Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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.)
Q. When Karma Actually Happens: I am in my late 30s and still keep in touch with good friends from high school. “Jim” and “Arlene” were married to each other right out of high school. Jim then cheated on Arlene while they were married with Arlene’s best friend “Maureen.” Arlene left Jim and he and Maureen got together, and while they never married stayed together for years. Needless to say Maureen was not thought of highly and many wished karma to take action on her. Well just this year Maureen died after a long, horrible battle with cancer. Jim left Maureen while she was battling cancer because he “could not handle it.” Many people have been saying, well karma came and there it was, and I have to admit that I have thought the same thing. As someone who personally has been cheated on I have wished much worse on the cheater and the mistress. But is it wrong to feel that she got what she deserved? I think people saying that are terrible but in the back of my mind I cannot truly disagree and I feel horrible for feeling that way.
A: You’re old enough to have noticed that death comes to the cheater, the pure, the gossip. You’ve also probably observed that the idea of some tit for tat design behind it can be difficult to discern. (Although if there is karma, it will be a doozy for Jim.) Maureen betrayed her friend and helped cause the end of a marriage, then died young and agonizingly. I do not think these two events are related. Sure, the people who disliked Maureen may have felt she got what she deserved, but there should be a serious limit on this kind of crowing. I think when you hear such crowing you should say something like, “I’m not defending how Maureen treated Arlene, but I am sorry about her death.”
Q. Meet My Wife, Mariam Webster: I adore my wife. She is brilliant, hilarious and a wonderful conversationalist, but she routinely mispronounces existing words and invents new ones in earnest, like yesterday’s gems: “inspicuous” and “bomblastic.” She’s not trying to be funny when she does this. I’m a professor of English, and I have an urge to correct her at times, but I also don’t want to be a jerk. If it were me, I’d want to be corrected, but she’s very sensitive about her educational background and a childhood learning disability. Some of our dearest friends work in my field, and when my wife does this in their company, I can tell from the looks on their faces that this has become an inside joke for them. I know they love my wife and probably find her habit charming, but it bugs me that everyone knows it but her. I am conflicted about how to address this with her. What should I do?
A: Anyone who can coin “bomblastic” deserves an 800 on the verbal portion of the SAT. Professor, you knew this about your wife when you married her, so it only seems fair to grandfather in her neologisms. You say your wife had a “childhood learning disability”—but if she has some form of dyslexia, say, that doesn’t go away, she just has learned to cope. Sure, you’d want to be corrected, but you know your wife and know she wouldn’t. Who cares if your friends get in the car and say, “Bomblastic—now that was fantastic!” Do not exchange knowing glances with your friends, just delight in your wife’s ability to keep the language fresh.
Q. Giving Wife a Free Pass: So, my wife just turned 50 and I offered her a free pass to find a man or woman and have a fling. I would be fine with her doing it with me there or on her own and telling me about it afterward. We have used this fantasy for most of our 14 year marriage. Now that I offer it to her, she’s mad, saying I must not love her. I do and it is a big turn on. Am I a bad husband?
A: I assume your wife is thinking that for your next birthday you’re going to suggest she doesn’t have to buy you anything, she just has to give you a free pass. After 14 years of fantasizing together and getting mutually turned on while never acting on this fantasy, I hope you can understand your wife’s concern about your suddenly wanting to make this a reality. She’s hurt, so apologize! Do all the blah-blah-blah about how she is the only one who you want to be with and you don’t want her with anyone else, that you feel like a jerk for making her feel otherwise, etc., etc. Oh, and look up “projection.”
Q. Re: When Karma Actually Happens: On the subject of karma, hopefully the people who are crowing over this woman’s painful death from cancer realize that their own karma just took a dramatic downward turn. As a cancer patient, I am appalled by their “she deserved it” mentality. People with cancer are not all bad people who did something to deserve this!
A: Great point about the pernicious school of thought that blames people for contracting illness. I also love your point about karma for people who celebrate the karma of other’s misfortune!
Q. Mom’s Unrealistic Backpacking Fantasy: My mother is in her mid-60s, a little overweight, and has never been physically active in her whole life. She has a very adventurous world-traveling friend that recently planned a cross-country Italian trek for them next year, that would require they walk 7 miles a day and sleep in hostels as they go from town to town. It sounds like it could be a great adventure, but my mother is a high-maintenance woman who has a low tolerance for discomfort, and refuses to do any exercise. She keeps saying that she is going to start training, but she will find any excuse not to do exercise. I want to gently tell her that this is not a realistic trip for her, but she would likely be very offended and get angry. How should I approach this? Should I even say anything?