I’m the married father of three. My wife recently befriended a neighbor. Upon hearing of new neighbor’s plight with a black-mold infestation and limited means to deal with it, my spouse invited this new friend and her son to live with us. She didn’t talk about this with me beforehand, and has set no time limit or financial arrangements. I don’t want to be the heel, because the neighbor seems like a genuinely hard-luck case. Her son attends school with my daughters, and she has found her new living situation to be an answer to her prayers. She is energetic, helpful, and has started the wife and kids on a much-needed health kick. She is also 15 years our junior and probably the most attractive person I’ve ever known. My wife doesn’t seem to realize that a tank-top-wearing temptress might be a problem in the marital home. There have been no inappropriate moments. Frankly, she’s way out of my league and appears to have zero interest. Still, we are occasionally home alone together and I find these episodes a little uncomfortable. Beyond the open-ended, no-rent, another-two-mouths-to-feed aspect, am I overreacting?
—Neighbor in Need
You are not overreacting to the fact that your wife has set up a commune without even having the courtesy to say to you, “Honey, please pass the ketchup, and by the way, our gorgeous neighbor Delilah and her kid are moving in permanently.” While your situation has the hallmarks of a short-running sitcom or a long-running Howard Stern domestic fantasy, it’s time you and your wife had a conversation about the fact that you two appear to be living parallel lives. You might also ask if the neighbor has any plans to call in a mold SWAT team and return to her own home. Perhaps you’re hesitating to initiate these discussions because the state of your marriage is such that you secretly fear that if the house is feeling too crowded, the next person to move out will be you.
I work in a small office where everyone generally gets along well and is friendly with one another, and we tend to share stories about our lives outside of work, which I think generally makes for an open, close-knit culture. Over the past year or so, my assistant—who has access to my calendar in his support role to me—has repeatedly asked about weekend and evening appointments in my calendar. I use my calendar to keep track of dates, dinners, parties, etc., and I find it uncomfortable when my assistant asks me about various events that I haven’t told him about directly. Recently, he even invited himself to one event on the rationale that a few others in the office were already on the invite list. Is there a polite way to ask my assistant to stop, short of restricting access to my calendar (which I feel might go against the open culture we’ve developed)?
—Don’t Stand So Close to Me
I wouldn’t worry so much about the delicate feelings of someone who sounds as if he’s heading for a restraining order. At the point in the movie in which the insinuating young assistant unexpectedly shows up at the boss’s social event, and the boss does not take action, don’t you feel the character of the boss loses credibility? If you want to keep this guy working for you, you’d better draw some serious lines about what is his business and what isn’t—you’re the boss, remember. Your assistant is supposed to make your life run more smoothly, not make you feel like you’ve hired a stalker. Put him on notice that while your office culture may be close-knit, your patience is starting to unravel.
I am a high-achieving woman in my early 20s, currently working toward a doctorate in chemistry. I live with my boyfriend. My parents took issue with “Andy” five minutes after meeting him! He grew up on welfare in a single-parent household, with a father who was unable to work. Andy then supported his family, so was unable to attend college right after high school. He recently went back to school to earn his bachelor’s, and I could not be prouder. To save money, he’s attending a technical institute near the university where I do research. My parents turn up their nose at him, saying that because he came from a low-class background, he will never amount to much. There has been no interaction between Andy and my family since the first meeting a year ago, although they continued to express their displeasure until I informed them that I would not discuss my relationship. Andy and I are now engaged, but I have not told my family. I still put up with harangues about how their “talented and smart” daughter should never settle for someone “stupid.” I love Andy, we support each other’s endeavors, and our relationship is good. Our wedding is a few years down the road, so I know I have to tell them eventually. How do I break the news to my family and how will I deal with the hurtful backlash—and am I wrong to defend him?
—Otherwise Blissful Bride-To-Be
Your parents are snobs, and you must confront this. Let’s stipulate that parents with a brilliant, accomplished daughter would like her to find an equally brilliant and accomplished husband. So, we’ll give them a little leeway for their initial poor reaction (but not for their rudeness) to the fact that your boyfriend hadn’t yet finished college while you were already in graduate school. But after a year of being together, if they’d behaved decently, they would have seen ample demonstration of your good relationship and his fine character and drive. It’s time for your parents to stop seeing your boyfriend as a socioeconomic stereotype, and start seeing him as a human being. You should have a conversation with your parents about the fact that you and Andy are committed to each other, he is part of your life, and if they want you to be part of theirs, they have to welcome him graciously. Since you have no immediate wedding plans, don’t drop the marriage bomb until you’ve established a beachhead of civility between your parents and Andy. And while you shouldn’t have to defend him, why would you have any doubts that he is worth defending?
I need to know whether or not I’m being petty. My boyfriend and I have been dating for three years. We’re soul mates in every way and have discussed marriage for when we both graduate. However, my birthday was a few weeks ago and he failed to buy me a present. I know he didn’t forget my birthday, because he gave me a card, but there was no explanation about the lack of a gift. I’m not a materialistic person, but I did expect something, especially since he had told me a month earlier what he’d decided to buy for me. We’re both students who work part-time so money is tight, but I always make an effort to set aside money to buy him something for his birthday. Because my imagination sometimes runs wild, it occurred to me that this might be a sign of a problem in our relationship of which I’m unaware. I brought up my concern with some friends, and all were appalled—at him. One girlfriend even suggested I break up with him. I know that might be a bit of an overreaction, but do I have the right to be a little disappointed? Should I ask him why I didn’t merit a gift, or would that cause undue problems?
A relationship with your soul mate should allow for the two of you to discuss how you feel. Who knows why he failed to show up with a gift for you except him? And if something, even minor, wounded you, why shouldn’t you be comfortable talking to him about it? Forget your Greek chorus (how are the romances of the one who suggested you break up a three-year relationship over a birthday present?) and talk to your boyfriend. Don’t be accusatory or melodramatic. Just tell him the way you told me—you know money is tight, but you were a little hurt when he didn’t give you the gift he’d mentioned, and then ask him if something’s up.