Dear Prudence

Open and Closed

Prudie counsels a parent who wants a bisexual son to be happy—but date women.

Danny M. Lavery
Danny M. Lavery

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Sam Breach.

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 prudence@slate.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.

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Mallory Ortberg: I hope everyone is sufficiently rested and hydrated after Pride! I myself am writing this from a supine position on a divan. Perhaps later I will work up the energy to peel a single grape.

Q. How do I do it?: My son came out to me as bisexual about 10 months ago. On the one hand, I do not love him any less and want to see him happy. On the other hand, I really want him to be happy in a heterosexual relationship. I know that the choice is his and his alone to make and I’m being supportive but societal judgment/gay-bashing/targeting IS real and I fear for his safety. In the crazy world in which we live, what can I do to actually be as supportive as I’m pretending to be? I truly do want him to be happy but I’m not going to lie: I truly wish he were dating a female. Help?

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A: Societal judgment against gay and bisexual people is very real, and you’re not doing anything wrong by acknowledging its power and worrying about the effect said judgment might have on your son. That said, don’t let that judgment start with you. Don’t add to it. Don’t let some of the censure and targeting that may come your son’s way—however well-intentioned you believe yourself to be—start with his mother. If you find yourself overwhelmed by doubts and panic, please get yourself to an LGBT-friendly therapist and/or the nearest PFLAG meeting, because you need an outlet or two for those fears, preferably an outlet that you didn’t give birth to.

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The other thing you get to do is let go of your dream that your son will be happy in a heterosexual relationship. That’s not to say he may never settle down with a woman, or that he won’t ever be happy in a relationship, merely that whatever relationship your son is in will never be heterosexual by virtue of the fact that your son is not heterosexual. It’s natural, and commendable, to want our children to be happy and healthy and safe from harm, but when we start to get to specific about how that happiness and health ought to be manifested in our children’s lives that we run into trouble. Your son is as aware as you are—likely more aware—that homophobia and biphobia exist. He has likely already encountered it! Nevertheless—he is bisexual. You can either make it slightly easier for him to be out, or immeasurably more difficult. That’s not to say that you are likely to start lobbing slurs at him, but through a hundred ways both direct and indirect you could successfully communicate to him that you’re “not disappointed, just worried” and “doesn’t he realize that this is going to make life more difficult?” and “wouldn’t it be better if he, well, not denied that part of himself but gave that nice girl I told you about, the Smiths’ daughter, a call sometime?”

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And buck up! This world is mad, yes. This world is persistently, sometimes violently, anti-gay, anti-bisexual, anti-trans, anti-gender-nonconforming, anti-queer. And yet queer people exist, and thrive, and come out, and date, and have fun, and commit to one another, and form beautiful, strengthening communities. It’s not all persecution and suffering, I promise you. You cannot protect your adult son from all the pain and prejudice in the world. But you can work hard to reduce the level of biphobia in the world, starting with yourself and radiating outwards to your friends, your family, and everyone else you come into contact with.

Q. The AC is a problem: I recently moved in with my best friend and another girl (Roomie). Everything’s been great until it started to get warm. We live in an old apartment building on the second floor, and it gets hot. The BFF and I are usually OK in our rooms, but Roomie isn’t. So she’ll turn up the air at night to the point where it’s freezing in the morning! I’m talking 50 degrees throughout the house. I am unhappy with this, but BFF is really angry. We split utilities but BFF feels this is less energy-efficient and going to cost more. Roomie refuses to get a fan and sleeps with her lights on (which I think adds to the heat problem). It’s only June, we’re nowhere near the worst of the summer weather. I want everyone to be comfortable but I don’t want to freeze to death every night. Any advice?

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A: Fifty degrees? As in Fahrenheit? I’ve never felt more like my own father in my life but: Does your roommate think that you are made of money? (By the way, landlords in San Francisco are legally required to maintain a minimum temperature of 68 degrees, just as a gut check of reasonable baseline behavior.) It’s time to call a good old-fashioned roommate meeting and find a mutually agreed-upon minimum thermostat setting. Luckily, you and the BFF outnumber the roommate; I suggest you do a little research and provide evidence for just how cost-ineffective and unreasonable a setting of 50 degrees is. (I recommend starting here and here.) If nothing else, you can show her your next energy bill—it’s going to be a big one.

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Q. Teachable moment in online dating: I’ve exchanged a few messages with this guy on OkCupid, and it seemed promising. Until his most recent message. It was a nice few sentences about shared professional interests, but at the end he tacked on, “Why do you describe yourself as curvy in your profile? You look thin and beautiful :-).”

Yikes. My first impulse was to stop responding altogether, but I now think this is a teachable moment. I want to say something along the lines of “I do consider myself curvy. And being curvy and beautiful are not mutually exclusive.” Any suggestions for other ways to frame it so that he gets that it was insulting to correct my own self-description?

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A: It’s my opinion that there are very few teachable moments in online dating when it comes to drive-by messages from random strangers. Yes, this dude’s not-quite-a-compliment was both boorish and unnecessary, but you don’t know him, have no shared history aside from a handful of seemingly promising messages, and will likely never meet him. It’s certainly a sentiment worth challenging, but it’s likely to be a waste of your time and energy to get into a discussion about body politics with a near-stranger online. If this had come from a friend or an acquaintance or even from a first date IRL, that might be an ideal springboard for you to challenge the notion that “curvy” is somehow the opposite of “beautiful,” but as it is, I think you should go with your first impulse and move on to someone else.

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You certainly can send that message if you like—the script you suggested is perfectly polite—but you’re under no obligation to correct the views of every misguided guy on OkCupid. If you did, you’d have no time to use it for dating. I have no suggestions for improving the framing of your response, but I do recommend asking yourself how much time you’re willing to spend debating him if he comes back with anything other than, “Thanks, I hadn’t thought about it like that before.”

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Q. I know what I ought to do, I just can’t: I dated a guy for slightly less than a year and had the misfortune of falling for him really badly. Both of us have been married before and have kids. He wanted to keep the relationship more casual, even though monogamous. I went along but after a while realized that I am miserable most of the time due to the lack of an emotional component. I broke it off but have been even more miserable ever since. I miss him terribly. He just wants to go back and just enjoy each other’s company “without complications.” Most of my friends think I am insane. Am I?

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I just know that if I go back “on his terms” it will be a short-lived bliss and then resentment again. I went online and have talked to a few guys, and probably will be be meeting one of them soon. So I am doing everything “by the book,” like keeping busy, meeting other people etc. But it doesn’t get any better. I just miss him.

A: First things first: You’re not “insane” for wanting to reconnect with an ex you loved deeply. It might not be the wisest thing to do, it might not be good for you in the long run, but it is perfectly reasonable to seek to avoid pain and pursue pleasure. That doesn’t mean I think you should give him a call, but don’t be too hard on yourself for wanting to put an end to your loneliness by returning to a situation that, while painful, at least provided you with concomitant rewards. It’s frustrating that “doing the right things” does not necessarily translate into “feeling recognizably better relatively quickly,” or even slowly. I’m reasonably confident that if you continue to focus on things that make you happy, you will not feel as devastated about this breakup 20 years from now as you do today, but I can’t promise you much else in terms of an emotional recovery timeline.

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While you’re currently short on willpower, you do at least have the gift of sufficient information. You already know that going back to your ex would undo what little progress you’ve already made while setting you up for increased suffering in the future. Consider how hard the last few months (or weeks? It’s not clear how far out from the breakup you currently are, but it sounds like you’re still in the messy, immediate aftermath) have been, and remind yourself that if you were to reconcile with him on his terms, you’d have to go through all of that all over again. At the very least, you can promise yourself that this is the only time you’ll have to get over him. It might take longer than you’d like, and you might have to spend some time going through the motions before you actually feel excited about the prospect of going out on a first date again, but you only have to do it once.

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Q. Re: The AC is a problem: 1. Maybe her room really IS a lot hotter; many houses don’t cool evenly. Try switching rooms. 2. She can get a portable window AC for her room; you all will still have to pay extra in utilities bills, but at least she won’t be cooling the whole apartment, only her own space.

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A: Her room may indeed get hotter than the others, but that’s probably because she’s already refused to take a few pretty basic steps to keep it cooler like sleeping with the lights off or using a fan. Frankly, there’s no justification for setting the thermostat to 50 degrees unless her room is directly on the surface of the sun. I didn’t even think ACs could go that low!

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Q. Sprained ankle–bridesmaid: I sprained my ankle walking. I wish I had a cooler story, but I don’t. The doctor says it’s not broken but it’s a severe sprain. I have crutches and will be on them for at least the next two weeks. Here’s the rub: My best friend and college roommate, “Rachem,” is getting married. Next Thursday. *ominous music plays*

I love her and I don’t want to ruin her wedding or detract from her at all. I don’t want to have any “oh what happened,” “My gosh do you need help?” type≠questions from any guests. I want all eyes on the bride. I want to physically grab their faces and redirect them at the bride if I have to. I figure for pictures I can get in the shot, throw my crutches to my husband, and have him help me get around between shots. The bridesmaids’ dresses are floor-length so you won’t see that one ankle is in a splint in pictures, so when her future kids see her pictures they won’t ask “Why is Aunt Erin in crutches? That’s so inconsiderate, stealing your spotlight, you were right to cut her out of your life.” They’ll say something like “Mom, you have excellent taste, and I do declare; what beautiful flowers!” (I’m not around kids much.)

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In short: What can I do to make sure her wedding is all about her on her wedding day? Please please please please please please help.

A: You are doing great! Everything sounds fine! Please feel free to relax roughly 85 percent more because nothing you have described above sounds like it is even within spitting distance of wedding-ruining territory. There is no need for ominous music! There is no need to picture future children who hate you! (Also, why do these hypothetical children think that anyone who needs to use crutches is doing so out of an attempt to “steal focus”?) If someone asks you why you sprained your ankle, as long as they don’t shout it out from the floor during the actual exchanging of vows portion of the ceremony, you can simply say, “I sprained it while I was walking last week! Weird, right?” People still have normal conversations with one another about unrelated topics during weddings—no one can maintain a pure, diamond-like–intense level of focus on the bride from the first sounds of the orchestra warming up to the last dance number after the reception. There will be no need to forcibly point anyone’s faces in any directions. You are going to be fine. The wedding is going to be great. You do not have to abase yourself any further.

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Q. Can you be jailed or evicted for credit card debt?: A friend of our family lost her husband a few years ago. He had very little in terms of life insurance, and she’s been living on Social Security and Medicaid ever since. She told us recently that she used her credit card to pay for funeral expenses and hasn’t been able to pay more than the minimal amount each month. Her debt is now several thousand dollars, and she’s scared that she will be put in jail if she doesn’t pay it off soon. I don’t think that will happen as long as she pays something every month—but I’m not sure. She has thought about going bankrupt, but that would ruin her credit rating which she thinks would mean being evicted from her apartment. Can they? And how can we help her? We can’t really afford to pay it off for her; thinking maybe just a lump sum to pay it down somewhat?

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A: The good news is that no one can be jailed for credit card debt in the United States, although your friend could be sued by her creditors and have her wages garnished or some of her assets seized to pay down the debt if they win a judgment against her. If your friend is old enough to be receiving Social Security payments, she likely qualifies for assistance from your state’s Aging Services Division (every state has one—there’s a directory here), as well as charitable organizations like Meals on Wheels. Your local Aging Services Division can offer housing assistance, financial advice, and legal aid, all of which it sounds like your friend sorely needs. It’s a good thing she has people like you in her life who are willing and able to offer support when she needs it, although I think you should seek professional counsel before deciding whether or not to give her money yourself. It may be helpful in the short term, but in the long run she’s going to need much more than one generous individual to figure out a debt consolidation plan.

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Q. Re: Teachable moment in online dating: You and the OP missed the point of this man’s question. He’s trying to make sure she’s not fat because he’s not attracted to fat women. And he likely thought he was asking in a polite way. At least more polite than “are you fat?” because he’s interested in her otherwise but wouldn’t be interested sexually in a larger woman.

A: Oh, neither the OP nor myself missed the point of this man’s message in the least. It was perhaps the least subtle message ever composed by human hands, and both of us understood it beautifully. The issue is not one of comprehension, but of basic politeness. You are right in the sense that what he said was slightly less rude than demanding, “Are you fat?” but that is a terribly low bar to clear. Let us set ours slightly higher.

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Q. Waiting Room: As of this July, I will have been engaged for three years and with my boyfriend for 12. We have put off getting married for quite some time now and I have resigned myself to the fact that it may not happen. I set a date which then passed because he wanted his family present when we get married. He refuses to marry in the state his family is in because “I don’t live there and have any connection to there” he states. So, this involves his family having to come out here for us to get married. After many discussions, I have tapped out. I refuse to look at places to rent for this event or even set a date. His family thinks it is me that is putting on these demands but it’s not. I have now told him that I really don’t care if we get married (seriously, by now I’m just over it) but I get asked all the time “when are you getting married?” On one hand it’s pretty embarrassing that after 12 years we still can’t get it together. Also, he has traveled and participated in every one of his siblings’ weddings (three of them) and I feel like he’s just ignored by his family when it comes to what he needs them to do to mildly participate in his life that is 1,500 miles from them. How can I navigate this potentially tricky situation? I want him to feel like he matters to his family but when they continually put their own family vacations and stuff ahead of what he needs from them (to maybe spend three days where we live), but I find it hard to bargain with folks who won’t put in the effort. Help!

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A: If what you want is to get married, I have good news for you! You two can head down to the courthouse tomorrow (or depending on what state you live in, a few days after obtaining a marriage license) and have it done within a matter of minutes. It is not difficult to get married, and you two are both competent, self-sufficient adults who are more than capable of accomplishing it if you put your minds to it.

If what you want is to have a wedding, and not merely that but a wedding where everyone in your boyfriend’s family behaves in exactly the way you would like them to and “pay him back” what you think they owe him socially in terms of traveling and participation—well, then you two are going to have to get on the same page. Which you are not currently on! Your historic strategy as a couple of not talking, periodically stonewalling one another, setting deadlines and blowing past them without comment, is not going to cut it. At the very least, you are going to have to decide that you two want to get married with or without his family in full attendance. Their presence would be welcomed, but if they cannot make it you will have to both want to go ahead with the ceremony anyways. If what you are both looking for is an excuse to continue to not get married, nurture your various resentments at one another, pretending to be “over” the idea entirely when you clearly aren’t, then my guess is you will probably find a way to continue to not get married to one another.

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This sounds harsh, I fear, and I don’t mean to suggest the fault is more yours than his or that you two don’t genuinely love one another, but it never does anyone any good to pretend they don’t care about something when they do. You would like to marry your boyfriend! You have felt embarrassed and rejected (and rightly so!) when in the past you put forth a great deal of effort toward making it happen and he didn’t meet you halfway. Share this information with him. Ask him to meet you halfway now. Figure out—as a couple—what you do and don’t require in order to get married, and then make it happen, with or without his various half-hearted siblings.

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