I am a divorced father in my late 40s who has been dating a divorced mother in her early 40s for about two months. We both recently ended marriages of nearly 20 years; dating has taken some getting used to, but things are good. During a recent moment of physical intimacy, she commented on my high level of "stamina." I ignored her comment. But with all of the prime-time television advertising, it seems the taboo of discussing such things has diminished. Do I tell her that I take the little blue pill to boost my stamina? Would it be deceitful if I did not?
There you are, rising to the occasion, and in the middle of events, she makes a remark that throws you off. Maybe it's a compliment ("Wow, my husband would have flagged long before this"), maybe it's a complaint ("I'm not sure I can take going at it at this pace every time"), maybe it's detective work ("I must be really turning you on—unless I should be thanking the pharmaceutical industry"). This is one of the difficulties of dating after a long marriage. Even in a long, lousy marriage, you know each other's sense of humor and comfort level with personal disclosure. With a new person, it's all virgin territory. And while I recognize you're both adults and all, it sounds like you've gotten sexually intimate before you really feel relaxed enough to know how to talk to each other about intimate things. I'm wondering why you feel the need for this boost. If you always require it, that's one thing. But if it's just insurance that you will be able to perform even though you're feeling insecure, that's possibly a signal that you should do less performing and more talking. If you don't need the pill, then leave it in the bottle and see how things go naturally. As for responding to her remark—no, you are not obligated to fess up at this point. But if your relationship continues to go well, then down the road this can be the kind of private, funny story about your early courtship that really does make you feel you know each other better than anyone else.
My mother was an abusive woman, first psychologically and then, when I began dating in high school, physically. Her logic was that as a young adult, "I could take it." One of the happiest moments in my life was when my parents divorced while I was in college, and she moved far away. (She is now remarried.) I saw her only twice after that, once at a social event, the other time when my now-wife convinced me to invite her to our wedding (which she almost ruined). I found out a month ago that my mother is suffering from a disorder that causes fluid to build in her brain. The condition is ultimately fatal, though she could live for another 10 years. In the meantime, she has been developing symptoms of dementia. When my father told me about this, I did not have any feelings—no pain, no anger, no sadness. My father and my younger brother have been browbeating me since then to call my mother to try to patch things up. My wife is now pregnant, and she has added her voice to the choir. I just do not see the point in calling. I was brutalized by this woman for close to 20 years. She is fundamentally dead to me already. What should I do?
I often hear from adult children of abusive parents who are agonizing over their obligation to the people who ruined their childhoods, and left them with emotional and physical scars. Sometimes it's clear that completely severing relations would be too difficult, or cause too much guilt, so I suggest they have the amount of interaction that feels emotionally healthy for them. What is emotionally healthy requires constant reassessment because abusers are often brilliant manipulators. But you are being pressured to feel guilty over not feeling guilty. You're being told to psychologically disinter the woman who became dead to you years ago so that you'll feel better when she actually does die. I disagree with your father, brother, and wife. You've made a fulfilling life for yourself, and that required a lot of healing from your mother's brutality. Re-establishing contact could be very emotionally costly for you. It will surely bring back memories of traumas you have long left behind. And it would come at a time when you should be concentrating on the happiness of the arrival of your new child. You don't have any further obligation to your mother. She sowed the wind; now she is reaping the whirlwind.
I am a college professor and administrator who often makes a great deal of appointments with students, staff, faculty, and people interviewing for new positions. I try to use good manners at all times. (I send thank-you letters when appropriate, I don't rush my appointments, and so forth.) If meetings are set up weeks in advance, I often send a reminder e-mail or phone call. However, when students set up an appointment to see me, many fail to show up. This even happens with some faculty and staff. When I ask why, they often tell me they forgot and that I didn't send them a reminder. I sometimes have 20 one-on-one meetings in a week, so this is impossible for me to do. Is it bad manners? Should I send a reminder to all individuals who have an appointment with me?
—Just a Polite Reminder, Please
People say they need your help, you block out precious time to provide assistance, and then they blame you for not reminding them to show up and tell you their problem—maybe rudeness is one of the first issues they need to address. Since you're in the business of molding young people, give them a lesson in the consequences of wasting other people's time. At the beginning of the semester, explain that you are delighted to see them during office hours, but your time is limited. Once they make an appointment, it is their responsibility to remember it. In the absence of a true emergency or 24-hour notification that they need to reschedule, you will take into account a failure to show up when you consider the class participation part of their grade, and they will also fall to the bottom of the list for the remaining openings in your calendar. As for your colleagues, they need to understand you are not the person in the dentist's office who calls to reconfirm the tooth cleaning. When they make an appointment, tell them you don't have time to send reminders and that you've been plagued by no-shows. And I agree that for meetings set up months in advance, even in this era of PDAs that can schedule your life to the minute, it's wise to make sure you're not going to be the only one who turns up.
My mother does something that is most annoying to me. She gets my and my brother's names confused. She calls me his name and him my name. My brother is 15, very immature, not so bright, lies and steals everything, and is either gay or bisexual. I am about to hit 20, very mature, very intelligent, never lie, never steal, and am straight. I have told her time and time again to stop doing it, but she tells me that she gets our names confused because she is always around us. By the way, I personally believe that is a typical excuse by moms for not thinking before speaking. So what should I do about this?
Linguists call this a semantic substitution error, and calling one child the name of another is one of the most common examples of it because you both light up the neurons in your mother's brain devoted to "son." I understand that you think the gray matter she's allocated to you should be clearly labeled "exemplary heterosexual person" and his should be "rotten homosexual person," but guess what—you're both there under "young male I gave birth to, who I'm still taking care of," so there's nothing to be done about these slips. If this is the worst thing your mother does, read the second letter in this column and consider what a lucky young man you are. I'll accept your self-assessment that you're a human paragon, but there's perhaps one chink in your perfection: the way you treat your brother. If your description of him lying and stealing is correct, then he's an unhappy teenage boy. Since you're a happy one, maybe you could get off your pedestal and give your brother some thoughtful, nonjudgmental attention—which would include accepting that his being gay is nothing to be judgmental about.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.