Dear Prudence

No to Joy

Since starting on antidepressants, my wife has been cheerful and optimistic. I hate it.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a man in his mid-40s who has been happily married for 10 years. I particularly enjoy my wife’s dry, some would say sarcastic, sense of humor. Her wit not only attracted me to her as a partner, but it was one of the things that got me through a difficult time in my career, enabling me to see the humor in absurd and uncomfortable situations. About 18 months ago my wife’s mother passed away suddenly and my wife began seeing a counselor. After a few appointments, the counselor prescribed an antidepressant medication, Paxil, and my wife’s has been taking it ever since. As a result, my wife’s personality has changed. Not dramatically, but enough so that she has become a glass-half-full, constantly cheerful type of person. I have no idea if this is common or perhaps if she was always depressed and her dark humor existed for her to deal with it. I’m glad she’s happy now but I thought we were happy before and frankly, I miss my old wife! The new rainbows-and-sunshine person I’m living with gives me a headache and I find myself less attracted to her. I feel like a jerk and don’t know what to do. Help!

—Dark Side

Dear Dark,
I’ll get back to you with an answer in a few weeks, because now that my husband has seen your question I assume he’ll start slipping Paxil into my half-empty coffee cup hoping for a similar change in my disposition. I have had many letters from people desperate to get their annoying loved ones on some kind of medication to take the edge off of jagged personalities. But I’ve never received such a cri de coeur from someone who wants the old sarcastic, unmedicated person back. But as an old, sarcastic, unmedicated person myself I appreciate hearing that not everyone wants a partner who has the buoyant outlook of SpongeBob SquarePants. You’re right, however, that telling your spouse her new cheerfulness has you wanting to get into bed, alone, and pull the covers over your head, is going to be a difficult, even baffling conversation. It’s best if you first broach this in the context of just checking in with her about the grief that propelled her to the therapist’s office. If she’s feeling more acceptance about her mother’s death, you can ask if the therapy has moved on from that to deal with other aspects of her life. This will give you the opportunity to talk about whether she feels the medication is still necessary and why. Depending on how that goes, you can say that you miss the sarcastic take she had on life. Tell her you don’t want to interfere with the treatment plan she has arrived at with her therapist, but as far as you’re concerned, her personality never needed any tweaking.


Dear Prudence: Kinky Mom

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I are both politically liberal, support public radio, donate to the ACLU, and both have gay and lesbian friends. He thinks it’s funny, however, to adopt a stereotypical gay lisp from time to time when telling a story or a joke. I hate it and have told him so every time he does it. I tell him that it sounds bigoted and I don’t want our kids to grow up thinking that making fun of gay people is OK. He says that it’s done in good fun, and the fact that he has gay friends proves he is not prejudiced. Is there any way I can get him to stop, or do I just have to put up with it and try to counteract its effect on my kids with some well-timed lessons on respecting others?

—Looking for Insight

Dear Looking,
Unless your husband is Sacha Baron Cohen, he’s got to drop this act. From the sound of it, being flamboyantly gay is not even germane to the story he’s telling, which makes his adopting this persona all the more uncomfortable for people listening. It used to be that imitating racial or ethnic dialects of a group you didn’t belong to was the height of humor. But the days of Amos ‘n’ Andy are over, and comedian Bill Dana himself killed off his Jose Jimenez character. Given your NPR proclivities, I’m sure your husband has heard that there’s a revolution afoot in the perception of gay and lesbian people. It doesn’t matter how many nonstraight friends your husband has, his humor is going to leave everyone cringing and wondering what subliminal message is he trying to deliver. You obviously can’t stop your husband, but you can tell him you’re not going to be able to rescue him socially when he does it, and that you hope the awkward silence gives him the feedback he needs. As for the kids, if he starts lisping in front of them, you can just shake your head and say, “This is something Dad does that should not be imitated.”


Dear Prudence,
I graduated from college last year and was relieved to find a job. The down side is that it makes me miserable. I’m not learning anything, and I feel I spent so much money on college for nothing. I can’t decide whether to look for something else because on paper it’s a great job and I’m grateful I have it. I come from an impoverished rural area and I earn more than my parents. One of my best friends is moving to New York City this summer, and wants me to go with her. Moving to New York has been my lifelong dream, but I don’t know if I can risk it. I have no financial safety net and hardly any savings. I feel guilty for wanting to chuck something secure, but I also think life is short and that now is the time to try different things out. What should I do?

—Comfortable but Unhappy

Dear Comfortable,
Since you don’t have the kind of exasperated but flush parents who underwrite the adventures of the girls in Girls, I strongly advise you not to take off for one of the most expensive cities in the world with no money and no prospects. Finding yourself sharing a cockroach-ridden studio while you look for a job that won’t even cover your living expenses will have you thinking that life may not be short enough. But that doesn’t mean your destiny is dreary work. Use your current situation as a springboard to a better one. Zero in on cities that have plenty of young people, a lively art and music scene, and lots of places to get coffee—Austin, Baltimore, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, for some examples. Start using online resources to search for jobs. Contact your college’s career office for prospects and for connections to alumni in target cities who work in your field of interest. You are too young to resign yourself to being a frustrated drudge. Adventures await, but consider taking your show on the road before making a debut on one of the world’s biggest stages.


A few weeks ago I ran a letter from a middle-aged adopted woman who, in search of her biological family and medical history, had located her birth mother. The birth mother was distraught to get a phone call from her daughter and wanted no further contact. The letter writer said she was planning to forge ahead and reach out to her half-siblings. She recently wrote back with this update:

One reason for my quest to find my birth mother was because I have a very difficult relationship with my adoptive mother. She herself was abused as a child and was unable to emotionally connect with me. Another reason is that my children and I both have some medical issues for which I was seeking clarity. I can see why readers concluded I was irresponsibly badgering my birth mother. But I didn’t know whether my mother wanted to be found. I didn’t even know if she had received my letters; the only way to find out was to ask. During our one phone call I admitted I was disappointed that she didn’t want to know me, but I acknowledged it was her right. I asked if she would be willing to share any information about medical history, but she kept repeating that I had no right to ask her these questions. I told her that I was sorry to have caused her so much pain, but that I would be very grateful if she would consider sharing information at some point in the future. She told me I was the worst thing that had ever happened to her. I thanked her for speaking with me and hung up.

That was over a year ago. My birth mother seemed unstable when we spoke, and I didn’t want to be the cause of her complete unraveling. So I’ve spent the last year creating fantasies about circumstances that would explain her fearful response to me. This is what adoptees do. We come up with all kinds of ridiculous scenarios to rationalize what is unknown. More recently, I began to resent that after all these years she still views me with shame and horror. What I finally came to realize was that the burden of shame was not mine to carry. I can’t control what she does, I can only control what I do. Shortly after contacting you, I wrote two letters. In the first, I told my birth mother that I respected her choice to not interact with me and said she would not hear from me again. In the second letter, I wrote to the only other person who knew of my existence: my biological uncle. To my surprise, he immediately telephoned. He was cordial and straightforward. He explained that he is estranged from my mother but he felt a responsibility to share medical history along with what he knew about the circumstances of my birth. He offered to send some photos and to write a family history. In 20 minutes, he replaced a lifetime of fantasy with facts, most of them unsavory and quite sad. But there is simply a calmness in knowing, which I’m not sure nonadoptees can understand. Based on the conversation with my uncle, I have no plans to contact my half-brothers who are both estranged from my mother. However, I still plan to keep looking for my biological father.

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