Dear Amy:

I have been dating a woman for nine months, and it has been mutually rewarding. We are very attracted to each other and share many interests. We've known each other for longer than we've been dating, and met through volunteering for a cultural organization.

We are fiftysomethings and have had past marriages and relationships. Last night, "Barbara" described an affair with a married man she had while in her twenties (after her divorce). They worked for the same law firm. She said that their affair lasted for several years, though the man said that he loved his wife and would never leave her. She told me that she had attended "swapping" parties with this man.

I was surprised at Barbara's revelation for several reasons. She claims to have a rule about not dating men she works with (but has broken the rule a few times). She has impressed me as being ethical and honest, but there is nothing ethical or honest about carrying on a relationship with a married person. I can understand a temporary lapse of judgment, but this went on for years and ended when the wife found out.

She justifies the affair this way: She wasn't married at the time, so she doesn't feel as if she was being unfaithful to anyone. Having just been divorced, her self-esteem was low and she wasn't ready for a committed relationship. Seeing a married man made her feel worthy.

I am uncomfortable with this. Barbara says I shouldn't feel bad because it happened long ago. I also have questions about her attending these swapping parties.

I'm trying to resolve these uncomfortable feelings of hurt and disappointment.

What do you suggest?

Troubled in Baltimore

Some people are ethical and honest all of the time, and others are ethical and honest when it is expedient. Your gal's decision not to date where she works -- except for when she wants to -- is a sign that at least some of her "rules" aren't really rules. Rather than resolving your feelings about this matter, you could use this to learn more about her.

Granted, all of this is decades old, but she hasn't exactly renounced this behavior -- or even said that she regrets it. I can't figure out how having an affair with a married man would make anybody feel "worthy," so wouldn't you like to hear more about that? Does she still feel this way? If she knew then what she knows now, would she still make the same choices?

You can't change your girlfriend's past. But you do get to have an opinion about it. If the two of you want to be together, then you'll both have to figure out if your values are as compatible as the rest of you.

You should not hector her about something she did many years ago, but if your gal has a history of saying one thing and doing another, then you had better find out now.

Dear Amy:

My wife died last year, and I'm having trouble with how I should address myself when it comes to my deceased wife. When I call her relatives and they ask, "Who is this?" do I say, "This is Tom, Betty's deceased husband," or do I say, "This is Tom, I was Betty's husband"?

Tom

I read your letter to George Clarke, executive director of Selected Independent Funeral Homes. He and I both feel that the most important thing is for you to use whatever wording feels most comfortable.

Don't, however, address yourself as "Betty's deceased husband" for reasons of syntax. (You are not deceased; she is.)

You could say, "Hello, this is Tom, Betty's husband," or, "This is Tom; Betty's widower," or "Betty is my late wife." Obviously, when talking to people who know you, you can just introduce yourself with your first and last name.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

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