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Dear John: A Guest Who Brings a Lot of Baggage

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected].

Dear John,

I’ve been married for a little more than ten years, and I’ve known my wife a lot longer than that. We met in college. We have a good marriage. Two great kids, normal ups and downs. When we first started dating, she lived with her best friend. One day, after I slept over and she left for work, her roommate came in the room, got in bed with me, and we had sex. This was totally unexpected, but afterwards, she told me how attracted she was to me and that she wanted me to break up with my girlfriend so I could be with her. It was exciting and ego gratifying, I guess, so I told her I had to think about it, which was true, but a couple of days later, I told her I wanted to stay with my (future) wife. It got pretty ugly - she threatened to tell her what had happened, I told her to go ahead, hoping desperately she wouldn’t. She didn’t and a little while later she moved out, we graduated, summer came, she went back home and I haven’t seen her since then. I know my wife has stayed in distant contact with her.

Now I just found out she’s coming to visit – she has a job interview nearby and my wife told her she could stay with us for a couple of days and that it would be nice to have a chance to catch up. What happened was a very long time ago, but this is still making me very uncomfortable. (She’s divorced, by the way, and will be coming alone.) I want to tell my wife not to let her stay here, but I can’t think of any good reason. I have thought of telling her what happened just to get it off my chest and explain why I don’t want her here, but I hate the thought of hurting her feelings and disrupting our family life that way. I don’t think there will be any long-lasting damage to our marriage, but it won’t exactly be a pleasant conversation. I just wish this woman hadn’t crawled out of the woodwork. What would you do in this situation?

Unwilling Host

Dear Unwilling Host,

Pardon the pun, but I would put this to bed once and for all. I don’t think you should cover up one lie by making up another one to explain why you don’t want this woman staying over. And I don’t think you should endure the awkwardness that will inevitably accompany her visit. Besides, what if she gets this job? Chances are she’ll be showing up at least occasionally.

Tell your wife what happened. It was a long time ago, you did something stupid, but you chose her and the two of you have built a nice life together. If her feelings are hurt, it’s not because of what you’re telling her now; it’s because of what you did back then. Get it out on the table, and give her the apology that’s long overdue. No, it won’t be a pleasant conversation to have, but that’s a lousy reason to avoid having it.

Dear John,

Over the course of the past year, my girlfriend has gained an enormous amount of weight. She is extremely sensitive about it, and her self-esteem has plummeted. (It was never very high to begin with.) Her sensitivity makes it impossible to even bring up as a subject of conversation. If I try to talk with her about what is going on in her life to result in such a drastic change, the conversation quickly becomes her accusing me of not being attracted to her any more and me insisting I still love her. So I don’t even bring it up any more.

The problem is, she’s right. I AM less attracted to her now, both because she has become extremely obese (there’s no other way to describe it) and because she sabotages any attempts to talk about it. How can I get her to see that this is something we have to talk about and that NOT talking about it will result in the thing she fears most when we DO talk about it: the end of our relationship?

Fed Up

Dear Fed Up,

Your girlfriend is obviously well aware that she’s gained weight. When the prospect of talking about it comes up, she’s probably expecting something along the lines of, “Why have you let yourself go and what are you intending to do about it?” So you have to immediately reassure her that this isn’t the conversation you want to have. Let her know that you care about her, and that’s the only reason you’re bringing it up – you want to know what’s going on in her life, and if anything is wrong, you want to help her through it. But in order for you to do that, she has to let you in. Be patient. Understand how difficult this is for her to talk about and how vulnerable and exposed it makes her feel. And remember that the goal of this conversation isn’t to get her to lose weight. The goal is to try to arrive at some insight as to why she gained it in the first place.

Dear John,

My husband wants to buy a motorcycle. I am adamantly opposed to it. It has become a major source of stress in our marriage. He’s never ridden a motorcycle before, but he has three main arguments – it would be fun and he doesn’t have a lot of fun, it would be economical, and he deserves this because of how much he sacrifices for our family. (Which is true – he works hard to provide a nice life for us and never puts his desires first.) My opposition boils down to the fact that I don’t think the father of three young kids should be doing something that could easily leave them fatherless and me a widow ­– or the caretaker of someone with a brain injury. He scoffs at the risks involved, claiming they’re overblown. We are at an impasse, we’ve been fighting about it on and off for a month without any resolution in sight, and I’m afraid whoever loses will have a lot of resentment. But there really is no room for compromise that I can see.

No Rush To Be A Widow

Dear No Rush,

Maybe it would be helpful to step back and try to look at this unemotionally. In my opinion, your worries are perfectly legitimate. So tell him that if he can responsibly accommodate these concerns, you’ll agree to stop obstructing his plans, even if you’ll never go so far as to approve of them. Since motorcycle riding carries with it a high risk of serious injury or death, he has to make sure he has sufficient life insurance, long-term disability insurance, and any other kinds of insurance necessary to provide for you and your children in the event he has an accident. If he responds by dismissing the risks involved, an insurance agent can share the statistics with him and explain why motorcycle riders are so expensive to insure. He’ll either reassess the risks and costs involved and decide they’re not worth it, or he’ll decide the risks are worth it – he just won’t be risking all of your futures along with his own.

John is a middle-aged family man from Providence. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected]


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