Dear Joseph,

My best girlfriend of 20 years married a man that had a major crush on me for about seven years. I am very happily married and have three beautiful children. My husband's work commitments are taking him out of town for the next four weeks. My friend's husband has made it more than clear that he wants to take my husband's place while he is gone, with me that is. I have never been interested in him, much less now that I am happily married. I told him all this, but he is still persistent with making rude comments. My girlfriend is the only person I have to call on right now to help me with the children. I don't want to jeopardize our friendship, but should I tell her the truth, or should I continue to ignore it?


Dear Pestered,

I'm going to do something I've never done in one of these columns, and offer three responses to your question. I wrote the first a day or two after I received your letter. The answer as to what you should do then seemed obvious: If there is no chance that you are misreading the man's intentions, and if you have told the man to desist from trying to convince you to commit adultery, and he has refused to do so, then it seems to me that you should say something to your girlfriend. Admittedly, this is a tricky situation, and she might well disbelieve you, and end your friendship (it might even become more unpleasant; the man might claim that it was you who was "coming on to" him, which would be reminiscent of the untruthful wife of Potiphar in Genesis, who asserted that it was Joseph who tried to rape her rather than she who tried to seduce him). But the fact that, although this man knows that you are married and that you're a good friend of his wife, and still tries to entice you into a sexual relationship, reveals a deep character flaw, one anyone married to such a person is entitled to be aware of. The "golden rule" seems to apply here: Wouldn't you want to know if your husband was repeatedly trying to convince your closest friend to become involved with him?

Generally, I'm not a big believer in getting overly involved in the intimate details of other people's lives. But I believe that, when dealing with so flagrant a violation of personal decency, such behavior should be exposed to the one person who should know about it.

Still, one thing in the tone of your letter disturbed me; the implication that because your friend is the only one who can help you with your children, you don't want to do anything, such as informing her about her husband, that might jeopardize your friendship. Your decision about whether or not to tell your friend about her husband's misbehavior should not be based on the fact that she can help you with your children, but on your moral conclusion that this is the right thing to do. Thus, it would be cynical, rather than an act of friendship, if you waited till such time as you no longer needed your friend's help, and only then decided to tell her about her husband.

A few days after I wrote this, I was in Miami to give a speech. The talk was preceded by a dinner at which I was seated with four couples. I had occasion to tell them about this letter, and to share my response with them. I was struck, and shaken, by how widespread the opposition was to the advice I had offered, particularly from the women present. Several of them questioned if you had been sufficiently firm in discouraging this man's advances, and wondered why you were still spending time alone with him (obviously he was not making these suggestive comments to you in the presence of others). With one exception, the people with whom I spoke deemed it unwise to tell the wife what had transpired; the couple probably had worked out their arrangements as to how to conduct their marriage, and any comments you would make to the wife would probably achieve but one thing--the end of your friendship.

Under my prodding, almost all of them agreed that if the man was not married to your friend but that they were dating (or even engaged) then it would be appropriate for you to speak up. Revealing information that would save someone from marrying a person of such low character was seen as wise and just. Sharing information that could lead to the break up an already existent marriage was not.

One woman with whom I spoke offered a different suggestion--that you invite the couple over for dinner with you and your husband. Then, say what happened, and ask everyone's advice on how to deal with it. I don't know if I think this is a great idea, but the notion was sufficiently provocative that I thought I should share it.

My final advice is something of an amalgamation of all that I heard: Make sure you're very firm with the man about not crossing boundaries, and avoid any circumstances in which you are alone with him. Tell him that you've informed your husband what he's done. With the clear understanding that his behavior was now coming under greater scrutiny (I think he would understand that if didn't shape up, the next person to be told after your husband would be his wife), I think he might finally cease and desist.

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