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After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve decided to divorce my wife of five years. All we did was fight, and we had little in the way of sexual intimacy. The problem is that my soon-to-be ex-wife just had a baby a few weeks ago. I was thinking about divorce when I found out she was pregnant but decided to stay for the sake of the baby. It’s four weeks after the birth, and things are worse. We fight constantly and we haven’t had sex for almost four months, so last week I finally got the courage to break ties and move into an apartment.
The problem? My friends and family say I’m horrible—that my wife just had a baby; that we’re in the miserable newborn stage and of course we’d fight; that she’s not even cleared by the doctor for sex yet, so of course we’re not sleeping together. Even my brother says I’m being selfish. What do I say to these people? My wife stopped being the woman I loved almost a year ago, but I only hung around because she got pregnant.
—Sympathy for the Devil
I don’t know that “hanging around” was the best response to a surprise pregnancy. You didn’t stay for the sake of the baby; you merely postponed your exit for the duration of the pregnancy! You seem to have chosen the worst of both worlds over the past year: You halfheartedly decided to stay a bit longer without trying anything new, and now you’ve chosen an awfully inopportune time to move out. (I’m not enormously sympathetic to your four-month-long dry spell, but I’ll take you at your word that sex had been infrequent long before this particular jab of celibacy.)
Frankly, your biggest problem is not what people are saying about you but about how you’re going to be a present co-parent to a month-old baby and a newly minted ex-wife. If your friends and family criticize you for moving out at a particularly inconvenient time, you may have to simply bear it as the price you pay for leaving a marriage where you’ve already emotionally checked out. If pressed, you can simply tell the truth: “Our marriage has actually been rocky for quite a while, but I think this is for the best, and now I’m trying to focus on raising our child together.”
* * *
I have been married for 20 years to a great guy. I have a big problem, though: I have never liked sex with him. He is a great father and husband, but the sex has never been good. He is the best I have ever had, but if his penis fell off today, I would probably be doing a happy dance in my head. I have to be drunk to have sex with him now and he knows it—and it hurts him. I don’t think I want a divorce. I wonder if letting him sleep around would be the answer. I just worry that if he actually did that I would regret that decision.
I have to confess: A question like this reminds me of my human limitations. I’m a mortal woman, not a wizard. You love your husband, but you’ve never once enjoyed sleeping with him. The best sex of your entire life leaves you so underwhelmed that if your partner lost his genitals you would dance for joy, yet you’re reluctant to let him sleep with other people because you might regret it. Why would you feel regret if the sex is so unbearable now? This sounds like a nightmare! Based on your letter, I’m not sure if you’re gay or asexual or suffer from a medical condition that prevents you from enjoying sex; I’m not sure if you and your husband should open up your marriage or simply part ways. But I can tell you that almost any alternative would be preferable to the current state of affairs. Try something else. Try anything else. Try couples counseling. Try a sex therapist. Try a doctor. Try saying “I’m gay” or “I’m not interested in sex with anyone” out loud and see how either of those statements feel. Try asking your husband what he would like to do. Ask yourselves if the idea of another 20 years of miserable, reluctant, alcohol-soaked sex is really the best you two can offer one another.
* * *
I am a college student who will be spending my summer interning in a major city. My long-distance boyfriend is studying for the LSAT. Our plan was to live together this summer, and we split a deposit on a nice apartment. However, my boyfriend discovered the best LSAT tutors are elsewhere and decided not to come. This was a tough pill to swallow, but getting into law school is extremely important for him—something I’ve known from the beginning of our relationship—and eventually I came around. Since then, we’ve planned three short trips for him to come visit me, and I’ve made arrangements for us to do things he enjoys. Two days before he was planning to visit, he canceled all of these plans. He says his tutoring schedule is going to be extremely demanding, he will be taking practice tests twice a week for two months, and missing even a single one in order to visit me is out of the question. I am hurt and feel he is being tremendously selfish—he won’t even visit for a weekend if it means missing a single practice test. He thinks he has done nothing wrong and scoffs at the notion he should somehow make it up to me. How do I get over this?
—Boyfriend Chose Test Prep Over Me
You will find your problems with the LSAT diminish to virtually zero once you break up with him. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone dating a (pre-) law student should preventatively fling his or her relationship out the nearest window, but your boyfriend has already backed out of a rental agreement and three separate trips to see you without so much as a “sorry for the inconvenience.” This habit of overpromising and underdelivering seems unlikely to change anytime soon. He’s an iffy planner, more than a little selfish, and reluctant to apologize, which is a dreadful combination. You could work with someone who was going through a particularly busy season of life but was, at the bare minimum, apologetic about inconveniencing you and sad not to have gotten to spend time together, but this guy has demonstrated zero interest in meeting you halfway. Wish him the best on his LSATs and find someone else.
* * *
I’ve been with a great guy for five years, and we’re planning to get married. Recently, I met up with an old college friend, and she pointed something out to me that my fiancé goes against my wishes a lot, and I usually go along with him. For some reason, I never noticed it until my friend pointed it out. One example: I was a vegetarian when we met. He isn’t. We now both eat meat. Another example: I’ve always hated the thought of diamond rings and said I’d never wear one. When he proposed, it was with a diamond ring. I accepted it and wear it. I guess on some level I never realized this sort of thing is happening. Is this something I need to be concerned about?
—Going With the Flow
Possibly, but I don’t think you should throw yourself into crisis mode just yet. I don’t know if your fiancé is a domineering tyrant or just mildly overbearing; it’s not immediately clear from your letter just how bossy he can be. It doesn’t sound like he’s tried to push you out of your deeply held beliefs so much as you’ve generally opted to go along to get along. Would you like to go back to being a vegetarian or do you enjoy eating meat now? Would you like to return your diamond ring in exchange for something less flashy or more ethically sourced, or do you find you like it just fine? If so, what’s keeping you from stating what you want to your partner? Does the thought of directly contradicting him sound exhausting or frightening? If so, your friend may have alerted you to a dangerous power dynamic in your relationship.
If that’s not the case, then you might just be a relatively easygoing person who tends to get subsumed by stronger personalities if you’re not careful. So be careful! Take the time to pause and ask yourself in the moment, “Am I doing this because it seems easier to go along with whatever he wants? Or do I genuinely have no preference?” While you’re not obligated to fret over this relationship dynamic just because your friend pointed it out to you, if you find as you think about it that you would like to go back to vegetarianism or swap your diamond ring for a simple band (or take up the oboe, or try to get your decade-old The O.C. fan fiction published, you name it), go right ahead and advocate for yourself. No one else is going to do it for you.
* * *
My fiancé and I have been together for more than nine years, and we’re having a small wedding with close family and friends this summer. I have never been happier, but there is one problem. A small part of my fiancé’s extended family still does not know that my fiancé is gay, much less that we’re engaged. We have kept our relationship off social media until this point at the request of my fiancé’s father. He is concerned that this “nontolerant” part of their family will disown everyone if they discover our relationship. I have been understanding until now, but I don’t want to keep all our wedding photos off social media (and ask all our guests to do the same thing) just to keep a secret from a handful of family members I have never met. The good thing is that my fiancé and I are on the same page. How can we politely stand our ground with this situation?
—Family in the Dark
You’ve been more than accommodating of your future father-in-law’s wishes for almost an entire decade. On some level, he must know that what he asks of you is impossible. Even if you were to hide your wedding photos from Facebook and Instagram indefinitely, you could not realistically insist that everyone else in attendance do the same. You were never going to be able to maintain this closeted fiction until the death of every single one of your anti-gay relatives; your wedding seems as good a time as any to drop the online embargo. You can reassure your fiancé’s father that neither of you will go out of your way to get in touch with these bigoted relatives, but at some point, the cat was always going to get out of the bag. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” repeated as often as necessary, is a perfectly polite thing to say. Refusing to honor someone’s request is not an impolite thing to do, particularly when the request is as significant as this one.
* * *
I’m a recently divorced 32-year-old who has a very volatile relationship with my ex-husband. We work together, so I’ve tried to be friends, but the way he looks at me just sends me right back to square one. He told me we would never be together and that I should move on. Finally, I met someone who is perfect for me; I see him as being a great potential husband and father. I love him, but I don’t feel like I did with my ex. We’ve been together nine months, but watching my former lover flirt with other women in my face drives me insane. He’ll come back every few weeks, profess his love for me, then turn around and tell me to stay with the man I’m with.
I try to convince myself that my current boyfriend will truly be enough for me. My lease is ending and my boyfriend has asked me to move in with him. Maybe it’s just too soon to move in with someone, or maybe it’s just the finality of my divorce being completed this spring, but these past few days I’ve been considering ending my relationship. I feel awful. I hate myself for feeling like this, because I’m tearing myself apart inside and can’t tell anyone. What do I do?
I think you’re right not to want to move in with your current boyfriend, because you’re clearly in no position to commit to anyone right now. That’s not a criticism, mind you—you’re certainly not the first person to feel tormented at the hands of a hot-and-cold ex—merely an acknowledgment of the facts. Your first step should be to find a different job. This can take time, especially these days, so make that your top priority. I can’t imagine how you’ve been able to stand working with your ex-husband as long as you have, and going into an office without him in it everyday should go a long way toward making you feel less volatile and out of control. Any job would be better than the one you have now, and you’ll be better equipped to make decisions about whether to end your current relationship when you’re not working with an ex-husband who’s hovering over your cubicle, asking you to run away with him once a month.
* * *
Two weeks ago, I went out with a guy from work (we don’t work in the same department). Two dates in, everything between us was dynamite, and then I think I came on a little too strong. He ghosted; I got the point and moved on. We haven’t spoken since. I’m not too upset about the disinterest but I am annoyed that he was not straightforward. Now there is a possibility that I am about to become one of his supervisors. I would like nothing more than to pretend none of this happened and hope he does the same. However, I have no idea how he feels, and it’s inevitable that I will have to speak with him again. I think it’s probably better to acknowledge what happened before I am promoted. I’d also love to tell him that this is exactly why it’s better to be straightforward, but that would probably be inappropriate and fall on deaf ears.
—Ghost at Work
I’d love to be in a position of professional superiority over someone who had ghosted on me too, but I think you’re wise to realize now is no time to offer him lessons in dating etiquette. Your instinct to behave as if nothing happened between the two of you is a good one. Wait until after you’ve gotten the promotion to say anything; it would be unnecessarily embarrassing if you initiated the conversation prematurely, didn’t get the new job, and went back to not working directly together. Keep it simple: “Charmathon, I know we went on a few dates that never went anywhere, but my focus now is on working together well, and I hope yours is, too.” Then quietly and professionally revel in your victory. May we all get promoted over the great dates who never called us back.
* * *
My sister and I had a lot of the same picture books as kids. (I’m five years older, so I had them first, which is not relevant, but this whole question is super bratty.) A few weeks ago, she got an iconic image from one of those books as a tattoo on her back. Now I’m getting a sleeve that consists of images from my favorite kids’ books. I took the books to the tattoo parlor, and the artist picked out that same image as the perfect one to go right at the top of the sleeve. My sister is furious. I am upset that she is furious, and I want my tattoo as I am currently imagining it. Should I give up the idea? I am legitimately concerned that I will be engraving guilt and resentment into my skin.
I want to treat this question seriously, because while the stakes might seem faintly ridiculous, the feelings behind them are at least real. (Is the image in question of the Little Prince standing on his home planet? Because if your sister thinks she’s the only one with that tattoo, I invite her to walk into any dive-adjacent bar in the nearest midsize city and ask people to show her their shoulders. She’ll find at least five.) A minor but significant point is that you must not hide behind your tattoo artist’s decision as if it were not your own. You are not being forced to use the same image by a temperamental artistic genius. You merely like it and you want to use it as part of your own tattoo. Which is perfectly fine! But do not pretend as if this decision had not been your own.
My inclination is for you to find another, slightly less iconic image from the same book to complete your sleeve. The image in question isn’t central to your tattoo’s theme, but it’s the only tattoo on your sister’s back. Give way to her just a bit, and do so not begrudgingly but joyfully, and you’ll find that you’ve sacrificed very little and gained a great deal in the way of filial harmony.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Red-Letter Day: The notes my dying mother wrote to me a decade ago are haunting my life milestones.”
“Present Pain: If my husband doesn’t put more thought into his gifts, I’m going to cry.”
“Runway Bride: I hate my unfashionable—and nonrefundable—wedding dress.”
“Can’t Take a Joke: My family mercilessly teases to show affection, but my boyfriend doesn’t get it.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“The Last Temptation of Bob: Prudie advises a man who doesn’t trust himself with his wife’s flirtatious sister.”
“Goading Granny: Prudie advises a man whose now-dying mother enjoys haranguing plus-size loved ones.”
“Love in the Time of Cancer: Prudie counsels a parent whose 16-year-old feels pressured to support her stricken boyfriend.”
“Choose Life: Prudie advises a woman with two special needs sons who wants a third child—with genetic counseling.”