Dear Prudence


How does a newly divorced man play the field without being a cad?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
After a decade in a tough marriage, I’m a recently divorced man. When we separated my ex and I agreed we would see other people, and I dated several women casually. Over time, one of those became more serious, to the point where we have been dating for almost a year and are now essentially exclusive. A second marriage is out of the question. I want to focus on my young kids and prefer to separate my “kid time,” which I love, from my adult “dating time,” which is also great. I envision that for the rest of my life there may be a series of girlfriends. My dilemma is that I really like the person I’m dating, but I recently met someone else who interests me. I don’t want to break off a good relationship to go on a date with the new person, only to find that we don’t have much in common. Because I plan to be serially monogamous indefinitely, I need to figure this out now. How do I try out a new relationship while gently easing out of my old one, without crossing cheating boundaries and maligning my good name?

—Cake and Eat It Too?

Dear Too,
I applaud that you want to focus on your children and not make them spectators to your serially monogamous parade. I think that when parents split, children should only get to know significant others when they are truly significant. That is, when the new relationship is solid and continuing. When you first became single again, you thought you would happily juggle your many options. Instead you found that by nature you’re less interested in variety than in harmony. You found someone you really like, and even though apparently you have never made declarations about the future or fidelity, you feel you would be cheating if you started exploring how compatible you are with this new woman who’s caught your eye. So to answer your question, what you do is have a long overdue talk about where the two of you are in this relationship, and explain that you don’t want to be exclusive. But in larger terms, I hope you’ve explored, or are exploring, what went wrong in your marriage and what your contributions were to its lousiness. You may think you want to play the field forever, but I’m guessing that at some point you’ll tire of living such a bifurcated life. If you come to love someone, it will take a lot of energy to keep her concealed from the other people you love most. You say a second marriage is out of the question. But I have heard from children of divorce who grew up with a sense that a parent sacrificed a personal life for their sake, or that a parent indeed had a love life, but it was always hidden from them. Your marriage did not give your children a template for happy adult relationships. Don’t be so quick to declare they will never get to see you in one.


Dear Prudence, 
I applied to 12 art and design universities, a lengthy and emotionally fraught process which involves creating a portfolio of work highlighting one’s skills and creativity. I’ve been rejected by every single one. I’m trying to remain positive with the understanding that I applied to some super competitive programs but it’s hard not to feel like I just suck. The college I’ll likely end up attending is in a place with a much less glamorous reputation than New York City, and after all the long months of working on my portfolio I’m embarrassed to tell my family and friends where I’m going. I’m a slightly older student, as I’ve been at university in my home state for a few years but have changed direction in my career hopes. It seems impossible to feel like I’ll succeed after being told so many times I’m not worth the trouble of collecting a tuition check from. Help! 


Dear Scrapped,
New York Times
columnist Frank Bruni has just written a book for people like you called, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania; I bet you’ll find encouragement from the stories of those who felt sandbagged by the schools of their choice yet ended up prevailing in the long run. You have a specific career goal in mind, and you need a read from some objective people who aren’t admissions officers about your skills. Surely there are some art professionals at your current university, so ask them to critique your portfolio. I don’t know whether you lack the intrinsic talent to make it in art and design, but even the most transcendently gifted need grit and drive to get ahead in this tough profession. If it’s not meant to be, you might find other work in the design world that would still be gratifying and fulfilling. Maybe marketing or sales would play more to your skills and you could be the person to bring work you admire to the attention of the world. And nothing can prevent art from being a lifelong passion of yours that you pursue in your free time, apart from your career. Don’t be embarrassed about the college you’re headed to. The only embarrassing thing would be not taking advantage of the opportunities you find there.


Dear Prudence,
Before I had my first child, I worked at an alternative school. I cared deeply for many of my students, and after I left I kept track of how some of them were doing. Now I am expecting twins, and I am torn about whether or not it would be strange to give one of them the same name as one of my favorite students. I have always liked this name, even before I knew this student. I wouldn’t name the baby “after” my student, but the name would always hold some special meaning for me. Sadly, this boy dropped out of school, became a drug dealer, and was recently killed at a young age while attempting to commit an armed robbery. Despite this, I know he was truly a special person who chose a bad path. My husband knew him as well, and although he is not against the name, he isn’t exactly for it. Am I crazy to even consider this name?

—What’s in a Name?

Dear Name,
If giving someone the same name as someone else meant that person would follow in their namesake’s path, then about half of the American females born in the last 20 years would be destined to become advice columnists because of the apparent national edict to name girls Emily. And if your concern were valid, then people named Katrina would somehow be implicated in natural disasters. You have always liked the name in question—even before meeting your student—so you wouldn’t be naming your son in tribute. I say go ahead and use the name. But I also advise you not to tell others about the connection to your student. Feeling that in some small way you are redeeming the memory of a young man who you cared for but who made such terrible, and fatal, decisions can be a private source of comfort that you don’t have to explain to people who won’t understand.


Dear Prudence,
My parents and my husband’s parents are all in their early 70s and live in the same metro area as we do. Our fathers are both sharp but have recently been diagnosed with different life-shortening, deteriorating conditions. They each take care of everything from cooking to finances to repairs. Our mothers are both in the early stages of dementia, which has magnified their personalities. My mother-in-law is loving, sweet, and gentle; my own mother is not. We live in a six-bedroom, one-story house in a great community that seems perfect for aging in place. My grandfather even lived in the guest suite for a time. Now we just have one child at home and we are the best candidates out of our siblings to eventually take care of our mothers. However, though we would be delighted to care for my mother-in-law, for our mental health we can’t have my mom live with us. What should we do and how should we handle expectations?

—Terrible daughter

Dear Terrible,
You are not a terrible daughter for refusing to take in your mother. You’re a good daughter to recognize this is impossible and you will start planning a transition so that she’s well cared for. You may love your house, but this six-bedroom place—complete with guest suite—sounds like a lot of space for a couple of empty nesters. It also makes you ground zero for an elderly parent invasion. You may not want to downsize, but doing so would help relieve you of this obligation and free up some cash in case you need to contribute to the collective upkeep of your parents. Even if your mother-in-law is now sweet and gentle, dementia can run an unpredictable course and she may get to the point where she needs the kind of 24-hour care you can’t provide. No matter what your siblings’ situations are, as a family you should discuss the future and plan what you all can do, emotionally and financially, to see your parents through their final years.


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