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Dear John: Right Number. Wrong Partner.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011


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

Dear John,
I think my best friend must be having an affair. The other night my phone rang. It was her. It quickly became clear she did not mean to call me, though. I could hear her and a guy having an explicit sexual conversation. (Although I could not hear his part of the conversation very well, I could fill in the blanks.) She had called me earlier in the day, so I can only assume she “butt-dialed” me – sat on her phone or somehow called me without intending to.
I don’t know what I should do. We’re very close and we share just about everything, but I’m not surprised she wouldn’t tell me this. Her husband and mine are good friends and all of us socialize with each other all the time. I want to come up with an innocent explanation but I can’t. Should I just ask her straight up what’s going on?
Bad Call

Dear Bad Call,
Ordinarily I’d say to mind your own business, but that’s what you were doing when she accidentally called you. This upsetting information was foisted on you through no fault of your own, so I think it’s fair to ask for an explanation. I’ve heard of this same thing happening many times and I’ve experienced it myself. With a little bad luck, it’s frightening how wrong it can go.
Dear John,
What I’m about to describe makes me so nauseous I feel like I’m going to be sick. So, if you have the same reaction, sorry! I have been dating a new guy for a few months. Things are going well. I don’t know how serious it’s going to be (maybe not very, now) but I like him and we have fun together. Well, we go to the beach a lot and he got a bad sunburn. Days later, I happened to be in the kitchen – he thought I was in another part of the house – and I happened to look up and see him in the next room peel a good size piece of skin from his shoulder and EAT IT! The image still makes me shudder – literally sick to my stomach. I quietly left the room and went into the bathroom to compose myself. I wanted to ask him what on earth he was doing, but I didn’t want to embarrass him. Is this normal?? I haven’t had one interaction with him since that time when I wasn’t picturing his hand going to his mouth in slow motion with a big piece of skin in it! Sooooo gross! So like I said, is this normal? Is it a guy thing? Should I just fess up and tell him what I saw? I feel like that image is burned into my brain!
Cannibal’s Friend

Dear Cannibal’s Friend,
I don’t think it’s uncommon for people to do weird bodily things when they’re alone – or think they are. And I suspect that yes, it’s probably more a guy thing, guys being the grosser sex. I’d say (barring some kind of compulsion, of course) it’s perfectly normal. I think you can see it as an extreme, revolting version of biting his fingernails. I don’t see what good can come of telling him what you saw. It will only serve to embarrass him. He thought he was alone. As long as he doesn’t do something like that among other people, I’d try to forget about it. And stay out of the sun.
Dear John,
Please weigh in on a disagreement between my wife and me. We have been happily married for almost 15 years, and we have an 11-year-old son. Raising him has been a pleasure – he’s a fantastic kid, and my wife and I have been on the same page since the day he was born. This is the first issue. Because now that he’s old enough to do more things, my wife is having more and more fears about the perils that lurk out in the world. For example, he wants to go to a summer camp that has one sleepover night, but my wife won’t hear of it because of generalized fears of pedophiles preying on kids at camps – the “perfect opportunity,” according to her. I don’t know where this is all coming from. It’s a bit of a surprise as she has not been an overly nervous or worried parent thus far. Nothing has happened in our lives to account for this anxiety. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

Dear Concerned,
Accepting a child’s increasing autonomy can be a challenge for any parent, and it sounds like your wife is having an especially hard time with it. Of course, parents have to be cautious, but there comes a time when we have to be satisfied that we’ve taken all reasonable precautions, let go, and hope for the best.  The worst thing about what your wife is doing, albeit with the best intentions, is teaching your son to fear the world around him. Beyond whether or not he goes to summer camp, the ramifications of that could be with him his entire life.
As you have probably learned, rational responses (like talking to other parents about their experiences with this camp) don’t assuage these apparently baseless fears. I would talk with your wife about it. Let her know you’re worried that her fears are going to not only deprive your son of fun kid experiences but affect how he relates to the world as an adult, too. Try to ease things along – for example, has he ever slept at a friend’s house? Does he have a friend whose family is trustworthy enough to take this step with? The loss of parental control as kids grow is something that takes getting used to, and perhaps small steps will reassure your wife that things will still be okay even if she’s not in control of a situation. If she is adamant that these experiences aren’t worth the “risk,” though, I would urge you to explore family counseling, both for your son’s well-being and your wife’s. Fearful is no way to go through life.
Follow-up to last week’s column: Last week, I answered a letter from a mom who was ambivalent about accepting an 11-year-old’s invitation to be friends on Facebook. A number of readers let me know that Facebook’s policy requires people to be 13 or older before signing up. I did not know that, so thanks for enlightening me.

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

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