Three years ago I experienced an incredibly strong and instantaneous connection with a man. It was the only time I’ve ever felt such a powerful attraction, and I felt hooked immediately. The problem is that he was my professor—or at least a graduate student teaching my class. I never pursued anything with him because of the obvious ethical issues. Once I graduated, I thought about him a lot but never attempted to get in touch with him.
A year and a half later, I’m in grad school and—surprise—he now teaches here too. We’ve since met again and have become a lot more involved academically. My feelings have only increased. I’m near graduation now but I’m scared of saying something and I’m not sure it’s ethically OK even after I graduate. I’m scared of rejection, and I worry that my attachment to him is not genuine—that it’s just a product of the situation. I don’t know how to get over this and I’m scared to start anything. Am I just being a silly girl infatuated with an idea?
—Stupid in Love
It’s not clear, from your letter, if the man in question is still a graduate student teaching a class, or if he has since gotten a job as a professor. I spoke with a friend of mine who’s a professor for further guidance, who writes: “Generally speaking, the standard for precluding romantic relationships is whether or not the student in question has a realistic expectation that their work might ever be evaluated by the teacher (as an adviser, in a class or independent study, through letters of recommendation). The ethical issues seem pretty muted here, and are, in any case, primarily legal constraints on the senior person’s actions. Junior person can put it all out there with zero sanction.”
I’m not quite sure what you mean by getting more “involved academically” with this man—presumably you’ve taken a course from him?—but if you’re approaching graduation, then I don’t think you can realistically expect that he is going to evaluate your work. You are both adults, and once you graduate there’s no question of him being in a position of professional authority over you. Nor does it sound like he’s ever behaved inappropriately or attempted to leverage his job to get you to go out with him. You have no way of knowing, of course, whether the attraction you’ve felt for him at a remove as a student will carry over to a romantic relationship—that’s what the date is for, to see whether or not the feelings translate. Go ahead and ask him out! At worst, he says no, and you’re able to let go of a certain form of fantasy; at best, you two get to establish a different, and more intimate, kind of relationship.
I have a longtime friend who opened up her own family therapy practice a few years ago. She is a great person and a credit to her profession, but more and more often she is unable to “shut off” her advice-giving. She’ll give her “professional opinion” and suggest techniques for others to try, without being asked, in private conversations, in group settings, at parties, at church, and on social media.
You might think, “This is great! Free professional advice!” as I did at first, but instead of feeling heard as a friend, I feel like my whole life is up for comment or criticism. Helping others is so much a part of who she is I think she has trouble realizing that this can be annoying and off-putting. Recently, without prompting, she sent me an email suggesting that my relationship with my 10-year-old daughter is in need of repair, along with some strategies that made me feel like she views me as a bad or incompetent parent. I was very offended. I want to preserve my friendship with her, but is there a kind way to tell her she needs to “clock off” from her job as a therapist when we are together? Should I walk away from a friendship that feels very forced now? Or should I just lay down on her couch and have her bill me?
Oh, there are easily a half-dozen kind ways to tell your friend to turn off her machine-gun approach to offering advice. You’ve been so hesitant about setting even the mildest of boundaries with her that I don’t think “failing to be kind” is a mistake you’re likely to make. I think the odds are stronger that you’ll fail to be clear about how constant and irritating this habit of hers is. Talk to her in person, rather than trying to reply to her email. Tell her that you don’t want unsolicited advice from her—not about your parenting, not about your career, not about your personal relationships. Tell her that she has done so persistently over the last few years, that it’s made you feel criticized and talked-over, and that unless you ask her specifically for advice, you’re not looking for any. Be specific, and cite the “how to fix your relationship with your daughter” email as the latest in a long string of unasked-for directions. At least give her a chance to reflect, apologize, and change before walking away from the friendship. You may have to do that in the end if she doesn’t see any problem with her own behavior, but if there’s a possibility that she’s simply unaware of how officious and interfering she’s become, then it’s worth having this long-overdue conversation.
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I left an abusive relationship a year ago. I’ve spent the past year healing and rebuilding my life (still a work in progress). In that time, I’ve flirted with the idea of casual, carefree sex, but it turns out I’m not very carefree and I’m not ready for casual sex, or any sex at all. Now it’s been a year since I’ve had sex. A year! I like sex. It’s important to me. Will I ever have sex again? Do I need to just grab the next willing and interested party and do it before I forget how? Should I do it even though I don’t really want to right now? Will I ever want to again? Will I die alone? No, but seriously: Is it possible that part of my life is just over? I’m not yet 30, so I hope not. Please, give me some perspective here.
—Melodramatic (But Still Not Getting Any)
I think it is human nature to make long-term predictions based on short-term reality, especially when the short-term reality is unpleasant or uncomfortable! I often hear from readers who aren’t dating or having sex and are deeply concerned that this will be what the rest of their life looks like; I never hear from readers who are having a lot of sex and are convinced that this will be the case every day until they die. So while I don’t know for certain whether or not you’ll have sex again (there are precious few guarantees in life), I can tell you that it’s not at all uncommon for someone going through a particularly challenging period in life to worry that things will never get better, or even just get different.
It is extremely unlikely that you will forget how to have sex, and if it’s important to you, I think odds are good that when you do eventually feel ready and are interested in the idea of having sex again, you’ll be able to do so. You say that you don’t really want to have sex right now, and I think trying to force yourself to have sex you’re not ready for is not the best way to deal with your feelings. A year is a long time in many ways, but there’s no one-size-fits-all timetable for recovering from an abusive relationship, nor is there a point at which anyone is “recovered” from abuse, as if there’s a timer that goes off and you’re suddenly back to neutral, as if you’d never experienced it. If at some point in the future you feel a desire to test the waters, you may find it helpful to go on one or more casual dates with a very clear physical limit set in your mind—”I want to go on an hourlong date with someone I think is attractive, but I don’t want to do anything other than hug goodbye at the end,” “I want to make out with someone for a few minutes, and then go home by myself and see how I feel afterwards”—as a way of re-familiarizing yourself with the dating process without feeling like your only options are celibacy or no-holds-barred sex. You also may not! This is wholly optional. The most important thing to remember here is that right now you are doing everything necessary to take care of yourself, that sex will still be there when you feel ready to try again, and that personal desire is a necessary precondition for good sex, and you shouldn’t try to force yourself into something you’re not ready for.
Please help put an end to an argument my husband and I have every time an out-of-town family member comes to visit. I feel if a person makes an effort to buy a plane ticket and visit us from out of town, we should be happy to pick him or her up from the airport regardless of the time of arrival. Husband feels it’s rude for a person to expect to be picked up, especially after 11 p.m. or during peak rush hour, and should use a car service or a cab to get to our house. (Note: He feels we, too, should do this and not expect family members and friends to pick us up from the airport when we arrive somewhere.)
The good news is that if you’re happy to pick people up from the airport at all hours, nothing about your husband’s position precludes you from taking the car and driving to meet your relatives at the arrivals section. Your husband’s stance is perfectly reasonable! One ought to be polite and helpful to a houseguest one has invited, but that doesn’t mean one is obligated to drive to the airport at midnight just because that’s when someone else booked a ticket. It’s kind, but not necessary, to pick up a visitor from the airport; if it’s not convenient for you to drive across town immediately after getting off of work or late at night, let your guest know you’re looking forward to greeting them at the door when they arrive.
More Dear Prudence
Playful Parenting: Prudie advises a letter writer who knowingly plays pretend with a stuffed animal.
Responsible Relatives: Prudie counsels a letter writer who’s trying to make amends after her son disrupted a family wedding.
Giving It Away: My volunteer gig has turned into an unpaid job.
I’m hoping you can make an etiquette ruling on a pretty low-stakes situation. I recently ordered delivery for myself and my two closest friends. I was dealing with my baby and trying to order dinner at the same time, and I accidentally messed up “Jennifer’s” order. I realized the mistake too late to change the order and apologized. I offered to put in a second order, but she insisted it was not a big deal. She ended up really liking the dish I got her by mistake and ate the whole thing—she even said she liked it more than what she originally ordered.
But she didn’t pay me back. I’m not going to ask her to because she’s jobless right now and has done a lot of free babysitting for us already, so we’re happy to treat her. (She usually doesn’t let us, as it makes her uncomfortable.) But I’m curious: If money were an issue for us and we couldn’t afford to treat her, would it be OK to ask her to pay me back for a messed-up order?
In general, I think it’s better to err on the side of being too clear when it comes to letting friends know whether you’re treating them to a meal or expect to be reimbursed. In the future, state outright what their share of the cost is and ask them for the money so that there’s no possibility of confusion or evasion. Since your friend is unemployed and offering you free child care, I think it’s both kind and appropriate to occasionally treat her to a meal. It will go a long way toward making the both of you feel comfortable in the future if you say outright before ordering either “Hey, I’m going to order dinner—do you want in? My treat,” or “Hey, do you want dinner? I can order and you can pay me back afterward.” And if your friend accepts the food that arrives and eats her share of the meal, then yes, you’re in the clear to ask for repayment.
Recently, my family lost our beloved dog Pauliver. Paulie lived to the ripe old age of 12 and had to be put down due to a terminal illness. I loved Paulie and miss him dearly. I am glad I was able to be there for the last moments of his life. My sister was also there—but she wanted to take Paulie’s body home and spend one last night with him! He used to sleep in bed with her and she wanted to say goodbye. The vet told us that the body could attract flies and “get messy” soon, and I suggested that we should take him home and bury him right away instead. My sister agreed. We said our goodbyes, buried him, each tossed a handful of dirt on his grave, and planted flowers.
Two days later I saw something she posted online that said she had dug up our dog, taken him to a crematorium, and had another funeral, all without telling me. She wrote at length about how we “did it all wrong.” I feel like she blames me. I thought we were doing the right thing, but I’ll admit I’ve never handled a dead body before. Whenever a loved one of mine passed we always let the funeral home take care of it. Was I wrong? Should I have let her take the body home? Am I a monster for not feeling connected to a loved one’s body after they die?
You are not even a little bit wrong for discouraging your sister from sleeping with your dead dog’s body. Lots of people feel very close to their pets, and it’s always sad when an animal dies, but your sister’s response was bizarre, secretive, and totally out of proportion to your (very reasonable) burial plan. If this was really out of character for her and you think was just a reflexive response to grief, then go ahead and talk to her (in person if possible) about what she did and how it surprised, hurt, and confused you. Just because your sister is angry does not necessarily mean that you did or said something wrong.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
Every week, Mallory and Nicole Cliffe will discuss a Prudie letter, for Slate Plus members. (Thanks to Twitter user @antigonized for the suggestion.)
Nicole: This text literally rebooted the application
Nicole: bc my phone couldn’t deal
ok, if this really happened, you are absolutely fine and your sister behaved bizarrely
Mallory: this is like, an Achilles-dragging-Hector’s-body-outside-the-walls-of-Troy level of a maladjusted response to death!
Nicole: I cannot imagine wanting to cuddle with a dead dog, even one I had loved, overnight
Mallory: I am honestly finding it hard to believe that a vet would let someone take their dead dog home, rather than insisting the body be hygienically disposed of on-site!
okay I looked it up and some states do allow you to take a pet home for private burial, so I suppose this could theoretically have happened
Nicole: NO ONE WANTS IT, they cremate and then give you a box of ashes!
I don’t remember any other option even being provided when our last dog died
Mallory: so it SEEMS like the sister did not actually spend one last night with the dog in bed, but went ahead with the home burial, then pulled the Pet Sematary reenactment
Nicole: well that’s a relief at least
but digging up the body!
Mallory: does this fall into the category, do you think, of just “garden-variety really hard-to-understand things that sometimes people do”
or do you think this slightly more worrying behavior? Because I have to say, if a friend of mine had taken their dead pet home to sleep in bed with them overnight, I would be at least a little concerned about their well-being
Nicole: I think the LW should try to suss out if their sister seems normally relatively well-adjusted and if this is way out of character
they don’t say anything about her usual behavior here
so there’s the possibility of just having a really strange response to grief, or there’s the possibility with more context of “she’s been unpredictable and erratic ever since [X Incident] or the last six months”