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.
Q. Friends vs. spouse: It’s hard for me to make good friends that last. A few years ago, I made a good friend at work. We could talk to each other about everything. Our kids got on really well too, which was an added bonus. There was just one issue: My husband hated her from the get-go. At first he gave shallow reasons like she’s too tall or she just looks untrustworthy. Later, if we ever got in an argument, he’d jump at the chance to put her down more. Eventually he forbade me from seeing her unless our kids were present. I still would hang out with her alone as adults here and there; I’d just not tell him. I never told her my husband did not want me seeing her. Eventually, she found out and was furious. The next day, my husband looked her email up on the school contact list and sent a hate-filled email to her. He never told me and acted completely normal. She forwarded it to me and said we couldn’t be friends or even speak anymore. I apologized to her, acknowledging I put her in a terrible situation, but to no avail. I get it, she shouldn’t have to deal with that. I was devastated, work is completely awkward and miserable, I really miss my friend, and my daughter misses her friends. My husband feels victorious and has been extra nice lately. I’m having a difficult time feeling OK around my husband. I confronted him about the email, but he responded that he probably went a little too far but was not sorry for doing it because he got me back. This is somewhat creepy to me. I see a therapist, but he refuses to go, saying they are all against him and our marriage. How is it possible to rebuild trust and a healthy relationship where there has been so much dysfunction and mistrust for so long?
A: You can’t rebuild trust with someone against his will, and your husband has demonstrated no interest in behaving in a trustworthy matter. You say it’s hard for you to make good friends that last, and I’m worried this is not the first time your husband has gone out of his way to keep you from developing relationships with anyone who isn’t him. Your husband is controlling, creepy, abusive, and cruel. He didn’t go a “little too far”—he tried to keep you, an adult woman, from having friends, sent abusive messages to your friend at her work email, and refused to apologize for doing so. In fact he congratulates himself on “getting you back,” as if your having friends was somehow a threat to your marriage. It is not only not possible, it is not desirable to rebuild a relationship with this man. You and your children are better off without him.
Q. Emotions surrounding prenup: My fiancé is significantly wealthier than me and has asked that we draw up a prenuptial agreement to protect his existing assets in case of a divorce. He has been very clear that anything we earn or acquire during our marriage would be distributed equally, which is obviously better for me than for him. I understand why he wants this, and if I were in his position, I could see wanting the same thing. However, every time we talk about it, I get very emotional, because having to plan for the hypothetical end of our relationship is sad, right?! He doesn’t understand this and is very anxious that I am going to be weepy at the attorney’s office when we meet with her. He also comes from a divorced family and is once divorced himself, whereas no one in my family has ever divorced, and this is my first serious relationship. Big difference in perspective there. Am I unreasonable for having these feelings?
A: Not at all! This sounds like a reasonable agreement, and it’s perfectly normal to find the idea of a prenup both reasonable and overwhelming. You’re not trying to back out of anything; you’re just experiencing pretty understandable pangs of sadness and fear as you discuss the possible end of your marriage before you begin it. (Also, if you get a little weepy in his lawyer’s office—so what? She’s a professional; she’s not going to melt under the weight of a few tears.) Since you two are spending a lot of time carefully considering your finances before your wedding, consider spending some additional time carefully examining your emotional connection in premarital counseling. That’s not to say you should demand premarital counseling as your version of a prenup, simply that you two are about to take a huge step together and seem to have fairly different ideas about how to talk about difficult emotions. Consider both the prenuptial agreement and the counseling to be investments in the long-term health of your marriage, and good luck.
Q. A nurse, who is male: I am a nurse who is male. Not a male nurse (that term is considered offensive). I have been married for over a year. When we were dating I got the feeling my now wife wasn’t too thrilled with my job choice. She teased me about it, saying things like how I must really have wanted to be a doctor but didn’t have the brains. I talked to her about it. I told her that I never wanted to be “more than” a nurse, and to be able to take care of people had been my dream for years. Medicine is too hands-off for me, and I never even thought of that route. She apologized and said she understood, and the comments stopped. She even seemed to appreciate what I did. Now that we are married the comments are starting again. Last night she was on her laptop and called me over. She pointed out an APN program at a local college and said, “If you can’t be a doctor, you can at least be better than an RN.” I told her that I had no interest in an advanced degree. APNs take on a physician’s role, which is not what I want, or work in administration, which is also not what I want. All I want is to be a bedside nurse, taking care of people to the best of my ability.
A: Your wife is really gunning for this year’s “Most Unequivocally Awful Thing a Spouse Has Said in Dear Prudence” award. To suggest that nurses are just failed doctors is dismissive, thoughtless, totally out of touch with reality, and in your wife’s case, sexist as hell. (Also, I’d love to know what her job is that allows her to dismiss RNs! Is she Jacques Bérès or one of the other founders of Doctors Without Borders?* Because if not, that’s a little hypocritical—and actually, I’d imagine the founders of Doctors Without Borders have a healthy appreciation for nurses.)
Let’s hope that in every other aspect of married life she’s a gem and a delight. Regardless, these comments display a lack of respect for you, your choices, and the work you do every day, and you don’t have to put up with them. Tell her, “I’ve been a nurse since before I knew you. My job never came as a surprise to you. I’ve told you I find it personally fulfilling, well-suited to my abilities, and allows me to take care of other people in a way that makes me profoundly satisfied. I’m really sorry that that bothers you, because you’re missing out on a significant opportunity to be happy for your partner. You might think nursing isn’t a ‘good enough’ career for me, but I love it and have no desire to become a doctor, an APN, or anything else. I’d like you to drop the subject, and try to be happy for me.”
Q. Re: Emotions surrounding prenup: The feelings are not unreasonable, but I also don’t think the fiancé is unreasonable for wanting to have a prenup if he has previous negative experiences with divorce. The best course is to hire your own attorney to help you negotiate the process, negotiate with the spouse, and protect any assets that YOU bring to the table.
Also, this is an excellent opportunity to ensure that already existing children (both his and yours, if applicable) are protected in the event of a divorce. It’s also an excellent opportunity to ensure that everything else is in order, including your wills, your advanced medical directives, and your powers of attorney.
A: Yes! That’s such a good point, and one I didn’t think of at all—OP, you should have your own lawyer to review the documents and advise you. That’s not antagonistic; that’s just good prenuptial sense.
Q. I walk the line: My husband of one year has a bit of a hangup about one of my male friends, whom I met three years before my husband. Somewhere in those three years, I had a long, unrequited crush (he is gay) on this male friend, but that crush died off soon before I met my husband—a husband whom I adore and is a much better match for me than this friend ever would have been even if he were straight. This friend and I naturally drifted apart some, but I still talk to him once in a while on Facebook or Twitter, usually in public but occasionally through chat. We have known each other a long time and care about each other’s lives. The things we talk about are sometimes personal but completely innocent and not overly intimate. We will talk about, say, the fact that he is considering joining another religion. My husband and I have had many talks about his jealousy about my former feelings toward my friend. He knows that nothing is going on, that my friend is gay, that I am not pining after him, and that I have a right to my former friendships, but I know he still feels insecure. So when my husband sees me typing away on my phone and casually asks who I’m talking to, if it’s this friend, I usually tell him it’s one of my other friends (even other male ones) just to avoid an argument or making my husband feel bad. Is this wrong? I feel like I’m acting like a cheater but I just want to avoid a fight about something I don’t really think is my problem.
A: You say you’re lying about who you’re talking to in order to avoid a fight, but you don’t say that your husband makes a habit of fighting with you about your interactions with this particular friend, just that he feels insecure, which makes me wonder if what you’re actually trying to avoid is being honest and vulnerable with your husband. If he actually gives you a hard time when you’re texting your friend, that’s one thing, but if you’re just trying to pretend your friend doesn’t exist, I think that’s a suboptimal strategy. Based on what you’ve written here, it sounds like your husband has behaved fairly well—he’s aware that there’s nothing going on between you and your friend and that his own insecurities should not dictate your behavior.
You’re not obligated to update your husband every time you text someone, of course, and if you think he’s asking in part because he wants to needle you about the friend you used to have a crush on in particular, I can understand your policy of general avoidance. But if he’s doing a reasonably good job of trying to manage his own insecurities, I think you should take a step toward increased intimacy and be honest about who you’re talking to when the subject comes up.
Q. Re: Friends vs. spouse: My question is how her therapist isn’t helping her understand that she is being emotionally abused. She also needs to get a new therapist.
A: Absolutely. Part of the value of a therapist is having a neutral third party who can help you recognize patterns that you’re too close to see. We don’t know what the therapist has to say about the situation (or even that the OP has given said therapist all the details she’s given us), but if your therapist knows what your husband has done and isn’t putting the dots together—if your therapist isn’t helping you identify your husband’s controlling, isolating behavior as part of a pattern of emotional abuse—then you need a new therapist, pronto.
Q. Different parenting styles: I have a wonderful and darling friend who happens to fall on the side of (what I consider to be) fussy and overly indulgent helicopter parenting, where I tend to the free-range-with-a-vengeance and zero-censorship side. I come from a large, involved family (I have more than 50 first cousins, and I’ve babysat most of them!) and I’ve also fostered kids at different times in my life, whereas she comes from a very small family—just one sibling and both her parents are deceased. I will admit to having a little bit of arrogance where kids are concerned—if a kid does it, I’ve probably dealt with it. Which by no means makes me perfect or infallible! It seems to me she’s her own worst enemy where her son is concerned. He’s 4, and she complains that he’s a terrible sleeper—but she’s spent the last four years indulging a bedtime routine that makes circus acts look quiet. Projector-style mobiles, starlight walks, rocking, swaddling, car rides, time-outs, and existential discussions about the biological functions of sleep, often until midnight or later. Bedtime and sleep hygiene are the worst area, but this parenting style stretches across every aspect of her life. She’s been my best friend for 15 years, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult not to be judgmental and tell her off every time she complains that Baby kept her up again last night. My own kids are grown or nearly so (17 and 20), and all I can see is years of behavioral problems that she’s manufacturing with her own behavior. Remind me how to separate myself from her issues without losing a friend I really do love dearly?
A: Friend, with withered hopes: “Last night my swaddled son kept me awake for a thousand years. I have no heart or lungs left in my chest, only a profound desire to become a small rock that lives quietly by the sea.”
You, winsome and charming and wearing a becoming hat: “I’m so sorry to hear that! I’ve had a lot of luck with certain techniques with my kids—I’m sure you’ve done plenty of research already, but if you’d ever like to hear about what’s worked for me, I’d be happy to share.”
If she bites, great; if she doesn’t, she doesn’t. When she complains again in future, remember that you don’t have to fix her problem or feel any of the consequences for her—just stick with “I’m so sorry to hear that,” and “That sounds awful,” and the many polite, standard-issue variations thereof.
The one issue that’s worth bringing up with her without asking her first is the time-outs—if she’s disciplining her kid, however mildly, for failing to fall asleep (which is hardly something a 4-year-old can control), then I think that merits your saying something directly to her, whether she invites your feedback or not. You can’t punish a child into falling asleep.
Q. My yard is full of dog poop—but I don’t have a dog: We recently moved into a house in a suburb that feels like a small town. We like the house, but I’m still not sure about leaving the city. My children love our front yard, and we play out there nearly every day. My children are young, 4 and 1 years old, and the back yard is a hill that is difficult to negotiate for my littlest. So if we are playing outside, it has to be in the front yard. The problem is I (or my children) find dog crap in my yard all the time. We don’t have pets, but as far as I can tell, almost everyone else on our street does. I’ve seen at least four different dogs in my yard at various times as well as a few cats. I’m not monitoring my yard constantly or interested in starting that but I don’t want other people’s pets using my yard as a toilet. It’s not just a pain to clean up, but it is unsanitary, and my kids are still at the stage where they have to touch everything. Each time I’m scooping up poop or washing it off a child’s shoe, I fantasize about visiting my neighbors one by one and yelling at them to come pick up after their dogs. I don’t really want to do that because I’d like to have a friendly relationship with my neighbors. But what do I do? Is it normal to just let your dog roam around and leave waste wherever it wants, or did I pick the wrong street to buy a house on?
A: You can get one of those “Pick up after your dog” signs for your lawn, which might help, but given that there’s always a degree of uncertainty when it comes to the provenance of dog poop, I don’t think yelling at your neighbors individually will be an effective strategy. You could also get a fence! Even a small one would discourage wanderers.
Mallory Ortberg: Until next week—may all your therapists be circumspect and your dogs well-trained.
Correction, April 25, 2017: This post originally misspelled Jacques Bérès’ first name. (Return.)