Dear Prudence

My Love Won’t Speak My Name

My actor boyfriend keeps me a secret so no one will find out he’s gay.

Emily Yoffe.

Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I have been together just under three years. It was a whirlwind romance and we have a strong, honest, and loving relationship. We both have fulfilling careers with hectic schedules—I do a lot of traveling overseas. He is now an actor working in Hollywood and he is paranoid about anyone finding out he is gay, even though most people who meet him suspect he is. He’s in his mid-20s and still struggling to come to terms with his sexuality. I’m a few years older, and much more comfortable with who I am. He worries about the amount of hate that can be directed at an openly gay public figure in America, despite all the recent high-profile coming-outs, and I understand his dilemma. He’s concerned that his parts will dry up once directors and producers think of him as a “gay” actor. When we met, he was not working in the entertainment industry and we were not burdened with this. The situation is causing huge friction, as I never meet his friends or anyone he has worked with. I stay home or make my own plans when he socializes. I’m not even allowed to friend him on Facebook or any other social media. We had discussed marriage; but that’s now on hold and I’m doubting whether I should base myself permanently in LA with him as we had planned. I have no desire to play the role of a McCarthy-era secret lover. What should I do?

—Invisible Boyfriend

Dear Invisible,
When a boxer can say he’s gay then get cheered upon entering the ring, you truly know the world has changed. It’s one thing for your boyfriend to voluntarily keep himself in the closet. It’s another for him to insist you be shut up in the attic like the mad wife in Jane Eyre. Sure your boyfriend is not going to take out an ad in Variety declaring his love for you. But he’s just a young actor starting out and it’s unlikely the world is that interested in his personal life. As for his career, I’m not suggesting that being gay in Hollywood has no cost, but we’re long past the Rock Hudson era when studios constructed fake heterosexual lives for their gay stars. (Which is not to say that some rumored gay movie stars don’t construct their own heterosexual cover stories.) You say your boyfriend sets off people’s gaydar, so I’m guessing casting directors he’s worked with have noted that, yet have gone ahead and given him straight parts. I’m suspicious about his insistence that you never socialize with him in any domain. Maybe he’s partying with straight friends and pretending to pick up girls. Maybe he’s on the town cheating on you. Given the enormous numbers of gay people in the entertainment industry, he is surely aware that even the most incontrovertible heterosexuals have openly gay colleagues and friends. Whatever is happening, his treatment of you is demeaning and hurtful. You’re right to shelve your thoughts of marriage and to reconsider moving. You need to tell your boyfriend that while he may pretend to be someone else for a living, that’s not how you plan to go through life.


Dear Prudence: Saving Lolita

Dear Prudie,
My brother and his wife had a baby one year ago. Despite living close to them, my husband and our two girls haven’t seen them since their son was 3 months old. Due to my sister-in-law Amy’s OCD and severe germaphobia, they have basically barred all contact with our children. She is pretty much out of control at this point, despite seeing a therapist. My brother is the sensitive type who will do anything to keep the peace. My parents have been trying to convince them to get together over the holidays. But Amy has issued an ultimatum: They will only see us if my 2-year-old has her meningococcal vaccine by Thanksgiving. Both the CDC and my daughter’s physician agree this vaccine should only be administered to toddlers at high risk for the disease, which my daughter is not. The normal schedule is to get this vaccine around age 11. (My older daughter is 12 and has had the shot.) I feel Amy picked something to ensure that we won’t see each other during the holidays. I feel insulted and upset, but maybe I should just get my daughter the vaccine so we might have a chance at a relationship.

—We Are Not the Sick Ones

Dear Sick,

How sad it will be for your nephew to become a version of the bubble boy despite his own robust health, because his mother’s mental illness means he can’t have normal interactions with other children. Your sister-in-law is certainly suffering, but despite her having a therapist it sounds as if she and your brother didn’t grapple enough with what it would mean to have children while dealing with her illness. It’s too bad that as a couple they haven’t been able to work out a system so that your brother can make some decisions about their son’s activities and that not everything is dictated by her health obsessions. But her condition rules their lives and I’m afraid that unless your brother starts insisting on being able to see his entire family (I hope at least your parents are allowed to visit their grandson) there’s not much the rest of you can do. You could have a private talk about this with your brother, but I’m not optimistic. You’re right that your younger daughter is not due for a meningitis vaccine for about a decade. Accelerating this schedule should not be done to appease someone else’s irrational fears. Anyway, as soon as you got your daughter the shot, Amy would next demand proof your kids won’t give her baby Ebola. All of you should go ahead and plan your holiday with the expectation that it’s likely Amy will be keeping her son in quarantine.


Dear Prudie,
My husband and I are dog lovers but we didn’t have any when we first had kids. Then our children started asking for a dog. My husband admitted he’s enjoyed not dealing with vet bills, poop-scooping, and fleas. Eventually I wore him down, and we spent months researching the right breed. I was unable to go and choose the puppy, so my husband made the final decision. I hate this dog. He licks and chews on people constantly. He refuses to learn to signal us when he needs to go outside. He will go outside and pee, then race past me so that he can poop in my daughter’s bedroom. My children enjoyed him at first but are now ambivalent, as the dog won’t play calmly or allow anyone just to pet him. I don’t want to find him another home since, ironically, the dog and my husband have formed a close bond. Now if I mention to my husband how little I like this dog, he gets irritated. I thought I’d get to go choose the puppy with which I felt a connection, and I do not feel connected to this one. Do I suffer through? Take a doggie bonding class?

—I Hate This Dog

Dear Hate,
You don’t say how long you’ve had this dog, but surely you remember from having children that teaching good manners, and how to control one’s bladder and bowels, takes patience. You surely understand the feelings expressed in 1660 by the great diarist Samuel Pepys: “So to bed, where my wife and I had some high words upon my telling her that I would fling the dog which her brother had gave her out the window if he pissed the house any more.” But a year later Pepys had a portrait made of his wife with the dog in her lap, which he writes, “made us very merry.” Invest now in some dog training classes and have the whole family participate. It’s likely that with perseverance and discipline on all your parts, you too can end up with a dog who makes you merry. But let’s say the dog never significantly improves. Stop dwelling on the irrelevant fact that you didn’t choose this puppy. It just may be that no matter how much you pour into your dog, he will never become the housebroken, loving pet you envisioned. For 10 years I had such a dog. Despite several trainers, endless vet visits, and even Prozac, she only just tolerated our attempts at affection and it wasn’t until after her death that we were able to put the rugs back on the floor. We now have a devoted, delightful, housebroken Cavalier who is everything we hoped a dog would be. Today’s dogma is that your dog’s behavior is all your fault. This is odd since we now recognize that certain disabilities or wiring problems can cause children to behave badly and we no longer blame that on the parents. If a concerted effort with this dog doesn’t work, you need to have some difficult conversations with your husband about finding the dog a more suitable home. If you got him from a breeder, contact them because sometimes they will take back a dog that just doesn’t work out. I’m prepared to be told to roast in hell, but a pet should be more than a presence you simply endure.


Dear Prudence,
I’m a 25-year-old currently living with my parents, who are in their early 40s. They are planning to move out of my childhood home, which is also where my father grew up. They’ve found a smaller property and the other night my mother told me they are going to be cleaning out everything, including all of my baby items, stuffed animals, and toys. I had hoped I could give these things to my child one day. That’s where the second part of my issue arises. I have endometriosis, and that, along with another complication, means there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to have children. Because of the same condition, my mother had at hysterectomy by age 30. I always thought I would marry young like my parents, but that hasn’t happened. I want to ask my mother not to throw my things out, but is that just selfish of me?

—Precious Things

Dear Precious,
There’s nothing selfish about your desire to keep some remnants of your childhood. I would think your parents would also want to retain a handful of these items. But it seems you have imbued these objects with a totemic power: If you keep them to pass on to your child, that reassures you that someday you will have that child. Much more important than your old toys is doing everything you can do to preserve your fertility. Make sure you are seeing a gynecologist who is well-versed in your conditions, and if you need to be in the hands of a specialist, ask for a referral. As for your memorabilia, perhaps a family member with an attic or basement can put a box or two into storage for you. You can buy vacuum-sealer bags or even make your own. That way a bunch of stuffed animals can be shrunk down to a container you fit under a bed. Remember your child is not going to recapitulate your childhood, so pick a few meaningful objects, then let the rest go.


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

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