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 email@example.com.)
Q. Is This Cheating?: I have been mostly happily married for 13 years. My husband and I get along really well, and I love him very much. That being said, he is not the most affectionate person anymore. We used to cuddle a lot when we were first married and I have told him how much I miss it. He says he doesn’t enjoy it because it’s too hot. He’ll make an effort to snuggle while watching TV sometimes if I ask, but I can tell while we’re doing it that he is counting the minutes until he can stop. About a month ago, I was having a very bad day at work and a male co-worker/friend told me I looked like I could use a hug. Prudie, I did need a hug and he gave me one and I started crying because I couldn’t remember the last time I had received nonsexual affection from someone without begging. My co-worker asked why I was crying and when I told him he said he loved his wife very much, but she wasn’t affectionate either and he knew exactly how I was feeling. Since that day we’ve been meeting in his or my office after work a couple of times a week to hug each other. And that’s all we do—there is no groping or kissing or even talking going on, we just hold each other for five to 10 minutes and then we go home. I like having a hug buddy and I’ve found my relationship with my husband is actually getting stronger because I am not so needy for affection from him. Of course, I have not told him about hugging my co-worker and I’m sure if I did he’d be upset, but I don’t feel like what I’m doing is cheating. Is it?
A: Ah, Hug Buddies! Forget whether this is cheating, I see the possibility for a fantastic franchise opportunity ahead. Unless you are married to someone who is insanely jealous over totally normal interactions with members of the opposite sex, a good rule of thumb about cheating is that if you wonder about the propriety of what you’re doing, and if you know your spouse would object, then you’ve entered dangerous territory. Additionally, your after-hours body contact at the office may be therapeutic for the two of you, but you have the makings of a Feydeau-esque farce when someone walks in to discuss the quarterly sales figures. Of course, if you decide to take the hugs off-premises, you know it won’t be long before you realize neither of you get kissed very often by your spouses, and you’ll add that to the repertoire. Then it will be a short trip to horizontal affection and you two can be buddies of a more vernacular sort. The fact that you have found such release and comfort from your colleague’s hug tells you what a trough your marriage has fallen into. Your husband’s excuse for not touching you is that it’s too hot. Unless you live in a tropical climate and the air conditioner is broken, this explanation is absurd. You don’t need to tell your husband about your hug buddy, although I think you need to let go of said buddy. You need to address something that’s become a crisis in your marriage. Tell your husband you are withering from a lack of affection. It would be one thing if you married someone who couldn’t stand touching you, but when you got together there was plenty of nonsexual touching. Say that if he won’t go to a counselor with you, you’ll go alone, because while you love him very much, you feel he’s set you adrift.
Dear Prudence Live in New York: Prudie’s Toughest Question
Q. They Can Ask, but I Don’t Want to Give All the Info!: I have a scar going across the right side of my face. It starts just beside my right eye and goes down to near the end of my nose. Now, after some cosmetic work, it’s not terribly ugly or gnarly at all, but it is there. I do not mind so much having people ask me where it came from, I’d much rather they ask than be stared at. Unfortunately, the nature of my scar is tragic … and it often causes a whole lot of awkwardness and even more probing questions, ones that I am less comfortable with. The scar came from my mother, who got drunk one night when I was 7 years old, and broke a wine glass across my face. Usually I say something like “Oh, a childhood injury,” but more often than not that leads to the question “Now that’s got to be a great story! What happened!?” Is there an explanation that I can give that won’t give away too much info, but will make it clear the topic isn’t up for discussion anymore?
A: Oh, my heart lurched when I read how this happened. I hope that your mother got the help she needed and spent the rest of her life trying to repair her relationship with you. This reminds me of Tina Fey’s facial scar. She refused to talk about it for years, but finally the pressure got so great she explained that she was attacked by a stranger when she was a little girl. I can totally understand that your story is one you simply do not want to tell, except to those closest to you. You need to be able to deflect people without going into details. I think this is one of those cases in which a little altering of the truth is perfectly justified. You can say something to the effect that when you were very little you were engaged in horse play and unfortunately a glass was nearby. Then if you’re pressed you can close down the subject out by saying that the whole thing was a traumatic, bloody mess and you’d rather not relive it.
Q. Friend’s Husband Implying the Worst: About six months ago, a family moved into the house next door. I became good friends with the mother, as we both have boys the same age and got to know each other as the kids played together. We were talking one afternoon about our pre-husband days, and I let slip I had dated girls in the past. She shrugged it off as no big deal, but her husband overheard and now apparently thinks I’m after his wife. He will make snide remarks to her implying that she is cheating on him with me, he gets defensive when she and I do normal friend things for each other, and I’m afraid of losing my friend to the pressure he’s putting on her. Nothing untoward has ever happened, nor will it, and frankly we are both getting offended at his implications, but he brushes her off when she tries to explain or tell him how much it bothers her. I know he’s the one with the problem, but is there some way I could seem less threatening without cutting all contact?
A: Let’s see, to convince this guy that you’re not going to steal away his wife, you could come on to him! It is amazing how when insecure people see a threat to their marriage they manage to turn themselves into the most unappealing partners possible. I wish that instead of trying to mollify him, that you and your friend would start slowly rubbing sun block on each other or tenderly painting each other’s toenails. But you’re right, that your friend is married to this guy is her problem and there’s nothing you can do. So just be your friendly, normal self. But do prepared if your friend starts getting busy with activities or arranging other play dates for her son to which yours is not invited. It may be that distancing herself from you will be a concession she feels it is necessary to make in order to mollify the jerk she married.
Q. Heartbreak, USA: I am considering having a child with my married ex-boyfriend. We recently reconnected and have spent time together, without things going too far. I still love him and he claims he never stopped loving me. After our breakup I cut all ties, but knew of the marriage through mutual friends. After seven years, he sought me out. It was great catching up with him because I really missed our friendship. I don’t want to cause issues in his current relationship. However, my clock is ticking and he is the only man I’ve ever considered being a parent with. I’m getting older and I’m in a great place with my career and finances. I date, but no one seriously. I want to start a family, and I know my ex will be a great dad. If he agrees to start a family with me, I am even willing to keep the baby’s paternity a secret. I know this is inappropriate, but it doesn’t necessarily feel “wrong.” How out of line would it be to bring this up with him?
A: If this is your idea of a good idea, then you’re not ready to be a parent. Not only should you not be considering him as a sperm donor, you should stop seeing him. Unless you’re interested in opening a franchise of Hug Buddies, you know exactly where this reconnecting is going. If this guy is unhappy in his marriage, let him leave his wife, then you two can start actually dating. If you want to become a single mother, then you need to do some serious planning and thinking. One of the things you have to think through is that it’s simply not fair to a child to say, “Sorry, the identity of your Daddy is a secret.”
Q. Perpetually Late Parents: My in-laws, with whom I have a generally decent relationship, are late to everything, most recently by a good hour and 15 minutes to a small birthday gathering we had for my husband’s birthday (they live 15 minutes away). They rarely apologize for being late, and seem to assume we’ll just wait for them, which we do, to my quickly growing resentment. They have always been like this, but I no longer feel like we should accommodate their behavior. Is it worth the potential kerfuffle to start going ahead with planned activities, latecomers be damned? I’m happy to give a 20–30 minute window, but otherwise I feel that decades more of this will put me in the loony bin.
A: I grew up with parents like this (the Thanksgiving stuffing was cold and congealed by the time we showed up at my grandmother’s for the meal) and I still struggle with tardiness. But at least I know I’m in the wrong. You need to get your husband on your side, where I hope he will be, and then you need to proceed with whatever the event is and let the in-laws show up whenever they like. If they come when everyone is eating dessert, pleasantly ask if they would like a plate of dinner or if they’d rather just join everyone for cake. If they get offended, don’t rise to the bait, just explain that you had to go ahead with the meal when it became clear they were tied up. Either they will improve, or they will miss everything. But you won’t be forced to kowtow to their rudeness.
Q. Divorce, H.S. Reunions: I married my high school sweetheart shortly after we graduated from college. Two years ago he asked for a divorce, and I subsequently discovered he had impregnated and wanted to marry another woman. It was awful. Now our high school reunion is coming up. I would like to go. But while many of my friends from high school knew my ex-husband and I married, I don’t think many of them know we divorced. I’m not sure how to field questions about how he is or (God forbid) why we divorced. There is also a possibility I will see my ex-husband and his new wife at the reunion. I have no desire to cause a scene or confront him, but it would be painful to see them together. Part of me thinks I should forget about the reunion, but it seems foolish to not attend an event I want to because he might be there. Do you have any advice about how to navigate this situation?
A: You first go to the store and get a killer dress, then you RSVP that you’re coming and commit yourself to having a great time. Maybe you get in touch with an old friend and arrange to travel together, just so you have a pal to lean on. There is nothing you have to explain beyond the simple facts that yours was a high school romance that bit the dust and your ex is now remarried. It’s such a common story that when you deliver it in a matter-of-fact way it shouldn’t get anything more than a “Sorry it didn’t work out.” As for running into this pair, all you have to do is nod to them, and silently be grateful you’ve got this cad out of your life.
Q. Precious Future SIL: My brother recently announced his engagement to “Sally,” a woman he has been dating for three years. Sally is very nice and seems to make my brother happy. However, she is a bit … precious. She will correct any adult who uses a swear word; during discussions of R-rated movies she says things like, “Isn’t is a shame people think the only way to tell a story is through bad language, sex, and violence?”; and she refuses to discuss any current events that are not feel-good news stories. My husband and I are careful not to offend her, but honestly, it is hard for me to think about being that careful at every family gathering for the rest of my life. I had lunch with my brother this week and gently brought up that his fiancée is a bit on the sensitive side. He said all of her preferences of entertainment (Disney/Pixar movies, the very occasional romantic comedy) and choice of hobbies (heavy on the arts-and-crafts) are geared toward very innocent things. My brother said that he loves her despite this. How can I learn to curb my language and conversation? Also: Is there any hope she will come around to the Dark Side?
A: It is not your job to keep Sally from getting the vapors. Sure, try not to use obscenities in front of her, but that’s just basic good manners at social events. Otherwise, carry on. Let’s hope Sally doesn’t cover her ears and go, “Nah, nah, nah, can’t hear you,” when you discuss Game of Thrones or Syria. And surely any conversation will eventually turn to more anodyne topics. But if she can’t stand adult topics, then she should hang out at the kids’ table.
Q. Re: Heartbreak, USA: How can she simultaneously say he would be a great dad and then say she’s willing to keep his identity a secret? You’re right—people with thinking that is this messed up should not be parents.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. I will be off next Monday, so talk to you in two weeks.
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