Dear Prudence

Time Bomb

When do I tell a suitor about my dangerous condition that could affect our future?

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a professional woman in her 30s doing very well in life, except for the fact that I just got diagnosed with a brain condition that requires dangerous surgery. I exhibit no signs, look and act quite healthy, and must wait to have the surgery anywhere from three months to 20 years, depending on how my condition progresses. My parents, family, and friends are always introducing me and setting me up on dates, but I’m just too concerned about my life and future to make someone suffer. I sabotage dates because I don’t want to tell them my condition and think it’s unfair to put a burden on someone like that if I kept it a secret. I know that if I meet someone I like, I have to take a chance and let them know about my condition before moving forward to any serious relationship, and hope they don’t run. But I also must tolerate the rumors about still being single with silence from family and friends whom I don’t mean to offend. I feel so stuck.

—Brain Drain

Dear Drain,
Please join a support group, either in person or online, for people who share your condition. The uncertainty about the progression of disease must be intensely anxiety-provoking, and you will be helped by talking with others who are going through this. It’s also perfectly understandable that figuring out how to make sense of what you’re facing is taking all your energy, and you’re disinclined to pursue new relationships. Gradually, your condition will just be one fact of your life, not the main fact, and you will feel ready again for romance. No one wants to have an “I need to tell you something about myself” conversation, but you already know that it’s one you’ll need to have with the right person (that is, someone you’re interested in, and who is interested in you). So, discussing your medical condition is not something you have to do on the first (or second, or third) date. There is no rule for when to tell, but you will know you’re ready when you feel you’re unfairly withholding information. And as for telling, it sounds as if you haven’t told your family and closest friends. Don’t you think this is something those who care about you the most should know?


Dear Prudie,
Two of my good friends are engaged, and the wedding is planned for later this year. They are genuinely satisfied with and committed to each other, and I want to see both of them happy. Problem is, I’ve been smitten by the bride-to-be ever since I met her. At the time, I was in another relationship, but by the time that ended, her relationship with my buddy had blossomed. As the wedding date approaches, I can’t help feeling like I need to say something before all opportunity fades. I know I should just get over her, but even after dating others, my mind’s eye comes back to her. To top it all off, they want me to be the best man. I feel increasingly dishonest by omission, but I don’t want to sabotage two meaningful friendships. Should I tell her? Should I tell anyone? Or should I do what I’ve done for the last few years and just keep my mouth shut?

—Not-Quite-Best Man

Dear Not,
I hope you are not planning to re-enact the final scene of The Graduate and abscond with the bride (if you do, at least don’t take a bus). Your two friends have made their decision. Maybe the bride-to-be has even picked up over the years that you are sweet on her, but was relieved you never did anything about it. Continue not doing anything about it. Since they are your friends, and you are happy for them, keep a smile on your face during the ceremony—your duties as best man are not so onerous that you can’t fake your way through the day. You can, however, start exploring now why you would put your romantic life in limbo for someone (even if you think she’s the one) you can’t have. Could it be that not being able to have her is an essential ingredient of her allure?


Dear Prudence,
Something has been eating away at me and I don’t know what to do. I am an executive at a large company. About a decade ago, when I was just getting started, I became acquainted with a manager at this company who seemed interested in taking me under his wing. He was a terrific mentor, and I owe much of my current success to the knowledge and insight he passed along to me in those early years. He was also married with children. I was young, attractive, and single. As we grew closer, I became aware that he was separated and seeking a divorce. You can probably guess that eventually our relationship became sexual. This lasted a few months, and then he broke it off. I knew it was not right at the time, but I was naive and inexperienced, and I really believed he was in the midst of a divorce (not that that’s any excuse). Now I am older, wiser, married to a wonderful man, and have a child. I still work at this company, as does my former mentor, but we don’t see each other much. I am plagued with guilt about this past relationship! Our affair was a profound betrayal of his wife and family (by the way, he never did get divorced) and I can’t believe we did that to them. I don’t regret meeting him, but I deeply regret our affair. What I can do?


Dear Guilty,
I have a suspicion you are not the only young woman to have thought Mr. Mentor was in the middle of a divorce. It shows your maturity that you now regret getting involved with him, but the offense is mitigated by the fact that you were misled into believing his marriage was over. Why are you “plagued” by something you did long ago and did not repeat (as he likely has)? Is it because now that you have a family of your own, you understand what would be lost if you or your husband committed adultery? You have beaten yourself up sufficiently over a youthful lapse. If you can’t let it go, then you should talk to a therapist to figure out why this short-lived event continues to have such a hold on you.


Dear Prudence,
My wife and I are expecting our first child, who will be the first grandchild for her parents and my widowed mother. They couldn’t be happier, and we are excited to share the experience with them and the rest of our families. The problem is that I’m at a crossroads in my career. My education and training are in a very specialized field. I have searched in vain for positions located near our families, who live close to each other in the rural Midwest. I have had more than one amazing job offer far from home. Remaining close to our families would mean settling for much less in the career department. Although my mother would never say it, I know her heart would be broken if we moved to the East Coast with her newborn grandchild. Neither of our families has enough money to make frequent visits by airplane. I realize that either choice involves sacrifice. Is life too short not to spend time with family, or too long not to be concerned about job satisfaction?


Dear Unsure,
Growing up with your grandparents in the same town is a wonderful thing. Growing up with a father who’s increasingly frustrated that he settled for a job he doesn’t care about and gave up his dream career for  is not. Put your education to use and take that fabulous job. But don’t think of it as getting on a ship and saying goodbye to the old people in the old country, never to be seen again. It’s true your child can’t hang out with grandparents every weekend, but it only costs a few hundred dollars to fly from the Midwest to the East Coast. If that job is fabulous enough, you should be able to get a place with a guest room so the grandparents can come for long visits. As your children grow up, think how they’ll love the adventure of summer vacations in the country. And if, in the end, the pull of home is too strong, you can always buy one of those cheap family fares and move back.