Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online at Washingtonpost.com to chat with readers each Monday at 1 p.m. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
Seven years into my marriage with my ex-wife, I still wasn’t sure if I wanted kids. Eventually she stopped having sex with me—citing my indecision as her reason—and our marriage broke up two years ago. Eight months ago, I met my now-fiancee and fell in love very quickly. She’s much more sexually adventurous than my ex-wife, our moral and political beliefs are more in sync, and we’re a better fit for one another. I proposed to her on Thanksgiving shortly after learning she was pregnant. Here’s the weird thing—I’m overjoyed about her pregnancy. I can’t even explain it. Because I have many friends in common with my ex-wife, who’s still single, news reached her quickly. She immediately called me, furious and in tears. She blamed me entirely for the collapse of our marriage and said I should have told her personally about my fiancee’s pregnancy. Given how badly things ended and that we haven’t talked in two years, I disagree. Was I insensitive? Is she right to be angry with me because I’m happy about my impending fatherhood?
It’s not a matter of her being “right,” but it’s perfectly understandable that she’s enraged at realizing that by investing in marriage to you, spending years waiting for you to be ready to have kids, she may have lost the chance to ever be a mother. Then she finds out you did want a child after all, just not with her. I hear from many people who were in your wife’s situation, stymied in their desire to start a family because of a spouse who remains indecisive, not knowing if they should stay or leave. What they should certainly not do, however, is go on a sex strike. The fact that your wife’s response to your indecisiveness was to withdraw sexually not only guaranteed there would be no children, but also doomed the marriage. As you’ve discovered in finding someone with whom you completely click, there were reasons your marriage stalled out. You didn’t have to get in touch with your ex directly, but it would have been thoughtful if you’d designated a mutual friend to let her know before everyone came buzzing. However she heard it, the news of your marriage and impending fatherhood was bound to be painful. Blaming you for everything may have felt satisfying in the moment, but I hope she’s not going through life seeing herself as an ill-used victim. That doesn’t bode well for her chances of making a more successful match herself. As for your situation, there is nothing that’s weird or needs explaining about finding yourself madly in love and ecstatic to be starting a family. It just says how wrong it was the first time around and how right it is now.
Earlier this year, a generous friend sent me an unexpected surprise: a check to cover travel costs so that I could visit her across the country. I’m in my early 60s, and my friend knows that I earn just over minimum wage and am in debt. Unfortunately, she sent a cashier’s check that she neglected to sign. It bounced, and because it was deposited when I was paying bills, I racked up ruinous overdraft fees. While I was getting it straightened out, I was forced to take a small loan to cover my minimum living expenses. What I did not know was that my friend had made flight reservations for a trip I was now unable to take because I didn’t have a spare penny for travel. When I explained, she exploded. She demanded full repayment of the original check and the cost of the reservations—more than $1,000. I promised I would, but first I have to repay the bank. She had a successful career and is now comfortably retired. Retirement will never be an option for me. I’m hurt by what’s happened and her reaction to it, and frankly I feel a bit victimized. My resentment is eating me up. What should I do?
Your tale reminds me of the Guy de Maupassant short story “The Necklace.” A woman borrows an expensive necklace from a wealthy friend, loses it, takes out a crushing loan to buy a replacement, and spends years in back-breaking labor to pay the debt. The twist is she ultimately discovers the necklace was paste and worth almost nothing. Your twist is that, as a result of this financial goodwill gone awry, you have incurred a painful load of new debt. It’s simply an accident that the unsigned check caused so much havoc. But I don’t understand how your friend went ahead and made flight reservations without confirming the travel plans with you. I hope you carefully explained to her the chain of circumstances that led to your being forced to take a loan to pay your bills. It’s understandable she’s annoyed at being stuck with an expensive, unused airline ticket. But better that she absorb this expense than that you take on another financial burden. There’s no reason for you to bear the full cost of this series of unfortunate events. As a goodwill gesture you could offer to pay some tolerable amount—say $200, but that’s it. The idea of you forgoing heat this winter so you can send her minuscule checks is ridiculous. If she won’t graciously write this off, then I’m afraid your friendship is a total loss.
I own and run a business with a smart, 40-ish woman who’s also a good friend. (We’re each married to other people.) Two years ago, her father died suddenly. The effect on her was devastating—and unabated. She goes off-radar three or four times per year, too overwhelmed by grief to attend to work. The second anniversary of her dad’s death is fast approaching, and she’s already declared herself incapacitated. I’ve tried to be accommodating and compensate for her absences and tasks left undone. But it seems as if being in mourning and having regular crises (she’s unusually accident and illness-prone) are becoming integral to her identity. The inequities this causes are starting to grate. I know there’s no grieving timetable for parental loss, and I myself have told her nobody really gets over such a trauma. But at what stage is it OK to tell her she is hurting our business and testing our relationship?
—Unbalanced by Grief
I don’t want to sound stone-hearted, but actually it’s in the natural order of things for middle-aged people to be able to grapple with the inevitable death of their parents. That doesn’t mean that for some people this loss is not profound, especially when it happens suddenly and prematurely, as in the case of your friend. But if two years later she finds herself emotionally disabled much of the time because of her father’s death, she may be suffering from “complicated grief,” which is a sense of loss that doesn’t end. Please sit down with your partner and tell her you’re concerned about her. Say you know her father’s death was a shock, but grief that doesn’t abate is not normal. Refer her to this Harvard Web site on complicated grief and tell her there are therapies to help her cope. You can add that her emotional state is affecting your business, so for both personal and professional reasons she needs to get help. Then see if she takes action. It’s not fair for you to tell her not to mourn her father, but it is fair for you to point out that you have been patient, and her behavior is undoing your partnership. If she won’t take steps to come out of this death spiral, then you may have to sever your business relationship.
I am a college junior majoring in political science, and I want to study abroad and travel the world. My biggest hurdle is my boyfriend. We have been together for five years and have a loving and mature relationship. We plan to spend the rest of our lives together. But he is against me studying abroad. He says it’s too much money that I don’t have and that I should wait until we’re financially settled so we can travel together. But I don’t want to wait. Also, as a student of political science, I feel that I should be learning about the world firsthand, not just on vacation. What do you think?
—Trying To Travel
I’m sorry that you aren’t now on a junior year abroad, and I think you should do everything you can to find a way to spend the summer in a foreign country or get some time overseas in your senior year. Look into fellowships and work-study programs that would help deflect some of the cost. You have a deep desire to experience the world, yet you’ve already decided the only person in it you’ll ever be intimate with is your boyfriend. There are many people who meet their life partners in high school, but in your case it gives me pause because he sounds like a stick in the mud. Sure, you could do what he suggests and save up so you two can take a nice cruise in middle age. But millions of young people have put their stuff in a backpack and wandered the world with not much money in their pockets. Maybe he’s afraid if you’re out of his sight, you might be swept up by some handsome stranger (which doesn’t sound like such a bad thing). If he wants to stay put, let him. But if you let him hold you back, you’ll always regret it.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“A Cornucopia of Crises: Prudie takes on Thanksgiving quandaries involving uninvited guests, the ghosts of holidays past, and exiled smokers.” Posted Nov. 18, 2010.
”Bob & Carol & Ted & Malice: My parents’ swinger friends are trying to blackmail our family after Mom and Dad’s tragic deaths.” Posted Sept. 30, 2010.
”No Debt of Gratitude: I borrowed cash from Dad to care for my dying mom. Now he’s demanding payback.” Posted Aug. 12, 2010.
”Dirty Pretty Things: My girlfriend has worn the same undergarment for weeks. Isn’t that disgusting?” Posted Aug. 27, 2009.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving: Prudie counsels readers on Turkey Day predicaments, such as flying solo for the holiday, hosting irritating in-laws, and attending multiple dinners. Posted Nov. 22, 2010.
”Baby Mama Drama: Prudie counsels a sleuth who uncovered a baby-trap scheme—and other advice-seekers.” Posted Nov. 1, 2010.
”The Family That Bathes Together: Prudie counsels a mother who wonders when the time is right to stop bathing with her little boy.” Posted Oct. 12, 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.