A boyfriend’s idiotic hypothetical question

Posted Aug. 10, 2013, at 8:32 p.m.

Dear Prudence,

My girlfriend and I are having a disagreement. I posed to her the following hypothetical situation: Would you rescue from fire and certain destruction the last surviving copy on earth of the complete works of Shakespeare or a single puppy? My girlfriend says that she would rescue the puppy because the puppy is a fellow living being.

She is highly educated and claims to have great respect for Shakespeare. But I think my girlfriend’s choice is the wrong one. I would rescue the Shakespeare, not just because of the aesthetic enjoyment we get from his work but also because of all the moral insight it provides us. We’ve argued a lot about this. I cannot take her answer seriously, but I find it rather disturbing nonetheless. She never rejected the hypothetical question out of hand or said that the two things aren’t even comparable. She says that preserving a living conscious thing is more valuable than preserving Shakespeare.

My girlfriend loves animals, especially her poodle, and is a die-hard vegetarian. I am, on the other hand, obsessed with Shakespeare and rather neutral toward animals. What is the best way for us to diffuse this situation?

— Fireman

Dear Fireman,

I assume during your fights you say to your girlfriend, “I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed monster!” And she replies to you, “Thou callest me a dog before thou hast cause. But since I am a dog, beware my fangs.” Since you fancy yourself a Shakespeare scholar, perhaps you are aware of the Bard’s propensity for having his characters fall into psychological traps of their own making. Well, here you are, having set up your girlfriend with a trick choice. In your mind her only acceptable answers were either you were a fool to come up with this game, or that she’d save the Shakespeare. Instead she chose the puppy, which now has you raging like Lear on the moors.

If you want to imagine idiotic hypotheticals here’s mine: You save both folios and puppy, only to find later that the dog ate the entire works of Shakespeare. I hope you are coming to understand that harping on this has brought your relationship to the point that you might as well cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war. So to diffuse this situation I suggest you apologize. Start with this quote from Dogberry in “Much Ado About Nothing”: “Remember that I am an ass.” Let’s just hope things haven’t gone so far that she replies, “I do desire we may be better strangers.”

— Prudie

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I are looking to purchase a new home. We’ve seen probably a dozen houses in the last couple of weeks, and only two have really felt immediately like they could be “home.” We lost out on the first to another buyer, but the second is still a possibility. Then we learned that the house was the site of an extremely grisly murder — a husband dismembered his wife there. We would be the next occupants.

We’ve lived in a few other houses with a “past,” and haven’t felt uncomfortable. But I’m taken aback by the strong negative reaction from members of our extended family. Their biggest concern, and ours too, is our kids, who are in junior high and high school, who we haven’t told about the house. Thanks to the Internet, we know all the horrific details of the case, and that information will be just as easily accessible to them.

Are we crazy to think that one bad night in a house’s 100-year history is simply that, one bad night? My husband is a pastor and I am a mortician, so who better to buy this place?

— No Ghosts

Dear Ghosts,

If every home had to have a pristine history in order to be habitable, there would only be new structures. I understand you’re worried that others may taunt your children about their haunted house, or that the kids may be freaked out by the gruesome events. That’s why, if you decide to make an offer, you have to let your children know there was a terrible murder at the house.

You have to tell them what happened truthfully but with a minimum of graphic detail. I agree that you two sound like the perfect couple to restore this property to its purpose of being a family home. You are not squeamish in the face of death; your husband has an inside line on matters of the spirit. You can tell your children and your extended family that you understand why some people might be uneasy about moving into such a place. But you are the right ones to do it.

If you become the winning (or only) bidder, you should have a ceremony in the new home in which your husband leads prayers for the victim. Then you can say to doubters — and instruct your children to follow suit — that while a terrible thing once happened there, all of you feel you are honoring the memory of an innocent person by making the house a place of contentment and peace.

— Prudie

 

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

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