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. (Don’t) talk dirty to me: My husband is a smart, nice, funny guy. We have the same taste in movies, books, and music and have similar political views. We’re less compatible in the bedroom, though our sex life was generally adequate. One issue was that he was raised as a bit of a prude and was always dead silent during the act. In an effort to spice things up, I asked him to talk dirty to me. After a lot of cajoling and encouragement, he finally agreed to try it and was much pleased with the results. Unfortunately, this apparently opened a floodgate because now … He. Won’t. Shut. Up. We cannot have a single conversation, not one, in which he doesn’t add some sexual comment in the crudest possible terms. Yes, I like dirty talk, but not when we’re discussing who’s going to drive his elderly mother to the doctor to get a mole removed. Worse, he’s starting to do it in public. For example, we were at dinner the other evening with his mother and my parents and sister. He leaned over to me and whispered loudly, “If you were wearing a skirt, I’d diddle you under the table” (followed by a graphic description of said diddling). Then he sat there leering at me, oblivious to the stunned, embarrassed silence from everyone at the table. I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve nicely asked him to confine it to the bedroom. I’ve asked him not so nicely. I’ve hinted. I’ve been blunt. It’s gotten worse. Now I can’t even say “good morning” without getting a long, rambling, B-porn-movie description of highly specific sex acts. I’m annoyed to the point that our sex life has all but come to a standstill. He hasn’t even noticed, and keeps talking. What can I do to get him to rein it in?
A: If you have already repeatedly said to your husband, “Please stop talking dirty to me in public” politely, and then “Cut it out, I’m embarrassed and turned off” less politely, the problem is not that you have failed to effectively communicate your boundaries to your husband. The problem is that your husband does not care that his dirty talk embarrasses or alienates you to the point of no longer wanting to have sex with him. Ask him: “I’ve told you more than once that I don’t like it when you try to talk dirty out of the bedroom or when we’re in front of other people, and you haven’t stopped. It’s tedious, distressing, and it’s constant. It’s become such a turnoff that we’ve stopped having sex altogether, and you’re still not stopping. Can you explain to me why that is?” If you have that conversation and he still doesn’t knock it off, then I think it’s time to start leaving the room when he reverts into Sexy Narration mode.
Q. Wedding faux pas?: I recently attended a wedding of one of my husband’s college friends. He’s not someone that we see often, but we encounter him and his bride two or three times a year at parties, are friends on Facebook, etc. Anyways, I wore a blue dress to the ceremony, and it turns out that the bride’s wedding colors were royal blue. Her bridesmaids wore the color, the close family wore the color. I had no idea. Other than a wedding invitation, we never had any contact with them prior to the event since a summer BBQ where dress codes were not discussed. It seems that she casually told some of her friends not to wear blue, and I didn’t get the message. She was apparently horrified that I had worn “her color.” Another woman also wore blue and got the same treatment.
At the start of the reception, she stomped over and said very loudly that she couldn’t believe I had worn her color. It was really embarrassing, but it was her wedding day so I apologized, said that I had no idea and that the whole day was beautiful. She stomped off in a huff, and eventually her husband came over and said that she was really upset and that seeing my dress was detracting from her having fun. He wanted to know whether I could change. A friend loaned me a long black sweater and I put it on over the dress. Later, the bride pointed me out (while using a microphone) and said “she’s not invited.” Later in the night, she came up to me AGAIN to tell me how this had shattered her day. At this point, my patience was wearing a little thin. We said our goodbyes. This morning, I woke up to being tagged in a rant about guest etiquette on Facebook and an email from the groom asking me to apologize again. I responded, copying his wife, reiterating my original message in a bland way (sorry, I didn’t know. I appreciated them letting me know and hopefully wearing the world’s largest sweater had mitigated it. It was a lovely day. Have a nice life). This woman has gone from generically fine to totally unhinged in my book. We’re going to see them again at a BBQ in about a month (it’s at our house, otherwise I’d skip it). I’m wondering how to handle this situation, especially since I just got a call from a mutual friend saying that she called her sobbing about how this had really cast a pall over her day. At this point, I don’t want to fuel the fire or ever engage again, but I’m stumped—because she seems excited to have a dead horse to beat.
A: Good Lord, this woman is grimly determined to be personally victimized by the color blue. It’s a little trickier to keep your distance as hosts than it would be as mere guests, but at least you always have the excuse of needing to check on the grill/cooler/new arrivals if you need to quickly escape her conversation. And, of course, if she or her husband try to drag up your mortal blue sin again, you can generically and cheerfully change the subject, excuse yourself, and make a mental note to disinvite these cranks from all future barbecues, cookouts, get-togethers, clambakes, and/or hootenannies. Do not apologize again, and do not entertain their future complaints. And, for your own sanity, mute or unfriend them on Facebook. Let all future rants about dress codes pass by you as th’idle wind, which you respect not.
Q. Girlfriend’s pets: How do I talk to my girlfriend about her cleanliness habits specifically having to do with her pets? She’s normally tidy and clean in all other respects but has a huge blind spot when it comes to her pets. She lets her cats on the kitchen counter, puts their food and water up there, and never cleans up the hair or crumbs. If we were moving in together, I wouldn’t have a problem telling her what I need to feel comfortable and clean. But that’s far off, so I’m unsure if I can tell her how to keep her own house. It makes me feel hugely uncomfortable when I come over. Cat hair everywhere. She never sweeps or picks up the dog and cat poop in the backyard. I feel like I have nowhere to feel comfortable when I’m there. But I love her! So what do I do?
A: You tell her exactly what you just told me—that the dog and cat hair situation in her house is out of control, that her backyard is riddled with animal waste and hazardous to walk through, that feeding animals on the same surface you prepare your own food is unhygienic, that this is an unusual lapse in cleanliness for her, and that it makes you not want to spend time in her home. You don’t have to wait until you move in together to bring this up, if you feel uncomfortable in her house right now, then it’s an issue. You say you love this woman, so kindly and honestly bring this issue to her attention. Part of loving someone involves knowing when and how to bring constructive criticism to their attention, and this situation definitely qualifies.
Q. Meet the kids: My partner and I (mid-30s) have been together for just under a year and he’s wonderful. I feel secure in our relationship with one exception. He has two children from a previous relationship, ages 6 and 10. They live with their mother (his relationship with her is still tense, though they’ve been apart for three years), and he sees them regularly and is very proud of them. This is the first time I’ve dated a parent and I want to handle it well, so I told him a couple of months ago that I feel ready to meet them and left it there. He seemed happy when I said it. However, I’ve yet to meet them and at this point they don’t even know about me. He does things like hide my toothbrush at his house so they don’t ask about it. Friends ask me if I’ve met them and seem startled when I say no. I don’t want to be pushy, but I’m starting to wonder if it means he doesn’t see us lasting—or if it’s something to do with their mother. Should I ask why, or just tell everyone to butt out?
A: It’s great that your boyfriend is erring on the side of caution when it comes to introducing new partners to his young kids, but it’s also fine for you to ask to meet them and, at the same time, whether or not he sees your relationship as having sufficient long-term potential to merit getting to know the rest of his family. You don’t say that your friends are relentless hounding you about why you haven’t met the kids yet, just that they seemed surprised that you hadn’t. If they press the issue, feel free to tell them you’d rather not discuss your boyfriend’s children with them, but I don’t think they’ve reached a point where you would need to tell them to butt out. It might reassure him to know that you are not looking to becoming an instant stepparent, merely that you think it’s time to stop hiding your toothbrush and maybe joining him and the kids for lunch sometime.
Q. Re: Wedding faux pas?: Pleeeeeease, pleeeeeease wear blue to your BBQ, and follow up to let us know what happens!
A: That would be delightfully petty and I too would love to hear a follow-up. OP, you probably shouldn’t stoke the flames of this ridiculous couple’s ire, but it’s a wonderful mental image.
Q. Re: Wedding faux pas?: FFS, this woman is an unhinged nightmare! The OP should not give one more inch of an apology. If Bethilda the Bride shows up at the OP’s house for a BBQ and continues with this behavior, I’d recommend she firmly tell them both to leave. She doesn’t need to make excuses to check on incoming guests or food/drink in her own home to avoid this kind of nonsense.
A: For what it’s worth, there are quite a few responses recommending the OP officially uninvite the couple in question. I agree that, if nothing else, the OP should be prepared to ask them to drop the subject or leave the party at this point.
Q. Big little lies: My friend, “Chrysanthemum,” from college, moved to my new town. We reconnected and I introduced her to my friends here. But then things took a weird turn—she got weirdly distant, and she apparently had a problem with me but would only talk to our now-mutual friends about it, and not me. I took this to mean that she was no longer interested in my friendship, and have moved on. All of a sudden, she has started texting me again, claiming that she’s been physically ill and hasn’t been up to hanging out with anyone. Now that she’s well, she can’t wait to get together and hang out. Not only am I confused, I am also positive that she has been well enough these last few months to go out frequently with our mutual friends—they’ve shared fun stories of their times together, they post constantly on social media pictures of them at various activities, I’ve even run into her at local restaurants out with our friends. I hold no ill will toward Chrysanthemum, but I also am wary of reconnecting and accepting this “illness” excuse. I don’t want to create drama with her because it would hurt our friend group, but I am so uncomfortable blowing off this oddly blatant lie. Any thoughts?
A: I am never quite sure whether a stated desire to “not create drama” means anything more than garden-variety conflict avoidance. In this case I don’t know that conflict avoidance is an especially desirable outcome! You don’t wish to re-establish a friendship with Chrysanthemum, believe her to have spoken critically of you to others, and don’t trust the reason she’s giving you now to explain her past behavior. Those are good reasons not to renew contact with her. If what’s most important to you is avoiding a direct conversation that might spill over into your other friendships, then be polite but distant when you run into one another and always be vaguely busy when she suggests you get together.
If you’d rather go full Regency-era Wearing the Mask of Politeness, you can pretend to accept her patently untrue illness excuse to preserve the peace, then continue to keep her at arm’s length and assume she’ll probably vanish again at some point.
If some part of you is willing to hear her explanation, you might say, “I noticed you got distant a while back, and I wondered what was going on. I feel a little uncomfortable saying this, but I heard from mutual friends that the reason for your absence was that you had a problem with something I said or did. I’d rather hear that directly from you, and I hope you know that you can come to me if I’ve done something that upsets you.” She might deny anything of the sort, of course, at which point you can smile, decline to press the issue, and return to Options 1 or 2. Or, if she’s willing to be honest, you two might be able to figure out what sort of a friendship, if at all, is possible between the two of you.
Q. Honesty or freebies?: I have always been a very honest person, never shoplifted, never stole, corrected cashiers when they give me too much change, gone back into a store to pay for items we missed in the checkout, etc. Don’t ask me to lie, omit, or even evade for you; I just can’t do it! (My siblings were/are kleptos and compulsive liars. I hated it.) I have always instilled this in my kids and other than the typical teen fibs about homework and cleaning their rooms, I am proud of their honesty. For X-mas—I gifted my 16-year-old son with a subscription box for three months. He was thrilled and looked forward to them every month. I planned to order him one every quarter after the three months, since they were pricey. Then, he received an email letting him know his fourth box was on its way. We checked his account—we never entered a billing option … so we shrugged it off as a fluke. Then his fifth box came. I don’t know if someone on the company side processed his three-month as a six- or even 12-month gift subscription. Part of me is happy he’s getting all this extra stuff to try—but at the same time the honest part of me is cringing and wondering if and when I contact the company to alert them to this error. I am aware my kids are watching me and taking their cues from me, so do I sacrifice the free boxes to set an example (and possibly have to pay for the two to three extra boxes that came already)? Or let it be?
A: Contact the company! You feel guilty and self-conscious and like you’re setting a bad example for your kids, which is an excellent reason to get in touch and correct the error. Since the mistake wasn’t yours, it’s not terribly likely the company will charge you for the extra boxes they sent you in error, but even if they do, you’d been planning on buying your son another two or three over the course of the rest of the year, so if worst comes to worst, all you’ve done is get them to him a little early. You don’t have much to lose but a great deal of peace of mind to regain.
Q. Family wedding drama: I’m a 25-year-old woman, getting married soon. Ten years ago, I was a very well-behaved, studious 15-year-old and was left out of an aunt’s wedding because of a “no children” rule. My fiancé and I are having a small, intimate ceremony on a Friday evening with only his best man and my maid-of-honor as witnesses, going out to a nice restaurant as a foursome for dinner, then doing a huge backyard barbecue the next day (Saturday) as a reception for everyone else. Everyone’s invited, even the aunt who excluded me from her wedding. Said aunt is throwing a fit for not being invited to the ceremony. I tried to explain that we wanted the ceremony to be small and quiet, and that she was invited to the barbecue reception, but apparently that wasn’t good enough. When I pointed out that she deliberately excluded me from her wedding, she called me disrespectful and stormed out of my mother’s house. Now she’s no longer speaking to me or my mother. Thankfully, my mother stood up for me. The problem is that now my aunt is badmouthing me to our entire extended family, and a few have taken her side. I know there’s something I should be doing, but I have absolutely no idea how to handle this. Did I do something wrong by not having a big ceremony? Did I do something wrong by pointing out to my incensed aunt that she was complaining about being excluded, when she did the same to me for her wedding?
A: The worst I’m willing to convict you of is referencing your own exclusion from your aunt’s wedding a decade ago as justification for your small ceremony now. That wasn’t necessary—you could, and should, have confined yourself to saying, “We’re only having two witnesses at the ceremony; everyone is coming over afterward to celebrate and we’d love to see you there.” That said, your sin was venial at best, whereas your aunt’s behavior is churlish and wildly out of proportion. You certainly don’t owe her an apology for not inviting her to a ceremony so small your own parents aren’t even attending. If she decides to complain to the rest of the family, that’s her affair; if anyone else tries to give you a hard time about having a small wedding, feel free to dismiss their opinions as wildly irrelevant. It may feel like you “have to” do something because your aunt is so angry, but you actually don’t have to do a damn thing. She is choosing to be offended of her own free will. You haven’t actually slighted her. In the future, don’t use her old wedding-guest policy as justification for your own—you have every right to have a small wedding, and don’t need to apologize for it or change it.
Q. Ready to move, but teen is not: My husband and I are ready to move away from the overpriced city we have called home for 16 years. The problem is our teenage daughter. She is adamant that she wants to stay and finish out high school with her “friends” (she has two years left). This would be perfectly understandable except for one thing: She never sees any of her friends—not on weekends and not after school. All of her relationships are conducted 100 percent online—no movies, no parties, no dinners out. Ever. My family is in a serious rut here (our son is struggling), and we are ready for a major change. It makes me crazy that she wants us to stay here for two years while she texts people she could text from anywhere. What say you?
A: You can take your children’s feelings into account when you decide whether or not to move, but that doesn’t mean they should dictate your actions. You can certainly take the opportunity to ask your daughter some questions. Frame it a little more gently than “you don’t seem to have any IRL friends; you can text from your bedroom just as easily in Sandwich, Illinois, as you could in Gotham City,” obviously, but try to find out what friends or social circles are in your city that she’d miss particularly. You may learn something about your daughter you didn’t before! But if, ultimately, you think the best financial choice is for your family to move, then I think you should do so.
Q. Re: Honesty or freebies?: Why does box mom think she’s not going to be charged for these boxes outright? Isn’t that how these things usually go—they’re counting on you not to cancel in time so they can send you subsequent shipments of meals/snacks/bill you for the next month of streaming/whatever. The company already has their billing info, so I suspect this might work itself out even if she doesn’t say anything.
A: The LW said they specifically never entered billing information, so it doesn’t sound like the old strategy of “the first three shipments are free, but give us your credit card information anyways so we can start charging you unless you select the impossible-to-find cancel option.” I think it’s a genuine error on the company’s part.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! May all of your wedding colors be “emotional stability” and “restraint of tongue and pen.” See you next week.