Dear Prudence

I’m Working With My Ex-Lover. Should I Tell My Fiancé?

Prudie’s column for Aug. 2.

A woman in a business suit surrounded by a man in jeans and a man in a suit.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
Ten years ago, I had an affair with a co-worker, “Amir.” My marriage at the time eventually dissolved for unrelated reasons; his did not. I am now engaged, and I deeply regret my actions of a decade ago. My fiancé has trust issues because his ex tried to convince him he was the father of someone else’s baby. He had to get an official paternity test, and she slandered his name all over town. I have been honest about my past infidelity, and we are in couples’ counseling.

My problem is that a recent promotion puts me back in direct contact with Amir. He is a city away, but we will be speaking regularly. So far everything has been above-board, but my fiancé does not know Amir was the man I cheated with, and our counselor has said it would be counterproductive to dwell on the past, but I still feel guilty. I can’t leave my position without jeopardizing my career, and it will be at least a year before I can make a lateral move into another department. My fiancé has trouble with jealousy and reacted negatively when my ex-husband invited us to his engagement party. I don’t want to undo the progress we have made, but I don’t want to lie. I feel like Pandora here. So do I open up the box or let it sit?
—Past Love Affair

It may help you to speak to your couples’ counselor individually and talk through the pros and cons of speaking up versus keeping this information to yourself. I don’t think you’re under any obligation to reveal that you’re (remotely) working with Amir again to your fiancé, given that you have never cheated on said fiancé and haven’t had any contact with Amir for a decade. You haven’t noticed any old feelings returning, Amir himself has behaved professionally, the two of you won’t be in the same room—there’s not really any new information that your fiancé needs to know about. The only reason to tell him would be that you believe you deserve to be eternally punished for a decade-old affair. I think the more important thing to do is continue to work with your counselor and make sure you don’t let the fact that your fiancé was hurt in the past justify any attempts to control or monitor you today. Continue behaving professionally toward Amir at work and don’t try to dredge up the past, when the past seems perfectly content to leave you alone.

Dear Prudence,
I inherited my grandmother’s three-bedroom condo. I sublet the two extra rooms to some of my old college buddies on a monthly basis. Rents have tripled in our area, but I only charge my roommates to cover my expenses like fees and taxes, and consider them friends. My girlfriend is moving in with me. When I announced the news, one of my roommates grew extremely upset. Three months ago, he tried to move his girlfriend in after she lost her place. I nixed it because I didn’t like her, and he barely knew her. They broke up right afterward. Now he blames me for being a “hypocrite” and “unfair” to him. We fought, and I told him, “My place, my rules, my girlfriend.” He has been sulking ever since—and, worse, being passive-aggressive: forgetting to take the trash out, or replace the milk he drank, or clean up. This has been going on for weeks, and I am tired of it. I don’t want to bring my girlfriend into this situation, but I don’t want to throw away a decade of friendship. How do I get my friend to grow the hell up here?
—Roommate vs. Girlfriend

I think there’s a way to acknowledge your friend’s frustration while also making it clear that his strategy is resulting in a lousy living situation for all of you and can’t possibly get him what he wants. Obviously he’s aware that the girlfriend in question is no longer his girlfriend, so it’s less about her as individual and more about the precariousness of his position in a house that’s three times cheaper than anything else in the area. You say that you consider these guys friends and roommates rather than tenants, but when it comes down to it, you get to make decisions unilaterally by virtue of your inherited wealth.

Your reasons for not wanting his ex to move in sound totally legitimate, but I’m curious as to whether you two actually had a conversation about what’s best for the house or if you simply said no (and then, later, “My house, my rules”). That doesn’t mean you have to accept his behavior, but I think in the interest of fair-mindedness it’s worth acknowledging in your next conversation: “It’s been really clear over the last couple of weeks that you’re not happy about my girlfriend moving in. I was reluctant to agree to your proposal a few months ago because it seemed like you two didn’t know each other very well, and I had reservations about how well she’d get along with everyone else in the house. The fact that you two broke up soon after that made me think it was the right decision. If you were hurt or upset about the way I handled that conversation, or if you want to discuss the possibility of moving in future partners, then we can talk about that. But I want to establish that no matter what topic we’re debating, even if we disagree with each other, you don’t try to communicate your disagreement by pretending to forget to take the trash out, suddenly refusing to clean up after yourself, and generally neglecting your normal duties as a roommate. That’s not useful, it’s not productive, and it’s not going to get you any of the things that you want. Can we talk instead?”

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Dear Prudence,
My good friend’s partner was close to “Rick,” who was publicly accused of rape. As a survivor of rape who’d always found Rick to be skeevy, I found it easy to cut him out of my life. They kept ties with him. Now, they are getting married, and I learned that both he and I will be in the wedding party. I didn’t hear this from the bride or groom, though! They are planning an overnight wedding party, and the idea of spending the night with this guy is giving me a lot of anxiety. I’m also pretty upset they are concealing his participation in the wedding. Do I skip the extras and ignore this guy at the reception and wedding? How can I talk about this with them when it seems they don’t want to address it?
—Elephant at the Wedding

“You know that I don’t have any contact with Rick—I’ve felt uncomfortable with him from the start, and I believe his accuser(s) when they say he’s committed rape without being held accountable. The fact that you’ve invited him to be in the wedding party and kept that information from me tells me that on some level you’re ashamed or uncomfortable with your choice to remain friends with him. Can you tell me why you decided to hide that from me? What was your plan for talking about this when I eventually, inevitably found out? What reasons do you have for maintaining that friendship? Do you think his accuser is lying, or do you believe that Rick has meaningfully and publicly atoned for having committed rape? Why did you feel comfortable inviting us both on an overnight trip without talking to me about how I might feel about it?”

Forcing yourself to keep the peace and ignore this guy at the reception is way too big a burden to place on yourself, and it’s horrific that your friends put you in this position in the first place. My guess is that your friends will not have thorough, robust answers to these questions. If they flail, or mumble something about how he’s a “good guy,” then I think you have every right to decline your place in the wedding party and encourage them to rethink their priorities.

Dear Prudence,
I’ve known I liked boys since I was 12, but I grew up in a rural, conservative town where expressing that felt impossible. Since I’ve sometimes been attracted to women, I became hypermasculine and acted 100 percent straight. I also joined the Army, where I had my only gay relationship—a desperate love affair with another closeted soldier during deployment. We spoke briefly of leaving our spouses for each other, but it was 2007, and coming out then would have ended our careers. Of all my relationships he is the only one I dream about, the only one I miss. I cry whenever I think of him.

Now my marriage to a woman has come apart, in large part due to my desire to finally express my sexuality. I am a 41-year-old queer man with no idea how to be queer. No out friends or connections. No idea how to meet people or enter this world. My attempts have left me extremely disappointed. I don’t have experience with the culture, nor am I interested in easy promiscuity or a party lifestyle. I just want a connection to one gentle person I can spend the rest of my days with. My experience tells me that this can only be with another man, but how do I find him? Or did I already miss my one chance?
—Finally Out

I’m so glad that you’ve given yourself permission to live authentically and to openly and honestly explore your love for men. As daunting and new as this may seem, I think you’re going to find this is a decision that makes your life bigger and better with every passing year. Don’t assume that “easy promiscuity” or a party lifestyle are the only things that gay communities have to offer (or that you could never establish a gentle, lifelong connection with someone you meet at a party or who has a promiscuous dating history). Plenty of gay bars have a storied history as meeting spots for activists, centers for community fundraising for medical expenses, and safe places for people who’ve been rejected by their families of origin. That said, if you don’t feel like going out to a bar, look for gay meetups in your area that are focused on activities you enjoy—book clubs, for example, or travel, or trips to the theater. Sign up for a few dating apps and make it clear that you’re looking for someone on the quieter side who’s interested in forming a long-term connection. I can’t promise you that you’re going to find someone who makes you feel the same way the most powerful love affair of your life did 10 years ago, but I can tell you that the only way to date guys or make gay friends is to get started as soon as you can. Good luck!

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“That’s me—sneaky honesty.”
Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss one of this week’s letters in Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,
My ex died as a result of his drug addiction. My now-husband has three girls with a cheating ex who is currently in prison. We bonded over shared trauma; now our marriage is built on nothing but that and our kids. My son couldn’t have a better father, but I am the last item on my husband’s list. My stepdaughters and mother-in-law remember my birthday; my husband does not. If I cut out the sexual parts of my life, I would be in heaven. My husband is a great roommate and a perfect father, but he has not touched me since my son was 2, and he is now 6. If I leave, I lose the girls I have raised since they were infants, and my son loses the only father he has ever known. It makes no financial sense to divorce. I feel trapped. What should I do?
—Good Dad, Sexless Marriage

You say that if you cut the sexual parts out of your life that you’d be in heaven, but you also say that your husband never remembers your birthday and that you’re the “last item” on his list—I think this is a little bigger than sex. (Not that sex isn’t a big part of life to begin with and worth taking seriously on its own.) It doesn’t sound as if the two of you have had much in the way of a conversation around sexual intimacy in the last four years—I imagine it may feel like if you acknowledge the fact that the two of you don’t have sex, then it will suddenly become a capital-p Problem in your marriage, rather than something you can pretend to ignore. I think this is worth saying to your husband, even if it feels daunting: “I feel like I’m lowest on your list of priorities, that you don’t want to have sex with me, and even though I care about you and think you’re a wonderful father, I feel trapped.” It may be that he’s willing to talk about these things with you or even to see a counselor together; it may be that he remains cheerful but evasive and sticks to treating you as a roommate and co-parent. You can also consult a divorce lawyer simply in the interest of gathering information, because in some states it may be possible for a step-parent to petition for visitation rights, especially if you’ve acted as the girls’ mother for years. That doesn’t mean divorce is on the table right now—just that you’ll be better able to deal with your fraught marriage if you know you have options. At the very least, dragging this out into the open will make you feel less alone and less like you’re carrying around a big secret that prevents you from having a “perfect on the inside” life.

Dear Prudence,
I’m poly, and my boyfriend is not. This wasn’t a problem until he got back with his ex-girlfriend. He and I were together behind her back for some months, and it was a relief when he broke that off. It sounded like an unhappy relationship that dragged on long past its expiration date, and I’ll admit his recitation of all her faults and the miserable state of their relationship made it easier for me to be partner to infidelity. Then he went back after two weeks. He says he regrets telling me only bad things about her—evidently she isn’t as emotionally abusive as he let on, etc. I asked him if specific things he’d told me did not in fact happen. He made excuses. They would have a bad interaction, and he would feel disrespected, then within a couple of days the narrative would shift and he would say he needed to be more considerate and there is nothing to forgive, because nobody did anything wrong. It was super frustrating to watch.

But anyway, she’s back, and he wants to carry on with me like we were. Only she hasn’t consented to a poly relationship, and from what he has said, it’s not even worth bringing up the subject with her. I don’t want to give him up. I enjoy his company, and he brings a lot of joy to my life. But … the girlfriend! I know this isn’t ethical poly anymore, and I know what the right thing is. I guess I’m writing to you for a shot of courage. Any advice on how to get over how much this is gonna ache when I cut him loose? And how do I let him know that he has a place in my clan when he is free again—without sounding like I’m looking forward to this reconciliation falling apart?
—How to Exit Gracefully

If nothing else brings you comfort at the thought of being parted from this guy, think of how much less of your precious free time you’ll have to waste listening to him complain about the woman he’s choosing over you. It sounds like you’ve invested countless hours hearing an endless recitation of their relationship woes, and with that kind of time, you could probably take up an instrument and become fairly proficient in a matter of weeks. He wanted you to think of her as a terrible person so you’d be comfortable being unethically polyamorous, which is just about the oldest line used by cheating men throughout history. So after you dump him, if you find that unhelpful little voice saying, “Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if he were here again?” you can say to it: “Yes, but we’d probably be talking about his girlfriend right now, and how lousy she is to him—except she’s not that lousy, not really, it’s just that I don’t know her the way he does—and she’s too lousy to be faithful and honest to, but not quite lousy enough to dump, and he’s a great guy, he’s just so confused and he wants to do right by everybody, and he’s not poly, he just wants to cheat on his girlfriend whenever he feels like it.” And maybe reconsider holding a place in your clan for him. He’s not honest, he’s not ethical, he’s not consistent, and he’s not treating either of you fairly.

Classic Prudie

“I’ve been with my boyfriend for almost a year, and we enjoy a great sex life. He really enjoys performing oral sex on me and does it frequently. I, on the other hand, do not enjoy performing oral sex and never have. It makes me feel very uncomfortable and often elicits a gag reflex/panic response. Is there some kind of unspoken equality when it comes to oral sex? Should I feel obligated to do something in bed that I don’t enjoy to make things ‘equal’ between us in this area?”