Dear Prudence

Zero Tolerance Marriage

My husband lectures me for hours if I make a mistake.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
My husband suffers from anxiety, anger, and probably depression. All of it is untreated, and that will probably never change as he refuses counseling. He has a quick temper, and he can get stuck on my mistakes for hours. He brings up things from my past if they’re relevant to whatever I’ve done in the present. I have no choice but to sit there and take it.

As a result, I’ve told some white lies and tiptoed around him about certain things. Honestly, I do it for my sanity and his well-being. What he doesn’t know truly doesn’t hurt him. Except this time I accidentally paid a bill twice, and I’m trying to cover it up. There’s a 50/50 chance I’ll get caught and get another hourslong lecture, so I can’t even sleep until this is resolved. He’s going to be even more mad that I hid it from him, but if I’d been honest from the start, nothing would be different. I’ve tried solo counseling, but all the strategies I was given don’t work because he’s not changing. And nothing I did do made him respond any differently in the long term. My guess is that you’ll probably tell me to leave him, but I’d really rather not do that. Other options?

—I’m the Liar

People can “suffer from” depression and anxiety, but they do not “suffer from” anger. They make other people suffer when they can’t, or won’t, express their anger in a sane and healthy way. I’m afraid I do not have a magic solution to your problem, which you have accurately diagnosed: Your partner has a serious problem with anger management. He berates you for hours, overreacts so wildly that you’re afraid of and avoid him, and most importantly refuses to listen. You say “he won’t change” twice in your short letter. I’m so sorry that you feel you have no choice but to take whatever abuse he feels like dishing out. If you stay in this marriage, I fear he will continue to try to control and intimidate you for the rest of his life.

That said, if you are absolutely unwilling or unable to leave him at present, there is something you can do: stop enduring his outbursts. The next time he starts to lose his temper, for whatever reason, tell him you’re leaving the room until he calms down. If he follows, say, “I’m happy to talk about this with you, but it is not OK for you to lecture me. I’m going to a friend’s house. Let’s talk when you’re able to have a normal conversation.” Even if you don’t want to leave your marriage, you can still leave the house; no one deserves to be scolded all night for a clerical error.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I recently started dating a guy I have been friends with for several years. He is smart, fun to be around, and we connect emotionally. But having sex with him feels so strange that I just can’t enjoy it. In all my previous relationships, we couldn’t get out of bed for months at the beginning. This seems unlikely to happen here, as I now can’t wait to leave the bedroom and make the weirdness stop. Does this relationship have a chance? On paper, things are amazing, and in every other way he’s exactly what I want. Could this get better?

—Is Chemistry Everything?

You started dating a friend, which can be great, but sleeping together seems to confirm the fact that … you still just see him as a friend. More than that, you want the “weirdness” to stop, and it sounds like what you consider “weirdness,” he considers “the entire premise of your romantic relationship.” I’m assuming the sex is bad not because he’s doing anything wrong but because you’re not attracted to him; you can’t force attraction, no matter how great every other aspect of your relationship is. Even if you can’t go back to being friends the way you were before, you owe it to yourself (and to him) to be honest about the fact that the sexual chemistry just isn’t there, and neither is the relationship.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I am a straight woman. Recently at a convention, a gay female colleague started coming on to me at the hotel bar after too many drinks. I did what I’d usually do with straight men who act that way: I called her bluff in a good-natured but not-so-subtle way, which usually puts a friendly end to things. I said, “OK, you’ve been flirting with me all night, so I’m calling your bluff. If you’re serious, then let’s do it. If not, then knock it off.” She acted really differently than most men do, as though I’d somehow offended her by being too aggressive, even though this was after she’d been flirting and making escalating come-ons for hours already. I started wondering whether my response violates some unspoken rule of LGBTQ culture. Did I do the wrong thing? I didn’t want to offend her.

—No Thanks

You didn’t do anything “wrong,” exactly, but I’m not sure your usual strategy is a good one, regardless of whether you employ it with straight men or lesbians. If you want to tell someone to stop flirting with you, you can either excuse yourself from the conversation or say, “Thanks, but I’m not interested, please don’t ask again.” Don’t say, “If you’re serious, then let’s do it” to someone in order to embarrass them into dropping the subject, especially if you do not actually want to sleep with them. Sometimes turning people down results in bruising their feelings, regardless of their sexuality.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My daughter was married a few months ago, and we recently found out that most of the relatives on my husband’s side of the family who attended did not give the couple a gift. Now, I know gifts are not supposed to be expected, and we were happy the family joined us to celebrate the happy occasion, but traditionally a gift would be given. We have attended the weddings of these relatives’ children. We always gave a gift for these weddings. These family members are well off, so that is not the problem. My husband is very embarrassed and hurt, and he is not sure if he should say something to his family. There is going to be a wedding on this side of the family next year for one of the cousins who came to our daughter’s wedding, and truthfully, I do not want to even attend. Do you have any advice for this situation?

—Disappointed In-Law

You said yourself that gifts “should not be expected” and that you enjoyed your relatives’ presence at your daughter’s wedding. I think you should heed your own wise thoughts, remember that you don’t always know the details of everyone’s financial situation, and let the matter drop. Maybe they were a little cheap; maybe they’re not all as well-off as you think. Maybe, and etiquette on this varies, they are just late. (Before the widespread adoption of online registries, there was a “one-year” rule for wedding presents.) In any case, this was your daughter’s wedding, not yours, and it’s not your place to inquire why some of her guests didn’t (or couldn’t) bring a gift. Your relatives made time and came to your daughter’s wedding because they care about her and wanted to celebrate her relationship with her spouse; even if they were a little stingy, it’s not an unforgivable offense. But the best way you can live up to your own standards is to attend the cousin’s wedding––with a gift.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’m a woman in my late 20s who’s always thought of herself as straight (ignoring my crush on a woman during grad school). Recently I was surprised to find myself drawn to a woman I work with who’s about 10 years my senior (neither of us reports to the other). Over the last year, we’ve started spending a lot of time together and now she’s a close friend, but I started to realize early on that my feelings for her were strong. I’m hesitant to tell her how I feel, partly because we work together and partly because of our friendship. She was supportive when I mentioned that I was questioning my own sexuality, but I’m pretty sure she’s straight (she’s mentioned a guy she once dated, and a male celebrity she found attractive, but that’s it). But I feel like I’m stifling myself by not expressing this to her, especially because it’s been almost 10 years since I was seriously attracted to anyone—it’s really rare. I don’t think she would tell everyone at work or end our friendship if I told her. Do you think it’s worth telling her, just to clear it up? Or should I continue making myself miserable to avoid awkwardness at work and possibly losing this friendship? (I guess I could always move.)

—Afraid to Tell

If you do tell your friend about your feelings—and I’m not necessarily saying that you should—don’t do it because you want to “clear it up,” which is a vague and unhelpful goal. Do it because you want to ask her out on a date, and to give her the chance to say either “yes,” so you can go out, or “no,” so you can move on. That said, I think you should seriously ask yourself whether your friend has given you any indication that she might return your feelings. You don’t say the two of you have incredible chemistry, and she didn’t respond to your disclosure about your sexual identity with anything in kind. It may be that this is all one-sided, and the strength of your own feelings isn’t necessarily an indication that she feels the same connection. Give her an out, if you do say anything; don’t tell her you’ve been thinking about her for months. Just say that you think you two have a great connection, and that you’d like to go out sometime, but if she’s not interested, you will respect her answer and won’t bring it up again. In the absence of strong evidence that she might feel the same way, I think you should err on the side of caution.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
While he has a full-time job, my boyfriend considers himself a writer first. He’s had shorter works published and just spent two years on his first novel. He sent the first chapter to numerous publishers only to get rejections or no response at all. He’s just gotten rejected by the one publisher who asked to read the whole novel. Each rejection is painful to him, and the whole thing has left him devastated and questioning his passion. I’m trying to be supportive but don’t know enough about the industry to offer helpful advice. Given the state of publishing nowadays, I always thought it may be a long shot even though he’s talented. He was just starting on a second novel but says he’s giving up if this first one doesn’t go anywhere—that it’s not worth the time and effort. What’s the best way for me to support him through this, and is there any advice you’d give to him?

—He’s Losing Hope

If your boyfriend is sending unsolicited work directly to publishers, the first thing he should do is knock it off and find an agent he trusts who’s willing to represent his work. There are (very occasional) exceptions to this rule, but it’s never a good idea to base one’s professional behavior on the belief that you are one of those exceptions. Beyond that, if he wants to give up on writing a second novel, maybe he should, even if only for a while. It might be better to focus on shorter pieces, on revising and editing the work he already has, or just to take a break from writing and focus on something else that doesn’t drive him to distraction. Rejection, lots of rejection, is par for the course when it comes to getting published, and it’s fine to push through and keep going. It’s also fine to decide “lots of rejection” isn’t something you’re comfortable with, and to try something else. You can listen to him vent, offer feedback when asked, and suggest a distraction when it seems like he’s spiraling, and beyond that, let him make whatever decision seems best—you sound fairly supportive already, and as long as you realize you can’t actually publish his book and turn it into a best-seller yourself, you should be in good shape.

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