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. Husband’s Crude Humor: My husband thinks it’s acceptable to make crude jokes in my presence: Farting at the dinner table, jokes about women’s rear ends as we drive by them on the street, jokes about female masturbation, crude references to his and my body parts. I hate crude humor and think it’s a turn-off. He did not act this way when we were dating. Now that we’re married, it happens several times a week. When I tell him it bothers me, he says a) that he was “just joking,” b) that he would never say those things around other people, and c) that I’m being too sensitive. I’ve asked him to save these jokes for when he’s hanging out with his brother or guy friends, but they haven’t stopped. Help!
A: I’ve really got to stop writing letters to myself! My marriage would be a desolation without crude humor and farts. (I’d say fart jokes, but the fart is the joke.) However, everyone has their tolerance for this, and your husband has exceeded yours. I do think that once you’re married it’s unfair to expect spouses to hold their gas the way they did while dating. But vowing till death do you part does not give one carte blanche for farting at the dining room table. You’ve told your husband he has exceeded your tolerance, so now act. If he farts at the table at home, pick up your plate and say you’ll be eating in the kitchen. Tell him that his comments on women’s rear ends, etc., make you feel like you’re party to a bait and switch. Explain you’ve always disliked guys who talk that way, and it’s unfair that he hid this aspect of himself from you, but now he needs to go back to keeping the crude remarks under wraps. If he makes one of these jokes, stony silence is the best response. However, you don’t want to take a totally prudish stance on all bodily commentary. Maybe you can consider loosening up when it comes to describing each other’s body parts and how you plan to use them.
Q. Fantasized About Ex During Sex With BF: You often advocate for people in relationships to fantasize in their sexual experiences with their significant others as a way to keep sex exciting and reduce infidelity. A couple of nights ago I was having sex with my BF and started thinking about my ex, who I haven’t seen in over five years. I orgasmed thinking about him, but had to turn away from my BF because I felt so overwhelmed by the fantasy. What are your thought on this? I feel really confused and am not looking forward to having sex with my BF if something like this happens again. My BF and I have a decent sex life, but I don’t know how to feel now that this fantasy has shaken me up.
A: So you ran a private movie in your head that vastly improved the sex with your boyfriend and now you want to stop having sex with him. I really am confused. I hear from lots of women who sadly just don’t get much pleasure from sex. Yes, I encourage them to fantasize, but they seem to lack that internal erotic ability. But luckily, you’ve got it. It’s possible that that you felt you needed to retreat into a fantasy because the previous boyfriend was better at turning you on. “A decent sex life” is hardly a ringing endorsement. So if there are things you want your boyfriend to do, start instructing. You can say your sex life is really satisfying, and it would be even better if you experimented with positions, or had more foreplay, or whatever it is that gets you going. On the other hand, if your fantasy is telling you that you simply aren’t happy in this relationship, then that’s something different all together. But most people would be eager to get back in the sack and let the film start running.
Q. Friendcest: A good friend, “Liz” and I went to the same college, where we developed a very close-knit group of friends. Liz and our friend “Greg” drunkenly hooked up freshman year, and Liz developed a bit of an infatuation, though Greg did not return those feelings. Now we’re all juniors and Liz is seeing the same guy she resorted to after Greg. Unexpectedly, Greg and I developed strong feelings for each other, and we really would like to have an honest relationship, but we fear how our friends will react to being left in the dark, especially since we have long discouraged relationships in the circle, and I especially fear losing Liz as a friend. On one hand, I shouldn’t have gotten involved with Greg knowing how she felt, but on the other, it’s been two years, she has a boyfriend she seems content with, and that should leave Greg as fair game. I feel like I have to make a choice between my best friends and a man that I could really see myself being with, and I’m not sure which I would rather give up.
A: I understand that romance within a gang alters the dynamic. But for goodness’ sake, how are young people supposed to get experience at intimate relationships (beyond being friends with benefits) and find people with whom to have these relationships if coupling up is verboten? You are all young adults, so you do not need permission from the group to pursue your attraction. Liz had an unfortunate one-night stand with Greg. This does not make Greg her subject, and no one has to seek Liz’s permission to date Greg. You and Greg should do what you want, and see how you feel. You’ll know when it’s time for the big reveal, and let’s hope when it comes, the group just says, mazel tov! But if Liz wants to have a snit, she should talk out her hurt feelings with her own boyfriend.
Q. Good Sport: My boyfriend works in semi-professional sports. He works extremely long hours (12- to 15-hour days on game days) during the season of his sport. He frequently works weekends during the season and at least once a month in the off-season. It’s made it so he can’t participate in some family trips with me. I understand his not going if he would need to miss multiple games and other events, but he is unwilling to even miss one game out of 70-plus a season. His co-workers all occasionally miss games and I think his boss would give him the time off. He’s great at his job and I think he’s afraid something will go wrong when he’s gone. But I feel it’s not the end of the world if one game is a bit of a mess because he’s not there. I appreciate his work ethic but it’s hard when he won’t go for a quick weekend trip or to an out of town funeral with me. How do we talk about this?
A: My husband doesn’t work in sports, but he might as well because when there’s a game—no matter what the game—he would fail to follow a civil defense evacuation order because, well, there’s a game. Your boyfriend’s job requires him to be at the game, so I don’t understand why you want to make him prove that you’re more important to him. If you ran a restaurant and Saturday night was your money maker, I assume you’d resent it if he kept saying he wanted to do something fun with you Saturday, and you should just get someone to cover. You mention that while there is a season, there’s also an off-season, and when he’s off surely you can get your fill of weekend trips. Of course, if there’s a family funeral at which it would be normal for him to attend, he should ask to be able to attend. But if you’re going to a funeral of someone he didn’t know well, and you you’re using it as an excuse to try to extract him from the game, then it’s you who aren’t being a good sport.
Q. NOT an Office Romance: Four years ago, when I was a student, I worked at my university in the communications department. My boss, “James,” and I attended many events together and spent long days at the office. We grew close and really connected. Nothing ever crossed the line, both physically and emotionally (nothing flirtatious was ever said, and we never so much as hugged), but everyone could see how well we got along since we were always joking and chatting. Now I’m 24 and have landed back in my college city where James—who is four years older—still lives and works. We kept in touch throughout the years, but I haven’t seen him since graduation. I want to reach out to him and see if things between us could turn into something. However, if things did, how could I tell people that he was once my boss? Would he get in trouble with the school over suspicion that things started long ago? I’m torn.
A: It’s bad enough if young people in a college friend group feel they can’t explore relationships with each other. It’s another thing if two young adults who are not entangled professionally can’t pursue a possible relationship because years ago they worked together! You should definitely contact this guy. But when you reach out, don’t say, “I’ve always had a thing for you and now I want to see if it could work out.” Just tell him you’re back in town, and you’d love to catch up over lunch or dinner. Then catch up—if he’s seeing someone, he’ll let you know. If he’s not, you then let it flow and you’ll see if he’s interested in being more than friends. If romance ensues, there’s no way he gets in trouble for starting a romance with an adult years after she graduated from college.
Q. Re: Husband’s Crude Humor: The description of the situation sounds as if the husband deliberately goads and demeans his wife. It doesn’t matter if that’s by farting, making comments about other women’s bodies, or creating an uncomfortable environment in discussing their sex life. She’s not comfortable and he likes it that way. He sounds like a bully. Why advise her to relax/change?
A: I suggested she set some clear boundaries and that she also see whether there is an opening for her to exchange some less than delicate commentary about their body parts. She says her husband does this a few times a week. She didn’t even make the case that he’s a terrible bully who wants to see her squirm. She just says she doesn’t like his crude side. Maybe if she opens up on one thing, he will retreat on another.
Q. Don’t Want Past to Haunt Me: In college I was severely depressed and self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. I dropped out, fell into a drug subculture and engaged in reckless behaviors. Eventually I cleaned up, graduated, and now have a successful career. I have kept in touch with a few of my former friends on Facebook though, and many of them have cleaned up as well. I recently posted on FB that my company was hiring. One of my old friends (clean for years) asked if he could apply. He has no experience in my field but is smart and eager to learn. I want to help him out, but I fear he could be a liability. He could easily destroy me with the details of my past. Should I give my friend a chance, or do I protect myself and tell him my company wasn’t interested?
A: Rehabilitation is all about recognizing the destructive path you were on and making permanent changes. You and your old friend did this, and kudos to both of you. I don’t quite understand your fear. If you think he is of such a shady character that he would blab about your past, then you don’t want him at your company and you shouldn’t aid his application. But if you’re just being paranoid, that’s unfair to him. It hardly seems as if he’d gain some advantage by saying to anyone, “Hey, Deirdre and I met when we were both snorting heroin!” To do so would only make him look crazy. In any case, you’ve made a public announcement about openings, and he should feel free to apply. Presumably he’s asking for permission to mention in his cover letter that he heard about the opening from you. So if he gets somewhere and the bosses ask you about him, just tell the truth, which is what you’ve said here: He’s smart and eager to learn.
Q. Re: Good Sport: My husband could be the letter writer’s husband. He has worked in semi-professional sports for well over a decade, and the hours are indeed taxing. He committed to me while we were dating that while he loves his work, if it ever came to a point that it was detrimental to his family life that he would make a change, and he has lived up to this promise. The trade-off over the years is that he does work that he truly loves, which I think has been very beneficial to our quality of life. Yes, I will periodically ask him to tell me that he still does love it, but this is what I signed up for when I married him. As Prudie said, I don’t think it’s fair to expect him to take off work (for non-funeral/family emergency) type things.
A: Thanks for describing how to handle this. Obviously it only makes sense for everyone to go into this with a clear understanding of the work demands, and with an openness to revisiting the work situation as family needs dictate. And I assume that off season allows for tons of family time that people in demanding year-round jobs just don’t get.
Q. Re: Crude Humor OP: Thanks for taking my question! I wouldn’t say my husband is a bully at all—but he admits he enjoys pushing my buttons. He will intentionally say things that will bother me, just to see the reaction. When this happens, I get more upset with him for the button-pushing than for whatever it was he actually said. I admit I’m far more proper than he is (and possibly a bit prudish). He says he does these things to get me to loosen up and be “less sensitive.” Personally, I think this behavior is rude and disrespectful and won’t have any effect on how sensitive or not I am.
A: Hmmm, he’s not a bully at all … he’s just kind of a bully. You undermine your case that he’s not a bully when you say he does this not because he’s just a crude humor kind of guy, but because he likes to annoy you. Obviously, you are only going to tighten up if his attempts to get you to loosen up are provocative and disrespectful. Now I’m going to suggest, broken-record-like, that if he can’t see that his goading you is only making you turn away from him, some counseling is called for.
Q. Dearly Beloved?: I am a woman on the cusp of getting married. The best man in our wedding is a childhood friend of my husband-to-be. He is known for being a bit prickly and difficult. People describe him as acerbic and cold. I have not found that to be the case at all. He warmed to me immediately, perhaps too much. He has taken to messaging me on Facebook or sending me text messages frequently (my fiancé is aware of this). This friend has been quite lovely and kind, except that lately he has been laying himself emotionally bare, telling me the details of his day, and how everything in his life makes him feel. He signs off with heart emoticons, or flat-out saying, “I love you.” I have not shared my discomfort with my fiancé. Is there a chance our best man is developing romantic feelings for me? If so, how can I handle this delicately without destroying a lifelong friendship and damaging an obviously lonely man’s feelings?
A: I’m wondering if there’s a chance the best man is not intending to try to push aside your intended. When the acerbic, cold guy is burying you in emoticons and declaring “I love you”—you should take him at his word. Forget everyone’s delicate feelings, it’s time to show your fiancé just what you’re dealing with and tell him you have become very uncomfortable with the attentions of his best man. At best, your fiancé has a man-to-man talk with his bestie and things get quickly straightened out. At worst, there’s a new best man. But you will implicitly become party to this clear violation if you don’t speak up and seek to stop it.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks so much everyone. I hope your week goes swimmingly!
Check out Dear Prudence’s book recommendations in the Slate Store.