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My mother died almost 30 years ago, when I was a teenager. I have put her on a pedestal and tried to live my life making her proud. I tell my kids about the grandmother they never met and even gave my daughter her name. Recently we helped my father move from his house into an apartment. My father sent us home with a truckload of furniture and some personal items that belonged to my mother. While sorting through them, I came across her diary. Yes, I read it. It turns out she was never proud of my accomplishments and always thought I was up to no good. For nearly three decades, I have mourned the loss of my mother and been very sentimental about her. I now have mixed emotions. I hope that she is watching from heaven and is proud of me today. However, I now know she went to her grave thinking I was a disappointment. How do I deal with this? I don’t want to live the rest of my life feeling as I do today.
Your mother was proud of you then and would be proud of you today. Surely your loving memories are based on the genuine closeness and happiness you two shared. Her diary is not her “real” thoughts of you, but was a place for her to express her dark thoughts, her worries, her fears—the part of herself she wanted to protect you from, that she didn’t want to confide in anyone else. Since you have children, you know how intense your love and pride are for them, and also how exasperating they can be day to day. Imagine your mother writing down in her diary, which you weren’t meant to see, the silly vexations mothers fixate on (“Cecelia didn’t even study for her science exam. Does she think she can just float through life?”) to vent and sort out her concerns. Maybe she was raised by a disapproving and judgmental mother and struggled with those impulses herself, so she chose to put these thoughts on paper, instead of taking them out on you. Now, because she was taken from you so young, these momentary, hurtful thoughts of 30 years ago are enshrined as “the truth” in a way your mother never, ever intended. Consider writing a counter-diary. Put down, for yourself and your children, all the loving memories you have of your mother, illustrate it with photographs, and let it be the real story of the mother you lost.
My husband and I regularly host a small group from our church at our home. One of the wives in the group recently confessed to me that her husband has difficulty containing his lustful thoughts for other women. At our meeting the following week, I had just sat down when the woman who made the confession began looking at me and patting her upper chest. I thought at first that she was telling me that my necklace was skewed, but then I caught her meaning, because I looked down to see my fully buttoned shirt gaping open at the neck just the tiniest bit. She kept patting her chest, and I realized she wanted me to go change my shirt, ostensibly to prevent it from causing her husband lustful thoughts! I did go change, simply to avoid conflict, but upon thinking about it overnight and the next day, I became more than a little chafed. Was this woman not out of line for asking me to change my shirt in my own home—a shirt that was appropriate for work? Am I really responsible for planning my wardrobe around her husband’s moral failing? Most important, how can I respond to this if it happens again?
Perhaps your friend would be more comfortable if all her female acquaintances donned a burqa when around her husband—of course, that would mean she would have to join a different religious gathering. You read a lot into some hand gestures. It’s too bad you didn’t pull this woman aside and ask exactly what she was signaling. If she told you she wanted you to change your blouse because her husband was aroused by a patch of skin, then you could have recited this passage from Proverbs: “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast. He will die for lack of discipline, led astray by his own great folly.” Obviously, it is not the responsibility of the women in this group to make themselves as unappealing as possible. But try to have some sympathy for the wife. It is debilitating and humiliating to be married to such a man, as evidenced by her futile attempts to keep him in line. If she brings up her marital troubles again, or asks you to tone down your attire, you should tell her the problem is with her husband and encourage her to seek marriage counseling because she is obviously in great distress.
I recently broke off a relatively short-term relationship. The problem is, she is an aspiring writer and keeps a blog. I was aware of the blog while we dated, and though I was open about my discomfort about being mentioned on it (I am a very private person), to keep the peace, I didn’t explicitly ask her to stop. What she wrote prior to the breakup was embarrassing, but now it has become hurtful. She has taken to writing stories describing instances in which I was emotionally distant and she felt hurt. My anonymity has long since been blown, as she calls me by my initials and has posted photos of me. I’m concerned that this is available to family, potential employers, and future love interests. Is wanting not to be blogged about too much to ask?
It would be helpful if your ex thought about how she will come off to her future love interests if she decides it’s therapeutic to document for the world every little emotional boo-boo she suffers during each failed relationship. No wonder you wanted to keep your emotional distance! Probably your potential employers are not going to engage in enough due diligence to put together that the guy with your initials who neglected to make reservations for Valentine’s Day is you, and that your callousness indicates you’re not a suitable employee. But I can understand how it rankles that this one-sided “she said” will float forever in cyberspace. You can try an attempt at peacemaking. Invite her for a cup of coffee, explaining that you’d like to talk in person about the blog. Apologize for the hurt you caused her and acknowledge that she is entitled to tell the story of her life. Then ask that as a favor she remove your photos and change your initials. Say it would mean a lot to you to not be so identifiable in perpetuity. Then gird yourself for the possibility that you’ll read in her blog: “C.K., that big jerk, asked me to hide his identify. Never! I want everyone to know what a louse he is.”
I don’t know whether to tell a co-worker that she’s about to be fired. “Beth” is a lovely woman who’s been a colleague for more than a decade. We’ve never socialized outside the office but do go to lunch and have exchanged confidences. Unfortunately, she’s always been ineffective at her job. I’m in management, so I know she has been formally warned and put on probation. I also know she is now about to be given notice. While I don’t disagree, I’m torn. Beth was widowed unexpectedly a few years ago and is trying to hold onto her house and put two children through college. I’ve had a few gentle conversations with her about whether there’s other work she might like, but she doesn’t seem to have an alternate plan. I’m thinking that if she heard about her fate, it might galvanize her and give her a few extra weeks to work on her résumé and start looking for another job. But because of my position, I’m not supposed to disclose the upcoming termination to her. What should I do?
—A Friend in Need
Dear A Friend,
Poor, lovely, incompetent Beth. It sounds as if you work for a decent company that has put up with her for a long time and given her plenty of opportunity to address her deficiencies. Anyone who’s gotten formal warnings and been put on probation shouldn’t need to be told she’s a short-timer, especially given these economic conditions. It’s understandable that a woman who’s incapable of doing the job she’s had for more than a decade is too scared to face the reality that he has to find other work about which she worries she may be incompetent. But if her current situation hasn’t galvanized her, I’m not sure a few more weeks of warning—which would mean you violating company confidentiality—would do it. However, if she herself has mentioned her precarious position to you, then you can tell her that anyone on probation should be polishing her résumé and calling everyone she knows. Maybe, since you know her strengths and weaknesses, you can even offer ideas of the kinds of places she would find more suitable.