Advice March 2009

What's Your Problem?

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Jason Ford/Heart Agency

My friends call me “Dorian Gray” because I don’t seem to age. I’m 63, but I tend to attract men in their mid-to-late 40s or early 50s. I believe in “truth in packaging,” and anyway, I don’t believe that such an age gap bodes well for a long-term relationship. So on the first date, or first encounter, I bluntly tell potential swains that I’m too old for them. If they ask my age, I tell them the truth. This is an ethical necessity, right? Or is it their problem to figure it out? What do you suggest?
Anne, Monroe, N.Y.

Dear Anne,

I fear that you might be pulling my leg here. I’m not acquainted with too many 45-year-old men who are wildly stimulated by 63-year-old women. Then again, perhaps you are uncommonly hot. I mean, hot-like-Sarah-Palin-except-even-older-plus-you-read-The-Atlantic hot. (The Atlantic is very sexy, by the way; in Asia, copies of The Atlantic are ground into paste and used as an aphrodisiac.) Assuming your “problem” is real, why not go out on a date without worrying about long-term prospects? Unless, in addition to being superhot, you are obstetrically exceptional.

Is life after college really as monotonous and depressing as it looks?
Ben, Manhattan, Kan.

Dear Ben,

No. It’s worse! Just kidding. It’s actually a joy. Except for the prostate exams.

I have just realized fully, after seven years, that I am married to a racist. He’s used the “N word” a number of times over the years, and we always fought about it. But he has always claimed to be directing the slur toward somebody “acting” like one, and not toward people of color generally. Well, I recently learned how he truly feels. He voted for McCain and I voted for Obama. He said, “Looks like we have an ‘N’ for president.” I was saddened and disgusted by his remark. I don’t believe I can live with anyone who thinks like this, and I’m planning to get a divorce. This is not the only reason, but it’s certainly the icing on the cake. Do you think we can change racists’ minds?
Name withheld, Virginia Beach, Va.

Dear Mildred (may I call you Mildred?),

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but wasn’t the first, or second, deployment of the N word enough to convince you that something was desperately wrong with your husband’s moral wiring? I know: it’s often very hard to see what’s right before your eyes, so I congratulate you for realizing, even belatedly, the depth of your problem, and I wish you luck on your extraction. To answer your deeper question with a question: Why try to change their minds at all? Racism isn’t a burden for us; it’s a burden for racists. In any case, trying to bring a racist to civilization is like trying to teach a dog to sing Verdi.

I’ve always felt that my sense of humor has suffered because I’m not part of an inherently funny ethnic or religious group. My best friend is Jewish and Italian (a veritable font of humor), and my wife is Catholic (also good for laughs). But I was raised Presbyterian. How do I mine my psyche for better party repartee?
Kevin, Williamsville, N.Y.

Dear Kevin,

The idea that Presbyterians are not funny is a calumny propagated by Episcopalians, who are jealous of your dancing abilities. Just study this list of successful Presbyterian comics: David Letterman … David Letterman. It’s true that genetic memories of pogroms, or the Middle Passage, or at the very least the Bourbon occupation of Sicily provide a crucial spark of humor. But it’s not true that Presbyterians are naturally unfunny. Here is one famous Presbyterian joke:

A Presbyterian husband makes love to his Presbyterian wife. After finishing, the husband asks, “I’m sorry, dearest, did I hurt you?” The wife responds, “No, dear, why do you ask?” The husband answers, “Because you moved.”

For further proof of wicked Presbyterian humor, I refer you to the limericks that begin, “There once was a man from Nantucket,” which I believe were written by Presbyterians. Or possibly by dirty-minded Congregationalists.

To submit your question for advice, please e-mail advice@theatlantic.com

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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