Mallory Ortberg, 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.)
Q. Thought I’d be a mom, but now … ?: I’m a gay woman in my late 20s. My girlfriend of three years and I intended to get married in the near future, and we had discussed having children. We agreed that we wanted only one child, and we also agreed, for various reasons, that I would be the one to get artificially inseminated and carry the baby. Well, my girlfriend went to bed with a guy after a night of drinking, and now she is pregnant. She says the guy will never be involved (he lives out of state and doesn’t know), and she can’t imagine being with anyone but me. Inside, I’d like to stay, but I feel like a big part of me has been taken away, since this would be our one child, and he or she won’t even be mine. But I also have a hard time picturing her raising this child on her own. Do you think it’s possible to put this aside and not let my longings for the previous future kill the current future?
A: Your girlfriend cheated on you and conceived a child without your knowledge, consent, or participation. She also plans on keeping the biological father in the dark about the fact that he’s going to have a child. If he ever finds out and decides he wants to be involved in this child’s life, that would have serious repercussions for both of you. I’d say whatever future you two envisioned together has already been effectively killed. This is a betrayal on every level imaginable, yet you don’t seem to have a clear understanding of why your girlfriend so spectacularly torpedoed the plans you had previously agreed upon. The first step in whatever decision you ultimately make (and I think you should strongly consider leaving the kind of person who feels no compunction about making drastic life decisions without discussing them with you, her partner) needs to be a frank discussion about her recent actions and whatever justifications she might have for them.
Even if you did want to co-parent with her, it would be an enormous mistake to “put this aside.” You have no parental rights in this situation. If she was willing to change her mind and conceive a child without telling you, what’s to stop her from deciding a few years from now that you’re not her co-parent at all, leaving you behind? Is that why she abandoned your plan to conceive a child together? I’m not sure what kind of future you can build with a woman who clearly doesn’t see you as her partner. You deserve better than this kind of underhanded behavior and dishonesty.
Q. Should one object to a chemical wedding: My sister-in-law is engaged, and the wedding is set for this September. Her fiancé is quiet but fun; in general, I have no beef with him. However, he has “multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome.” Normally, I would figure this is their row to hoe, but I am concerned that some of his recent “sensitivities” are to things that control my sister-in-law in a way. She has had to give up hobbies she enjoyed and throw out all of her makeup. He stays in hotels pretty often, but they can’t join the annual family vacation due to his “condition.” (She used to love coming every year when she was single and wouldn’t want to come without him.) I am worried that the relationship will gradually become more restrictive for her, but I’m not sure how/when to express that worry, or to whom.
I get that confronting her directly and telling her that her “Prince Charming” has a medically debunked condition will not end positively. Should I say nothing until she asks for help and just generally offer to support her if she needs anything? Suggest they go to therapy to “deal with the stress of a chronic condition”? I feel bad that everyone else in the family is gossiping about his nonallergies behind their back—everyone has been very welcoming to his face at family gatherings. I sort of want to clarify to other family members that MCS is absolutely a psychological condition, but then again maybe they should do their own research and I should stay out of it.
A: While MCS is, as you rightly point out, not recognized by any professional body as a medical condition, the symptoms most sufferers describe are genuine—depression, fatigue, unexplained rashes, difficulty breathing, etc. It’s possible your soon-to-be brother-in-law isn’t a malingerer or a manipulator but in genuine distress and without a useful diagnosis. (It’s also, of course, possible that he is, but there’s not enough information in your letter for me to feel comfortable making a call either way.) I think offering your sincere support to her is a wonderful idea and may keep her from feeling isolated if she’s got a fiancé holding her back from the things she loves on the one side and a family prone to gossip and speculation on the other. You’re right that now doesn’t seem like the time to get overly specific (“Did you know that MCS is not considered a credible diagnosis? Have you considered therapy?”), but it’s a chance to check in and see if she’s feeling overwhelmed or alone and to provide her with support.
Q. Have the hots for job interviewer: I’ve had several interviews for a job and think I’m among the final candidates. After the last interview I determined that, for a variety of reasons (compensation, etc.), I’m not interested in this job. I am, however, interested in the job interviewer. I’m almost certain he’s single, which I know because we have common friends in our small industry. (In fact, without knowing about the interview, a colleague we’re both friendly with recently suggested that we meet!) I’d like to ask this guy out, but is this a bad idea? (I will almost certainly run across him in a professional context in the future.) If not, how and when do I ask him?
A: I am deeply and irrationally invested in this working out. If this works out, you have to write me back immediately. The first order of business, I think, should be to withdraw your name from contention, if you’re certain you won’t accept the job if it’s offered to you. Be polite and not too specific (“You’re trying to grossly undercompensate me” might not open doors for you, romantically speaking). Then go back to that colleague of yours who’s been trying to set the two of you up and ask him or her to set you up. You then have the delightful opportunity to practice your surprised face: “My God, I had no idea Jameston was talking about you when he said there was someone I just had to meet. This must be a sign!”
Then invite me to the wedding.
Q. Girlfriend’s rich parents: I am a young woman, in my early 20s, from a lower–middle-class family, and I’m completely financially independent (but saving up for college). I have been dating my wonderful girlfriend for the past year, and we are very happy together. We both live in the same city as her sisters and their boyfriends, and when her mother comes to visit, she always takes us all out to very expensive meals (sometimes multiple times a day). She has also taken us on trips and given me both birthday and Christmas presents. I am not accustomed to this kind of luxury and, although I am very grateful, I sometimes feel uncomfortable. I always try to send a thank you note or email or at least thank her in person. Is there something more I should be doing? Should I offer to help pay? She was initially standoffish (I am the first girl her daughter has dated), but has since warmed up. I want to be polite and show my appreciation. I also want to make sure she continues to like me!
A: I know I can’t just tell you “be comfortable” and expect you to magically shed all discomfort with this situation like a class-anxious snake skin. But I hope you can give yourself permission to relax and accept the warmth and generosity of your girlfriend’s mother. She’s treating you like a member of the family, and in this family, that includes regular gift-giving and meals out during visits. You do not need to offer to help pay for meals if your girlfriend’s mother has invited you out with them, and while thank-you notes for gifts are wonderful, please don’t feel that you have to send a grateful email every time your girlfriend’s mother buys you a cup of coffee.
Q. Girlfriend hates my friends: My girlfriend “Cara” is beautiful, smart, and fun, but she completely shuts down around my oldest friends. We met at comic conventions and have bonded over nerdy interests and shared history. I have known some of these people since I was in my teens. Several of these friends are girls and have invited Cara out to events and dinner, but she never goes. She is great with her friends, and when I pushed, she told me that she was “uncomfortable” with them since I have repeatedly slept in the same room as them over the years.
There were usually four to six of us sharing a room at any time to save money. I never hooked up with any of these girls, and several are gay and asexual. Cara says I am too affectionate with them, and I find myself distancing myself from them. I got a few texts asking if I was mad at them for something because I was acting so strange. I really love Cara, but I don’t want to lose these friendships that I’ve had for more than a decade. Any advice?
A: My advice is for you to break up with your girlfriend, who does not “shut down” around your friends but is in fact quietly manipulating you into shutting down your friendships. The fact that you have platonically shared a room with some of your friends from high school is not a good reason for her to distance you from them. A good girlfriend doesn’t have to befriend your entire social circle, but she shouldn’t try to cut you out of your friends’ lives, either (especially when yours seems perfectly happy maintaining all of her pre-existing friendships).
Q. Re: Hots for interviewer: As a recent college grad more than 20 years ago, I was given a courtesy interview with a government agency that was a good fit for my background. The person I was supposed to meet with was unavailable at the last minute, so I ended up meeting with the deputy director. I was interested and managed to work in some subtle questions that led me to believe he was single. A few days later, I screwed up all my courage and called to ask him out to dinner. But he was out the lunch, and I had to leave a message! He called back, we went out, and we were married a year later. Now we have two lovely girls together. So, my advice is to go for it!
A: Realistically, I know this isn’t the most likely outcome for the letter-writer, but it is now my fondest wish. Screw your courage to the sticking-place, and so on!
Q. Sex talk with gay daughter, or not: My 14-year-old came out as gay almost two years ago, much to our surprise. Since then, I’ve found evidence of her looking up things like gay sex online. Is it too late to have the “sex talk” with her? I’ve got a great idea to cue up Burt Hummel’s sex education talk from the TV show Glee where he says everything exactly as a parent should say during “the talk.” Is that copping out? (She loves Glee.) My husband is no help. He just laughs and says, “Why bother? We don’t have to worry about her getting knocked up.” Ugh.
A: That’s fine if your husband’s only goal for his child’s sexual and emotional health is “no pregnancy,” but I think you’re right to want to go a step or two further. If that scene conveys the basic tenets of what you’re hoping to communicate to your daughter, by all means, show it to her, but don’t just play a few minutes from Glee at her before leaving the room. Have an actual conversation afterward: Answer actual questions (even if she doesn’t ask any; prepare some general answers beforehand), and offer actual support. Fourteen certainly isn’t too late to have a conversation about sex (although I hope this isn’t the first time you’re actually discussing the existence of sex with her).
Q. Stubborn-ass boyfriend: My boyfriend and I have a great relationship. However, I want to get married, and he does not. He says that he loves me but that he can’t promise to love me “until death do us part.” I say that I can’t make that promise either but that I wish to love him for the rest of our lives, and I wish that he would feel the same way about me. He says that he can’t separate “promise” from “wish” and that we will therefore never get married. I think that he’s being stupid and selfish. No one can promise lifelong and unconditional love to someone other than his or her child, right?
A: Whatever he’s being, you’re not going to persuade him to marry you by coming up with a better argument. Your boyfriend has made it clear that he doesn’t want to marry you and that he can’t promise he’ll stay with you for the rest of his life. If you can live with that, stay and adjust your expectations. If you can’t, find someone else who’s willing to offer you what you want. What you shouldn’t do is try to wear down his resistance by coming up with a list of extremely good reasons why marrying you isn’t really that bad and why people don’t really mean it when they promise “‘til death do us part,” so he shouldn’t either. This isn’t a question of semantics, so don’t get caught up in thinking if you can just persuade him not to mind that particular expression, he’s going to want the same things you do.
Mallory Ortberg: Until next week, everyone! Also, please let me know if any of the rest of you has married your job interviewers. This is my new favorite meet-cute.