Dear Prudence

How Sweet It Almost Was

The man I loved for years has admitted he loved me too—but now we’re married to other people.

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Dear Prudence,
I was secretly in love with a close guy friend of mine for many years. We’re now in our 30s and both married (to other people) with children. I haven’t heard from him in a while, despite reaching out to him about once a year. I just received a response to my latest attempt to reconnect, in which he admitted to pushing me away because he had been in love with me and it took him a long time to accept that things were not meant to be! I no longer have feelings for him and am happily married. I’m just angry with him for only saying it now. I’m having trouble shaking the feelings of anger and resentment. I haven’t responded yet, and I’m wondering—should I respond and say, surprise, I felt that way too, or just let it go? Even though I’m angry, I don’t know if it is a good idea to basically do the same thing to him at this point in our lives and make him reconsider past actions. But I wonder if being honest will give us both some closure. Or maybe it would just make me feel better to tell him the truth, finally. What do you think?

—Tell Him, or Tell Him Off

I don’t believe in closure. I understand your anger, although I think you are equally at fault for never saying anything to him about your feelings, just as he never spoke to you about his until it was too late. What’s the good in having him reconsider his past actions? The best possible outcome has already occurred. You’re both happily married with children; and hashing out your potential lost relationship together would only lead to guilt, self-recrimination, and anguish. Better to deal with your anger (and some small satisfaction, surely!) in private, either with a therapist or a close-mouthed friend; tell him you wish him the best and hope his family is doing well.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My husband has not been happy with his work. For seven years he’s consistently complained about every position he’s had. We have young children and recently relocated across the country for his latest job, where he is once again unsatisfied. I have tried looking for work in my field, but prospects are sorely limited and I seem to be overqualified for any jobs to which I have applied. The problem lies with our dependence on my husband’s income. I recently discovered that he has been stealing items from work and that he has been drinking and driving on his way home. I’m mortified! Not only could his behavior get him fired, but it could land him in jail, or, worse, he could kill someone. He is constantly tense and defensive if I try to bring any of this up. Aside from just letting his behavior catch up with him, is there anything I can do to soften the inevitable blow to me and my children?

—Afraid of the Inevitable

The first thing you might find helpful is to attend an Al-Anon meeting. If your husband is regularly driving drunk during his commute, then his drinking is affecting your financial and physical security. Do not let him drive with your children in the car. Make clear that his behavior is destroying your trust in him, and that if you ever see or hear of him trying to drive under the influence, you will notify the authorities—and please stand by that. If he continues to be “tense and defensive” rather than apologetic, he is not interested in change, and you will have to make your next decisions without him. Do not allow yourself to adjust to this way of life as the new normal for your marriage.

The second most important thing is to develop financial independence. Since full-time work in your field is hard to come by, try to find part-time or contractor work and start saving now. Consider even taking a temporary job outside of your field, just so you can start a separate savings account. (I realize getting a job, even a temporary one, is not always easy, but finding your own source of income is paramount here. I also realize much depends on whether your children are school-age or have daytime care besides you, which you don’t say.) Even if you stay with your husband, you have to consider how to support your family after he loses his job, which sounds inevitable. The blow is coming—whether it’s your husband getting fired, getting arrested, or having a car accident. It can’t be dodged, only softened. I wish you the best of luck in shielding yourself and your children from it.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My husband is much older than me and is very close to his daughters from his first marriage; they are lovely and smart girls (his youngest will be graduating high school at 16). We have a 2-year-old son together. I get along fine with the girls, but according to the divorce decree, my husband is responsible for all college expenses. One wants to go to medical school and the other got accepted to an Ivy League school!

We could buy a new house in cash for what this will cost us. There are in-state schools just as good, and we could sell our two-bedroom condo and get a place with a backyard for our son to run around in. My husband shuts me down every time I bring it up: The condo is paid for, he promised his daughters, our lives are fine, his girls are going to be the first in the family to get their degrees and they deserve the best, etc. I am made to feel like a wicked stepmother for wanting my son to grow up with a treehouse and a dog. In-state tuition would allow us to do both (or the girls could get student loans like the rest of us). Is there any way I can convince him?

—Out of Our Price Range

No. I understand you’re not threatening to lock his daughters in a golden tower so your son can grow up with free rein of the kingdom, but … no. They’re not your children. It’s not your call. You live in a perfectly nice condo, and there are public parks for your son to run around in. Lots of people grow up without dogs and lead perfectly normal lives. You have everything you need, and then some. Don’t ask a couple of teenagers to take on student loan debt so you can have more.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I overheard my older daughter telling her sister about her experience during her semester abroad—her sexual experience. She slept with nine different men, one in each country she visited. I left before I could hear more. I never thought that I was a prude, but it was unsettling to hear my baby girl has had more sex partners in a year than I’ve had in my life. I am worried about her behavior and why she would be telling this to her 16-year-old sister. My daughter has a 4.0 GPA, volunteers, and is usually a good person. Am I out of touch? Should I talk to her about what I overheard? To her sister?

—Too High?

I don’t think that you’re out of touch, necessarily, but I also don’t think that your daughter has done anything wrong by having more sex than you. It’s possible to sleep with a great many people in a healthy way; it’s possible to sleep with very few people in an unhealthy way. I don’t think “is a good person” and “recently had sex with nine different men” are facts at odds with one another. They are both true for your daughter.

That said, I understand it is disconcerting to think about your daughter, a brand-new adult, as a person who has sex at all, much less a person who has sex differently than you do. And I can certainly understand your feeling uncomfortable that she bragged about her very adult experiences to her teenage sister. I think you’re within your rights to tell your older daughter you overheard her conversation with her sister, and while you don’t want to overstep your boundaries, you hope she’s practicing safe sex and not encouraging risky behavior in her younger sibling. If you haven’t already, now might be the right time for a brief refresher on safe sex for your younger daughter (without connecting it to her recent conversation). The rest of it, I think you’ll have to feel uncomfortable about in private.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I recently ended a wonderful relationship after a year and a half. We love each other, and the breakup has been devastating and tormenting to both of us. I want kids; the issue is a deal-breaker for me. The older I get the more worried I get about having them. My ex said he wanted to have kids at the beginning of our relationship, but this year he started feeling unsure about wanting kids. He says he doesn’t feel excited about it and has no longing for it. I think this is less about children and more of a fear of commitment. He doesn’t have a stable job right now and makes a lot less than I do, which may have him worried about supporting a family. I am not ready to give up on this relationship. Recently we have both individually started counseling, which I think is huge for him. But my question is, how much time do I give him to sort out his feelings? I want to give him some time, but I also can’t wait forever.

—Hanging Around

“None” is the right amount of time, I’m afraid. It’s tempting to stick around and see if he changes his mind, especially since he’s done it before, but when someone says they don’t want children, the only thing you can do is take him at his word. It’s not for you to decide his lack of interest in children is really about a fear of commitment or not making enough money. You may love him, but that doesn’t mean you can or should “wait” for therapy to warm him to the idea of having children. Therapy is about helping people sort out their own feelings, not convincing them to want to parent. If having children is a deal-breaker for you, then this deal is broken.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
For the past six months, about every weekend my husband and I get together with another couple to play games or watch a movie. It used to be one weekend at our house, the next one at theirs. The host would provide dinner for the group. Recently they have been coming to our house every time. This means they expect me to cook for them every time. They don’t do it because of money—they make more than we do. The husband has mentioned to my husband that part of it is because I cook homemade meals while they always eat out, and he enjoys that. However, this is a bit more than we can afford and so we haven’t been hanging out with them as often. How do we go back to a more fair arrangement? (And we did try going shopping for ingredients together, and she added more to the cart than I needed and expected me to pay for it all.)

—Cooking for Four

This problem is high on the Solvability Index: You simply need to open your mouth. There’s nothing rude about telling friends you can’t cook a gourmet meal for four every single weekend, and you shouldn’t deplete your budget simply to avoid offending your friends. If you’d like them to chip in for dinner ingredients when you’re grocery shopping together, you just have to say so. And before your next couples’ night, try this: “I’m so glad you’re coming over! I won’t be able to make dinner this time. Can you bring something? Or would you rather order takeout?” Alternately: “Why don’t we do it at your house?”

* * *

Dear Prudence,
As someone who has experienced sexual assault, I find it very hard for me to keep relationships, and having sex leads to a mental breakdown and even suicidal thoughts. I feel like I’m in such a hopeless pit and am terrified this will last forever, and the worst part about everything is I can only find myself to blame. Every time I have sex I feel like I’m being raped again, and I have such a warped view of what’s OK and what’s not that I wonder if I’m actually being violated or not. Getting drunk and having sex has solved many of my problems, as I can relax and not have disturbing images run through my mind, but sometimes the next day I wonder how someone could possibly do that to me knowing I could barely walk straight and that even if I wasn’t consenting, I was too drunk to say “No.” How do I get out of this cycle of reliving this nightmare?

—Can Only Have Sex Drunk

I am so sorry. The pain in your letter is visible, and I hope so much that you are able to take the best possible care of yourself. If having sex (drunk or otherwise) results in feeling suicidal either in the moment or when the hangover clears, then I think you should stop having sex for the time being. Not to punish yourself, or because you don’t deserve to have sex, or that you’re too irreparably damaged to ever enjoy sex again, but because it’s currently bringing you nothing but anguish and pain, and you deserve to experience safety and comfort and a sense of well-being. I think therapy—particularly trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy—would help you process your feelings of grief and violation. Go as often as you can afford; RAINN has information on finding affordable support. Sex is a difficult part of life to get right under the best of circumstances, and you’ve experienced something uniquely painful. Grant yourself the time and the space to attend to your hurts.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
After my mother died in 2011, paying out the final $80K of her estate to me and three siblings (as explained by my brother, the executor) was delayed in case there were late bills and/or taxes that needed to be paid. No problem—made sense. Now, though, the executor-brother, after writing in October to say the money was ready to be disbursed, has only sent a payment to one sibling (who had frequently asked him about it). I’ve had no previous reason to distrust him, but when I asked a month ago, he claimed he’d been working dawn to dusk six days a week (he’s self-employed) and had been unable to get to the post office.

He’s also ignored a respectful email from the other unpaid sibling, who, like me, is beginning to smell a rat; we know the executor-brother has tastes that may exceed his income. Frankly, I’m not happy about the idea of politely forgoing $20K of my inheritance. And while it’s not my place to worry if my executor-brother is being financially irresponsible, I am concerned about how all this affects my dear sister-in-law, who I am certain knows nothing about what’s going down. How should I proceed?

—Stiffed on Inheritance

I think it is your place to worry! This affects your $20K, and as such it is exactly your place to worry about how your brother is handling your late mother’s estate. It is extraordinarily fair for you and your other unpaid siblings to talk to him and ask for a firm deadline. You don’t have to start out by accusing him of anything—this could be a simple case of laziness—but “politely forgoing” $20,000 because your brother can’t get it together to visit the post office is not your only option.

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