Dear Prudence

Behind Her Back

My wife won’t let me indulge my fantasies. Can I look elsewhere?

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
I’ve had two specific fantasies since puberty. Now, many years later, I feel my sexuality drying up and blowing away, and I want to check off these two boxes first. Except I am married to a wonderful person, whom I adore! I’ve asked, but she is not interested in these things. I’m not after anything dark or obscure. I could solve this problem for a few hundred dollars while on a business trip and that would be that. I never have, though, as my wife would be crushed if she found out. Is this kind of thing ever OK? How do other people handle this?

–Is This Ever OK?

Other people generally handle this by either cheating on their spouses or accepting that some fantasies remain just that—fantasies. You’re not talking about total sexual incompatibility or a marriage that has never been fulfilling for you; you’re describing two specific ideas you’ve only indulged in your mind. That is a perfectly normal thing and not a heartbreaking or life-altering loss. You say that your wife would be crushed if you paid someone else to have sex with you and that you adore her, so I encourage you not to crush your wife, regardless of whether you’re convinced you’d be able to arrange things so that she would never find out.

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Dear Prudence,
I have been with my fiancé for almost four years. He’s smart, funny, generous, and attentive. He also has some problems with drinking and a wicked temper. These problems have come to a head before, with a couple of drunken tantrums over the years. This past weekend, it was worse than it’s ever been, and he put me through a wall. I’m OK physically now.

The next day, he poured out the rest of his liquor cabinet (I rarely drink) and called a counselor to help him manage his anger. I never thought I’d be the type of woman to stay in this kind of circumstance, but his actions did not make leaving less complicated. We still bought a house two months ago, we’re still getting married in February, and of course, I still love him. My question: Am I deluded for thinking we can get past this? For thinking it won’t happen again?

–Shocked and Hurt

The last thing I want to do while you’re dealing with the shock that follows physical abuse from someone you love and trust is to call you deluded or encourage you to blame yourself for doing something wrong. Part of what makes abuse so insidious is that when abusers are not committing abuse, they are charming, sincere, self-aware, apologetic, and loving. The fact that your fiancé poured his liquor down the sink and called a counselor is not a sign that he is coming to his senses; it’s a well-studied part of the cycle of abuse sometimes referred to as “the honeymoon phase.” The abuser apologizes, exhibits extreme remorse, behaves lovingly and contritely and just as he used to before his temper “got out of hand,” precisely so that he can persuade his partner not to leave. Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline—you can get confidential support, access basic resources, and learn more about the patterns of abuse there, and no one will pressure you into doing something you’re not ready for. Reasonable, loving people do not accidentally put their partners through walls, not even once, and the odds that your fiancé will hurt you again are sadly very high. It is never simple to leave someone you love, someone you own a home with, and you deserve all the support and assistance in the world right now. You deserve to be safe from harm.

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Dear Prudence,
My parents died more than a decade ago, when I was 25. I moved home and helped raised my younger siblings (ages 11 to 17). I stayed until my youngest brother got accepted into college and made sure that the life insurance money went toward their schooling. None of my siblings had to worry about loans the way I did. I gave up a lot: my fiancée, getting my Ph.D., going to live overseas, etc. I didn’t even get to grieve for my parents because I was busy trying to be them. I wasn’t perfect, and I made mistakes, but I did my best.

“Stella” and “Leanne” are older than I was when our parents died, but they still act like teenagers. We argue all the time, and they whip out “If Mom and Dad were alive … ” and “You aren’t Mom,” and it kills me. Stella hasn’t finished school but still feels I should get no say in her education (although she thinks I owe her the money, despite her wasting what our parents left), and Leanne continues to date a man who stole and wrecked her car (but I am the bad guy because I won’t sign a loan so she can get a new one). I don’t have any problems with my younger brothers, who were in middle school when our parents died. How do I stop being the mom and start being the sister? I cycle through guilt and grief and anger, and I am so exhausted.

–When Do I Get to Stop Being the Parent?

Now sounds like a very good time to stop trying to parent your siblings. It sounds like your sisters especially have found it’s easy to get what they want out of you by making you feel guilty or insufficient in comparison with your parents and that it’s hard for you to tolerate the possibility that they might think poorly of you if you decline their requests. I think therapy will be immensely useful to you as you practice saying “no” more—even if that makes you “the bad guy,” even if your sisters try to claim you somehow owe them more money simply because you’ve given them money in the past. This won’t be a dynamic that will change overnight, but there’s no reason you should keep footing the bill for your siblings indefinitely, especially now that they’re all adults.

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Dear Prudence,
Since getting married my husband and I have always spent Thanksgiving with his family. This year, for the first time, his mother asked us if “we” (me, since my husband doesn’t cook) would host since it is becoming too much for her. I said I would under two conditions: I’d ask a few other people to contribute dishes so I don’t have to cook everything, and I would not invite her racist, sexist brother. I’m not interested in spending Thanksgiving toiling away and being subjected to Uncle Bob’s gross comments on top of it. His mom is very upset and says I’m trying to destroy their family traditions and rip the family apart. I told her that if they didn’t like my conditions, I would help someone else host or help make an alternative plan (for example, booking us a restaurant reservation or doing a potluck at his mom’s house). They want everything to be the same, except cooked and hosted by me instead of his mom. She is threatening to cancel Thanksgiving, and my husband says I’m being unreasonable, but I want to stick to my guns. What do you think? (And yes, it is silly that this is already an issue in September!)

–Thankless Thanksgiving

You are being offered an unpaid job, and you have every right to turn it down. If you do not wish to organize, plan, and host a full Thanksgiving dinner for your husband’s extended family (and how charming that your husband thinks you are being unreasonable for balking yet does not offer to do the hosting and cooking himself), then you have every right to decline the position when it’s offered to you. It’s not worth trying to litigate whether your in-laws should exclude Uncle Bob from a holiday celebration; I think it’s better for you to focus on whether you want to spend time with him and act accordingly. You have done right in holding firm, and your mother-in-law’s temper tantrum is more than a little ridiculous. She can no more cancel Thanksgiving than I can cancel Thursdays. If someone else in your husband’s family wants to offer to host, they are free to; if everyone decides en famille to take it down a few stress levels and have a more casual get-together where everyone pitches in and doesn’t designate a single Kitchen Martyr to do all the work and absorb all the criticism, they are free to do that as well. If your husband wants to learn to cook between now and November, he has access to both a stove and the internet. Others abide the question; thou art free.

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Dear Prudence,
Apologies in advance for how melodramatic this is, and I promise I have a therapist and a psychiatrist and all that jazz. I’m still scared, though. About three or four times a year, I have the overwhelming desire to kill myself. This started when I was 9 (I’m 29 now), and it doesn’t seem like it will go away. Obviously suicide is bad, and I have people who love me and who would be devastated if I died, but if it were an accident … I guess I’m writing to you to ask if every human life has equal value, which is a casual and normal question. I truly believe there could be an exception for someone who is fine, but nothing special, and who no one could ever be in a romantic relationship with. People can be gorgeous but have bad personalities and find love, or people can be awesome and not necessarily conventionally attractive and find love, but if you’re a lousy, ugly person, it seems rough. My real issue is that I’m scared that I’ve thought about (and tried) suicide so much that it seems inconceivable that I could actually live and do well and not eventually kill myself. Are some people just destined to screw everything up and die? I know that I’m, all told, doing fine, and this is dramatic and unnecessary, but I can’t help this feeling.

–Destined to Fail?

I feel in many ways unqualified to address this question, because there is so much more to say about this than I could in a few paragraphs. I am glad to hear that you are seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist, and I want to acknowledge that your struggle with depression and suicidal ideation has been lifelong and cannot be hand-waved away with a few reassuring bromides from a stranger. If nothing else, I hope you can remember that your feelings are not dramatic and unnecessary—if there is a part of your brain constantly hissing “Remember you are worthless, remember that you do not deserve love, remember that this will never get better,” you are under constant psychic siege. That’s a very real and serious sort of pain, and I hope you can treat yourself with the gentleness you deserve in those moments when that voice gets loud. I do believe that all human life has equal, intrinsic value, and that by virtue of being a human being who lives on this planet, you deserve all the help and support and compassion available to you.

Some people have objectively easier lives than others. Some people seem, at least from the outside, to have easier lives than others. Pain and suffering are not distributed equally. That does not mean that your life, your particular life, is destined to end in failure—merely that you have the difficult task of dealing with chronic depression. Sometimes the furious little voice in one’s head can seem like the truest and most real thing there is, but the voice that is telling you that you are worthless—while a very real part of your experience—is not describing reality accurately to you. I do not know if you will ever be in a fulfilling romantic relationship, nor do I believe that without one your life could not be worthwhile. There are so many different ways to have love in one’s life. Please know that your pain and self-loathing are symptoms of a very real issue, that you are not being overly dramatic in acknowledging that you struggle with wanting to die, and that your feelings, and your life, matter tremendously.

You should also know that you can always find someone to talk to at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255 or

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend is really into playing guitar. A lot. He’s good at it and gets a little income that way, alongside some (pretty unstable) manual labor. He’s trying hard to make it work professionally, which I’m trying equally hard to support. The thing is that there’s a little voice in me that’s unconvinced. I know how that sounds, but it’s a tough industry! And we’re in our mid-30s and totally broke. Also not helping is that when he’s in the “creative zone” (which can last for weeks), he gets stressed and short-tempered with me. He’s not the biggest talker at the best of times, but during zone-time I’m either invisible or an annoyance. When I’ve tried to bring this up in the past, we just end up fighting. Am I being a jerk here? I mean, I can be snappy too when I’m stressed. But part of me really wants to tell him to grow up!


You are not a jerk for wanting to talk to your boyfriend about his strategy for supporting himself financially, or for not reacting with tranquility and docility when he blows you off for weeks at a time before blowing up at you. You are not an evil, unsupportive dream-crusher—you are attempting to discuss reality with someone who would rather ignore the fact that there are two people in your relationship. Lots of people love music, are tremendously gifted, and don’t make a living as musicians. Lots of musicians—professional and amateur alike—are perfectly capable of being friendly and kind to their partners. Being defensive, sulky, and rude is not a necessary side effect of being a professional guitar player; it’s a choice that your boyfriend is making, and it’s a lousy one. The options in front of him aren’t “Rock out till I die” or “Work in a soulless office and give up everything I love.” You’re asking him to treat you like a partner whose concerns and needs matter to him, rather than someone he can ignore for weeks on end until he feels like it.

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