Danny M. 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 email@example.com.)
Q. Not sleeping with the enemy: I’m engaged to be married soon, and, while my fiancé was away on holiday recently, I reconnected with a (heterosexual) friend of the opposite gender and ended up staying overnight unexpectedly. As his shared house does not have a communal living area and his bedroom is quite small, I ended up sleeping in his spacious double bed with him in it. It was strictly platonic, but my fiancé and I are from a relatively conservative background and my fiancé would not be OK with me seeing this friend again alone if I were to tell him. Is co-sleeping with someone in a context that most people might assume to have romantic undercurrents cheating?
A: Platonic bed-sharing with friends isn’t necessarily something I’d want to hear my partner had made a regular habit (“Thursday is Courtney’s night, see you Friday”), but in this case it sounds like a perfectly normal response to your situation. You couldn’t sleep in the living room, and it seems ridiculous to sleep on the floor, as if you’re Tristan making a point about the virtue of Isolde before bringing her to Mark. You’re not obligated to tell your fiancé anything, because you haven’t done anything wrong, but if it makes you uncomfortable to keep it a secret, you don’t have to carry it to your grave, either. Perhaps the two of you should have a conversation about what you would and wouldn’t like the other party to do in the future, when unplanned nights away come up, so you both have a sense of what the other thinks is reasonable.
Q. Not in agreement: This is my second marriage—I am done raising kids, suburbia, two-hour commutes, and never seeing my house in daylight. I love the city, and I thought my wife and I were in agreement. My eldest son is expecting a baby, and my wife, my 9-year-old stepson, and I went up and stayed for the weekend. This was the first time my wife has seen the old house. Apparently, it made an impression. Suddenly she is talking about crime in the city (historical low), getting a dog (I have allergies), and how our condo is too small for a baby! I told her there was no way I was having another kid at my age. Now she refuses to talk to me. I am going to be a grandfather, and helping raise a 9-year-old is wonderful, but I can’t do diapers again. I haven’t changed and was upfront about my experiences and expectations when we were dating. I thought we were on the same page, but now my life is completely off script. Any words of wisdom? I really don’t think counseling is going to change my mind here.
A: I don’t think you necessarily need counseling in this situation. You’ve been very clear about what you want out of a relationship, and until recently you and your wife felt the same way (or at least appeared to) about most things like children and work and where to live. Something’s changed for your wife, but instead of telling you honestly about what she wants now, she’s decided to withdraw and punish you emotionally because you can’t read her mind. It’s not a very effective way of getting what she wants, although I’m sure she’ll succeed in making the both of you irritable for a while.
I don’t know how easy it will be to get her to talk, given her present state of mind, but it’s worth drawing her out and finding out what it is exactly that she wants. Is it to have a child? Is it to move to the country? Because if those are things she wants now, and you’ve always been clear that you love living in the city and are finished having children, it would be better for her to be honest and decide to either compromise or part ways, rather than try to hide her true intentions and throw a temper tantrum. Frankly, I’m a little worried about the kind of adult who thinks sulking and the silent treatment is the best way to say, “I’m ready to have children.”
Q. Etiquette: I was a Marine, and I am considered 90 percent disabled by the VA for various things, including TBI, hearing loss, and tinnitus (IEDs). My girlfriend insists on calling me on the phone, especially while she drives. My state has a law where you need hands-free phones, so she puts it on speaker. I cannot hear anyone on the phone, much less when they put it on speaker. I stopped answering when she calls and she gets furious, and this has led to fights. My 70-year-old dad texts me, so why can’t she? She says I don’t care because I don’t answer or call her—no, I just can’t hear over phones, and I need to be in the same room and preferably looking at the person to hear/understand. How can I make her understand? She knows about my hearing problems.
A: Your girlfriend is either exceedingly confused about the situation or exceedingly insensitive to browbeat you for not picking up the phone to chat when you have hearing loss. Tell her that you won’t pick up the phone when she calls in the future because you cannot hear her and you will text her instead. If she continues to act as if your hearing loss is some sort of deliberate choice designed to ignore her, I don’t know that there’s anything you can do to make her understand. If she thinks partial deafness is a sign you don’t care for her, I think she has a fundamental misunderstanding of both deafness and caring. Perhaps she has a great many other redeeming characteristics, but to my mind, you’re better off without the kind of person who pretends physical reality is actually a targeted personal choice designed to make her feel bad.
Q. Married, in love with someone else: I have realized that I love someone who has been in my life for a long time. The feelings are mutual. The problem is that I am married and I have children. The marriage has been rocky for some time (for years, really), but we are trying to work things out. We are in counseling. My husband does not know about this. I love my husband, but I love this other person too. I don’t know what to do, or how to even figure out what I want to do. How do I negotiate this?
A: Either leave your husband and try to make things work with the other person you’re in love with, or come clean with your husband and counselor about your split affections and do your best to work on your marriage. The worst choice, I think, would be to try to rehabilitate your relationship with your husband while also secretly pining for someone else, and engaging in the sort of magical thinking that lets you delude yourself into believing somehow, someday, you might get to have both of them.
Q. Ex-boyfriend giving out my number: My ex and I broke up more than three years ago. I spent years being emotionally abused by this man and once my bags were packed I went strictly “no contact.” I have blocked his number and social media accounts, so as never to be disturbed by him again. Ultimately this has been successful, except that a few times a year I will get calls from creditors, etc., looking for him—the most recent call was for him to pick up a parcel—because he has left them my number. I tell them that he cannot be contacted at my number, which has led to some harassment because angry credit card companies don’t believe me when I say he can’t be reached at my number. What, if anything, can I do to stop this without having to speak with him?
A: You could change your number, which would be a not-insignificant hassle for you, but would (at least for the foreseeable future) prevent him from using your old number with future creditors and delivery services. If the alternative is contacting each creditor yourself and explaining your situation to them until they take you off their call list, I think changing your number might be the lesser of the two evils.
Q. Should I learn to bite my tongue?: My husband is considerate and the nicest person I know. Unlike him, I can be confrontational if I feel I am being mistreated. It makes him really uncomfortable, and he will often immediately leave the situation. Like him, I am told that I am considerate and kind, but I also feel that I am confident enough to speak up for myself. To be honest I often feel really guilty about it. Luckily this is a rare issue, but it has become a sore point in our relationship. He is the most important person in my life and I don’t want to upset him, but when we are in a situation in which I feel the need to take charge, it’s really hard to “play nice” and just let it go. I feel that I am stifling a part of my personality, but maybe it is a part that needs to change?
A: If he feels uncomfortable in a situation where you’re engaged in mild-yet-respectful social conflict and decides to leave the room, let him leave the room. It sounds like he’s found an effective coping mechanism for his low threshold of discomfort. I don’t think you have to let anything go; if he can’t be in a room where two people are disagreeing or negotiating, he can leave. You’ll be there when he gets back.
Q. Homophobic ancestors?: I am in a relationship with the perfect woman. We are both openly out of the closet to everyone … everyone alive, that is. My girlfriend is Chinese, and she has not taken me to her ancestors’ grave, nor has she allowed me to accompany her to her family’s ancestral veneration ceremonies. She says her ancestors would not approve of our relationship and that she cannot seek their blessings when she knows they (particularly her grandma) will disapprove. Although I do not share her spirituality, I am hurt she will exclude me from something so significant. I want her to take me not because I believe, but because this is obviously something dear to her. How can I make her introduce me to this part of who she is?
A: You can’t. If there is one theme that pops up repeatedly in my columns, it is that no one can make anyone else do anything. So many of us think if we were only eloquent enough, or found just the right way to state our desires, everyone else would see how reasonable we were being and offer us what we want. And yet: That’s not how choice works. You say your girlfriend is perfect, and that you are out of the closet to her entire family, but that she does not include you in her family’s religious rituals. You’ve told her you would like to be included, and she has declined. Is this something you think is worth breaking up over? Or is this something you can let go, even if you personally would not make the same decision in her case? It doesn’t sound like she is secretly ashamed of your relationship, or generally makes you feel like a second-class citizen, or tries to keep you closeted around her living relatives, so I would urge you to make your peace with this now that you’ve already spoken your piece.
Danny M. Lavery: That’s all from me, gang. Remember: Build nude tree houses in your own backyard, not someone else’s. This is your word for the day.