One of my oldest friends, “John,” is getting married soon, and I’m returning to my hometown to act as a bridesmaid. My mother asked me where the wedding was being held, and I thought nothing of it until she told me that she plans on driving to the church, 40 minutes away from her home, to stand outside and possibly “find a seat in the back” to watch the wedding! I told her kindly but firmly that it was a private event and that she hadn’t been invited. She insisted that churches are public spaces, and since she wasn’t costing them any money, she was allowed to be there. If she were friendly with John’s family it might be different, but she hardly knows them. In the decade since I’ve moved away, she has only seen or spoken to John once.
What makes it worse is that over the years, almost without fail, she’s insulted John’s family whenever I’ve brought him up. She’ll gossip about how “obesity runs in his family,” and will make disparaging remarks about their appearances. She’s always been obsessed with looks, equating weight with worth, and the last thing I want on the happiest day of my friend’s life is to have this smug near-stranger silently judging him and his loved ones. How do I put a stop to this nonsense and get her to stay at home?
I’m worried that your mother’s plans don’t involve “silently” judging John and his family at all. Her proposed course of action is so aggressive, and so outside of the bounds of reasonable behavior, that I think there’s every likelihood she’ll attempt to audibly belittle the groom and his family. Since she hasn’t listened to your objections, you need to take further action in order to prevent one of your oldest friends from suffering public embarrassment on his wedding day. “Mom, you know perfectly well that people send wedding invitations because weddings are private events, even if they’re held in a church. You haven’t been invited to this one, you barely know the people involved, and whenever their names have come up in the past, you’ve said cruel things about their appearances. There is no reason for you to be at this wedding, and your proposed course of action is rude and inappropriate. If you insist on crashing the ceremony, I’m going to have to alert John and his family beforehand so they’re forewarned and don’t let you into the building. Please don’t make this harder than it has to be.”
If your mother doesn’t listen to this (although I hope she does), then I think you’re going to have to speak to John. The odds that she’ll do something even more disruptive than sitting through a wedding to which she’s not invited are high enough that it’s a necessary evil. You don’t have to go into detail about the nature of your mother’s hateful comments about his family, of course, but you can tell him about her plans, that you’ve done all you can to dissuade her, that you’re embarrassed and sorry to have to share this with him, but that he should coordinate with either his wedding planner or the church staff in developing a plan of action for making sure uninvited guests don’t disrupt the ceremony.
My boyfriend and I have been dating for a year and a half now. In general, we have a very healthy relationship. He is often my voice of reason and pretty supportive of me. The one thing that really bothers me about us is our lack of intimacy. He works very hard, and he keeps very long hours. We video chat, text, and talk to each other often throughout the day. There is no indication that he’s cheating on me—he just doesn’t value intimacy. We have sex maybe once a month and rarely lay next to each other at night. Even without the sex, I have explained to him that things like cuddling are important to me. Sometimes I just desperately want to be held. He is 12 years older than me, and I sometimes feel as though it contributes to the way we interpret the circumstances of our relationship.
His main reason for not coming over after work is that he lives close to his job. He’ll typically get home, eat, shower, and then doze off (which I absolutely understand). I’ve asked him to move in with me. I figured that if he could come home to me after work, maybe we could both get what we need out of this relationship. He told me he needed another year. Every time I bring up my concerns about intimacy, he tells me that he’s tired from work and I just need to be patient until he gets a better work schedule. I feel like it has to be more than that. We both have some very stressful circumstances taking place in our lives right now. He went through a bad divorce a few years ago and is still fighting with his ex-wife in court, and the entire situation has left him emotionally drained. I want to see him happy, but I don’t feel like I bring him any peace. If I did, I think he would be more inclined to be more intimate with me. I’m very lonely, and I’m not sure how much longer I can go on living in this void. I love him very much, and he and my daughter are bonded. I’m unhappy now, but I know I’ll be unhappy if I walk away, too.
—Intimacy on Zero
I don’t think you have any reason to believe that your boyfriend would seek out sex or other forms of physical intimacy more frequently if he had a different job (or he were 12 years younger, or had already finalized his divorce, or whatever other obstacles you suspect are interfering with your libidinal parity were removed). That’s not to say that a stressful divorce or a punishing professional schedule can’t seriously affect a person’s mood or sex drive, because they can and often do, but he’s been like this the entire time you’ve been together and you’ve talked about it repeatedly but nothing’s changed. I’m skeptical that he’s too tired from work even to occasionally hold you for a while. That’s a pretty low-impact request, and he knows it’s important to you—he can’t cuddle for 20 minutes on a Sunday afternoon? I think you’re making too many thin justifications for a pretty significant disparity in your expectations. The age gap may contribute to some differences in perspective between the two of you, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that by virtue of being a decade older, he’s suddenly incapable of understanding what you mean when, a year and a half into your relationship, you say, “Physical intimacy is important to me. I want to be held once in a while, or for you to put your arm around me.” You asked him to move in with you in the hope that, were his commute shorter, he would suddenly find time to have sex and touch you more often, but he’s already told you that he needs a year before he can even consider doing that. If you move in with him (whether tomorrow or a year from now), I think you can expect more of the same. You say you’ll be unhappy if you walk away, but you also say that you’re lonely, “living in a void,” and sleep alone almost every night despite “desperately” wanting to be held. That’s not the sort of garden-variety disillusionment every long-term relationship can fall prey to. That’s a pretty serious sign that things aren’t working.
On the positive side, you say you text often, that he’s the voice of reason in your life, that your daughter cares for him, and that he’s “pretty supportive.” That’s not nothing (especially coupled with the fact that you love him), but I’m not convinced it outweighs the aching loneliness you feel in this relationship. In a lot of ways, you’re already single. It’s worrying, too, that you blame yourself for the fact that your boyfriend doesn’t touch you very often and seem to feel responsible for “bringing him peace.” Finding a baseline sense of peace and equilibrium in your boyfriend’s life is his job, not yours. Claiming that his physical distance from you is a result of his job and nothing to do with his own preferences and priorities is a cop-out, and one that you shouldn’t take at face value.
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I left a job due to disability three years ago. I have been back to visit a couple of times, because I miss my co-workers and like to keep in touch. Recently, a former co-worker with a wife and two young children has been flirtatiously messaging me. He told me he had a crush on me when we worked together. I’ve been back to visit my old workplace once since then, but I don’t plan to anymore. He keeps messaging me with simple questions, like, “How how’s it going?” I continue to ignore it, but he won’t stop. I don’t want to get him in trouble, but I’m considering mentioning this to someone higher up at my former workplace. I know that since I no longer work there I have no leverage, but there were a couple of people there that I was relatively close to and would like to continue to visit. Should I say something to someone, or should I just stop visiting the office and try to get people together for lunch elsewhere? They’re always very busy, so it would be hard to coordinate something.
—Former Co-Worker Creeping Me Out
Before speaking to another former co-worker about this guy, tell him directly that his attentions are unwelcome. “Stop messaging me. It was inappropriate for you to tell me you used to have a crush on me when we were working together, and I’m not interested in further conversation.” If he stops after that, that’s all to the good, although I’m not optimistic, given his previously inappropriate behavior. If he doesn’t let up and continues to harass you, then it’s time to consider your other options. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that you can’t speak to the people in your life about this dilemma and ask for advice and support. You aren’t bound to silence about his inappropriate behavior. In the meantime, I think your plan of trying to arrange off-site get-togethers with the former co-workers whose company you do enjoy is a good one. While coordinating disparate schedules is always a little tricky, you’ll be able to spend more quality time together at a lunch or after-hours happy hour than if you had to wait to catch them in between projects when they’re still on the clock.
My boyfriend and I are waiting for marriage to have sex. He likes to shave or wax his intimate area because it makes him feel clean. That’s his body and his choice. But now he wants to get a professional Brazilian waxing, and it makes me uncomfortable. I haven’t been intimate with him, but another woman is going to touch him. I know it’s strictly professional and not for pleasure, but I can’t shake this discomfort. He says he won’t do it if I don’t want him to. But I don’t want to be that girl. How can I get over this?
—Virgin Bikini Wax
Whatever is going on between the two of you isn’t going to be addressed solely by issuing a ruling on whether or not your boyfriend should start getting professional Brazilian waxes, I’m afraid. To that end, I think your goal should be not to “get over” this discomfort you’re experiencing but to talk about it honestly with your boyfriend. If you feel insecure and jealous at the prospect of his grooming regimen involving another person, say so. That doesn’t mean you have to foreground those feelings, or that they should dictate his behavior. You’re not endorsing those feelings by articulating them. But if you’re feeling stymied, frustrated, or shut out, then you two should be able to talk about it. Just because you’ve decided not to have sex before you get married doesn’t mean you shouldn’t talk about sex and intimacy, your respective expectations, what you do and don’t share with one another, right now. If it’s purely a matter of gender, you can always say, “Sure, go for it, but humor me and find a male aesthetician.” But I don’t think that will settle things, especially if there’s a part of you that—consciously or unconsciously—sees his personal grooming choices not as something he does for himself but something that he must be doing for someone else.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
Danny: Not that you can say to him, “Hey, immediately divest yourself of all encultured shame about, you know, embodiment”
Nicole: IF ONLY THAT WORKED
Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I’ve been told a number of times that I’m fairly direct. When I’m on calls or in meetings, I can take charge and get things done. But when I’m around other strong women, I defer to them almost like a beta to an alpha. What ends up happening is that these same women have no idea that I’m perfectly capable of standing up for myself or being successful on my own. A previous manager was shocked when I was promoted two times after I left her team.
Now I once again work for someone who is more direct than I am. I feel like I could learn a lot from her, but I’m not comfortable seeming “meek” or “docile.” At the same time, I can’t get a word in edgewise. My new manager is the type who can dish it out but can’t take it. Any thoughts on how I can become the alpha again?
—Weak Around Strong Women
I think the most important thing is to stop thinking of other people (particularly other women) as being easily sorted into one of two categories, especially categories as reductive as “alpha” and “beta.” It’s simply not the case that there are some women who are always confident, assertive, and dominant, while the rest constantly defer, placate, and acquiesce. Your problem is not that you’ve fallen out of the “good” category and need to find your way back to it—your problem is that you’re not able to ask your boss for the help and training you need, in part because you feel intimidated by her, and in part because she’s done a poor job of fostering an environment where employees can ask questions and offer feedback.
When it comes to this boss in particular, you may find that it’s easier to ask for something or to push back against ideas you find unhelpful over email, or in a regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting where you know you won’t be interrupted or distracted. When it comes to untangling why it’s strong women in particular you have trouble responding to, I think a good therapist is probably going to be most helpful to you in the long run.
My two sisters and I each have one daughter and several sons. The girls grew up together—more like sisters than cousins. That relationship has been especially important to my daughter, “May,” who can be shy and doesn’t have loads of friends. She adores her cousins. The older cousin, “April,” has a very jealous nature. She’s well-known for it, and everyone, including April, laughs it off as a quirky, charming flaw. Both my nieces are lovely, but my daughter is beautiful. She’s also a professional athlete. April has always been insecure about this. She doesn’t like to take photos beside my daughter and has thrown tantrums when she sees group photos of them on social media. In recent years, she’s avoided being seen in public with May.
April is getting married in the autumn. We were disappointed but not surprised when she didn’t choose my daughter as a bridesmaid. She asked her other younger cousin, “June,” and two friends instead. We want April to have the happiest, most stress-free day possible. The problem is that April and her mother have felt the need to concoct a story about why she isn’t having May as her bridesmaid. When people who didn’t know them growing up ask, they simply say that April and May have never been that close. To family and friends, they say the girls had a huge falling out a few years ago and have never really made up. That’s completely untrue. They’ve never exchanged a cross word. June and her mother told us about this but are both quite timid and don’t want to call April out on it. May is devastated. She feels she is being written out of their shared history and like she has lost her two sisters. May doesn’t want me to say anything to my sister and April, but I feel really angry about it. I think it’s time we stopped pandering to April’s petty insecurities. Is this worth bringing up, or should I just drop it?
Pay attention to what your daughter is telling you, and don’t try to intervene (or retaliate) on her behalf. I understand this is a difficult situation to stay neutral on, given that it involves your relationship with your own sisters as well as your pride in your daughter, but she’s an adult and this is her relationship to navigate. You can offer her emotional support and advice if she seeks it out, but she’s well past the age that you can call up the mother of a girl who’s hurt her feelings and demand an apology—even if that girl happens to be her own cousin.
I’m not so sure, by the way, that April has concocted a false story by saying the two of them had a falling out. You say that it’s been years since she’s been willing to be seen in public with your daughter, which sounds like a pretty significant falling-out to me. Just because they haven’t exchanged cross words doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a real rift between them. That doesn’t mean your anger is misplaced or that you’ve done anything wrong in feeling protective toward May, but it’s ultimately up to her to decide whether or not she’s willing to speak to her cousin over what seems to be a serious and long-unchallenged character defect.
From May 2016: “I recently caught my fiancé and his sister together and broke up with him. I’d always gotten a strange feeling about their closeness, but I didn’t believe it until I saw with my own eyes. To my family and friends, it seems like I woke up one morning and decided not to get married. Everyone is pushing me to work things out with my fiancé. If I tell people they have an incestuous relationship, it would probably destroy their lives. Should I stay quiet or speak up?”