My friend, law professor and disability advocate Paul Miller, who had a great, accomplished life and died much too young, once wrote about the calculation he sometimes made about whether to run errands. Miller, who had achondroplasia—dwarfism—wrote how exhausting it could be on occasion to deal with the stares, the remarks, and the questions that inevitably came in the course of going about his business. I wish there were some way to universally get the word out that people with disabilities, or unusual features, or who are parents whose race doesn’t match their children’s, etc. are not on duty as permanent spokespeople. But as your husband has experienced for much of his life, and you have since you’ve been with him, there is always going to be a minority of people who think they are entitled to make inquiries. Forget formulating a witty response; you need a terse conversation-ender. Readers in situations similar to your husband have told me that with strangers an effective way to do this is to say, “Excuse me, but I don’t know you,” and move on. However, it’s impossible to extinguish human curiosity, and with people you’ll be dealing with on a regular basis—or the occasional stranger if the mood strikes—it may be easier just to give them the minimum necessary: “He had bone cancer as a boy, and fortunately he’s fine now.”
I’m a happily married female professional who frequently travels alone for business. It's not unusual for me to sit at the hotel bar for a drink or dinner and people watch. I welcome conversation as these trips can be lonely and tedious. Men frequently talk to me, which is fine in theory. The problem is these guys think speaking with them means I want to sleep with them. I wear my wedding ring and make frequent references to my husband, but this doesn't deter the blatant sexual advances. When I turn them down they get angry and accuse me of "false advertising." The men are typically married themselves! I don't want to lock myself in my room all the time, but is going to a bar alone "false advertising"?
—Just Likes To Chat
Apparently every stud on the road selling widgets adopts the unofficial Secret Service motto: Wheels Up, Rings Off. We’ve recently learned how an alcohol-fueled conversation between attractive strangers can lead to misunderstandings, at least at the Hotel Caribe in Colombia. But just because guys at the bar are hoping to get lucky, does not mean you should be forced into purdah. To bring this back to George Clooney’s oeuvre, it could also be that your suitors have seen Up in the Air too many times and assume friendly female road warriors just want to have a certain kind of fun. There is no implied contract in your shooting the breeze with a fellow traveler. But after a drink or two, you may want to get your dinner at a table, and people watch from behind a book.
More Dear Prudence Columns
"A View to a Thrill: Neighbor boys peep at my scantily clad daughters. Should I have them cover up?” Posted June 30, 2011.
“Loving Thy Neighbor: I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?” Posted June 23, 2011.
“Fatherly Advice: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose wife fears he'll abandon the family in favor of his long-lost daughter—and other Father's Day advice seekers.” Posted June 16, 2011.
“Businessman on the Road to Ruin: My wife doesn't know I visit strip bars and porn theaters while away on business. But that's not cheating, right?” Posted June 9, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“All Dogs Go to Heaven: Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 27, 2011.
“Sloppy Stay-at-Home Mom: Prudie advises a man whose wife is great at everything except keeping the house neat—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 13, 2011.
“The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl: Prudie advises a former bully whose kids are being mistreated by her victim's children—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 6, 2011.
“The Accused: A young neighbor's unfounded claims put my family in danger. Should we allow the girl back into our lives?” Posted June 2, 2011.