Should I reveal my affair with a college professor?

Should I reveal my affair with a college professor?

Should I reveal my affair with a college professor?

Advice on manners and morals.
Oct. 15 2009 6:58 AM

Love Lessons

I had an affair with my college professor. Should I tell my boyfriend?

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Dear Prudence,
In my senior year of college, I had an affair with my much older professor. It took awhile to get over, but several years later, I'm in grad school, and he's still my adviser and close friend. A few friends and my boyfriend of one year know I had some kind of romantic attachment during college (I never said with whom) but basically think I've been single between my high-school boyfriend and this one. Recently, while discussing a minor variation in bed, my boyfriend asked me whether I'd had another partner. I was caught off guard and said no. He seemed to believe me; however, I can't live with having lied. I'm afraid that if I tell him, I'll lose him. (If he finds out on his own, I'll lose him for sure.) If this secret comes out, it would ruin my career. What do I do? Can I come clean without full disclosure? How can I handle this without losing the guy I love so dearly?

—Can't Live With a Lie

Dear Can't Live,
As long as you haven't picked up an STD, a benefit of having more than one sexual partner is that it can make you better in bed. Instead of grilling you about how you know reverse cowgirl, your boyfriend should be one happy cowboy. Some couples are open with each other about their sexual histories, and some decide to just let them be history. But I don't understand why you felt you needed to tell your boyfriend that you'd had only one previous sexual partner or why he would leave you if you'd had a romance in college you didn't tell him about. I understand all this is complicated by the fact that the man in question was your professor and he continues to be your adviser. That raises a separate set of issues. It sounds as if this violates the code of conduct for your school and that your professor needed to have removed himself as your adviser long ago. You need to consider whether switching advisers now might still be advisable. (And if the relationship came out, why would it ruin your career?) But if that would create too many difficulties, as long as you and he keep your past private, that's the way it will stay. So, either decide your sexual history is none of your boyfriend's business and leave it at that, or tell him you did have a romance in college that ended painfully, and you don't want to discuss the particulars.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence:
My wife and I have an almost 2-year-old daughter, and when she began talking she started calling my wife's mother "Nana." Shortly thereafter, my wife's brother contacted us about our daughter's use of "Nana" to refer to their mother. The problem was that his son, who is our daughter's age, refers to his maternal grandmother as "Nana." He and his wife want us to correct our daughter when she says "Nana" and make her say "Grandma," because they insist it's confusing to their son. My wife and I responded that the kids could decide to refer to their respective grandmothers as "Nana" or "Grandma" as they choose, and it was no big deal. Unfortunately, they recently brought it up again in a passionate phone call. Can someone lay claim to the relatively common grandmother nickname "Nana" and forbid all others from using it?

—Proud Papa

Dear Proud,
William James said that inside a baby's head is "one great blooming buzzing confusion." That may or may not be true, but your brother-in-law and sister-in-law are proof that you can be confused no matter what your age. I bet that their son, despite being alive only about 24 months, is absorbing the fact that the person he calls "Dada" is the same person his mother calls "Sweetheart" and that other people call "Bill." Tiny little people who still lack bladder control are hard at work developing an amazingly sophisticated understanding of human relationships. Possibly even more nuanced than the parents in this case, who sound as if they would like to sacrifice family good will for a futile attempt to make sure their little darling doesn't suffer the agony of trying to figure out the "Nana/Grandma" conundrum. They can try the bubble-wrap approach to child-rearing, but it will only cripple their son's ability to make his way in the world. If they keep pressing this, you keep saying that you understand they are concerned, but you're going to let the next generation figure this one out for themselves.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudence:
My boyfriend's parents divorced right after he graduated from college, and his father remarried quickly. His parents have a very strained relationship. Recently, my boyfriend's 17-year-old brother started looking at colleges. While we were visiting my boyfriend's mother, she told us that the younger son was upset because the "new wife" told him that he shouldn't be selfish like my boyfriend and his older sister by going to expensive schools and then taking jobs that didn't warrant such an education. My boyfriend wants to intervene with the new wife not only because she has slandered him and his sister, but also because she's trying to make their little brother feel bad about his college choices. My boyfriend asked what I think he should do, and I don't know what to say.

—Middle Muddle

Dear Middle,
I often wonder what a man is thinking when he goes through a painful divorce only to marry someone who would love to see his children move to a village in Upper Mongolia, preferably one without cell-phone coverage. Your boyfriend should keep in mind that when there's a conflict between children from the first marriage and the second wife, men can be real weenies because they have to live with the second wife and hope to avoid having her become the second ex. However, Stepmother needs to be called out on this, especially if she has the power to manipulate her husband into skimping on college for the youngest. (I'm assuming the money she would like her husband to save on tuition should go to someone she deems more worthy: her.) However, the person your boyfriend needs to talk to is not the new wife, but his father. And your boyfriend must use all the self-restraint he can muster because a confrontation will simply be a win for the wife. Your boyfriend should talk privately with his father and say that he's heard that the wife feels he and his sister are not taking advantage of their educations. He should explain that this really stung because going to a fine school was a privilege he deeply appreciates and feels he is using. He should tell his father he's speaking up about this because he hopes his younger brother will also be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to be educated at the college of his choice with their father's help.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
I will soon be a bridesmaid at my friend's wedding. I live out of town, so the other bridesmaids and I agreed that I would handle the bridal shower, and they would plan the bachelorette party. When I received the invitation to the bachelorette party, I was surprised to read that attendees would be charged $140. I politely asked what the money would be going toward, since I'm pregnant, strapped for cash, and did not want to spend a lot on alcohol. The bridesmaids accused me of not caring about my friend and said it would cover "the cost of a good time." The bachelorette party was a limo ride to a club for dinner (we paid for our drinks), then dessert at one of the bridesmaids' homes. It turns out the evening cost no more than $80 per person. I drove some of the other guests home, and they were furious that the two bridesmaids had either made a profit off us or had us pick up their tab. I'd like to get the money back for my baby fund—especially since I already financed the bridal shower. I'm not friends with the two bridesmaids like the other women are, so I could inquire whether they might have made a mistake and accidentally overcharged the guests. On the other hand, I do not want to create problems for the bride. What should I do?

—Attack of the Bridesmaid-zillas

Dear Attack,
Every time I think, Enough, we've heard all the wedding questions, someone comes up with a new innovation. Perhaps this pair was recently laid off from the firm of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC and decided to go into the party-planning business. Your initial attempt to find out where all the money was going was rebuffed, and now that the evening is over, it's unlikely your fellow bridesmaids will be willing to show you an invoice that indicates they've ripped you off. If you all feel you were taken for a ride (and not in a limo), comfort yourself with the fact that the two chiselers have to live in town with the rest of the women who attended the party, and they'll be repaid in intangible ways for their greed. Then accept that the amount they skimmed will not make or break your ability to pay your child's college tuition, and write the evening off.

—Prudie