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About five years ago, when I turned 70, I decided to get in touch with my gay side. I'd lived as a straight man all my life and enjoyed a 50-year marriage with my darling wife, but I always suppressed my desire to be with a guy. So now I'm in the situation of having a reasonably good relationship with my wife and a great, but limited, relationship with a male friend. My wife has had no interest in sex for the past 20 years. I have sex with my friend, and we enjoy it very much. I'm not taking anything away from my wife, so I don't consider what I'm doing to be cheating. I still work full-time and only see my guy during the day when I take a break from the office about twice a month. I think my wife suspects that I'm gay, but it's not something we'd talk about. So should I broach the subject with her? (She'd freak out.) Should I break up with the guy who makes me happy? Or just continue to live a double life?
—What's a Bi To Do?
You must see the delightful movie Beginners. It's based on writer and director Mike Mills' experiences watching his father exuberantly come out of the closet in his 70s, after the death of Mills' mother. Even if you were to take your wife to this movie, dressed like the star Christopher Plummer in a tight pullover and jaunty rainbow-print scarf, I'm not sure your wife would voice the obvious conclusion that you've got something to tell her. Your long marriage sounds as if it is based on affection, respect, abnegation, and elision. Your tacit agreement seems to be that you don't speak unpleasant truths to each other, either about her lack of desire for sex these past two decades or your desire for sex with men. If you were both middle-aged, I'd suggest you talk this out. There would have been time then for you two to decide to live more honestly, possibly split and look for other partners, or at least make explicit the terms of your marriage. But now, in your 70s, it would be rather cruel to pull a final-act twist on your wife. She evidently likes her life, you two are committed to each other, and she doesn't want to know what's up. However, after a lifetime of suppression and fidelity (and a long stretch of celibacy), I think you're entitled to this new connection and the pleasure it brings. Be aware that something may cause this situation to explode (being sighted by a blabbermouth, falling in love, etc.). If so, then you'll just have to deal with the fallout. And if that happens and you have children, I hope they're as tender and accepting as the son in Beginners.
Dear Prudence: Insulting Wedding Gift
Almost five years ago, while I was pregnant, I discovered my husband was having an affair, and we divorced. My ex gave up his parental rights so he wouldn't have to pay child support. I've since met a wonderful man, "Max," whom I married in the spring. He is the only father my daughter, "Avery," has known, and he plans to adopt her. Max wants me and Avery to take his last name. Avery, who's almost 5, does not want either of us to change our names. If we mention the adoption or the name change, she cries and cannot express why it bothers her so much. The name change is extremely important to Max. His parents have been wonderful grandparents to Avery, and it is also important to them that we all become a family with a common last name. I'm pregnant, and the baby will have Max's last name. I don't want to change my name and leave Avery behind with our old last name, but I also don't want her to be forced to do something she doesn't want to do. I love everyone involved in this fiasco, including Max's parents, and I want everyone to be happy. What should I do?
—To Change or Not To Change
It's no fiasco that your little girl finds herself overwhelmed with all the changes happening in her life and wants to hang on to her name as a way of feeling a measure of control. It also could be that a fairy tale, or a glimpse of a negative TV show about adoption, has put a fear into her head that she can't even explain. This is the kind of thing that happens when you're 4 years old. What would be a fiasco is if Avery's loving new father decides to get in a power struggle with her and compels her to take his name. If that starts happening, suggest some short-term family counseling to defuse this. There is plenty of time for your family to formalize an adoption, and it will be so much sweeter if Avery considers it a celebration, not a punishment. That doesn't mean she should dictate what you do. You can explain to her that when people get married, sometimes they change their last names and sometimes they don't. You're excited to have the same last name as her daddy, so you're going to do that, but no one is going to force her. All the adults remaining low-key and reassuring about a little girl's worries will help quell them. It's also important that you not make this subject taboo. You can tell her you're going to drop it for now, but you'll check in with her about it from time to time, and she's free to ask any questions or raise any concerns. The arrival of the baby will be joyful as well as a shock for all of you. After things settle down, Avery may surprise you and say that she would like to be adopted and have the same last name as the rest of her family.
I'm a physician. About a year ago a doctor whom I had worked with was arrested for having child pornography on his home computer. At no point was it alleged that he molested any children or took any of the pictures himself. However, he lost his job. He and I have not been in contact since this happened. Recently, he emailed me saying he wanted to "catch up" and ask me for a job recommendation as a consultant. I know it would be easy and safe just to ignore him. But even though he's a pervert, there's no reason why he shouldn't be able to get a job as long as it doesn't involve being around kids. The job he's looking at doesn't involve any patient contact. He's an experienced doctor, and I think he'd be a good consultant. It seems like the charitable thing to help him find gainful employment and put his life back together. If I do give him a recommendation, should I tell the potential employer about his arrest? On the other hand, I don't want to risk being tainted by having any association with this guy. And do I really want to help out someone who participated in the exploitation of children, albeit in an indirect way?
—First Do No Harm,
I understand your conflict because I struggle with the right answer to questions about people released from jail after being convicted for possession of child pornography. I hope it's self-evident that I find child pornography repulsive and that those involved in damaging children deserve the severest penalties. Yet I believe as a society we've gone way overboard in making no distinction between those who commit sexual offenses against children and those whose twisted sexuality finds an outlet looking at sexual images of children. If your former colleague has paid his debt to society for the latter, then it is a loss for all if he can't practice his profession. I think you should meet with him and consider a recommendation. But if you give one, you also have to protect yourself. So have a blunt discussion with Dr. X. Tell him your recommendation is contingent on him being honest with his potential employers, because you are going to have to mention the circumstances of his departure from his last job. This may make you feel it would be easier to blow off the guy (and could make him withdraw his request). But having him become productive again is certainly better for society than making him a jobless pariah.
Last week, my wife and I got in an argument as we were driving to a friend's house for a dinner engagement. We were running 20 minutes late, however my wife was adamant that we stop to pick up a bottle of wine. I argued that it would be a greater courtesy to arrive as soon as we could. We stopped and got wine and flowers and arrived nearly an hour late. Our friends were gracious, and the gifts were appreciated. What would have been better: arriving an hour late with gifts, or arriving a little late empty handed? Clearly, arriving on time with gifts is the best, but we barely make our flights.
Your hosts may have been gracious, but they were silently grinding their teeth as they watched the roast become a cinder and all their other guests become drunk waiting for you. Apologizing for your tardiness and giftlessness would have been preferable. A thank you the next day could have included dropping off a bottle of wine. I'm also chronically late, for which there is no excuse, but at least I know to put some systems in place to reduce my inconvenience of others. I never have to stop on the way for a hostess gift because I have a stash of wine and, in the mad rush out the door, all I have to do is grab a bottle. I would also think the prospect of facing the TSA while frantic and panting would help get you to the airport on time.
More Dear Prudence Columns
"Big Love: I met a great woman online, but I'm not attracted to her body type. Is our blooming connection doomed?" Posted April 21, 2011.
"I'll Have What the Toddler's Having: Dear Prudence advises a woman whose partner eats only unsophisticated kids' food." Posted April 14, 2011.
"Dating a Cyber Snooper: My boyfriend hacked into my email and now uses my sexual past against me. Should we break up?" Posted April 7, 2011.
"A War of Words: I'm proud of my Marine brother. What do I say when people denigrate the military?" Posted March 31, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
"My In-Laws Should Be Outlawed: Dear Prudence offers advice on overly critical, criminal-minded, and cringe-worthy in-laws during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted April 18, 2011.
"Baby on Board: Dear Prudence advises a mom weary of rude subway riders interfering with her baby's commute—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted April 11, 2011.
"Let's Tie the NOT! Dear Prudence advises a reader whose mate is reluctant to wed, even after five years and a baby together—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted April 4, 2011.
"Awkward Family Photos: Dear Prudence advises a reader who accidentally sent sexy self-portraits to her in-laws—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com." Posted March 28, 2011.