Dear Prudence

Open Shut Case

Prudie advises a letter writer who feels guilty for not performing oral sex.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg.

Photo by Sam Breach

Mallory Ortberg, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at

Q. Oral equality: I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost a year, and we enjoy a great sex life. He really enjoys performing oral sex on me and does it frequently. I, on the other hand, really do not enjoy performing oral sex and never have. It makes me feel very uncomfortable and often elicits a gag reflex/panic response. He mentioned recently that he has accepted the fact that “I just don’t do” that particular act for him and that he’s OK with it because it’s harder for me to achieve orgasm than him and he prefers sex to oral sex. Still, I can’t help but feel guilty and that this is something I should force myself to be doing for him since he does it for me so often. Is there some kind of unspoken equality when it comes to oral sex? Should I feel obligated to do something in bed that I don’t enjoy to make things “equal” between us in this area?

A: Reciprocating oral sex is, in general, a very good idea! You have, however, what sounds like a legitimate, lifelong difficulty with performing it; you’re not trying to get out of pleasing your partner because you’re uninterested or indifferent. You two have discussed this issue and come to a mutually agreed-upon compromise, which is a great start. As long as you don’t think he’s just pretending not to mind for your sake, it sounds like he has truly accepted that blow jobs are too difficult and painful for you to perform, and he’s still very satisfied with your sex life. Take him at his word.

If this is something you’d truly like to work on, not out of a sense of guilt but because you would enjoy occasionally reciprocating, there are a wealth of resources out there for the enthusiastic amateur (you are far from the only would-be blow-jobber whose spirit is willing but gag reflex is weak). You have more options than “no blow jobs, ever” and “regular whole-hog sessions to completion that result in vomiting.” Good luck!

Q. Enough potlucks already: I’ve always brought something when invited to somebody’s home, but these days, every party or dinner I go to seems to require me to make and bring something, and it’s usually something expensive and complicated. I’ll get invitations to drinks from people I barely know, and they’ll say “BYOB” or “bring a good Malbec” and include a link to a Food Network recipe. And then you get there and nobody eats anything because there’s too much food. We’re not in college. I’ve stopped asking, “Can I bring anything?” because it results in a shopping list. Is there a polite way to say, “If you want to entertain, make your own damned food?”

A: I don’t think there is! If you don’t like potlucks, the solution to your problem is “don’t go to potlucks,” not “insist other people don’t have them.”

Q. Time to cut and run?: My boyfriend of three years doesn’t include me in any plans with his close-knit Italian family. In general, I don’t expect a great deal of contact with his family, but I do feel excluded when I’m not invited by him to major family events and holidays. I’ve told him I’d like to be included in holidays, as it is important to me. His response: He loves me and I’m a priority, but he doesn’t want to have to answer difficult questions from his “nosy family members” about what is going on with our relationship. He’s also recently told me he feels my presence would “slow him down” at the events, as he’d have to take time to introduce me, to take care of me, etc. In a talk about the holidays this year, he told me that if we aren’t getting married, I’ll NEVER meet his family (I do want to get married, and he knows that). I took that as pretty much the defining wall-handwriting-moment that this relationship is never going to progress anywhere. He says otherwise and tells me we’re meant to be together. His actions and words just don’t seem to align. Should I just cut my losses and move on or attempt to talk with him again?

A: You would slow him down at … family dinners? What could that possibly mean! “Darling, I’d love for you to meet my parents, but I couldn’t possibly take the time to introduce you. It would slow me down, and speed is of the essence in these troubled times.”

Here is the breakdown, as best as I can tell, of your situation:
1. You would like to meet his family and also get married.
2. He would introduce you to his family if you were getting married, but for aerodynamic and efficiency reasons, does not currently have any time to do either of those things.

It does not bode well, in my professional opinion, but I think it’s worth having a final conversation about. You’ve been dating for three years; you’d like to marry him someday; and before doing so, you’d like to meet his family. Tell him it’s something you take very seriously and are considering ending your relationship over; if he still hems and haws about introducing you to his relatives after that, I think it’s a fairly clear sign that he doesn’t want the same things that you do, and you should walk away.

Q. No-longer-welcome house guest: A friend of mine posted on social media in a way that led me to believe she was in danger in her relationship with a live-in boyfriend. Because I was worried about her safety, I offered her a temporary place to stay. (I live alone, in a tiny studio apartment, for a reason.) A few days into her staying at my place, she admitted that he hadn’t threatened her physically but that she had kicked and punched him repeatedly. There have been numerous occasions where she talked about breaking up with this guy, and almost as many times I’ve watched her go back to him. Prudie, I figured they’d be back to their dysfunctional coupledom within a couple of days, but she’s been here a full week now with no signs of finding her own place. What can I do to get my place back to myself?

A: She’s not only lied about being physically abused; she’s physically abusing her boyfriend. I hope very much that she doesn’t return to him. It’s absolutely fair to tell your unwanted roommate that you offered her a place to stay out of a misguided concern for her safety—frankly I’m more worried about his—and now that you know she’s not in danger of violence, she’ll have to find another place to live.

Given what you know of her behavior, it’s very likely that she will not graciously accept your request and may try to make removing her from your apartment extremely difficult. I think I am going to open this one up to the commenters! What’s the best way to approach this? Should the OP consider her legal options? Should she contact the ex-boyfriend and offer her support, now that she knows her friend has been abusing him? Should she be worried about her own safety? What say you?

Q. Too close for Christmas: I am celebrating Christmas with my fiancé for the first time, and I am very uncomfortable. His ex and her husband bring the kids over and stay, along with an ex-girlfriend whose son he helped raise for five years. And they are all OK with it! I was fine with the backyard barbecues and school plays, but this is too much for me. My fiancé says since his house is big enough for everyone to have a bed, it makes sense for everyone to stay over and enjoy the holiday without rushing around to different locations. I am not worried about him fooling around on me, but the situation seems too odd. Am I crazy?

A: Lesbians do it all the time! It sounds delightful. (Sorry for perpetuating the harmful stereotype that queer women always stay friends with our exes!)

Q. Re: No-longer-welcome house guest: Attorney here. Be very careful, and get this person out as soon as you can. Depending on your state you may, if you let her stay long enough, create what is called a “tenancy at sufferance,” which means she becomes entitled to notice (30 or 60 days) AND possible the full rights of the formal eviction process (meaning you have to go to court to get her out).

A: Thank you! Tenancy laws can be so complicated; I want to make sure OP is protected as much as possible.

Q. Am I being overly sensitive?: Several months ago a co-worker’s mother died. I bought a card and sent it around the department. Everyone in our department of 30 people generously donated cash so we could “upgrade” the arrangement that the company sends. Several weeks ago my father passed away suddenly. When I returned from work, I found an open card on my desk with three signatures, as if someone had started it and given up. My manager was supposed to notify the company to send an arrangement but was apparently too busy to do so, so nothing was sent.

I feel forgotten and unappreciated, and several times I have burst into tears and had to leave the office. I can barely look my boss and co-workers in the eye. It’s not about a card or flowers, but if I say something it will sound greedy, and people will feel bad. I’m considering looking for another job over this. Am I overreacting?

A: Oh, I’m so enormously sorry. How awful to feel both slighted and then guilty about being slighted in the wake of your father’s surprising death. A half-hearted gesture of condolence can be more painful than none at all, and it’s no wonder you’re feeling bewildered and hurt. You’re absolutely not being overly sensitive to this thoughtless oversight. You’re going through the middle of something incredibly painful right now, and you’ve just been handed insult to injury. I hope that if you’re not in grief counseling already you’re able to find a counselor soon; this is something you need to be able to share with someone who doesn’t work with you. It may not be a good idea to bring it up with your boss, especially so recently after your bereavement when feelings are running high. I’d recommend talking about it with a loved one or a therapist before making any decisions.

Q. Re: No-longer-welcome house guest: That person is not your friend. She manipulated you into giving her a place to stay. Her boyfriend may have kicked her out, which would be the right thing to have done after the assault. You clearly realize that you have to usher her out of your apartment, too. Be prepared to be guilt-tripped over this. Change your locks. Your friendship may end, but if she assaulted her boyfriend, she is probably beyond the stage where you can help her.

A: Absolutely change your locks after she leaves. You don’t want her “forgetting” to return your key and letting herself back in.

Q. I guess they had to wash the sheets anyway: Last Thanksgiving I met my boyfriend’s parents, who are lovely people and welcomed me with grace and warmth. When we left, we were going to stop by his friend’s to drop off a bottle of wine as a gift, which we forgot. He called his friend to tell him we’d be late, but not his parents to tell them we were coming back, and he sent me in to get it while he played with his phone in the driveway. When I got to our bedroom to get the wine, I saw his parents in the middle of an act of almost terrifying intimacy and trust on the bed where we’d just slept. I just grabbed the gift bag, and they didn’t see me. I didn’t say anything to my boyfriend about it. We’re going back this week to stay again. I’m guessing I just shouldn’t say anything to him or them, but I just can’t get that image out of my mind, and I’m afraid I’m going to say something awkward. Any ideas?

A: Don’t say anything to your boyfriend’s parents. Feel free to tell your boyfriend what you saw, in as much detail as you can muster, so he never sends you into his parents’ house to run errands for him again.

Q. Mom is feisty but making bad choices: My mother is 82 and is becoming more dependent due to health issues—high blood pressure, emphysema, and kidney problems. She has stopped going to the gym and eating well or going out much with anyone but me. I find myself resenting her dependence because she’s not doing anything to take care of herself except taking her medication. I love her but wish she would do more for herself—go back to the gym or eat less fast food. I’ve suggested and volunteered to join her to grease the wheels, but she refuses. I just had to hang up because even though her blood pressure is through the roof she stopped at Taco Bell on her way home from the doctor. What can I do to lessen my resentment and help her?

A: It is frustrating, I think, when our parents insist on being people and making decisions we disagree with (I don’t say that to dismiss your concern; I genuinely sympathize). Your mother is 82 years old; the fact that she has been going to the gym until very recently is incredible. As long as she’s not neglecting herself—it doesn’t sound like she’s eating cheeseburgers for every meal or taking to her bed for days on end—whether she eats Taco Bell or like a probiotic monk is not going to change the fact that she is nearing the end of her life. If it brings her joy to eat fast food and skip the gym, don’t waste your last few years together trying to harangue her into yoga and cruciferous vegetables.

Her diminished social life is something of a different story—she may feel less up to going out and seeing friends than she used to. You could help her organize something in her own home; maybe ask her friends or family to come by for a casual get-together so she doesn’t exhaust herself trying to entertain. It’s difficult to balance these desires—you want your mother to have excellent quality of life for as long as possible, but you must also acknowledge that her life is her own and she may not value the same things you do, so close to the end of her life.

Mallory Ortberg: WHEW. Thanks, everyone! May all your dogs be vaccinated and well-cared-for, and may all your lesbians have excellent reproductive legal advice.

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If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat, click here to read it.