I was unfaithful to my wife while sleepwalking.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 23 2009 7:09 AM

Dream Lover

I cheated on my wife while sleepwalking. What do I do now?

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Dear Prudence:
I did something recently that concerns me on many levels. I am under a large amount of stress because I'm in an unhappy marriage (which we're trying to work out) and because my company laid me off. I am under treatment for depression. A week ago, my doctor doubled the dosage of my antidepressant and, because I'm not sleeping well, he prescribed Ambien. On Saturday morning, I confused the vials and took two Ambien. I told my wife what happened and that I would probably sleep all day and went to bed. At around 10 p.m., my wife commented on how productive I had been: mowing the lawn, cleaning up, grocery shopping. I remembered none of this and said so. She said her only concern was that I left for "errands" and returned two hours later with nothing in hand. I talked to my doctor Monday, and he told me Ambien can cause amnesia and that some people have reported walking, driving, and cooking in their sleep. I know now what filled the missing two hours. This afternoon, I got a call from a woman who called me "lover" and asked when I wanted to come back. She called me her f--k buddy. This is a woman I had talked to only twice before in social situations. I do not even know where she lives; maybe I phoned her for directions. I do find her attractive, but I am stunned that I did something like this. My wife is vindictive, and if I say anything to her, it will end our marriage. I do not want to continue a relationship with the other woman. What should I do?

—Scared Sleepless

Dear Scared,
It's hard to believe that the pharmaceutical industry has already solved two of our most vexing problems: How to get men to do weekend chores, and how to induce attractive strangers to have sex with you while being able to swear that you haven't cheated. If this gets around, soon we'll be living in a world where people are gobbling Ambien out of Pez containers. Driving, eating, even trying to cast congressional votes while under the influence of Ambien are all well-documented. Scroll around the Internet and you will also find individual accounts of Ambien-fueled sex—which the nondrugged participants claim is more creative and uninhibited than when their partner is awake. However good you may have been in bed, you need to keep the other woman from contacting you and asking for further services. Call her and try to explain. Tell her that, as hard as it is to believe, you have recently been prescribed several medications, you accidentally mixed them up, and as a result you have no memory of the events of the weekend. Say you're very sorry if you behaved irresponsibly but that you can't be in touch with her. Don't ask for details—you want to preserve your amnesiac deniability. And since you don't know what you did, you're hardly in a position to confess anything to your wife. From now on, when you have trouble drifting off, forget the Ambien and brew yourself a nice cup of chamomile tea.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I have been with a wonderful man for two years. He has two teenage daughters, 17 and 15. In the beginning everything was great, but after we moved in together, things went south. The problem is not with him and me; it's with the way he raises his kids. I get steamed when they refuse to pick up after themselves, but whenever I say something to them, he tells me that I am being "too hard on them" or "nagging." When they disobey me or talk back, he often rescinds my groundings because he doesn't want to hear them complain. When I have talked to him about this, he says that we only have one year until the oldest goes to college and that we just have to be patient until then. Thankfully, I cannot have children of my own, but should I put up with this for another year or fight harder to make my point?

—Sad and Fed Up

Dear Sad,
Go see the movie Adventureland, and pay particular attention to Em's stepmother. This hateful woman wants desperately to get her teenage stepdaughter out of the house so she can enjoy her new husband without having to deal with this reminder of his previous life. (Actually, I fear you'll like this character.) You probably don't remember what it was like to be a teenage girl—your stepdaughters probably can't believe you ever were one. But think back on your most difficult times as a teenager, then imagine what it would have been like to come home each day to a witch of a stepmother (or not even a stepmother, just your father's girlfriend) whose fondest wish was to get rid of you. That would be unlikely to induce in you either respect or neatness. How appalling that their father, instead of making clear that your punitive and dismissive approach is destructive to his family, is just asking you to be patient until the girls are gone. However, despite the fact that you're thankful you can't have children, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he's thankful he could. Keep in mind that even after these girls are in college, people's children tend to hang around over the summer, show up at Christmas, and eventually produce grandchildren they'll bring over. So, if you're planning to stick around, please try to address the chasm in your parenting skills by reading How To Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk and Yes, Your Teen is Crazy! But if you want to be one of those second wives who insist their husband chooses between them and the children, it would be better if you just left now.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
When I was in college five years ago, I performed poorly due to lack of a serious work ethic and personal problems. I had floated through high school and somehow graduated with honors, and I expected college to be easy as well. It was not. I was also trying to recover from years of traumatic family problems and abuse, and I used college to get away from it. I was put on academic probation and, to keep from getting kicked out and having to go back home, I wrote letters more than once lying about sick family members to get another chance. It worked, and I went on to scrape by and complete my degree without anymore lying letters. Some instructors understood that I was struggling to stay afloat in life in general and granted me pardons on assignments and deadlines. Now I feel I don't really deserve the degree. I've since become a Christian and endeavor to live an honest, hardworking life, and my academic lies plague me. I want to make this right but don't know what to do.

—Sorry Student

Dear Sorry,
You're doing it. You're repaying people's faith in you, their willingness to stick with you and even sometimes cut you some slack, by overcoming your difficult start and becoming a productive person. It's always wonderful to hear stories of resilience and perseverance. Stop feeling you don't deserve your degree and continue to show that you do by keeping up your accomplishments. And either now or someday, you can help other young people from circumstances like yours by contributing to a scholarship fund at your alma mater.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I have a female co-worker who is constantly buying me small gifts. I am quite sure she has no ulterior motive for this, as she does things for other people as well. However, I cannot financially reciprocate and have told her that while I appreciate it, I would rather see the money spent, no matter how small the amount, go to a children's or animal charity instead. She still continues to buy me items that I usually just consider more junk to deal with, although she tries hard to buy things I might like. Should I refuse them or keep telling her I want the money to go to a worthwhile cause instead?

—Not a Re-gifter

Dear Not,
The point is not that there is some account of hers designated for you, and you would like to redirect her giving. The point is that you have a professional relationship, so it's inappropriate for her to give you a stream of gifts. Explain that you appreciate her generosity, but the gifts are making you uncomfortable, and she needs to stop. If she continues, hand each gift back to her and say, "Tina, again, I appreciate the thought, but I can't exchange gifts with you, so I can't accept this."

—Prudie

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