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.)
Irrelevant Closet: I am a happily married, 27-year-old mother of two. I have recently revealed to my husband that I am bisexual, something I have only recently admitted to myself. He is completely supportive and we agreed that this does not change anything in terms of our monogamy. The only issue is that he thinks it would be irrelevant to come out to friends and family since I am in a heterosexual marriage. I know that my family will be accepting, however, now I’m worried that he is right and it would seem out of place to make such a revelation.
A: Let’s say you discovered a late breaking interest in plushophilia, or you now realized you were turned on by being a dominatrix. This would not be news you’d be required to announce at the next Thanksgiving gathering. The rapidity with which society has accepted, even embraced, gay sexual orientation is a glorious phenomenon. But you are confusing your personal sexual exploration with a social imperative. It would be one thing if you left your marriage because you were pursuing relationships with women. That would be worth talking about—if you wanted to—as a way of explaining the dissolution of your marriage. But you say you are planning to not only stay with your husband but remain monogamous. I agree with your husband that making a public announcement about something so private will not be illuminating but discomfiting.
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Q. Dildo Dilemma: While cleaning out my late grandfather’s house, my aunt discovered a dildo. She asked me what I thought it was and I could not bring myself to tell her. I vaguely replied maybe it was some kind of a cheap ornament, and quietly put it into the junk pile. Imagine my consternation when I saw it displayed in her house along with some other knick knacks she retrieved from pop’s home. I tried to tell her it doesn’t go well with her decor, pop probably didn’t want us to take all of his junk, etc. But my aunt dismissed my protests and says she wants to keep it. Please give me some excuse I can use to persuade her to throw it away, other than having to explain to my elderly prudish aunt what it really is.
A: I’ve dealt with a remarkable number of errant dildos in this column. These particular objects sure do have a propensity to roam. I’m assuming the one in your grandparents’ collection was not of the anatomically precise kind or else your aunt’s bafflement really does mean she’s Aunt Prudie. Even so, I’m wondering why she would find any dildo worth displaying, unless it reminds her of that Brancusi sculpture of a bird. I bet your elderly aunt only entertains occasionally. Either her guests will know what she’s displaying and will be highly entertained, or they won’t even notice this new addition to her knick knack shelf. I think you should say nothing—although you might be sorely tempted to bring some batteries and say, “Aunt P, let me show you what happens when you press ‘power.’ ”
Q. Do I Just Suck It Up?: My husband confessed to an affair and is leaving the marriage to pursue that relationship. We have two children. He refuses to tell his parents about the infidelity and has asked me not to tell them. On the one hand, I don’t care, but they are angry at ME for not doing more to make this marriage work and they have no idea of the truth. Part of me just wants to suck it up because it does not benefit my children to tell them, but I also feel unjustly accused when their son is the adulterer.
A: It’s one thing not to go around telling people you’ve discovered something about your sexuality you’re not going to act on, as in the letter above. It’s another to have a spouse go out and act upon his sexual desires, thus causing the end of the marriage, then being expected to keep utterly silent about what happened. I do think it’s important that parents handle the subject of infidelity with great delicacy regarding their children and not use the straying as a weapon to alienate the kids. But your husband left you to pursue another relationship! Presumably this new woman becomes part of everyone’s life. But if not, I don’t think he gets to keep it all a secret in order to keep his reputation unsullied. It says something quite malicious about him that he would know your soon-to-be former in-laws are blaming you, while pressuring you to keep quiet. I assume you are having some kind of interactions with the in-laws revolving around the children. If they continue to berate you, you have to tell them that you simply will not listen to such insults. And you should feel free to add that they need to take up with their son his decision to end the marriage, because he was his decision and he had a very specific reason.
Q. Re: Irrelevant Closet: I have to disagree with you on keeping bisexuality to oneself if you’re in a heterosexual relationship, Prudie. A 2013 Pew Study found that around 70 percent of bisexual people are not out to their family and friends. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who think bisexual people just don’t exist until you read that statistic. Gay and lesbian acceptance has dramatically improved in the past decade especially, and it’s because gay and lesbian people, and their allies, are vocal about it. I’m not saying during the family reunion this woman should say “Can you pass the butter, grandpa? Oh, and by the way, I’m sexually attracted to women, but am still monogamously committed to Jared.” But, there will be many opportunities to let the people in her life know in the context of the fight for marriage equality and sexual orientation as a federally protected class. If a homophobic, or even ambivalent person, knows more LGBT people, the less likely they are to hold prejudice.
A: Good points, but such things have to be taken in context. It’s one thing to have dated men all your life then realize you want to start seeing women, do it, and then tell those closest to you. It’s another to be in a monogamous marriage, have children, and then start telling people about the sexual desires you have that you are not going to act on. If a married person realizes he or she is not by nature monogamous, but is not going to act on urges to have sex with other people (whatever their gender), I don’t think they have to tell their nearest and dearest this.
Q. Piercing Husband: My husband asked me if he could get his lip pierced last weekend. I told him that I didn’t think he should have that done and that I didn’t want it done. He works as an IT guy and has a very professional job. Well, he had it done behind my back and I am too embarrassed to even go anywhere with him. He looks ridiculous. He’s 40 years old and that is something for the younger generation. What is your advice? Is he going through a midlife crisis?
A: I once had a friend whose midlife crisis involved fixating on a certain expensive and slightly dangerous purchase his wife adamantly opposed. Finally he said, “Either I buy a dirt bike or I get a girlfriend.” (He got the bike.) So as bad as the lip ring is, it could be worse. What married people do with their own bodies is a touchy issue. You don’t lose your own bodily integrity when you marry. But it’s natural to check in with a spouse before making some permanent change (plastic surgery, tattoo, etc.) that the spouse is going to have to live with, too. Your husband asked you, you expressed your strenuous objection, and he did it anyway. I think the issue is not so much that at 40 he’s too old for such things. Just look around on the street! And in any case the pierced and tattooed young people around us will eventually grow into pierced and tattooed middle-aged people. Unless you want to split over his lip, you simply can’t refuse to be seen in public with him. I think you need to express that you appreciated he asked you about this and now feel somewhat betrayed that instead of discussing it further, he did it knowing how you objected. But then say that now that it’s done, you don’t like it, but you’re not going to harp on it either. As with teenagers, the more you react, the more likely your husband is to get a matching nose ring. But you do have a certain leverage in the lip ring department that no one else has. You can tell him that kissing that metal stud really turns you off.
Q. Re: Cheating Husband: Regarding the cheating husband—based on what we have been told about this guy’s character, I do not think its a good idea to trust him to come clean with his parents. More likely he’ll say something that will blame the wife for the breakup. I think she should be honest (without anger) with his parents regarding why they no longer together.
A: Good point. I do think that the wife wants to be careful about how she expresses this in order to protect the kids. But there are sensitive ways to explain to everyone—including them—the reason for end of the marriage. The wife can say to her in-laws that she is trying to preserve her children’s relationship with their father, but that their son didn’t want to be in the marriage anymore because he found someone with whom he felt more compatible. Then she can say if they want to know more, they’ll have to talk to him.
Q. Last Wishes: My elderly parents, Skip and Betty, have always communicated by bickering. The latest topic of disharmony is Betty’s wish concerning the disposal of her body after death. She is a nurse and is adamant that she wants her body donated to a local medical school. The school will use it for anatomical study then have it cremated and return her ashes to the family. My father is vehemently opposed to Betty’s plan, saying that he wants them buried side by side. Pointing out that he can be buried with Betty’s ashes doesn’t persuade him. I’m fairly certain that Skip has trouble with the idea of medical students cutting Betty open. My solution has been to tell them each privately that I understand their position and not to worry, implying that I am taking their side. Is it OK to just wait to see who passes away first? If Skip is the survivor I’ll let him have Betty buried and if Betty outlives him I’ll give her body to the medical school. Please help with my ghoulish dilemma.
A: My grandmother donated her body to a medical school and for decades leading up to her death, she talked blithely about this decision. As I got older and the time got nearer, it was more disturbing to think of a young medical student dissecting my beloved grandmother. But the school indeed got her body and after my grandmother’s ashes were returned to us, the student wrote a sensitive note about her gratitude for my grandmother’s great gift to her education as a doctor. I hope Skip and Betty have made plans for after they’ve gone with an estate lawyer. Since you are in the middle of this, it would be great if they gave you permission to talk to the attorney about the legal implications regarding following the deceased’s desires. I don’t know if a spouse can overrule or refuse to cooperate with a declared intent to donate one’s body. But a clarification from their lawyer might help both of them resolve this without you having to. I understand bickering is your parents preferred mode of communication, but you can tell them it would be an act of great kindness to you if were not put in the middle of a conflict that goes on after death.
Q. Re: Dirt bike/Girlfriend: Did the dirt bike come with a side order of divorce? Threatening your wife with a girlfriend when you don’t immediately get your own way is pretty repulsive, “midlife crisis” or no.
A: The story was told in good humor. No one was psychologically harmed.
Q. Dating in My Peer Group but Not My Age Group: I’ve recently started college after spending five years of my life pledged to the Navy, leaving me a 23-year-old freshman. My university is both private and expensive, meaning that I’m surrounded almost entirely by 18-year-olds in my classes. Logically I’m going to meet girls I share interests with who are five years younger than me. And five years is a big gap to me right now. To further complicate matters, I have a sister who will be 18 in less than a month. The idea of dating someone my little sister’s age disturbs me. Despite all this I have already met a freshman who I’m attracted to mentally and physically. She’s smart and funny and practical and shares many of my interests and beliefs. I can’t tell if she is interested in me or just wants to be friends. But she also just turned 18, making her barely older than my little sister. I am unsure how to broach the subject, much less ask her out. Or even if I should in the first place.
A: You may be a freshman, but you are also a person who has seen more of life than most of the seniors on your campus. I know most of the people you’re interacting with in your classes are still teens, and in absolute terms five years is not a big age gap when dating. But I think you’re right that someone who just turned 18 is not at the same place in her life as someone who has already finished his first career. You are uncomfortable about your interest in your fellow freshman, so listen to that inner voice and expand your horizons. While you may be surrounded these first few weeks with 18-year-olds you are attracted to mentally and physically, speaking as the mother of an 18-year-old, I recommend you slow down and get involved in clubs and other extracurriculars that will lead to your getting to know upperclasswomen. Since you say you’re at a university, you might even meet some graduate students. Keeping your little sister in mind when interacting with your fellow freshman will serve you well this first semester.
Emily Yoffe: Thank you everyone. Have a great week!
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