Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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. My Husband Tried to Compliment Me by Calling Me an “8”: Am I being too sensitive? My husband and I were reminiscing after a few drinks about the night we met a decade ago. He was telling me about how he told his friend the next day that I was a “solid 8.” I have heard this story before and I was always described as a “9 or 10” until now, and he didn’t understand why I was offended. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m a 10 or anything, but if that version of me, the 20-year-old who hadn’t had any babies yet, has gone downhill in my husband’s eyes, what does he think of me now? I can’t seem to get over it and he just doesn’t get it … How do I make him understand?
A: Being a mother is the most important thing I’ve ever done and I’d rate myself a 7.5. (At this late date—my daughter is 18—it’s unlikely I’ll break an 8.) But I consider that a solid grade. In life, no matter what you’re measuring, few people are 9’s or 10’s (even if everyone thinks they are). And when you’re talking about looks, the number who top out are obviously very few, or else everyone would be on the cover of Vogue or have their mug shot go viral. You are offended by the truth of what your husband said about the night you met. But it sounds to me as if your husband was boasting to his friends about the babe he’d just met. Liquor loosened your husband’s tongue, but his accidental reminiscence is the kind of thing two married people who are still in love would find very funny. If he actually thought you’d dropped to a 1 or 2 at this point, believe me, he wouldn’t even be recalling this story. I bet your husband thought you looked great then, and still look great now. And if you can laugh this off, he will be so grateful.
Q. My Daughter Is NOT Gay: My daughter is a beautiful, successful woman now in her mid-20s. A few weeks ago, she tried to come out to me as bisexual, and I refuse to believe it. I honestly feel like she set herself up to be labeled this way. She had a gay friend in high school, was part of the “Gay Straight Alliance,” and has expressed sympathy for the issues homosexuals have to deal with. I’ve always told her it will either end up rubbing off on her, or she’ll be pressured into living the lifestyle as well. My daughter is straight! She’s always dated men, and experienced long-term relationships with men. I told her that I believe she shouldn’t broadcast this kind of thing to the world because, whether any of us like it or not, she’ll be perceived differently. She didn’t become angry, but she did close off from me in a way, becoming very distant. How can I tell her that she needs to take a step back and look at herself for what she is—a STRAIGHT woman being influenced by the homosexual lifestyle?
A: Rubbing up against people of the same gender does not make one gay or bisexual. It’s the desire to do the rubbing that’s key. I hear your protests, Mom, and I doth say they’re too much. Announcing in all caps, even all caps, italic, and bold, that your daughter is straight will not make it so if that’s not her orientation. Your anxiety and insistence have only had the effect of driving her away. If you want to permanently lose any sense of intimacy with her, keep on this path. But if you want to restore a loving and open relationship, then apologize. Explain to her that you’ve been thinking about your reaction and you realize part of it is because you’re from a different generation and have been responding out of the kind of fear that would have been more appropriate for a time that is now blessedly passing. Say you love her and you’re going to work on yourself so that you can be happy about whomever she loves.
Q. Fetish: I am a married twentysomething man with no children. Over the past couple years, I have become increasingly enthralled by a fetish I haven’t had the guts to share with my wife; I enjoy buying and handling women’s panties. I do not wear them. I just keep them hidden in the house, taking them out when my wife is away on business or out with friends. The guilt I feel from hiding this from my wife is confusing me. I know she would be crushed if I came out and told her that I had been hiding this interest of mine from her. I also don’t want her to think sex or being with her is unfulfilling for me (we have sex 4 to 5 times a month and I love it). My wife’s panties don’t do anything for me though sadly. The forbidden fruit factor, the mystery of getting someone else’s panties excites me. How would I possibly come clean about this to my wife? Should I really feel so raw about it? I’m really in a knot.
A: Even married people deserve a zone of privacy. I think that if people have thoughts or desires that they don’t act on, and which would be disturbing for a spouse to hear, it’s kinder just to keep them to yourself. But you don’t just fantasize about other women’s panties, you are now collecting them. So it seems that your internal debate is whether your wife would be more crushed to find out you are withholding crucial information about yourself, or to find out that you have a panty fetish (with the added fillip that hers leave you cold). You know your wife and your relationship, so this is for you to weigh. If you simply shove a few thongs in a manila envelope, play with them when she’s not home, and then stick them in the back of a drawer, that seems fine. (Of course if she ever discovers them, she’ll probably think they’re trophies and you’re cheating.) What concerns me is that you describe yourself as “increasingly enthralled” by the panties. If this is taking over your erotic life, that’s a more significant issue. Additionally, it’s fine if you’re a shopper at the women’s undergarment section of the department store. What’s not fine would be if you feel the need to snatch a few of these items from the hamper when visiting friends. Some people would encourage you to be open about this aspect of yourself and even see if you can incorporate this into your sex life with your wife. But there is another side of this, and that is that when a spouse not only isn’t interested in the fetish, but finds that it is a libido killer. I can tell you that I simply wouldn’t want to know this about my husband and would appreciate that he has known me well enough to keep his panties to himself.
Q. Re: Being a mother is the most important thing I’ve ever done: So, what does that statement really mean? That women who never have children will never do anything really important because there is nothing more important than having your own child or that you lead a particular self-involved life where you put all your efforts into a child simply because she’s yours? In case you can’t tell, I hate statements like that.
A: Thanks for this so I can clarify that I absolutely don’t mean that people who don’t have children haven’t done anything important. I have written that I came late, and even reluctantly to motherhood. I do not feel that my life had no value before and now does simply because I had a child. Fortunately, we now live in a world in which when women become mothers that is not the sole way they define themselves. What I was describing was my feeling about what raising a child has meant to me. I actually don’t think that the mark of a good mother is focusing all your energy and efforts into your offspring. Recognizing you’re separate people is crucial to being a good parent.
Q. Gossip Too Much: I’m a happily married newlywed who may have gossiped a bit too much. On a girls’ night out before my wedding my two best friends were asking about my sex life with my husband-to-be. It might have been immature, but I told them that he was very well endowed. I thought it was just innocent fun to share that, but they have since made repeated comments and even look at his clothed crotch and make comments. They only say these things in private, but it still makes me feel awkward. Is this normal gossip among girlfriends or am I right to be frustrated with them?
A: You raised the issue of his package, and now they’re hung up on how hung he is. Sure you’re regretting what you said because they’re making it a running joke. There is no hard rule about what’s acceptable bedroom talk among friends. Some people would say what goes on in the bedroom is sacrosanct. But friends can be a good resource for advice and recommendations about sex. The key is respecting the privacy and dignity of your partner—even while enjoying some ribald talk. Instead of going on the attack with your friends, retreat. Have another girls’ night out, and explain that you’re regretting having blabbed about your husband’s endowment. Explain you really don’t want this to be a source of humor and gossip among you. Say that you’re all such good friends, you know that they will understand you made a mistake and that they will put a lid on this.
Q. Re: My daughter is NOT gay: Sounds to me like your daughter has been trying to come out to you for quite some time … better start listening and accepting before you lose her for good!
Q. Gay Spouse: I was until recently a happily married woman. My husband and I have a great relationship, and I never had a reason to doubt his character or even get angry with him. That all changed when an acquaintance from college got in touch out of the blue. This man, “Dylan,” told me my husband is gay and they had an on-and-off relationship for three years including when he was starting to date me. He brought letters written by my husband and it’s obvious that they were romantically involved. In one of the letters he says he never once felt attraction to women and he wanted to have a life with Dylan. I confronted my husband and while he admitted to all this, he said he loves me and he “isn’t gay anymore.” I don’t understand how someone can just be “un-gay,” but his involvement with Dylan is also in total contrast to the loyal and loving man I’ve known in the last decade. Please help.
A: Before you married, your husband needed to tell you that when you two met, he was getting out of a relationship with a guy named Dylan. Then you two would have been able to have a full and open discussion about his sexuality. It turns out that Dylan is a nasty piece of work, because showing up a decade later with the express purpose of undermining your marriage is cruel and gratuitous. The only possible justification would be if Dylan was back in your husband’s life as a romantic partner—or he knows that your husband is continuing to see men—but that does not appear to be the case. What your husband owes you now is an apology for withholding this and having that overdue discussion. I understand your confusion, but sexuality is on a continuum. Your husband’s experience may be that after experimenting with homosexuality, he indeed felt a greater desire to be in a committed heterosexual relationship with you. You have 10 years of evidence to back up that version of events. Don’t let this ghost from the past destroy your happiness. Perhaps it will be a relief to your husband to be more honest with you about a part of his life he’s fearfully hidden.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks so much everyone. Talk to you next week.
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