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My younger brother and I (he’s 28, I’m 30) were raised in an extremely conservative evangelical household. When he was 18, my brother tearfully confessed to me and my parents that he is gay. I told him I would support him no matter what, but my parents made him listen to lectures about how being gay is a sin, and how he could change if he really tried, and sent him to a “conversion therapy” camp. Since then, he has gone out with a series of young women and is planning on proposing to his current girlfriend. He appears happy on the surface, but to me, he seems broken and deflated, and I see no real joy in his relationships. It breaks my heart to see him so miserable. I’ve always tried to counter my parents’ preaching, but I’m worried it’s too late. She doesn’t know that he’s gay—my brother told me he’s never told her. Since all my pleas have fallen on deaf ears, I am wondering if you can tell me: Should I say something to his girlfriend? I am afraid that if he goes through with this proposal they will both be unhappy. I think telling his girlfriend about his confession might be the only way to save them.
—Saving the Beard
I can’t quite see my way to saying, “Yes, you should out your deeply closeted, self-loathing brother.” That said, I feel a great deal of compassion for his girlfriend, especially as it seems likely that she has no idea the man she loves is gay. For what it’s worth, I believe that your read of the situation is accurate, that the conversion therapy your brother suffered as a teenager likely “cured” him of nothing but contributed to a great deal of pain and self-hatred, and that a marriage between your brother and his girlfriend according to their current understanding would be ill-advised.
I think you should begin by appealing to your brother: “I love you so much, and I think the world of you just as you are, and it breaks my heart that you think you have to ‘fix’ the fact that you’re gay. I don’t think that you do. But I want to respect however you choose to live your life, and if you’ve decided you would rather marry a woman despite being attracted to men, I could find a way to support that if your relationship were not based on hiding this information from her. I don’t doubt that you care for her. If you two had decided to build a life together after she made an informed decision, that would be one thing, but I think you will only hurt both her and yourself if you try to start a marriage this way. I’m asking you as your sister—as someone who loves you and wants you to be happy, joyous, and freely and fully known by your partner—to please reconsider your decision to propose. This is a part of your life that she should know about, regardless of how you identify now, and if there’s any chance she could find out from some other source later in life, I think you’d rather she heard it first from you. You’re the best person to share this information with her.” You say that he hasn’t responded to your pleas in the past, so I’m aware this request may also go ignored, but it is absolutely worth saying, if only for your own conscience. If nothing else, at least one person in your brother’s life should be able to say, “I love you, and it’s OK that you’re gay, and I want you to know that.”
If worst comes to worst, and your brother never tells his girlfriend that he’s gay and they do get engaged, let him know that while you’re not going to out him or cut him off, you’re not going to actively help him lie to her either. You’ll have to determine for yourself what that compromise will look like and how much time you’ll be able to spend with them as a couple, but I urge you to remain an available and loving presence in your brother’s life—even if it’s at a distance—so that if the day ever comes that he does decide to come out again, he’ll have someone who can support him.
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Dear Prudence: How do I politely inform my all-female office that women can pee on toilet seats, too?
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My wife of 12 years and I were planning to have sex after a six- to eight-week hiatus (an all-too-regular and depressing reality). She and our son were watching YouTube videos together well past his bedtime. Later, she lectured me about how important it is to nurture moments with him and called me impatient for wanting to have sex instead. I said that I felt ignored and was frustrated with how rarely we have sex. It doesn’t seem like a priority for her. She said she understood my point of view (and that she wants a better sex life, too) but that there’s a long list of things I need to work on first to make her feel better about having sex with me. I admit there’s a lot I have to work on, but my needs are not being met. I can’t talk to her about it because it turns into a discussion about the laundry list of things she needs from me. I tell her what I want, but I don’t really feel like she’s listening. There is no spontaneity, she will never initiate sex, she frequently says no when I try, and our sex life is dying. I don’t know what to do. I’m depressed and considering ending my marriage.
You two are approaching the same problem(s) with conflicting perspectives. Both of you are aware that your sex life is unsatisfying, that you’re not connecting or supporting one another emotionally, and that your current balance of household responsibilities isn’t working. Your primary concern is reconnecting sexually before talking about anything else; your wife can’t imagine having sex regularly again without addressing those other issues first. You two both want the same things but can’t imagine breaking the stalemate.
I confess I’m curious about the “laundry list” your wife presented you with. You admit that her requests are reasonable and in line with reality, but you seem to feel that you’re incapable of addressing any of them until you two start having sex regularly again. Why is that? How much sex would you want to have with her before you felt willing and able to change the behaviors you’ve both agreed aren’t working? Does a part of you believe that your wife is being dishonest and would not be prepared to meet you halfway if you tried to meet her requests? I can’t answer these questions for you without greater detail. Be honest with yourself and figure out what you’re afraid of that’s keeping you from trying. Before you end your marriage, consider couples counseling, where you two can discuss ways to approach this divide as a team rather than as two bitter opponents. You will likely both have to compromise in ways you would prefer not to, but that’s the nature of compromise, I’m afraid. The good news is that getting started is the hardest part. The more often you both try to meet the other in the middle, the easier and more rewarding it will get.
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My fiancé and I are getting married next year and plan on inviting only close friends and family. My fiancé’s parents and my father are very generously splitting the costs of the wedding, and I asked them if they wanted to add a few people to our guest list as a token of my gratitude (they’re very reasonable people). I’m fine with everyone they added (about 10 people) except for my fiancé’s aunt. I’ve only met her twice, but according to my future in-laws, she’s a compulsive thief. His family hides their purses and valuables when she is invited to events. She was recently fired for stealing from her co-worker. Based on her past behavior, I think it’s likely she’ll steal from guests during the reception or even from the gift table.
Is there a way I can gently push back on the request to include this person? She’s my fiancé’s father’s sister, and he says it’s up to us. My fiancé’s mother says we have to invite her. I love both of my future in-laws dearly, but I don’t want anything to go missing on our wedding day.
—Klepto at the Wedding
Push back cheerfully and robustly. There’s no need to be gentle about it. You’ve already got your father-in-law on your side, and you don’t have to say anything other than this: “We’re happy to add to our guest list, but since Karabeth the Enigma has shown no interest in getting help for her compulsive stealing, we won’t be able to invite her. We don’t want to put our other guests at the risk of losing something valuable just because they wanted to attend our wedding.” Hold firm to that line and make no apologies for it.
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My husband says he loves me and wants to stay with me, but it seems like I make him miserable. He is always angry or upset about something and won’t end things with his mistress, whom I really do not like (we’ve had an open relationship in the past but don’t now). She seems to make him happier than I do. I love it when he is happy and miss being the one who makes him happy. What can I do?
—Can’t Make Him Happy
Don’t pay attention to what your husband says, pay attention to what he does. He’s constantly angry, he’s impossible to please, he treats his girlfriend better than he treats you, and he refuses to honor the agreement of your no-longer-open marriage. This is not the behavior of a man who is in love. This question has a short answer, not because I’m trying to be flip or dismissive but because it’s a very simple problem: You can leave him, and figure out what makes you happy besides pleasing your selfish ex-husband.
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My boyfriend and I recently had a conversation about masturbation. He said he doesn’t do it now that we are together, which surprised me. I assured him that if he wanted to, he could, with or without me and with or without porn being involved. He insisted he doesn’t need to, but he asked if I do. I said I do masturbate, and he acted like he was fine with it, but he now brings it up passive-aggressively and often asks which other guys or girls I think are hot. He says he’s joking, and even after I tell him I feel judged by these comments, he’ll only apologize in the moment before bringing it up again a few days later. What is that? What can I say to make him open up and have this conversation with me honestlyinstead of hinting he’s unhappy? And if he does, and he wants me to stop, is that even a reasonable request? Are there really couples that consider it cheating? Is it crazy if I break up with him over what is, I’ll admit, kind of a minor issue? He’s annoying me to no end!
It is always OK to break up with someone who is annoying you to no end; that’s not a minor issue. Masturbation is not cheating, although, if individual couples want to mutually agree on particular masturbatory rules, they’re certainly free to. The key word there being, of course, mutually. It would be unreasonable of him to ask you to stop masturbating just because he doesn’t do it. Your boyfriend is not joking, and the next time he brings it up, call him on it. “You’ve started making snide comments and passive-aggressive jokes ever since I told you I masturbate. They’re clearly not ‘just jokes,’ and I’ve made it clear I don’t like it. Are you willing to talk about what’s really bothering you, or at least willing to stop jabbing me about it if you’re unwilling to have that conversation?” If he’s willing to talk, great; you two can work toward a common solution. If he’s not, you should probably break up with him.
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I’m a 34-year-old woman who’s been with my husband for 15 years. We have two children together, and he has two daughters from a previous relationship. I want to leave our marriage, primarily because I’ve felt unsupported for too long. Suffice it to say, our family has had a ton of significant life events over the past couple of years, and the brunt of keeping up with everything fell to me. I’ve been considering divorce for over six months already. I’m not rushing into anything and have talked with a counselor about this. I’m seeing another counselor next week just for a second opinion.
My husband’s ex-wife is my only friend. She has, as well as my boss, brought up the word abusive when talking about my husband. He is extremely jealous and, at times, controlling. He wants to know exactly where I am, what I’m doing, why I have to work late, who is going to be wherever I’m going, stuff like that. He’s never physically harmed me, or called me names, or put me down, or withheld money from me, or any of the other things that I’ve seen named as common abusive behaviors. I’m a reasonably smart woman, but this has really stopped me in my tracks. How do you know if the behaviors are at the abusive level? How many behaviors does one need to exhibit, and with what frequency, before it rises to abuse? He used to be much more jealous and controlling than he is now, but if he’s controlling once a month versus daily or weekly, is that “abusive”?
—Is It Abuse?
Some of the behaviors you listed do fall under the rubric of emotional abuse (there are more indicators at the National Domestic Violence Hotline website), but it can be hard to determine exactly when a person who exhibits certain controlling, unhealthy behaviors crosses the line into full-on abuse. Bear in mind, too, that no one is abusive all of the time and that being “reasonably smart” does not have anything to do with whether you can recognize abusive behavior in the moment. Abuse works precisely because the people who employ it make sure their partners trusts them and want to believe the best about them. Very few people expect to be abused, so don’t let the fact that you feel surprised or uncertain about whether or not you’ve been abused by your partner convince you that it’s not possible. The fact that you consider your husband’s ex-wife to be your only friend is certainly troubling. Whether it’s because your husband has been successful at keeping you isolated from others or for other reasons, you need a support network now more than ever. If there are any family members or friends you’ve lost touch with but who you think would be willing to help you as you start divorce proceedings, reach out to them and let them know what’s been going on.
Ultimately whether or not you choose to understand your soon-to-be-ex husband as a person who committed abuse against you, the most important part of your letter is this: “I want to leave our marriage.” Whether his jealousy and desire to monitor your whereabouts are borderline or fully abusive is something you will be able to further explore with your therapist in time. The important part to remember is that his behavior is controlling, destructive, unsupportive, and unloving, and that your marriage is over as a result of it. If you find the word abusive useful to you in processing the end of your marriage, you may choose to use it, even if only in therapy or in private conversations with trusted friends. But he does not have to be an abuser in order for divorce to be the right choice for you.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Come to My Window Office: My boss gave me that “look,” and now I’m falling in love with her.”
“So-So Man: Someone I hardly know asked me to be the best man at his wedding.”
“Tween Delinquent: My lazy, ungrateful 10-year-old is getting F’s in school.”
“Blood Scare: The nanny told us she’s HIV-positive. Should she still care for our kids?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Woman on the Side: Prudie counsels a wife whose husband cares more about the woman he cross-dresses as than his family.”
“I Think She’s in Love: Prudie advises a woman whose friend “jokes” they should leave their husbands and run away together.”
“For Name’s Sake: Prudie counsels a pregnant woman whose husband wants to name their baby after his ex.”
“Your Money for Pro-Life: Prudie advises a man whose sister used their brother’s death to raise anti-abortion funds.”