Here is the query:
I have fallen in love with a woman I knew from childhood and ran into
again after not seeing her for 20 years. As kids we hardly noticed each
other, but when we met again after all these years we felt an immediate
[sic] attraction. The problem is that when I was 12 years old I did something
terrible that caused an accident that killed her father. No one ever
found out it was me and I’ve never told anyone after all these years. I
feel horrible about what happened, but it was a long time ago and I’ve
gotten on with my life. But now what? Should I tell this woman that I
caused her father’s death many years ago? I’m afraid it would ruin our
relationship and we love each other a great deal. The accident occurred
when I was in a cornfield at night—we were throwing corn at cars when
they drove by. We couldn’t see the cars because we were hidden in the
field. An ear of corn I threw went through the open car window and
struck her father in the head, causing him to lose control of the car
and crash into a tree. I ran from the scene and was never implicated.
Prudie thinks this is a tough moral dilemma, but that the guy has to come clean for his self-respect ("You cannot build a healthy relationship on such deceit"), admitting that her lawyers give the opposite advice.
Trudie starts from a different framework, namely that falling ln love is not entirely a spontaneous event. It is planned by our subconscious more than we realize. What could prevent us from falling in love with someone? Trudie could not, for instance, fall in love with a woman Trudie knew to be a communist, even if, like the younger Yoko Ono, she were extremely smart, attractive, and loved atonal music. Trudie also could not fall in love with a woman whose father he had killed, however "accidental" the event (what *was* he aiming the corn cob at, at what angle did it enter the window, and did he glue a rock to it?)
The simplest hypothesis, based on the near-universality of self-deception, is the following: a) the guy is a murderer, and b) he loves having the power over this girl that follows from having murdered her father and then holding this secret from her. He feels he can reduce her to a quivering mass of jelly anytime by coming forward with the information. He loves having that power so much that first he falls in love with her (who has he been dating in the meantime?) and then he writes into an advice columnist so as to report that power to other people, even at the risk of legally incriminating himself. Sick, sick, sick.
If that scenario is true, if only with some positive probability, what advice should Prudie give the guy? And under what conditions can you fall in love? Can you trust your conscious self-reporting of what you are doing any more than the murderer who wrote Prudie?
If only Tim Harford were here to set us straight…