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I am in my mid-20s and for the past two years have been dating the most beautiful, fascinating woman I’ve ever met, and we’re talking about getting married. Her family is fervently religious and has very traditional ideas about premarital relations. They’ve been polite to me but never particularly warm. Last weekend, after much insistence on my girlfriend’s part, I was invited to stay at her family’s vacation home. Of course, we slept in separate rooms. Late one night, my girlfriend persuaded me to have sex with her in the backyard—outdoor sex is a fetish of hers. The next morning, her 80-year-old grandmother was very upset, convinced that during the night she had seen two people having sex in the backyard. Her grandmother is becoming a bit senile, and nobody believed her. My girlfriend and I were far too embarrassed to come forward. A week later, her grandmother is still adamant about what she saw and is talking about calling the police. The family had been considering moving her into an assisted-living facility, and now they’re convinced they must. My girlfriend and I feel incredibly guilty that our behavior could land her grandmother in assisted living, but we fear that if we come forward, her parents will be so angry that our relationship will suffer, if not end. Should we fess up, or get ready to visit Grandma at her new home on weekends?
—Fear of Exposure
There you are, having a consensual al fresco sex romp out of 9 1/2 Weeks, and there is Granny, looking out the window, convinced someone in the yard is being forced to squeal like a pig a la Deliverance. Now your girlfriend’s grandmother might be moved out of her own home because the whole family has concluded she’s demented. You’re right that if the grandmother is losing her faculties, it is time for the family to discuss making sure she’s cared for properly. But it’s incumbent upon you two to let everyone know that her vision, hearing, and deductive skills remain strong, because she actually did get a gander of the two of you. Your girlfriend doesn’t have to be explicit. She just has to explain that Grandma was not hallucinating, because you two did have a romantic late-night interlude. I don’t care how religious your girlfriend’s parents are; the idea that their wrath could undo your relationship is the most demented thing in this letter. It’s one thing to show respect for her family’s traditions, even while disagreeing with them. But it’s another to allow her parents to destroy your relationship because they discovered that you two disagree with their notions of premarital chastity. You’re both adults, so it’s simply none of the parents’ business that your girlfriend likes to swing from jungle vines while having sex. You two need to stand up for the sanctity of your relationship now, otherwise if you get married, they will torment you over your children’s upbringing, your church attendance, and the certainty of your burning in hell. So speak up on behalf of Granny and yourselves.
Dear Prudence: Help! I’m Scared of Getting Herpes.
My husband and I will be celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary, and we are renewing our vows. I’m excited about doing this “our way” as our original wedding was very traditional. We’re going to include our children and friends, but the biggest reason to renew our vows is to create a positive memory of a wedding ceremony. Six months after our wedding, we found out that my dad had been having an affair with my mother’s friend. The other woman was our unofficial wedding planner; she made all of the decorations and my veil, sang the first song in the ceremony, and her son was our ring bearer! After the revelation, anything connected with the wedding was painful for us and for my mom. We can’t watch the video, and my mother asked me to throw away my veil when she found it in my closet. My parents worked things out and are relatively happy, but I don’t want to tell people the real reason for the vow renewal. So what do I say when they ask?
—Right This Time
I think renewals are for driver’s licenses, so you’ve come to the wrong place in asking me. Few people would re-rent a powder-blue tux for the prom, or get a hideous perm, but even if your prom photos make you cringe, it’s done, and it would be pathetic to do it again. Your mother’s “friend” is a ghastly person, but you’re giving this treacherous woman way too much power if you let her poison your memory of your wedding day. In his fascinating book How Pleasure Works, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom writes of humans’ belief that people and things have “essences.” This is so deeply held that it explains why fans pay enormous sums for mundane objects that once belonged to famous people. But the wedding planner didn’t actually contaminate your ceremony, or your veil, with her rotten essence. Push her to the sidelines of your memory and put yourself and your husband at the center, where you belong. When you watch the wedding video (how often do couples watch their wedding video?), just fast-forward through her song. You apparently dwell on this episode more than even your parents do. Instead of re-enacting your wedding, just throw yourselves an anniversary party. But if you must redo “I do,” you don’t owe anybody an explanation beyond, “We love each other so much, we wanted to get married all over again.”
I was using the office copier, and an administrator had left a page on the scanner, so I accidentally found out that one of my colleagues makes more money than I do, about $6,000 more per year. I wish I hadn’t seen it. I have been seething for weeks about whether to say anything to my boss. This co-worker and I do exactly the same job. I have more experience in the industry, a bachelor’s degree, and industry-specific certifications. She has a master’s degree. I’ve done my research, and we are both in the “correct salary range.” Since pay is confidential, I probably shouldn’t say anything, but at the same time, it’s like a kick in the face. What should I do?
Your situation is a perfect illustration of a recent economics column in Slate about how disclosing everyone’s salary makes employees feel more miserable than empowered. Those at the top tend to think, Sure, I deserve it, while those at the bottom conclude, I’m being screwed—which you understand so well. There could be many reasons for the disparity. Your co-worker’s advanced degree may have given her an opening bump in salary. She may have been hired in a flusher time. She may be a better negotiator. And, of course, you must consider that despite doing the same job, your boss thinks she does it $6,000 better. If you want parity, you’re going to have to ask for it. Don’t say you know you’re getting $6,000 less than you deserve. Just make the positive case that given your contributions to the company—enumerate them—you think it’s time for a raise. You might also conclude that this isn’t the right time to ask for more money. Whatever you decide, don’t let your colleague’s compensation define how you think of your career.
I have gotten food poisoning only twice in my life—both times after eating at the home of the same couple. The first time we ate dinner at “Debra” and “Dan’s” house, I spent most of the night bowing to the porcelain god. I didn’t make the connection until the second time I dined at their home, with the same result. I have an iron stomach, so it’s unlikely this is a coincidence. Needless to say, nothing they touch will ever enter my mouth again. I don’t want to cut off the relationship, but since I’ve already accepted twice, how can I politely refuse all future dinner invitations? They love to cook and have been alluding to our next dinner. I am running out of excuses but am unwilling to eat dangerous food to keep from hurting their feelings.
—E. Coli Is Not My Favorite Entrée
First of all, if you’re interested in having a relationship with these people, it’s your turn to have them over—which means you can enjoy their company at least one more time without then enduring a night of the living dead. Of course, you don’t want to take your reciprocation too far—no need to serve them a batch of “toss your cookies” for dessert. It’s true that people who consider themselves foodies might erupt at the idea that you now think of their home as the vomitorium, but you need to speak up. Explain that both evenings after dinner, you ended up with food poisoning. Say it’s possible that it was just a coincidence but you hadn’t been sick in years, before or since. Say there may be a break in their sanitation routine, and they might need to scrub down their food-preparation surfaces with disinfectant. If this ends the friendship, then that’s one less ride on the porcelain bus.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Abuser Seeks a Way Out: I’m an emotional bully to all my girlfriends. How can I change?” Posted Jan. 28, 2010.
”His Endowment Is Cocktail Chatter: My wife blabs to her girlfriends about my large penis. Is that normal?” Posted Oct. 8, 2009.
”Dirty Pretty Things: My girlfriend has worn the same undergarment for weeks. Isn’t that disgusting?” Posted Aug. 27, 2009.
”Lunchroom Bandit: My co-worker is stealing everyone’s food” Posted Dec. 3, 2009.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
”Callous Co-Workers Count My Calories: Prudie counsels an American whose European colleagues monitor her diet—and other advice seekers.” Posted March 1, 2010.
”Help! I’m Too Hot for My Age: Prudie counsels a woman whose youthful looks bring her nothing but problems—and other advice seekers.” Posted Feb. 8, 2010.
”The Pervy Principal: Prudie counsels a school worker whose boss trolls Internet porn on the job—and other advice seekers.” Posted Feb. 1, 2010.
”Sticky Fingers Can’t Stop Stealing: Prudie counsels a good Samaritan gone bad—and other advice seekers.” Posted Jan. 25, 2010.
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