Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Boring Sex: In my college years, I was sexually adventurous, to say the least. In my later 20s, I found my way back to my church, and decided to start fresh, and wait until marriage. I met my now husband in my church singles’ group, and we have been married for just over a year now. He knows nothing of my sexual past, I didn’t feel it was necessarily his business, and he never asked. However, he was a virgin when we married, and there is the problem. He is really lousy in bed. I’ve tried to suggest ideas to spice things up, but he looks confused when I do. Also, when I’ve made certain suggestions as to say, positions, he asks how I’d even think of something like that, so I told him I’d read about it online, and he got worried I’d seen porn! I don’t want to tell him about my past, but I don’t really want to spend the rest of my life in missionary, when there are so many other options. If I reveal too much knowledge about sexual acts we haven’t done, I’m pretty sure he’ll decide I was “used goods” and he shouldn’t have married me—are there other ways I could drop a hint, without revealing too much about my own past?
A: I’ll never understand people who don’t go for a test drive before purchasing the vehicle. When you say he knows nothing of your past, I don’t know if you mean he doesn’t know the details or he thought like himself, you had no sexual past. If the latter then you married under false pretenses. This problem goes beyond him being inexperienced; he’s not interested in becoming experienced. So you two may have a fundamental mismatch. You need some honesty in this marriage. Without going into numbers or details (and don’t be bullied into revealing them) you tell him you know about sex because you’ve had it. You say your experience could make your marriage much more exciting and you want to explore sexually with him. If he thinks you are damaged goods, then what a favor he’ll be doing you by ending it now.
Q. I Think I Like Being Sexually Harassed?: I work as a dispatcher for a TV provider. I am in constant contact with the field managers. Flirting and flattery is not uncommon in my office between the female dispatchers and the men in the field. One of the field managers has been taking the flirting too far and had been saying some very explicit things to me. … He wants to take me to a hotel room, he asks if I’m loud in bed, he tells me I am sexy (our contact is 100 percent over the phone and through email). I can’t help it, but I like it! Everyone else would say this is inappropriate and sexual harassment. But I can’t help but be turned on by all this. Even worse, we are both married, and he and his wife have a child. I feel like I am cheating on my husband by participating in these raunchy conversations. I honestly don’t know what to do. I am addicted to this man’s sexual comments, but I am also addicted to my husband. Please help me!
A: You two might get addicted to unemployment if your work emails fall into the wrong hands—and oh, how often that kind of thing has happened. Since you are a willing participant in this, don’t think you could hide behind sexual harassment if you both end up getting fired. You each have jobs, and as far as I can ascertain, they’re not with a phone sex service. So your X-rated communications are a ticking time bomb for both marriages and paychecks. Stop with the “addicted” garbage. Next time your raunchy co-conspirator calls you say, “We’ve got to stop this immediately. Starting now.” If you need a 12-step program to keep it professional, go find one.
Q. Menopause: I am almost 19 years old and I’m still living with my parents. Both of my parents are in their late 40s and I’ve had a pretty good relationship with them my entire life. Starting about last year, my mom started going through menopause. I hate what it has made her become. Sometimes she’ll ask if someone make her breakfast or grab her a cart at the grocery store and my brother or father and I will fight over who has to go make/do whatever she asks. She’ll get fed up and scream at us, calling us names and if we had made plans to go out to eat/shop/whatever, she’ll throw those plans away and lock herself in her bedroom. There were a couple of times when she and I went to restaurants (usually fast food) and because of the pressure of time, I told her I didn’t want anything. She became very upset and threw insults at me and threatened to take away trips and privileges. Once she left me at a restaurant and said, “You can get your own ride home.” I called a friend crying to come get me. I hate what menopause has made her, she whines and victimizes herself and can go from happy to angry at the drop of a hat. How do I deal with her for the next year until I leave for college?
A: Is it hot in here, or is it just me? I think your mother sounds perfectly normal and the rest of you are horrible meanies who don’t understand how hard she’s working and everything is so awful and no one understands and—excuse me while I get a box of tissues. Oh, your lucky father, a few years ago he had two kids going through puberty, and now this. Believe me, no one is more miserable than your mother and you need to urge your father to gently tell her that things don’t have to be so bad and she needs to see her gynecologist for relief. She—and the rest of you—simply don’t have to suffer this way. As you know, changes of life involving hormone fluctuations are not easy, but there are good interventions that should help smooth things out for your mother, and the rest of you.
Q. Relationship Advice: I’ve dated a guy four months and realized recently that he’s fallen far more in love with me than I have with him. So much so, in fact, that it’s a huge turn-off. Being pressured to tell him I love him, talk about “our future” together … and he’s been telling me for weeks that he’s “making” me something for Valentine’s Day. I’m closing in on 40, divorced (13 years, but hey) and am in no hurry to settle down. To be kind, I tried to break off the relationship. He’s acting like he’s got to fight to win me back and doesn’t realize that I’m serious. I don’t want to be with him. Texts at 9 a.m. that are a mile long, random posts to his Facebook page with “passive - aggressive” messages about how true love is worth fighting for. It’s actually starting to scare me. Tips on how to make this as painless for ME as possible? All I can be with him is consistently and frequently honest. Over and over and over. Please help.
A: Ah, Happy Valentine’s Day from your stalker. You tell this guy it’s over, and unfortunately because of the way things have gone you two will not be able to be in touch and he needs to cease all contact with you immediately. You block him and unfriend him—but you keep copies of everything he’s sent. If he won’t go away, you go to the police.
Q. Low Sex—Lots of Porn: My husband and I have been together for 11 years and share four gorgeous children. My husband also has a history of “problems,” though I am proud to say he is celebrating several years of sobriety. Since getting clean and sober he has a problem keeping strong during the act—he has no issue getting there, as a matter of fact often I catch him there but, once we start (within two minutes) he loses it and it is really starting to affect me on many more levels than I thought. My self-esteem is low, I find myself taking all compliments and wolf whistles to heart, and Prudie I’m so frustrated in the bedroom I can’t see straight! The other day I found XXX video links on his smartphone by accident, and that bothered me so I asked him what’s up? He said that I never want to be with him so he has to satisfy himself somehow. This made me angry and I lashed out at him … not harshly but told him what was on my mind. I told him that his lack of staying power has me frustrated and when it happens and it happens often, I hate seeing him get so upset and mad at himself. He got a little upset understandably, and then I asked is it me? Remember I’ve had 4 kids … I don’t know what to do, Prudie. I absolutely LOVE and adore my husband but if I don’t get some relief soon I’m afraid I’ll step out and find the answers on my own.
A: First of all, your husband needs a check-up. If everything checks out, he needs to have a discussion with his doctor about the uses of a little blue pill, or that pill people take then get in separate bathtubs. This kind of thing can be a downward spiral for a man. His worries about maintaining an erection almost guarantee that he won’t. Look on the vast shelf of sex-advice literature for techniques to help with this, or maybe you two could benefit from a few visits with a sex therapist. You need tenderness and understanding with each other. The worst thing you two can do is harden your hearts against each other.
Q. Re: Menopause Mom: That mom was me a few months ago. I had a hysterectomy a few years ago, but had estrogen producing naturally. That production started to die off … my kids and husband flat out told me to go to the doctor and get checked out. I was mean, nasty, quick to flare off, etc. Guess what … low-dosage meds and I have made a 180 degree turnaround. The LW needs to get everyone together and they need to make a case to mom and she needs to see a doctor. There are plenty of different things that can be done. NO one should be subjected to that kind of abuse. It can last for a few years.
A: Thanks. So letter writer, either have your father have the talk, or have a family meeting with mom. With help, your mother should be her old self soon.
Q. Church Wedding: My sister and I were both raised in the Catholic church. As we grew up, I found religion to be a huge part of my life, married a Catholic man, and plan to send our two young children to Catholic school when they are school aged. My sister attends church with our family on important occasions, but has often expressed opposing views to the Catholic church. We have agreed to disagree on these issues and have a nice relationship. Over the Christmas holidays, my sister became engaged to a wonderful man—and wants to get married in the Catholic church. She asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding and I am struggling with agreeing. I strongly suspect the only reason my sister wants to get married in our church is because it makes for beautiful photographs and can seat a lot of people. The point of getting married in a church is to seal a covenant between you, your spouse, and God. Not to take pretty pictures. I am not sure I can stand up in a wedding of two people who are getting married in a church but feel they way they do about the religion. Am I being unreasonable? If I decide to bow out of the wedding, what is the best way to explain this to my sister?
A: What a timely letter since the pope today announced that he is bowing out. Please, don’t anoint yourself the next Torquemada. It is not your job to judge anyone else’s fidelity to doctrine. If only people who totally agreed with every aspect of their religion’s tenets were allowed in the pews, they’d be far more empty than they are. Surely you don’t believe that a religion is above criticism or the need to re-evaluate its policies. What you do is express your joy at your sister’s news. Then rejoice that you two will become even closer as you help her plan this wonderful occasion.
Q. Buzzed Baby Sitters: My in-laws were hard drinkers growing up, and although my husband says they were never alcoholics, he did learn at an early age how to care for hungover people. Now my in-laws want to watch our young children more often, and I’m uncomfortable leaving our kids (1, 3) in their care, because I know they will not curtail their drinking. I understand that my in-laws raised my husband and his brothers while drinking the same amount that they do now, but leaving my babies in the care of tipsy adults puts me on edge. Last year my father-in-law got a DUI, and I also worry my in-laws would try to drive in a compromised state with our kids in the car. Right now my parents do the bulk of child care, because they do not drink while watching any of their grandchildren. I want our children to know my in-laws as well as they do my parents, because I don’t want to become one of those daughter-in-laws who allows her family to monopolize the grandkids. At the same time, I think it’s reasonable to expect our kids’ caretakers to be sober. My husband agrees with me but is also, I believe, beginning to resent how much my parents see our kids. He loves his parents, and so do I. Am I overreacting?
A: It’s amazing how many times I’ve gotten a variation of this letter. Mom, no one who’s drunk watches your kids. Period. Your father-in-law’s DUI tells you that he’s not in control of his drinking, and if you’re aware both of them regularly drink and drive, you should report them to the DMV. God forbid they harm someone else’s family. Your kids can spend plenty of them with their father’s parents. You can go see them and stay during the visit. Or they can come see you—but take away their keys if they arrive impaired. As for your husband’s resentment of your family, let him ponder the resentment he’d feel against his if in his parents’ care one of your children got hurt.
Q. Boyfriend and a Prostitute: Over last weekend, I found out quite by accident that when my boyfriend of five years was overseas last year, he visited a brothel. He says he couldn’t go through with it, and I actually believe him. But, I’m still icked out that he would even go down that road. I am trying to just forget about it but it is really bothering me. Is this something I should forgive because he didn’t go through with it?
A: Bring this up with him. Tell him you believe him that he didn’t do it—and you’re glad of that—but you can’t quite get out of your head that he considered it. Then as unemotionally as you can, talk it out. Say you’re not only concerned about the infidelity, but the health risk he might have run for both of you. Maybe he was egged on by some cheating colleagues, got to the brothel door, and fled. If you believe that he regrets this and learned something positive from it, then if you’re going to stay together, you have to forgive and trust again.
Q. Re: My husband says they were never alcoholics: He’s in denial. Learning how to take care of hangovers at an early age and the DUI are a big red flag for alcoholics.
Q. Ex-Husband Makes Good: My ex-husband has remarried and has started a new family. When we were married he was moody, drank too much, and sometimes got so angry he would break things. Now he is a prince to his new wife, who happens to be younger. He also helps out a lot more with their kids than he ever did with ours. Our own teenagers have noted how much more involved their dad is with his new kids. It sounds bitter and silly to resent my ex’s new wife and her kids because they get the end result of what I tolerated for years, but I cannot help but be jealous. How do I overcome these feelings of resentment to an admittedly very nice woman?
A: I totally understand that you resent that your moody drunk has turned into a helpful prince. And of course your children feel they got shafted. But the good news is that he is still their father and they have a chance to make a better relationship with him. It doesn’t undo his past behavior, but it is a lesson for them that people can change and things can be healed. It might help you if you encouraged your children to nurture their relationships with their improved father and new half siblings. You acknowledge his new wife is lovely, so recognize having good people in their lives is a benefit for your kids, especially since they suffered from early turmoil. Instead of trying to extinguish your resentment, accept that it’s normal you feel this way, but you will not let it rule you nor interfere with how your kids relate to your ex.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks everyone. I hope this Valentine’s Day is full of love and good sex, preferably with the person you love.
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