Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Friend’s Wife Excluded Me From Funeral: My best friend and I had been close since college. I outlasted girlfriends and even other friends in his life. Some of his girlfriends didn’t like me, so I was really happy when he married someone who seemed like she was just my kind of girl. My now-fiancé and I stayed close to them over the years, although I noticed that my friend’s wife was a perfectly polite hostess but much cooler to me. About a month ago, my friend suddenly became sick and died. His wife never let me know. She had called his other friends but didn’t call me or my fiancé. We would have missed the funeral if a family member had not told me when it was. We flew in for the service and found we were excluded from the graveside service and gathering afterward. I was told, “Family and close friends only, dear,” by an older lady I can only guess was his wife’s relative. I had to watch all of our other friends troop off to be together and my fiancé and I went back to our hotel. I’m so hurt. I don’t understand what I did. What’s worse is that none of the guys except my fiancé seem to get why I am hurt at being shut out. If his wife had a problem with me, shouldn’t she have talked to me instead of punishing me at a time like this? What should I say to her?
A: You have lost a dear friend and his wife has suddenly become a young widow. It’s a gut-wrenching situation all around. How sad that in the midst of your friend’s illness and sudden death, your friend’s wife, instead of being magnanimous about all the people in his life who he loved, took this opportunity to exclude you. She sounds threatened that her husband had a female friend, despite the fact that you had your own boyfriend. Now he is gone and his widow must deal with her loss and rebuild her life. As rightfully hurt as you are, as much loss as you feel, recognize that her life has changed in profound ways. It is too late now for you to have the conversation with her that you might have had when he was alive about your friendship with her husband. She wanted you out, and now he’s gone. There is nothing to say to her. But why don’t you organize your own casual memorial service—maybe a dinner at your house—at which those of you closest to your friend share your memories, your tears, and raise a glass to a wonderful, too short life.
Dear Prudence Classic: Torn Apart by an iPad
Q. To Tell or Not to Tell?: A couple of months ago, I met a man in a bar who was visiting my city for the night. When I asked him about his relationship status, he said that he was currently single, but that he “was engaged once.” After some more talking and flirting, we went back to his hotel room, engaged in (safe) mutual oral sex, and spent the night cuddling. The next morning, we exchanged numbers. He said he’d like to see me the next time he was in town. Later, a Google search confirmed everything he told me: his first and last names, where he lives, his job (he’s a doctor), etc. Then I stumbled upon his engagement announcement. It had been published just one month prior to when we met! When I confronted him about this via text message, he said that he and his fiancée were “on a break”—which is quite different from being “engaged once.” This made me angry and physically ill, and I told him not to contact me again. I assume that he wasn’t on a break at all, and that he used me to cheat on her while he was out of town. Now I’m wondering if I should contact his fiancée and let her know what happened. According to the announcement, their wedding is scheduled for February. If I were in her shoes, I would want to know about this before tying the knot. What do you think I should do?
A: I think a woman would be interested in knowing that her fiancé considers himself single any time he looks around the room and realizes she’s not there. This guy lied to you, cheated with you, and wanted to do it again. I think you’re more than entitled to contact his fiancée by way of an apology. You could say to her you never move in on other people’s boyfriends, so you were extremely distressed to learn the man who picked you up in a bar and took you back to his room for sex was planning on getting married. And please consider that going to a stranger’s hotel room for sex can end up with you having more than just your feelings hurt.
Q. Online Dating: My roommate and dear friend “Mary” met her boyfriend on an online dating site (Match) in August. The two have become serious quickly, and seem to be happy together. We are in graduate school and as we enter our final semester I can see that she is starting to change her post-graduation plans in order to stay near him. This wouldn’t concern me as much if it were not for the fact that another friend of ours who is on Match.com, has noticed that Mary’s boyfriend always pops up in her Match feed as “active within 24 hours.” We are concerned that he may still be casually dating while she is changing her life plans to be with him. Our problem is that we can’t be sure, and we don’t know if we should tell Mary or not. If we tell her, how do we do it without causing a lot of problems? We love our friend and just want her to be happy, can you help?
A: Your friend who’s on Match herself should say to Mary, “Hey, did you and Darren split? Because his profile keeps popping up in my feed as currently active.”
Q. Camped Out by Mom’s Bedside: My mother-in-law was hospitalized a few weeks ago following a major heart episode. While her heart condition is potentially life-threatening, the doctors say her prognosis is very good, though she will remain hospitalized for quite some time. Since she was admitted, my husband, who is underemployed, has spent large chunks of time by her bedside every day. We’re talking anywhere between three and seven hours every day. Meanwhile, I continue to try to run our household and care for our two small children. I’ve tried gently pointing out that his mother’s outlook is good and that the kids really miss their dad when he’s gone every evening and suggesting that he limit the hours spent at the hospital. He just calls me insensitive and callous for keeping him from his family while his mother is ill. Am I being an unfeeling jerk, Prudie, or am I right to insist that I and the kids need him too?
A: Your mother-in-law is very sick, so you’re not going to win this battle by insisting that this illness probably won’t kill her. But it also sounds like hanging out at the hospital is a convenient escape for your husband from family life. Sitting by his mother’s bedside (and maybe commandeering the TV remote during football season) also may make him feel useful since you indicate your husband’s work life is unrewarding. If there are other family members around, perhaps it’s time to set up a more reasonable schedule so they can spell each other. It’s also the rare patient who is up for having someone in the room for hours on end. But it sounds as if the problems in your marriage run deeper than just your mother-in-law’s illness. At the least, you two need to figure out how to acknowledge you’ve backed one another in a corner over this and more considerately and gently reopen the conversation.
Q. Re: Match: I was Mary once … please, please tell her! I was so grateful when a friend of mine from high school messaged me, “Hey, I believe your boyfriend is still active on Match. He just sent me an email trying to meet up and the picture on his profile is one you posted on Facebook. I just wanted to make sure you knew.”
A: Painful as it is, oh how much better it is to know.
Q. Re: One-night affair: Surely the lady who had the one night fling with the doctor realizes that the nature of this encounter is ripe for subterfuge and lies. She willingly participated in behavior without any type of commitment from him (and before she took the time to Google him). To suggest she contact the fiancée is cruel and unnecessary and her credibility would be suspect. Based on your way of apology she is supposed to tell the fiancée she would never move in on other’s boyfriends yet she knew him for mere hours so how would she be giving assurances that she makes certain they are unattached?
A: I agree that given we’re in the smartphone era, a quick trip to the ladies room to Google the particulars of the stranger you plan to bed is a good idea. However, I don’t quite understand your assertion that in the absence of such due diligence, it’s cruel to let a woman about to marry a man know that he is a person who has sex with strangers he meets in bars. It’s true that not everyone is like the correspondent above who was grateful to be alerted to her beloved’s perfidy. But I think the fiancée should be given the opportunity to decide what her reaction is to the deceit of her intended.
Q. Abused Adult: I recently discovered that a friend of mine, who is a university student, has horribly controlling and abusive parents. They have been this way since she was young, but she “didn’t realize it wasn’t normal.” They control every aspect of her life, including finances; they neglect and degrade her emotionally, have used physical force against her, and have kicked her out a few separate times. She is now an adult but still lives with them (when she’s not kicked out) and depends on their financial support for tuition and, most importantly, expensive medications. She is afraid that calling them out on their abusive behavior will make things worse. I want to help her in whatever way I can, but at the moment all I can offer is emotional support and try really hard not to confront her parents myself, because they will probably take it out on her. What can I (or she) do?
A: Since she is a student, she should go immediately to the student health office and explain her situation. You could offer to go with her and make the appointment—someone like your friend is so victimized that it’s hard for her to even take the first steps toward freedom. You can also sit by her as she calls the National Domestic Violence Hotline. She needs to talk through her options and make plans to get out. Her parents physically assault her, so she needs to know the police should be called if this happens. But permanently extracting herself from her abusers requires her to have a system of safety and support in place.
Q. Re: Online dating: I was out with a group of friends one evening. One of my friends had met a great guy through Match.com and she convinced me to pull up my profile, maybe to give me pointers. I said, “Oh, this guy emailed me AGAIN. He keeps asking me out even though I said I wasn’t interested.” So of course she has to read his profile, and guess who it was: the guy she’d been dating for a few months. We had a big laugh over that one, I can tell you. You had to feel sorry for the poor schmuck; what are the odds that on all of Match.com, he’d pick the woman who lived next door to his girlfriend?
A: Good for your friend for laughing. And obviously your profile was sufficiently alluring to attract such a “great guy.”
Q. Inappropriate Friendship?: My husband “Jake” has a co-worker/friend “Bill” who was dating a young woman “Suzy.” The four of us became friends, had double-dates, dinners, trips, etc. Bill and Suzy broke up, but my husband still continues a friendship with Suzy. They email and text, unbeknownst to me besides a random comment he made that he has spoken to her. As far as I know he has not been out with Suzy other than when the three of us were together. I’ve noticed that he has changed his password to his phone and iPad; and I know they are still emailing. I was just notified that they are competing together in a bike race (after they signed up). Am I overly sensitive, insecure or paranoid—or do I need to lay down some ground rules? Am I wrong to think that a married man should not have an ongoing friendship with a single woman and ex-girlfriend of his co-worker?
A: Since there seems to be quite a bit of subterfuge going on here, you have more than enough grounds to express your concerns. Every couple figures out their own rules for friendships with members of the opposite sex. I dislike the idea that married people can’t have opposite sex friends, but I know that sometimes what’s labeled a friendship is actually more than that. In her excellent book, Marriage Rules, psychologist Harriet Lerner writes that it’s fair and necessary for couples to be able to say when they feel a friendship is endangering the core relationship. Read her book, which gives great advice for productively bringing up these (and other) topics. And bear in mind that no set of rules will promise a partner doesn’t break them.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. Let’s hope 2014 is a good year.
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