Dear Prudence

In Fidelity

My cheating husband died suddenly, and I want to help his mistress.

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Dear Prudence,
It sounds like a bad joke, but my cheating husband stepped into the street, got hit by a semi, and died. Instead of going through a difficult divorce, I have inherited all his assets and am a very wealthy woman. I have no idea how to deal with any of this. I held a memorial and didn’t stay long. I felt like a fraud. Friends told me that his mistress showed up in tears. Apparently she is a single mom, and my husband was paying for her apartment and her son’s private school. Am I crazy to want to reach out and maybe help her? My circle of friends runs the gamut from glee to indifference about her fate. My husband and I had been drifting apart for a while before he died. I can’t process anything right now rationally and could use an outside perspective.

–Help His Mistress?

If you’re not in therapy already, I hope you make an appointment immediately. You’ve been through one of the most bewildering and destabilizing experiences imaginable. It’s extremely commendable that your first thought toward your late husband’s mistress was compassionate, but as you yourself acknowledge, you’re not capable of thinking rationally at the moment. It may be that you’re feeling guilty about inheriting money from your cheating husband before you had the chance to leave him, and you feel that offering his former lover money would alleviate your discomfort. I don’t think you should do anything right now. Private school is not a necessity; this woman is not in danger, so you don’t have to feel responsible or guilty about her current financial situation. Consider, too, that she is currently grieving your husband’s loss and might not be well-equipped to speak with you. If a few months or years from now, after talking it over with a therapist, you decide you’d like to speak with her, you may find some closure or a sense of connection that provides you with some solace. But there’s no rush. Focus on yourself and dealing with your loss and frustration before you try to get in touch.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My husband refuses all forms of intimacy, including touching and kissing. He rolls his eyes when I ask for a hug. He makes fun of me for wanting to be touched. When we sleep he puts a wall of pillows between us. This is not new, but his disgust for touching me is more intense than it was. He is a hard drinker, and I believe that has a lot to do with it. He wields our lack of intimacy as a weapon, and when I try to talk about it, he becomes angry and starts arguments about other subjects. I do not want to fight anymore, so I’ve stopped trying to talk about it. I am lonely and feel like I am married but forced into a prison. I am a young woman, and this lack of intimacy is tearing me apart. I know he is not having an affair. I know that if I had an affair and he found out it would crush him, and so would a divorce. What am I supposed to do? I did not get married to become a nun. Please help.

–No Touching

Leave him. Let him be crushed. He is crushing you every minute of the day. A man who mocks and belittles his partner for asking for a hug is a man who deserves to be very much alone for the rest of his life. I don’t know what his problem with intimacy is, but it’s not worth sticking around to try to find out. Run.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend of six months is a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety issues. He is also an alcoholic with almost three years sober. It’s become clear that his mother has an unhealthy obsession with him. She showed up one day at his house while we were watching a movie, and when he didn’t answer the door she started beating on the windows. Another time she stood outside the front door yelling through it for 10 minutes. The last straw for us both was when she told him he “must be drinking again” because he wasn’t responding to her texts right away. He ended up having to block her number. Since then she has sent him very disturbing emails and has called me every name in the book. She threatens to call the cops and say I’ve stolen from her. She has threatened suicide. (We called the authorities.) She is now telling family members that he’s using drugs and threatening to rape and kill her. The emails are endless, and she’s shown up at the house a few times. I’ve suggested he get a restraining or no-contact order. Luckily, we are moving out of state in several months. Am I doing the right thing? My boyfriend obviously doesn’t need more stress in his life, and I want to be in his corner.

–Mommie Not-So-Dearest

You’re doing everything right. The only thing I would add to this is to document every incident where she turns up uninvited on your doorstep or sends a threatening message. If she’s making wild accusations about your boyfriend, it will only help to have a written record of her abusive, intimidating behavior. You absolutely need a restraining order, and if possible, a safe place to stay that your boyfriend’s mother doesn’t know about in the months before your move in case she starts to escalate things. She’s made it clear that she’s willing to resort to false accusations and the threat of violence to get your attention. Don’t underestimate her, and stay safe.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I take a couple of trips a year with friends or for work in which there are ample opportunities to cheat. In the past I have taken advantage of this, and so have many of my closest friends, both female and male. When I am home I am as dedicated a partner and parent as anyone else I know. I do at least 50 percent of the housework and child care. The same can largely be said for my friends, who also don’t seem to have a moral problem with straying from their otherwise monogamous partnerships on rare occasions.

I am happily married and very satisfied with my partner emotionally, intellectually, and sexually. But I can’t pretend that makes the thrill of the new irrelevant. I am fairly confident that many, if not all, of us are hardwired for this. But obviously this seems to run against the grain in our society, at least on the surface. I wonder if we are living in a very Victorian-esque time in which these basic and not intrinsically unhealthy desires are shunned because of past principle, or if I, and a large percentage of those I know, should be classified as sociopaths. 

The easy answer here is that the only thing I’m doing wrong is being dishonest with my partner. But why hurt someone with this truth if it makes no difference to anyone as long as I’m careful to keep it concealed? If I found out that my partner had been doing the same thing, I would not be angry or hurt, but I know that she does not feel the same. Is something wrong with me/us?

–Don’t Feel Bad

No, I totally get it, man. Human beings are evolutionarily hardwired to furtively cheat on their partners three to four times a year on business trips. It’s part of our brain chemistry. You happen to have evolved a little further than most of us onto a superenlightened plane where you get to make decisions for your partner without her input or consent, and you’re just, like, protecting her from something that would hurt her if she knew, which is pretty brave, if you think about it. You’re basically her hero, shielding her from things that would only hurt her because she doesn’t “get it” yet. Also, when you’re not on your sexy business trips, you don’t cheat on her. The majority of the time, you’re not cheating at all! Plus you do laundry. Laundry. If that doesn’t earn you some strange, I don’t know what does.

You’re not a sociopath. You seem to want me to either absolve you or berate you, and I have no interest in doing either. But pal, you know as well as I do that you’re making selfish, gutless, easy choices. You have no interest in monogamy, and that’s absolutely fine. Just don’t pretend you’ve ascended to a higher plane of existence because you like to periodically fling your genitals at strangers. You’ve decided that since you’re able to “see through” the fiction of exclusivity, you can act without taking your partner’s feelings and desires into account. If you truly believed in the superiority of an open relationship, you’d talk to her about it. You wouldn’t treat her like a child who hasn’t earned the right to be initiated into your secret knowledge because she’s too conventional to get it. It doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t mind if it turned out she had cheated on you; you admit that you know it would cause her pain if she found out. She deserves not to be lied to. Whether you choose polyamory or an open marriage or flexible monogamy isn’t the point—whatever you decide, you have to come by it honestly.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My sister has metastatic cancer, and recently her condition has worsened. I am her only sibling, and we are both young adults. Our parents are going on vacation for a week next month (they planned it before my sister’s condition worsened), and I am taking off work and staying with my sister during that week. My question is: Our family has many friends who have offered to help “in any way” during this stressful time. My sister and I are college-age and don’t have the wherewithal to cook for ourselves all the time. So I think it would be reasonable to tell people (if they specifically ask how to help) that they could bring us a frozen meal or two to eat during the week. My mother thinks this is a bad idea because she is embarrassed that we would be asking for anything while she and my dad are on vacation. I argue that it allows our wonderful friends to tangibly help, it is for a limited time frame, and it will give us way better nutrition than we would have otherwise. I feel like it’s prudent. What do you think?

–Helping Hand?

I want to be gentle with your mother, whose daughter is ill and is surely experiencing no small amount of guilt and distress. I don’t begrudge your parents their vacation. I understand everyone needs a break from caretaking. But this idea that it’s OK for her to leave town for a week while also insisting you refuse any assistance from concerned friends and family is absolutely outrageous. It’s not embarrassing to have cancer, and it’s not embarrassing to accept help from the people who love you. Take your friends up on their generous offer to help out during this difficult time, and enjoy every meal they bring over without a second thought.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I had two lovely girls. His ex-girlfriend (they had a son together) has always been in our lives. She met her husband at our wedding. Last year my husband was killed by a drunk driver. I collapsed in every way possible. My husband’s ex and her partner took care of my girls and me. My in-laws were a joke (they showed up drunk to the memorial), and my family lives far away. Because of the insurance money, I paid off our home and will be financially stable. I want to ask them to permanently move in. The ex and her partner both have keys and are already here most days of the week. Rent keeps going up, she is looking for a new job, and it seems stupid to have them struggle when I have a huge house. They are family to my girls and me. I just have a nagging voice in that back of my head. I trust your judgment. Should I offer?

–Full House

I think you should offer. They may say no, as there are still plenty of reasons they might want to find their own place, but if they’re having a difficult time finding housing and you’re in a position to help them, why not? They’ve already established they are trustworthy, reliable, compassionate people in a hundred different ways, and I think it’s wonderful that you’re in a position to help them, however temporarily, after they took care of you.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
A while back, a very good friend of mine, “Shannon,” introduced me to a good friend of hers, “Hank.” Hank and I hit it off, and I thought we would become good friends. However, Hank never responded to my follow-up messages, leaving me very confused. However, Shannon recently explained why: She had told Hank not to contact me, because she was scared that I’d become better friends with him than her. I didn’t know what to say when she told me this, and I still don’t.

–Kept Apart

I’ll give Shannon credit for owning up to what she did. It would have been easy for her to pretend she had no idea why Hank never pursued a friendship with you after such a promising start, and telling you she pulled a sneaky, underhanded stunt required a certain amount of bravery. It’s also, obviously, worrying. It’s entirely up to you whether this confession makes you feel like you can build a closer, more solid relationship with her, or if you’d like to back off and find friends who aren’t threatened by the idea of your knowing more than one person. A good friend would not feel threatened at the mere prospect of two friends meeting and spending more time together; a good friend would not sabotage the friendship of two other people out of fear that their friendship might exist without her.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend uses my phone occasionally. I don’t have an issue with this, but he acts strange when I use his, grabbing it away from me while looking uncomfortable. This only happens because I sometimes take his phone jokingly when he borrows mine. I’ve confronted him about this double standard before and the fact that it makes me feel suspicious. He told me he looks at porn on his phone and does not want me to see what he is looking at. I do not have any issues with him looking at porn, and I have never combed through his browsing history. However, this has happened several times. Am I right to feel like there is something more happening? I mean, can’t he use a private browser?

–Dirty Phone

“I don’t want you to borrow my phone because I use it to look at porn” is a perfectly good reason for your boyfriend to not want you to borrow his phone. I’m glad to hear you don’t object to his looking at porn, but I can understand why the thought of you accidentally seeing some of his browsing history out of context while you’re trying to look up nearby restaurants would make him uncomfortable. This is not necessarily because he has sinister porn preferences—nothing in your letter suggests he’s into anything illegal or troubling. It’s his phone; he shouldn’t have to use private browsing if he doesn’t want to. (What if he wants to bookmark particular favorites?) He’s asked you not to borrow it, so don’t. There’s nothing more to it. 

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