Dear Prudence

I Don’t Wanna Sex You Up

I’m in danger of losing my asexuality—and everything good about me.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
I am a man in my 20s and roughly three years ago I developed a medical condition that left me asexual. I used to be quite sexually active, excelled in athletics, and was a bit of an egotistical jerk. My asexuality was caused by a medical condition involving nerve damage, or so I thought. After giving up on treatment, and being severely depressed for about a year, and drinking heavily, I decided to try and make the most of it. I traveled and volunteered often, fell in love with an asexual woman who I love more than anything, and we are getting married in the spring, and am far kinder than I once was—people hardly believe it’s me. My family is stunned and now say they love having me around. This is the best time of my life, until a month ago I had an accident at work (I do testing at an anaerobic digestion facility) and was tested for bacterial and fungal infections. It turns out I have a bacterial infection that may have affected my sexual desire and will be cured after a two-week course of medication. Should I take the medication? Should I tell my fiancée? Currently, I almost never want sex and my doctor has said that the condition will not worsen without treatment (after he sort of laughed at me for asking).

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—Stay Asexual?

I think you are confusing the orientation of asexuality with the condition of temporarily not experiencing sexual desire. I have no idea whether or not this infection has had any sort of effect on your libido, and I would caution you from assuming that once these two weeks of treatment are up, you’ll suddenly revert back into the “jerk” you used to be.

The implicit fear in your letter seems to be that when you used to experience sexual desire, it somehow caused, or was at least connected to, your selfish behavior, and now that you’ve identified a (possibly, but not certainly) related medical condition, you’re at risk for a full personality reversal—one that might jeopardize your impending marriage. That is probably not going to happen! You are not going to experience a Flowers for Algernon–like descent back into your old personality against your will. You should take your medication, because it’s a good idea to treat infections, and be honest with your partner about what you want out of your relationship. You may find yourself feeling much the same as before, or you may experience a slight or even significant change in sexual desire. It may be that you continue life as an asexual person and find meaning and peace in this identity, or it may be that you experience an uptick in desire and will have to find a way to reintroduce your sexuality to your new and improved personality. Since your fiancée is asexual, this might involve some significant renegotiation of the terms of your relationships—you may stay together, you may develop an open relationship, you may part ways. Either way, you sound much better equipped to deal with your feelings now than you did a few years ago. That wisdom and lived experience is not something that antibiotics will take away.

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* * *

Dear Prudence,
I don’t have a great relationship with my mom and stepdad, who I am quite sure have undiagnosed psychological problems and have trouble keeping jobs. They are in their early 60s and recently moved in with my only sibling and her family. I have a close relationship with my sister even though she lives several hours away. Recently, she was venting to me about her frustrations of having them live with her. Money is tight in her household, and they don’t contribute anything except occasional child care. My sister apparently told Mom she would have to move in with me when my stepdad dies. I thought she was joking, but she was serious. She said she would drop Mom off on my front porch if she had to. I want nothing to do with my mom and certainly don’t want to be her plan for retirement. How can I get out of this situation besides moving and keeping my address a secret?

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—Delinquent Parents

First, and most importantly, you need to make it clear to both your sister and your mother that you are unable and unwilling to have your mom move in with you. It sounds like your mother is struggling financially, but not that she is incapable of caring for herself, or that she would be in immediate danger of living on the street without you as a backup plan. You have never had a conversation where you promised you would someday care for her, so it’s unreasonable for that to be expected of you. The best thing you can do is make it clear now that she cannot move in one day, so that she (and your sister) are not laboring under delusions of future material support. It sounds like your sister is going to fight you pretty hard on this, and you’re going to have to be prepared to hold your ground against both of them. If they rage, let them rage; if they weep, cajole, argue, or threaten, let them do the same. Your job is to make your intentions clear.

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However: You say you want “nothing to do” with your mother, which is your right, but if you are close with your sister and are interested in her happiness and your relationship with her, there’s good reason for you to see if there are ways you can help her with the burden she is currently shouldering alone. Consider helping her out with her monthly household expenses, as her work is currently saving you money. Perhaps you can help her look for affordable senior housing for your parents, especially as they get close to Social Security age. At least be a confidant and help her set boundaries of her own with them. If there is anything you are able to offer short of opening up your own home, tell your sister you’re ready to support her. She could use it.

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I had a fight. Really, it was a nonfight: He was mad that I felt hurt about something. He stopped texting, wouldn’t take my phone calls, and we didn’t speak for three weeks. The day before my birthday (a milestone one) he texted that he “felt terrible” about not having plans with me. But he didn’t offer to make plans or say he wanted to spend the day with me. A couple of weeks later, we reconciled. But I feel he abandoned me on an emotionally important day. I’ve explained how I feel, and he seems to hear; he apologizes. But then he resets to his default mode and doesn’t really take it on. I don’t want to guilt him, but I’m finding it hard to move forward and I wish he had a stronger sense of emotional responsibility toward me. He says he loves me, but I feel he is not careful with my heart. Is this a problem with me? Should I just get over it and get over myself? Or is this a problem with the relationship?

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—Get Over It

Let’s look at this timeline: You got your feelings hurt, and told your boyfriend so. He cut you out of his life for three weeks, re-appeared just to remind you that you were going to be alone on your birthday, then bounced for another couple of weeks. He didn’t just abandon you on one emotionally important day, he abandoned you for a full month because you experienced a feeling. Even if you’d been completely irrational and inappropriate about how you had brought up your original hurt feelings to your boyfriend, weeks of the silent treatment was a wildly disproportionate response.

The best-case scenario is that your boyfriend has absolutely no idea how to communicate or get through fights with basic respect and compassion. The worst-case scenario is that he’s emotionally manipulating you to keep your feelings to yourself by shutting you out every time you display sadness or disappointment. I’m concerned that you’re not angrier with him. You call it a “nonfight” when in fact you were effectively dumped for a month; you say you “feel” he abandoned you rather than just saying he abandoned you, full stop; you say you don’t want to “guilt him” but he’s apparently very comfortable guilting you by disappearing for weeks on end. I think you should get over him and find a better boyfriend. This is not how reasonable adults get through fights. This is not normal, and you should not give him a second chance.

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* * *

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I are in agreement that it is time to start trying to get pregnant. However, he has an extremely stressful job that requires a lot of travel. This has made scheduling time to get pregnant really hard. Not only is he often not home during the “fertile window” every month, but he when he is home he is often too exhausted and jet-lagged to be up for sex. In the last year, we’ve only managed to hit the fertile window a handful of times, and needless to say, I am not pregnant yet. Any ideas? I should note, we are both very attracted to each other, so that is not an issue.

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—Making Time to Make Time

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Have a serious conversation with your husband about how exactly each of you envision this conception. It may be he thinks this will be a multiyear effort that will “happen when it happens” and so isn’t worried about the missed opportunities. If, however, you both want to follow a more rigorous timeline, you may need to make some difficult choices about his workload and travel schedule. If you two can’t get on the same page about planning to have a baby, it won’t be any easier when it comes to raising one. Should your husband plan to keep this job in the long run, he should keep in mind that a person too jet-lagged and exhausted to have sex a few days a month over the course of an entire year is probably also going to be too jet-lagged and exhausted to get up for a 3 a.m. feeding.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a female in my 20s living with bipolar disorder. Last winter, before receiving my diagnosis, I went into a manic rage and made some wild comments and accusations to my family and close friends. My family forgave me as they have seen my diagnosis and treatment process up close, but my five close friends (over a decade of friendship) refuse to speak to me now. I accused one of my friends of cheating on her husband, which led to a blowout between my entire social circle. I have tried to contact my old group of friends on several occasions via text, email, and phone calls to try to apologize and explain the diagnosis I received, and I either get no response or a cold response in return. It’s really hard for me to let go as I grew up with these friends. I want to write my friends letters or even show up on their doorsteps. It’s been almost a year since I had my episode, and I have yet to see any of them. Part of me thinks I should move on, but the years of friendship are hard to let go. Do you think I should give up or would you suggest any ways to trying to reach out and reconcile again?

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—Lost Friends Over Disorder

A necessary component of making amends to these former friends is respecting their wishes, even if they conflict with your own. I’m so glad to hear that you’re in treatment, and I hope you continue to flourish after receiving your diagnosis. But you cannot force someone else to reconcile with you, even though you possess new information about your mental health that you didn’t before. That is not how reconciliation works. You cannot want it badly enough for both yourself and the people you wronged. If you are finding it difficult to let this go, and fear you might show up unexpectedly on your former friends’ doorsteps, please share this information with your treatment team and ask for help. It may be that one day your former friends reach out to you, and if that day ever comes, you want to be in the best possible state to receive them. If they don’t, then you want to be able to spend your time becoming a healthier, happier person and a better friend to others – not trying to insist someone else forgive you when they’re not ready.

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Dear Prudence,
Do you have any advice for we who opposed a Trump presidency? Now that we fear seeing Roe v. Wade overturned, worsening climate change, hatred and bigotry stirred up? Discovering that our neighbors, colleagues, and acquaintances voted for this racist, xenophobic madman? How can we cope, and what can we do in our own small part to resist this? I for one feel gobsmacked. Do you have any suggestions for taking back our power? (Please don’t say, “Just give him a chance”—because we don’t want him to get a chance to implement all his vitriol.)

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—How to Cope in the Post-Trump World

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I do not think “give Donald Trump a chance” is a useful piece of advice, although plenty of people who ought to know better have suggested it over the last week. I think Donald Trump has had a more than adequate chance to demonstrate his values over the decades of his life as a public figure; we have all the information we need to make an informed assessment of his character. I think he did not initially disavow his endorsement by David Duke and other white nationalists because he did not wish to, because his very political existence depends upon their support, and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous. I think he chose a running mate who supports LGBT conversion therapy because he does not care about the safety or well-being of queer people, and I think he called for a national database of Muslim people because he doesn’t care about religious freedom and is happy to profit from Islamophobia. I think he mocked a disabled reporter because he doesn’t care about people with disabilities. I think he is exactly the person he has presented himself as. I think there is no reason to expect him to suddenly display restraint after being given presidential power.

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As for what you can do as an individual right now, a few suggestions:

Donate whatever time or money you have available to organizations like the ACLU, the NAACP, Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Campaign Zero, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, the Trevor Project, the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Contact your local mosque or Muslim Community Center and offer your services as a volunteer and tell them you support them. Contact your congressperson/representative/state legislators and offer specific calls to action, whether that be that they vote for or against a proposed legislation, whether you want them to sponsor a bill, or make a public statement. (In many locations, representative’s offices are required to read all physical mail; consider calling or writing an old-fashioned letter before sending an email.) Offer support to the people in your life whose safety and well-being are particularly threatened by this white nationalist wave. Challenge racism and obfuscation of motives when you see it (“I’m so economically anxious I had no choice but to vote for a misogynist bigot”); do not use euphemisms and gentler language for the sake of comity to describe the ugly things you know to be true.

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