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.)
Readers! I literally want to hear from you. As in call me. Ask me your questions, tell me your worries, confide your fears on the voice mail of the upcoming Dear Prudence podcast. Just leave a message at 401-371-DEAR (3327), and you may hear your question answered on a future episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location, and, at your request, we can even alter the sound of your voice. If you’re technically savvy, feel free to record your question using the Voice Memo app on your phone and send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Hi, everyone! Welcome to, I guess, the week of doing your taxes, unless you already did them, in which case congratulations on being so together. You don’t even need my advice if you’ve already done your taxes. You’re doing great. Let’s chat.
Q. Dead dogs: We live out in the country and have always had a problem with people abandoning their dogs and them turning feral. We raise goats and chickens and have lost livestock to them. The problem has gotten worse as city folk move in and proceed to do nothing but bitch about country life (no, we can’t make our rooster crow at a later time—he doesn’t have a snooze button). Our new neighbor down the road lets his kids and dogs roam over everything without a care, even letting his 8-year-old daughter into the pasture where we had a horse who likes to kick.
The confrontation after we returned the little girl without a concussion has left our neighborly relations frosty. Last week, my husband shot and killed two dogs that got into our chicken coop. Yesterday I saw the missing pet posters on a tree by the turn off. It matched. My husband doesn’t think anything good could come from telling the owner, considering how little care he gives to his kids and animals. He thinks we should lie and say we haven’t have seen the dogs—only coyotes. Animal control is a joke, and going to the sheriff is bound to kick this up to a feud—I don’t know what to do.
A: I want to be mindful of the fact that country life is different from my own and that you have a right to protect your livestock. But it doesn’t sound like the two dogs your husband shot were the same feral animals who have killed your chickens in the past, and I wonder if you or your husband had ever warned your neighbor that if his dogs wound up on your property again, you’d treat them as predators, not pets. You say the dogs were in your chicken coop, but not that they were attacking or eating any of them. I wonder if your husband saw an opportunity to get rid of animals he considered a nuisance. (I also don’t think that because your neighbor lets his 8-year-old child play outside unsupervised, he doesn’t care about her. He’s perhaps slower to adjust to the realities of country life than he ought to be, but his crimes seem mostly to have been of ignorance, not a lack of affection.)
Here is my official ruling: I think you are already in a feud. I think your husband could have pursued other options before shooting the dogs. He is right that nothing good can come from telling the owner, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I think your husband allowed his earlier frustrations with newly arrived neighbors from the city to influence his decision to shoot first and ask questions later. You two should own up to what you did and face whatever consequences come as a result. If your livestock was truly being threatened, tell him that you caught his dogs in your chicken coop and had to defend your animals. Your neighbor has a right to know what happened to his pets, and if nothing else, it will give him a clear idea of how closely to monitor any future dogs he brings into his home.
Q. Therapist: I have had an incredibly rough time since I recently took a trip with an ex—physically, emotionally, and mentally. I see doctors more than I see friends. I recently got a new therapist right before my mental hospital stay, and she helps me like nobody ever has. The thing is I that find her attractive, and it distracts me during sessions. I would NEVER act on it, but I don’t know if I should find another.
A: Find a therapist you are not attracted to. Whether or not you’d make a pass at your therapist is less important than the fact that your attraction to her is keeping you from focusing and making progress during sessions. Find a therapist who doesn’t distract you, and good luck.
Q. Hypocrites: I have had a huge fight with my college-age daughter over her boyfriend coming to visit her at home this summer. She wants him to be able to stay in her room rather than with her brothers. Her dad and I are not comfortable about her having sex under our roof.
She blew up and said that all the adults in our family are hypocrites about sex—she referred to the fact that my brother’s birthday is six months after my parents’ wedding anniversary and that her older brothers went on camping trips with their girlfriends when they were younger than she is. I am very hurt and haven’t talk to her since then. I know all my older children are sexually active, and I want them to be safe and smart about it, but I feel uncomfortable having her boyfriend in her bedroom when I still have younger children here.
What do you think I should do? (Talking with my husband about this is useless—sex and our only daughter is not a topic I can bring up to him calmly.)
A: I’m sorry that you and your husband are incapable of calmly acknowledging that your adult daughter is sexually active. That must make things rather difficult for the two of you; I wish you the best in moving past your discomfort. There are worse things in the world, however, than being slightly inconsistent in how you treat your grown children’s sleeping arrangements; there’s a difference between letting one of your children go on a camping trip with his girlfriend versus letting one of your children sleep with her boyfriend while her younger siblings are in the next room. Maybe not a massive difference, but one exists.
When you’re able to, have a rational conversation with your daughter about what your expectations are when she visits your home. (Do you plan on never allowing any of your children to share a room with their partners until they’re engaged? Married? Until all your younger children are grown? Will you treat your sons in the same way? Consider your answers to these questions before talking with your daughter.) Tell her you understand that she’s a sexually active person and you’re not trying to criticize her for that, but that you prefer not to host romantic sleepovers, at least while you still have young children in the house.
Q. Getting over old affair: My husband had a yearlong affair with a co-worker several years ago. He eventually told me the truth in counseling, and we’re working on our marriage. It’s hard to express the pain of being cheated on; I had no idea until it happened to me just how deep it goes. But I’m trying. We live in a relatively small city. She and her husband (who does not know) moved about a mile away from us last year. I get panic attacks when we run across each other. I’ve actually exchanged pleasantries with her husband, a delivery truck driver, and felt so awkward knowing so much about his life that he doesn’t know. I just don’t know how to be comfortable living in this situation. Moving isn’t really in the cards. I’m not going to spill the beans on her, much as that revenge fantasy comes up (hard to see her be completely unscathed when my life was turned upside down). My husband is frustrated that I’m still upset by all of this. Perhaps I really am stuck. I don’t know how to move on. Thoughts?
A: I’m all for making peace with the past and moving on, but I don’t think you’re being recalcitrant either—I can’t imagine how I’d handle being in your position. It’s one thing to move on from an affair; it’s quite another to know your husband’s former mistress is living a few minutes down the street with her in-the-dark husband. I don’t know that it’s possible to be comfortable living in this situation. Surely your husband can see that you’re upset not because you want to eternally punish him for cheating, but because seeing his old girlfriend and her husband, and having to keep a secret, on a regular basis is distressing for you. He needs to offer more patience and understanding, and you need to figure out if your living situation is sustainable in the long term. I know moving isn’t always easy, but suffering regular panic attacks and trying to keep from blurting out, “My husband and your wife cheated together” to your delivery man isn’t either.
Q. Office “politics”: I’m one of those people who went against his or her better judgment and had a relationship with a co-worker. We broke up over a year ago, and after a brief awkward period, things turned out just fine. She moved away recently, and a new employee who started after she left seems interested in me. Knowing of course that I probably shouldn’t have dated someone in my office in the first place, does that rule then apply doubly so after I’ve broken it once? Or am I just thinking too traditionally?
A: If your company doesn’t strictly forbid it, and neither one of you works in the same department, I don’t know that there’s anything strictly wrong with dating a co-worker. It carries a greater potential for causing emotional and logistical trouble, obviously, but you’re not a bad person for wanting to do it, and it sounds like the last time you dated a co-worker things went reasonably well and no one was permanently scarred (I assume your ex didn’t move to get away from you). Of course, if you work in a small office where everyone knows everyone else’s business, it might be uncomfortable for all of your co-workers you haven’t dated to watch you go through the same office romance with a new partner. I’d encourage you to look elsewhere for a date—it doesn’t sound like the two of you are wildly attracted to each other, just that she seems mildly interested. Let the interest fizzle.
Q. My sexuality goes against all my values?!: I am what most people would consider a feminist and an independent young woman. I am an ambitious, modern person who is invested in equality and fairness for all. I have faith in the fact that if a man were to mistreat me, I would get out (or kick him out) as fast as possible. I am not, never have been, and never will be a doormat.
One would assume that my, umm, inner longings would reflect the person described above—but they don’t. Since I hit puberty, I have had many fantasies that horrify and dismay me, and which have sometimes led me to think of myself as an insane freak. Rape, bondage, and other decidedly disturbing things are the main features. Am I crazy? Should I get help for this? Am I alone? I do not want to want things that are horrible and twisted.
A: You are not alone! Rape and bondage are some of the most common sexual fantasies in existence. It does not say anything about your feminist credentials, nor does it mean you secretly desire to be sexually assaulted or harmed by a partner. You do not have to explore them outside of the realm of fantasy if the idea distresses you, but plenty of independent/feminist/ambitious/whatever adults derive a great deal of joy from consensually enacting similar fantasies.
Q. How do we negotiate monogamy and nonmonogamy?: I’ve been in a relationship with a wonderful man for the past two and a half years (we were close friends for three years prior as well). He’s got a lot of dating experience, while I count him as my only real relationship. He’s recently come to the realization that he might need the option of nonmonogamy open to him in our future. While I’m not discounting changing my mind, at this point, I can’t imagine being OK with it. Is there a way to come to a compromise? This feels like an either/or situation.
A: I think if you can’t imagine being OK with it, you should discount changing your mind. Don’t try to talk yourself into wanting something you don’t want just because someone else does. I don’t know if compromise is possible, but I do think you’ll only be able to arrive at one if you’re both entirely honest with each other. Right now he “might need the option” of nonmonogamy someday. That’s a data point, not a crisis. You don’t believe you’ll ever want it. Right now, your Definitely Not trumps his Maybe Someday. At some point, his Maybe Someday might change to Yes Now, and you’ll have to have a different conversation.