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Claudette Colbert Answers The Letters

Bear miss Colbert:

I have been married for twelve years and have two children, one eleven and the other three and a half. My husband has said repeatedly that I devoted too much time to the children and neglected him.

He met a girl ten years younger than himself (we are both thirty-three) who works with him. About two years ago he started to go out with this girl and they both fell deeply in love with one another. He told me all this. She too is married and has a husband overseas, but she told my husband she married without being in love, only for the sake of patriotism. She wrote to her husband, telling him of her “new love” and he let her get a divorce.

Realizing my big mistake I tried to win my husband back, but he says it is too late as he loves this woman very much. I wrote a very nice letter to this woman, pleading with her to leave him alone, but she ignored my letter and now I would like to see her personally. My husband has said that the only way he will give her up is for her to tell him to go away as she never wants to see him again. Now that is what I want to get her to do.

My husband says he cares for me and feels sorry for me, but that he loves this girl. I told him that I wouldn’t give him a divorce no matter what.

What would you do?

Edwina de V.

Dear Mrs. de V:

There is one thing that you can salvage from this pitiable situation: Your pride and dignity. Under no circumstance should you try to get in touch with this woman for any reason whatsoever.

It is a complex and puzzling fact that a human being can look at a broken vase and realize that it is beyond any repair; she can look at a plant and know that it is quite dead; she can look at a gown and know that it is hopelessly faded, pulled at the seams and out of date. But rare indeed is the person who can look upon a human relationship and realize that it has lost all use, meaning, or beauty.

When a man—who is notoriously loath to change his habits of living—asks his wife for his freedom, the situation is usually beyond saving. If a woman undertakes to fight the case, she merely confirms her husband’s suspicion that she is a had lot. Only by being magnanimous, generow and—if possible—coldly humorous, can she make him realize that he may be giving up the best deal of his life for a pretty but untested mess of pottage.

It is with real regret that l tell you that I think you should ask your husband to move out, leaving you and your children in your home. Tell him that you will be glad to give him his freedom as soon as he likes. Don’t tell him off, don’t quarrel with him, don’t criticize this other girl. Be as big and as brave as you possibly can.

Then get busy and make a new life for yourself, if you do no more than take up oil painting or the study of Spanish, or a full-time job at the Red Cross while your children, are in school. It won’t be easy, but at the end of the long, tough, heart-cracking job, you will have learned how to live within your own strength and dignity. And perhaps your husband will come to his senses.

Claudette Colbert

Dear Miss Colbert:

I’ve been married four months—unhappily. I didn’t love my husband when I married him, although I have known him since grammar-school days. I was never allowed by my parents to go with anyone but him. He has all the fine qualities that a woman could ask for, but I like him without loving him. He’s in the service and we have managed to be together at least once every month.

I had been married only three weeks when I went to visit a group of ex-prisoners of war, whose language I speak because I was born in their country, and I met the man I knew I could love with all my heart. After that first visit I knew I had to return again and I did, once each week.

One night, this man managed to tell me of his love for me. Someday after the war, he wants to take me back to his home—after I get my divorce.

We have kept our love a secret until today when my mother discovered a note I had jotted down, but had never given him.

Now she objects to my going to see him and threatens to tell my husband.

I don’t want to hurt my husband, yet I am wild to see this other man and to be with him as much as I can.

Will you tell me, please, please, what I should do?

Mrs. Raphaela D.

Dear Mrs. D:

Your letter tells a very interesting story between the lines. In the first place, it is apparent that you married your husband because your mother arranged the match. You feel that you were forced into marriage without having had the opportunity of exercising some personal choice in the matter. Subconsciously you have, I’m rather certain, told yourself that you were denied the thrill of romance.

This prisoner of war satisfies every romantic inclination in your nature: His nationality pleases you because of your loyalty to your national heritage; his position as a prisoner, his ability to converse with you in the language of your childhood, the clandestine character of your relationship, all appeal to you. And, to give your adventure its final fillip, you knew in advance that your mother would violently disapprove of your actions.

But let’s be rational about this. Spiting your mother by indulging in a forbidden romance will leave a bitter taste in your memory if you destroy your husband’s faith in you. I’m afraid you haven’t given his position in the matter much consideration. You admit that your husband is a fine man—yet you plan t o cast him off, this man in uniform, for a chap who, except for the grace of God, would still be fighting against this country. Have you considered, too, that Europeans are not as generous to their wives as Americans?

I want to stress this, in fairness to you: Emotion is an element that no one has been able to produce at will, nor destroy when it was inconvenient. It is entirely possible to like and admire a man without loving him as a husband. But why don’t you give your husband a chance? Three weeks is no time in which to decide whether two persons can make a good life together, particularly when they have spent only week ends with one another.

Why don’t you wait until the war is over before making a decision?

Colbert Claudette

Dear Miss Colbert:

In February, 1942, I met Dorothy, the seventeen-year-old sister of my best friend. Because we liked the same books, poetry, music, movies and people, we had fun just being friends. Six months after our first date, I kissed her for the first time, and then I knew that it was more than friendliness that I felt for her. She said that she loved me, too, so we began to make plans for the future.

One night I called for her at her home, but she refused to see me. Even her family couldn’t understand it.

Two months later I was inducted into the Army, but after a year of service, I was discharged because of an old football injury.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve managed to talk to her over the telephone, but she just listens to me and says “yes” or “no.” Nothing else. When she does say a few sentences her voice is so heartbroken that I can’t bear it.

Her father tells me that she won’t talk to her own family, she cries a lot at night and has lost ten pounds. Dorothy’s friends tell me that she admits her love for me, but when anyone tries to question her, she freezes up and won’t talk at all. She plays “our” record—“That Old Black Magic”—every night. She hasn’t had another date in over a year.

I accidentally sat behind her in church last Sunday. When Services were over she turned around. She stood there, staring at me, then ran outside crying.

I am twenty-three years old, now, and Dot is almost twenty. I have a very good job and could care for her properly. Although she won’t see me personally, I telephone her every day and send her flowers once a week.

Would you advise me to make some plan where I can force her to talk to me, or do you have an idea—since you are a pretty girl, too—just what is causing her to behave like this?

I’ll admit that I’m stymied.

Enright M.

Dear Mr. M:

Obviously there is something in this girl’s present home life, or in her memory, or in her mind, that is making her wretchedly unhappy.

It would seem, from your letter, that this girl’s family is in sympathy with you. Why don’t you ask them to force her to see you. If they decline, beg them to explain any possible cause of her behavior to you. If they agree to insist that she see and talk to you, why don’t you tell her that she is behaving like a selfish child. She is deliberately making everyone around her unhappy, nervous and worried for no apparent reason. Ask her exactly what the score is, once and for all. Or better. I think—urge her family to take her to a psychiatrist who will make her talk and learn the basic trouble. You can be guided accordingly. If it is hopeless, put her out of your life completely.

Stop telephoning, stop sending flowers, stop asking her friends about her. If she is mentioned to you, show absolutely no interest. And find some other nice girl to whom to devote yourself.

Claudette Colbert

Dear Miss Colbert:

I am in my late twenties and very much in love with a man to whom I have been engaged for three years. My father died when I was in elementary school. I am the youngest in our family—the others are married—so I have always shouldered the responsibility for my mother.

My brothers and sisters don’t seem to realize that I want a home too. They never take me seriously when I bring up the subject, saying I don’t know when I’m well off. But I don’t want to spend all my young days in an office. I have thought of Charles, Mother and I living together, but a case like that seldom works out happily. I hate to ask Charles to keep on waiting and I shudder when I think of our long engagement ending as so many do.

I don’t want to lose him for he holds my happiness. But I owe my mother so much that I want her to have every care. She is in no condition to be left alone.

Agatha E.

Dear Miss E.

I am an ardent believer in the right of young people in love to make a home of their own.

Surely your problem can be divided into two parts, and solved. First, there is the financial responsibility for your mother’s welfare. It is high time that your brothers and sisters gave you some assistance. Simply sit down some night and decide how much allowance your mother needs each month. Divide that sum among your brothers and sisters equally; write each of them a note explaining this and saying that you are planning to be married and therefore will no longer be working for a salary.

Your next problem is a physical one: The living arrangements to be made for your mother. Since you are obviously devoted to her, and since Charles is probably devoted to you, it would be possible for you three to live together happily after you and Charles have made your first adjustments. I would say that you are entitled to the first four to six months of your married life together.

Why not send your mother to live with first one child for a month, then another? She could turn over her food stamps and pay a small amount of board out of her income from all the children and she should be a welcome guest.

It may require a good deal of tact and determination for you to work out these arrangements, but remember that your entire future depends upon your taking a firm stand now. Best of luck.

Claudette Colbert

Dear Miss Colbert:

I have four friends in my class in high school. My older brother has one of the latest model cars, so every Saturday night I get the car and one gas ticket. We all have dates and usually go to a theater.

My buddies have been going with the same girls for some time, but after the first time I go with a girl she acts too good for me and won’t go with me again. I have heard remarks to the effect that I am too tame. One night I went to a party with my buddies and their girls. You wouldn’t have known I was there until they wanted to go for a ride. This happens all the time and it makes me feel I’m not really wanted. Should I keep on trying to mix with everybody, or should I quit it and stay to myself?

Malcolm A.

Dear Mr. A:

You have undoubtedly encountered the Robert Burns poem that begins, “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us to see oursels as others see us!”

It would seem to me that if you could see yourself in the eyes of another, you might be able to overcome your feeling of being gauche and unwanted. Your older brother seems to be a wonderful person. Why don’t you go to him and tell him the whole story. Tell him how you treat a girl, and ask him what is wrong with your system.

Whatever you do, don’t feel sorry for yourself. The important thing is to be wanted by a gang for some reason. What difference does it make whether it’s because you play the piano so everyone else can dance, or have a liberal mother who will let you bake wieners in the fireplace Sunday evenings, or are possessed of a brother who loans you his car?

Claudette Colbert

Dear Miss Colbert:

When I was in high school my parents were divorced and we were divided up, the older children to Mother, and the younger to Father. My father didn’t want us, but he did rent an apartment, then let us do pretty much as we pleased. Finally, because my father forgot that girls need clothes to go to school, I quit and went into a factory where I worked like a slave.

Then I met a boy who, at twenty-one, was getting a divorce. Never before had anyone even pretended to care whether I lived or died. The usual thing happened, so that I had to marry this boy.

Now, after five years I know that I didn’t really love him. I think he really cares for me, but he says I am hard and cruel and I think, truly, that I am, except where my little daughter is concerned. I’m locked up inside myself. My in-laws have always treated me with a chill because of the conditions of our marriage, and they tell everyone with whom I come in contact, so I have trouble making friends.

Is there any way that I can break this tight, caged, trapped, beaten feeling?

Magdalene T.

Dear Mrs. T:

First of all, ignore the bad manners of your in-laws. Never answer their criticisms, and never resort to criticism in return. Each time they malign you to a stranger, that stranger will become your fast friend if you are sweet, genuine, friendly and interested. Although you had a bitter childhood, that part of your life is over forever.

Turn your attention to the present and the future. How lucky you are that your husband loves you. And how lucky you are to have a daughter you adore. You feel tight, caged, trapped and beaten because you have walled yourself in with bitter memories and fear of the criticism of little minds.

Go out tomorrow and buy the most becoming hat you can find. Then have your hair done in a becoming new style. When you return home, cook an especially good dinner, set the table as if you were going to entertain an ambassador. Say to yourself, “This is fun. I look my best. I’m going to be happy.”

And, since you love your daughter so much, you must surely see her male adult counterpart in her father. When you look at him, think, “You are the father of my lovely daughter.” You’ll be in love with him in no time. Really in love. A happy life doesn’t “just happen” any more than a diamond necklace “just happens.” Both must be dug out with laborious care, cut, mounted, polished and kept glistening.

Claudette Colbert



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