Danny M. Lavery, 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.)
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Danny M. Lavery: All right, everyone. Strap yourselves in and get ready for The Discourse.
Q. Rules of attraction: My boyfriend and I have been together for five months, and we’re both 36. He treats me well, is caring, and I enjoy his companionship. The dilemma … our sex life is sparse. It’s been over a month since we’ve been physical. I brought this up and told him I wanted to get to the bottom of it. He told me that he is not physically attracted to me and never was. He had hoped that how well I treat him and how strong our connection is would help overcome this, but it hasn’t. He’s by no means repulsed by me and is willing to work with me on this. For reference, I make healthy choices food-wise and have trouble getting motivated to go to the gym (which I admit); I am of average weight and height, and all of my labs are normal. I was understandably hurt by this. Last night he came over, apologized for how much he hurt me, and cried for two hours. He wants to stay together, and I asked him for time to think about what is best for me. What are your thoughts? It is worth staying with someone who treats you really well but isn’t attracted to you?
A: No. And there’s something desperately sad about having to say something like “my labs are normal,” as if having good blood work would somehow, magically, make you so objectively and overwhelmingly desirable that your boyfriend would develop an attraction to you on the spot. You’ve only been together for five months and he’s simply not attracted to you; that’s not going to change no matter how much he cries at you or promises to “work with you on this.” (How, exactly, does he plan on working to become attracted to you? Attraction isn’t a muscle one can develop through calisthenics.) All relationships are hard, but no relationship should be this hard, this early. Break up with him and find someone who is attracted to you just as you are, lab results be damned.
Q. Didn’t know our marriage was “open”: My wife’s friend solicited me, saying that my wife told her we had an open marriage, which was news to me. I declined. Now I’m wondering whether my wife actually said that, and if so, in what context. I’m contemplating confronting my wife and this woman when they are together, which seems like the best way to get at the truth. Is that a good plan, or should I talk to my wife alone and hope that she is truthful?
A: Talk to your wife alone. There’s no reason to drag this other woman into what should be a private marital conversation. Either this other woman was lying, in which case your wife has the right to know one of her good friends has tried to hit on her husband, or your wife was, in which case you two ought to revisit the status of your relationship. I’m also curious what “context” you think would mitigate your wife lying about the openness of your marriage, if indeed she did tell her friend you two were open. If you don’t trust your wife to be honest without the presence of a third party, you’ve got bigger problems than this one episode.
Q. Settle an argument using my health?: I’m in an argument with my landlord about my power bill, which is included in my rent. I run a window unit for a couple hours before I get home to get the temperature down, and he wants me to stop. He can’t separate my usage from the other tenants in the house, but I’ve done the math, and it costs, generously, $9.50 a month, which I’ve offered to pay him. Now he’s complaining about it to the other tenants, and he wants to take it out of my security deposit. The thing is, I suffer from daily migraines and heat makes me sicker. Being in a hot room for two hours, waiting for it to cool down to room temp from 100 degrees, is demonstrably bad for my health. I haven’t told my landlord about my disability and I don’t know if I should: I told him that I wanted to keep the temperature reasonable so my food and meds don’t spoil. What do you think I should do?
A: This seems like a question for the greater Prudie collective. Landlords, ADA experts, tenants’ rights lawyers—what say you? Can she just offer her landlord the extra $10 a month? Does he have the right to take something out of her security deposit if she’s not actually damaging anything? What’s the next right step?
Q. Ended engagement, dress dilemma: My fiancé and partner of five years ended our engagement two months before our wedding day, because he “couldn’t love me like I love him.” This certainly wasn’t from lack of wanting or trying for it, and I’ve surprised myself with how well I’ve taken it. Still, there are a lot of awkward loose ends to tie up (returning wedding gifts, cancelling reservations, explaining to hundreds of relatives). One of them is petty, but pretty important to me: my dress. I had my dream wedding dress custom-made by a small, local company for a very reasonable price. I can’t imagine finding one I like better if I should be in need of a wedding dress in the future. Is it tacky to hold onto it for if/when I’m ready to walk down the aisle a second time? Could you foresee a future husband-to-be taking offense at this? Have any readers done this? Thanks for helping me grab at shreds of comfort in a sucky situation.
A: I have no idea why it would be tacky to someday wear a dress you like. This dress is in no way spiritually compromised because you purchased it to marry someone who ended up leaving you, and any future partner who wants to spend his life with you ought to be happy you have a wedding dress you love, no matter the provenance. Keep the dress, and don’t waste time dissecting anything that makes you happy during this difficult time.
Q. Re: Settle an argument using my health?: The landlord cannot take the cost of electricity for the A/C out of a security deposit. In fact, the tenant is free to use the shared electricity any way they see fit, including running the A/C. That being said, the landlord is free to stop renting to the tenant when the current rental period ends. If there is a lease, the landlord can choose not to renew it when the lease ends. If the rental is month-to-month, the landlord can provide 30 days notice (60 days in some states), and then terminate the rental agreement.
A: Thanks for this. The letter writer might be best off contacting a local tenants’ rights organization in order to figure out how best to protect herself in case the landlord tries to misappropriate funds from her security deposit, even if he doesn’t have the right to do so.
Q. Strict parents, bisexual best friend: I’m an 18-year-old girl living at home with my very conservative parents. They are very against gay people and seem to think they’re all monsters. I’m not able to live in the dorms when I go to college because my mother is afraid I’d end up with a lesbian roommate who would rape me. She also proudly recounts the time she talked a friend into a gay conversion camp. My problem is that my best friend is bisexual. I want to have her come over to study sometimes, but if my parents found out she’s bi, she wouldn’t be allowed in the house, and I don’t want her to have to hear my parents on one of their rants about how gays want to adopt children just to molest them. Is it possible to maintain a secret friendship with her or is it better to wait a few years until I move out of my parents’ house?
A: I can’t imagine it would be very comfortable for your friend to study at your house if your parents are that often given to making wildly homophobic statements. “Karen, I’m so glad you could come by. Did you know that lesbians have a wingspan of almost 7 feet and regularly consume their own young?” is hardly conducive to a peaceful studying environment. If you want to spend time with your friend, meet away from your house—don’t put her in a situation where she’d be forced to listen to your parents’ bigoted remarks.
Q. Should I apologize?: After not seeing my mother for years, I was able to plan a weeklong trip earlier this month to build a relationship with her. I’ve obviously changed a lot since I was 13, and have built up my military and academic career, but I thought that our regular phone conversations had given her some clue as to my character. I wasn’t expecting her to feel like she didn’t know me at all. While I’ve matured and changed, she hasn’t formed an identity for herself aside from being a mother, even though all of her children are in their 20s. It put a lot of strain on the visit as soon as I arrived, as well as palpable tension because I was obviously not the child she was expecting. I was upfront with her about some inappropriate, racist behavior, and it snowballed into a huge display of emotion on her part and my booking a flight home after only 24 hours to try and salvage what relationship we had left. After I arrived home, I discovered that she had accused me of stealing and selling her husband’s pendant out of spite. (They later found it tangled in his bathrobe.) Though I had rationally explained my reasons for cutting the trip short, I knew she had been hurt by it, but I had no idea she would stoop so low as to accuse me of stealing from her. Now I feel like she thinks I’ve abandoned her, even though I am tempted to cut contact. Should I bite the bullet and apologize to her, even though I feel justified in my actions?
A: After years of not talking, within 24 hours of being in one another’s presence, you called your mother out on her racist behavior, she threw a tantrum and, after you left, accused you of stealing. Even if you were to apologize this time, something tells me she’s unlikely to stop this pattern. You do not owe your mother an apology for leaving her house in the middle of her outburst, or for setting boundaries when she starts making wild demands and accusations. I can’t tell you whether or not you should cut your mother out of your life completely. If it makes you happy to have occasional phone conversations and to keep her at arm’s length, then by all means do so, but do not stay with her again. If she continues to throw emotional tantrums, or tries to bait you by accusing you of crimes you haven’t committed again, hang up the phone, leave the room, or whatever else it takes, but refuse to engage.
Q. Pet myself?: Your letter writer with the boyfriend whose “rosary” tattoo memorialized his liaisons prompted me to bring up the following—I have a tattoo that I think society would find generally acceptable. It’s a common symbol that signifies strength to me. If you’re not morally opposed to tattoos, it’s not controversial. I thought about getting it for many years before I did and don’t think about it at all now—it’s as if it’s always been there. For another many years now I have wanted to get something discreet that memorializes my pet. I came of age in a very small, very dysfunctional family and my pet was my companion and friend. We did everything together. I don’t judge people’s tattoos, but I had a good friend who’d go on ad nauseam about the idiocy of pet tattoos. (Coincidentally, I never thought this person treated animals all that kindly.) I guess they got into my head and I now feel odd asking my partner what they’d think if I decided to get “Fluffy” within a heart (kidding). Do I honor what was a very loving relationship for me during a time when I didn’t have many of those? Do I even owe it to my partner to discuss a decision about my body? I guess, I want to do this and I’m scared of being ridiculed again by someone who matters to me.
A: There is a world of difference between memorializing one’s sexual history and commemorating a beloved pet. If you’d like to get a tattoo marking a pet you loved during a time when you didn’t receive much love from your family, you should. Talk to your boyfriend about it, not because you need his permission but because you want him to know you better and understand where you came from.