Dear Prudence

A Rough Go

I can’t get over my wife’s sordid sexual past.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence, 
I have been married to my wife for two years, and we’ve been together for five. We have a great relationship, and both of us consider ourselves incredibly lucky to have found each other. However, so that I could understand her better, she recently told me some things about her past that have troubled me quite a bit. She said she has had quite a wild sexual past. She has slept with male strippers, been involved in aggressive sex with multiple partners that involved hitting, slept with a number of married men, cheated in most relationships, enjoyed getting choked during sex, and possibly even shared a sexual partner with her mother. She said she did these things because she was sad and depressed and sex made her feel better. She told me these things not to make me jealous or to hurt me, but for me to understand she is happier since she met me than she ever has been and doesn’t need to do these things anymore. I am having a hard time getting these images out of my head. Furthermore, I’m afraid this sounds like sexual addiction and that it could resurface. I’m desperate for advice.

—Reeling Husband

Dear Reeling,
I understand your distress because I’m now trying to get the image of the mother-daughter sex party out of my head. Your wife violated two rules: One, she didn’t tell you when she should have told you. Two, when she told you, she told you too much. But you now need to put what you’ve learned into perspective. You two have been together for five years, and you don’t indicate that during that time you have ever had cause to doubt your wife’s fidelity or her satisfaction with your sex life. I don’t know if meeting you was the turning point in her life, or if by the time she met you she had moved past her emotional problems and was ready for a more fulfilling relationship. Whatever it was, it’s clear that when you got together she was a different person from the one who sought out illicit and even degrading encounters. You must know that people do change and that many people are able to leave destructive habits behind for good. Your wife was not obligated to spill all to you when you were courting. But at some point after you two became serious, she should have informed you to some degree about her past, enough to convey the salient point that she once went through a difficult period during which she “self-medicated” through sex. She could have mentioned that she’d slept with married men and been unfaithful in previous relationships without going into detail. It would have allowed you to have a sense of her past without having disturbing images seared in your mind. What’s important now is for you to remember that your wife is the same person you’ve known for the past five years, and that there’s no reason this confession should cast a shadow on your good fortune at finding each other. It would be sad if her desire to have you understand her better leads to your loving her less. You just recently got this news and have understandably been ruminating on it. Now it’s time to stop. See if you can decide to push these thoughts out of your mind and make the choice to return to being grateful for your life together.


Dear Prudence,
I don’t think young children should watch television. It turns out my wife has been showing our 3-year-old son TV shows for some time now. I have confronted her, explaining that I think she needs to at least have a conversation with me about it before doing so, but she simply apologizes and continues doing it when I’m not around. She has told many silly fibs to cover this up, although she always comes clean when confronted directly. I feel doubly betrayed, since not only were my wishes for our son disregarded, by doing it secretly she has also robbed me of any say in what he watches and how often. We discussed my feelings about children and television before we married and before we had children. Regardless of whether my concerns about viewing habits are justified, I think she needs to have a discussion with me rather than sneaking around behind my back. What should I do?

—No Boob Tube

Dear Tube,
I also thought children should not watch television and that they should only eat homemade organic food. Then I had a kid. The Big Comfy Couch was so educational! Gerber was so delicious! I admire the people who can get through childrearing with little to no screen time, but sometimes it’s simply necessary for a parent’s sanity to plop the kid in front of the TV and let him or her get mesmerized for a half-hour while Mom or Dad makes dinner, or reads a book, or just takes a break. I agree parents should not lie to each other; neither should they make ridiculous demands of each other. If your wife puts your son in front of the television all day, that’s a problem. But if she uses the television judiciously, it’s not. Tell her that you’re dropping your unilateral prohibition on television and that you hope this will allow you two to come to an agreement over how much screen time your son gets. You both need to be on the same page about your parenting—which is a good reminder, Dad, that TV or not, you should be making time to read your son a book. (And maybe you should read one to yourself about how not to be a control freak.)


Dear Prudence,
I work in a busy office at a university, which I love. I’m a social person, and I enjoy being helpful and interacting with lots of different people. But there’s one student who insists on hugging me every time he sees me—this can be multiple times a day. He also calls me “sweetie,” “honey,” “love,” and even “baby” once. I’ve seen him do this to other women. He’s a genuinely polite and nice person, but all this “affection” makes me really uncomfortable. How do I tell him I don’t want him to hug me and I don’t want him to call me sweetie without coming across as a jerk? I have to see him often, so I don’t want to hurt someone I enjoy interacting with otherwise. I’m an outgoing person but not blunt, and I’ve used all the body language I can, but he’s not getting the message.

—Too Sweet

Dear Too,
While you may not be one of his professors, you still have the opportunity to give him some education that will be crucial for his future success. It’s impossible to know exactly what’s going on, but let’s assume this student is not just some handsy ultracreep but has some underlying problems understanding social interactions. Since you interact with him many times a day, the next time he comes in tell him you need to have a private conversation with him. Then explain that while he may be trying to be friendly, it simply is not acceptable to for him to hug or touch female employees, nor can he call them “sweetie,” “honey” “love,” or “baby.” Tell him it’s crucial that he keeps his hands to himself and uses names. An easy rule for him to remember is that if he’s doing something with a woman he wouldn’t do with a man, he needs to stop. If he persists, you need to pass this on to someone else. Be clear that you are not making a harassment accusation against this student, but that you want him to get clear instruction that he is seriously crossing important social lines.


Dear Prudence,
My husband and I are in our 30s and have been married for a few years. We live far away from both our families. Every Thanksgiving, we go to his brother’s house. I like his brother and sister-in-law; they have two great kids and are fun to be around. Their house is beautiful but small. They have just one full-size bathroom, and the spare bedroom has a double bed. I don’t like sharing the bathroom with all those people (even though I love them), and I don’t like being squeezed into the double bed. I have trouble sleeping, and spending four days in cramped quarters with his family is overwhelming. I told my husband I couldn’t do it again and that I wanted to stay at a hotel (we have the money). He told me that would be offensive to his family. I am already dwelling on it! Is this something I have to tolerate as part of being married? I would rather spend Thanksgiving alone than stay at the house again.

—Dreading Thanksgiving

Dear Dreading,
Ah, the joy of settling on the toilet with the New Yorker, then hearing a knock on the door and a voice crying out, “Are you almost done?” It is ridiculous that just as the crocuses are emerging you’re obsessing about your Thanksgiving misery. You need to resolve this in your own mind, even if you keep your decision to yourself until later in the year. There’s no reason for you to snub what you say is a lovely family gathering. You just need to absent yourself when it’s time to sleep or do your daily ablutions. That means you tell your husband you want to enjoy Thanksgiving, not suffer through it miserably, so you are going to book a hotel. Say he is free to join you for all, part, or none of the time. Then, with equanimity, stand firm. If his family teases you about this, just smile beatifically as you contemplate having a bathroom to yourself.


Discuss this column with Emily Yoffe on her Facebook page.

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