Q. The affair of the necklace: I recently found out that my husband of five years has been cheating on me for about two years. Of course I am angry and devastated. I kicked him out, got tested, and have started divorce proceedings. This should be pretty cut and dried, but there’s a catch. Over the last two years, he has been taking pieces of my jewelry and giving them to his mistresses. Normally I would just call it a wash, since he bought most of the jewelry. But one of the items he swiped was an heirloom necklace passed down from my grandmother. I know which mistress has the necklace because my idiot ex posted pictures of her wearing it on Facebook. I am not sure if I should go confront them myself or call the police, as doing so might risk them destroying the necklace—or if I should instead just speak to my lawyer and hope he can make them bring the necklace back. Please advise!
A: I think speaking to your lawyer first is your best bet. You may need to file a claim and report the necklace stolen, but there’s no harm in talking to your divorce lawyer first and discussing the best way to go about getting it back. Take screenshots of the pictures you’ve seen on Facebook so you have a record of the theft. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, and I hope it’s some small consolation that at least your soon-to-be ex-husband was foolish enough to leave an obvious trail of his theft.
Q. Just an incubator: After a traumatic birth that resulted in an emergency cesarean section under general anesthesia, my newborn daughter ended up in the neonatal intensive care unit for evaluation. As I was waking up from surgery, my husband was at my side telling me details about our new baby girl, who I desperately wanted to be with. She was doing well but needed to be monitored for a few hours, and because I was immobile in a hospital bed, I couldn’t go see her. My husband asked if his parents, who were in the waiting room, could go visit our daughter in the NICU. I told him no, I’d like to meet her first. He asked again, explaining that they may have to wait for hours. I said no, I wasn’t comfortable with that. He asked one more time, and I was so exhausted from the birth that I just said, “Do whatever you want,” so that I could get some rest. He went off to the NICU, and the next thing I remember was being in my hospital bed, alone, receiving texts from my father-in-law containing photos of my brand-new baby girl being held by my in-laws. Prudence, it broke my heart. In that moment I felt alone, empty, and discarded by my husband.
My daughter was brought to me four hours later—she was perfect and is the joy of my life. I can’t, however, seem to find it in myself to forgive my husband or his parents for what transpired on the day she was born. In the year since this incident, I have pulled back greatly from my in-laws as they continued to intrude upon our nuclear family in the months following the birth. This has caused great strain in my marriage. How do I get past this? How do I forgive my husband for steamrolling me during one of my most vulnerable moments? How do I spend time with my in-laws, who treated me like nothing but an incubator for their precious grandchild?
A: It would be one thing if the day of your daughter’s birth was simply a one-off episode you couldn’t get past, but it sounds like it’s part of a larger pattern that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. If you’re trying to pull back from your in-laws but they’re continuing to intrude on your family, it doesn’t sound like you have your husband’s support, and that’s a significant issue. It’s certainly admirable to want to forgive your husband for his behavior that day, and to try not to let the events around your daughter’s birth affect the time you spend with your in-laws, but you don’t say that he’s apologized or given any sign that he understands why you felt pressured, hurt, and abandoned. It may be that before you forgive him you need to have a harder, more intensive conversation about how he hurt you that day, and to agree upon limits you can set as a team with his parents.
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Q. A porn star doppelgänger: I have found a porn star that looks a lot like my girlfriend. I have watched her videos often. I want to show my girlfriend her “twin.” Do you think that’s a bad idea?
A: I suppose my answer depends on the following: Do you and your girlfriend have a history of talking about porn with one another? Do you think she would be flattered or interested? Do you think she would get anything out of this conversation, or do you think you would find it erotically charged and are overwriting her feelings with yours? Are you pretending that she might like something you like so you don’t have to take responsibility for expressing your own desires? Have you prepared yourself for how you’ll handle it if your girlfriend is not impressed and is in fact turned off or even hurt by this revelation? What will you do if you say, “I’d like to show you a porn actress who I think looks like you?” and your girlfriend says, “No thanks, I’d rather not”? What will you do if your girlfriend does not see the resemblance? There are a lot of questions you’ll need to answer for yourself before you decide to bring this up with her, and I can’t possibly answer them for you. (Good luck figuring all this out!)
Q. Money: My husband and I lost our only child when he died at age 6. One of the ways we consoled ourselves was getting involved in the lives of our nieces, my sister-in-law’s children. We ended up paying for much of their extracurricular activities and their college. My other sister-in-law is currently over 40 and pregnant. She has loudly made it known that she has bankrupted herself to get here and that she expects my husband and me to pay for any future college costs. We plan on retiring in five years, and we have nothing saved for this pregnancy. Frankly I think it is gauche to expect us to pay. My sister-in-law made the choice to proceed without a partner; that has nothing to do with us. My husband is a soft touch. How do I deal with this?
A: I agree that it’s gauche and rude for your sister-in-law to announce that she expects you and your husband to pay for her unborn child’s college tuition. I also think it’s unnecessarily judgmental for you to decide her child isn’t worth supporting in the same way you’ve supported the other children in your family simply because your sister-in-law is a single mother. I think the stronger case for not giving her money comes from the fact that you don’t have any money saved for this relatively unexpected pregnancy, not because she’s a single parent over 40. You say your husband is a “soft touch,” and while you two don’t have anything set aside for this child, it also doesn’t sound like he’s completely closed off the possibility of giving something. So I think your first step is to talk to him. If your preference would be to give nothing and his preference would be to give something, you two should agree on a workable compromise before talking to your sister-in-law.
Whatever the amount, even if it’s nothing, you certainly don’t have to explain or justify why it may be less than what you’ve been able to give in the past. If she is rude enough to ask, simply say that this is all you’re able to give without risking your own retirement, and leave her status as a single parent out of it.
Q. Loan: I foolishly cosigned a loan with my niece so she could go to college. My sister has extremely bad credit and couldn’t afford it. She begged me to “give her baby a chance at a better life.” My niece has always done well academically but is very self-centered. She promptly failed out and stopped making payments on the loan. My sister made every excuse in the book—never has a girl had a more harrowing tale of bad luck. But when I called my niece, I got the truth—the loan was “your problem, not mine.” My sister continued to make up excuses, and I flat-out told her she had raised a little monster and was a bad mother.
We haven’t spoken for four years. I paid off the loan with my savings. Now out of the blue, I have received a wedding invitation from my niece. Included was a handwritten note saying that we have been apart far too long and that she wants me there on her special day. No apology. I am torn. Is this an olive branch or another money grab? It also included directions to their registry.
A: It certainly may be an olive branch; the question is whether these terms your niece is proffering feel sufficient for you to try again. Would you be interested in re-establishing a relationship, even a casual one, without an apology or ever seeing any repayment of the money you lost? If you think it’s possible, albeit difficult, then you might consider attending (and buying the cheapest thing on the registry). You might also respond to the invitation and say that you’re excited for her, that you also miss her, but that you still feel pain over the way she dismissed your feelings and significant financial loss, and that you would want to meet to talk about it before resuming a relationship.
Q. Not enough hours in the day: I’ve got a wonderful life and family—I absolutely can’t complain! I have two small children, a career I enjoy with great benefits, and a husband who still loves and adores me after over 10 years together. My only problem is that my husband and I are completely out of sync when it comes to our sex life. After a full day of work, taking care of two energetic children, and keeping up with the day-to-day chores around the house (which my husband does help with), I’m totally exhausted! He’s raring to go once the kids have gone to bed, while I just want to be left alone. I’m an introvert as well, and having some quiet time alone helps me recharge. He sometimes takes this as a personal affront, especially when the only quality time the two of us get together comes in the evenings. How do I balance my needs with my husband’s? It feels silly to schedule sexy time, but is that what it’s come down to?
A: Based on the day-to-day responsibilities you’ve described, I don’t think it’s especially unreasonable to schedule sex—you’re really busy! Moreover, you say that your husband does “help with” the day-to-day chores, which is all well and good, but certainly frames the upkeep of your home as primarily your responsibility, with your husband filling in on an ad hoc basis. At least part of the problem may lie in this attitude. If your husband has this much energy at the end of the day, then he can put some of it to good use by stepping up around the house instead of seeing you as the director and himself as the occasional assistant.
Q. Hair today, gone tomorrow: I know most people write in with roommates who are too dirty, but I’m living with someone who is very clean. I’m not a messy person and consider myself a pretty considerate roommate. I’ve noticed over time that this person will rearrange the bottles I keep on the bathroom sink to be, I guess, in her preferred order (we share a sink but have a fairly big vanity with our own sides to it). And this is just one example of the ongoing organization she does to everyone’s things. Tonight I was brushing my hair when my phone rang. I left my brush on the vanity with the idea that I’d resume once the call was done. In that time, she cleaned out my hairbrush. Removed every last hair. I have long, thick hair, so my brushes aren’t normally pristine, but I feel a weird mix of a boundary crossed and embarrassment that she must think I’m messy or gross! I normally put the brush away after use. It’s not like it’s been out for days.
I’ve never had a roommate act like this. I’ve mentioned wanting to help her keep things clean several times, but she always just wordlessly does these things. I get always cleaning the counters, but organizing my things and cleaning out my personal items is so strange! How can I keep both of us sane for the next year?
A: Ask your roommate not to touch your things. Tell her that if she notices something that’s out of place, she should ask you to put it away yourself, and that you don’t want her cleaning your hairbrushes or rearranging your toiletries. That’s a perfectly reasonable limit for you to set, and you should draw a clear line between regular tidying up and unnecessarily touching your private effects.
Q. Re: The affair of the necklace: This could very well become a “he said, she said” affair. Not only should you get screen grabs of the mistress wearing the necklace, you should get any photos you have of yourself, your mum, and your grandmother wearing the necklace that predate the mistress, to prove that you once had it in your possession. Otherwise he can just claim you saw the necklace on Facebook and decided you want it as payback. Any documentation you have of the necklace from before your marriage will go a long way.
A: A man who’s willing to give your grandmother’s necklace to someone he’s having an affair with is also a man who’s probably willing to lie about how he got it—that’s a great point, thank you.
Q. Regifted wedding: My parents had a courthouse wedding when they were teenagers. They scrimped and saved and always put their kids first. I am the oldest and engaged. My boyfriend and I already co-own a home and have three dogs. Both of us hate being in the limelight. We have saved for a wedding but neither of us are excited for it, and honestly we hate doing wedding-y things. We have the basics booked right now—a date, a place, food, etc. And it happens to be in the same week as my parents’ wedding anniversary. I joked with my fiancé that we should let my parents take over the spotlight since they never got a real wedding of their own—he looked me dead in the eye and said let’s do it. He was serious. And I got excited. My fiancé has no family other than his estranged father. He adores mine. We have the money and all my parents’ friends and family are coming anyway. Why not give my parents the dream they want when we are only fulfilling it because of social obligation?
We haven’t offered it to my parents yet. I told my siblings, only to get told off by my younger sister. This was “weird” and “grandstanding.” You can’t have a wedding if you are already married. It is against the rules. She was vehement about it. My brothers were supportive, but my sister’s objection left me shaken. Would I be violating some wedding directive with this idea? Yes, my fiancé and I shouldn’t have gotten this deep in, but we did, we want to get out, and why not let my parents enjoy it? My mother never got to wear a white dress or get nice pictures taken. My father never danced with his bride in celebration with everyone he loves around him. Are my fiancé and I doing something wrong if we offer this to my parents?
A: I don’t know that it’s wrong, exactly, but if you do make this offer, you should do so with zero expectations and grant your parents total freedom to decline. It sounds like at least some of this idea stems from your discomfort with the sort of wedding you’ve planned for yourself. If your parents appreciate the gesture but don’t really want to inherit a full-scale wedding from you, let them decline and find another way to honor the ways they’ve sacrificed for you and your siblings—book them a couples’ massage, or help them plan a vacation, or write them a thoughtful letter about how much you appreciate them. You say “why not give my parents the dream they want,” but I’m not sure this is the dream they want. It may be, of course, and if so, don’t worry too much about your sister’s idea of what married couples are allowed to do. But make the offer casually, and let them say no thanks without any pushback if they’re not interested.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! See you next week.
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Vintage Dear Prudence
Q. Anti-aunt: When my husband was 16, he began an affair with his aunt, his mother’s brother’s wife. She was 35, and I believe she took advantage of him and lured him into an affair when her marriage was falling apart. They remained in a relationship for 10 years. He ended it six years ago. We have been together for three years and have young children. He told me about this affair before we were serious, and he said it had been true love. Now he has deep guilt and regret. At times he has even wondered how he got so lucky with our family given his “great sin.” The problem is that because he is close with his cousins, his aunt’s children, she still has access to our lives. I have no reason to believe he is in contact with her. But he asked me to accept his cousins’ friend requests on Facebook, which I did and now regret. I am really struggling with all of this. I want to delete his cousins and asked him to delete them, but he says they are his cousins and he can’t. We have fought about this several times. Am I being crazy? Even deleting them would not guarantee she will be gone from the picture. I’m seriously confused and losing faith in us.
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