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For nearly a decade, I’ve been an assistant to a very successful man. He is an extraordinary manager and I feel very loyal to him. Last year, I accidentally found out he had a fling with a colleague at a conference overseas. Subsequently, for the first time, his wife invited me to spend Christmas with them, a sign of high esteem. It was a wonderful holiday with a large extended family and I enjoyed myself immensely. Over the course of the following year, however, my boss has continued this affair and seems obsessed with his mistress. They attend conferences all over the world and take glamorous side trips. They are constantly in touch. He is incredibly cheerful when he comes back from these events. I’ve been invited for Christmas again this year, and it breaks my heart to think of looking into the eyes of his wife and his mother-in-law, who are both warm, affectionate people. I doubt he’s in an open marriage—years ago he made a joke about his wife killing him if he ever cheated on her. I feel I have been complicit by keeping silent. I am estranged from my family and don’t spend the holidays with friends, and my boss knows this. If I go, I would feel tempted to pull the wife aside and tell her, or else just burst into tears, which would be the end of my job. But if I don’t go, it won’t be very good for my job, either. What should I do?
Your job requires that you look the other way when you implicitly facilitate your boss’s cheating. Surely you make the arrangements for his conferences, so you’ve come to understand that his travel for professional enrichment also includes some personal fulfillment. If you find the latter morally repugnant, then you should look for other work. But if your boss returns with the satisfied glow of a man whose affairs have come to a successful climax, I suggest you bask in his good mood. That your boss once made a familiar joking remark about cheating isn’t proof of anything; men in less conventional arrangements don’t generally go around sharing how happy their wives would be if they got a girlfriend. So you actually have no understanding of the understanding he and his wife may have, and you should let that uncertainty be a comfort. Sure, it’s likely she doesn’t know the real reason his business trips have become so frequent and urgent. But thanking her for the delicious Christmas ham and then saying, “Speaking of bone-in meat, I need to tell you what your husband has been up to this past year,” is not the way to spread holiday cheer. You’re being generously welcomed into their family fold for Christmas. But you are his employee, and good manners and good sense dictate that you keep your illicit knowledge under wraps.
Dear Prudence: Keeping the Sperm in the Family
A few days before Christmas, my closest girlfriends and I will dine out at a fancy restaurant. We are seven young women who were college classmates who now live in different cities. We keep in touch, but we rarely ever get a chance to be all together. It has taken a lot to schedule the date and we all can’t wait to see each other in person. Plus, I have an important personal announcement to make, and I’m sure that I’m not the only one. However, one member of the group just announced that she will bring her husband along. She didn’t ask, she has just dropped a line to one of us saying, “He’s coming.” When my friend called her and gently told her we’d rather keep it “girly,” she got annoyed and said: “Either he’s coming, or I’m staying home.” He could be heard in the background saying, “Tell them I’m coming, period.” He’s got jealousy issues, and he rarely lets her go out on her own. She accepts this without complaint. The rest of us would really prefer he stay at home. Is there a polite way out of this, or are we forced into having him and making small talk all evening, instead of our usual hilarious chit-chat?
—Girls’ Night Out
In an ascending list of ways to torture a man, somewhere above the rack and cattle prod would probably lie the prospect of attending the festive get-together of seven girlfriends, especially when on the agenda is exciting news (engagement ring, positive pregnancy test!) sure to get the gang squealing. Yes, it’s bizarre that this young husband wants to bust your gender barrier. It is also simply rude for one person who’s part of an established group to invite an outsider without getting the OK first from the others. This reunion was difficult to arrange, so I don’t see why one husband should be allowed to put a damper on the night. See if the person closest to your friend with the stalker spouse can get back on the phone with her. The caller should explain that a get-together with everyone’s significant others would be fun sometime, but this isn’t the time. Maybe she could even ask to talk to the husband and explain there’s no plan to single him out by excluding him: The plan is to exclude all males. If your friend is adamant that she won’t come without him, then she should be told that you’ll all miss her. But please don’t just let this go. The marriage you’re describing is disturbing. It may be that your friend is in some kind of folie à deux and both she and her spouse mutually keep an insanely tight leash on each other. But controlling his wife’s access to friends is a sign of abuse. After the holidays, if any of your group lives in the same city as your friend, one or two of you should try to get her alone—maybe she’s allowed to have lunch?—and talk to her about this. The people who do this can then gently but firmly state they are concerned that she’s no longer allowed to do such normal things as getting together with girlfriends. They should be prepared that she’ll be defensive, but nevertheless should tell her they are there for her if she feels worried or trapped. They could also bring her a belated Christmas gift she might have to read at the office: a copy of The Emotionally Abusive Relationship by Beverly Engel.
My husband and I have two grown daughters, “Holly” and “Ivy.” I also have another much older daughter, “Gertrude,” born during my brief first marriage. Holly and Ivy are both married and have small children. Gertrude never married and has no children. Holly and Ivy have never been particularly close to Gertrude, but in recent years, their relationship has deteriorated to the point that Holly and Ivy have told me that they do not wish to visit my house if Gertrude is there. While I don’t know exactly what caused the rift (Gertrude claims to have no idea) I suspect that Gertrude, who unfortunately inherited my ex’s rather difficult personality, has said or done something to deeply offend her sisters. Holly, Ivy, and their families spend Thanksgiving and Christmas at my home. We decorate the house, bake cookies and pies with the grandchildren, go sledding or for walks in the woods, and generally have a picture-perfect holiday. Gertrude usually comes to visit for a few weekends at other times of the year and we have a lovely time together. Gertrude has recently informed me that she is very hurt that I do not invite her to my home for the holidays. While it’s too late to do anything about this year since Holly and Ivy have already made travel plans, I wonder how best to handle subsequent years. Should I maintain the status quo and tolerate Gertrude’s hurt feelings? Should I start a schedule of alternating holidays, for example, hosting Holly and Ivy next Thanksgiving, then having Gertrude visit at Christmas? The problem with alternating holidays means that my husband and I will have less time with our grandchildren, a prospect which makes us both extremely sad.
—Fa La La La La
Dear Fa La,
It’s telling that your threesome’s pseudonyms are not Holly, Ivy, and Noelle, but Holly, Ivy, and Gertrude. Giving your eldest the gift of “Gertrude” makes me feel sorry for this black sheep, no matter how disagreeable the personality she inherited as a result of your unfortunate first choice of a husband. You say you asked Gertrude what the problem was with her sisters, and she claimed not to know. So it’s long past time you put the question to Goneril and Regan, I mean Holly and Ivy, to find out why they refuse to be in their sister’s presence.* I’m surprised Gertrude continues to visit and have a lovely time with you since you gave in to your other daughters’ demands that you bar her from holiday celebrations without cause. If Holly and Ivy reveal that Gertrude has threatened them or their children, there’s a legitimate reason. But if it’s simply the two favored girls find the older, disfavored one difficult and draining, well, welcome to having a family. It’s simply not acceptable for you to blacklist one child because she and her sisters don’t particularly get along. So if the breach is not over something dire, then I think this year is the perfect time to start trying to heal relations. After all, Holly and Ivy already have their tickets and they’re coming. You can say to everyone it’s way past time all your children spent the holidays together and that you want your grandchildren to know their aunt. Because what you’ve laid out here makes your picture-perfect holiday sound rather ugly.
For Christmas this year, my husband and I are traveling to his hometown to celebrate with his family. His parents are divorced, so we have made plans to see them separately. My husband just informed me that Christmas Day will be spent with his mother and her side of the family, and we’ll all be eating pizza. I’m easygoing and appreciate that we can be with family members, but Christmas is my favorite holiday and it bums me out that we’ll be celebrating so casually (not to mention pizza is one of my least favorite foods). I’m known in our families as a pretty decent cook and I thought about offering to cook a more elaborate dinner for everyone, but I also don’t want to commit a faux pas by suggesting this. What should I do?
—Hold the Pepperoni
You don’t mention that pizza is your husband’s family’s traditional holiday meal, so it sounds to me as if Mom is simply burned out from manning the stove year after year. This is why I’m in favor of the older generation at some point handing off holiday hosting responsibilities to the next generation and becoming happy, relaxed guests themselves. That way family traditions can naturally evolve. I like your idea of preparing a more traditional meal, so have your husband present this generous offer to his mother. If she bites, then enlist other family members to help you with the shopping and prep—it sounds like a fun way to revive a sense of specialness around the day. But if your mother-in-law refuses, then accept that this year at least, Papa John will have to be your dinner savior.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Am I Fit To Parent?: My fiancé and I both have mental illness. The last thing I want to do is make things hard on our future children.”
“Just Say No to Sexting: My 17-year-old daughter sent naked pictures of herself to boys. What do I say to her?”
“Betrayal From Beyond: I just found out my husband sought casual sex before he died. How do I mourn him now?”
“The Constant Mistress: I’ve been in five relationships with married men, but don’t feel guilty. Am I morally bankrupt, or is everyone else closed-minded?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“What Is This, Ranch Dressing?: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose daughter might get kicked out of her playgroup for bringing store-bought snacks.”
“Not-So Buried Secret: In a live chat, Prudie advises a mother who gave the family dog away but told her son it died.”
“A Baby by Any Other Name: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who wants to give her son the same name as her husband’s son from another marriage.”
“Not My Husband’s Baby: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose in-laws fawn over her son—not knowing he’s the product of an affair.”
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Correction, Dec. 19, 2013: This article misspelled the name of Shakespeare character Regan. (Return.)