Advice Column Ethics: Amy Forgets The Duty To Butt Out

Get out

Newspaper advice column maven Amy Dickinson encountered one of those juicy letters that boosts readership but that should also set off ethics alarms. Her responsible, ethical course was to leave the situation alone. Unfortunately, she took the bait. How unfortunate, we will never know.

“Conflicted” (I have some better names for her ) wrote to “Ask Amy” because, she said, her conscience was bothering her, and no wonder. She had divorced her husband of five years two years ago. “We loved each other, but our marriage was deeply troubled,” she wrote, which is an understatement. He lied to her. He had “inappropriate relationships with other women.” He was profligate with money, and spent the couple into financial trouble. Worst of all, this: “…during a two-year period of our marriage and on five occasions, he was physically abusive. Not a slap or a shove, but full-out rage. I thought he would kill me.”

Naturally, she is still sleeping with him! “We see each other frequently and have a lively sexual relationship,” she says cheerily. The Ex assumed her old hubby had a social life outside of hooking up with his former wife/punching bag, and was fine with that, since the swinging Ex is also sleeping around: Hey, it’s the 21st Century! But now she has learned that he is in a serious relationship with another woman who does not know he never stopped making whoopee with “Conflicted.” They are talking about marriage and babies.

So now, she tells Amy, she is certain he will ruin this “lovely girl’s” life. She thinks she has an obligation to the innocent young thing to tell her about his spending problems and some other more recent details ( “he owes thousands of dollars on credits cards and has not filed his taxes in two years”) and, she says confidently, he “clearly” hasn’t told her about his spouse-bashing episodes, though  “Conflicted”  hasn’t asked him, and hasn’t talked to her. “What obligation do I have to share any of this information with her? I don’t know what to do,” she asks, plaintively.

Amy: This is the Amityville House talking to you now.


Or butt out, if you prefer.

Amy, you have no idea what the real situation is here, and this letter has all the earmarks of someone trying to make you an accessory to a wicked plan. She has been hanging out and hooking up with this guy for two years since their divorce, but she’s certain that he’ll ruin this girl’s life? Does she know for a fact what he has and hasn’t told her? It seems not. Does an ex-wife have an obligation to play vigilante and make sure she murders all subsequent serious relationships her ex-spouse attempts,based on her own bad experiences? Does anyone ever have a right to a clean slate?

Amy doesn’t know whether the former husband has had counseling or found Jesus; she doesn’t even know when the alleged domestic abuse occurred. “For two years” in a five year marriage he was abusive—the first two, the middle two, or the last two? Was she also abusive? Did “Conflicted” ever press charges? Did he go to jail? Why is she so worried about the life and limb of the woman who loves him, rather than all those other women  she says she knew was dating? It seems that “Conflicted” doesn’t fear him any more, since she still engages in flagrante delicto with the man and sees him frequently; why does his conduct of years ago, which may have ceased, justify her whistleblowing now?  Can Amy be sure this strange woman doesn’t like their no-strings sex romps so much that she’s willing to torpedo a competing relationship to keep him around?

The relationship between “Conflicted” and her former spouse suggests a co-dependent, toxic and pathological relationship, and Amy has heard only one side, from an individual whose own version of events makes her sound untrustworthy at best, and unstable at worst. Amy has no business injecting herself into this mess, and it is irresponsible for her to do so. She would be encouraging life-changing, and even life-endangering, decisions based on a short letter from a dubious source. Her obligation was to ignore the letter. Instead, the columnist said,

“Because of the overwhelming quantity and severity of your ex-husband’s issues, yes, this woman should be told about him. Obviously, because this man is violent, you need to figure out a way to warn her while protecting yourself. Doing this anonymously might be best.”

Which, I’m sure, is exactly what Conflicted wanted to hear. And if he is violent,  can add 2 and 2 to get 4, and “Conflicted” ends up on a slab? Or perhaps this was all a ploy to scare off “Conflicted’s” rival, and the former spouse is none the wiser as he seeks comfort in his ex’s bed for the foreseeable future. Maybe the guy in this triangle is dealing with his problems and had addressed his abuse proclivities, and the loss of the woman he loves  will drive him back to his former ways. There are innumerable possibilities, and Amy has no basis upon which to be certain enough of the real circumstances to mess with these already messy lives.

There are times when the wisest and most responsible advice is no advice at all. This was one of those times.

8 thoughts on “Advice Column Ethics: Amy Forgets The Duty To Butt Out

  1. Unfortunately, I cannot read the original without joining something.

    We’ll have to see what the other female posters have to say, but for me, I have to throw down the BS card.
    i just find the whole story very hard to believe.
    -AND- even if it is the truth, no amount of warning is going to put the new woman off of this guy.
    She’s going to have to learn the hard way and it is very likely that it’s going to be the HARD hard way, because women who are not codependent wrecks do not hook up with guys like this.

    Every single friend, acquaintance, or colleague that I’ve ever had that’s been with a bad guy who her parents, friends, other women, exes and so forth warned her off of stayed with him until something really bad or jail happened.
    It’s an addiction, just like booze.
    The woman needs therapy, not advice columns.

  2. Something else:
    I’m married and have been for a long time.
    If I was still single, I would not be doing anything serious with a guy that I did not have checked out first.
    At the very least criminal history, financial history.
    The technology exists and reality has made some of us very cynical.

  3. “We’ll have to see what the other female posters have to say, but for me, I have to throw down the BS card.”

    I find it very hard to believe that a woman would want to see a man again if she TRULY believes this man was going to kill her. I think the instinct for survival would kick in and this woman would be gone…certainly by the fifth time she felt he was going to kill her. But no! Even after the divorce she goes back to the man she was sure would kill her just to have sex because…maybe she has some strange form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome with a
    Stockholm twist which instead of avoiding him and all thoughts of him…she wants to have sex with him? “Conflicted” is either lying about a few things or has some major issues (including a subconscious wish to die) that perhaps the columnist should have picked up on…or as Jack said…just left this one alone because any advice is bad advice when you don’t even know what the hell is going on.

    • I have to agree. One of my friends works at a women’s shelter. They are so overcrowded sometimes, that they have to redirect women to other shelters. Many, many women are smart enough to try to get away from abusive husbands. “Conflicted”‘s story stinks. If commenters here are saying too many women are stupid enough to stay with their violent husbands – then I have to ask: Where do you get your information?

  4. The unbelievable number of women who put up with abuse (for a variety of reasons — financial security mostly, I think, and/or kids involved, and/or such a poor self-concept that they’ve been conned into believing (1) it will stop; or (2) they deserve it — is mind-boggling. There are hundreds and hundreds of organizations that help abused women/wives. Too few avail themselves of this option.

    As for Amy: She should have asked QUESTIONS, not given a pat answer.
    Have you ever reported your abuse to the police? Do you still sleep with him out of fear? If so, another matter for the police. Go to the police, explain your history, and let THEM vet the situation and decide how to tell the new girlfriend that her “guy” is likely a sociopath. Why haven’t you taken care of yourself instead of wondering what you should do/say re the new “babe?” Are there children involved? Do you have a support system (family/friends) that can help you? Is this the first time you’ve admitted this to anyone? Is it real, or are you being vindictive? Some food for thought would have been much more constructive. “Tell her yourself, but look out” is the WORST advice I can think of at the moment.

    Both are morons, and the sad thing is that one MIGHT excuse the abused ex-wife, one CAN’T excuse the presumed expert who replied to her.

    Honestly, is it any wonder that since Gloria Steinem — forget the “glass ceiling” for a moment — the respect for and prestige of the average woman has not increased by one per cent? Fine for professionals and intellectuals, but we are not a country generally populated by professional and intellectual women. And the conundrum is beyond that: Doris Day — that fabulous talent — was married several times to men who abused her, took her money, and made her miserable. This gamin, beautiful talent deserved this? I’m sure SHE’s had therapy — now she lives alone in her own wild animal preserve and has kissed off (metaphorically) all men as assholes. A huge percentage of them are; so maybe — finally — she’s done the right thing for herself.

    Sometimes I wonder if some women DO deserve it — “Beat me once, and I may forgive you. Beat me twice and you’ll be in jail.” But no.

    And THEN we have “advisors” like Amy. The world is coming to an end — between Obama and our degenerating society, I fear (really) for the life my own children will have.

  5. I just wanted to clarify what I wrote. I agree with Elizabeth I that a very large number of women stay with men who abuse them. However, I don’t believe a woman will stay with a man if she believes that the man will kill her…as “conflicted” said she believed.

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