinting at marriage. I'm afraid if I tell her I never plan to marry again that she will end things. (I even promised my daughter we wouldn't wed, because she hates any woman I date.) I like that we see each other only two or three times a week and go home to our respective houses. I would really miss her cooking, the sex, and the companionship. Do I have to be honest about this with her, or is continuing the status quo acceptable?

—Done With That

Dear Done,
So nice to hear from you, finally, because I regularly get letters from women who could be your girlfriend and are wondering what in the bleep is going on with you. After years of providing good meals, good sex, and good times (I particularly like the order you've put this in), your lady can't take much more of being in girlfriend limbo. But she also doesn't want to scare off a decent man her age and start over, particularly since prior to you she dated a string of alcoholics, lunatics, and nonbathers. She will hang on for quite a while longer, dropping hints, while feeling increasingly undermined and resentful. So, since you know exactly what she's getting at, unless the prospect of ordering carry-out seems worse than hurting someone you say you love, the moral thing to do is tell her. And while you're thinking through your relationship with your girlfriend, have a look at your relationship with your daughter. There's something deeply amiss with a grown woman extracting a promise from her widowed father that he will never marry again.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I am in my late 20s, and my husband is a caring and attentive man. He has happily supported me for several years while I attended graduate school and now while I am a stay-at-home mom. My problem is, I feel completely overwhelmed by our daily life. Sometimes I feel resentful that he gets to go to an office all day while I am stuck at home with an autistic preschooler and a six-month-old baby, and other times I feel horribly guilty that he works hard all day and I still ask him to help with the housework at night. I'm at the point where it's difficult to shower three times a week. My husband says my standards are too high and that I expect too much of myself. I do a lot of therapeutic "floor time" with my special-needs child, which I consider vital. I use cloth diapers and make all my own baby food. I just don't understand how a mother can justify cutting corners when it comes to her kids. My husband is worried about my inability to hold things together and says I need more "time off," which is problematic with a nursing baby and would put me even further behind with my housework. He and I have not been on a date in months. It's hard to find a babysitter able to watch an autistic child. My husband has also suggested having a maid in once a week, but I don't believe that we can afford it. He says he doesn't care if the house is messy, as long as the kids are taken care of, but I know the constant chaos of our lives bothers him. Sometimes I feel like I'd be doing my family a favor by leaving and letting someone more capable take my place, but I know I could never do that because it would break my heart.

—Lady Sisyphus

Dear Lady,
If you feel that your family would be better off without you, you need to get help. Right now. It is completely understandable that you feel crushed and overwhelmed, but there are many steps you can take to lift your burden. Cognitive therapy, with its focus on changing your negative thoughts and giving you tools to restructure your life could be ideal. The Beck Institute has a referral list of practitioners. You also need to be in touch with other parents of autistic children. Of course you adore your son, but a diagnosis of autism is a blow, and raising an autistic child asks a great deal from parents. This page lists some support groups. Find one in your area and see if other parents can help you with everything from feeling overwhelmed to finding a qualified babysitter—getting time alone with your husband is a necessity. He is right that you are too hard on yourself and that you need relief. Go ahead and get your house cleaned professionally, say, twice a month, to keep the chaos down. Floor time with your son is essential, but rinsing out cloth diapers and pureeing your own baby food are not. As author Judith Warner described, demanding of yourself that you be the perfect mother is a recipe for Perfect Madness. Maybe you need a few days a week in which you have a block of time to work on something in your field of graduate studies. Maybe you just need to regularly have lunch with friends and go for a run. You can decide what you most want to do for yourself once you get some help, Lady Sisyphus, in putting down that boulder.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
My in-laws are financially clueless people who should be starting to think about the greener pastures of retirement but instead are headed into yet another foreclosed home. My husband and I are not well-off and both work full time in addition to raising two small children. We own our home and cars and, in this economy, we consider ourselves very fortunate. When we originally learned of my in-laws' latest money issues, we talked about how we didn't want them to lose this home (as that could have them sleeping in our basement), and we offered them either a monthly stipend or help getting them a better interest rate. Instead, my father-in-law would like to use my husband's credit to start a company that specializes in fixing and flipping homes. I am skeptical and livid about this for a number of reasons, the main one being that this would put us $200,000 in the hole. My husband is slightly more lukewarm to it since they are his parents, and the potential of this taking off is slightly intriguing. How do we say no without burning the proverbial familial bridge?

—Irked

Dear Irked,
It's time to douse that bridge with a jerrycan of gasoline and drop a burning book of matches on it. Your in-laws are their own personal economic downturn. Underwrite a business venture with them, and you will be working yourself out of bankruptcy long after the economy has turned around. You and your husband need to draw clear financial boundaries with his parents, or else they will eventually be living in your basement—if you still have one. Consider offering to help them find, and even to pay for, credit counseling—here's an article on what to look for. But once you do that, you have to get your husband to agree that they must take responsibility for their financial situation. It is crucial that your husband not jeopardize your future in order to bail out his feckless parents. Act out of a misplaced sense of guilt, and soon everything you've earned will be going over the edge of the bridge to nowhere.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence,
I am 25 and part of a very close-knit but large and ever-expanding group of friends. I really enjoy them. However, there is one issue that seems to consistently arise. Several times a day, I am asked by certain friends what my plans are on a given night. Oftentimes, I say what I am doing. Other times, I simply don't want to share my plans or I want to do something on my own. In these scenarios, I simply answer, "I'm busy" or "I have plans." Usually, I will then be asked, "Oh. What are they?" This irks me. I have tried to tell certain friends that I don't want them to pepper me for details, but I have been told, "This is how friendship works" or, once, "You have issues." Am I really being a bad friend?

—Flustered Friend

Dear Flustered,
Since you are 25, you sound like a traitor to your generation if you don't want to constantly share with everyone in your circle your thoughts, your global positioning coordinates, and your daily fiber intake. I am curious as to whether for people raised on Facebook, et al., privacy is going to become an antiquated notion, or if as they get deeper into adulthood, they will start to feel, like you, that for no particular reason they simply don't want everyone to know everything. Right now, in your group, you are an outlier. But you are fully entitled to be politely vague when you don't feel like telling. And it's your friends who have issues when they don't understand that this vagueness is the gentle way of saying, "It's none of your business."

—Prudie