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 email@example.com.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voice mail 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.
Q. Husband doesn’t initiate sex anymore: I’m a 39-year-old woman, and my husband is 43. Our sex life has always been very good, and we each have done our own fair share of initiating. However, in the past few years, the frequency of sex has really dwindled. Currently, as long as I do all of the initiating, our sex life remains great. If I don’t, no sex for months. I’ve found myself becoming somewhat resentful, as it makes me feel like he no longer desires me or cares to make an effort. I’ve talked with him a number of times about this, and I only get the same responses over and over. He says he’s just getting older, his sex drive is down, etc., and he says that it has absolutely nothing to do with me. I don’t believe his explanation, as he has no problem getting an erection, is ready to go at the barest of hint from me, and also still masturbates. When I ask him why he masturbates instead of having sex with me, he says he just needs the release in the moment. When we do have sex, he is attentive and loving, though his technique is beginning to wane as well. He’ll often do the same move repeatedly until I ask him to do something else. All the initiating and loving encouragement by me doesn’t seem to matter. I feel like a scheduler and choreographer instead of a wife. He doesn’t think it’s necessary to go to the doctor or a counselor and has a habit of ignoring things until they’re broken, despite repeated conversations. The rest of our marriage is great, but I miss my husband in this regard. How much should I push the issue? Do I “resign” myself to the fact I must do all the work or just give up all together?
A: Your husband’s made it clear that he’s perfectly happy with things the way they are, and you yourself know that he has a habit of “ignoring things until they’re broken” (cue dramatic music: like, perhaps, your marriage!), so it really depends on what you’re willing to live with. Some people could live quite happily with a partner who responded favorably to sexual overtures, was reasonably attentive, and took direction well; others might be miserable with a sex partner’s suddenly transitioning from active to passive. Go to a therapist with or without him; find out what you can live with and what you can’t; and make your limits clear, both to your husband and to yourself. I imagine being partnered to someone with a habit of ignoring problems until someone else is forced to make a decision on his behalf is more than a little maddening; consider whether you are interested in making a lot of decisions on his behalf.
Q. Strange situation: I need your advice, as well as those of your readers. Several months ago my family and I pulled into our driveway in my vehicle. We noticed that there were wires pulled down underneath my husband’s vehicle. It turns out that someone cut his brake lines! I was totally freaked out and wanted to call the authorities to make a report. He vehemently refused and said it wouldn’t do any good. He was able to repair the brakes himself and didn’t want to talk about it. I wanted to talk about it but didn’t want our kids to hear for fear they may get scared. I asked him repeatedly who could have done this. He said, “Probably neighborhood kids.” I said that neighborhood kids don’t usually try to kill people! He purchased outside motion detector cameras immediately after this incident, and nothing has happened since. My husband is a quiet, mild-mannered guy (who has absolutely NO GAME—I made the first, second, and third moves!). I know where he is every minute of every day. Does this kind of vandalism sound like the work of an angry girlfriend or girlfriend’s husband? He really doesn’t seem like the type to cheat. His lack of willingness to discuss it troubles me the most. What are your thoughts?
A: It’s hard to imagine that your mild-mannered, every-minute-of-every-day-accounted-for husband has cheated on you so extravagantly that some third party went to the trouble of cutting his brakes. Not impossible, but difficult to imagine; I think it’s likelier that it was an act of malicious but arbitrary mayhem and that your husband simply assumed there was little to no chance of the police finding the culprits if they’d already fled the scene. I think you two just have a very different sense of what the police are and aren’t capable of. Feel free to have another conversation about under which circumstances you’d be likely to alert the authorities, so you can get a better sense of where you disagree, but don’t keep yourself up at night wondering whether he’s got some violent, unstable mistress hiding out in your garage.
Q. Arrested development roommate: Due to financial constraints, my boyfriend and I rented a room in our home to a mutual friend. One month later, our house is packed with her junk, and our relationship is strained by her constant need to be included in whatever we do. She expects us to cook meals and grocery shop for her and to eat together nightly. She doesn’t clean or help out with household chores but happily follows me around while I do, yammering in my ear. I feel like I’ve accidentally adopted a 25-year-old child. Both my boyfriend and I are going nuts and in agreement that this situation needs to change. She’s not on the lease, and our financial situation has improved drastically (we both got new higher-paying jobs in the past six weeks) to where we can comfortably afford to pay rent ourselves. How long until we can tell her to move on?
A: Why wait? Assuming her tenancy is month to month (even if she didn’t sign a formal rental agreement, if she’s paying you rent, she’s a tenant), on the first day of the next calendar month, tell her she has a month to move out. Check your state laws first, as they can vary in different parts of the country, and make sure that you give her both written and stated warning, if necessary. But it sounds like this situation is unbearable for both of you and has likely irreparably damaged your pre-existing friendship. The sooner you give her notice, the sooner you can all put an end to a situation that’s making you and your partner miserable.
Q. Financial infidelity: I am a divorced 36-year-old who had been dating my now 24-year-old boyfriend for three years. When our relationship started the age wasn’t really a factor, and his youth and vigor was a godsend after my very bitter breakup. I am very stable financially, and a year ago we decided he should move in with me to get schooling for a career that would provide him with a better income to start our future together. Right before he moved in, he revealed a substantial amount of credit card debt to me. We worked it out, and I ended up helping him consolidate the loan and took out a line of credit that I co-signed because his credit was so bad and my co-signing allowed for a much lower interest rate. We discussed that this racking up of debt to pay bills was not to happen again and that he needed to be open with me about money. He worked part time to pay for his own expenses during school while I provided for all other financial needs.
Fast forward a year and I find out he has racked up another $5,000 worth of credit card debt behind my back, and I had to drag every detail out of him. I was beyond pissed and broke up with him. I feel torn though, because he is an amazing, loving person and my family and friends say that I will quickly learn that debt problems are easier to deal with than trying to find someone who loved me as he did. I am scared that I didn’t give him enough of a chance. Should I call him and tell him I acted too hastily? Is financial infidelity as unforgivable as other infidelities?
A: Your problem with your boyfriend wasn’t that he had “debt problems” but that he was incapable of being honest about his financial situation, and he used your offer of co-signing on a loan as an opportunity to buy more shit. What’s worse, you had to “drag every detail” out of him even after you two had agreed that financial openness was crucial to your relationship. It doesn’t even sound like he apologized for what he did. He’s not just bad with money; he’s bad with the truth. Count yourself lucky you’re only out $5,000, and in the future, be more wary about who you co-sign loans with. Perhaps it goes without saying, but let me say: Any friend who wants you to give this guy another chance is not a friend with your best interests in mind.
Q. Re: Strange situation: Maybe I watch too much TV, but cutting someone’s brake lines sounds more of a “sending a message” type of scenario. The first thing that came to my mind was he owes someone money. I’d check out all of the household finances, just to be on the safe side. Make sure there’s no strange debt or withdrawals from accounts.
A: One vote for checking your husband’s story!
Q. I had an affair with my would-be mentor’s husband: I’ve been publishing my writing for some time now, and lately my words have caught the attention of a writing/editing mentor (15 years my senior) who is very interested in my “story” and wants to help me write a book. Small problem: I had a yearlong affair with her husband, and I’m afraid she’s going to figure me out. Is it possible to entertain her interest without outing myself? Or should I just let this opportunity pass?
A: Let it pass. Give it the widest berth imaginable. Let it pass like th’idle wind, which you respect not; watch it drift past you on the stream of life and say to yourself, “What a very interesting situation I have just narrowly avoided.” Pass like you’ve just drawn 20 in blackjack. Go into the West, and diminish.
Q. Re: Strange situation: The mild-mannered husband suddenly turned vehement on this one topic. Something smells fishy. How does he know it wouldn’t do any good, unless he knows something about why it happened? Apparently mild-mannered people can have hidden stories.
A: I still think it’s likelier that her husband has a slightly fatalist attitude toward the police’s ability to find out who cut someone’s brakes than he’s a secret drug kingpin or has a murderous ex-girlfriend, but there are enough letters like this one coming in that I owe it to the general public to publish them. Consider filing a report (even after the brake lines have been fixed) without your husband, for your own peace of mind.
Q. Paint me angry: I have been dating my current boyfriend for a year. He is loving and faithful, and our relationship is solid. However, he has a painting in his bedroom that I wish he would take down. The painting was made by a woman with whom he had a friendship and sexual relationship in the past. He cheated on his most recent ex-girlfriend with this woman, and she continues to call him and send him letters. The painting serves as a reminder to me of this woman’s presence in his life, though he refuses to take it down because he says he sees it as “just a painting” and not a reminder of her. Am I being petty, or should he take it down?
A: When she calls him and sends him letters, does he … answer those calls? And return those letters? Is he merely a vacuum into which she tosses her unasked-for thoughts and feelings, or are they in regular contact? Your language is curiously passive there, and it’s not clear if what you’re objecting to is the painting qua painting or the position his former girlfriend-turned-mistress occupies in your boyfriend’s life. If you really wanted to be petty but effective, you could throw the painting away while he was out of the house (destroy it first, and find a dumpster far enough away that he couldn’t recover it) and deny knowing anything about it up and down for the rest of your life. That would hardly foster trust and intimacy, but at least you’d have the painting out of the way.
That said, I think the painting is emblematic of your problems with your boyfriend, rather than their cause—he’s cheated on previous girlfriends with this woman and seems unconcerned with how his ongoing relationship with her makes you feel. He keeps a painting of hers in the bedroom—not the hall, not a guest room, but right where he sleeps and you two presumably have sex. Throwing the painting away yourself wouldn’t solve the larger issue. Tell him how the painting makes you feel: Like he’s still more than half-in-love with her, that he’s never going to make you a priority over her, and that he’s going to cheat on you with her someday. If hearing that isn’t enough to get him to compromise, you’ve got bigger problems than a painting.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone, and may all of your partners’ brake lines continue smooth and uninterrupted, and may all their bedroom art be painted by elderly relatives. Until next week!