A few months ago, a couple I’m friends with lent me their old but totally functional standard-shift car while they were away on a three-week vacation. When I told them that I had driven a stick shift car before, I did not add that it had never really gone well. Anyway, the third day I had the car I totally wrecked the clutch, so I had it replaced. The mechanic who did it is competent and honest, and a friend, but getting a new clutch still cost real money. When they got home I thanked them and returned the car, clean and vacuumed and full of gas and clean oil, but never mentioned the clutch.
My boyfriend says that I should come clean. I really don’t want to. What should I do?
—Red-faced in Red Hook
I am of two minds about this. On the one hand, it is good to be honest with friends. And the knowledge that they have a new clutch may be of some value to them—perhaps by reassuring them that their clutch is in good shape, making it more likely that they will save some money by holding onto the car a while longer before replacing it; or, if they do decide to sell it, by helping them get a slightly better price. On the other hand, telling them might make them feel as if they should pay for the new clutch, which I assume you do not want them to do. I also assume that coming clean, especially now, would create some embarrassment and awkwardness for you, and might even put a strain on your friendship.
If I knew more about cars in general, or your friends’ car in particular, I might have a firmer opinion. For one thing, I would know more about the financial side of things—so I will just assume that the replacement was a major, but not a ruinously costly, repair, and that the car was otherwise reliable enough to be worth fixing. I would also have a better idea of how likely it is that your friends will find out that they have a new clutch—which could be awkward indeed. Too bad we can no longer ask Click and Clack about this. I did call a friend of mine who works in a garage, and she said that the clutch is not that easy to see in most cars, even by a mechanic unless she is looking for it—which rarely happens unless there is some issue with its performance. On the other hand, she adds, most drivers should notice a change—more play, better response—when a clutch is replaced. Since it appears that your friends are not all that observant where their car is concerned, there is a good chance they will never find out what happened unless you tell them.
I suppose they may, in fact, have noticed changes in their car’s responsiveness and might know, or suspect, what happened, but that they are as reticent as you about the situation. That would be odd indeed—but, as the one who actually knows these people, you may want to consider it. Have you picked up on any new strain in your relationship?
Well, then: assuming that your friends have no suspicions and are unlikely to learn the truth unless you tell them, we must decide which wins out: being honest, and perhaps conferring valuable knowledge, or avoiding embarrassment, and perhaps preventing your friends from feeling beholden and even forcing money on you?
Knowing what little I know, it seems like a tossup to me. If you insisted that I choose, I would advise you to tell them, since I value honesty and knowledge. But I am not the person who’d have to deal with your friends’ responses. These could be quite muted—“No kidding? Oh, well, no harm done”—but they could also include anger, amusement (and endless retellings of the story), disappointment, a sense of obligation, a sense of resentment over the sense of obligation, a sense of deeper resentment if they end up paying, a loss of trust in your driving and your honesty, etc. In fact, I am not sure I would take my own advice in this instance. It is hard to admit to being a bad driver and a secret car-repairer.
I therefore counsel you not to tell them if you are sure that they will insist on paying and will also somehow prevail upon you to accept the money, and if it seems that they do not have much money to spare. Otherwise, do whatever seems best to you, and don’t feel bad either way. It sounds as if you had mixed motives—generosity and fear of embarrassment—for getting the clutch repaired and for keeping the repair silent. But at least one of those motives was a good one.
P.S. Are you sure that clutch wasn’t ready to go already? A sometimes-reliable source tells me that it is not all that easy to destroy a healthy one. You do not seem to want to factor in the economic cost to you of a fairly major repair, which is generous of you. It is even more generous if the repair would soon have been necessary anyway. Of course, you made the repair not just without telling the owners afterwards, but also without asking them first, which complicates the situation somewhat. Still, if your friends have plenty of money and you do not, and if they are close friends, it would certainly not be wrong to include your own costs in the equation.
I have fallen horribly in love with my neighbor, who is my co-chair at our community theater company and has been in many productions with me. She does not know anything about it, and I will never tell her. I can’t think of any way I could get my family to move away, although I would almost like to, so that I would not have to see this woman any more. I have no intention of breaking up my family. I am happy enough with my wife and we have two kids and wish I could take a pill, or get hypnotized or something, to make this go away. What am I to do?
—Far Gone in Fairlawn
Yes, you should indeed find ways to see as little of your neighbor as possible under the circumstances. You should also seek counseling right away.
I could not help but notice that, although you spoke of pills and hypnosis and moving away, which are all apparently impossible, you said nothing about quitting the community theater, which I am guessing is not all that hard to do, at least logistically. I am sure you have had wonderful times there, and leaving the theater may be a terrible emotional wrench, but your marriage may require it. If quitting is at all possible, and I am pretty sure it is, get out. I suggest that you announce that you need to go on indefinite leave because your job and family duties just don’t leave you enough time. Then make your announcement true by spending more time with your family.
Although I don’t always assume that feelings for some third party must be a sign that something is wrong with a person’s primary relationship, this is often the case. Your saying that you are “happy enough” with your wife does make it sound as if your problem is not only too much attraction to your neighbor, but also too little joy with your wife. A good counselor can help you explore whether this is true, how serious it is, and how you and your wife might start trying to fix it.
Do not hate me for telling you that this is my hope: you may just be having a difficult adjustment to the long haul of marriage and kids. If that is the problem, and if you truly do want to make adjustments, you should be fine. I hope that, by this time next year, your hopeless longing has dwindled to an occasional, bearable, maybe even pleasant frisson of attraction, and that all will be well with you and your wife as you ferry the kids to soccer and ballet, sweat over bills, and check each other for deer ticks. Or maybe, in your part of the world, it is driving the kids to hockey, sweating over chemistry homework, and coping with each other’s deafening snores and sleep apnea. But you get the idea.
Good luck! And get some counseling as soon as you can.
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.
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