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 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.
Mallory Ortberg: Happy Halloween, everyone. Let’s chat!
Q. Aunt saw dick pic on my phone, won’t stop talking about it: I have an aunt who’s only five years older than me. (I say this because she should know how an iPhone works—and she has one.) We met for lunch a few days after I’d gone on a trip for work and she’d asked to see my photos on my phone. I hesitated. I’m a gay man—guys I’m dating sometimes send, er, personal shots. I took a minute to make sure that there was nothing remotely filthy near any of the travel photos. And I’d also warned her that there may be embarrassing photos and to stick to the ones nearby. She swiped backward through the photos really fast and it ran though like 300 photos at once. Of course, like a slot machine she landed on one of like two dick pics out of 1,000 photos. Somebody had sent it to me years ago. I was horrified and apologized. I thought it was over. But she brought it up again the other day when we went out for lunch after I’d just been on another trip: “I’d ask to see your photos but I don’t want to see another penis.” I apologized again, but now I’m really pissed off. Shouldn’t there be some expectation of privacy when somebody looks at pictures on a phone these days? She should have stuck to the few that I was showing her.
A: I could not be more on your side. Grabbing other people’s phones is rude; if someone wants to show you a picture, let them do it, and always ask if you want to scroll through something yourself. Assume everyone’s phone has at least 14 nudes on it, or at the least the possibility of something private (photos of a weird rash, embarrassing texts that might pop up while you’re holding the phone, etc.) that they aren’t necessarily eager for you to see. I suspect that your aunt was looking to snoop and found exactly what she wanted on your phone. She got to be titillated and scandalized at the same time, and now she’s going out of her way to remind you that she knows your terrible little secret: that you, like many sexually active adults, have at least once in your life looked at a picture of someone’s dick. There’s no reason for you to apologize, and if she brings it up again, you can politely but firmly shut her down: “Sharonette, I’m a single adult who uses a smartphone to date. I’m not forwarding you dick pics of the guys I’m seeing, but if you grab my phone and go through the archives, there’s a nonzero chance you’re going to accidentally see someone’s genitals. It seems to have made you really uncomfortable, and I don’t want to put you on the spot, but you keep bringing it up. I’d appreciate it if you could let it go.”
Q. Baby gay?: My kindergartener has lately been coming home telling me which of his friends he is going to marry. They are always boys. Yesterday he told me that he has a huge crush on “Justin” and when I asked him who talks about having crushes, he said “everybody” and named his three closest friends, who are all girls. Is this normal development for 5-year-olds? Is this early sexualization? How should I respond? If he were a girl I would gently try to turn the conversation toward what else she was interested in, because I assume that girls are socialized to depend on a boy (man) and need encouragement to see themselves as independently worthwhile. Should I worry about inadvertently shaming him for “acting like a girl” or expressing nascent homosexuality?
A: I don’t think you should worry at all. There’s nothing sexual about a kindergartener announcing they have a crush, or making grand pronouncements about which one of their friends they’re going to marry. I myself attended many a sandbox wedding at the tender age of 5, and all of us went on to lead normal lives. It’s perfectly ordinary, and your son can both develop an independent sense of worth and develop crushes—one doesn’t necessarily have to compromise the other. The next time your son declares his crush on someone, say, “That’s great! What do you like about them?” and let him prattle on until he changes the subject. It’s my understanding that 5-year-olds enjoy talking about a great many things, and I have no doubt that he’ll move onto another topic of conversation soon enough.
Q. My dating routine never matured: I find myself falling into the same undesirable relationship routine I’ve had since college, and I’m not sure where to go from here. Backstory: I’m 29 and have been dating a 31-year-old man for five months now. We live 20 minutes away from one another, but only see each other once or twice a week. (I usually see him on Saturday, sleep over, and we spend Sunday together if both don’t have other plans.) But this weekend-only routine is something I realize I have done with every boyfriend I’ve ever had, regardless of where they lived, and I want more. I feel like I’ve accidentally set the routine in place by just asking to hang on weekends in the beginning. But in order to really get to know someone/see if this is a relationship worth growing, I’d need more time. Even if it was just for a couple of hours on a more day-to-day basis, rather than when everyone is relaxed on the weekends or on a “date night.” Now that I’ve had the same thing going with this new man—who I really do like and want to be a bigger part of my life—I’m not sure what to do. Do I have a Big Conversation? I’d like to just ask him to hang out more often, but this is complicated right now because he just entered his busy season at work. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if he wanted to see me more, he’d be asking me. What do you think, and what can I do to change up this dynamic that isn’t working for me anymore?
A: The only way you can change this dynamic is by asking for what you want. Quietly hoping your boyfriend will guess your desires is a recipe for frustration. Don’t assume that asking to spend more time together would result in some sort of less-legitimate arrangement because if he “really” liked you he’d have already asked. It’s entirely possible that he thinks you’re perfectly satisfied with things the way they are. You don’t have to sit him down for a full come-to-Jesus moment, but tell him that you’d like to see him more than once or twice a week, and ask if you could get drinks on Wednesday, or if he’d like to see a movie with you and your friends on Thursday. If he’s game, great. If he hems and haws and gestures vaguely at his “busy season at work,” maybe you two aren’t compatible. It’s only five months in and you’ve spent your entire 20s afraid to ask your own boyfriends if they want to spend more time with you; I think it’s time to err on the more assertive side and start looking for partners who are looking for the same level of closeness that you are.
Q. Feeling cheated over concert tickets: I got tickets for my friends for a music concert to a very famous singer a year back. These tickets have a very high resale value and two of my friends want to profit from it. These tickets were very hard to get, and some of my other friends wanted it too, but since I had promised these two friends, I got tickets for them. These friends are very well-off and are not strapped for money. I am not against their selling the tickets but feel cheated as I kept my word and these two aren’t. Even if they want to sell, they are not asking any mutual friends who are willing to go. The tickets are based on a credit card entry, so all the parties have to be there for the entry to the venue. I don’t want to coordinate with two unknown people. If I voice my opinion the friendship is going down the drain. Our kids get along together, but I am not sure how long could I get along with the girls. I feel cheated in all this. Long shot but is there any way where our mutual friends or my friends would get the tickets?
A: If you offered to buy your friends tickets so that you could all go to the concert together, and now they’ve told you they’d rather have the tickets so they can sell them for profit, your invitation has been effectively canceled. You did not invite them to participate in a moneymaking scheme with you, you invited them to go see a show. If there is any way you can contact either the venue or the ticket vendor in an attempt to transfer the tickets from your scalper buddies, you should do so with a clear conscience, and invite someone else who’d want to go with you. If you can’t, and you have to write this off as a total loss, don’t bother coordinating with whatever randos your friends get to go in their stead. Go by yourself, have a great time, and don’t buy them concert tickets in the future.
Q. Re: My dating routine never matured: It seems to me she needn’t even have a talk. Simply ask him out on a weekday! Call and say, “Hey, I feel like having a drink tonight. Can you join me?” She can change the dynamic without making it seem like a huge thing.
A: Right! He might be eager to spend more time together too—you can have a bigger talk if he seems to balk at the prospect, but you can definitely start by just, you know, asking him out. He clearly likes you! He’s already dating you! It’s not an enormous risk, by any means.
Q. He smokes pot, I don’t: My boyfriend smokes weed and I do not. I am all for legalization and have close friends who regularly partake, but it is not the lifestyle for me and after dating several weed-smokers I long ago concluded that I’m not compatible with someone who feels the need to regularly get high. I only kept dating my boyfriend after I found out about his habit because he is so wonderful in so many other ways, and I convinced myself I needed to give him a chance regardless of pot-smoking usually being a deal-breaker. Well, I fell in love, got attached, and now am nine months pregnant with our child. I’ve tried again and again to focus on all of his great traits and chalk the weed-smoking up to something I just have to live with, but it always comes up again one way or another and I get upset. For example, he said he would abstain the final month of my pregnancy so he’d be sober when I went into labor (something that is important to me, not to him), but he has not kept that promise. He also sees no problem going out to the garage and toking while his young children are in the house, whereas that’s something I can’t imagine doing as a parent. He claims weed is a small part of his life and that he has his priorities straight, and it is true he is gainfully employed and a good father, but I am still struggling to accept his lifestyle. When we are together and I know he’s not high things are wonderful; he is kind, a terrific lover, and great with my own children. But the pot issue is causing me to doubt our future together. I don’t know how to get over my intense aversion to being with a pot-smoker to save our relationship. By the way, him quitting is not on the table, so it’s on me to accept him 100 percent, pot habit and all, if we are to make this work. Is this an issue that is all in my head, and if so how do I make peace with it?
A: This is a difficult letter to answer, because what I’d like to do is go back in time 10 months and urge you not to talk yourself out of your own dealbreakers. You knew you didn’t want to be with someone who smoked weed on a daily basis, and you knew that your boyfriend smoked weed on a daily basis, and now you’re connected to him in a permanent, irrevocable way through your soon-to-be-born child. You have less leverage than you did when you two were simply dating. That said, I don’t have a time machine, and we have to work with the situation as it is now. You have more options than you think—he’s demanded that you accept him “100 percent,” as if it’s impossible for him to compromise in the slightest, which it isn’t. It’s fair for you to make requests, like that he not smoke in the house or look after your infant child while high. Those are fairly reasonable requests, I think, for a responsible adult stoner (of which there are many). If he can’t meet those conditions, I think you should separate now and focus on maintaining a healthy co-parenting relationship (with whatever limits his incessant smoking necessitate).
Q. New dog: My now-ex-roommate got a dog without telling me—she adopted it from a rescue and proceed to take night classes leaving me to walk it, feed it, and clean up after it. Every time I brought it up, she would promise to change and then renege on her responsibilities in a few days. It ended up fraying our relationship to the point I asked her to move out.
She did and didn’t take the dog since her parents didn’t want it and her new place had a no-pets policy. Since then I am the one taking care of it while covering the rent by myself and get passive aggressive texts when she decides she wants to come over and play with “her puppy.” At this point, I just want her out of my life. Can I give her a deadline and then rehome the dog? My boyfriend really loves it and has a backyard. I don’t want to have to go to court because of this (I will win since I have ample evidence of her abandonment but I really don’t want to go to court and see her again).
A: Yes, you can give her a deadline. Your ex-roommate is not a responsible pet owner, and you should give her a reasonable amount of time to make other arrangements for “her” dog, after which you’ll make the arrangements on the dog’s behalf yourself. Give her the notice in writing, so you have a record of your attempts to work with her. I’d suggest your boyfriend as a possible new owner, but it sounds like you’d like your ex-roommate’s dog as far out of your life as possible. Don’t just drop the dog off at a shelter; find someone you trust who is willing to show this dog the love and attention its original owner wasn’t.
Q. Tinder as a sociological experiment?: I like to move slowly in a relationship due to my recent escape from an abusive marriage that happened very fast. So my boyfriend of a year and I were together for months before talking about being exclusive. But we finally had the conversation after about seven months. And then recently, when I was telling a story about a friend’s awful date, he told me he was still on Tinder.
He has not updated his pics (and he does look different now). He reassures me that he just likes looking at the pictures. He’s fascinated by what pics people use and why their profiles are the way they are. He’s attentive and loving. He’s given me no other reason to think he’s cheating. And considering I often borrow friends’ phones to play with their Tinder accounts, I kind of get it. So when he offered to delete the app, I told him it wasn’t necessary. One of my dearest friends is convinced he’s cheating. She doesn’t know him well and said that her own history of being cheated on might be coloring her perspective. But I can be pretty insecure and her comments are preying on my mind. Am I a fool for believing him?
A: I don’t think you’re a fool, but I also don’t know why you wouldn’t take him up on his offer to delete the app. It’s relatively minor, sure, but it also sounds like it would feel to you like a kind gesture that symbolized his commitment to you, so tell him that his offer was sweet, and that you’d like to accept it.