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.)
Q. Not my wife: My friend and I are both women married to men, with kids (she’s bisexual). She’s funny and we have good rapport. But she is constantly saying and doing things that I would find inappropriate and unacceptable from a male friend. In public she calls me her wife and makes lewd comments about our imaginary sex life to retail workers, waiters, you name it. She repeatedly talks about how good my breasts look. She constantly says we should leave our husbands and live together. Now she’s talking about going on vacation together. I was supportive when she came out, but I’m not interested in women, or in her, romantically. At one point she talked about how she completely hates having sex with her husband. I suggested that being grossed out by men may indicate that she really is a lesbian. She’s in her 30s and has never had a romantic relationship with a woman. I feel bad for her, given that she seems to have committed to not pursuing her pretty blatant sexual inclinations, potentially indefinitely. As her friend, I’d like to see her move on from her miserable marriage and get a proper girlfriend. Being the only outlet for her frustrations is getting weird. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but if call her out, I’m pretty sure she’d just say she was kidding around, especially because she does have one of those boisterous personalities that jokes about anything. For all I know, maybe she is joking. It doesn’t feel threatening or hostile, just relentless. I’d like to keep the friendship and I want her to be happy. So, what should I do?
A: Don’t let a friend make you feel publicly uncomfortable indefinitely just because they’re probably a lesbian. I’m pretty sure there’s no sexuality that justifies constant low-level harassment of your married friends. There are two separate issues at play here. One is whether or not she should leave her husband to be with women. Based on what you’ve told me, she probably should! But it’s not your problem to worry about, and given how often she’s tried to jokingly goad you into declaring your reciprocation for her feelings, I think she’d misunderstand any attempts you made to convince her to end her marriage.
The other issue is how often she tells strangers about your nonexistent sex life and discusses your body in front of you, which very much is your problem. Don’t let the fact that she may be gayer than she realizes keep you from drawing a completely reasonable boundary around your physical appearance and your sexuality. Tell her it makes you uncomfortable when she pretends you two are a couple or talks about your breasts in front of you. Whether or not she tries to justify it by saying she’s “just kidding around” isn’t important. If she does, tell her, “Whether it’s a joke or not, it makes me feel uncomfortable and you need to stop it.” If she doesn’t knock it off, that tells you a lot about how she views your friendship.
Q. Why, oh, Wi-Fi: Our house is next to a multifamily building occupied mainly by students. Their Wi-Fi networks are generally visible to us. One of them has a pretty vulgar network name, “Tom’sHuge [expletive]” That wouldn’t bother us personally, but by coincidence, my name is “Tom.” Any time someone comes to visit and tries to get on the Wi-Fi, they see this vulgar SSID and they think this is my network and my idea—to say nothing of other neighbors who can see it and might well think it is mine, too. Kind of embarrassing! Would I be out of line to leave notes in the neighbors’ mailboxes asking the responsible party to pick a different SSID? Also, is this an opportunity for Prudence to make a definitive pronouncement on the etiquette of SSIDs?
A: Ruling the first: Anyone who thinks it’s funny to name their network “Tom’sHugeEtc” is going to think it’s funny that one of his neighbors is also named Tom and is embarrassed by it. Asking them to change it, especially via anonymous note, is almost certainly doomed to failure. Tom is a common enough name, and you live in a large enough building that I think you don’t have to worry about visitors assuming you’re trying to advertise your genital length (and if it ever comes up with one of your guests, you can always smile sheepishly and say, “No, not that Tom.”)
Ruling the second: Humorous SSIDs are never a good idea, and are almost always deeply unfunny. Yes, this includes your hilarious “PrettyFlyForAWiFi,” “Loading …” and “Get Off My LAN.”
Q. Does my boyfriend have a wrong opinion about Star Wars?: I don’t care about Star Wars in the least, but my boyfriend does. He did not enjoy the latest movie; his list of reasons why was long, but it included “and now EVERYONE can use the Force for some reason.” Is he mad that women can be Jedis now? Should I be mad? What form should I be mad in, seeing as how I don’t care about Star Wars?
A: You have a wonderful opportunity here to not care about something that doesn’t matter to you. Please don’t miss out on it.
Q. Re: Not my wife: Ugh, Mallory, seriously with the biphobia? You should know better. There’s no indication that friend in question is “probably a lesbian” or “gayer than she realizes.” To the LW, your friend IS being a complete jerk. Call her out. No one of any sexuality gets to make you uncomfortable like that.
A: I agree that biphobia is real, but I think it’s absolutely worth considering that someone who “despises” having sex with her husband—and men in general (which I edited out of the original post for length, and I now see should have been left in for context)—may not be interested in men sexually, full stop! But you’re right in that whether this woman is a lesbian or bisexual, her behavior is completely inappropriate, and it’s much less important to “figure out” her sexual orientation than it is to curb her harassing behavior.
Q. Just call me Melania?: My boyfriend and I (both late 20s) have, by all accounts, a great life—we made his house a home together; we like each other; we enjoy one another’s families; we have awesome friends and hobbies. There’s one point of constant contention, though: His definition of “success” is, to me, sort of gross. He comments to me on how my friends “could do better,” that they should have better educations or cushier jobs. I agree that hard work is important but don’t care that other people are “just” baristas or bus drivers. My boyfriend finds his tech job fulfilling but worries about money; I’m OK with my middling income and happily would take a lower-paying but more creative job. The public schools in our town are good, but he’d like to send any future kids to an expensive private school because “steel sharpens steel” and students from wealthier families are typically higher-achieving. We’ve talked about our differences and even tried couple’s counseling, and he’s receptive but says he just wants to give our family “a good life.” In some ways, his attitude is helpful—he encouraged me to finish my graduate program and to clear up some totally unnecessary debt, and his work ethic certainly keeps us comfortable financially in a way that my career choices would not. Should I quit worrying?
A: It’s one thing to be a high achiever; it’s quite another to privately sneer at your girlfriend’s friends after feigning friendliness because they have the “misfortune” to drive a bus for a living. (The idea of someone saying “steel sharpens steel” about a cushy private school as if it’s a Spartan training academy with a straight face is truly remarkable.) I wonder what kind of a parent your boyfriend would be to any future children who failed to achieve at the level he expected them to. Keep worrying. Your boyfriend may be great in other respects, but you might find yourself better matched with someone who works equally hard but has a slightly wider definition of success than getting a cushy job.
Q. Sexual equality: I can spend an hour pleasuring my partner but can’t get a hand for five minutes during the week. What’s up with that?
A: I don’t know, but your partner probably does. Ask them, not me.
Q. Clueless comments on little brother’s engagement: I am a 32-year-old single woman. My 26-year-old brother is engaged. I am thrilled for him and his fiancée and cannot wait to welcome a new sister into the family. But what is decidedly less thrilling is that the comments and questions about my unmarried (and childless) status have already begun. Everything from “Is it hard to have your little brother get married before you?” to “At least your parents don’t need to keep waiting on you for grandchildren” and suggestions for egg freezing. I find these sorts of comments offensive (and yes, slightly anxiety-producing). I’m looking for a gracious way to respond that confirms how happy I am for my brother but also clues folks in to how rude they’re being. For comments phrased as questions, I’ve been trying “You’re the very first person to ask/notice!” with a big smile. Less sarcastic ideas?
A: Are you one of the Bennet sisters, or are there actual human beings in the year of our Lord 20 and 16 who think siblings have to get married according to birth order? Frankly, I think “You’re the very first person to ask” is several orders of magnitude politer than you have to be in this situation. “What an odd thing to say” is another way to clue someone in to the fact that they’ve just stepped in it without resorting to rudeness, but you also have my permission to start re-enacting the “Carrousel” scene from Logan’s Run the next time someone tries to talk to you about freezing your eggs (!).
Q. What’s in a name?: I need some advice. Due to family estrangement and a bad history, my husband is changing his last name. When we married almost 15 years ago, I didn’t take his. Well, now he is asking me to take his new one. He chose one that fits him great! Me: not so much. I’m midway in my career, have an online business using my current name. I see a lot of rebranding if I change mine. It will be a lot of work. I don’t want to change it now. I know he is asking this because he feels totally alone—he is essentially leaving his entire family (I jokingly asked him to take my last name, but he wasn’t into that option). He wants the symbolic gesture that we are family. I feel like I should do i, but can’t bring myself to submit the paperwork. Some outside advice would be most welcome!
A: It seems to me that his taking your name would solve all of his problems and wouldn’t create any new ones for you. I don’t see why you had to “jokingly” ask him to consider taking your last name, if he was planning on leaving behind his old one and wanted to make a gesture signifying your commitment to one another. He ought to take yours, or at the very least stop asking you to adopt his new name with him. He asked if you wanted to change your name, you said no, and he should leave it at that.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: That’s it from me, everyone! I’m sure the name you chose for your Wi-Fi network was very funny. You are the exception that proves the rule.