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 email@example.com.)
Q. Take a hitchhike: My husband is an incredible man, and has a huge heart. However, he has on several occasions picked up hitchhikers on the side of the road and given them rides to wherever they need to go. He thinks it it no big deal, and that it is, in fact, his duty to help people in need. This is my dilemma. I am much more wary of strangers and have heard countless horror stories over the years, which I feel back me up. He thinks I am being paranoid and cites that nothing bad has happened yet. I have forbidden him from doing this with our son in the car, but this has not stopped him from doing this with his young sister or his elderly grandmother with him. He even gave a ride to three men at once! Outnumbered! Maybe these travelers are harmless or in trouble, but what if they are armed or dangerous? I think he is too naïve, and he thinks I am cold-hearted. Who is right?
A: Hitchhiking is relatively safe but is often perceived as an outrageous risk. Your husband has accepted your compromise (which I think is reasonable!) and doesn’t pick up hitchhikers with your son in the car. If he wants to occasionally give a stranger a ride, the odds are on his side that it will not end in murder or mayhem. You’re not cold-hearted, just misinformed about the general risk.
Q. Friends with an open marriage too open?: I’ve been close with a group of friends for a little over three years now. In this group is a married couple I’ll call Fred and Wilma. Shortly before I married, Fred approached me and explained that he and Wilma have an open marriage and he was attracted to me. Flattered, I declined, stating that I was neither interested in that way nor emotionally equipped for that kind of relationship. Fred has been very respectful of that, and I’ve never once felt weird since then, and I’ve never mentioned it to the group as I felt it wasn’t pertinent (I did tell my husband).
Lately at parties and events anytime I talk to Fred, another woman, Betty, comes over and drapes herself all over Fred. It’s gotten to the point where another member of the group mentioned it to me and wondered what the best method is of informing Fred that it’s going too far. We don’t care what he does behind closed doors, as long as all parties involved are consenting, but we also don’t care to witness the hormonal ramp up or have our conversations cut short by a jealous lover. How do we handle this, if at all?
A: Public draping might be a bit much, but I don’t think either of them is flouting social conventions to such an extreme that you have the right to tell them to cut it out. If watching Betty and Fred interact makes you uncomfortable, I think the most you can do is cut the conversation short and talk to someone else. I understand that Fred brought you into further awareness of the details of his marriage than you wanted and that you’re not trying to pry or pass unnecessary judgment—you’re certainly not doing anything wrong here—but he also hasn’t mentioned it since you turned him down, and isn’t trying to force you to watch him make out with Betty in front of his wife. If the arm-slinging and lingering hugs are too much for you, ignore it, and find someone else to talk to at parties.
Q. Did I miss my window?: Last year, I had a casual relationship with a man who was great in bed and nice enough, but also unreliable, emotionally confused, and sometimes insensitive. When we broke it off, we did so pretty peaceably, at least until he called me a couple of days later and started a huge fight. (He trotted out the “I’m a horrible person, I knew I was going to hurt you, etc.” spiel, which to me means “I plan to wallow in my pattern of relationship-destroying self-loathing, not fix it.”) Months ago he asked me to lunch to “talk,” but I never got around to telling him he’d been a tool, because we had sex instead. We haven’t had any contact since then, but I frequently find myself wishing I’d given him a piece of my mind, not given him head. I hate that I keep thinking about him, and I feel that if I sent one properly angry text, I’d be able to forget him for good. But should I find some other way to get him out of my system?
A: Go to a therapist. I promise you that “one properly angry text” would not result in immediate closure and acceptance. It would spiral into another horrible, wholly unnecessary fight. You had a casual relationship with someone who turned out to be a jerk, and now you’re well rid of him. Therapy will help you learn to advocate for yourself in the moment, but you can’t make up for not having spoken up about your feelings a year ago by yelling at him over text now. Delete his number.
Q. “Anchor baby”: I recently met a wonderful young woman. I am usually quite cautious, but, before I knew it, she was pregnant with my child. My family does not yet know about this. Complicating matters further, this woman happens to be a temporary U.S. resident. Most of my family are Trump supporters, and I’m afraid they will say this is an “anchor baby.” Should I keep this baby a secret?
A: Look, even Strom Thurmond couldn’t keep his secret family a secret, and I’m willing to bet he had more resources and stronger motivations than you. Keeping your child a secret because some of your relatives are racist assholes is the wrong response to racism. You created this baby every bit as much as your “wonderful young woman” did. Getting pregnant isn’t something she did to you—it’s something the two of you did together. If your girlfriend(?) plans on carrying your baby to term, and you’re going to be an involved parent, a large part of parenting will necessarily involve not allowing your family members to refer to your child as a political football. If they can’t do that, then they don’t deserve to be a part of your family.
Q. Leash greetings: My wife and I have an adorable little hound dog who is extremely friendly with people and (usually) other dogs. One gentleman and his dog are especially friendly with our dog, which goes very well when greeting from behind a fence. However, we often take our dog on walks at the same time as this gentleman. While his dog is usually quite sweet, he just cannot get used to greeting other animals while they’re both on leashes. He runs over to greet our pup, but then panics, snaps, and occasionally tries to bite our dog. Our dog attempts to avoid this meeting.
I’ve spoken to a trainer friend who says this isn’t uncommon even with friendly dogs, and that’s why she recommends pet owners avoid leash greetings. Apparently, dogs realize they cannot escape from the situation easily, and it puts them on edge. I’ve explained this to the other dog owner, and even provided him some material about it, but he is insistent that his dog is friendly and needs to learn to greet on a leash. How else can I gently let him know that his dog may not approach our dog while both are on leashes?
A: Cross the street. If he pushes, let him know that while you wish him the best of luck training his dog to behave while leashed, you’re not interested in letting your dog act as training material. You can’t change how he trains his dog, but you can remove yourself from the situation.
Q. Avoiding my roommate: I’m a grad student rooming with a friend. After moving in, our friendship became stressed. While she is a lovely, sensitive person, she is not always punctual about paying her half of the utilities or respecting agreements (notably, we had agreed that I could bring my dog up from my family home and she changed her mind the night before). The biggest issue, though, is that she’s much more chatty than I am. She knocks on my door at random times to have brief conversations. She’s also frequently upset about something I did or didn’t do, or something I didn’t anticipate she would need. We’ve talked about this in the past, but this dynamic keeps creeping into our interactions. My best friend has an empty room in her house and has offered to let me crash there for a few weeks. I’m inclined to take her up on the offer. How do I tell Roommate I’m moving out without offending her? I do like her as a friend, and she frequently looks to me as a source of emotional support. How do I respectfully sever ties without ending our friendship?
A: Give her as much notice as possible, and tell her you’ve found another living situation (I hope you’re able to find something long term after your temporary room stay is up; it would be regrettable if you moved out for a few weeks only to discover you can’t find another living arrangement), but that you’d like to stay friends. You can’t sever ties and maintain a friendship at the same time, so if severing ties is what you’re after, don’t make promises (“Let’s keep in touch! I’ll call you! Lunch next week?”) that you don’t intend to keep. She may be offended and she may not, but you can’t make her comfort your primary goal in this situation, or else you’ll never move out. Be polite, be respectful, and don’t offer unnecessary criticisms on the way out. You two just don’t have compatible living styles; it doesn’t make her a bad person.
Q. I understand compromising, but …: My family and I live in NYC in a multigenerational household. The house is in my parents’ name, but all the adults in the house contribute to bills, chores, etc. There’s a new family member on the way, and my dad (whose name is actually on the house) thinks we need to move to a bigger house. None of the other adults agree. As a compromise, he now wants to build himself a man-cave in the backyard. However, this will require chopping down trees that provide shade and privacy from the neighbors whose house is directly behind ours, and will literally take up half of the yard. No one is happy with this suggestion, either, but it’s better than moving. Any suggestions for how we can compromise without losing our backyard?
A: According to Brick Underground, a New York real estate blog, New York’s Department of Buildings states that it’s “legal to build a shed of up to 120 square feet in your yard without adding any extra foundations or filing any paperwork. … Anything larger, and you’ll need to hire an architect and secure an Alteration Type III permit, which covers ‘construction equipment, condo subdivisions, and some temporary structures.’ ” If your father is happy building and living in a 120-square-foot shed, all power and luck to him. The New York real estate market cannot offer perfect happiness.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Have a great week, everyone! Remember that hitchhiking is statistically a fairly safe activity, but that doesn’t mean you have to start doing it.