My Girlfriend and I Can’t Get Married. Should We Break Up?

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My girlfriend and I have been together for 13 years. We’re in our late 30s. But we’ve only lived in the same city for two of those years. (We live on opposite coasts of the United States now.) Because of cultural differences, we cannot get married or disclose our relationship to family or friends. The problem: I recently met another woman I like. She likes me too, and I know we could easily get married. But I feel ashamed of my feelings for her. I haven’t cheated on my girlfriend, but I haven’t told either woman about the other. I’m wondering if I should break up with my girlfriend to make it easier for her to find someone new. Or will that cause more problems?


I’m sorry you feel trapped by your culture. The problem with secrets, though, is that from a different angle, they look like lies. I will respect your claim that the “cultural differences” between you and your girlfriend (whether racial, ethnic or religious) require secrecy about your relationship — though, frankly, it sounds like you want to avoid hassle with family and friends over a conviction you don’t share.

What I can’t condone here is dishonesty with the women involved. You haven’t told your girlfriend or the new woman about each other; that seems like lying so you can have it both ways. It also makes me wonder if you have been direct with your girlfriend about the impossibility of marrying or telling others about your relationship.

These women deserve the truth from you, even if it’s painful. Start there (and spare them the crutches of your guilty feelings and technical fidelity). You may lose both relationships. But the right decision here, whatever that may be, requires honesty with yourself and those directly involved.

I have a sensitivity to fragrances. Strong perfumes can trigger migraine headaches in me. I work at a large university, and there is a woman in my building who wears strong perfume. After a few minutes in the copy room with her, I have a splitting headache. Several times, I have had to go home because I can no longer work. I don’t know her personally, so it feels inappropriate to ask her to stop wearing her perfume. Help!


Fragrance sensitivity can be a hard problem to handle. Different people have distinct triggers: scented shampoos, particular foods, aromatic cleaning products, perfumes. Different people also experience a wide range of reactions — from mild aversion to allergy symptoms to debilitating headaches and nausea.

The kicker? People wearing fragrances are often unaware they’re causing a problem and incredulous that a scent they like could be offensive or harmful to others. And not many organizations have rules about fragrance. So let’s start with some (admittedly soft) self-help: Avoid your co-worker when possible, and try chewing strong peppermint gum or dabbing menthol under your nose until the trigger passes.

Going further, I suggest speaking directly to the woman wearing perfume. Personally, I would be more sympathetic to the suffering of a co-worker than to a memo from an administrator. Explain your problem, without blame, and she may cooperate. This may seem burdensome, but unless you want to spearhead a policy change about fragrance at work, which you may, a polite request is your best first move.

My son’s high school recently dropped its mask mandate. I am a physician who works with vulnerable patients, so I continue to mask voluntarily when I am indoors in public. (We are required to mask at work.) I have asked my son’s friends to wear masks in the car when I pick them up from sports practice. I even provide the masks. But one of the boys needs to be reminded every time. I don’t want to be in war of wills with a 15-year-old. Is it wrong of me to keep asking him?


Of course it’s not wrong! Your car, your rules. (And on behalf of your vulnerable patients, thank you!) I can’t tell if the unmasked boy is being forgetful or oppositional. Either way, explain your concern for your patients and tell him you’d rather not remind him about masks every time you drive him home. It’s a small request in the context of free chauffeur service. (And occasional reminders may still be required.)

A friend invited me to her wedding with a plus one. I was surprised. She knows I don’t have a boyfriend. So, I’m not sure what to do: respond that I’ll attend without a plus one or bring a friend?


Every wedding (and wedding budget) is different. In my experience, plus ones are usually intended for the regular partners of invitees. (Let’s leave for another day whether single guests should be forced to sit through meals and dance parties on their own.) If you’d be comfortable meeting up with mutual friends of the bridal couple at their wedding, decline the plus one. If not, call the bride and ask what she had in mind by inviting you with a guest.

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.