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.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voicemail of the 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. Marriage possibly ending: I have been with the same guy for six years, married for one. He has two sons from a previous marriage, and she is not in the picture. If it is relevant I’m a male too. My husband has asked me if I could accept his moving into his own apartment for a year because he has never been on his own. He says he doesn’t want us to break up, just live apart for a while. The boys would stay with me in our home, and he would take them to spend the night every so often. We would also have a weekly date night just to keep our relationship “on track.” He married his ex right out of high school, and they had children right away, so he really hasn’t ever been on his own. I have not given a response other than asking a few questions. Truthfully the idea makes me mad as hell and I just want to tell him to leave if you want and take your damn brats with you! Then I calm down and realize I can’t live without him and the boys. Or maybe I can. I feel this is unbelievably selfish of him, but I kind of understand. But the boys have already been abandoned by their mother, how would this plan affect them? I am so confused, and hurt. Help!
A: I would resist the urge to take your (extremely understandable) frustration, hurt, and confusion out on the kids by referring to them, even facetiously, as “your damn brats”; whatever happens between you and your husband, I hope very much that you can see his children are not responsible for his behavior. What troubles me the most is his request that you take over primary custody of his children so he can have a bachelor pad. It’s one thing to suggest living apart from one’s romantic partner; it’s quite another to abdicate daily responsibility toward your own children just because you’ve never lived in a studio. I might have more faith that your husband was trying to suggest a genuine, radical-yet-loving change in your living situation if he weren’t also asking you to become his children’s primary caregiver—it sounds to me that what he is asking is for you to become the father he no longer feels like being, while you get to see him for one date night a week. If he wants a divorce, that’s one thing, but what he’s offering is a homemade custody agreement that puts the burden of daily caregiving almost entirely on you. That’s not “keeping your relationship on track”; that’s abandonment. What he’s proposing is selfish and cruel, and you are right to reject it. Tell him that his plan is unacceptable and that you will not consider it, and hold firm. If you two end up divorcing over this—and you may—you should figure out a custody agreement that benefits the children first, and your husband’s desire to live in a loft second.
Q. Am I supposed to be jealous?: My wife and I are both 29; we’ve been together for three years, married for one. I’m lesbian, my wife is bisexual. Before we met, she was engaged to marry a soldier who was killed in action. They were together from the time my wife was 19 until his death when she was 24, and by all accounts they were incredibly in love. She keeps a box of his things in the guest room of our apartment, there are a couple of pictures of the two of them that are part of a photo collage we have on one wall (most of the pictures are of us together), and she calls his parents once or twice a year. I have no problem with any of this; based on everything I’ve heard, my wife’s former fiancé was an amazing person and I think it reflects positively on her that she keeps in touch with an older couple who lost their only child. I have never been jealous of him, and that’s where my question comes in. A few of my friends have pulled me aside and said they think it’s “weird” that she still has a bit of his stuff and there are pictures of him in our home, and seem to believe I should be worried that she’s not “over” guys, that she’ll leave me for a man, that she’s not as dedicated to our marriage as I am (none of which I believe). I think this is biphobia, pure and simple, and I’ve told my friends that they need to stop making those comments or I’ll stop seeing them. However, recently one of them asked me, “But aren’t you jealous?” And I guess part of me is wondering … should I be jealous? Is there something weird about my wife’s behavior, or mine, that I’m not jealous? Or are my friends the ones with the problem?
A: If mourning a specific person were really a sign that the bereaved was not over an entire gender, by your friends’ logic, every single widow and widower is incapable of loving a single person ever again. Your wife isn’t bringing up her ex whenever you two have an argument, or trying to make you feel like you can’t live up to him; she’s not making you feel neglected or less important because of his legacy; she’s not trying to bring her former in-laws around for brunch every week. She doesn’t miss men; she loved a specific man who died, and she has left a small but significant space in her life to honor his memory. This is a testament to her capacity to love, not a mark against her current commitment to you. Your wife isn’t doing anything wrong by remembering the man she loved, and you’re not doing anything wrong by trusting her. Your friends need to drop the subject.
Q. Barf bag: My husband and I live paycheck to paycheck. Whenever I want something that is not an absolute necessity, such as a new designer bag, I spend months scrimping and saving up. Last year, I fell in love with a gorgeous leather bag and finally saved up enough to purchase it last week. I was happy as a clam with my new bag for only three days when disaster struck. While at work, a co-worker suddenly made a mad dash for the ladies room, but didn’t make it even three feet and became violently ill all over my desk and my new bag. I literally burst into tears. A janitor had to put on gloves to open the purse and get my things out and the bag is not salvageable at all. My co-worker was out for two days after and has not apologized at all since coming back. This bag cost me well over $200, and there is no way I can buy a new one. My husband is super angry as well. I photographed the destroyed bag and have gone to HR about confronting this woman to replace my bag, and they said they won’t get involved. When I approached her myself about the bag (I have photos and receipts to prove that it was new), she literally laughed in my face and walked away. What can I do?
A: Accidents happen. It would have been thoughtful of your co-worker to offer to replace your bag, but HR isn’t going to force her to pay for you to replace it, and unless you want to go to small claims court with someone you have to see every day over a $200 bag, I think you’re going to have to accept that the bag is gone. You don’t have to like it, but you will not improve your life one whit by stewing over the injustice of your lost bag when there’s nothing to be done about it.
Q. The ex that my friends love: I have an issue that you will probably roll your eyes at. My ex is friends with all of my friends! I moved to L.A. back in 2013, and he was one of the first people I met, and I introduced him to my very-new friend group at that time. We ended our relationship after a year, and since then there has not been an event that we have not both been invited to, with the expectation that we’ll “figure it out” ahead of time and not make anyone else uncomfortable. It’s difficult for both of us to move on (we’ve slept together many times since we broke up, and I realize that’s not healthy, either, and I’ve broken the cycle this past month). I have a hard time being around him in all of these fun, social settings that remind me of why I liked him in the first place. I don’t want to get back together with him; we moved in together, and it didn’t go well.
I just want to enjoy an evening out with friends without being reminded of what we used to mean to each other, and having to dodge him at every turn. I’ve told my closest friend that this is an issue for me, and her advice is to just coordinate with my ex so we can avoid interacting. I feel miserable. And it’s not like I can ask them to not be friends with him. Do I just suck it up and deal with the awkwardness forever? I would rather move again than have him continue to know everything about me and continue to be in the group of friends that is mostly people I met before I knew him.
A: I am not rolling my eyes at you—just because it can be pleasant to remain friendly with an ex when possible does not mean it is mandatory, and most people who do become friends with their exes don’t do so immediately after breaking up (or while they’re still, somewhat unhappily, sleeping together). It takes time and distance, neither of which you have at the moment. If I were in your position, I wouldn’t want to see much of that ex either. You’re right that you can’t ask your entire social circle to dump him on your behalf, but I think you can go further than what your friend has suggested. Tell your friends that it’s impossible for you to see your ex while you’re trying to establish boundaries and move on from your relationship, and that at least for a while, you’re not going to attend events he’s going to be at. They don’t have to stop inviting him out with them, and they don’t have to hide their friendship with him from you, but this is something that you need in order to process the end of your relationship and move on. Then do it. Have girls’ nights with your female friends; ask a few of them over to your house so you can choose the guests; cultivate your outside friendships so you’re not worried your ex is about to turn up every time you want to see a movie. Tell your friends that you need space from him, and take it.
Q. Engagement announcement out of the blue: I grew up in a very conservative family, and my parents were abusive toward me for as long as I lived with them. They controlled almost every aspect of my life. When I had my first boyfriend, they forbade us to hang out inside the house or within a radius of several blocks. It was unacceptable that I went to his house because that’s not “ladylike,” so we could only meet in public. They also told me that they didn’t want to know anything about any kind of boyfriend unless there was a ring on my finger. I moved out to a different city four years ago and moved in with the love of my life two years later. We are now planning to get married and shopping together for an engagement ring. I’ve kept my relationship a secret to my parents and now that there will finally be a ring on my finger, I dread the day I’ll have to tell them about it. My relationship with them has improved vastly since I live six hours away from them, and I do call them two or three times a week and visit on holidays, but I don’t want to open the gates for them to know more of my personal life. I fear they’ll resent me for lying to them these two years, on top of judging me for living in sin. I have no idea how to tell them. In person? On the phone? Text a photo of the ring? And how can I introduce my fiancé to my family but keep them at arm’s length? My fiancé has been patient with this ridiculous situation, but he is also anxious about my parents’ reaction. He thinks I should have told them long ago, ring or no ring. Still it would mortify me if they take it badly and don’t come to the wedding. What should I do?
A: This is a situation that begs for a neutral third party to guide you through the process, and I think you should enlist a therapist for some intensive but short-term support as you figure out how to tell your family you’re getting married. You have several conflicting desires here—you want your family to come to the wedding, but you also don’t want to talk to them about your personal life—and it will be helpful to figure out a strategy for establishing reasonable boundaries before you re-engage with some historically unreasonable people. Most importantly, however, I think you need help figuring out how you will handle things if your family does, for whatever reason, boycott your wedding. If your only goal going into this conversation is to make sure they agree to attend, you might lose the opportunity to set reasonable boundaries or advocate for yourself.
For what it’s worth, my advice on “how to tell them” is over the phone, in an excited-yet-brisk tone. “I wanted to let you know that I’m engaged to [Wonderful Boyfriend] and I’m just thrilled about it. We’re so excited to get married later this year, and I hope I’ll get to see you there.” If they’re excited for you, great. If they’re chilly but polite, great. If they start peppering you with criticism and denunciation of your “unladylike” behavior, calmly end the call with, “I’m really happy, and I hope you can be happy for me. I’m going to go.”
Q. Excessive sweater: I recently began a new antidepressant after struggling with my depression for the last six months. It is working very well, and I am hopeful about my recovery. The only problem is that it makes me much, much sweatier than I was previously. I have weighed the options with my doctor, and this is a not uncommon side effect. I am enjoying going to yoga and other group exercise classes (want to shed some of that depression weight!), but I am so self-conscious. Not only am I worried about what everyone else in class is thinking, but if the instructor comes to adjust me, I worry she is grossed out by how sweaty I am. Do people notice how sweaty I am? Is my instructor grossed out? If I am grossing out people, any suggestions on motivating myself to work out at home instead?
A: Two pieces of advice:
- People sweat when they work out. As long as you wipe down whatever surfaces you sweat on during class, so you’re not leaving behind puddles on the floor, you’re doing just fine, and exercise instructors of all people understand the mechanics of sweat. Don’t keep yourself at home because you’re worried about sweating too much.
- Certain Dri works wonders.
Mallory Ortberg: That’s enough for today, everyone. Go forth and be sensible.