Danny Lavery, 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.)
Readers! Ask me your questions 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.
Danny Lavery: Hello, everyone! I hope all your cats, children, in-laws, and co-workers have been on their best behavior lately. Let’s chat!
Q. My husband thinks I tried to murder the cat: I have been with my husband for four years. One of the things that brought us together was our mutual love of cats. We each had two when we met, and we now have a happily blended family of four cats. All was well until my 18-year-old cat began having health issues. In the past year, he has been diagnosed as blind in one eye, with severe glaucoma in the other, and now diabetes. Combined, his medications and special food cost approximately $400 per month. I wanted to have a discussion to determine at what point we would want to have the cat put down. My husband freaked out and accused me of trying to MURDER the cat. To this day, he refuses to discuss it and will often say things to the cat (while in my presence) like, “Don’t worry, buddy, I won’t let momma kill you.” To be clear, I did not want to have the cat put down right now. I just wanted to begin the conversation so that we would both be prepared. How can I address this with him without being accused of caticide?
A: Anyone whose response to “We need to have an honest conversation about how to prepare for the end of our cat’s life” with cat baby talk is not choosing his or her best life. You’re not suggesting you euthanize the cat tonight because you’d rather have $400; you’re trying to initiate a conversation about quality of life and to prepare for the future. What measures are you willing to take in order to extend your cat’s life? What would feel unnecessary to you? What would it look like if your husband was unable to make a rational decision and ended up causing your pet pain at some point down the line because he wanted to believe the cat could live forever? Insist on having this conversation with your husband—out of the house and away from the cats, if necessary.
Q. Perfectionist partner and cooking: My wife happens to be an amazing cook. She recently took a new job that occasionally keeps her out late enough that I cook instead. Which I love! I’m not as good a cook as she is, but I’m OK, and I enjoy it. Problem is that after I serve dinner on those nights, she’ll frequently end up going to the fridge for leftovers of something she cooked and ignoring the meal I made. After a couple weeks of this, I asked if I was doing something wrong. She said she appreciated the gesture and knew that I was trying, but my stuff wasn’t the way she’d have made it, and she prefers her way—hence eating the leftovers. Life’s too short to eat food you don’t like, but I’m kind of hurt and don’t know how to make this better. I want her to have a nice dinner to look forward to when she comes home late, but I also know that no matter how hard I try, I’m never going to be as good at this as she is, and I’m destined to fail if she’s using herself as the standard. Thoughts?
A: Don’t take it personally if she’d rather throw together some leftovers for herself after a long day of work. You’ve just gotten out of kitchen duty a few nights a week. Make something for yourself the nights she comes home late, and enjoy the extra free time.
Q. Maybe bi, definitely married: I was raised in a very strictly religious household, and I only ever dated guys in high school and college (I’m female). However, there were many times I felt myself being attracted to some of my female friends—though I always shut those feelings down, out of fear of how my family would respond. Today I’m married to the love of my life—a man. We’ve been married almost two years, and I’m completely satisfied mentally, emotionally, and physically. Ironically, though (in part because I’m finally in a secure relationship for the first time in my life), I don’t feel nervous about my sexuality. I want to make peace with my past (and perhaps current) attractions to women, but I have no desire to be disloyal to my husband. How would I start trying to figure out whether I’m bisexual without experimenting? Is it even worth it at this point? And would I be obligated to tell anyone but my husband about this if I do manage to decide one way or another?
A: You can be bisexual without “experimenting” in the same way someone else can be heterosexual and a virgin. Being bisexual and being in an open marriage (or a marriage with the occasional hall passes) are two very different things. If there’s one thing I’d like to reassure you of, it’s this: “Bisexuality” and “disloyalty” to your husband are not the same thing. You may decide you want to sleep with or date women in the context of an open marriage. You may decide you are bisexual but perfectly satisfied in your monogamous relationship. You may, at some point, meet a woman you would like to be monogamous with. I don’t know what being bisexual will look like for you, because it’s different for everyone (there’s that rich tapestry of life again!), but I can tell you that you’re not “doomed” to cheat on your husband just because you’re bisexual.
Bisexuality doesn’t disappear just because you’re in a monogamous relationship; if you were with a woman, you wouldn’t necessarily be a lesbian, and just because you’re with your husband, that doesn’t make you straight. You’re coming to this realization about yourself now because you were pressured for so long into pretending you were heterosexual; grant yourself a great deal of time and space to figure this out.
Acknowledging your sexuality is always worth it, at any point, at any age. You’re not obligated to tell anyone you’re bisexual if you think his or her response will be hostile or biphobic, but you absolutely can tell anyone you like; it’s not the same thing as announcing you’re no longer in love with or interested in being faithful to your husband. You’re simply providing friends and family more accurate information, like a software update.
Q. Face-stalking: I have a friend who literally likes every single thing I post on social media. We’re friendly, he’s a guy, I’m a guy—nothing’s particularly creepy here … except that he will like everything I post, often within seconds. Recently I got up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water, checked my phone, reshared a post, and got into bed. Before I turned over to sleep, my phone dinged with a “like.” I’m a little freaked out, but I don’t know if un-friending him is really an option, as we’re all part of a group of mutual friends. Should I just put up with it?
A: Turn off your notifications. There’s not a better way out of this. He’s not doing anything inappropriate or otherwise creepy, and he’s not sending you inappropriate messages—he’s just an inveterate liker. Let it become part of the white noise in the background of your life. You can still check the number of reactions to each update by going into the relevant app, but there’s no real reason for your phone to yell at you in the middle of the night just because someone thought your sharing of someone else’s joke was funny. That’s not time-sensitive information. It can wait.
Q. Worried about everything, but especially lesbians: I’m a college junior who has acute social anxiety, among other things (I’ve been on anti-depressants for almost two years now and have recently started ADHD meds, too). If that isn’t enough, I’m also starting to suspect that, instead of being bisexual as I have thought for three years now, I’m actually gay, and have no interest in men at all. I already know that I can’t come out, at least until I’m financially independent. My parents might not cut me off, but their position as active leadership in a church with a “hate the sin, not the sinner” view on homosexuality would put a strain on our relationship. I have enough on my plate without risking my parents’ (very significant and loving) support of me.
I’m mostly out to one or two close friends and to my sister, but—and maybe this is the anxiety talking—I’m starting to worry that I’m signing myself up to be alone for all of college, if not longer. I’m starting to see a future of being the slightly crazy single lady who lives alone with her neuroses. Am I overreacting? How do people approach a dating scene when they aren’t even sure what they like, much less what kind of attraction they can be honest about?
A: You can date while remaining mostly in the closet! It’s challenging, but possible, and a lot of people I know did it in the ’90s, like investigating Whitewater. You don’t have to be sure of what you like now; that’s something you’ll figure out as you date, not a precondition for dating. It’s best, I think, to be upfront with any potential partners (whether casual or long-term) that you’re not out to your family. You probably won’t be alone in that. Many people don’t come out to their parents, especially religious parents, until after college. You’re not asking potential dates to only meet you after dark and 20 miles outside of town; you’re just not ready to tell your parents yet. You’re open with a few friends and your sister, so I’d say you’re as out as you can currently, reasonably be.
Let me also make a plug for being single during college. It’s not the worst thing that can happen to you, and there are plenty of people, gay and straight and otherwise, who don’t date during their college years, and it’s not a predictor of future social satisfaction. It doesn’t mean you’ll never figure out what you want or find someone special. Having anxiety and ADHD does not make you “slightly crazy,” and being single does not make you alone.
Q. Re: Maybe bi: I think the best way to think of this is this: Monogamy is not a sexual orientation.
A: There it is.
Q. Buggy in-laws: How do I deal with in-laws who bring their flea-infested pets to our house? We have several cats and dogs—all on monthly flea prevention. When my in-laws come to visit, they always bring their dogs—and the fleas that inevitably ride along. We’ve mentioned it in the past and even gave them flea prevention to put on their animals when they’ve visited (but the cost of doing that is exorbitant and not feasible every time they visit). How do I ask them to leave the fleas at home without banning the dogs?
A: You can’t. Ban the dogs.
Q. Poor timing: I have been in love with a friend for a while. Our relationship started as purely sexual and then evolved into friendship. Most of it has been long distance, and we decided not to be exclusive given the circumstances. This has been the deepest emotional connection I have ever felt. Recently, I confessed my love for him (over webcam). The response has not been unequivocal reciprocation, but I was prepared for a difficult yet important conversation. However, it turned out that when we were talking, there was another woman in his apartment! I discovered it when he asked her to step out, and I heard her voice. We had a brief discussion of where our relationship was heading, but we were both so distracted by the tragicomically poor timing that we could not concentrate on the conversation. How do I process this sitcom moment?
A: Set aside a time to talk again when he’s alone. It sounds like he doesn’t feel as strongly about you as you do about him, but it’s better to have this conversation wholeheartedly than to assume that just because he happened to be seeing someone else when you first brought the topic of love up, he’s not interested in taking your relationship further. (He should have told you he was with someone when you told him you loved him, rather than trying to split the difference and juggle you both in the moment, but I’ll grant him a bit of leeway, since not many people anticipate a situation like that ever coming up.)