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 new 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.
My wife and I have failed to conceive for years. After the emotional roller coaster we’ve been through, we finally settled on having my (gay) brother be a sperm donor. This is something both of our families support and we are very excited about going through with. However, as the appointment for fertilization nears, my wife and brother have gone from close to almost inseparable, talking about “their” future child. I feel shut out of my own marriage. This baby is all we’ve ever wanted, and now I want to tell her that we shouldn’t. I’m jealous and anxious and I don’t know what to do.
—Three’s a Crowd
Oh my God, pull up. Before you even consider using a known sperm donor—especially a family member—you need to consult with a family law attorney. This is a decision that could have long-lasting legal consequences for all of you, including any children that would be born from your brother’s donation. Many states have different laws about the establishment of paternity, and if you’re already feeling at odds with your brother and your wife, I’m deeply concerned for your future. What if you and your wife separate? Would your brother seek visitation? Would your wife ask him for child support? What if your brother sees himself as your child’s real father and insists on becoming a permanent third member of your marriage? It doesn’t sound as though the three of you have discussed any of these questions, and “hoping for the best” is a pretty risky way to embark upon artificial insemination, especially involving a sibling. Your concerns about the role you want a sperm donor to play in your family’s life are deeply important, and you absolutely should not proceed with any appointments until you know that you and your wife are on the same page.
* * *
My mom is a fantastic person. Smart, resourceful, and worked her ass off as a single parent to make sure I never went without. Sadly, I just realized a week ago that she has a serious problem. She has 11 small dogs and several cats. I just moved nearby from out of state to find urine and feces all over the floors. The house smells awful. I hired movers and they refused to load the truck because they couldn’t bear the thought of setting foot in her home. Whenever I approach her about having too many dogs or the mess she instantly becomes argumentative and defensive. She also puts her own well-being after the animals. (She is on a limited budget and doesn’t eat sometimes so that she can feed all the dogs.) I’ve done some web research only to learn that cognitive therapy is a recommended treatment but that it’s largely ineffective. I’m struggling for a way to help her and also prevent myself from going crazy. What can I do to help my mom see that keeping all of these pets isn’t sustainable?
—Too Many Pets
You’re way past cognitive therapy. That’s not to say your mother might not benefit from it in the future, but you need to treat her living situation as an emergency. Breathing in the fumes from the collected waste of over a dozen animals is seriously bad for her lungs (not to mention her pets’ lungs), and she’s at an elevated risk of contracting toxoplasmosis, bacterial infections, salmonella, or worse. Add to that the fact that she’s periodically starving herself, which weakens the immune system, and you’ve got yourself a full-blown health crisis. Your previous attempts to broach the subject have been met with arguments and stonewalling. This is not a subject that is up for debate. If ever there were a situation that called for professional intervention, this is it. Your mother’s health, and the health of every animal living with her, is at stake.
Contact your local animal control agency immediately and have the pets removed from the house. I’m worried that if you offered your mother a warning that she would try to hide some of her pets or otherwise prevent animal control from doing their job, but I do recommend being present yourself when the agents arrive, both so you can help answer questions and provide emotional support for your mother, who’s likely to be distraught. If you can afford it, have professional cleaners come. It may be that the property will be condemned, even temporarily, and you’ll have to consider whether you’d be able to take your mother in, or help her find temporary shelter until her home is declared livable again. Find out beforehand the appropriate social services and take your mother to be evaluated and treated. One of the tragic aspects of animal hoarding is the hoarder’s inability to recognize that she cannot care for her beloved pets and is in fact doing them harm by continuing to keep them in the house. Worse, she either seems unaware of or indifferent to the damage she is doing to her own body. You must act as your mother’s advocate when she cannot advocate for herself.
* * *
My 17-year-old cousin recently came out to his parents after they walked in on him with his boyfriend. They had a long conversation, and he asked them to keep his orientation secret for now. Unfortunately, my uncle couldn’t do this, and now almost the entire family knows. I haven’t told anyone, but I have talked with several family members about how sexuality is very personal and we should respect his privacy by letting him inform people in his own time. We have a big family event coming up soon. The majority of our family is not subtle or tactful and we have a lot of very conservative older relatives. If it were me, I would want to know that everyone knew before walking into the event so I could choose whether or not to attend. Should I tell my cousin that one of his parents let it slip? Or just let it go and hope for the best?
—Revealing a Not-So-Secret
This puts you in a terrible position, having either to tell your young cousin that his parents couldn’t honor his confidence or letting him walk into an emotional minefield totally unawares. I think you should tell him, because the possibility of a public scene outweighs any discomfort you might feel in giving him the bad news. He deserves to know what he’s walking into. If there were a chance that the rest of the family would be able to keep their mouths shut, I’d say keep the news to yourself, but if it’s likely that someone’s going to blurt out something offensive in front of everyone, your cousin deserves an advance warning. Keep your end of the conversation brief and emotionally low-key. Tell him you love and support him, that other members of the family have already been told, and ask if there’s any way you can help while he prepares his next move. It sounds like he’s going to need it.
* * *
I am the perpetually single friend. Now in my mid-to-late 20s, I think I finally met someone great. Things had been progressing perfectly for a few months until on a recent afternoon he confessed that he is married to his roommate, his best friend’s older sister. He is an immigrant, and while I thought he had gotten a green card through the lottery, he is actually getting it through this marriage. It is strictly a business arrangement. Their relationship is closer to that of siblings than anything else. They are about one year into the marriage, with one left to go. I don’t feel jealous. And I’m actually really glad he trusts me with this huge burden he has been carrying. I would never want to jeopardize his immigration status. But I’m struggling with understanding what this could mean for our future. We want a lot of the same things and before this I was thinking that maybe I had finally found the right person. I want to take pictures, take vacations, and introduce him to family. I want to make him part of my life and for the next year I don’t know that will be possible to the extent that I want. What should I do?
Tell him to call you when he’s divorced. As long as his citizenship status is dependent on his marriage, he and his wife (as well as their friends and families) could be subject to surprise visits and interviews by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. Having to maintain a secret relationship for over a year that could possibly result in his deportation would be an enormous, exhausting burden for you to take on, and there’s no telling who or what might expose you to investigation. Part ways, and if you’re still available when he’s finally unattached, you can reconnect in your late-late 20s. You’re not destined for a life of solitude without him (not having a boyfriend until your “mid-to-late 20s” hardly qualifies one as “perpetually single”), but if the connection is real, it will still be there once he’s not dependent upon this marriage to stay in the country.
* * *
I got married just a few months ago and found out last week, to my shock, that I’m eight weeks pregnant, despite being on long-term birth control. Frankly, I’m devastated, as I’m in my early 20s and my husband and I didn’t want to have children for at least another five years. I’m now faced with an excruciating choice. On one hand, we do eventually want to have children, but I’m now terrified that I’ll resent having this child since it will drastically alter all we planned to do together before kids (travel, establish our careers, save money); on the other hand, I’m afraid that I’ll live with guilt forever if I don’t have the baby. How will I feel when I have future children if I don’t have this one? I am dealing with anger as well, since we did everything we could to avoid this situation and yet here we are. My husband says he will support either choice, but I can tell he’s hurting as well. Am I a horrible person for even considering this given that I’m in a pretty stable situation, relationally and financially?
No, you’re not a horrible person for considering abortion. Abortion is one of several options you have before you, and while I can’t tell you which choice is the best one for you right now, I can at least reassure you that there’s nothing wrong with feeling devastated about a surprise pregnancy you’ve actively sought to avoid. You could have an abortion now and still be a wonderful parent when you’re ready to have children later. Or you could have a child now, earlier than you had planned, and still find room in your life for travel and career opportunities. There is nothing wrong with considering your options; you are quite literally exercising your freedom to choose. Not being ready to become a parent is a sufficient reason to have an abortion, and there is no amount of money or relational stability that would oblige you to have a child. There is also, I think, no way to make a choice in a way that eliminates the possibility of regret. Life requires weighing imperfect options and making the best possible decision, not the perfect one. Whatever you choose, know that there will be space in your life for all the things that you have planned.
* * *
I consider myself a rather open-minded person. My boyfriend and I have been together for 10 years, and it was never a big deal to me that he watches porn. He finds it sexy, and nothing about it makes me jealous. Within the last year or so, he started watching a streaming website where women put on live shows and accept tips from viewers. We’ve watched it together a few times and I thought it was interesting. I didn’t have a problem with this type of porn either, although when we talked about it, I said that I was not comfortable with his tipping the women or chatting with them personally. He agreed.
A few weeks ago, I saw him type something in the chat box while watching a live show. He did this within view of me and wasn’t trying to hide anything. I called him out on it and said that it bothered me. He reacted badly and said that he was only responding to another person in the chat room. Later, he agreed that he wouldn’t chat again but he said that he didn’t understand why. I am still bothered by this and I’m not sure if I believe him. I don’t like feeling jealous. What should I do?
—Setting Porn Boundaries
Let’s start by agreeing that your boyfriend was almost certainly not just “responding to another person in the chat room.” People watching live porn shows aren’t chatting with other viewers—“Wow, this is a really great show, Steve; what a time to be alive”—they’re chatting with the performers and incorporating those conversations into masturbatory fodder. It was a silly and transparent lie. His half-hearted agreement to stop chatting with the performers coupled with his passive-aggressive dig (“I’ll do it if you insist, but I don’t understand why you’re making this arbitrary demand”) is a less-than-impressive response. You’re uncomfortable with the idea of his experience with porn becoming interactive, because it feels less like a viewing and more like a one-on-one session: Namely, it feels more like cheating. That’s a perfectly reasonable boundary to draw, and if he genuinely has trouble understanding why it bothers you, he should be willing to have an honest conversation with you and listen to your concerns. His current strategy of evasion and passive-aggression isn’t working for either of you. Being open-minded about your boyfriend’s porn habits doesn’t mean you have to have a blanket policy of total accommodation—you get to speak up and set limits in your own relationship.
* * *
In last week’s column a letter writer told off her half sister for flaunting the fact that their father—who had absented himself from the letter writer’s life after leaving the family—was paying for the sister’s year of travel and then college, neither of which he did for his first family. You advised that the letter writer owed her younger half sister a profound apology. None of it was the sister’s fault, you basically said. But I take exception to that. Why shouldn’t the younger sister be made aware of how her privilege has impacted others? That there was time, affection, and money for her in part because it was denied to the other children? This is one of our great national conversations, isn’t it? To acknowledge the impact when people in power (in this case, the father) privilege some and deny others? For the sister to be so oblivious to how their father had treated his other children is, frankly, her fault. The older sister may owe an apology for the way she delivered her message, but the younger sister owes it to her siblings to recognize she gained from their poor treatment and not blithely go about mentioning it. The younger sister is an adult and doesn’t need to be protected from her siblings’ truth simply because it makes it her shiny, happy life less shiny and happy. If she’s truly upset that her sister laid out some basic truths of what it life was like for her older sister, the person who owes the younger sister an apology and explanation is her father.
Oh, stuff and nonsense, my friend. The question at hand was not, “Should my sister and I ever have a conversation about the ways our father’s favoritism benefited her unfairly?” The question at hand was, “What should I do now that I’ve screamed at my 18-year-old half sister for someone else’s behavior?” Yes, of course it would be a good idea for the two of them at some point to have that conversation, but unfortunately, our letter writer has deeply overplayed her hand by taking out decades of anger at her father on her unsuspecting sister. Before they can have the big “Dad loved you better” conversation, they need to re-establish an appropriate sense of culpability, and the younger sister needs to be able to trust that her older sibling won’t suddenly ambush her again with decades of pent-up resentment.
You’ve created a false dichotomy by suggesting their only two options are 1) Protect the younger sister’s “shiny, happy” fantasy by refusing to ever discuss the past, or 2) Abruptly yelling at one another. If they’re ever going to have a healthy adult relationship, the letter writer is going to have to be able to discern honesty from vindictiveness and direct her feelings at her father to her father. Your suggestion that the letter writer was simply “too honest” confuses yelling with telling the truth.
* * *
I’ve been dating a sweet, funny, caring man for a year. I think marriage is in our future. I love everything about him, except for one thing that drives me crazy. He CAN’T SPELL ANYTHING. Every text, email, letter I’ve seen him write (his job doesn’t involve writing, thank goodness) has the majority of words severely misspelled. He can read just fine and is not dyslexic. He’s just never made an effort to learn how to spell. Is it unreasonable to ask him to work on this so I’m not peeved by every word he writes? Or is this something I have to learn to accept? Prudie, I’ve been with this guy for a year, and he doesn’t know how to spell my last name.
You can ask him anything. You’re presumably in a loving, committed relationship with this man, and under those conditions you should be able to talk about nearly everything with him, provided you do so in a generally kind and constructive way. It’s particularly reasonable for you to ask him to spell your last name correctly—I can’t imagine why you’ve let that pass for an entire year. The only thing I would caution you against is treating this as some sort of moral failing he needs to overcome in order to merit your affection and esteem. You’re not his boss, and this doesn’t affect his ability to make a living, and it doesn’t sound like this is part of a pattern of intellectual incuriosity or resistance to growth, so try to keep things in perspective. He’s a grown man, and while you should hopefully be able to get him to remember how you spell your last name (especially if you plan on keeping it), you’ll have to ask yourself if you can still picture yourself with him if his spelling doesn’t significantly improve.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Photo Bomb: I found hundreds of explicit pictures of my daughter.”
“She Had Him First: My husband goes on road trips with his mother.”
“The Old College Sigh: My son is floundering at school. Should I withhold his tuition?”
“Baby Is a Secret: I raised my children very strictly. How can I ever tell them I put a baby up for adoption as a teen?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Wax On: Prudie advises a mother uncertain whether to let her 11-year-old start shaving her legs.”
“Bed Time: Prudie advises a mother whose baby won’t sleep through the night, making it hard to have sex.”
“No Boys Allowed: Prudie counsels a woman whose fiancé won’t let her have a man in her wedding party.”
“What Ceiling?: Prudie advises a woman puzzled by reactions to the fact she hasn’t faced much sexism at work.”