Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week's chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie's Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. Let's get to it.
Q. Three's a Crowd: "Laura" and I have been best friends since we were 10. Four years ago her husband, "James," needed my help on a work-related matter and came over without Laura, who was busy with something else. It involved a very difficult and tedious task, and we decided to make it more tolerable by bringing out some wine. That night James and I ended up sleeping together. I always had a small, harmless crush on James but never in my wildest dreams fantasized about acting on it until that night. We both felt very guilty afterward. I even tried to cut off contact with Laura for awhile, but she kept calling me in tears asking what she'd done wrong. I feel horrible, and I am not even attracted to James anymore. We avoid each other as best as we can. I'm struggling with whether I should confess to Laura or not. I can't get over what I did, but should I tell her?
A: If you were going to confess, the time for confession was at the time. Cast your mind back to the alternative reality that didn't take place: tears, pain, recrimination, possibly lawyers and divorce. I am not defending cheating or saying the best way to deal with it is to keep it a secret. But I have come to feel that a single episode of it, much regretted and never repeated, is often best forgotten by those concerned. (Certainly you realized that compounding your betrayal by trying to punish Laura was cruel.) It's been four years, so telling Laura now would not only be devastating, but leave her wondering what's the hidden message behind this sudden revelation. It would also likely make her feel the past four years of her life were some kind of farce in which you and James were mocking her and communicating through glances she will now obsessively reinterpret. You say you can't get over what you did, so living with that awful feeling is your penance. Don't also make Laura pay.
Dear Prudence: Charitable Conundrum
Q. Loans, Parenting: My son "Alex" goes to school with my good friend "Pam's" daughter "Maggie." Three weeks ago Alex and Maggie went on a school field trip in which the kids used public transportation to reach their destination. Pam chaperoned. Alex misplaced his bus money, so Pam "loaned" him 75 cents to return to school after the field trip ended. Alex promptly forgot about the "loan," which Pam explained to him she expected to be repaid, and now I have learned that Pam and Maggie are upset because Alex refuses to repay the loan. Maggie has asked him seven times if he has brought her mother's 75 cents, explaining that repaying loans is a "matter of principle." The kids are 12, so I understand that Pam's trying to teach Alex financial responsibility, but I'm miffed that Maggie has been badgering Alex about this. It's only 75 cents, after all. And what would Pam have done? Not given him the money and left him on a street corner? My husband wants to give Alex 75 cents and be done with this. I think Pam's taken this too far, and I want to tell her how I feel she could have handled this better. What should I do?
A: There are so many lessons to be learned here; the primary one is that being a jerk doesn't teach anyone anything except that you are a jerk. This label could apply to everyone involved, except perhaps your husband. Obviously the amount is trivial, but Alex should have promptly repaid it. When he didn't, and after Maggie asked for the money and didn't get it, her mother should have told her to forget about it—and that she will learn in life that when you loan money, you don't always get it back. And further, it’s good to be generous and get a friend out a jam—one's good will tends to get repaid in the end. Pam instead is demonstrating she's an overbearing boor. But what's the lesson you're trying to teach Alex? It sound as if you believe that if people ask for their money back in a way you don't like, you don't have to give it. I'm with your husband on this, only I'd suggest Alex hand Maggie a dollar and say the extra quarter is interest on her loan.