Dear Prudence

Baby, Bumped

My husband refuses to have sex with me while I’m pregnant.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I had a great sex life. Now I’m pregnant and he just can’t see me that way. We’ve talked, and there is no doubt in his mind that we’ll bounce back post-baby. I find his earnestness about wanting to protect the baby and his fear that something will go wrong endearing, but irrational. He knows it’s irrational. Do I just have to resign myself to months and months more of a sexless marriage? It’s such a shame!

—Pregnant and Sexless

It’s good he knows he is being irrational. As long as your pregnancy is healthy, there’s no medical reason for him to avoid sex. That said, if it’s a hang up he just can’t get past, there are (at least) several very pleasant ways to have non-penetrative sex that would both put his mind at ease and satisfy you. Remind him of them.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have a 4-year-old with autism. He is mostly nonverbal, and he hums almost all the time. I don’t really notice it anymore, but when we are out, other people notice him humming. They sometimes try to talk to him, and obviously, he doesn’t respond verbally. They look like it hurts their feelings when he doesn’t. I’ve tried several responses, including saying, “He has autism, and although he doesn’t speak, he can understand what people are saying.” The problem is no matter what I say it just seems like people are either unhappy or uncomfortable with whatever response I give. I need suggestions on what to tell people when he doesn’t respond to them.

—Hears You Just Fine

I spoke with John Thompson, a writer with autism based in Denver, for advice on how best to support your son in situations like these. He told me you should be aware of the possibility your child has noticed your consternation at these interactions with strangers. He continued:

My personal belief (and experience!) is that autism is a matter of being different, not defective, and so approaching this as a failure may convey to him that he is failing in ways he can’t control. … It’s not your problem if other people are put off by your son. I think your son ought to be protected from them. Shift focus from “how do other people experience my son in public” to “how does my son experience other people”? Like any parent, you manage your son’s experience of the world, and should try to make it as stress-free as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with strangers experiencing a little surprise if they speak to your son and he doesn’t speak back; free yourself from the responsibility of managing other people’s discomfort in public.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have been at my current job for over eight years, and recently gave one month’s notice. I have a large amount of institutional knowledge, manage a great deal of work, and interact with several clients daily. Despite my generous notice, my boss has done nothing to transition my work to other people, and he hasn’t let my clients or most of my co-workers know that I’m leaving. My last day is Friday. At this point I feel I won’t be able to say goodbye to anyone or help transition my projects. I’m also starting to worry that it will damage my personal and professional relationships by essentially disappearing. I’m also slightly worried that my boss’s plan is to just email/call me with any questions she may have after I leave, assuming that I will basically keep working for them in my spare time.

—Boss in Denial

I think it’s time for you to take matters into your own hands. It’s clear your boss is content to wait out the clock while you’d (reasonably!) like to give your clients and co-workers a heads-up about your departure. Tell your boss you’d like to start transitioning your work to some of your colleagues, and set up a meeting where the two of you can decide who should inherit what projects. If your boss continues to stall, don’t worry about being “unprofessional” by saying goodbye to your co-workers on your terms. As for your clients, tell them yourself—you don’t need your boss’s permission to inform them that come Friday, they won’t be able to reach you at the same number.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have an old friend who has dated a string of sexist, alcoholic, and sometimes abusive men. I love her dearly, but she will never leave a relationship, no matter how toxic or abusive. While I must respect her choices as an adult, it pains me to see how they have impacted her children. Throughout the years, I have dropped out of the picture when I could no longer take the chaos that is her daily life. She has been very hurt by these absences, because she feels a friend should be there no matter what. I see things differently: She is an alcoholic who loves toxic environments and refuses all attempts at help. After some time, I decided to break things off with her. In the fallout, she told our mutual friends that I am a terrible friend. I said nothing. Now I can tell that she wants to reconnect. I know that she is lonely and misses me. I miss her as well, but our lives are in very different places. I don’t know how frank I can be with her without completely hurting her feelings. What should I do?

—Reaching Out

Stay away. You are no good for her, and she is no good for you. You have already hurt her feelings, and she has already hurt yours, and that pattern is unlikely to change. She seems incapable of leaving you, just as she has been unable to leave her various unsatisfactory partners—she’s told mutual friends that you’re a terrible friend, but that hasn’t stopped her from trying to reconnect. What she wants out of a friendship is directly at odds with what you want. You will only continue to hurt and resent one another if you try to resume it.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My longtime same-sex partner and I got married last fall. It was a perfunctory city hall wedding, but after we announced it, we received many cards and gifts, which were unexpected. We had special wishes from everyone except my sister-in-law and her churchgoing family, which includes my husband’s goddaughter, a college senior. When I confirmed with my husband that they hadn’t done anything, he said he was trying not to notice. I understand his emotional bind, but I feel uncertain how to proceed. His niece is graduating soon, and of course we’d be expected to notice and give a gift. Not sending something feels downright petty, but at the same time I am unenthused. Is there a correct stance in this?

—Not Feeling Generous

Graduation presents are wonderful but not obligatory, particularly if you’re not close to the graduator in question. I’m not sure if this is the type of godfather-goddaughter relationship where your husband was very involved in his niece’s life growing up, or if he showed up at the christening and said “Yes” at the proper intervals. I know as an advice columnist I’m supposed to tell you to take the high road and not withhold a gift out of spite, but A) I don’t like the idea of compulsory graduation presents (I can hear the curmudgeon in my soul saying “You just got an education! That’s present enough!”), and B) I think the high road is a little boring sometimes. Split the difference and send a card.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have no idea whether I want children. I’m a married, 30-year-old woman, and my husband and I decided before we were married that we would decide later whether we wanted kids. I work a very demanding job in an extremely competitive field and I worry that having children would disadvantage me. I’m also not sure whether I’m cut out to be a mother—I certainly didn’t enjoy childhood very much, and spent most of it trying to be an adult. On the other hand, I worry I’ll realize too late that I’ve missed out on having a family that would have made my life more meaningful. Tell me whether to have children, Prudie!

—Baby Bafflement

Don’t have children. Note there are no pros, only cons, in your letter; if the only thing leading you to consider the idea of parenthood is the fear you might miss out on vague, unspecified future “meaning,” don’t have any. There are many ways to have a meaningful life, and I have no doubt you’ll be able to have one without children.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have a 4-year-old daughter who attends a neighborhood preschool. My neighbor has offered to walk my daughter with hers to school. I have taken her up on the offer a couple of times, but she is a “free range” parent and will let the little ones walk a good 20 to 30 feet in front of her. While I am not a helicopter parent, I think it’s dangerous not to have someone under the age of 6 walk right with you. I want to say something, but I am not sure how. Help!

—At Close Range

If you’re not comfortable with how this woman walks her children to school, you should decline future offers and walk with your daughter yourself. She hasn’t invited you to modify her parenting methods; she’s offered to do you a favor. You’re not a fan of the terms of the favor, so walk hand-in-hand (or at least side-by-side) with your daughter until you think she’s old enough to run ahead.

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