Click here to read a transcript of Prudie’s live weekly chat with readers at Washingtonpost.com.
I’ve been happily married for more than 30 years, and I thought my husband and I had a truly loving relationship. My husband was recently hospitalized, and his boss asked me to carry my husband’s cell phone so he could easily reach me for updates. My husband received a text message from a man saying that he was going to use him as a cover so he could visit another man in a neighboring town. This made me suspicious, so I looked in his wallet and found a visitor’s pass to a gay men’s health club. Then I found a gay porn DVD and Viagra in his gym bag. On his computer were gay Web sites. My husband had an excuse for everything. He said a man he works out with had given him the DVDs and the pass, and he didn’t even know what they were. The Viagra was so he could be “ready” for me. He didn’t know how the gay Web site cookies got on his computer. He said it was ridiculous that I could think he was gay after 30 great years together. I wanted to believe him. Last weekend, I came home unexpectedly and found him masturbating to gay porn. He said he wanted to see some porn, and this was the only thing he had because he didn’t know where to get anything else. He thinks it’s all no big deal. I’m devastated. I feel as if my whole marriage has been a sham, and I don’t know what to do.
—Who Is He?
Number one, go to your gynecologist and get a complete screening for sexually transmitted diseases. You have to assume, given all the evidence, that your husband has done more than indulge in gay fantasies. Then you need to sit down with him and tell him it’s time to stop the ridiculous excuses. Say you’ve had 30 years together, and while it turns out you may not know each other as well as you thought, he knows he’s not married to a fool. If he can’t talk about what’s going on, tell him you’re going to a counselor—you hope he will join you, but you’ll go alone if he won’t—to help you figure out your next steps. Of course you’re devastated. It’s crushing to think the life you had was a cover story and to know the future you imagined is not going to be. However, this discovery does not mean your marriage was a sham. It’s possible your husband has always struggled with homosexual impulses, but that he also truly loves you and treasures your years together and the family you’ve made. It doesn’t even necessarily mean your marriage is over. But your marriage will never be the same, and it has to be remade—or ended—with more honesty than your husband has been willing to bring to it all these decades. You don’t have to make any hasty decisions. But you do have to impress upon your husband that from now on you won’t settle for less than the truth.
My wife and I recently had a large gathering of friends over the weekend. On the second morning, I was talking to my friend when his wife walked in, sat on a chair, and joined the conversation. When they both left the room minutes later, I saw a red stain on the fabric of the chair. I quickly cleaned it up. About an hour later, my wife came up to me and said she had found blood drops all over the bathroom floor. Just as we were beginning to wonder what was going on, another guest came in and told us that my friend’s wife had just gotten up from a chair outside and left quite a bloody spot. Unsure of what to say, no one would approach her. We survived the next 24 hours with a minimum of mess, and then they left. This woman is married to a dear friend, and I hope to have them visit again, but this behavior is not acceptable. My wife says it is impossible that she did not know what was going on. What should I do?
—A Bloody Mess
Dear A Mess,
You could have tried a subtle approach: “Looks like you could use a Bloody Mary. It’s my favorite drink this time of the month, period!” You and your wife surely don’t think your guest was deliberately staging her own private Bloody Sunday at your home. It’s true that leaving a trail of blood in the bathroom is bizarre, but there are some medical conditions that can cause hemorrhagic levels of menstrual flow. Let’s give your guest the benefit of the doubt and assume she thought she had girded herself and was horrified to find out her protection failed. It would have been perfectly appropriate at the time for your wife to pull the woman aside and say, “Cindy, I’m sure you’re unaware of this, but you’re leaking menstrual blood. Can I get some sanitary products for you?” But now that she’s gone and the furniture has been cleaned, it would only be mortifying for everyone to bring this up. And you don’t have to wait until she hits menopause to have this couple over again—although, to be on the safe side, you might not want to make it 28 days from the last visit.
I am a 26-year-old, happily married woman with a lot of friends and acquaintances. In high school and college, I was angry and depressed, and cut and burned myself out of self loathing. My scars are mostly on my arms and thighs and usually are hidden by clothes. However, when my scars show, it inevitably leads to someone asking how I got them. I don’t want to lie, but when I try changing the subject, it often comes up again, and saying something dismissive seems to create more curiosity. I’ve responded, “I’d prefer not to talk about it,” but that tends to make people give me weird looks and avoid me. I am not ashamed, per se, of overcoming depression, but I don’t think it is most people’s business, and some people act differently around me when they hear about my past mental illness. Most of my friends know that I don’t like to talk about the scars, but I meet new people almost weekly. Is there an easy way to defuse the situation? Can I ever wear short sleeves again?
—Scarred and Awkward
I spoke to Janis Whitlock, director of the Cornell Research Program on Self Injurious Behavior, about your situation, and she had advice for two different approaches. Certainly, you have no obligation to open up about this if you don’t want to. Confidently say in response to questions, “That’s a personal story I’m not comfortable sharing. Thanks for understanding,” then change the subject. They may remain curious, but you’ve answered politely and closed the subject. But Whitlock also said that if it’s someone you know, you might want to consider telling the truth. You can explain, “I was a very unhappy adolescent and I hurt myself. Fortunately, that’s in the past and I have a wonderful life now.” She says most people will have probably guessed and that your manner will convey to them that you are at ease with this subject. She adds that you should expect to hear a lot of confessions about others’—or their loved ones’—similar trials and pain. Whitlock says often people who have hurt themselves are not only physically scarred but carry a scarring sense of shame. Being able to discuss this—within the parameters that feel right to you—will help you let go of that and be proud of how far you’ve come.
About four months ago, my wife and I found out that my 18-year-old son’s girlfriend had a Twitter account. It became a guilty pleasure for us to occasionally look at this account to see what was up in her life. About two months ago, as they went through a breakup, it became heartbreaking for us to see her reaction. We were going to leave it at that, but since the breakup, I have occasionally gone back to see how she is doing. I know that my wife and son have no idea that I am keeping up with her. Even though she never posts anything salacious, I feel a little like a dirty old man. I make a vow to stop, but a week later I find myself going back just to see how she is doing because I convince myself that I am doing no real harm. Should I be worried about my behavior?
—Can’t Stop Reading Tweets
Dear Can’t Stop,
Since what you are doing creeps you out, and you want to stop but can’t, I’m not going to tell you that it’s fine if you find yourself compelled to read the natterings of an 18-year-old girl who used to bounce around your house. On the surface, of course, it’s perfectly harmless. That’s the thing about Twitter—if a Twitterer has a public account, anyone can access those random thoughts. But clearly the random thoughts that start running through your head when you read her sweet little tweets make you hope that neither your wife nor your son come in and find you daydreaming over her updates. There’s no Twitter Anonymous yet, but since you find yourself powerless in the face of her 140 characters, the test of your character is whether you can stop checking in and accept that she’s out of your life.