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. Wishing Death Upon an Ex: I recently ended a relationship after a year, after I found out that my ex was cheating on me, via Facebook. He woke up in my bed and fell asleep in hers. I was out shopping for his Christmas present at the time he was taking her on a date. She knew he had a girlfriend and did not care. I was blindsided. I have been cheated on before and ended many relationships, but for some reason I am still feeling angry about this four months later. I find myself daily wishing he would die a slow painful death or drink himself to death. I have never felt such hate in my life toward someone and it scares me. I know lots of people joke about this, but I am not joking. I don’t want to harm him, I just hope something really horrible happens to make him suffer. I am a good person, I volunteer, have good friends, and have never had feelings like this before and I feel horribly guilty. How can I move past this, or is this normal?
A: Sure, I’ve imagined a piano falling on the guy’s head. But then, like you, I realized that would be too quick and hoped for a slow-acting poison. Almost anyone who’s loved then said, “Get lost,” has been there. You perhaps are having a harder time dealing with this breakup because you maybe thought this time you’d get off the dating merry-go-round. Stop feeling guilty. You haven’t hired a hit man, your brain is just pulling a Dexter on a deserving creep. Perversely, the more you try to shame yourself about the anger, the more intense it becomes. I think once you accept that it’s fine you have nothing but bad wishes for your ex, it may actually loosen the grip of your obsession. And I have a reading suggestion for you: Start reading Gone Girl tonight.
Q. Unmotivated Boyfriend: I left an unhappy 15-year marriage to a man who made me miserable for a man who adores me. In the two years since, I have worked out a great custody arrangement with my ex, been promoted at work, and bought a house on my own. I am still with the man I left my husband for, and we are happy … except for one thing. He is unemployed and seems to have no desire to change that. I have not been too concerned because the job market is tough, and he has made a little pocket money pet-sitting and tutoring. He also handles a lot of household chores. I can make ends meet on my own (though things are tight), but he lives with me and contributes virtually nothing. He goes to bed late and sleeps late. He does not seem to think finding a job is a priority, but what can I do? I feel so lucky to have a man who is into me, finally! My best friend is aghast at the situation and says I am being taken advantage of. Am I?
A: So you left a louse for a leech. It’s one thing if you have a demanding job and make enough money so that you would be happy with a partner who didn’t work and could run the household. It’s another if in exchange for being treated nicely and having sex, you are supporting someone who lives like a teenager who’s on suspension from high school. You’re right, there’s really nothing you can do about your boyfriend’s lack of desire to be gainfully employed. Frankly, if he’s a skillful tutor and has a way with dogs, he could be applying himself to these enterprises and making more than pocket money. But it sounds as if he just prefers hanging out. But you are only being taken advantage of if you start looking at your situation from the vantage point of your friend and end up agreeing with her. If all you want in a guy is someone who’s nice to you, then tell your friend that he may not be working, but the relationship is working for you.
Q. Age Gap: I am a 20-year-old female student in a current relationship with a successful 46-year-old male. We are very much in love and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. With this being said, I sometimes feel like I’m not good enough for him. I’m still in college getting my life started and he’s already been through this stage and is making his living. I feel when he goes on his trips to give his “talks” to big companies that he’s going to find someone more equal or on his level. He says that our connection is too strong for him to go anywhere and that he’s never felt this love with anyone before. How can I know this whole thing isn’t me just kidding myself?
A: Since you’re in college, take a statistics class and run some regressions on how much life you would have left to live without him if you ended up marrying someone 26 years your senior. You’re 20, so it’s perfectly understandable you’ve never felt this way before. He’s 46, so I’m guessing he’s felt this way before lots, only he’s enjoying regressing to a more juvenile state where it seems appropriate for a middle-aged professional to be dating someone who lives in a dormitory. Despite your great love that will last forever, you feel insecure and self-conscious with him. That’s not a good sign. It’s one thing to have a fling with an older guy and learn some new moves in bed. It’s another to plan your life with someone who’s your parents’ age. So I’m going to speak for your parents and tell you you’re kidding yourself. You’re not even very happy with this guy. Break up and start seeing the promise in the boys your age who like you are just trying to figure things out.
Q. Re: Unmotivated Boyfriend: If Unmotivated Boyfriend is doing the housework, then he is not unemployed—he is a househusband. What’s wrong with that? A lot of working women would like to have that kind of support. I have a lot of working friends with husbands at home and I think they’re lucky.
A: He’s not her husband, and this isn’t something they’ve discussed and agreed to. He’s a boyfriend who kind of does some stuff around the house and otherwise is not interested in being economically independent or even contributing to his room and board.
Q. Relationships: My boyfriend of four years and I are breaking up after a rather bitter relationship. At the worst part of the relationship, he cheated on me with someone he used to date in college. He says, and I believe, that he thought it was a mistake. Upon my request, he let her know that I’d found out and that he would not communicate with or see her anymore. She works for a corporation with a household name, and I viewed their ethics policy online. It states that members of the public and employees of the corporation can and should report any unethical use of corporation resources. There is no “statute of limitations” and it can be done anonymously. My ex-boyfriend said that he did not want me to inform the corporation that she had used the company hotel suite and comp account to carry on an affair—she paid for his drinks and his parking—because that would “bring her back into our lives.” (She had threatened to press harassment charges against me if I contacted her.) Can I file an anonymous complaint with her employer?
A: The statute of limitations has expired on your relationship, and you should seek to have it expire on the way you deal with the world. By your own account you had a four-year bitterness fest. It was punctuated by your boyfriend seeking more pleasurable company elsewhere. What you do now is look inward and try to understand your role in this unhappiness and address that. It’s one thing, like the letter writer above, to have understandable fantasies about the grisly end of someone who broke your heart. It’s another to actually try to damage the career of a bit player in your life. Note that your boyfriend’s paramour has threatened to press harassment charges against you. I’m imagining that didn’t come out of the blue, but it’s because you see other people as the source of your distress. Get some help so that you don’t continue to go seething through life.
Q. Supporting Mother-in-Law: My husband and I have recently been asked by his brother to help support their mother with a monthly amount of money. The amount is fine, but I am having a hard time not being annoyed that I know the money is going to go to cigarettes and not necessarily toward bills. I think it would also be helpful for us to provide a smoke-cessation aid to improve her health and also cut her cost of living, but I’m not crazy. I know that there isn’t a good way to broach this subject as the daughter-in-law. Do you think we just send the money no questions asked and hope for the best that she uses it wisely and that the amount doesn’t creep up? She is married to a heavy-smoker who is in failing health and both are retirement age but bereft of any savings or retirement plan.
A: A monthly stipend for nicotine does not sound like a useful way to address your in-laws’ financial troubles. Your husband and his brother have to have some serious talks with each other, and eventually with mom, because what happens to her and her husband has to be addressed now. You don’t want to wait until mom and stepdad show up on your doorstep with their possessions and a case of Marlboros. However, if you’re willing to help out now, do not send cash. Pick a bill (or bills) that has to be paid monthly and do it as an autopay from your end. Then at least you know no matter how much they smoke, they won’t be doing it in the dark.
Q. Re: Wishing Death on an Ex: Honey, all of us who’ve been cheated on are in the same boat. My solution was to bake bread: The recipe I used required lots of kneading—and boy, did I knead that stuff! (I even slammed it into the clean wall.) I had the lightest, fluffiest bread in town …
A: I love this, and what an idea for a bakery. You could advertise the guaranteed fluffiest bread kneaded by the most pissed off bakers in town!
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.