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By Amalah

Dearest Amy,

Jesus Lordy. I have an issue that isn’t really a problem and yet I’m obsessing and would like to be prepared should it become a problem, as it has potential to become one.

I met my husband six months after his parents passed away as the result of a car accident. His father lived and worked overseas while his mother kept the family home in their hometown and traveled frequently to his father’s apartment overseas. When my husband and his two sisters cleaned out the overseas apartment, they packed everything in boxes with the intent of going through them later. The boxes ended up at our house after we were married so hubby and I went through the boxes, I more than he.

My father-in-law kept everything. Everything including a copy of a very personal letter he wrote to a much younger woman he worked with and apparently had a more intimate relationship with. Hubby and his sisters met the woman but thought she was their father’s protege. This woman, ‘O’ has kept in touch with hubby’s oldest sister and my sister-in-law sees O occasionally as her job involves traveling overseas often. Including this week. Sis-in-law always returns from these trips reporting how much she loves seeing O and how O would really like to come visit my husband and I as we still live in the town he and his sisters grew up in. Sis-in-law is excited about this as she sees O as one of her last links to her father and is becoming more insistent on this happening. Who knows what O’s intentions are in saying she wants to visit. I know she must need closure and is still mourning my father-in-law, but she did have an inappropriate (in my eyes) relationship with him and to involve his kids in all this seems certifiable.

I found the letter and while my husband knows “something” happened between his father and O, he has never read the letter which I have kept all these years for reasons unbeknownst to even myself. (I blame the Erica Kane school of intrigue I encountered watching All My Children with my mother in my formative years) I’m assuming my sisters-in-law are in the dark as the younger one frequently laments how she can never hear a certain song without thinking of her father; the same song my father-in-law references in the letter as a song he can’t hear without thinking of O. And they all joke how crazy it is that my mother-in-law never liked O.

I feel like I’m covering for my father-in-law. Although this is a small part of his otherwise wonderful and full life, I can’t help but internally roll my eyes whenever someone mentions how great and upstanding he was. A huge part of me thinks a visit will never happen because it has been many years since my in-laws passed and there simply is no point, really. I think O is a bit mental and perpetuates this visiting charade in order to keep in contact with the family. I want to scream every time sis-in-law returns from seeing O going on and on about how wonderful O is and how their father was instrumental in O becoming successful. If I have to hear about one more plan for O to come visit us, I may very well scream. How do I continue to keep this to myself when all I want to do is throw the letter in their faces and be done with it?
Seriously. WTF.

OMG. I’m just going to go ahead and quote you: Jesus Lordy. What a soap opera. Funny how they get so significantly less fun in real life.
I’m generally from the “don’t speak ill of the dead” camp — i.e., if you find a mildly unsavory letter where all the cast members have passed on, you destroy it and generally allow people to go on thinking nice things about their loved ones. There are exceptions, of course, like finding out that there’s an illegitimate sibling out there, or that some long-ago relative was totally Jack the Ripper or something and HERE IS THE PROOF, but for your more garden-variety sins…eh. I think people who aren’t around to explain or defend themselves should get the occasional free pass.

HOWEVER. Your situation veers away from my camp for two reasons: 1) it involves deceiving your husband, and 2) the continued existence and presence of one pesky cast member, O.
I COMPLETELY agree with you: It is downright inappropriate for this woman to be clinging to her dead lover’s family. Though maybe also a little understandable, like you said. She’s still grieving him. Maybe he was the one great love of her life. Maybe she pictured becoming a stepmother to his children or even secretly considered herself one. I don’t know, but I know I would also be pretty wigged out by the idea of her coming to my house and putting on some happy family friend face when the truth is a bit more inappropriate.

Now here is where I project my relationship onto yours, in possibly an unfair manner: I would never, ever keep something like this from my husband. I would have handed that letter over immediately. I would have at least left the letter out where he would have found it. We have a few hard and fast rules that we hold each other to, and number one is Absolutely No Deceptions or Secret-Keeping. I do not doubt that your intentions in keeping the letter secret were ENTIRELY good — you weren’t trying to blackmail anyone here, you were honestly trying to preserve the reputation of your father-in-law. I so get that. However. Road. Hell. Good intentions as the asphalt and all that.

You’re now stuck in a situation where you know too much. Your sisters-in-law and O keep pushing while the little thermostat in your temper inches closer to the breaking point. It’s…probably doubtful that you’ll be able to keep this charade up for much longer, and even if O drops dead tomorrow you’ll have to sit through a funeral and listen to everybody mourn this kind of strange, insert-y woman who played a part in the betrayal of their own mother.

I see two options (though I welcome additional recommendations from anyone who is reading, particularly from anyone who has watched more soap operas than me, as I went cold turkey on Days of Our Lives my junior year of college and OH IT STILL HURTS A LITTLE BIT LIKE EVERY TIME I SEE SAMMIE ON BIGGEST LOSER).

 One: you come clean to your husband. You apologize for keeping the letter from him, you explain your good intentions and how you would never, ever want to speak ill of his parents blah blah blah, but here is why you are so resistant to the idea of spending time with O. Put the letter in his hands and let him decide whether to tell his sisters. If he decides not to, that’s his call and you go along with it, because it is his family. (Likewise, if he does decide to tell them, you should totally be all, LEAVE ME OUT OF THIS and ask him to please play down or erase your role in any of it.)

Two: You let the visit happen. You meet with O, privately. You hand her a copy of the letter. You wait for an explanation, an apology, anything. Maybe your father-in-law never sent her the letter, or any letter. Maybe it was all a big fantasy on his part for his promising young protege who actually looked to him like a father. Maybe not. I would probably only go with this option if you have any doubts about whether the relationship actually happened or not, and are willing to listen to O and her side of the story. If there was an affair, though, it’s still be doubtful that you’ll get a nice happy clump of closure tied up with a neat little bow (like O being able to “prove” that nothing sexual happened between them, or admitting the affair and immediately agreeing to stop with the weird relationshippy stalking of his children). You may very well end up back at option one, only with an added level of complicated because you’ve officially “interfered.”

Readers? What say you? Option one, two…or just burn the letter and pledge to resist the eye-rolling urge for the next couple decades?


Published February 1, 2010. Last updated November 25, 2018.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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