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Apology Can Make Matters Worse

Judith Martin United Features S

Dear Miss Manners: I am saddened and ashamed to confess that I had an affair, which has just ended, with a married man. As I should have suspected, he cannot leave his wife and family despite all the statements to the contrary that he made to me. This affair resulted in my husband divorcing me. His wife, however, fought for her husband and has finally won him back.

My shame at having caused so much pain for his wife and my desire to try to atone for my sins (if at all possible) brings me to my question: Is it ever appropriate to write a letter of apology to your former lover’s wife, asking her forgiveness?

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners has no wish to discourage repentant sinners from atoning. But what exactly did you plan to write that would make the wife feel better?

The only thing Miss Manners can imagine that the wife might want to hear is that he loved her all along and never really cared for you. But you can probably trust the husband to say that. The wife may feel that you have done quite enough in her marriage already, and that you would best make amends by ceasing to trouble either of them again.

Perhaps you have made the modern mistake of confusing discussing your guilt with atoning for it. To atone is to make amends. While Miss Manners can see how your plan might make you feel better, she suspects it might make the wife feel worse.

Dear Miss Manners: Over Thanksgiving, my husband and I - professionals who live in the city - went with our 5-year-old daughter to visit a friend of my husband’s who lives on a farm. When we arrived, we saw that he had chickens and ducks, which we thought nothing about.

Thanksgiving morning, he asked if we would prefer duck or chicken, and we voted for duck. Imagine my horror when he picked up an ax, seized three of the ducks, chopped off their heads and proceeded to dress them for cooking.

My husband thought it was the most delicious meal he had ever eaten. I, on the other hand, had absolutely no appetite, and my daughter was completely traumatized.

My husband wants to go back for a visit in the spring, but I have absolutely no interest in ever seeing that man again. I think what he did is cruel and barbaric, to say nothing of the effect his actions had on my daughter.

My husband says he can’t see any difference, morally, between buying a duck at the supermarket and killing a duck in front of one’s guests. I think it was unspeakable of him to do such a thing in front of a small child. What do you think?

Gentle Reader: Your husband’s friend had a good time playing Shock the City Folk, and your husband disloyally decided to join him by recasting it as Shock the Squeamish Ladies.

This is not a nice game. Where an act is performed may not affect its morality, but it certainly does make a difference in determining whether it is mannerly.

Miss Manners has never cared for the argument that it is honest to do something unpleasant in plain view and hypocritical to do it out of sight. There is nothing honest and a lot that is rude about leaving the bathroom door open.

The real moral violation here is deliberately traumatizing a 5-year-old child. Miss Manners doesn’t blame you for not wanting to revisit someone who did this - violating the morality as well as the etiquette of hospitality. But if she were you, she would be worrying more about the child’s father’s attitude.


The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

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