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Dear Prudence is on vacation this week, so in honor of the summer we’re running the best vacation-related letters from recent years—from both the chat and the column.
Dear Prudence, Last summer my husband and I rented a house with another couple for two weeks. We’ve all been close friends for many years, and I considered the wife to be my best friend. Recently my husband confessed to having slept with her once during our vacation, after we’d all had too much to drink and the other husband and I had gone to sleep. He begged me not to reveal to my friend that he told me, since, of course, they had sworn themselves to secrecy. I have forgiven my husband for being stupid. I know that he loves me and has no intention of repeating what happened, but my feelings toward my friend are very ambivalent. If I can forgive my husband, I should also be able to forgive her, but this is difficult because I can’t talk things out with her without giving away my husband. It’s also very hard for me to maintain our formerly close friendship knowing about this breach of trust. Should I just try to forgive and forget, or spill the beans and possibly wreck a longtime four-way friendship?
Dear Ambivalent, I admire that you are a forgiving and understanding person, but your best friend didn’t forget your birthday; she slept with your husband! I accept this is a one-time event—a brew of booze, bathing suits, and balmy breezes—and there was no reason for your husband to confess except an inability to live with his guilt. Your husband’s disclosure and promise that it won’t happen again allowed you to forgive him. But you don’t know if your friend shares your husband’s shame, or if she thinks of their tryst as a secretly thrilling interlude. Since you’ve had no acknowledgement of wrongdoing from your friend, the burden falls on you to try to maintain the relationship as it was, and you’re understandably finding it a heavy one. Your husband’s confession was commendable, but it came with its own bit of manipulation: his plea that you not let your friend know he violated their pact. While he can ask you to keep the secret, you’re free to decide what’s best both for your marriage and yourself. Perhaps you’ll want to inform your husband that you need to discuss this with your friend. You can tell her you know what happened and that you won’t say anything to her husband, but you can no longer live with the pretense. It could be that over time, your pleasure in their company will outweigh the pain of the betrayal, but you shouldn’t feel coerced into continuing the friendship because putting on a front makes it so much easier on the cheaters.
Dear Prudence, My husband and I are planning a vacation to Hawaii. One of my friends has been feeling very lonely since she broke up with her boyfriend, and I’ve been spending a lot of time with her to be supportive. She recently informed me she’s coming to Hawaii at the same time we’re going to be there and is staying at the same hotel! She’s very excited about the vacation and wants to know exactly what activities my husband and I are planning, presumably so she can come along with us. I’m really annoyed because this is supposed to be a chance for my husband and me to spend some quality time together. I’ve been dropping a lot of hints about how busy we will be, and how we won’t have time to spend with her. I’m also emphasizing how much things are going to cost. (My friend is strapped for cash.) However, she’s not getting the message and she’s already made hotel and plane reservations! What should I do?
—Three’s a Crowd
Dear Crowd, Maybe the boyfriend broke up with her because she is clingy as a barnacle and has as much social sense. Native Hawaiian wildlife is under threat by invasive species, and your tropical romantic getaway is also in danger because of an intruder. Before you find your friend sitting in the middle seat between you and your husband as you all take off for this threesome, stop hinting about what a pest she’s being. Sit her down and tell her how upset you are that she’s invited herself on your vacation. Explain this is a long-planned trip for you and your husband to have a romantic time together, and you don’t intend to make it a trio. Say of course you can’t prevent her from going to Hawaii, but you’re not going share your schedule with her because you don’t intend to share your vacation with her. If she can’t take the financial hit and cancel the tickets, then she needs to start planning her own activities. You can also say it might be less awkward if she stays at a separate hotel so you’re not always running into her in the lobby. If she can’t figure out how to enjoy herself alone on vacation, she can always swim up to the poolside bar and drown her sorrows in Lava Flows.
Q. No, Everyone Does Not Want to See Your Nipples: My 20-year-old son “Ted” has a 19-year-old girlfriend named “Dahlia.” Dahlia is very well-endowed and rarely wears a bra. However, she does wear low-cut clothing and often looks like she’s about to fall out. The dress she was wearing last night was so small on her that she couldn’t zip it up all the way and she was very close to a nip slip. When she walked in the door, she looked at me, shrugged her shoulders and said, “I know this is a low-cut dress” as if she knew she was coming to my house, knew what my expectations are, but came looking like that anyway. Here’s my problem: She’s going on vacation with us in a week. I don’t want to seem prudish but I do want to get through to her that this type of dress isn’t appropriate for the places we’ll be going and the people we’ll be seeing. I’ll be asking her before we leave if she’s got bras in her suitcase, and I am ready to leave her behind if she doesn’t or make her go out and buy a few or buy them for her. What do I do? How do I handle this without alienating her but helping her to understand that something that is fine when you’re out clubbing is not fine when you’re trying to make a good impression with your boyfriend’s family?
A: You have time to have a friendly and helpful chat with Dahlia before you all go bouncing off on holiday. Take a supportive, not punitive, approach. You can say something like “Dahlia, dear, you’re young and beautiful, but the clothes you wear to go out in the evening aren’t going to be appropriate for family outings. I wanted to make sure you have things to wear, including bras, that will work for the trip. If not, let’s go to the department store and get you a few items.” If you have to put the underwire, nipple-concealing bra on your credit card, consider it an excellent investment.
Dear Prudence, My wife is planning to attend a professional conference in a few months in a warm location while I stay at home with our two young boys. In years past I have gone with her, but this year one son is in school. As much as I’ll be frazzled by five days alone with them, I’m happy that my wife is able to build her reputation. But she will be attending the conference with a guy I don’t care for, because he acts like he’s my wife’s best friend. They worked together for several years, and he was essentially her “work husband”—lunches together, drinks after work with their co-workers, texts and calls at home, inside jokes, birthday presents. I’ve tried to explain my belief that a man should not be “buddies” with another man’s wife, but my wife doesn’t see it and says they’re just pals. At the conference my wife will essentially be “dating” this guy for five days. I do trust my wife completely. But this guy is single and would, I’m sure, like to get involved if the opportunity were available. I’m annoyed that I will be home with the boys while she is on vacation with another man. I can’t ask her not to go, and I can’t join her. What can I do?
Dear Convention, What you shouldn’t do, once you tuck in the kids, is watch the movie Cedar Rapids. In that convention story, the insurance agent played by Anne Heche looks forward to the annual blowout so she can get away from her dutiful marriage, swim naked in the hotel pool, and get laid. Poor you, five days alone with your own sons, while your wife goes someplace warm (the nerve!), sees old colleagues, makes professional connections, and has some fun (bad Mommy!). One paragraph of your self-pity and bluster makes me want to pull up a lounge chair, order a pitcher of mojitos, and drown out the lectures on proper relations with the opposite sex. You’re right that some people have office spouses. This can be tricky because while it doesn’t offer conjugal privileges, it also doesn’t include such romance killers as wiping the kids’ noses and hauling the groceries. But you say you trust your wife completely, and during the years she worked with her office husband, they did not have an affair. I agree that if her relationship with her former colleague had been intruding on your time together, you would have been justified in asking for fewer happy hours and a moratorium on home phone calls—but they’re not even co-workers anymore. Stop harping on this conference, which is months away. When it rolls around, wish her a great trip and say you and the boys will enjoy doing guy stuff. That way, instead of thinking about what a relief it is to get away from her jealous prig, she will feel that no office husband measures up to the real thing.
Dear Prudie, My sister and I are both married with young children. Our mother, who lives near us, is almost 60 and has physical disabilities due to chronic pain. She is also flighty, stubborn, and tends not to make rational decisions. In recent years she has started supplementing her income by being a foster parent and has become very dedicated, sometimes having four high-needs children at a time. Last year she adopted one of them, “Cindy.” My sister and I were skeptical about this. Also, my mother’s sister has an affluent lifestyle, which my mother would like to emulate. So, soon Mom will leave on a three-week European vacation with her sister. The state will provide temporary housing for the foster kids and a week or so of respite care for Cindy. For the rest of the time, my mom wants me to take Cindy. Cindy has been hospitalized for acute psychiatric care recently, and my mother has had to call the police because of Cindy’s destructive behavior and threats to herself and others. My sister refuses to help my mother, saying that she won’t enable her bad decisions. My husband has also said that he will not agree to allow Cindy to stay with us, although I think I could insist. My mother is getting resentful of my sister and me and says she will try to line up a string of people to keep Cindy for a day or two. My heart breaks for this child who is bearing the brunt of an adult’s bad decision-making, and I am feeling guilty. How I can reconcile my own family’s needs, the needs of my adopted sister, and my relationship with my mother?
—The Good Daughter/Sister/Mother/Wife
Dear Good, I know there aren’t enough people in the world who want to adopt older, severely needy children. But how did an older, severely needy adult get approved to be the adoptive parent of one? Poor Cindy! You’re right, she is the victim—a lifetime victim—in all this, but I understand why your husband does not want this potentially dangerous girl in your home with your own children. Tragically, your mother sounds like exactly what Cindy, and the foster children, don’t need: a do-gooder who ends up doing bad because she’s erratic and incapable. If your mother wants to be paid for her altruistic impulses, it would be better if she worked at some kind of institution for troubled children, where her responsibilities would be limited. You need to have a blunt discussion with your mother, telling her that as much as she needs and deserves a break, she can’t do it at the expense of the children. She needs to arrange a stable situation for Cindy while she’s away, and if she can’t, then she needs to cut her trip short. I also think you should give your mother warning that you want to talk to the social services agency about how overwhelmed she is. Then you and your sister should contact this agency and tell them you are deeply concerned that your mother doesn’t have the physical or mental capacity to cope with high-needs children, and that you are also worried about Cindy’s future. Explain that as your mother ages, and her condition worsens, neither of you is able to take in your adopted sister, and that both of you fear that even now Cindy’s behavior is becoming more than your mother can handle.
Q. Obligated? Ten years ago, when my husband and I were expecting our first child, his mother made us promise that if we ever took our children to Disneyland that she be allowed to go with us, as she had never been. Of course, we agreed. We finally have the funds and time to make the trip with our two children. M-I-L has had numerous health concerns over the last year, and her health is unsteady at best. To make things worse, my cantankerous F-I-L is reluctant to let her out of his sight. She is the only one who can tolerate his political rants and constant complaining. He also has numerous health concerns and is unable to walk for extended periods of time. I fear that bringing them along would not only hamper our ability to enjoy the trip, but I would be playing the role of nursemaid the whole time. I’m hesitant to tell them about our travel plans. Are we still obligated to invite them?
A: If your father-in-law is as impossible as you say, I think you should get him an open-ended ticket for the It’s a Small World ride. That should quickly put him in a catatonic state and the rest of you will be able to enjoy your vacation. You promised your mother-in-law a trip to Disney, and it would be churlish to deprive her. However, all of you have to take into account your various physical needs and capacities. The entire family does not have to be joined at the hip. Get separate rooms, and if necessary make somewhat separate agendas for the day. You can all meet up for meals, or take one or two rides together. Surely Disneyland of all places is going to be able to accommodate little people of manic energy, and old people of fading strength. Get out of your head the idea that you have to play nursemaid, and let your in-laws decide how much Mickey Mouse they can stand.
Dear Prudence, My family planned an important vacation for this coming June. This vacation will be in a remote location, a helicopter ride away from medical services, and it is important to us for cultural reasons. Surprise, surprise—I learned I’m pregnant, and I will be 36 weeks at the time of this trip. I asked my doctor, and she said it was pushing it to go on vacation at that time. I have already had one easy, uncomplicated birth. Also, my husband will be coming with us, and he is a doctor. My sister is threatening to cancel the vacation for everyone because she is too worried about me going. I’ve assessed the risk as minimal, if any, and in any event, I am an adult! Should my sister shut her trap and let us all go on this vacation? We’ve agreed to respect your advice.
Dear Traveling, Since I get to decide, you’re staying home. I hope your family will reschedule for a more propitious time—meaning that during the hike, when you say, “My water just broke!” you mean your canteen fell on a rock. Even if your husband is a doctor, you don’t want him wiping off the afterbirth with banana leaves or cutting the umbilical cord with your sister’s nail clippers. I don’t understand why your doctor hasn’t told you outright not to go, but she’s definitely expressed her concern. The airlines are also likely to express theirs, since most commercial carriers limit travel for pregnant women after 36 weeks, and if you’re flying internationally, the cutoff time may be earlier. (Full-term pregnancy starts at 39 weeks.) That would put you right at the deadline. Just because you had one easy, uncomplicated birth does not mean you’re destined for another. To worry about having to call for an emergency evacuation in case baby No. 2 decides to evacuate in an untimely way is likely to undermine everyone’s pleasure during the vacation. And being 36 weeks pregnant is not the ideal time for rugged adventure, no matter what the cultural imperative. Yes, you’re an adult, but if something goes wrong, the risks aren’t minimal—they’re grave. I think you should thank your sister for speaking up; I’m thanking her for allowing me to play doctor without having to waste all that time in medical school.
Q. Vacation Dilemma: I live next door to my elderly in-laws. They have custody of their two grandchildren by my husband’s sister, who passed away. We see these kids almost every day, and I help with a lot of their day-to-day care. For the past three years they’ve lived next door, we’ve always taken them on vacations and day trips with us. We have a weekend trip coming up, and I would like to have a quiet family trip with just me, my husband, and our son. I’ve found it quite stressful to take two additional children and I just want one vacation where I don’t have to deal with constant squabbling and the headache of having three bouncy, excited, noisy children who hype each other up. And even though I’m happy to help look after my nephews, there is a part of me that misses the quiet family time we used to have, just us three. My husband thinks it’s cruel to “exclude” the nephews and I should just suck it up. Is it mean to have a trip with just our own offspring?
A: I totally understand your desire, but instead of having a squabble over a single weekend with your husband, you both need to sit down and start having some comprehensive conversations about the future and your expectations and obligations to your nephews. These boys have no mother, and if there’s a father he’s apparently too incompetent to care for them. Being raised by elderly grandparents sounds difficult, and given the actuarial realities, perhaps not long-term. So what needs to be addressed is the plans for the boys if your in-laws are no longer able to care for them. If you become their legal guardians, then it won’t be healthy for you to make distinctions between them and your “real” child. For now, I can see other ways to deal with this besides just saying, “We’re going to have fun—and that means leaving you two stay home with the grandparents.” These boys need activities over the summer. Maybe there are some short-term sleep-away camps they are old enough to attend. While they’re away, off the three of you go. Maybe their father—if he’s in the picture—can take them for a weekend. Maybe there are other relatives who can step up and be part of these children’s lives. And while the kids are visiting, your little group will enjoy your privacy. I know caring for two motherless boys was not in your life plan, but here they are, so all of you now need to figure out the best ways to get everyone’s needs met.