Q. Some time ago, I had a short, tempestuous affair with my wife's boss's wife. There was a lot of anguish involved, and I guess the most excitement I've ever had in my life, although it's hard for me to believe, now that it's over, how reckless we got.
It started the moment we met (at a restaurant dinner). We couldn't keep our hands off each other. We thought we were in love. We even talked about running away together (I was offered a job abroad, and it seemed the right opportunity) and getting married. All of this happened within six months.
She broke it off -- and I mean broke it off. No discussion, nothing. She just stopped taking my calls and completely avoided me. I was wild; for a while there, I could hardly get out of bed, let alone think about what I was doing.
My wife was incredibly decent about it. She accepted the idea that I was having some sort of non-specific, middle-aged depression, and was cheerful and supportive without pressing me about the meaning of it. It's thanks to her that I recovered, fully.
Frankly, I look at that woman now and can't remember what I saw in her. I am really cured now, at least of this sort of romantic foolishness. I've always been, shall we say, aware of attractive women, as my wife well knows, but I am not likely to go in for fantasies of running away, and that sort of adolescent thing, again.
I think that my wife deserves an explanation. I want to be in the clear with her, and I also am aware that some word of what happened could still get back to her. This woman and I used to meet in a cheap, mid-town motel, where we often sat in the restaurant, figuring that it was not the kind of place where anyone we know would go.
The truth is that we were so besotted that we figured we were invisible, and actually held hands and stuff in the restaurant, even though we also had a room. At least once on the way out from lunch, I saw two women I couldn't place but who looked familiar, and were probably friends of my wife's.
The trouble is that she, my ex-great love, hasn't told her husband, and doesn't plan to. That much I did manage to find out from her in a two-second exchange at a party. And he is, after all, my wife's boss. I might mention that my wife is a lousy actress. Whatever she thinks is written all over her face. I don't think she would tell him, if she knew, but he would know that there was something funny going on.
God knows I don't want to make any more touble for anyone, certainly not now. Believe me, I have a real appreciation for finally being able to sleep at night. (It wasn't my conscience that kept me awake -- it was my grief, when it was over, that gave me insomnia, to tell the truth.)
But it seems to me that my only responsibility now is to my own marriage, and that I no longer need consider the possible consequences to someone who, when you get right down to it, did not hesitate to sacrifice my feelings to save her own marriage. Don't you agree?
A. No. A secret affair is, by its nature, a secret jointly held by two people. Although you have dissolved this union, you retain joint custody of the secret, and neither has the right to tell it without the permission of the other.
That a gentleman may find himself participating in a dishonorable situation does not excuse him from the obligation to pursue the course of honor within that situation.
Q. Last Sunday, my wife and I attended a concert where our enjoyment was considerably marred by a family with two small boys sitting directly behind us. Despite the parents' almost constant hushing, the boys whined, talked loudly, sang, and drummed their feet against the back of my wife's chair until their father mercifully removed them, midway through the Bach Cantata.
I think that it is a fine thing for parents to want to expose their children to cultural experiences, but must this ruin these same experiences for others? Do you have any suggestions or guidelines for parents who want to take their children to concerts, plays and movies?
A. Miss Manners is grateful that you phrased the question as you did, rather than demand, as many people would, that children be kept away from civilized entertainment.
It is her opinion that children do not have innately rotten taste, but put up with children's entertainment only because they have never been allowed to view anything more interesting.
You are right, however, that children must be properly prepared for such treats. This must be done in several stages:
1. Making them feel left out. Mamma and Papa should get dressed up and giggly as they prepare to leave their children home and dash off to fun at the concert hall. Requests to come along should never be snapped up. The proper answer is:
"Don't be silly. You wouldn't understand it, and you'd just spoil it for us. There probably won't be any other children there. Anyway, you know what tickets cost these days? Now you be good little children. We'll be home in a couple of hours -- unless we decide to get a bite afterwards some place. Now, don't whine. This kind of music is really sophisticated, and it's for adults only."
If this is said with a mixture of condescension and obvious anticipated pleasure, the children should be begging to go. When you get them to their knees, lean heavily on the objection that they are not familiar with the music, or whatever the cultural treat is to be. They will then agree to cooperate in the next step:
2. Making them familiar with the program. The best way to teach them a piece of music that is to be played is to let them call up the local good music station and make a request. This is more fun than playing records, not to say cheaper, and will especially make an impression if the station mentions the child's name. Of course, the station may begin to tire of playing the Bach Cantata, and then you can switch to records, or picking it out on whatever instrument you or the child plays, or humming it. Plots of operas or of classical plays should be told as bedtime stories. Being able to recognize a tune or a theme will make the event comfortably familiar rather than chillingly alien.
3. Teaching them cultural center etiquette. You must include the tedious reminders not to kick or comment, but these may be hidden among the finer and more interesting point of behavior: no clapping between movements, the mechanics of standing ovations and of encores, and so on.
If a child feels privileged to go, understands what is being done, and knows how to behave, he or she will be hooked on high culture for life.