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.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, I look forward to your questions.
Q. Former Mistress’ Son: I am currently in marriage counseling with my wife after she discovered my three-year-long relationship with another woman. After a lot of soul-searching, I truly want to make the marriage work and ended my affair with “Sandy” for good. The problem we have is Sandy’s son, “John.” Sandy has been a single mother most of her life and I am the only father figure he’s known. John and I developed a bond over the years and I feel as though it would be cruel to cut him out of my life because I am no longer in a relationship with his mother. My wife is adamant that she won’t stay in the marriage if I maintain any ties with either John or Sandy. I feel disappointed in her for not having the compassion to see John is the innocent victim here who needs my ongoing support. I’ve previously promised John I would always be a part of his life and I don’t want to go back on that. Shouldn’t my wife be more understanding of a child’s needs?
A: I wonder if you and Sandy thought about how cruel it was to John to lead him to think that all of you were a happy (if strangely occasional) family during the years you were illicitly getting together. So now John is collateral damage. Here’s a rule for cheating: Have sex with your lover, and leave the kids out of it. Instead, Sandy allowed you to be a surrogate father for her son, all the while surely thinking your emotional tie to him would draw you closer to her. You apparently were unable to imagine the likely scenario that your wife would stumble on your secret, and so promised John you would always care for him. Poor John that two such deluded people are his mother and “father.”
Now you say your wife is the villain in this drama because her terms for continuing the marriage include severing all relations with Sandy and her son. You say your wife has no compassion for the boy, so I’ll take your word that she hasn’t expressed sorrow for him and doesn’t seem to care that your disappearance will be a devastating blow. You need to understand that upon discovering the depths of your perfidy, your wife understandably is not feeling that expansive toward Sandy and her child. You don’t mention whether you have children of your own, but if you do, even if they’re grown, she may be more concerned about her own family. But you’re in counseling, and these kinds of dilemmas are what this forum is for. You may have done a lot of soul-searching and realized you would prefer to stay with your wife. But if her terms for repairing your marriage are unacceptable to you, then you’ve got a serious dilemma. I can see both your and her points of view here, and no matter what happens John gets hurt. You seem naive in the extreme if you are planning to have a continuing relationship with John and none with Sandy. But you need to explore in therapy how you do the least damage to John, who is a wholly innocent party. If your wife says any contact at all would end your marriage, then you have to figure out if disappearing forever from John’s life is a condition you’re not willing to meet.
Dear Prudence: Sex Tape of an Ex
Q. Can You Love a Dog Too Much?: My husband and I have been married a little over a year and have lived together for the past three years. We’re in love, get along great, and it’s a no-drama relationship. His behavior toward my (now our) dog puzzles me though. He constantly says how much he loves the dog, looks at pictures of the dog on his phone, and jokes that if we ever divorced, he’d steal the dog from me. I find his attachment to the dog a little odd. Is this just a quirky thing and a sign he’s going to be a great doting dad to our future children? Or should I be concerned of some sort of underlying issue?
A: I’m sure my husband has more pictures of our cavalier on his phone than of me. For one thing, she’s more photogenic. (I know I have more pictures of our spaniel than of my teenage daughter if only because the spaniel lets me take them.) In the evening, when my husband is sprawled out on the couch the dog is usually curled up on his chest and he is murmuring tender endearments to her. He and I joke about who would get her if we ever split. [Note to husband: Me.] Your husband is a petophile, but this is a generally harmless condition, and unless you’re concerned his behavior is pathological, or you’re feeling jealous and you’re sure you’re not being irrational, I would just accept that you’re married to a tender, doting guy.
Q. Sisters!: I have been divorced from my ex for 11 years and we have a hard-won positive relationship and co-parent our two teenage daughters beautifully. He recently called to let me know that he has been dating someone for a month and he wanted me to hear from him who it is. Turns out, it is one of my sister’s close friends. We chatted about what a nice girl the new date is and rang off. I immediately called my sis with the “scoop” (what a small world!) only to have her tell me (begrudgingly) it was she who set them up! She sees no problem at all with this decision. I am flummoxed … especially after she explained that she called the friend to see if it was OK for MY ex to call, and never thought to call me?
A: I agree that your sister should have been the one to give you a heads up. You need to tell her you were hurt to hear this in such a roundabout way and you wish she had told you directly. But I’m wondering what would have happened if she had. If you would have said, “I agree that Samantha and Jeff would hit it off, and you should suggest it,” that’s one thing. If she knew you would have said, “Let me get this straight. You want to fix up Samantha with my ex-husband? That is the most disloyal thing I’ve ever heard,” then you can understand why she didn’t want to tell you. So I’m not clear whether your problem is that she didn’t warn you herself, or she had the audacity to consider your husband an eligible bachelor. If it’s the latter, then I think you should let go of the idea that’s it’s disloyal for your sister to fix him up. I would hope that if you’re still single and someone in your ex-husband’s family thought they had a guy for you, they would feel free to make the introduction.
Q. My Husband IS a Veteran!: In honor of today being Veteran’s Day, I would like your opinion on a very touchy subject in my family. My husband served eight years in the Army Reserves. He was never called to active duty, but came close twice. He prepared as any other soldier would, but was just never called. My husband’s brother was called for duty and did serve overseas. A few years ago, on Veteran’s Day, my mother-in-law decided to thank just my brother-in-law, not her other son. She said that my husband is NOT a veteran. In my opinion, if anyone joins the army and is honorably discharged, they are a veteran. Where do you stand?
A: Thank you for noting it’s Veteran’s Day and that we are all in the debt of our brave men and women who have served.
I just did a quick check and according to this government website, to be considered a veteran one has to have been engaged in active duty, which would make your husband not a veteran. However, this is a ridiculous discussion for a family to be having and a silly grudge for anyone involved to hold onto. If your mother-in-law refuses to thank one son for being in the Reserves for eight years, then as his wife, you should thank him. But if one is thinking today of our veterans, their sacrifice, and the pain many of them and their families will always endure, please let that help put this ridiculous tiff into perspective.
Q. Re: Reservist IS a veteran: All reservists have some active duty—their initial training, and then their “active duty for training” (ACDUTRA) thereafter. The definition of “veteran” changes depending on what VA benefit one is going for. But thanks go to all who sign up, and reservists do. From a veterans’ benefits lawyer for seven years.
A: I agree, thanks to all. I’d quickly looked at a couple of government sites about who is defined as a veteran and they noted a requirement of “active duty.” But thank you for the clarification that while qualifying for benefits may have a narrower definition, everyone who signs up should be honored today.
Q. Re: Petophile: I love it. That sounds exactly like my husband. It’s our dog, we got it when we moved in together, but I’m the one who picked him out. I swear the greatest gift I ever gave my husband was the ability to meet this dog. We have a daughter and we often joke that no one would know we have a kid by the way we fawn over this little guy.
A: But I don’t want to get a letter from your daughter saying “My parents love the dog more than they love me!” Of course, if I did get that letter I’d worry it was written by my daughter. And I would tell her I’d have more pictures of her in my phone if she would just let me take them!
Q. Social Niceties: My sister is very ill, and the hope for meaningful, long-term recovery is questionable at best. The past few days, in particular, have been rough. I know its irrational, but I’m having a hard time responding politely when someone, such as a co-worker or a store clerk, says, “How are you?” or “Have a nice day!” I’m normally a very cheerful person and love to respond enthusiastically to such social niceties, but right now, it is irritating me to no end when someone says such things to me. I know that I am resigned to participate in this mass cultural ritual, so I’m not even sure what my question to you is. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom that would be helpful to me?
A: That clerk or co-worker also may be struggling with something terrible in their personal lives, but for the sake of getting through the day it can help to hold onto the social niceties. You are going through something awful, so don’t beat yourself up over not being able to be your usual cheery self. But you don’t want to explain this to a clerk, so a simple, “I’m hanging in there,” will cover your social obligations. As far as co-workers are concerned, it all depends on how close you are to them and how much you want to talk about. It could be it would be helpful for you to explain to a few people what is going on, and that you just aren’t yourself these days. But once the word spreads, you have to be ready for concerned colleagues to ask you how you are doing or express their sorrow at your sister’s situation.
Q. Re: Veteran husband: I think there’s probably more going on in that family than this letter lets on. The LW’s MIL probably favors the one son over the other, and the nonfavored son’s wife sees it clearly. Splitting hairs over which of her sons is and is not a veteran sounds suspiciously like there’s one standard in that family for the LW’s husband, and one for everyone else.
A: I agree it’s such a strangely invidious comparison that it’s hard to believe this is the sole example. But in any case, the wife should forget about the mother-in-law and honor her husband and all the others who have worn our uniform.
Q. Money Matters: My biological father contacted me some time ago after decades of absence. I sent him a brief bio of my life and some pictures, but otherwise indicated I preferred no contact. He recently responded by apologizing for abandoning me and my mother and explained he was terminally ill. He gave me a large amount of money, saying he wanted to do something to make up for his absence. (I figured it was OK to accept, since I missed out on 15 years’ worth of child support payments.) With the money I managed to purchase a house in an area where I otherwise couldn’t have afforded it. Now my friends and relatives are all curious about how I could pay for a nice home in an expensive suburb. A lot of people assume my mother and stepfather, who are well-off, bought it for me. I don’t want to get into complicated explanations and it’s none of anybody’s business. How can I deflect other people’s curiosity politely?
Q. I agree it was fine to take the money. It’s a lump sum payment that probably doesn’t even make up for his deadbeat years. But that is separate from the fact that you don’t owe anybody any explanation for your financial dealings. When people start snooping, or have the nerve to ask you how you paid for the house, just smile and say, “I feel so fortunate to have it. So, seen any good movies lately?”
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.