February 19, 1998
My roommate and friend, "Joe," is engaged to bemarried to a terrific woman, and the wedding date is set for thisJune. I am to be his best man. Joe, who is 38 and marrying for thefirst time, had a terrible time committing to one person. Now that hehas done it, he is looking for any "kosher" exit, and he seems tohave found it on the Internet.
Joe tells me that he has fallen in love with awoman from Indonesia, a woman he has never even met. He has not toldhis fiancée and plans to go through with the wedding whilecontinuing his online romance. Joe sees his online romance as"fantasy" and doesn't understand how it could get in the way of a"real" marriage. He also believes that it is possible to love twowomen at once.
I think Joe is nuts, morally wrong and invitingtrouble down the line. I've tried to talk some sense into him, buthe's unreachable. Do you have any suggestions? Should I tell hisfiancée what he's up to?
You say that you have already tried to talk to Joeand cannot reach him, so, now, it is time to take a step backward andlook at the big picture.
Joe has whatever problems he has regardingcommitment. He has nonetheless chosen to marry, and, in so doing,brings another person into his tangled web. Because he thinks foolingaround on the net is kosher, he doesn't believe that he is hurtinganyone. His fiancée has decided to marry him and is, thus far,incapable or unwilling to see this part of him.
If you tell his fiancée about hisdalliance, you will probably lose your friend because cheaters do notlike to be exposed. And since he is capable of deceit, he is alsocapable of lying to his fiancée. In other words, if you tellher, be ready for the messenger rather than the guilty party to behanged and the wedding to go on as planned.
Consider a second option: Why not refuse to be inthe wedding and tell him precisely why? That way, the message isaimed at only one target -- Joe's conscience. If you miss, you miss,but at least by refusing to participate, you will not have condonedwhat you consider to be wrong.
While it is endlessly fascinating to observe howfar a person will go to avoid commitment, you must remember that itis his life -- and hers. They will have to live it together,discovering what they must. In the meantime, if you have decided totell his fiancée, start combing the "roommate wanted" ads --posthaste.
Man vs. Menagerie
I am seeing a lovely woman for the first timesince I was widowed three years ago. She is elegant, pretty andclever, and I would like to tie the knot with her, except for oneproblem. She has dogs and cats and birds -- lots of them. I don'tmuch care for animals and find the messes, smells and demandspointless. Is it wrong to ask my lady to give up her animals?
Of course, it is not wrong to ask. It is, however,foolish to expect a positive response. This woman has pets becauseshe enjoys caring for them. Have a frank discussion with her todetermine if there is any possible compromise. Perhaps she would bewilling to limit them to a part of the home or keep them out of thebedroom.
And, remember, an old dog can learn a new trick ortwo -- such as adjusting to a new situation with flexibility andhumor.
Truth for Elders
I am 78 years old and felt a kinship with that oldlady who forgets parts of her recipes ("Cooking Up Regrets," Feb. 6).I pray that my children will never stoop to telling me lies about mybehavior. If her children really love her, let them visit her andmake cookies together, perhaps reminding her with humor about theingredients.
It just seems like a terrible waste for an87-year-old to go to all that trouble and expense of baking and thenmailing those (awful) cookies to her grandchildren. And then all thedeception of the family to play the game of "cover up."
For me, meaning in life is honest relationshipswith my family. To lie to an 87-year-old would be to treat her like achild instead of a wise elder. A failing memory does not meansenility. The fact that her "feelings are hurt" means that she isaware of a problem.
The kindest things her family could do would be tobe honest and spend a little more time with her. That is what shereally wants -- contact with her family. Sending her sweet, dishonestnotes is easier than visiting with her.
The respect she deserves is for her children to betruthful in a nonjudgmental, loving manner. At least, that is what Iwould want, and I would bet that you would prefer that aswell.
Dear Prefers Honesty,
I appreciate your thoughtful alternative totelling white lies in order to preserve an elderly parent's sense ofpurpose and dignity. You are, of course, absolutely correct. Manyfrenetically busy turn-of-millennium adult children wouldn't evenconsider the notion of spending more time with one's parents orgrandparents and helping with the cooking. We barely have time tostop at our favorite kosher takeout restaurant on the way home, letalone hang out at Granny's, measuring flour and sugar and rolling outcookie dough.
So I suppose my solution was the sweetened andcondensed, Evelyn Wood version of "Honor thy mother andfather."
Your solution is nobler, kinder and, of course,more honest. I hope that readers will seriously weigh the value ofspending more time and being patient and honest with their elderlyloved ones. *
Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.
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