Dear Prudence

Double Trouble

I’m kind of in love with both of my roommates.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
I have a girlfriend I love very much. I have moderate depression and anxiety, and she has supported me for the entirety of our relationship; she’s a really excellent partner and person. We technically have an open relationship, but neither of us has acted on it yet, so we talk a lot about how we’re feeling and any worries we have. I’ve never had this kind of “check-in” before, and it feels great.

I also have three fantastic housemates, two of whom are in a couple. Before they started dating (also before I started dating my current partner), I had really strong feelings for one of them and had to work through a lot of sadness and jealousy when I heard about their relationship. Recently my feelings have resurfaced in full force, along with some feelings for the other half of the couple. I am often hit with waves of sadness and/or jealousy when I see them together, even if we’re all hanging out. Sometimes I think about what it would have looked like if I’d ended up with the friend I first liked, but mostly now it’s more wanting to be part of the couple, too—wanting to be around them, be together, be included (and yes, I’d really like to kiss both of them!).

I’ve spoken to my girlfriend about this a few times—not because I think anything is likely to happen, but because the feelings are overwhelming and I don’t want to feel like I’m keeping something from her. She’s been very supportive, and we’ve also talked about how it makes her feel (it doesn’t change the way I feel for her, I’m not going to act on anything without talking it over with her, etc.). I have a therapist, too, and I’ve brought it up there, because it’s taking up a lot of mental energy right now, energy I don’t have. It’s so hard to live with these feelings, but this is the best home I’ve had as an adult by a mile, and I desperately don’t want to lose it. Nor do I want to tell them and risk making a friendship very, very weird. And there’s only so many times I can talk about it with my therapist without getting bored of the sound of my own voice! Sometimes I think I don’t want it to go away, anyway; I don’t always have a lot of feelings with depression, so there’s something nice about having these intense emotions, even if they’re hard to handle.

What’s my move here? Is there one?

—Gay and Tired

I think you do have a move here, and that is to move out. You say you don’t want anything to change, but something very clearly needs to change. My wish for you and your girlfriend is not to live in a state of unresolved, unexpressed, unrequitable longing; nor is it for the two of you to get involved, either physically or emotionally, in a live-in open relationship with your housemates right now. Being hit by constant waves of sadness and jealousy just from looking at your housemates is, to say the least, suboptimal, and you acknowledge that you’re depleting your own mental and emotional reserves trying to manage this situation, even with the support of your girlfriend and a therapist. Getting some space, both physical and emotional, will go a long way toward increasing your sense of well-being, even if there’s a part of you that longs to stoke your own frustrated desire. Wanting to feel is a good thing, but continuing to put yourself in an untenable situation in order to provoke those feelings is not a healthy choice.

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Dear Prudence,
I am an older, sexually conservative woman who got herpes from a man I was dating. He’s a pillar of the community and did not tell me he had herpes. I had a long dry spell before we started dating. My issue is that I have an unlabeled bottle of herpes medication in my desk drawer at work. My administrative assistant asked for some pain relievers, and I opened my desk drawer and shared from a labeled, over-the-counter bottle of acetaminophen. I saw her staring at the unlabeled bottle in the drawer. Later that day I went back to my office, and she and another person had actually opened the unlabeled bottle and were looking at the medicine! I was too stunned to say anything, and they left. I guess they looked at the color and numbers on the pills and looked up the medication. In the few months after that —I kid you not—several people at the office have “casually” mentioned herpes and how disgusting it is. At the company potluck, no one touched my dish. One co-worker asked about a red spot on my hand and said loudly, “Yuck, it looks like herpes!”

One odd thing about this is that I have been extraordinarily financially generous to the admin who peeked and told. I don’t understand why this is happening. I used to like my job, and I make a very high salary. If I leave the company, I fear this issue will follow me. I was not in the least bit promiscuous in my life (truly). I feel so ashamed, though.

That is absolutely horrifying—both that your administrative assistant would paw through your unlabeled medication and that your co-workers are now mocking you for a confidential medical condition (one that, by the way, is both extremely common and easily managed with medication, and not something you should feel ashamed about or isolated by). What they’re doing, in addition to being cruel and unprofessional, is also a violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which prohibits the disclosure of private medical information in the workplace. It’s unbelievably childish to treat a dish you prepared as somehow “contaminated,” doubly so when it’s common knowledge that herpes cannot be transmitted via potluck. The fact that this is your subordinate makes the issue additionally uncomfortable, but you do at least have the authority to correct her. It’s understandable that you felt too flustered and embarrassed to address the issue in the moment, but you should absolutely set up a meeting with her and make it clear that it’s wildly inappropriate for her to go through anyone else’s medication at work—labeled or otherwise—and that it is a potentially fireable offense. If your office has an HR department, you should bring them into the conversation, because (once again!) it’s not appropriate for employees to mock their colleagues for their perceived or actual medical conditions.

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Dear Prudence,
I got married six months ago. My relationship with my family is at best distant—we don’t have a lot in common and there were several incidents of what I’ve been told most people would call abuse (but I’m not there yet, mentally speaking). My dad is a racist, sexist creep. I’ve managed to get him to tone it down around me enough that I can handle a monthly phone call, but that’s my limit. I really didn’t want him to walk me down the aisle, but by the end of the engagement, I was so burned out on decision-making that I just didn’t have the strength for that conversation, with him or any of my many relatives who would have demanded an explanation.

His behavior was horrible. He was so drunk at the rehearsal that I had to hold him up as we walked down the aisle, and he made jokes about disrupting the ceremony to object. (This wasn’t part of the ceremony, because we’re not in a Brontë novel.) He pulled my maid of honor into a conversation about all the women he could have brought to the wedding. He snuck a bottle of liquor into our unlimited beer-and-wine reception, which the venue fined me for. He made passes at my husband’s aunt, one of my bridesmaids, my cousin’s fiancée, the DJ, and one of my good friends. He almost got in a fight with venue security when he tried to leave with an open beer. The list just goes on and on. The wedding was big enough that I don’t think most people knew the extent, but I regret that I didn’t have more plans for “handling” him.

His abysmal behavior has really soured my memories of the day. I have been unable to sit down with my husband and select photos for our album, because I get so angry at my father, but I’m so much angrier at myself. I had distanced myself enough from him that I didn’t know the extent of his problem with alcohol, but I feel foolish for thinking it might have improved. I put my friends in a position where they were harassed. Letting him walk me down the aisle feels like an endorsement of his values, and I am so, so disappointed in myself for doing the easy thing instead of having some difficult conversations. I find myself unable to sit through my monthly phone call with my dad, and my brother is going through a medical crisis that involves much more contact with family than I’m used to. Prudie, how do I move on from my father’s bad behavior at my wedding without punching him in the face?

—Angry, Just Angry

I think “moving on” is going to look a lot like doing something unprecedented in your relationship with your father. I understand why you feel embarrassed about how he behaved in front of and toward your friends, but the person responsible for how your father behaved at your wedding was your father. Your limited contact with him prior to the wedding meant that you had little information about his current behavior, and I don’t think you should beat yourself up too much for hoping for the best. The fact that you are unable to face your father’s monthly phone call means, I think, that you should stop having a monthly phone call with him. It may be that some incidental contact with him is unavoidable as you support your brother through his medical crisis, but you should not seek to overcome your fury, just to channel it in appropriate (and nonviolent) ways. As long as your father continues to drink dangerously and refuses to attempt to change his ways, you have the right to refuse contact with him, even if it’s “only” an occasional phone call.

The good news is that you do not need to have a long conversation with your father. What he did was so beyond the pale of acceptable social behavior, so obviously wrong on its face, that you do not need to explain to him why it was wrong to get wasted at your reception, hit on your friends, and try to fight the security guards at your wedding venue. You can merely make it clear that his behavior was embarrassing, selfish, and unkind, and that you hope he gets help. If you need assistance setting these boundaries, I’d recommend seeing a therapist and attending Al-Anon meetings. Enlist your husband’s support. If right now you find yourself unable to coordinate with your photographer, ask him to take that job on himself. What you need to focus on is how you can keep your distance from your father and the relatives who excuse and enable him, and take care of yourself.

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Dear Prudence: How do I tell my in-laws to stop calling my biracial children “little monkeys”?

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Dear Prudence,
My family is not well-off and neither am I. My parents always try to help me where they can because they feel guilty that they couldn’t give me a better financial start in life, which has never been something I held against them. My sister recently had a baby, and I came up to visit and help ferry my mom, who dislikes driving, to and from the hospital. My last morning here, my dad got up early and took my car to get gas.

I came downstairs afterward, and my car keys were on the table with one or two 20-dollar bills folded underneath them. I assumed this was the money they’d offered me to help pay for my sister’s shower. I left it there, but when I came back less than an hour later, it was gone. My mom and I were the only two people in the house. I didn’t say anything because what if I was wrong and I accused my mom of taking money meant for me? But Prudie, I don’t think I am wrong.

I think my sister would tell me to let it go, but I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s not the money itself, I’m fine without it, it’s that my mom would do that. She’s never given me any reason not to trust her. I know things are hard for them, but my mother doesn’t pay the bills or do the grocery shopping. If she took the money, it wasn’t to help them out financially. If my dad knew, this would ruin things between them. I don’t want that, but I’m devastated by the idea that I can’t trust my mom.


I think you are several steps ahead of yourself! You are not sure that this money was left for you, and you have not asked anyone else in your family for clarification on who left it for whom. Your next step does not have to be either making an accusation or swallowing your feelings. It’s possible your father left you the money to help pay for your sister’s shower; it’s also possible he left the keys for you and the money for your mother for something else. You can, and should, ask your father if he left the money for you. If he didn’t, and you would like to be paid back for what you spent, you can ask him for it; if he did, you can say, “The money was gone when I went back for my keys—do you have any idea where it might be?” That’s not an accusation or an assumption that your mother took the money surreptitiously, it’s simply a statement of fact.

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Dear Prudence,
Last night my wife and I went to a small theater to watch The Mystery of Edwin Drood. In the row in front of us, a woman became increasingly amorous with her date. She first leaned over and kissed his cheek. Then she took off her shoes, put her legs on his lap, and started kissing his neck. Then they began a lip-lock session—all while we were trying to watch the play. My wife, who had to look through their hook-up to watch the stage, leaned forward and asked them to break it up. Fortunately they did and must have decided to carry on elsewhere, as they didn’t return for the second act. At what point is it reasonable to ask people to “get a room” during a performance? And what would you suggest saying?

—Prude at Edwin Drood

I think your wife handled things rather beautifully. That’s a level of PDA rarely seen outside of junior-high couples at a Six Flags, and somewhere between “a single kiss on the cheek” and “removing one’s shoes to straddle the lap of one’s date,” the time comes for right-minded citizens to speak up. “Please stop making out; I’m trying to watch the play” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say. You don’t have to couch the request in niceties, just name the behavior and ask them to knock it off. When a theatergoer does something that unnecessarily distracts from the performance—answering a phone call, having a loud conversation with a seatmate, going suddenly barefoot, sloppily making out with a date—it’s perfectly polite and appropriate to ask the offender to knock it off. That’s what they have ushers for!

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Dear Prudence,
I am a professional woman in my mid-30s. My parents live about five hours away, and I visit them for a few days at a time every few months. My mother has unacknowledged anxiety problems that prevent her from traveling to see me (her go-to excuse is that her pet needs her, although they have a pet sitter at the ready). She also refuses to call me. She says she could “never live with [her]self” if she disturbed me while I was asleep, as I sometimes work nights—though I’ve explained the Do Not Disturb feature on my phone and told her she can always leave me a voicemail if I don’t pick up.

On the few occasions she has called (typically by accident), and I’ve answered, she invariably asks over and over, “Are you asleep?” and berates herself nonstop. If I didn’t call her, we wouldn’t speak except in person—but she also rarely has her cellphone close enough to hear it ringing and would never return a voicemail. She also discourages my dad from calling me, though he still does occasionally. I feel like a jerk if I don’t remember to call, and I can tell my mom is hurt if I go a while without calling. Am I unreasonable in feeling a bit hurt that my mom will never initiate contact? Or am I not visiting them enough? Or maybe she’d just rather not hear from me and I am not taking the hint? Just need an outsider’s perspective.

—Not Asleep!

This is a good opportunity to both gently ask your mother some probing questions and to remind yourself that it is not your responsibility as her adult daughter to make sure that she is never hurt. It sounds clear that she both wants to speak on the phone with you and feels incapable of calling you due to her overwhelming, irrational fear that she will wake you up, not that she’s trying to get you off her back. This anxiety of hers about not waking you up seems more compulsive and related to her internal, irrational fears than rooted in reality. You can sympathize with her, you can encourage her both to seek professional help and to discuss her fears with you, but you should not feel responsible for managing or fixing her phone anxiety. You visit regularly and call when you can; by any metric you are discharging your Adult Child responsibilities admirably. Tell her that you love hearing from her, that she’s welcome to call you anytime, and that you’re concerned about her fixation on the possibility of waking you up, as well as the fact that she’s afraid to use the pet sitter for the reason she has presumably employed her, and that she doesn’t have to live with that kind of constant anxiety without help. Whether she chooses to address this is up to her; it’s your job to figure out what you are and aren’t willing to do when it comes to keeping in touch.

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