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I am a woman who has been married for 15 years, and I have a 13-year-old child. I have been in a long-distance love affair for four years with a single man almost 20 years older than I am. Our plan has always been to wait until my child is out of high school (four more years) before I divorce my husband and we begin our life together. I know I am not going to be viewed favorably because of my affair, but now I have a different problem. My lover recently had a stroke, and chances are not looking good for a full recovery. I very much want to spend whatever years my significant other has left with him. Our plan was to ease into our full-time relationship while causing the least amount of damage as possible. But now I don’t know what to do. Any advice?
To quote that philosopher of love, Donald Rumsfeld, the unknown unknowns here significantly outweigh the known knowns and known unknowns. Here you are, far away from your ailing lover, and you don’t know whether you should upend everything and run to his side to become his caretaker. You have been living with a long-running dream to one day take your secret life public, but neither you nor your lover could have guaranteed that once your child packed up for college you both would have actually put this plan into place. Maybe you would have discovered he liked having that committed future always out of grasp, and he preferred an ardent, no-strings lover. Maybe you would have discovered you didn’t want to take the financial hit of a divorce and you were enjoying the freedom of your empty nest. You don’t say whether your lover has other people who are emotionally close and close by. It’s possible he has a rich, full life and people ready to help him. It could be the last thing he would want is to be dependent on you and for you to tear apart your family. You have a romantic notion of nursing him back to whatever degree of health is possible. Before you do that, sit in on a support group for spouses of stroke victims and find out what that’s really like. You have specialized in long-term, long-distance deception. That’s not going to work anymore. I can’t tell you what to do, beyond being willing to shine a harsh light on what’s known, and trying to grasp the consequences of what’s unknown. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Affair Partner Just Had a Stroke. Should I Blow Up My Family to Care for Him?” (March 12, 2015)
My husband and I are driving six hours through the snowy mountains in a rental car with two other couples who are close friends to a wedding in a practically unreachable place (that’s a story for another advice column). One of the men in another couple went ahead and reserved the car rental for us as he travels frequently for work. The problem is we are all terrified of him as a driver—he drives too fast, doesn’t pay attention, and honestly doesn’t drive often enough to be any good at it. We would prefer that someone else drive, but he says time and time again that he’s happy to do it. How do we convince him to let someone else get behind the wheel without hurting his feelings? He’s very sensitive and we think he might be crushed with our lack of trust in him.
If you’re terrified of his driving, it’s better to offend him a little before the trip, rather than die in a four-car pileup out of politeness. “At least he never knew how bad a driver we all thought he was, right until he crashed the car” is going to be cold comfort to you. Tell him you’re not comfortable with his driving—someone who speeds and doesn’t watch the road is a pretty lethal combination—and rent a separate car if you have to. He can have all the feelings he wants to about it. That’s not your problem. You can tell him kindly, of course, and stress that you’re concerned about his safety, but this is a matter that calls for honesty more than tact. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! How Do I Stop Our Terrible-Driver Friend From Driving Us?” (Nov. 24, 2015)
One of my wife’s friends has hated me since the day she met me. While early on, her hatred was tolerable, lately it’s become annoying and more than a little creepy. I work in research and development, the same industry as her. I often have lunch with colleagues, both male and female, while we discuss work. She has spotted me a few times having lunch with a female colleague and without even talking to me, she’s reported to my wife that she thinks I’m having an affair (even though it’s been a different woman each time—apparently I really get around). My wife was suspicious at first but is not so worried now. (I’ve never cheated on her and have given her no reason to believe I have or would.) This woman ran into me last week and told me, “I’m going to destroy you” and walked away. I told my wife, and she said I must not have heard her correctly. How do I convince my wife that she needs to confront this nutcase? If she doesn’t change her behavior toward me after that, I think it’s only fair that my wife stop seeing her as a friend. What do you think I should do?
So, we’ve got the set-up for a thriller. In the Hollywood version you’re working late one night when you hear the click-click-click of high heels coming down the corridor, and when you turn around there’s the friend, wearing a wig to look like your wife, the knife in her hand glinting. Sorry, I didn’t mean to get carried away, but this situation is seriously disturbing. I’m not suggesting you start keeping pepper spray in your briefcase, but you have to do something about this nut. It wouldn’t take too many false reports from a “friend” that my husband was having an affair with a new woman every week for me to drop the pal. It’s odd that your wife continues to have fond relations with a woman who has made it her goal to ruin your marriage. What does your wife think her friend actually said last week: “I’m going to Hanoi. You?” You need to explain to your wife that since this woman is in your industry and has an irrational hatred of you, she could spread vicious rumors that harm your career. I think you should get your wife to accompany you to a lawyer’s office where you discuss this woman’s behavior and find out what you can do about it. But a helpful first step would be for your wife to become your ally and make clear to her friend that this hostility to you is unwarranted and needs to end. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Wife’s Best Friend Threatened to ‘Destroy’ Me.” (Jan. 9, 2012)
I’m getting married next spring to an amazing guy, and I have two cocker spaniels I’ve had since before I met him. He loves them, but they’re my dogs—I pay for everything involving them and I’m the primary caretaker. I love my fiancé and I trust him more than anyone else in the world, but I want to have some sort of agreement in place that if we should ever split, the dogs would stay with me. When I was 13, my parents had a messy divorce and our three family dogs were sent to the shelter when my parents couldn’t reach a settlement. I was devastated, and the idea of that ever possibly happening to my beloved dogs makes me tear up. Would it be absurd of me to bring this up with my fiancé? I don’t see us ever splitting up and I want to spend the rest of my life with him, but worrying over this is actually keeping me up at night.
The one difference between your dogs and your parents’ dogs is that yours were acquired and primarily raised before your marriage, which would make them premarital assets and much easier to win custody of in the event of your divorce. But no, it’s not absurd to bring up your dogs in a prenup discussion; custody battles over pets are extremely common, as you yourself have witnessed firsthand. If you two did split at some point far down the line, after these dogs have passed on and you two acquired other dogs as a married couple, I hope you could agree that at some point, it would be better for one of you to forgo custody rather than send the dogs in question to a shelter—perhaps committing to that compromise now would ease your mind about future worst-case scenarios. —D.L.
From: “Help! I Love My Fiancé, but I Want a Doggy Prenup in Case We Divorce.” (Oct. 18, 2016)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
I did something recently that concerns me on many levels. I am under a large amount of stress because I’m in an unhappy marriage (which we’re trying to work out) and because my company laid me off. I am under treatment for depression. A week ago, my doctor doubled the dosage of my antidepressant and, because I’m not sleeping well, he prescribed Ambien. On Saturday morning, I confused the vials and took two Ambien. I told my wife what happened and that I would probably sleep all day and went to bed.