Dear Prudence

Bi, Weakly

I told all my friends that I’m gay—but now I’m interested in a woman. How do I tell them?

A man in a tank top holds his hands in the shape of a heart. A number of Mars symbols for the male sex surround him.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
I’m a queer man in my early 20s. I’m primarily interested in other men, but I always figured I was a little bit closer to bisexual than gay. I’ve been with a few women and enjoyed it—it wasn’t a cover while I was closeted or anything—but most of my relationships and sex partners have been men. A few years ago I moved for work, and all of my friends here have only known me to date men. As a result, they’ve come to think of and refer to me as gay. That always seemed fairly close to the mark, so it didn’t feel like a big deal. However, I recently (and unexpectedly) found myself interested in a woman, and it made me stop and think about how I’m perceived here. I think my female friends are a little more comfortable around me in certain contexts because they believe I’m exclusively gay. I have a close circle of friends, many of whom are gay and lesbian, and that shared sense of queerness has generated a particular sense of closeness.

I worry that if I were to date a woman, my friends would feel in some way betrayed. Worse—and I hope that I am simply overthinking it—would be if they felt that I was “pretending” to be gay or queer, particularly the gay male friends I have here. The whole thing has made me feel oddly uncomfortable with myself, and I wonder whether I should have been correcting my friends when they called me gay. I don’t necessarily feel right doing that, since I also don’t feel like I have the right to call myself bisexual when I’m largely attracted to one gender. Should I give up on asking this woman out? Should I change the way I describe myself to others? Am I overthinking everything?
—Queer and Confused

I think people often shy away from calling themselves bisexual because they believe, consciously or unconsciously, that all bisexual people are equally attracted to men and women, straight down the middle, with a dating history to match that even split. You can be bisexual and still have a marked preference! That’s not to say you have to start correcting people and identifying as bisexual in every situation if you don’t feel like it accurately characterizes you, but “largely preferring men while occasionally dating women” certainly meets the definition.

Dating and sleeping with other men does not mean you were “pretending” to be queer, and your sexuality cannot possibly be a betrayal of anyone else. If you do ask this woman out and you want to bring it up to your friends, you don’t have to frame it as some big, painful reveal—just say, “I generally prefer guys, but every once in a while I meet a woman I connect with.”

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I started dating in grad school two years ago, and have since moved to the same city for work. We both graduated with significant debt (mine was more than $100K, his more than $200K), but we’re making good progress paying them down every month. We both make good money, but he gets a massive (and I mean massive) annual bonus. He works hard, and it’s allowed him to pay off almost all of his debt in two years. I will likely pay mine off in another seven to 10 years.

If we get married, is it appropriate to use his bonus to pay off my student loans? I’m asking this pre-emptively, since we are not even engaged, but we’ve talked about our future together enough that it’s likely to happen in the next few years. We’re comfortable talking about our finances with one another, but I don’t want to bring this up to him yet. I’m not even sure if this is a reasonable thing to do, and I don’t want to offend him or make him think I’m greedy. Is it a bad idea for me to ask him for help? I don’t even know if it’s common among married couples for one partner to pay off the other’s student debt! I don’t want him to resent me down the line, nor do I want him to feel like I’m a freeloader. But I could contribute more to our future household the sooner my debt is paid off—not to mention the added benefits of paying less in interest fees overall, better interest rates for things like mortgages, and better credit scores. How should I bring this up? And are there pros or cons that I’m not considering?
—Not-Quite-Overwhelming Debt

It’s not unheard of for married couples to pay off one another’s debt. It’s not unheard of for committed couples who don’t have fully joined finances to do the same, after talking through their shared goals, expectations, and resources. But what you’re positing—trying to figure out now how to ask your boyfriend if he’d be willing to pay off your student loans after you get married in a couple of years—does seem a bit premature, especially since you’re currently able to repay your loans every month. By all means, talk with your boyfriend about how you two envision merging your finances in the future, but as long as your finances are handled separately, I think it’s better to hold off on this specific request. Your reasons are sound, I think—or at the very least worth considering—but you’re getting a little ahead of yourself.

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Dear Prudence,
I live in a small and highly religious town. I’m ready to pass along clothing and gear from our two children, but I feel limited by the organizations that accept used children’s goods here: a secondhand store that resells items cheaply and a crisis pregnancy center, where they attempt to deceive and discourage women from having abortions. The pregnancy center is a big part of our community, and I know many moms who have used its services and donated supplies. Can I donate supplies to the center and tell myself that I’m supporting women who already have children, or would I still be supporting the center’s anti-choice efforts? (I can imagine the rooms of cute baby clothes are used to dissuade women from considering abortion.) Should I take my gear to the secondhand store? If I do donate to the pregnancy center, how can I avoid becoming enraged whenever I go there? For what it’s worth, I contacted a domestic violence organization one town over, but it had no suggestions for alternative options.
—Where to Go From Here?

It may be a relief to you to learn that donating used clothing (even in excellent condition) may not be as useful as the average would-be do-gooder thinks it is. That’s not to say you should throw your kids’ old clothes in the trash, but there’s a national surplus of donated clothing, and many donation centers, from Goodwill to your local secondhand shop, receive more clothing than they can sell or even give away. If you don’t support the core mission of the crisis pregnancy center—that it’s acceptable to lie to vulnerable people about their reproductive options—then, insofar as you’re able, I think you should neither donate to them nor use their services yourself. Your local library may welcome book donations; the children’s wing of your local hospital, or nearby day care centers, may welcome toys in good condition; those places and the secondhand store are all better alternatives.

Dear Prudence,
I’m 31 years old and several months into a relationship with a wonderful man. We really enjoy each other’s company, and I feel differently about him than I’ve felt about anyone else. So why can’t I stop thinking, “Get out now before it’s too late?” Since even before we started dating, I’ve been dogged by the near-certainty that if we ever got together, he’d eventually break up with me and I would be left with the emotional wreckage. This feeling is nothing more than my own intuition—we’ve made plans assuming we’ll be together for a couple years at least, and he’s mentioned longer-term possibilities. We have a lot in common, but we’re also very different (he’s an outdoorsy, can-do extrovert while I’m a scatterbrained introvert who likes sitting down). As we’ve been together, it’s only strengthened my view that we are too different to stay together permanently. But that shouldn’t be the test of a worthwhile relationship—I’ve never felt that any relationship that ends is a failure, and I’ve never based my dating decisions on who fits into my retirement plans. Fear of vague future unhappiness is not a good reason to end a relationship that’s making both of us happy right now—is it?
—Pre-Everything Jitters

The fear that someday your boyfriend may leave you and that you will be left with what you consider more than your fair share of the emotional fallout certainly sounds more like the voice of anxiety than a legitimate cause for concern. But you say that the more time you’ve spent together, the more you’ve become convinced that your differences are insurmountable, and that’s not a vague fear. Plenty of outdoorsy, extrovert types find happiness with indoorsy people, but if you don’t see much in the way of possible compromises, or if you fear your partner would be genuinely unhappy with the kind of lifestyle you most enjoy (or vice versa), then I think your sense of unease is justified. That doesn’t mean you should break up, but it does mean that you should seek clarity and ask questions of one another when you run into one of those, “Oh, no, you like that?” moments. If he’s perfectly happy taking himself on hikes a few times a week and then meeting you for a quiet drink afterward, that’s great! If the idea of not being able to hoist his partner up and down mountains bums him out, then you two may have to adjust your expectations and try to find common ground.

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Dear Prudence,
I have been dating an amazing man for the past six months. We are still at the “sleeping over several times a week” stage. We are absolutely incapable of sharing a bed and getting enough sleep. We have sex and cuddle a while, then he slips off to my guest room and sleeps there for the night. He says my bed is too soft. When I stay at his place, I think his bed is too hard. Our sleep styles are wildly different, and we’re both in our mid-30s and a bit set in our ways. He burritos himself in the bedclothes; I insist that the sheets must be tucked in order for me to feel secure. We both snore like banshees. We’ve talked about it, and I told him I was seriously bummed that we could not spend the night together, but I have to admit that we are much more rested when we sleep apart. His parents sleep apart for the same reasons, so he is much less bothered by this than I am. Is this a cause for concern in this budding but very promising relationship (I can see myself marrying him!), or is it just the reasonable accommodations adults must make?
—A Problem That’s Not a Problem

As a determined solo sleeper, this sounds frankly ideal—a bed guest who leaves one in peace and solitude when it’s time to get down to the serious business of falling asleep—but you don’t have to love sleeping apart even if you can see the wisdom in it. Lots of happy couples do sleep apart, your boyfriend’s parents included, so if part of your distress is just the thought that this isn’t “normal” or somehow hints at a deeper incompatibility, then try to put your mind at ease.

If someday you two move in together, bear in mind that they now sell those adjustable-for-couples mattresses so he can keep his half stony and unyielding and you can keep yours pillowy and pliant. He can get a separate duvet if he absolutely has to be enfolded in as many bedclothes as possible. Both of you should probably discuss your snoring with a doctor and investigate any possible health concerns. There are plenty of fixes available to you if you start living together, but for now, this accommodation sounds like the only one that won’t drive you both mad. You may occasionally miss waking up next to him, but I promise it’s better to miss him than to want to kick him out of bed after he’s mussed up your fitted sheets for the ninth time.

Dear Prudence,
My spouse and I recently went to see a new movie in the theater. We bought our tickets in advance and arrived early so we could pick our ideal seats. After the theater was almost full and the previews were almost over, a group came up to our row and asked if we would move down so they could fit. Despite the fact that there were still quite a few less desirable seats open to them elsewhere, we moved down so we wouldn’t seem rude. In my new seat, I ended up fighting for elbow space and being coughed on for the entirety of the movie. Needless to say, we both wish we had never moved to accommodate them. In the future would it be rude to say no and stay put in our chosen seats?
—A Potentially Petty Moviegoer

It is (almost) never rude to say no to a request from a stranger! This is why you were asked, rather than demanded, to move. “I’m sorry, but we prefer these seats” is a perfectly polite way to decline to accommodate any similar requests in the future.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Sometimes in life you have to share an armrest and life is a series of petty indignities and you can’t fully control for or avoid that.”

Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.