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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q: What Should I Do With My Late Husband’s Sperm?: I met and married my husband when I was 21 years old and he was 41. Our marriage has been ridiculously wonderful for five years. Then my husband died unexpectedly. It has been almost a year since he passed. I am still close with my late husband’s mother, and because he was an only child who had no children, I know one of her griefs is that she will never have grandchildren. What almost no one but me knows is that before he died, my husband decided to deposit some sperm at a local fertility clinic. We wanted to wait to have children, but he was concerned about how the quality of his sperm would decline as he aged. The sperm is now mine to do with as I will, and I am only now getting around to deciding what to do with it. Though I am financially equipped to be a mother, I do not want to artificially inseminate myself. I do not know if I could handle raising our child without him. I also believe I will be ready to date again in another year, though I hate myself for feeling this way. I feel horrible for caring more about my future than continuing my husband’s family. And I know my mother-in-law would thrive as a grandmother. Can you offer me any advice, please?
A: What a wrenching conundrum, a moral and emotional dilemma only made possible by assisted technology. You are a kind and decent person to be so concerned about your mother-in-law. As guilty as you may feel about the stirrings of desire to go back into the world, to find new love, you are aware that your husband’s mother will never get over his loss, one that is compounded by the fact that he left no children. I hope you have seen a grief counselor, or joined a support group for young widows and widowers, because that will help you deal with your guilt, which is entirely normal, but which should not disable you or prevent you from starting to date. But if you read over your letter, you will see that you are only considering using the sperm to bring consolation to your late husband’s mother, not because you want to bear your husband’s posthumous child. You have written nothing that says you long for this child; just the opposite. Fortunately, you are the only person who knows that this is even a possibility—it’s good that you and your husband never told his mother about this biological insurance policy. You must live the life you choose, and if that means keeping this secret forever, do so in good conscience.
Q. Carpool: I have a senior co-worker who lives down the road from me. Three weeks ago we decided to carpool. I thought it was a great idea to save money, until I got stuck in the car with him for two hours a day. Every day I go to and come back from work listening to “a thousand reasons why my wife is awful.” He repeats the same stories and complaints. I tried changing the subject and politely telling him I like to “wind down” quietly during the car ride, but nothing helps. I’m thinking whatever money I save from carpooling is probably going to be spent on treating a chronic migraine. While he’s not my direct manager, he has some say over future project opportunities so I don’t want to make him angry (especially since I’ve discovered he holds grudges from 10 years back). What is a diplomatic way of saying “We can’t carpool anymore because you’re a bitter, whiny jerk”?
A: I have found carpool dilemmas come in two general varieties. 1) I think my spouse is falling in love with the co-worker he or she rides with every day; 2) I think I’m going to kill the co-worker I stupidly agreed to carpool with. It’s your car, and you get to set the rules of the road. So get a book on tape, preferably one that you think he would hate, and tell him you need to catch up with your reading. I love Philip Glass music, and if you do, too, that might be another alternative, because not everyone does and it could possibly impel your colleague to open the door and roll onto the shoulder of the highway. Tell him you simply can’t concentrate on driving while carrying on a conversation, so you two will have to be entertained by the media of your choice. If that shuts him up, all is well. If it doesn’t, you just have to politely tell this grudge-holding jerk (and surely everyone at work knows this about him) that you need silence in order to deal with the commute, and ride sharing is just not for you.
Q. Need Intimacy: My spouse has been ill for the past five years. We have not been intimate for at least a year, but I have not really been keeping track. He is currently in hospice care, the doctor says he has about six months, possibly less. I see him daily and support him however I can. The latest developments are that he is practically comatose, sleeping most of the day and night. When he does wake up he is confused, mumbles and then goes back to sleep. I feel like I’ve already lost him. I met a very nice guy about a year ago and we just talked occasionally. About two weeks ago we met for dinner and kissed. Then this week we did the same thing again. We are both in our 50s. I really want to be intimate with him. It’s all I can think about. I tell myself that my spouse would understand. Who knows? Please give me some clarity.
A: If the situation were reversed, you would want your husband to have this opportunity for affection and intimacy, wouldn’t you? You know your husband better than anyone, and I’m betting that if he were physically capable of granting you your emotional freedom, he would. You have been a loving, supportive, and faithful spouse and stood by your husband through a long, grueling illness. You are right that the man you married is gone, and you are now waiting for his physical end. It sounds contradictory, but I think you can continue to be a good wife, while also pursuing the chance for a fun, even longer term happiness with another man. Please go forth without guilt.
Q. MIL Secret: My MIL confided to me that she gave a child up for adoption. This child was the issue of a relationship with a married man who she later went on to marry. The only people aware of this are now deceased. The child, now an adult has reached out to my MIL via a search agency to build a relationship. My MIL has declined and will no longer discuss the issue. She only told me because she had a health scare and in the event of her death, should we find paperwork, she wanted someone to know. My husband knows nothing about this. I wish I didn’t either, frankly. My husband did not have a great childhood and my MIL is a very different person than she was in her younger years, and I think they have all made peace with the past. I do not keep secrets from my spouse but I don’t know that this is my information to share. Do I tell him, do I tell her to tell him, or do I let this go? I am not looking to force her to reconnect. As much as I wish this could happen, I do not think her health can withstand the stress and she has firmly made her decision. I care deeply for this woman and as much as I have my own strong opinions about the person trying to reconnect, I have to respect her wishes … Don’t I?
A: I don’t think your mother-in-law gets to unilaterally tell you her life’s deepest, darkest secret—one that would have an enormous impact on her son—and then say now that she’s gotten it off her chest, you just have to bear the burden. I understand that some people, particularly of another generation, thought that placing a child for adoption was something final, the knowledge of which would never be revealed. But laws and mores have changed, and anyone who placed a baby must deal with the possibility of the grown child wanting to know their biological origin. I do think the parent is entitled to decline this request. But your mother-in-law is not entitled to make decisions for every adult in her orbit. Your husband might well want to know his sibling. You need to tell her you appreciate she was able to confide in you, but you simply cannot keep this from your husband. Then it is her choice whether to tell him herself, or tell you to go ahead and spill. It is so much better that this comes out now while she is still around to answer questions. It would have been cruel to insert this bomb into her will.
Q. Re: Carpool: I know plenty of people who had to end their perfectly agreeable carpool arrangements when either one person’s schedule changed, or when one person needed a car to him/herself on the other person’s day to drive. I expect it’s a common enough thing that he wouldn’t even question it. In other words: Make something up, OP. Either you’ve got to work late/get in early, or you need to run errands after work that make it impractical for him to tag along.
A: I thought of the letter writer saying that, but the problem is that then the letter writer has to stay late or leave early repeatedly because this guy sounds like the kind of jerk who would keep tabs. She could also say she’s started taking an Italian class after work that is in the opposite direction. But again, he sounds like the kind of person who would then walk by her house and note her car in the driveway. They’ve only been in the arrangement for a few weeks, so the sooner she ends it, the less drama there will be.
Q. Cheerleading: Our daughter-in-law enrolled her very active 5-year-old in a cheerleading group for healthy exercise and to learn teamwork. Now our granddaughter is the “flyer,” the little girl who is at the top of the pyramid in the tumbling routines. We feel this is dangerous. No matter how careful and talented our granddaughter is, one of the other 5- and 6-year-old girls could drop her and cause serious damage, like a broken neck! When we brought this up, the mom became very defensive and now she and our son are not speaking to us. Our daughter-in-law is, by the way, a registered nurse and was a cheerleader in high school. Is this child abuse? Are we out of line?
A: If you’re asking if it is child abuse to enroll a child in an activity that presumably is licensed by the state, you need to reexamine your approach to dealing with your son and daughter-in-law. Being hysterical will only get you a hysterical response in return. Like you, I would shudder to watch tiny kids throw each other around, but you are not the parents. However, it would be best if you were speaking to the parents, so you need a rapprochement with your offspring, so apologizing for going over the top would be a good start. In the meantime, without saying who you are or that your grandchild is enrolled, you could contact this cheerleading school, or another one, and say you are interested in this activity, but want to hear about how they handle safety. Maybe that will give you enough assurance to sleep nights.
Q. Kitty No-No: I live in an apartment in a mid-sized city with my boyfriend. When we first moved in there was a black cat that would come around every so often that was very friendly. She loves being petted. I just assumed she belonged to one of the neighbors. Then we didn’t see her the whole winter, which was very long and harsh. A few weeks ago she started coming around again, but this time much more often. She got into the house a few times that we left the door open, thus earning the name Kitty No-No. After that she started trying to get into the house whenever one of us comes home and appears to have chosen us as her new owners. We both love cats and do not mind taking in a friendly stray cat, if she is in fact a stray. She has no collar and is missing her front teeth, which leads me to believe she may be a pet that someone left behind. I want to take her to the vet and see if she has an ID chip and also to make sure she is healthy. I would also like to get her spayed if she isn’t already. As of right now she spends most of the day in or around our apartment and even greets me at the car when I come home from work everyday. Our lease is up in August and we will probably be moving. I would love to take her with us, but I don’t want to steal someone’s pet. What do you think we should do?
A: Take a picture of Ms. No-No, and paper the neighborhood with a flyer asking: “Is This Your Cat?” Mention her toothlessness to discourage people who may be interested in a free pet. If you don’t hear anything in a few days, then take her to the vet and get her checked out. Obviously, if she has a chip, you need to try to contact the actual owners. But if she seems to have adopted you, and no one steps up to claim her, then Kitty No-No appears to have said Yes-Yes to a new life.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. I look forward to talking to you next week.
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