My husband passed away recently of a sudden illness. We had been married nearly 40 years, and his loss has been devastating. Our friends have been very supportive, especially one woman whom we had both known for some time. Out of the blue, she sent me a letter “confessing” to a relationship with my husband about 25 years ago. In her letter, she said that she broke it off when she realized that he was married. She asked for my “forgiveness.” I did not reply. All those years ago, I had suspected something might be going on, but at the time, and in the years after, he always denied that there was anything between them. He said that she was a needy, confused person who had misinterpreted his interest in her. Since he was normally very trustworthy, I accepted his story even if I was a little dubious. My heart, or maybe it is just ego, wants to believe what he told me and not what she said, but her comments have poured poison in my ear, and I cannot help reliving some of the uncertainly that I had back then. Now she has contacted me again, asking my forgiveness for having “hurt” me by exposing his actions. Part of me wants to tell her that I forgive her but I no longer wish to be friends. The other part wants to just ignore the whole thing, even if I can’t erase it from my mind, and not respond to her. I am in such pain from everything that has happened that I am not sure if I am thinking rationally.
You’re a generous and forgiving person. I’m less generous and forgiving, especially when it comes to those who maliciously inflict pain on the bereaved. It wasn’t enough for her to offer her gratuitous confession. When you did the right thing and ignored her, she couldn’t stand not being the focus of your attention as you tried to deal with your husband’s death, and she upped the ante by begging forgiveness for begging forgiveness. Continue to disregard her. If you get any more letters, either return them unopened or burn them. If she calls, simply say, “Do not ever contact me again,” and hang up. Don’t let this unbalanced woman cast a shadow on your marriage. Her behavior now indicates your husband’s account may have been the truth—she certainly does appear needy and confused. But let’s say her confession is accurate. Consider that it doesn’t change anything. You had your suspicions at the time and dealt with them. Then you and your husband enjoyed 25 more good years. That’s what matters. She is just a flyspeck and deserves nothing more than to be flicked away.
I am about to be married to a great guy. We have known each other almost our entire lives. We have a strong, loving relationship, but, of course, there is one problem. My fiance has disgusting table manners. Sometimes, I actually can’t eat at the same table with him. One time we ordered a pizza with friends, and he spit his first bite of hot pizza right onto the entire pizza that everyone was supposed to be eating. My fiance often doesn’t swallow his first bite of food before taking another bite, and sometimes ends up with his cheeks bulging with food and then takes a big swig of water to wash it all down. Watching him do this makes me gag. I have brought this up with him on many different occasions, but when I do, he, understandably, gets defensive, feels hurt, and says something like, “I’m sorry I disgust you so much.” I don’t want every meal to become a fight, but I’m also not sure if I can spend the rest of my life gagging my way through dinner. What do I do?
What was dinner at his parents’ house like? The food fight scene in Animal House? If you can’t stand to be in the same room with him when he eats, this is going wreak havoc on your honeymoon. This issue must be addressed, but first you have to change the terms of the discussion. Explain that you’re sorry to bring it up again, but you need him to understand that you don’t find him disgusting—you love him—it’s his eating habits that are driving you crazy. Tell him the good thing about this is that it’s really an easily fixable problem. Say you realize it’s embarrassing and uncomfortable to deal with, but if he doesn’t attend to this, it’s going to have a terrible impact on his career and also make it impossible to train your future children in proper table manners. First, get a couple of basic etiquette books (try Emily Post or Letitia Baldrige) and ask him to read the chapters on table manners. (Baldrige has an anecdote from a friend who got her teenage son to stop eating like a gorilla by placing a large mirror in front of his place setting.) Since your fiance is such a hard-core slob, I recommend a further step. As a wedding gift, get him a few private lessons with a local etiquette consultant. She will be able to go through several meals with him, giving him advice on what to do (and what to stop doing). Let him know this is important to your marriage because it’s a terrible thing for a wife to become a nagging mother.
My mother and I are not now, and never will be, close. She physically abused me until I was 17. I grew up with constant disparaging remarks about my weight, my singing (which I love), my likeness to my father … the list goes on. I decided many years ago that if she were any other person in the world, I would have nothing to do with her. I am now 29 and about to give birth to my first child. Many of my friends and relatives are pressuring me to form a bond with my mother that I have no desire for. The few times I’ve spoken to her have demonstrated that she has not changed and is unlikely to. I feel that my reasons for shutting her out in the first place are still valid, and she would just add too much strain to my life. How do I explain that I’m content with the decision I’ve made and feel that it’s best for both me and my family?
You don’t have to explain. Just say firmly, “I appreciate your concern, but the way things are now is what’s healthiest for me.” It’s up to you whether to reveal to those close to you that your decision to have no contact is not of out pique, but because your mother is a disturbed woman who abused you through your childhood. I hope your husband has been a sounding board for you to talk about what you have gone through, and that you also have friends with whom you can discuss emotional issues. You have made a good life in spite of a painful start. But while you can shut the door on your abuser, it is not always possible to keep the effects of that abuse from knocking at unexpected times. Becoming a mother yourself might stir up a sense of loss over what you missed when you were a girl. If that happens (and it might not), talking it out with a therapist who specializes in people who have survived abuse will help you enjoy more this wonderful new part of your life.
I’ve been blessed with very generous relatives who like to send gift cards for things I can’t afford on my college-student budget—particularly clothing. While I appreciate their thoughtfulness, the truth is that the cards are often for companies I know for a fact use sweatshop labor. I don’t want to be ungrateful, but the thought of supporting these companies sickens me. How do I ask them to stop without sounding like a complete ingrate? And, more importantly, what should I do with all these gift cards?
It’s great that you want to improve the world—so work for those causes you believe in, and do what you can to honor your principles. However, you’ll find in this globally connected world, weighing every consumer action on an exquisitely balanced moral scale is going to make it very hard to eat anything, wear anything, or go anyplace. You also can’t give your relatives a lecture about how their kindness makes you sick, especially since I doubt your enlightening them will get them to stop shopping at popular stores. As for the gift certificates, accept that the money has already been given to these merchants. If you truly can’t put certain brands on your back, exchange the cards for clothing and donate the duds to Goodwill.