Dear Prudence

Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That …

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Dear Prudence,

I live in a small town. A year ago, my husband committed suicide. I have two small children, and the woman I work with became close friends with me, and now we do almost everything together. She has been a dear companion and friend during the worst time of my life. She has never married and cares for her ailing sister, who lives with her. She is like a mother to my kids. The narrow-minded people in this town have decided that we are gay. Even my family has bought into this idea … if everyone suspects it, it must be true! We have been discriminated against and ostracized from community activities as a result, and I am afraid that it will someday affect my children. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are not lovers and not even close to being gay. We are just good, dear friends who spend a lot of happy time together. How do I fight this, disrepute it, or change people’s minds?

—Sadly Wondering

Dear Sad,

What a shame that judgmental people can cause such heartache. Prudie thinks it’s wonderful that you have such a friendship and that it came to you at a most trying time in your life. As for outsiders’ erroneous inferences, there is never a way to dispute their conclusions or change their minds, so forget about that. It sounds to Prudie as though you live in a very small town, and moving to a more metropolitan area seems out of the question because of your friend’s sister—but it is something you might consider if at all possible. And if you are thought to be two lesbian ladies, so be it. Should this become an issue for your children, that will be the time to have a serious discussion about small-mindedness, tolerance, sexuality, and misperceptions. If yours is a happy home with this woman’s participation, that’s what counts.

—Prudie, acceptingly

Dear Prudie,

My husband works for his brother. The brother started a company, which has blossomed into a very successful enterprise. The brothers have done a good job of keeping business matters from disrupting family life, even when they don’t agree about professional matters, etc. However, the brother has done something that can hardly help affecting the family. He may have impregnated the receptionist. She is definitely pregnant and definitely keeping the child. It is almost certainly the brother’s, but she will have a paternity test after the child is born. My in-laws, so far as I know, do not realize that their son likely is the father, but they do know she is pregnant.

As luck would have it, I have not yet had occasion to speak with or see the receptionist, but I usually do have fairly regular contact with her, and we have always been friendly. My question: What should I say the next time I do see her or speak with her on the phone? I know this child was unplanned and unwanted (at least by my brother-in-law). I am assuming that, despite these suppositions, the proper thing to do is to congratulate her? It seems a tad strange, though, to be congratulating her on her unplanned pregnancy. I realize that, to a certain degree, I will just have to see how the not-so-happy couple proceeds and then follow their lead. (Brother-in-law has said he will provide financial support and will be active in the child’s life if the baby is his, but he is uninterested in a lasting relationship with the receptionist outside of the office.) Any suggestions?

—SIL, Wonderingly

Dear S,

Well, if you speak to the receptionist on the phone, there will be no need to say anything—unless you’re on a video-phone and she’s standing up. When you see her, however, and she’s showing, rather than “Congratulations!” you might just inquire how she’s feeling … thereby acknowledging the obvious without being inappropriately enthusiastic. The good news is that it sounds as though your brother-in-law is single because you say he is uninterested in a relationship outside the office. (Something he has obviously tried.) Probably the best thing you can do as this situation plays out is to treat this girl as you would any employee who’s having a baby. If you’re inclined to have a shower for her, for example, by all means, do. Good luck to one and all.

—Prudie, nonchalantly

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been very close with a woman for several years, and over the past couple years we have become intimate. One thing that has happened four times this past year is that she has called out her ex’s name in the heat of passion. While I’m sure they are not seeing each other, this last instance was too much for me to take. She claims it’s from years of “habit,” but I feel it has more to do with where her mind is. Am I overreacting, or is there something to this?

—Shame in a Name

Dear Shame,

The situation you describe certainly makes the case for that frequent bedroom declaration, “Oh, my God!” Actually, a psychiatrist once told Prudie that the only time being called an ex’s name is permissible is during a fight; then the current partner can be secretly glad the ex’s name is associated with trouble. But of course you are “normal” to be distressed if you’re a Sam being called a Scott. The point you raise, though, is interesting because it brings us to the subject of fantasy—often a part of sexual interaction. (It’s just too bad your lady friend had to identify hers out loud.) It is up to you to weigh the various aspects of this relationship so that you can decide what this particular slip of the tongue means to the overall picture.

—Prudie, nominally

Dear Pru,

I have been married for two-plus years to a woman with whom I have a child. I love my daughter more than anything, and I love my stepson endlessly, but I’m not in love with my wife. We got married for the wrong reasons. I am a good provider and would do anything for them, and I just can’t see telling her to “take a hike.” My question is this: Do I stay in a loveless marriage for the kids, or do we call it quits and be two parents apart? I’ve heard of people who stayed married because they were “used to” the other person. I’m not sure I agree with that one; it just doesn’t seem natural to me. And I don’t want to wake up years later and wonder where all the years went. 

—Wanting Out

Dear Want,

Yours is a rather common and always sad question. Prudie would suggest counseling so you can work out the conflicts you have—even if they’re with yourself. A two-parent, intact home is sometimes preferable, but not if it’s loveless, with tension and frost. Many authorities no longer believe in keeping a marriage together “for the sake of the children.” But one can also state a lot of reasons for not cutting and running just because there’s no fire. You need to examine your particular situation with someone who is trained to help you explore your feelings, thereby crystallizing your thinking. Then you’ll have a better shot at knowing what to do. Prudie wishes you well.

—Prudie, understandingly