Daniel 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Hi, everyone! Let’s chat.
Q. Should I tell my husband?: I’ve been married for close to 10 years, and I’ve never told my husband I was molested by a school janitor when I was 6. I repressed the memories for a very long time and have only shared them with my therapist. I’m struggling over whether to tell my dear husband. I’m still coming to terms with this myself and trying to figure out how this fits into who I am. I think I want to tell him, but I’m scared of how our relationship may change; I realize that’s probably more a reflection of my own fears. I know he loves me and have no doubt that he will do his best to be supportive and loving. He also knows something is wrong but is used to me keeping things close to the vest. My therapist supports my decision either way. What do you think?
A: I think you should give yourself permission not to tell him. That’s not to say you shouldn’t tell him, but even though he will respond in a loving and supportive way, you do not have to tell him. He still knows you well and loves you deeply. If this is something you choose to keep between yourself and your therapist for the rest of your life, you will still have a strong, supportive marriage. If and when you do decide to share your experience with your husband, it should be because you feel ready to do so, not for any other reason. You’re already working with a therapist; if it makes you feel safer and more comfortable not to introduce this knowledge to your marriage for now, don’t do it.
Q. No sex please—it’s scary: I have been married to a wonderful man for eight years. We are both over 50. In the beginning we had a great sex life, but he has always had issues with sex (which I was eager to help him overcome!). I thought we had done great, but I guess we hadn’t. Now (and for quite some years) he only wants to have sex if it’s his idea. If it’s my idea we can’t do it. He says that he is afraid of being dominated (his mother was very dominating, but she has been dead for decades!) and feels panic if I suggest or initiate sex. I am so hurt and angry and upset. He has had lots of therapy to no avail, but I don’t think he has told anyone these exact words—he’s only just told me! Any ideas?
A: If the prospect of his wife merely suggesting sex (I assume you’re not leaping into the bedroom and demanding he disrobe at once) fills your husband with terror of being dominated, I think he still has a way to go in his therapy sessions. It’s odd and demanding of him to forbid you from initiating sex because of his issues with his long-dead mother. You two should work together with a counselor who specializes in treating couples experiencing sexual dysfunction.
Q. Check, please!: I married this year into a large extended family. My husband has a wealthy uncle who sends all of his nieces and nephews a very generous check for Christmas. My husband is 28 and has gotten these since I think middle school. This year, the check did not come. He learned that both of his siblings got theirs in mid-December. There is nothing wrong with their relationship, and we initially thought it was because we renovated a home this year so the address was wrong. It’s now mid-January, and there’s no check. My husband’s mom (it’s her brother) thinks it is no big deal to call and ask about it. My husband and I are inclined to not say anything and hope that he notices a check was never cashed. But he’s wealthy enough that he may never notice. And this check would make a huge difference—it’s about half of my salary before taxes! (I’m a teacher.) Should we say anything?
A: I think you should, although the mere idea of asking a family member if they intentionally stopped sending me an annual bonus makes me feel like breaking out in hives. (“Be bold, be bold, but not too bold!”) Tell him how much you appreciate his generous check every year and that you weren’t sure if he had your new address because you haven’t yet received it. Make it clear that you’re only bringing it up in case it was lost in the mail and that if he’s decided to stop cutting you an annual check, you’re still grateful for all his past generosity. If for whatever reason he’s decided to turn off the tap, be gracious about it.
Q. Re: Should I tell my husband?: As someone who was also molested, I’m so sorry for what happened. I think you need to tell your husband if you expect to have an open, emotionally intimate relationship. Bring him to a therapy session if you’d feel better having your therapist present. If you don’t tell your husband, not only will the molestation stand between you, but it will mean you don’t trust him enough to share this problem with him. You didn’t have control over being molested; you have control over telling him.
A: That’s a great idea—if and when you do decide to tell your husband, having your therapist mediate the conversation could be extremely helpful.
Q. Never meant to read: I don’t keep a journal, but, sometimes, when I am upset or depressed or confused, I will write down what I am feeling and then throw it away or stick it in a drawer. It helps me calm down. It also isn’t representative of what I feel all the time. I have subsequently found out that members of my family have come across some of these papers, read them, and discussed them. They also try to guilt me over what I was feeling. Is it my responsibility to deal with their feelings over something I never meant them to see?
A: It is not your fault that your family members violated your privacy, and you’re perfectly right to refuse to discuss what you wrote in your scattershot diary entries, but in the future, you should either shred or lock away these impromptu journalings.
Q. Undercover junkie: I’m in my late 20s, and, to be blunt, I’m a junkie. I spent about five years of my life addicted to heroin. I’m sober now and in therapy and an outpatient program. I moved to a new town where I’ve got a wonderful and supportive girlfriend who knows about my past, and I have a few sober friends (who still live thousands of miles away). I’m finally getting my life back together. I’ve started my career over in an entry-level job that I really like. For the longest time I was absolutely terrified anyone would find out that I’m a recovering heroin addict, but now I’m starting to make friends in my new town and I have a strange urge to tell people about my background. Heroin was such a huge part of my life, and I spent so many years lying and pretending I was OK. Now it feels like there’s a limit to how well my new friends can know me if they don’t know anything about this huge, awful part of my life. But as a recovering addict, I also have a strong instinct to lie by omission and keep this secret to myself. I want to start telling a few friends but don’t know how to bring it up or even if I should. Please advise?
A: I think it’s a sign of good judgment that you both want to share an important part of your history with your friends and feel hesitant about bringing it up before you feel truly safe with your new friends. You don’t need to hide the fact that you’re in recovery, but you don’t have to share your history of addiction with acquaintances at work, either. As you feel increasingly comfortable around your friends, I think it’s more than fine to share the basic details of your heroin addiction with them. If they seem receptive, you can feel free to talk about it in further detail; if they seem judgmental or uncomfortable, you can move on to other topics.
Q. Giraffe girl: I am too tall. I am a woman who is 5-foot-8, and I am tormented by my height. I have permanent back problems from my stupid stance, which reduced my height by, oh, about one-eighth of an inch. I have researched operations to reduce height, and there are no options, really, unless I travel to some desolate country where medical standards are fairly low and undergo a horrible procedure in which they crush your leg bones and put them back together. I’ve also researched walking around with a backpack full of weights, which is supposed to compress the spine slightly. There are no good options! For every other physical imperfection, people can turn to some sort of procedure, but being tall is the one thing for which there is no cure. Do you have any advice? I know I’m not physically unattractive, as I’ve done plenty of modeling in the past, and I do own a mirror, but I wish more than anything to be comfortable in my own skin.
A: Five-foot-8 is a perfectly normal height for a woman—it’s slightly but not at all unusually tall and certainly shouldn’t be causing you any torment. Most modeling agencies won’t even hire women under 5-foot-10. If you’re experiencing this level of anguish over your extremely common height and giving yourself back problems trying to hunch your spine over, I think you should start seeing a counselor who specializes in body dysmorphia.
Q. Re: Check, please!: I also think it’s OK to ask, but additionally I think this is a good occasion to rethink how these checks fit into the letter writer’s finances. I’ve also had a wealthy relative who would sometimes send a check that likewise represented a significant portion of my income, but more often she’d say she planned to give me money and then not do it. I found my sanity and my relationship with her improved very substantially when I decided to organize my finances on the assumption that I’d see nothing from her, and if I did get anything, put it aside for emergency use only. (It sounds like letter writer and husband are already meeting basic needs.) It’s too crazy-making not to know what your means are, and obviously it’s still very lucky if someone wants to help you grow a rainy-day fund. This check’s probably just lost in the mail, but from now on, I’d take care not to rely on it.
A: Absolutely! This check should be treated like an unexpected windfall rather than a reliable source of income.