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Critical Condition

By Mink Stole | Posted 12/28/2005

Recently at a friendís party, I met a truly terrific woman. Sheís bright, funny, sweet, and a knockout in the looks department. Best of all, she likes me back. The only problem, and itís got me terrified, is that she paints. Not walls, canvases. She doesnít have a gallery yet, she says, because sheís waiting until sheís got a decent body of work to show. Iíve told her Iím a numskull, totally ignorant about art, but she says Iím just being silly, and that she canít wait to show me her work. What if I hate it? What will I tell her? I know it sounds like Iím deciding in advance that her paintings will be awful, which I hope to God they arenít, but Iíve seen way too much bad art to be optimistic. If I like it, Iíll be happy to say so, but if I donít is there a tactful way to get out of giving an opinion? I donít want to spoil my chances with her.

Reluctant Critic

The very first thing to remember, RC, is that no one likes to be criticized. Regardless of how well meant or how honest, negative comments are rarely appreciated and often resented. On the other hand, false praise can fool the type of person who only hears what he or she wants to hear. But most performers, artists, and others who put themselves out there for public criticism develop a keen ear for it and, while we appreciate the intent, recognize it for the bullshit it is. The problem with giving no opinion is that it sounds like youíre trying to avoid saying something bad. So the challenge is to find something, anything, positive to say that isnít a bald-faced lie.

Maybe youíre worrying for nothing, and this gal will turn out to be a fabulous painter. If not, and you want to keep her, youíd better be prepared. Things you might comment on are her use of color, her originality, the free way she expresses herself, or the way she controls her brushwork. Since youíve already set yourself up as a nonexpert, you can always ask her to explain it to you, but only if you really want to know. Genuine interest, even without true understanding, can be as good as genuine praise. If it turns out you really think her paintings suck, how that affects your future depends on how much you both identify her with her work.


Iíve known my husband for nearly 10 years; we dated for two and have been married for five. We have an adorable 3-year-old son, who is the light of our lives. Iím a freelance writer, and our marriage hasnít always been easy, but because of our son, and because I love my husband, Iíve worked hard to keep our marriage together, even sacrificing some career opportunities to spend more time with him, a fact he totally fails to appreciate. Lately, heís been even more distant than usual, and he waits until Iíve fallen asleep to come to bed, or goes to bed early and pretends to be asleep when I get there. Iíve asked him about it, but beyond denying itís deliberate he refuses to talk about it. A couple we know has just split up, and my husband has said he thinks the guy was a fool to leave such a ďgreat gal.Ē The ďgreat gal,Ē in the meantime, has taken to calling my husband whenever she has any kind of household problem, like a leaky faucet or a broken garbage disposal, and he invariably runs right over to take care of it. Iím not normally suspicious, but this is making me very uncomfortable. Do you think I have a problem? Should I confront my husband about it?

Confused and Afraid

Whenever a man is acting more like a husband to another woman than to the one heís actually married to, CAA, there is a problem. Whether your husband is actually having an affair with this woman or not, heís certainly doing his best to make it look like he is; a full-page ad in The New York Times would be more subtle.

Pretending a problem doesnít exist will not make it go away, so yes, you need to talk to your husband. Tell him you love him, and you admire his generous impulses, but that it is not OK for him to act as this womanís personal, on-demand handyman, and that the next time she needs someone to fix her pipes she can bloody well call a plumber. If he has just been flattered by the attentions of a newly available female, this direct approach may be enough to break the spell and get him refocused on you and your marriage. If they are having a real affair, but heís willing to end it and youíre willing to forgive, marriage counseling may be your best hope. If that doesnít work, or if your husband refuses to participate, you might want to clear out any joint bank accounts right before you consult an attorney.

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Pick and Choose (4/12/2006)
First of all, homosexuality isnít like snake handling or Catholicism; it isnít a cult or a religion you can be recruited for or converted to.

Territorial Rites (4/5/2006)

Family Guy (3/15/2006)

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