A Riff on Dear Prudence, Post and Commentary Here
I have been married to my husband, whom I love dearly, for three years. The problem is his smoking. I knew he was a smoker when I married him (I was adamantly against dating smokers, but he was very persistent), but he would almost always smoke outside when he came to visit me. Once we got married, he said that he shouldn't have to smoke outside in his own house. I have had bronchitis three or four times in the past three years, and the doctor recommended I avoid cigarette smoke. I have tried reasoning, crying, screaming, and threatening, but nothing seems to work. I'm not sure if my husband doesn't believe that his smoking affects my health and eventually could kill me, or if he doesn't care. I believe he loves me, but he loves his cigarettes more. I will feel like an idiot if I have to divorce him over this since he smoked when I met him, but I am obsessing about getting cancer or some other horrible disease. What do you suggest?
Dear Making Me Wretch,
You are damn right that you are obsessing. Rudie is a smoker, and has tried to quit for the better part of five years. Honey, it ain't fucking easy. Don't let them tell you that the patch works, or the gum. Some have suggested that quitting smoking is harder than kicking a crack habit. Judging from the difficulty Rudie has had (and just so you know, his willpower is the stuff of legends) he believes it.
First, stop obsessing. If you are worried about cancer from cigarette smoke, Rudie's got news for you. You inhale boatloads more carcinogens from just walking outside of your home. Rudie certainly suspects that you aren't going to go around reasoning, crying, screaming and making threatening remarks to city bus drivers because you're afraid you might die from the fumes. So pickle that shit and can it. Hermetically seal it. Then throw it in the nearest dumpster.
Rudie is sure that you've cried, screamed, and threatened, but he's not quite convinced that you've reasoned. In fact, it seems like a display of hysterics is all that has transpired.
That being the case, Rudie thinks maybe he does love his cigarettes more than he loves you. Look at what cigarettes offer him: calm nerves, reduced stress, and a few minutes of peace out of his day. All you're offering him is a headache and the poorly veiled threat of divorce.
Ultimatums tend to awaken within the human animal a base desire to stick the middle finger up at the one treading on you. These false choices are exactly the sort of non-selections that tell one person that their individual choices are not respected by another, and often that people themselves are not respected by another. I'd avoid this, because he'd probably divorce you just to see you squirm. Every person in this insane world lives for the day where telling someone to go fuck themselves results in the best possible outcome. Ultimatums are the express lane to bliss in this regard.
Let me tell you from experience that if you think that inducing stress in his psyche is going to get him to quit smoking, reason is the last thing Rudie thinks you should ever attempt in earnest. You're just no fucking good at it.
If you ever had any command of reason, you'd realize that an air cleaner placed in a single room of your house, such as the den or a separate 'study', with the explicit compromise that this is the only designated smoking area within the home might do wonders for your marriage. It seems so... simple. Being a bit simple yourself, Rudie is surprised that this hadn't occurred to you.
Of course, you could just divorce him, and not only would it probably make him happier, it would be the irrational, hysterical thing to do, so you'd probably feel better about it.
I just had my three-year anniversary with my boyfriend. He was married when we first met, and we eventually had a very brief affair before he left his wife. He has two children with her, whom I have a great relationship with and love very much. I am beginning to think it was a mistake and we rushed too quickly into getting serious. Now that we have settled into our life together (we bought a house), I find we have less and less in common and am starting to see that our long-term goals and dreams are vastly different. Thoughts of breaking up have crossed my mind. Although at the time I believed he left his wife because his marriage was over, I now know that I played a much greater role in bringing about the end of their marriage. I have so much guilt over how our relationship started and now feel even more guilt that I effectively stole someone else's life, a life that they wanted, and now I don't want it anymore. I also find it increasingly harder to deal with the fact that friends and family will always see me as the other woman or him as a scoundrel. I'm sure his ex would love to see our relationship fail as she hates my guts and I know that hearing about me from her children is torture. Sometimes I wish he would leave me and get back together with her. Am I entitled to familial happiness after what I did? I don't want to hurt him, and I especially don't want to hurt his children any more than I already have. I can't reach the decision to leave but am not happy staying. Is this my punishment for what I did?
—Guilty and Confused
Dear Brilliantly Remorseful,
You don't seem confused at all.
You are a homewrecker in the most literal of meanings: you wrecked a home. Moreover, you did so, and now its not what you wanted. Environmentally averse logging interests wanting to clear-cut old growth forest and leave the landscape littered with stumps, and who are equally uninterested in planting new saplings bug your phone looking for new ideas for screwing the planet.
You feel miserable, as karma dictates. You've grown attached to what's not yours, and now you are torn between doing the right thing and being your normal soulless self. I can see how a person of your slimy character could be truly perplexed confronted with such difficult dilemmas.
You, unlike most homewreckers, seem to have a conscience, albeit it seems to have appeared rather recently, like some psychological tumor you scrabble at your scalp trying to dislodge. Bless your fuzzy little heart, and may it break some more. What a wonderful world it would be if every person given to stealing away with other people's love interests and families would have such epiphanies and feel as bad as you do right now. Maybe marital success would be measurable percentagewise as more than a fucking coin flip without the constant distractions of people looking to take your cheese.
This pain is yours. You asked for it. Now embrace it. Learn from it. And when you do finally reach a decision, hopefully it'll be based upon reducing the amount of damage you could do to others more than the pleasure you seek to bring upon yourself.
It would certainly be a welcome change.
I have a good working relationship with most of my male colleagues. However, recently I found myself uncomfortably but also undeniably very much attracted to one of my married colleagues. He and I joke around quite a bit because we both have an offbeat sense of humor. But then he asked me to go to dinner with him, just us. It was a very casual request in the line of, "We're both working late, let's grab something to eat ..." Now I can't get him out of my mind. Aside from the fact that he's married, he also works in the office next to me, and I cringe at workplace romance. What should I do the next time he asks me to dinner? And am I a bad person to be so attracted to a married man? I feel like a home-wrecker even though nothing has happened.
—Sleepless and Sad
Dear Office Mattress,
My, my, my. Aren't we just full of our little potential homewrecker selves. Well, here's the good news: nowhere in your letter did Rudie detect any indication that he likes you. He has not made any advances. Maybe he was just hungry, did you ever consider that?
Seriously, I hope you are the kind of woman who can just bat her fake eyelashes, and whatever male happens to be the target of this gesture just involuntarily goes code white in his pants. Otherwise all of this seems just a little delusional.
The fact of the matter is that you want Rudie to sympathize with that dirty feeling you get by thinking about a married coworker in a less than professional manner, while corollarily asking him to enable your delusion that some torrid romance is sure to follow if you just allow it to happen. Not only, in your mind, it has already happened, but you've caused him to divorce his wife, put his dog to sleep, disown his children, all because of some genie spell you've put him under. In your world, also, the sky oscillates from purple to teal, Elvis is still alive, and people drive around in hollowed out pumpkin-shell carriages, don't they? Put it together and whaddaya got? Bippity-boppity-boo.
Now normally, Rudie would be OK to just pop some corn and watch this scene from All My Children to play out, but that would mean further contact from you as things get progressively worse and ultimately insanely out of control. Rudie desperately wants to avoid this further contact as talking to crazy people isn't in his favorite 10 things to do. Whatever cognitive dissonance occurs because Rudie writes this column is something you'll have to deal with by yourself. Rudie can't help you.
This relationship only exists in your mind, and while our redoubtable President hasn't yet realized the Orwellian concept of thoughtcrime in concrete legislation, this relationship is probably better off staying there.
I am a single mom, neighbor to a woman across the street who has a daughter close in age to my 4-year-old son. She is on psychiatric medications, so I must attribute some of her strange behavior to mental problems. I could write volumes about some of the bizarre encounters I've had with her, but most recently, she came to my door unannounced at dinnertime. I told her I was very busy and couldn't visit just then, which hurt her feelings, so I let her come in with her daughter. I kept hinting that they should leave, and several hours later, just when I thought they would finally go, she asked if she could take a shower so as not to wake up her husband. Like a dummy, I said OK. She paraded around the house naked as she prepared to take a shower. Then she asked for a change of clothes, and finally left. She has also made several allusions to being sexually attracted to me, which I find very distasteful. I think this woman means no harm, but I have avoided her for months at a time. She is so pathetic that I feel sorry for her and guilty about rejecting her. So, I allow her antics because I don't want an enemy right across the street, and our kids like each other.
Dear Het-up Fool,
Oooh. Naked. Oooh. Distasteful. Oooh. Pathetic.
Did you actually have a question here? She's mentally ill, borderline or otherwise, and you need advice on how to deal with it?
Well, Rudie does have gigantous, enormic experience with this. He reads letters like yours for a living.
First thing Rudie would do is dislodge that splintered broomstick forthwith from your rectal orifice and have a sense of humor about this situation.
She paraded around your house naked and made references to certain... desires... shall we say? Most people live horrendously boring, staid, and pointless lives and this woman offers herself up as the bawdy court jester as well as giving you bold-faced overtures to some interesting sexual opportunities, and you have the unmitigated stupidity to complain?
Life isn't about the faux Van Gogh on the wall and coming up with new ideas for appliance cozies. Life isn't about scrapbooking class and the minivan in the yard your burgeoning alcoholic 17-year-old has no clue as to how it got there.
Life is about embracing the strange. Life is long, and if you take the usual 2.3 kids, two cars in the garage route, you'll start measuring its length in the number of insipid hobbies and pointless intellectual judgmentality you've imposed upon yourself. You'll start to measure your success as directly proportional to the amount of boredom you experience. You will actually start to think that mindless normalcy is the sign that life is actually going well, when it is the most assured sign that you aren't actually living at all, consigned instead to an intellectual and emotional purgatory where the only enjoyment you allow is watching your kids indulge in the things that used to make you happy, but which you've cast aside because you've deemed them too childish for your own sense of propriety.
"Oh, no, we can't be stimulated like that, Rudie. We're just Middle American assholes who've got shit to acquire and schedules to meet. Right now, our little Suzie is late for her play-date-slash-knitting-circle-slash-rodeo, and little Bobby has Tae-Kwon-Do-slash-baseball-practice-slash-safe-cracking-lessons. Then we all have to sit around watching reality TV and laughing at people marginally more stupid than us. Then we go into our separate rooms and cry. Oh how we cry. Silently, of course."
*SLAAAPPPP* SNAP OUT OF IT!
This woman, with all of her problems, is gold. Embrace her. Literally, if you think you might be the sort (and absolutely bring the hubby along). Boredom takes a vacation when she's around, and seeing how you actually use the word 'distasteful' in a serious manner, you need a good dose of uninhibited fun like nobody Rudie has ever seen.
That's all for this week, kids, and remember, the grass is always greener on the other side, primarily because your neighbors aren't tightwads like you, and actually spring for sod, grass seed, weed killer, and fertilizer every so often.