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I’ve been happily married for the past 12 years to my high-school sweetheart, who I am quite certain is gay. We grew up in conservative households in the same small town and married after high school. With age, maturity, and city living, I could write a mile-long list of the reasons I know my husband is closeted. Here’s the twist: Even if I had proof he was gay—and even if that proof were sexual infidelity with men—I’d happily stay married to him. My husband is a real catch, and we really enjoy each other’s company. I have every reason to believe he’s happy, too. Besides, his sporadic overtures in the bedroom are in line with my low libido. We have no children and don’t want any. I am content to be married to my husband for as long as he feels similarly. My sister, the only person in whom I’ve confided, thinks I should “set him free” by broaching the topic. Is it terribly selfish of me to just enjoy my marriage for what it is and hope he never comes to the same realization I have?
—A Happily Obliging Beard
Everyone with gaydar has met a married couple, thought the husband was gay, and mused at what’s going on. I’ve wondered if the wife suspected anything (or was too naive when they got married to know what to suspect), whether the husband was just out of touch with his own nature, or if they both knew but the arrangement worked for them. Thanks for the insight into one case. Your situation is similar to that of actress Fran Drescher. She, too, married her high-school sweetheart, and after their long marriage ended, he came out. She created a sitcom about all this and said in a recent article about her relationship with her ex, “Now that he’s living a more authentic life, we are once again the best of friends.” Two people who thoroughly enjoy each other’s company have a great starting point for a marriage, but for most people that wouldn’t also be the ending point. Ideally, marriage is a place of physical and emotional connection that is uniquely intimate. We are long past time when homosexuality was “the love that dare not speak its name,” but not daring to speak to your husband about his probable gayness leaves you physically and emotionally vulnerable. Maybe your “sporadic” sexual connection is enough for both of you. (Although it’s possible that if you were with a partner who was more interested sexually, it would spark a renaissance of your libido.) But if he has come to the same conclusion about himself that you have, and is acting on that knowledge, at the very least you need reassurance he is doing everything possible to protect against STDs. You are both still young, and if your marriage requires silence and denial, then you run the risk of being alone in middle age because your husband finally acknowledges his need to live as a gay man. If you decide to broach this, it does not have to be for the purpose of ending your marriage, but because this is the kind of thing two people in a marriage should be able to speak about.
Dear Prudence: Lecherous Neighborhood Father
I have a fifth-grade son who is white and plays basketball on a mostly black team. He has made friends with many of his black teammates and hangs out with them a lot. I’m happy that he’s so colorblind, but then I heard him call his new friends “my niggas.” I was horrified and immediately talked to him about it. He said that his black friends use the term all the time and told him it was OK for him to use it with them, too. He said that he understood the history of the word and knows that it can be hateful when used wrongly. My son clearly isn’t intolerant, but he could get in a lot of trouble throwing that word around. I don’t even know if it’s OK for a white kid with black friends to use that word if they all do, and no one means it in a bad way. I usually feel confident guiding my son, but on this one I have no idea what to tell him.
If only our 10-year-olds could stay so innocently well-intentioned. Unfortunately, even though you’ve had one conversation about this, and your son knows some of the history of this word, you have to revisit this so that your boy doesn’t find himself the subject of a complaint and the object lesson in a lecture at a school assembly. Perhaps when he was tiny you had some comic, endearing names for your son such as Mr. Stinkbottom or Sir Droolsalot. (If not, pretend you did.) You can tell him that within families people can call each other things that might be insulting if said to an outsider, but among relatives it’s done with a tone of teasing affection. That’s what’s going on with his friends on the team. Yes, the whole team is a kind of family, but for many people their ethnic or racial group also has the feel of a family. Because of that, there are things that the black players can call each other but which sound very different coming from his mouth. You can say you know his teammates have encouraged him to say it, but if a teacher, parent, or coach heard him, it’s likely that person wouldn’t understand. It’s possible that a parent of his teammate could be offended and report his remark, no matter how affectionately it was said. Say you know this doesn’t seem fair, but the history of this word still has the power to cause great pain. So as a sign of respect to those who might be hurt by it, he needs to understand that his friends can use the phrase with him, but he must refrain from returning it.
I’m a young woman in college who was considered an academically gifted child, and my parents were very proud. My father referred to me as “his greatest achievement.” He strongly encouraged my interest in science and math, and while I did enjoy it, my ability to solve problems, along with my interest, waned in high school. I told my father that I wanted to pursue other subjects, but he rejected any proposed career that wasn’t engineering. Now I am a freshman structural engineering major, and my father is on my case about my less-than-stellar GPA. When I said I wanted to major in economics or history, he asked how I’m going to find jobs in those fields and pay off my student loans. I’ve talked to the engineers on campus and can’t imagine doing their job. What’s worse, my father always says, “I love you and will support you in anything you do.” His hypocrisy sickens me. How can I make him take me seriously?
I dearly hope I’m never on a bridge designed by a structural engineer who barely passed her exams. You know your father wants what’s best for you, and given the drumbeat about the great prospects for students, especially young women, in the so-called STEM fields, he’s trying to guarantee you have a lifetime of well-remunerated employment. But the root of your problem is that you’ve given engineering a fair shot and you hate it. At college your job is not only to do well in your studies, but to explore new opportunities and become an independent person. You need to talk to your academic adviser and others on campus about a more suitable major, a new program of study, and the kinds of careers that would be open to you. Then tell your father you understand his concerns, but a brilliant engineering career is unlikely for someone so ill-suited to it. Since you will have done your homework, you will be able to tell him about the opportunities for someone with a degree in economics or history. Your confidence will convey that you are strong enough to stand up to a loving if overbearing father, and help him see you are not his “accomplishment” but a self-sufficient person. If he acts punitively about your decision, don’t be afraid to call him out on his mantra. Tell him you know he loves you, and now you need him to support you as he always has promised he would.
Sometimes at work, while sitting in the bathroom stall, I hear a weird rubbing noise coming from a neighboring stall. Other co-workers have heard it, too, and after months of sleuthing we discovered that the noises were coming from an older gentleman in the office. Lately the sounds have been getting more graphic, a distinct wet noise. He’s either masturbating or repeatedly wiping his behind—the point is, it’s really weirding us out. Should we ask him about it, or talk to human resources?
—Wishing To Use the Bathroom in Peace
So an old co-worker goes into the bathroom, shuts the stall door, and does something that results in moisture and wiping. Just think about how the conversations will potentially go with your colleague or HR when you present this startling finding. Unless you believe children are being violated, you don’t want to make it your business to get up into other people’s business once they turn the knob on the stall and drop trou. If the noises are troubling, that should inspire you to forget the crossword puzzle, finish your duties, and hot foot it back to your desk. You may want to use the bathroom in peace, but so does the old gentleman, whose aged plumbing is perhaps leakier than your own.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“A View to a Thrill: Neighbor boys peep at my scantily clad daughters. Should I have them cover up?” Posted June 30, 2011.
“Loving Thy Neighbor: I have sex with the couple next door. Should I tell my kids about it?” Posted June 23, 2011.
“Fatherly Advice: Dear Prudence advises a dad whose wife fears he’ll abandon the family in favor of his long-lost daughter—and other Father’s Day advice seekers.” Posted June 16, 2011.
“Businessman on the Road to Ruin: My wife doesn’t know I visit strip bars and porn theaters while away on business. But that’s not cheating, right?” Posted June 9, 2011.
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“All Dogs Go to Heaven: Dear Prudence advises a dying husband on whether to confess his infidelity—during a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 27, 2011.
“Sloppy Stay-at-Home Mom: Prudie advises a man whose wife is great at everything except keeping the house neat—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 13, 2011.
“The 40-Year-Old Mean Girl: Prudie advises a former bully whose kids are being mistreated by her victim’s children—in a live chat at Washingtonpost.com.” Posted June 6, 2011.
“The Accused: A young neighbor’s unfounded claims put my family in danger. Should we allow the girl back into our lives?” Posted June 2, 2011.