Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week by signing up in the box below. Please send your questions for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Questions may be edited.)
Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online here on Slate to chat with readers each Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voicemail 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.
I had a really big crush on this guy back in eighth grade. He told me he was gay, and we’ve been best friends ever since. My parents know he’s gay, so we don’t have to follow rules I would normally have to follow if I had a guy over. He is really affectionate, and he likes to cuddle. Recently he has started kissing me, and he feels me up sometimes too. I asked him what was going on, and he said he was just curious. I thought it was weird that he would be curious about what a girl felt like if he was attracted to guys, but I didn’t say anything else.
Well, yesterday we had sex. And it brought back all these feelings for me that I guess I’ve buried because I thought he was gay. I asked him if this meant he wasn’t really gay, and he said “No,” that he was still just curious, that it felt good but he was still only attracted to guys. I feel he may not really be gay at all because I look nothing like a guy, and he had to have been attracted to me in order to do it, right? I also asked him if he’s ever been with a guy at all, and he said he hasn’t. I don’t know what to do. I love him, and he says that he loves me too but just wants to stay friends but that he also would like to have sex again. I would like to do that again and again and again, but it’s because I love him so much. What makes someone gay? And can you be gay but still have sex with someone who is not gay? I am really confused right now.
—Confused, Not Curious
I think his being gay is a red herring. What’s more important is that he’s made it clear that while he’d like to have sex with you again, he’s not interested in dating you or reciprocating your romantic feelings. Whatever his sexuality ends up being, it sounds like he’s more interested in treating you like a fun experiment than someone whose feelings he’ll take into consideration before doing whatever he feels like doing. You mention that you thought his answer was off-putting but didn’t say anything to him about it—I think you should say something now. Tell him that you know exactly how you feel about him and that you don’t want to be something he explores out of curiosity. The worst thing you could do right now is hide your feelings, continue to sleep with him, and hope that something magically changes and he suddenly starts to love you in the way you want to be loved.
* * *
I have been dating a very sweet man for over two months. He is kind, goes out of his way to see me, is very respectful of my needs and my children, and he makes me happy. The problem is that he can’t maintain an erection. We are able to enjoy each other in other ways, which is great. He has tried pills, which help, but not enough. He’s a bit older than me, and while I care about him a lot, I am not sure I am ready to live a life without penetrative intercourse. My only other complaint about him is that he’s a shabby dresser when he’s not at work. Though I think the fashion issue says more about me and some superficial qualities that I have, the ED is a problem with a little more punch. Any advice?
—Looking for an Exit
I think that two months into seeing someone, almost anything can qualify as a deal-breaker. If the idea of committing to someone who can’t offer you what you want sexually makes you balk, balk on. Balk right out of that relationship and find someone else. You’re not a shallow monster for wanting to date someone without ED, or a more stylish dresser, but don’t continue to date this man if you’re going to secretly resent (or try to change) all the ways he doesn’t live up to your expectations. It hasn’t even been a full financial quarter! Tell him he seems like a great guy, but this isn’t working for you, and try again.
* * *
My adult daughter is an addict. I never thought I would find myself in this predicament. If it were someone else, I would say, “Cut her off!” But I want to maintain a relationship with her. I am truly torn between thinking that it is in everyone’s best interest to sever ties until she gets and stays clean, or continuing talking with her (not about drugs—she is in denial even after serving two prison terms for possession). Can you give me guidance one way or the other?
—Can’t Cut Her Out
I don’t think you have to cut your daughter out of your life, with the caveat that you absolutely should if she puts you in danger—physical, legal, or otherwise. It doesn’t sound like she’s trying to borrow money or move in with you or draw you into her dependence. How much you are able to let your daughter into your life depends on what you’re capable of and what boundaries you’re willing to draw. (Here I’ll put the usual plug for Nar-Anon family groups, which offer support for anyone who is “affected by someone else’s addiction,” and will not insist that you cut your daughter off until she gets sober.)
Perhaps you’ll find that it’s easiest for you, both emotionally and logistically, to talk with her on the phone once a month, keeping the conversation away from her drug-related problems unless she expresses interest in receiving treatment. You might occasionally get coffee, or exchange emails, or find some other low-key way to stay in contact without your getting sucked into the undertow that seems to follow her around. Of course, this only works if you yourself can accept there’s little you can do to help her problem directly, until and unless she becomes willing to get help. There’s a difference between keeping your daughter in your life and completely signing off on all of her addictive behaviors. There’s certainly a case to be made for cutting an active addict out of one’s life, but I don’t believe it’s always the healthiest and best decision. It’s certainly not the only one available to you.
* * *
I am a single middle-age woman who is educated, witty, well-read, liberal, independent, and adventurous. I am considered nice-looking, and I take a good photo. I also use a wheelchair due to partial paralysis of my legs, and I would like to be in a relationship. I am considering using Internet dating sites to meet someone, but I don’t know how—or when—to tell them about my disability and wheelchair. I can stand for photos, so I could keep it out of my profile. I don’t want to omit this information and then be rejected when they find out or to attract fetishists. I am not defined by my disability, but it is very significant in practical ways. What do you think?
—Serious Inquiries Only, Please
It’s a tricky path to navigate, avoiding fetishists while also not wasting time on people who would consider your disability a deal-breaker. I spoke with a friend of mine, Krystal, for some specific suggestions:
You should disclose at whatever level you’re most comfortable with, but don’t lie, even by omission. What I have done in the past is post cute but generic waist-up pictures of myself, and mention my wheelchair in the text of my profile. It weeds out people who don’t read your profile, without risking putting your picture out there for creepy fetishists who collect and trade pictures of disabled women (a real thing that happens).
I think this would reflect your desire not to be defined by your disability, but also not to pretend it’s insignificant or unimportant. Hopefully this will help you avoid both in-person rejections and the sort of people who are interested in dating you for the wrong reasons.
* * *
My younger sister recently got out of a bad relationship, and she has since spiraled out of control. She refuses to work, so my parents pay all her bills. She goes out and parties all the time, and she does everything on my parents’ dime. My parents are afraid of her, and I am too. If you tell her something she doesn’t want to hear, she becomes incredibly cruel. A couple of weeks ago, she let herself into my house (she had a key) and took my work laptop because she “needed it.” Then I noticed that a full bottle of Vicodin that I had left over from a recent surgery was empty. I’ve tried for years to help my sister, and none of it has worked. In the meantime, I have felt that because of my sister’s issues, there was never enough room for me and my needs. My question is: What can I do to make my parents understand that she has real issues that aren’t being solved by our enabling her? And should I cut my sister out of my life at this point? I feel like she’s a stranger to me, and I’m tired of the turmoil.
Change your locks today. You may not be able to convince your parents to join you, but you can tell them you’re no longer going to allow her to create wreckage in your life, steal from you, or berate you when things don’t go her way. They may or may not decide to do the same, which is neither your problem nor your responsibility. You can’t direct how they deal with your sister, but you can opt out of the cycle they’ve developed with her. This is a clearer example of when cutting someone off becomes necessary. Your sister isn’t able to treat you as a separate person: She can treat you like a bank account or a scapegoat without much room in between. You have every right to distance and protect yourself from her.
* * *
We recently upgraded our old station wagon to a brand new car. My stepson, the eldest, is in community college, so we gave him the car. This turned out to be a big mistake. He celebrated by getting drunk with his friends and backing the car into a barn. He lost his license for six months and was sentenced to community service, while we had to pay damages. The car was still serviceable, so we gave it to my daughter, who will be attending college across the state in the fall. Now they are fighting over who gets the car. My husband is soft on his son (and doesn’t want to be bugged for rides), but I don’t see why my daughter should be punished for that. We want you to be the deciding factor. What do you think?
—Whose Car Is It Anyway
You’ve already given your daughter the car. There’s nothing to fight about—she has the car, and that’s the end of it. The person best suited to use the car is the person who has never driven the car drunk straight into a barn.
* * *
I just started dating a great guy. We’ve been out only a couple of times, but the spark is there. The trouble is that he has a bad background. His mom was an addict and his dad is in prison, and he bounced around from various troubled relatives until CPS intervened and put him in foster care. He was bounced from place to place and never bonded with anybody. He had a few brushes with drugs and the law, but nothing serious, and he is now in community college, works at the same place I do, and is trying to do better.
The trouble is he has no clue about life. He’s never had a sit-down family dinner, and he doesn’t know about cleaning or chores. He has a room in a boarding house and eats every meal out. A previous girlfriend taught him how to do laundry, and he joked that I can teach him how to cook. But what if it isn’t a joke? Can somebody with this kind of damage be a real partner?
—Worried About Damage
Yes. There are two separate questions here, I think. (I agree with you, by the way, that your boyfriend wasn’t really joking; it sounds to me that he genuinely doesn’t know how to cook and wishes someone would show him the basics.) One is: How do I date someone who’s learning a lot of basic responsibilities for the first time as an adult? The other is: Can someone who had an extremely difficult childhood also be a loving, stable partner? To the first I’d say: With patience, with communication, by not laughing at or judging him when he reveals he doesn’t know how to do something you consider obvious or easy, by asking questions, by being supportive. To the second I’d say, once again: Yes. There is no minimum Happy Childhood Index required to be a good person and partner. Don’t let the fact that your boyfriend has suffered greatly at the hands of irresponsible adults and the foster care system count as a strike against his character. If he treats you badly or ends up not being the right person for you, by all means, break up with him. But don’t assume he’s too damaged to date just because he’s had to overcome a great deal of hardship.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“The Right to Say I Don’t: The law finally allows me to marry my boyfriend—only he doesn’t want to.”
“No Direction: My husband’s spent our entire marriage writing a screenplay, and I’m fed up.”
“Gut Shot: We just found out the midwives helping my wife give birth are rabid anti-vaccinationists.”
“Nude Blues: My wife is always naked—and now she’s turning our children into nudists, too.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Inside Job: Prudie advises a woman who fears she’s tempting her husband by employing a hot live-in nanny.”
“Twins in Bed: Prudie counsels a parent whose son and daughter may be a little too close.”
“My Condolences, Marry Me: Prudie counsels a woman impatient to pursue a recent widower.”
“Crime at the Ballet: Prudie advises a parent sworn to secrecy about a daughter’s predatory dance instructor.”