Dear Prudence: My affair partner just had a stroke, and I want to leave everything and care for him.

Help! My Affair Partner Just Had a Stroke. Should I Blow Up My Family to Care for Him?

Help! My Affair Partner Just Had a Stroke. Should I Blow Up My Family to Care for Him?

Advice on manners and morals.
March 12 2015 6:00 AM

Going, Going, Gone

I want to leave my family for the man I love—and who just had a stroke.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a woman who has been married for 15 years, and I have a 13-year-old child. I have been in a long-distance love affair for four years with a single man almost 20 years older than I am. Our plan has always been to wait until my child is out of high school (four more years) before I divorce my husband and we begin our life together. I know I am not going to be viewed favorably because of my affair, but now I have a different problem. My lover recently had a stroke, and chances are not looking good for a full recovery. I very much want to spend whatever years my significant other has left with him. Our plan was to ease into our full-time relationship while causing the least amount of damage as possible. But now I don’t know what to do. Any advice?

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—Major Life Change

Dear Major,
To quote that philosopher of love, Donald Rumsfeld, the unknown unknowns here significantly outweigh the known knowns and known unknowns. Here you are, far away from your ailing lover, and you don’t know whether you should upend everything and run to his side to become his caretaker. You have been living with a long-running dream to one day take your secret life public, but neither you nor your lover could have guaranteed that once your child packed up for college you both would have actually put this plan into place. Maybe you would have discovered he liked having that committed future always out of grasp, and he preferred an ardent, no-strings lover. Maybe you would have discovered you didn’t want to take the financial hit of a divorce and you were enjoying the freedom of your empty nest. You don’t say whether your lover has other people who are emotionally close and close by. It’s possible he has a rich, full life and people ready to help him. It could be the last thing he would want is to be dependent on you and for you to tear apart your family. You have a romantic notion of nursing him back to whatever degree of health is possible. Before you do that, sit in on a support group for spouses of stroke victims and find out what that’s really like. You have specialized in long-term, long-distance deception. That’s not going to work anymore. I can’t tell you what to do, beyond being willing to shine a harsh light on what’s known, and trying to grasp the consequences of what’s unknown.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I’m a 33-year-old woman, the eldest of four kids from a tight knit, Christian family. My dad has always been a dedicated family man, but through a friend of mine who works with him I learned that he has been known to go to strip clubs during his travels. I didn’t think much of those outings my friend described until I borrowed my dad’s phone to Google something and saw in the search history the phrase “Can you get a disease by licking a woman’s nipples?” I don’t know if it was related to those strip club trips, but in any case, I doubt it was a typo. I want to give my dad the benefit of the doubt, but I feel owe it to my mother, and as a wife and mother myself, to discuss this with my dad. He’s coming to visit, and I want to bring it up, but how do I discuss something so awkward?

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—Daddy Issues

Dear Issues,
It’s best to get right to the point: “Dad, have you ever heard of ‘oral areola sudden death syndrome’? I believe it mostly affects traveling businessmen.” I agree with you that the phrase, “Can you get a disease by licking a woman’s nipples?” is not just a slip of the fingers or even the tongue. But I disagree with you that this is a situation that calls for you to intervene. Unless you have reason to believe there is a life-threatening danger that needs addressing, it is always best to stay out of one’s parents’ sex lives. I think the conversation you need to have is with the blabby friend—you should make clear that you hope she or he is not spreading destructive rumors around the workplace, and you’d appreciate not getting any more updates about your father. But there is something worth mentioning to your father—and that’s how everyone needs to know how to clean out their browsing history.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence, 
My parents have enjoyed international travel in their retirement. Over the last five years, they’ve taken my two siblings on separate vacations to Europe, and my mother said that this year was my year. They chose the destination and informed us that they would like to take my husband, my daughter, and me to a European capital this summer. The catch: We have to pay our way to get there and for our fun once we’re there. My husband and I are both nonprofit employees with graduate school debt. We have all-day day care to pay for. I love travel but a trip to Europe would be difficult to do without significantly reducing our savings. Now the invitation to what was to have been “my” trip has been extended to my two sisters and their families. My sisters are both very well off. My mother has been undeterred by my concerns and tells me just to save more money. If I refuse to go, I’m going to be blamed for breaking up a great family vacation. What should I do?

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—Not So Bon Voyage

Dear Bon,
Tell me where the “take you to Europe” part kicks in. From your description, they are ordering you to go to Europe and demanding you pick up the tab. You have to pay for your airfare and for your “fun” once you’re there. When I’m traveling “fun” includes a place to sleep and food to eat, but maybe your parents will pay for that part of the trip and you are expected to pay for museums, guides, etc. Whatever the unfortunate monetary aspects of this trip, a European vacation with a child still in day care is an exercise in frustration. If you like culture and great restaurants, you really can’t partake. You will be tied to a toddler’s schedule, frustrated by the things you can’t enjoy, and wondering why you didn’t just rent a beach house with another young family. You are not breaking up a great family vacation; you are saving yourself a ruinous debt-ridden excursion. Tell your parents you wish you could go, but you’ll consider joining one of their jaunts down the road when the trip makes more sense logistically and financially.

Dear Prudence,
My fiancé is going to be a groomsman in his close friend’s wedding this summer. He bought the suit for the wedding and wants to wear it first to another friend’s wedding on the other side of the country. The two sets of engaged friends don’t know each other. When he mentioned wearing the suit twice to his close friend, it wasn’t an issue. But then the bride found out and she is completely offended. Mutual friends have taken her side, saying my fiancé is wrong to buy a suit for their wedding and wear it first to another wedding. To me it’s just a suit, and what does it matter? My fiancé feels terrible putting his close friend in the middle of this mess. I want to know if the bride is being a diva, or is there a rule of etiquette concerning double-duty suits?

—Not a Bridezilla

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Dear Not,
The only thing that I can come up with that makes sense out of this imbroglio is that your fiancé always gets drunk at weddings, is known for puking on himself, and does not believe in dry cleaning. Otherwise, practically everyone involved is acting nuts. First, your fiancé did not need permission to wear a suit twice, especially one he purchased, and shouldn’t have mentioned it to his close friend. Second, it’s a good thing he did, because the insane reaction by the bride should give the groom a chance to reconsider spending the rest of his life with someone who would even care about this, let alone be “completely offended.” Third, you and your fiancé need to get some nonmutual friends, because yours appear to have lost touch with reality. Your fiancé should stop feeling terrible about the suit and start feeling glad that he’s marrying you—apparently the only sane person in your social circle. Your fiancé should tell his friend and the bride-to-be that the suit discussion is closed. If she wants to exclude him from the wedding because of a previously worn suit, then your fiancé will be relieved of having to appear to support this marriage.

—Prudie

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