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 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: Hello, chatters! Let’s get started.
Q. I outed a rapist: As you might have heard, it was National Coming Out Day a few days ago. One Facebook friend of mine decided to use the occasion to come out as a rapist, creating a public post (which means everyone could see the post, even if he or she wasn’t Facebook friends with him) where he outlined the offense in explicit detail (he had raped two women decades ago), attempting to seek public forgiveness and claiming he wanted to call attention to “rape culture.” I’m a male survivor of rape myself and was assaulted two times in the past couple years. I didn’t feel comfortable having a known rapist on my friends list, so I unfriended and blocked him when he began making uncomfortable comments about wanting to get close to sexual assault survivors, but not before taking screen shots of his post. I did something I’m not sure I should be proud of. I sent the screen shots of his post to his workplace. I wouldn’t have done it at all, but he works with very young children, most of them with special needs, as a bus driver, where he has very close proximity to them. The absolutely last thing I want to have happen is know that this man could potentially prey on these children and I had a way to warn someone who could do something and didn’t. I don’t know if he was ever fired or spoken to as of this time. But my question is: Did I do the right thing, or did I put my nose in something I should have left alone?
A: There are so many different questions this situation raises that I’m not sure where to begin, but I’ll confine myself to answering the only question you actually asked me. No, you didn’t put your nose in anything; this man made a public announcement on social media about the two rapes he has committed. You did not invite his confidence, and he was not attempting to stay private; you were given this information without asking or searching for it, and what you heard gave you understandable reason to be concerned. Based on your letter, it doesn’t sound like he was ever arrested or experienced any repercussions for his actions. Anyone who couples a sudden announcement of having committed rape with a vague desire to “get close to” sexual assault survivors (he is not a counselor or in any way trained to assist victims of rape or assault; this desire sounds like it’s more about a way for him to feel important than it is to genuinely offer help to those recovering from trauma) is displaying extremely poor judgment, and your response was extremely understandable. You were put in a very difficult situation, and I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself. I recommend you call RAINN’s national sexual assault hotline if you continue to question whether you did the right thing or wonder what you should do next to take care of yourself and minimize contact with this man. If nothing else, please know that you were not responsible for making this man’s history public. He did this to himself, and odds are extremely high that his workplace would have found out about his Facebook post sooner rather than later.
It is one thing to carefully disclose one’s own history of sexual violence. It is quite another to make a blithe, unexpected announcement about the rapes one has committed on social media and to couple said announcement with a request for “public forgiveness.” Forgiveness cannot come first; forgiveness must follow consequences. He cannot simply say, “I once raped two women, but now I am ready to be forgiven.” If he were truly penitent, he would carefully weigh the possibility that his announcement would cause pain and distress to assault survivors in his acquaintance—like you—and be prepared to take responsibility for his actions, up to and including legal consequences. His announcement suggests to me that he is not truly sorry for the harm he has caused and has no sense of appropriate boundaries. If it had not been you who contacted his workplace, I think it would have been someone else.
Q. Mourning my move?: Our landlord is selling our house, so we’ve decided to move rather than roll the dice on what the new owner might bring. We weren’t able to find anything suitable in our current area, so we settled on something in a much more suburban area. All of a sudden I have a 40-minute commute instead of a 10-minute walk to work, and I’m away from friends and other social opportunities. It’s only a year lease, but I feel straight-up devastated, and for the past few days I’ve been kind of randomly bursting into tears. I really feel as though I’m grieving, and I’m not able to logic myself out of this funk—even though I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is a relative nonproblem. Did I jump the gun by moving? Do you think I made the wrong choice?
A: If nothing else, I hope you know that this is not a nonproblem. Numerous observational studies indicate that long commutes (generally anything more than 20 miles) are extremely draining on both our happiness and our health. I’ve never been more miserable in my life than the year I had to drive an hour and a half to and from work every day, even though the job itself was fine and I liked where I lived. Living somewhere that makes you feel isolated and cut off from all of your friends is just adding fuel to the fire. If there’s any way you can get out of the lease without really hurting your bank account, I think you should do it. But if you can’t, if it’s only for a year, I think you should do your best to power through before looking for a home closer to your office and the rest of your friends. Do what you can to make that year bearable—find a carpool or a ride-share, invite friends to stay with you over the weekend so you’re not repeating your commute seven days a week, ask if you can work from home one day a week—and focus on getting back to your old neighborhood.
Q. Long-distance homeless love: I want to move across country to pursue a long-desired career path and a guy. I’ve wanted to move for years, and I can now afford to do so after saving almost six figures and taking classes in my desired industry. It also happens I met a dynamic, intelligent, sexy, funny, and spiritual guy during a recent exploratory trip. While I’ve always wanted this move, my timeline feels more urgent after meeting this special guy who, as it turns out, is now voluntarily homeless since we first met. He is also pursuing a career in my industry. His 9-to-5 provides shower and gym access. Being new to the city he has friends he could crash with, but he chooses not to—and he has no foreseeable plans to move out of his car. I don’t know how to handle strong feelings for someone who, once we’re in the same city, may not have much to offer. But I am unquestionably happier since he’s been in my life: less in my head and more mission-focused. We encourage each other, and he holds me accountable around projects and moving-related goals. His work ethic and discipline are everything I’ve wanted in a partner. I want to have faith his work ethic will see him through this phase (Ivy League scholarship kid). Am I crazy for moving and putting my heart on the line for this way? The challenge of moving and starting over again feels like enough to tackle. My ultra-millennial and Girls-watching pals say, “What he’s doing is super brave” or “He sounds delicious.” And, by the way, he is totally delicious, charming, and very well-endowed. Even if it does not work out with him, I’d still be in my desired city and closer to realizing my long-hoped for goals.
A: He sounds a little exhausting to me, but I’m not the one considering moving across the country for him. If you want to move, try the new job and continue seeing this guy. I don’t see why you shouldn’t. It’s risky, certainly, and you seem fairly aware that there’s a real possibility that he “may not have much to offer” once you actually get to know him as a person and not That Interesting Guy Who Lives in His Car 2,000 Miles Away. (What he’s doing qualifies as mildly eccentric rather than brave—he’s not responsible for anyone else, he’s getting all his physical needs met through his office, he’s not donating the money he’s saving on rent to a homeless shelter. It’s fine if he wants to live in his car, but don’t mistake a quirky residential choice for a personality.) You want to move for reasons that both encompass and include him, so move. If things work out, great. If they don’t, you’re still in the city you want to live in, closer to working in the industry you love.
Q. Unavoidable boorish guests: My sister-in-law of 27 years, like her own sister and, to a lesser extent, my husband, have serious food fussiness. I think it’s a combination of lack of exposure—MIL is not a great cook—and diagnosed OCD, but whatever it is, it’s challenging. My husband has grown by leaps since we first met and now eats everything with gusto. But sis was just here, and even though I went to extraordinary lengths to cater to her, she still went to the grocery and then produced an alternative dessert at the table after I served her favorite ice cream—homemade. My husband was horrified and scolded her, I was stunned, but she just shrugged and said she got what she wanted. Producing alternative dishes at family dinners was not how I was raised, and I think this woman is a boor, but am I jerk for wanting to ban her from my table?
A: Personally, I would welcome any guest who volunteered to take over dessert duty, regardless of what he or she was trying to say about my own cooking. She’s been your sister-in-law (and a food crank) for 27 years, and if she’s willing to bring her own meals along to suit her needs rather than force you to jump through culinary hoops, I think you should let her. Stop going to extraordinary lengths; make what you like and let her know she’s welcome to eat meals out or prepare something separate if what’s on the menu doesn’t work for her (which means less work for you).
Q. Not bi enough: As long as I can remember, I’ve been attracted to both men and women, a fact that I kept strictly to myself as I was raised in a harsh religious household. When I got married to my husband eight years ago, he knew that I am attracted to women, but over the past few years I’ve allowed myself to finally use the word bi, since this what I truly feel I am. I told my husband that I am bi, and even though he knew I am sexually attracted to women, he was floored. He says that because I have zero sexual experience with women, I have no right to call myself bi. I explained to him that I have always been attracted to women; when I watch porn it’s exclusively female; and if I weren’t married, now that I’m no longer held back by religion, I’d be equally open to a relationship with a man or woman. Prudie, do I need to have had sex with a woman (I’m a woman) to be bi? Or are my feelings and desires enough?
A: I can’t imagine what principle your husband feels he is protecting by insisting no one utilize the term bisexual until he or she has established some sort of verifiable legal claim. Straight people are not required to sleep with at least one member of the opposite sex before their orientation can come back approved from Sexuality Central. No one’s straightness is called into question like that—“I know you think you’re heterosexual, and perhaps you are, but until you’ve actually slept with someone, it’s purely theoretical.” Sexual orientation isn’t like Schrödinger’s cat. You were constrained by religious bigotry to remain closeted. That doesn’t make you heterosexual. Your husband’s belief that bisexuality has to be proved is simply a different kind of closet. As writer Robyn Ochs puts it: “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted—romantically and/or sexually—to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” Bisexual people do not necessarily have a 50/50 gender split in their romantic history or even in their orientation. You are not attempting to mislead people by claiming to have been with women in the past; you are simply acknowledging your sexual orientation encompasses both men and women. It would not be incorrect for a heterosexual virgin to call herself straight, and it is not incorrect for you to call yourself bisexual just because you grew up in a homophobic home, then entered into a monogamous relationship. Sexuality is not dictated exclusively by history but by desire and deeply personal feelings; the only person who can decide what term best describes your sexual orientation is you.
Q. Facebook warrior: I have been “seeing” Cory on and off for about a year. Our relationship consists of dates, sex, and just spending time together, but it’s not serious. We are the same age, but at relatively different stages in our lives. I have children, a booming career, a house, and he does not, so he is constantly posting things on social media all day. Most recently he struck up a private conversation with me about religion. I am not religious, and he is. I ended the conversation by politely telling him I respect all religions (including Islam, even though I don’t believe). He followed by posting a video of a woman being stoned to death and used a direct quote from our private conversation, indicating I was a monster because I respect Islam, and that’s “what their religion supports.” This isn’t the first time this has happened. I’m an atheist, but I have friends of all cultures and religions, so I don’t like to stereotype, and frankly, I don’t care what others’ personal beliefs consist of as long as they’re a decent human being. He’s obviously very narrow-minded, but I don’t see the point in arguing with him when he refuses to acknowledge anyone’s points. I tried to ignore it the first time, but this has been getting on my nerves. There are times he is really sweet, we get along well in person, but I’m starting to question his maturity. I should add his own father blocked him on his social media account over a debate. Is this relationship a lost cause? I deleted him once with the intention of never talking to him again, over the same issue, but we both admitted we missed each other and “made up.” I feel like I need to cut ties again, but I’m still on the fence.
A: It sounds like Cory’s most attractive quality is that he’s available most of the time. Here’s what I know about Cory based on your letter: He doesn’t have a job he enjoys, he believes that you are a “monster” for respecting Islam, he spends a lot of his free time picking fights on social media, he gets on your nerves, you feel like you need to cut ties with him … and he’s sweet. Some of the time. When you’re together in person. Which is always casual, because you don’t think you two have the potential to get serious about each other. I don’t think this relationship is a lost cause; I think whatever this is barely qualifies as a relationship. You just occasionally have sex with a Facebook troll. Something tells me that if you can get past the first few weeks of “missing” Cory, you’ll find someone better almost immediately (peaceable silence would be better than Cory, even if you don’t meet someone else for a while). Break things off with him, block him on social media, and if you find yourself momentarily weakening, text a friend to remind you of all the reasons you cut Cory out of your life. Hell, just reread this letter. His good qualities don’t come close to making up for all the things you can’t stand about him. Cory is a drain on your time and energy, and you’ll be a lot happier once you can channel your resources into literally anything else.
Q. Re: Long-distance homeless love: She never said she has an actual job waiting out there. This could be a very dangerous move.
A: Right, but she’s been planning on switching industries for a while, has presumably made business connections during said exploratory trips, and has a solid savings account. It’s a risk, but it’s not an outrageous risk, and I think she’s already set on making the move.
Q. No charity: I did not get along with one of my co-workers before I transferred departments. We worked the front office, and she would constantly take 20-minute “bathroom” breaks and leave me alone to deal with customers. She flirted with every single one of the male managers and slithered her way out of coming in late or leaving early because of “how hard it was to be a single mom.” If she didn’t come in with a new haircut and manicure every time her kids were “sick” I might be sympathetic. Anyway, the new head manager has a hard-nosed policy toward our leave time—no more cutting corners. We can, however, donate our PTO to our co-workers, and I have done so with one of my other co-workers who has cancer. I have a week left on my account. My former co-worker used up all hers in July but still booked a trip to Disney World this Christmas with her mom and kids. She screwed up with HR and has now been begging people to donate to her so she can go. My family lives in town, so I am not going anywhere for the holidays. I am torn—missing your kids at Christmas is awful, but I really do not like this woman at all. Should I be the bigger person and give her my PTO or have a staycation and let her reap her actions?
A: I think you should give her your PTO. You don’t have to like her, and you don’t have to approve of her manicuring schedule (although I encourage you to consider that it is possible to both have a sick child and sometimes get a haircut, and that she might not be having quite the blast you envision being a single mother), but this is a pretty isolated event that’s not likely to happen again. It’s Christmas, and you won’t lose much by giving her your days, since you’re not traveling anyways. Make the donation, feel good about yourself for doing something nice for somebody you don’t like, and carry on living your own life without worrying too much about hers.