My boyfriend and I have been together for almost a year and a half now, and I love him dearly. He stays at my house a couple of nights a week, and there have been three separate occasions when he has wet the bed; however, he doesn't know that I know he wet the bed. I feel bad because I can tell when it happens that he's terrified and just praying to God that I don't roll over and realize that the bed is soaked. I just don't know how to tell him that I know. I don't want him to ever feel ashamed of it (my brother had this problem when we were growing up), and there is no way I would ever think less of him because of this. How do I broach the subject? I just want him to know it is nothing to be embarrassed about without embarrassing him.
—Sleeping With a Bed-Wetter
Unless you want to have a recurring dream that you're in steerage on the Titanic, you have to speak up. One of the loveliest things about intimacy is being accepted despite the least lovely things about us. Although you dread this conversation, ultimately it will relieve him. He probably goes to sleep each time he's at your place dripping with anxiety that by the morning he will have turned your mattress into a water bed. But since it's only happened three times in 18 months, the good news is that the overall forecast is for mostly dry conditions. At some relaxed time, just tell him in a low-key way that on a couple of occasions you noticed the bed was wet. Explain you're very familiar with this issue because your brother experienced it, and you don't want him to feel uncomfortable if it happens again. Tell him if he hasn't had a thorough urological exam, he needs one. This Web site discusses the possible causes of enuresis and describes some behavioral techniques that might be helpful. Being able to be open with each other about this will be a great investment in your relationship; and buying a waterproof mattress pad will be a great investment in the life of your bedding.
Four months ago my mother, who is in her 60s, told me that if I promised to keep a secret from my siblings, she would tell me something. Curiosity got the better of me, and I agreed. She said a medical scan showed several small tumors in her lungs. She opted not to have a biopsy done, even though that is what the doctor recommended. She had a second scan a few months later, and two of the tumors had grown. She refuses to let the doctors determine if they are cancerous and says she would not treat them if they were. Within the last year, she has lost several family members to unsuccessfully treated cancer. I am torn between keeping my promise to her (and her right to determine her own treatment) and a responsibility to my siblings. Maybe they could convince her to seek treatment. I think Mom's decision is foolish and fatal, but I wouldn't want other people making medical decisions for me while I was of sound mind. Should I man up and carry this knowledge alone?
—Not a Doctor
Your mother obviously needed someone to confide in, but I'm afraid even though you've made a promise to her, this is the kind of secret that places such a grave burden on the bearer that you're entitled to breach her confidentiality. Leaving aside the medical issues for a moment, think of the painful, untenable situation this puts you in with your siblings. Eventually your mother's illness will be revealed, and when it inevitably comes out that you've known all along about her decision to forgo treatment, it will cause a terrible rupture over your mother's favoritism and how that meant your siblings were unable to try to reverse her decision. Your mother's choice is obviously tearing you up, but you would be more at peace with it if you didn't feel part of a conspiracy to prevent the people who care most from convincing her to reconsider. Sit your mother down and tell her your love and concern for her make it impossible to keep her secret any longer. Say the rest of the kids are entitled at the very least to know what she is going through. Explain that together all of you can explore with the doctors a treatment plan that your mother will find acceptable. If it is lung cancer, you must act now—part of the cruelty of this illness is its swiftness.
My son is engaged to a wonderful girl, and I am very happy about their pending nuptials. The problem is the size of the wedding. They expect to have around 300 people at their wedding—only about 50 from our side. Her family is not financially comfortable and neither are my son and his fiancee. Her parents expect my ex-husband and me to contribute to this wedding. My son asked if I would be willing to pick up the bar tab for the wedding. I would love to give the children a generous gift of money, but if I pay that bar bill, which will be in the thousands (and which I don't want to pay), I will not be able to give them anything. My ex and I paid for our children to go to college so they would be debt-free. My son's fiancee is still paying off her student loans. So far, my son has been railroaded by her family and wants to please his bride, but I think it's insane to go into debt for a wedding. What can I say and do?
It sounds as if your son and his fiancee are looking for an adjustable-rate marriage. I know they've been busy with the catering menu and all, but it's just this kind of attitude of "It doesn't matter if I can't afford it; I want it" that has helped cause the economic catastrophe that they might want to note is occurring around them. This young couple already has nothing, so better to keep it that way than start their married life with something: a pile of credit card debt and some leftover cocktail napkins in their color. You are free to tell your son you cannot pay a bar bill for what is a folly that will put horrible stress on this new stage of his life, and you hope he and his fiancee decide to radically scale back their plans. But only he can tell his beloved that, as unfair as it is, the Obama administration has yet to propose a bailout for subprime wedding planning.
When I was in college, my parents divorced after 25 years of unhappy matrimony. Two years later, my mother was remarried—to her first cousin. I was mostly horrified but also very confused because the marriage is in conflict with the values that I thought I shared with my mother. However, after several years, my mother is happier and healthier than I have ever seen her. While I don't like the situation, I do accept it. Now I've fallen in love. My boyfriend is amazing and somebody I hope to share my future with. Eventually my boyfriend will have to meet my family, who mostly live several states away. My mother's marriage remains a hot topic at family gatherings, so I know I need to tell him before he meets them. Is there any way to share this family secret without scaring him away?
—No Idea How To Start This Conversation
Dear No Idea,
I don't understand why the DNA similarities between your mother and her spouse are even worth a conversation, let alone why you continue to feel that something Gothic and unspeakable has taken place. It's true a majority of states either bar or restrict the practice, but this editorial points out that "neither the scientific nor social assumptions that informed [the laws] are any longer defensible." My colleague William Saletan noted that about 20 percent of the world's marriages are between cousins. (Two of its happier practitioners were Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma.) Yes, statistics show there is a small increase in birth defects among the children of cousin marriage, but clearly no offspring are springing from your mother's union. Saletan's concern about keeping marriage in the family is that when such a marriage fails, you're all still stuck getting together at Thanksgiving. But in this case, consanguinity has resulted in sanguinity. What you need to do is let go of your ridiculous feeling of shame over this. When you mention it to your boyfriend, do so in passing, to convey the triviality of the fact that your mother and stepfather are kissing cousins.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.