Dear Prudence

While I Was Sleeping

A friend nursed me through serious illness—and now he won’t leave me alone.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
For several years I had a debilitating illness that nearly killed me and clouded my thinking. I was in the hospital for months on end. Throughout all of it, there was a wonderful man, K, by my side who did everything to be there for me. We used to be friends but ended up as a couple during my illness, despite the fact that I was too weak for anything remotely sexual. This could have ended as a tragically doomed terminal-illness romance. But it didn’t. Despite the doctors’ expectations, I recovered. I’m healthy and I can live my life to the fullest. I’m back in school and things are going great. With the exception of K. I broke things off with him not too long after I recovered. I felt awful about it. He’d spent so much time and energy on me that I felt as if I had taken advantage of him. But we just weren’t compatible; the illness was what held us together. It was like waking up with someone after you’ve been really, really drunk. I tried to be gentle, but since I broke it off he has left hundreds of messages on my phone. He has accused me of emotional abuse and claimed that I’m the reason he has suicidal thoughts. I don’t want to speak to him, but what am I supposed to tell a guy who sends me an email saying that it’s his birthday and he’s alone and asking me to just talk for five minutes? When I’ve done this it ends up with him confessing his love! I should be grateful to him, but I just can’t stand him. Please help.

—I’m Done

Dear Done,
You’ve awakened from an illness that threatened to end your life, only to find you’re starring in a stalker movie. Your situation brought to mind the film of the Stephen King novel, Misery. (Please don’t see it.) K is not your Florence Nightingale, he’s not your friend, and he was never your boyfriend. Your analogy about drunkenness is apt, but K sounds like the kind of person who instead of waiting for you to get drunk on your own, would slip you a roofie. But he didn’t have to: Your illness put you in a state in which you were not capable of giving consent to a relationship. K used your incapacity to insinuate himself into your life while getting everyone to think he was a sainted presence beside your bed. I’m sure what he actually wanted to do was get into your bed, so thank goodness you were surrounded by bustling hospital staff. K sounds disturbed; he must leave you alone. His behavior and threats of suicide because of you are alarming. I hope you’ve kept his texts and emails, especially those that blame you for his thoughts of violence. You may not have made it clear to him that your interactions must cease, so do so unequivocally. Respond to his latest text or email by saying he should call the suicide prevention hotline because he needs to talk to a professional about these thoughts. Then tell him it’s your wish that you two not communicate anymore, period. If he violates this, you need to talk to the police. Explain the situation and say his behavior is escalating. If you are a college student, also bring this to the attention of the campus police. I don’t want to unnecessarily worry you, but I believe you are being stalked, so you need to take steps to educate yourself and get the help you need. I’m glad you survived one ordeal, and sorry you are facing another. Here’s hoping K just slinks away.


Dear Prudence: Ex-Wife Facebook Stalker

Dear Prudence,
I have a mistress. I have been married 15 years and have two beautiful children. I love my wife and the life we have built together. But our relationship is volatile and my wife and I sought couples therapy for the tension and arguing. We also felt our emotional intimacy and sex life have suffered. A little more than a year ago I met a woman I really clicked with. She is also a married professional with young children. We meet at a hotel every couple of months and have mind-blowing (safe) sex, the kind that would appall my sexually conservative wife. Those few hours together recharge me like nothing I have ever experienced. We meet during the day, I don’t buy my mistress gifts, and I do not text or call her. I like and trust her, find her attractive, but I am not in love with her. She is well-grounded and has no intention of leaving her own marriage. Because of these encounters I feel so much better about my life and even my marriage! My wife has commented that I seem happier and more attentive to her. Our therapist has noted that our communication has improved exponentially. At first I was guilty, but I no longer am. I wonder if I’m a bad person, but that’s not how I feel. Your thoughts?

—Afternoon Delight

Dear Afternoon,
Your therapist must be thinking she’s some kind of genius because here’s one marriage she appears to be fixing. You know that indulging in these matinées has the possibility of blowing up your life. One of you might start developing stronger feelings; someone could slip and leave a trail; it could turn out the safe sex wasn’t so safe. I’m an advocate of monogamy, which I recognize comes with well-documented frustrations. But you make a convincing case that this discrete and discreet infidelity has actually improved your union. Still, I think you should keep the guilt alive—it’s salutary for you to recognize violating your vows should come at some psychic cost, with the potential for more. That I understand your situation and am not urging you to end it doesn’t mean I’m giving a pass to cheaters. I have the same caveat that the Supreme Court articulated in Bush v. Gore: “Our consideration is limited to the present circumstance …” Now that you’re in couples therapy—and it’s going so well!—consider whether you can broach the idea that you want to continue to explore sexually with your wife. Maybe you can breach some of her reserve and get out of what sounds like a dutiful sexual rut. Your affair will eventually end, and instead of skipping to the next woman and the next, you’d be better off being able to be fully present in an improved marriage.


Dear Prudence,
My husband and I live near a fall destination, and every year my parents plan a three-week visit. My parents are pushy, overbearing people. Everything must be done their way. They decide on what we all do every hour of the day, announce places for us to take them, and expect our undivided attention the entire time (no socializing with our friends or spending time on hobbies). All while my husband and I have full-time jobs. After they leave it takes us weeks to recover. They pay for everything while they’re here and buy (unasked for) expensive items for us. Sometimes it’s stuff we really need (a new stove) while other times it’s an item we don’t want (a deep freezer). This makes my reluctance to have them visit difficult to explain: I can’t use the excuse we’re unable to afford hosting them for three weeks. How do I get them to stop hijacking my life every fall?

—Frazzled With a Nice Patio

Dear Frazzled,
Just as you’re ready to enjoy the lovely fall foliage, your parents descend on you annually like leaf blight. Sure, you might be temped to spray them with fungicide as a way of banishing them, but I’m afraid you’re just going to have to stop quaking and, since you are an adult, simply articulate the rules of your own home. Start by telling them that because of your demanding work schedules, the visit can only be for five days. Then say that you will put your car at their disposal, but you cannot take extra time off, and they will have to entertain themselves during the work week. If they want to do something that is unpleasant or inconvenient for you, tell them they’re free to go, you have to decline. Also say you appreciate their generosity, but you are self-sufficient, and while it’s nice if they want to treat you to dinner, you draw the line at appliances. Your parents will likely have the kind of fit that could get them on a Real Housewives reunion, but you just have to ignore that and firmly stick to your parameters. If they respond that they would rather stay home then visit under these restrictions, this is what’s known as a win/win.


Dear Prudence,
I recently attended a wonderful Michael Bublé concert to celebrate my 60th birthday. Since I have some vision problems, we paid considerable money for better seats. I realize that everyone loves their cellphones and the way they can instantly take photos and record events. But what is the etiquette at a live performance? The young woman directly in front of me held her phone up and recorded about half the show. In the dark concert arena her screen was very bright and directly in my line of vision. I assume she felt it was her right to record the show. But what about my right to enjoy the show without her bright light interfering with my view? I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to have a confrontation at a fun event, but should I have?

—60 and Steaming

Dear Steaming,
I wonder how many of those events will ever be viewed a second time. Or maybe I should say a first time, since people get so wrapped up in their devices they don’t even experience what they’ve come to see. It’s too bad Michael Bublé hasn’t joined the chorus of performers who are banning recording at their concerts. If he had, you might have had the pleasure of a security person telling the woman in front of you to douse her device and if she refused, escorting her out. But since it was up to you, it would have been perfectly reasonable to politely ask her to put her phone away because it was distracting and blocking your view. Best case, she would have apologized and turned it off. More likely she would have said, “Go home and listen to your Sinatra albums, you old bag.” At that point, it would have been wise to ignore her and just let yourself be transported by Bublé crooning, “You Make Me Feel So Young.”


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

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