An Affair to Forget – The New York Times


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Christoph Niemann

My husband’s co-worker is going to be the best man at a wedding. But he has shared with several colleagues his concern over taking part in the ceremony: The groom-to-be told him that he cheated on his fiancée with a woman with whom all three of them work. (The couple has had trouble with fidelity before; they broke up briefly but reunited.) The best man encouraged the groom to be honest with his fiancée, telling him it could be an issue later. But the groom resisted. We all feel strongly that the co-worker should not act as best man. What would you recommend?

ANONYMOUS

I know I’m supposed to be outraged by the cheating. But the fact that your husband’s co-worker has turned a private confidence into a matter of officewide gossip — at the very place where the fiancée works, no less — strikes me as the immediate problem here (and the soul of infidelity). Stop talking about this. It’s unkind and almost guaranteed to hurt both of the only two people to whom this really matters.

Whatever we think of the groom’s affair, I have no doubt that he told the best man about it confidentially. The best man is free to resign his post if he has reservations about the wedding. He is also free to share his opinions about honesty with the groom directly. But what he isn’t free to do, bound as he is, is to take this to the court of public opinion — so that unaffected colleagues may feast on a juicy story over dreary afternoons at work.

We know very little of this couple’s history and nothing about their decision (and the agreements they may have made) when they got back together again. Most important, we have no one stepping forward to say that he or she is principally concerned for the welfare of the fiancée. To me, this smacks of bad behavior (and voyeurism) from every angle. You, your husband and all of his colleagues should withdraw at once.

The Gift of Thanking

Every year, my thoughtful (I think?) next-door neighbors give me an expensive box of chocolates for my birthday. This is after many conversations with the wife about my struggle to lose weight and my difficulty keeping temptations, like cookies and sweets, around the house. Would it be rude for me to thank them for the chocolates, but suggest they find something other than high-caloric food for my birthday next year?

JOY

Ridiculously, we enjoy no constitutional right in this country to like the gifts we receive. (Blame the Founding Fathers.) Still, the first part of your solution sounds pitch perfect: Thank them for their kindness. (Note to most neighbors: Sorry we never show up with anything for your birthdays.) You may also safely excise the “I think?” parenthetical from the beginning of your question. You can’t be seriously suggesting that your neighbors’ generous gifts spring from thoughtlessness or some sort of diet sabotage, can you?

This leads us to the problematic part of your proposal: Suggesting they find something else for you next year. I’d skip that part, unless these are super-close friends. (It’s the thought that counts, remember?) And presuming there will be more gifts in your future is presumptuous. Instead, say: “Thank you so much. May I offer you a bonbon — or three? I’m trying desperately to cut down.” This way, you make your point without seeming grabby.

A Little Finesse, Please

I have a dear friend whom I’ve known for 20 years. Turns out that we have very different parenting styles. Not the end of the world, except that her daughter (who is a year older than my son) often taunts him to the point of tears. My friend doesn’t intervene, which leaves me in the awkward position of disciplining her child. My solution has been to spend time with them in large groups only. But for my son’s fourth birthday party, we are trying to keep it small. And I don’t want him to have to deal with someone being unkind to him. Can I get out of inviting my friend and her daughter without hurting their feelings?

K.E.

If the hands-off mom were not also your dear friend, you could finesse this birthday party with a simple: “We let Timmy choose the four or five kids he wanted to invite. We’re going micro this year.” (Don’t add: “And surprisingly, he didn’t include Rachel, ‘The Bad Seed.’ ”) If you want to watch your friendship wither on the vine, you may still play it this way. But why not put a tad more effort into preserving your close friendship? (Do you have a spare 20 years to make another?)

No problem ever got better by ignoring it. Call your friend and say: “I hate to be that helicopter mom, but I’ve noticed a bad dynamic when Timmy and Sarah play. Can we get them together one on one and see how they do?” She may notice the problem and act accordingly — or not. But if there’s a chance to spend the next 15 years not avoiding a dear old pal, I’d take it. You?

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