I have a wonderfully satisfying job at a small nonprofit organization. I love my co-workers and more importantly the cause we advance and the people whose lives we make better. But recently there was an incident with my boss, “Mr. Johnson.” He’s a great leader and we couldn’t function without him, but he’s also kind of forgetful and seems to always have his head in the clouds. Mr. Johnson frequently neglects to adjust his wardrobe so that his pants zipper is up after using the gentleman’s room. After a meeting we had yesterday, it also seems apparent that he doesn’t always wear underwear as his bull escaped from the barn. It wasn’t intentional or sexual in any way, but every time I see my boss I can only think of his privates that didn’t keep so private. I’m not even sure if he noticed it got out when this happened as he didn’t react or seem embarrassed. Should I talk directly to Mr. Johnson about this, or should I report the incident to his supervisor? Or should I just let it go and hope it never happens again?
— Uncomfortable at Work
Oh, yeah, sweet, absent-minded Mr. Johnson is so busy making the world better that he often forgets to keep his johnson in his pants. I have gotten so many letters about nutty people running around nonprofits that I am developing a theory that this field attracts loons because under the guise of doing good, they get to behave badly. Normally when a man realizes he’s forgotten to zip his pants, the humiliation makes him want to secure his fly with a padlock. But there’s Mr. Johnson letting it all hang out day after day, seemingly oblivious. If this guy is really that out of it, I wonder if he has the capacity to be running an organization. Alternately, he may be pretending to be a ding-dong because it’s good cover for exposing his ding-dong. Since this has happened more than once, I think it’s gotten past the point where someone needs to quietly mention, “Dick, your zipper is down.” It’s fair for you to go to a supervisor and say you are too uncomfortable to have this conversation with Mr. Johnson yourself, but he needs to be told that the wardrobe malfunctions must come to an end.
About five years ago, I lost my wife after a lengthy illness. The first year was hard, but I got through it thanks to my in-laws, who never stopped letting me know that I would always be part of their family. (My parents are no longer with us.) Six months ago, I met a wonderful woman I love and want to marry. My problem is that she is very twitchy about my relationship with my in-laws. We call each other frequently and I visit them, and their extended family, a few times a year, including holidays. But any time I mention them or my former wife — such as saying something she enjoyed doing — my girlfriend gets angry or very upset. She accuses me of still being in love with my late wife and not letting go of the past. I’ve tried to reassure her, but I feel that I have to constantly censor myself to avoid setting her off. I don’t want to cut my late wife’s family out of my life, and they are very happy I’ve found someone, but I fear an ultimatum is coming. What should I do?
— Found Love Again
You’ve been alone a long time, and I’m sure your girlfriend has many wonderful qualities. But the portrait you paint is of someone who is jealous, insecure and mean. You say nothing to indicate that your emotional life revolves around your late wife or that your home is a shrine to her. Nor are you trying to remake your girlfriend, “Vertigo”-like, into your lost love. But she can’t stand it when you mention your late wife in the most natural way. And you feel you have to hide your relationship with your former in-laws; how ironic that they are thrilled you have found someone. I married a widower about five years after he nursed his young wife through a long illness. One of the things that drew me to him was how he had stood by her and that he continued to honor her memory. My husband remains in touch with his late wife’s sister, and it was moving for me to be included at the celebration of her daughter’s bat mitzvah. I wish your girlfriend understood that the love you will always have for your late wife, and the affection with which you hold your former in-laws, does not subtract from her portion.
You haven’t known your girlfriend very long, but if you’re going to know her better, tell her you need to clarify a few things. Say her accusation that you are dwelling on the past drew you up short and made you really examine whether that’s true. Tell her that in all honesty you’re convinced it’s not the case. Both of you are adults with pasts, and neither of you should feel a need to hide that. If Italy comes up, and she remembers something about a trip to Venice with her ex, then she should tell that story. Similarly, you are not going to edit your late wife out of conversation completely. Explain that while you and your former in-laws are bound together by your mutual loss, that is not all that is connecting you. They are simply wonderful people you are close to and you intend have them in your life. If that makes her uncomfortable, then you are sorry to hear that, but you are not going to sever the relationship. Maybe your girlfriend will have the capacity to reassess her behavior and make some changes. But if she can’t, take comfort that you have found you can love again. Then find someone who can open her heart to all of you.
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