Dear Prudence

Once a Cheater

My husband says he had a one-night stand with a co-worker—but she called it a torrid affair. Who can I believe?

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Dear Prudence,
Three days ago, my husband’s female co-worker called to inform me that she had been sleeping with my husband of two years for the past nine months. As I’m sure you can imagine, this shook my world and led to a lengthy fight. My husband has declared that he did sleep with her but says it was only once nine months ago. I don’t fully trust what’s being said by either one of them—the seriously pissed off woman who labeled me stupid, among other things, nor the man who lied to me and slept with another woman. My conundrum is this: My husband and I have a good marriage. We laugh. We joke. Even in the past 48 hours, we’ve enjoyed spending time together. We started counseling after I received the call and his confession. Is it possible, with time and a great deal of help, for a marriage to survive infidelity? I thought I had married my soul mate, and now I know my soul mate removed his wedding band to have sex with another woman “just once.”

—Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

Dear Lost,
There’s no doubt your husband committed adultery nine months ago. What’s difficult to believe is that it was a one-off. You’re supposed to buy that he cheated on a single occasion with a woman who’s seen Fatal Attraction too many times? According to your husband’s version, his co-worker has been stewing about their encounter for the past nine months and has decided, like the discarded character played by Glenn Close, that she will not be ignored. At least you can be grateful this woman hasn’t also been gestating his child and that you don’t have a pet bunny. I’ll join you in concluding your best strategy is to not trust either of them, but given human nature, and your husband’s forced confession, I’m more skeptical of his version. Confessing to a one-night stand is often the opening gambit of the sleazy. (John Edwards initially told Elizabeth he had been unfaithful, but just one time.) You’ve been married for only two years, and he’s already strayed. He may have been straying for a substantial portion of your short marriage. Of course there were many compelling reasons you married your husband. It sounds as if you two have physical chemistry and personal compatibility. He may be charming and amusing. (Sometimes cheaters are particularly gifted that way.) I don’t think infidelity is the death knell of a marriage. But for a marriage, particularly such a young one, to survive it, there has to be scrupulous honesty, regret, and atonement. It’s going to be difficult for you to move past this, since you don’t even believe him, and his strategy seems to be to disarm and distract you. You might want to try a counter-strategy of your own. Tell him you don’t know who to believe, and you want to contact his supposedly former lover and see if she has evidence that it was no one-night stand. Maybe that will shake out of him a different version of the truth.


Dear Prudence: Father’s Worn Out Welcome

Dear Prudence,
Last week, I received a wedding invitation from a dear friend whose directness and pragmatism I’ve always appreciated. Later the same day, my mother called to let me know that she also received an invitation; however, my father was not included. I immediately called my friend for an explanation. She coolly explained that since I had recently told her my father (who is dying of cancer) is not expected to live more than a few weeks, he wouldn’t be around next spring for the wedding and thus it made no sense to include him in the planning. I explained that by excluding him from the invitation—his ability to attend aside—her invitation was a cruel slap in the face to both my parents. She then accused me of “creating unnecessary drama” surrounding her wedding. What can I possibly say to her to explain the inappropriateness of her actions?


Dear Flabbergasted,
Look, no bride wants to run the risk that a corpse might show up at her wedding. Just think of the unnecessary drama if her nuptials turned into the latest installment of Weekend at Bernie’s. Your pragmatic friend is just letting you know that she can’t take any chances, and while your father is currently among the living, he’s as good as dead to her. I’m sorry about your father’s prognosis. You justifiably called to inquire what happened with your parents’ invitation, and she gave you a response so chillingly breathtaking that she seems not made of flesh and blood. You clearly explained why what she did was hurtful, and instead of immediately apologizing for her cruelty, she doubled down on it. You don’t need to engage in further conversation about this with her. You and your mother should be among the first to send your RSVPs. Check the “regrets” box, and feel free to consider your friendship dead.


Dear Prudence,
I just graduated from college, am living at home, and started a year-long position as an AmeriCorps member. I’m paid a stipend set at the poverty line. Two weeks ago, my parents told me they expect me to pay them $80,000—half of my college tuition. We had never discussed splitting costs when I was applying to schools, and they discouraged me from considering state schools. If I knew that I would be responsible for half of the cost of my education, I would not have attended a private school. Still, I realize the value of education and want to take responsibility for my college costs. My parents recently sold their vacation house to help pay off my college costs and to celebrate the sale, they want us to go on vacation together in the fall. They expect me to pay $1,300 and take three weeks off from work for this “once-in-a-lifetime” trip. I can’t. But they said that if I don’t go, then they won’t go. How can I meet my parents’ expectations to be both financially responsible and supportive of their desire to travel?


Dear Overwhelmed,
Your parents finally decided to open those terrifying stacks of envelopes from the bank and realized, like millions of other Americans, that they’re broke. So they decided to tap a fresh source of income. The freshest thing around may have appeared to be their own grown child, clutching a very expensive college degree. But alas, like many young people these days, you’ve returned home and are earning a poverty wage. It’s thoughtful of you to want to pay your tab, but I say they’re your parents, not your loan officers. They made it clear that they felt obligated to provide you with a pricey private education. Had they told you you’d be paying half the cost, you might have gone to that state school. You’re in the odd position of needing to separate from your parents while living under the same roof. But since they’ve made some serious demands of you, you must have a blunt talk with them. Say you’re extremely grateful for everything they’ve done. Explain, however, that they should have made their financial expectations clear before you embarked on your education and you have no way to meet this sudden expense. Tell them going on a big trip is their choice, but it’s simply out of the question for you. AmeriCorps is a worthy endeavor, but when that’s done, if the economy hasn’t completely gone off the cliff, you have to find a new job that will allow you to pay the rent on a place of your own.


Dear Prudence,
I’m a twentysomething woman living in an apartment complex. In my building, there’s a mildly retarded young man about my age who lives with his mother. I’d guess his mental age is about 8. He’s taken a liking to me. He seems to know my routine, and I constantly find him hanging around wanting to talk to me. I’m sure he’s harmless, he’s kind of sweet actually, but it’s getting annoying! I find myself taking roundabout routes to avoid him. Sometimes I think I should just indulge him because he doesn’t know any better. Other times I think he ought to learn not to hover around driving people crazy. I’d consider saying something to his mother, but I’d feel bad and she doesn’t speak much English. Should I just accept that for as long as I live in this building, little chats with him will be part of my routine?

—The Girl Next Door

Dear Girl,
It’s understandable that you want to be able to go in and out of your building without having to engage with “Pete,” but when you live in an apartment, chatting briefly with others is part of the price you pay for not having to mow your lawn. Pete may like you, but he’s probably hanging around a lot, trying to engage anyone coming in and out. When you have time, talk with him for a few minutes. When you can’t talk, politely explain: “Pete I’m in a rush. I will catch up with you another time.” It sounds as if Pete’s mother is not aware that he may be eligible for free activities for the intellectually disabled. Maybe a group of fellow apartment dwellers could explain to the mother that she may be missing out on helpful programs for her son. Let me also note that the mental health community wants to banish the phrase “mentally retarded.” I agree with my erstwhile Slate colleague Jack Shafer, who wrote that “mentally retarded” can be used in a respectful, clinical sense and that the preferred term “people with intellectual disabilities” is bound eventually to become offensive itself. Nonetheless, it’s best to be sensitive to the wishes of those within a particular group.


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