Dear Prudence

Call the Whole Thing Off?

Whether a marriage on the rocks is worth saving.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband had an affair seven years ago. To say that I was devastated is an understatement. However, through a lot of turmoil and counseling (I just started), I’ve started understanding a lot about myself and how, and why, I react to whatever my husband does. OK, let’s cut to the chase. My husband meets women and enjoys colorful conversations with them at bars, online, in chat rooms, on trains, you name it. I have a problem with that. One, he lies about it, and two, he feels that as long as he is not having sex, then it is OK. I’ve since discovered that he has been back in touch with the woman with whom he had the affair. I went through the roof. He asked why should I care; why should it matter if they stay in touch? It’s not as if she is living in this state, he told me. Well, I do care, and it does matter. I moved his things out of our bedroom and into the guest room. I told him to go to counseling (which he has been putting off for several weeks), to stop being intimately and emotionally involved with other women, and to stop drinking. However, I do love and desire this man. Is this marriage worth saving?

—Adrift in Atlanta

Dear Ad,
Your husband’s behavior is the tomcat version of being a dry drunk. He thinks because he’s not “doing anything” (which may or may not be true), he is just inside the foul line. The fact that one of his “friends” is the former flingee makes the situation all the more fraught. His boozing and dishonesty are huge problems. It would likely take a personality transplant to get things back on track. Prudie does not mean to be pessimistic, but after all this time, the odds are not good that he’s going to straighten up and fly right. So, the direct answer to your question is: probably not.

—Prudie, regretfully

Dear Prudence,
I consider myself a terrific girl. Reasonably pretty, great mental health, no big hang-ups. I like my job and make a good wage. Here’s the thing: I enjoy weight-lifting. Some people fish, collect stamps, or play community league soccer. I lift weights. And I’ve got a muscular physique as a result. I’m not enormous, but I have more muscle and definition than your typical girl (or guy!), and it’s certainly noticeable. Thing is, it’s all people will talk about if I’m within shouting distance. In the right context, I’m flattered. But most of the time it’s, “Flex for us!” and questions about steroids, wrestling, etc. I love my lifting, like my muscles, and won’t give it up. Do you have any suggestions on how to get the word out that I’d like people to give it a rest?

—Jill in Virginia

Dear Jill,
Prudie thinks thou dost protest too much. It’s pretty hard to have great definition, noticeable muscles—out of the ordinary, for women—and expect people to ignore it. They likely presume that someone who bulks up is proud of having that kind of bod … ergo, happy to talk about it. You may, however, ignore the requests to “flex for us.” You might say that that’s for the gym, not for social situations. Prudie wishes you, your lats, and pecs continued progress.

—Prudie, mightily           

Dear Prudence,
How do you respond to someone (a total stranger) who, out of nowhere, tells you to smile—or remarks on the lack of a smile on your face? In the past month I’ve observed the following incidents. At the checkout line in my grocery store, there was a woman in front of me and a man in front of her. The man looked at the woman, who was not smiling, and said to her, “You must be having a bad day.” She mumbled something in reply and gave an apologetic smile. After they left, I heard the two checkout clerks in the area speaking angrily to one another about what had just happened. One of them said indignantly, “What if her mother had just died?!” The other said, “I would have told him, ‘My day was fine until you came along!’ ” And so on. In another instance, a young man next to me at a sandwich shop, while placing his order, said to the young girl behind the counter, “Smile!” She quickly looked down at her work, cringed, and said, “Oh, it’s just been a long day, I guess.” (That’s the kind of response I probably would have made.) Then a few days ago, a male co-worker came into the office, annoyed, and said, “I hate it when people think I’m in a bad mood just because I’m not smiling. I’m not in a bad mood at all.” Apparently someone (another total stranger) had said something to him while he was in the parking lot. When it’s happened to me, I know I’ve felt offended. I don’t want to be rude, but they’re out of line, aren’t they? I just would like to know how a person is supposed to respond to these people.

—Smiling When I Feel Like It

Dear Smile,
These commentators are strangers? What’s up with that? Prudie thinks a proper response would be nonverbal communication. Something along the lines of knitting your eyebrows together, narrowing your eyes, and making the slightest sneer, all while cocking your head to a 45 degree angle.

—Prudie, huffily      

I’m 11, it may seem odd to you that a kid is e-mailing you about something like this, but I’m curious. There was this girl I really liked. She is also 11 (about a month younger than me). She was in fifth grade and I was in sixth grade. So, the only time I saw her was on the bus in the morning and afternoon about an hour total every school day. We always walked to our houses together. And there was certain things she only did when I was sitting right next to her on the bus. For instance, we always tried to sit next to each other on the bus, as in side by side. She always faced me, and we talked to each other on the bus all the time. She told me secrets she didn’t even tell some of her friends. But then something awful happened. She moved to Texas. That’s a long ways away, considering I live on the West Coast. Two days before school ended I told her that I liked her more than a friend. She’s been told that by many kids before (that they like her), but this time she didn’t freak out. She was completely calm and relaxed while I was telling her this, like she liked me back. Thankfully I gave her my e-mail address and she gave me hers. Tell me, did she like me?


Dear Kev,
It most certainly sounds as if she did like you. Prudie would suggest that you keep the e-mails going and develop a pen-pal relationship. Who knows? You might wind up visiting in Texas, or her family may make a trip back to the West Coast. Writing is a very good way to stay in touch.

—Prudie, electronically