Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat, which was guest hosted by Nicole Cliffe. Daniel Mallory Ortberg will return next week.
Q. How can I avoid being jealous?: I would like to know if I should have a conversation with my fiancée about her “work spouse.” My fiancée and I met at work. We became great friends and eventually decided to begin dating once I was moved to a different department. We still work in the same building and have lunch together every day. She invites a male co-worker to join us most days. I know her co-worker as he was previously my co-worker also. Oftentimes during lunch, I feel uncomfortable about how my fiancée acts toward him. I suspect she has a crush, but I also know it’s innocent. What bothers me most is the emotional aspect. I feel as though she is very deferential and agreeable with the co-worker, often at my expense. She also makes sexual jokes and has created an atmosphere where he feels it is OK to do that as well. Should I say anything? Or am I reading too much into this?
A: Yeesh. The person who coined the phrase work spouse has much to answer for. I am surprised you have not already said, “Most days I’d like lunch to be just us, going forward.” Her reaction will tell you a lot. I’m not at all certain that her crush is “innocent,” but I am quite confident these weird lunches are bad for all three of you.
This is a good opportunity to work on your relationship before you find yourself walking down the aisle with someone who might not have the maturity—or the desire—to go the distance. There is nothing wrong with saying that you’re made uncomfortable by her swapping sexual jokes with a co-worker, and if you’re hesitant to do so in case she reacts badly, this is not a great situation.
I’m concerned that your fiancée is already crushing on someone else during your engagement, a time period during which you’re usually still feeling each other up in bathrooms and doodling your initials on scrap paper. Don’t dismiss your concerns.
Q. Grandma: My grandmother died recently after a long illness; before that, she asked each grandchild what item they wanted, and it was marked with a sticker and photographed with everything going in the will. She wanted to avoid the squabbling that arose after her mother and sisters died. The funeral is over, the house sold, and all the personal possessions passed on. I, among my cousins, admired and asked about my grandmother’s jewelry, specifically her engagement and wedding rings. They are semiprecious and have been in the family for over four generations. I am not married or planning on ever getting married, but I have a fondness for family history. My first cousin, “Rhonda,” has announced that she is engaged and that she “deserves” the rings since she is first of the cousins to get married. Rhonda got the paid-off car when my grandmother died. She never asked about any other sentimental items. Rhonda and her mother (my aunt) have essentially demanded the rings from me; there was no asking.
I would honestly tell them both to go screw themselves since they had years to ask about the rings, but they have gotten to my mother. She has told me there is “no point” in me keeping the rings, and they belong to people “extending the family line.” I do wear the rings sometimes; I also can tell the story about how they came into our family. (Rhonda couldn’t remember the names of our great-grandparents if her life depended on it.) I feel stuck. My mother is putting a lot of pressure on me, and I feel betrayed. I don’t see why the magic words engaged or wedding should undo my grandmother’s will or rob me of my inheritance. If my younger brothers asked me for the rings, I would happily give them up, but not randomly to Rhonda. How do I deal with this?
A: Do not give Rhonda the rings. Tell her you’ll leave them to her in your will, and then refuse to engage further. I would go to the mattresses over this one.
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Q. Resentful feminist: I’ve been with my husband for five years, and the breadwinner since Day 1 of our relationship. He worked part time and then became a stay-at-home dad to our daughter. He is still struggling to finish college as a full-time student right now; I have my Ph.D. and pay all of the bills for us and our toddler. He cooks, does the dishes, cleans a bit, and is a fantastic dad to our daughter. He’s also wonderfully loving and supports my career. But I’m the only one working, and I do all of the “logistics” of our life—remember doctor appointments, pay taxes, plan outings, arrange for the mortgage for our house, buy our insurance, etc. It has always been clear that I’d be the “alpha” partner—but I’m really tired. I feel a lot of pressure to keep up our way of life and take care of everyone’s wants and needs. I’m really starting to resent being in charge all the time and paying all the bills, but when I leave responsibilities up to him, he usually messes them up. And if he quits school now, he’ll never make half of what I do (and we committed to putting him through school anyway). How do I handle this resentment? I feel like I’m looking at 20 more years of this.
A: Oh, boy. I am sure you feel completely slammed, and you probably are! Your husband, however, isn’t exactly phoning it in. From what you’ve said here, he’s a stay-at-home dad, a full-time student, and cooks and does the dishes, in addition to cleaning “a bit.” That’s pretty good! Human nature being what it is, very few of us are capable of feeling contentment at the idea of doing anything for 20 more years, so I don’t see that as much of a red flag.
He will, conceivably, not be in school forever, at which point your lives will look quite different. I do sympathize completely with his tendency to botch extra responsibilities when you give them to him, but my sense is that you two are currently dividing your familial workload fairly equitably, and I have to imagine he’s just as tired as you are.
Find time to be a couple, try to stop keeping score, and keep offloading tasks to him until he gets it right. You don’t want to wind up doing everything yourself because he’s feigned helplessness.
Q. Therapy thanks: How could I appropriately thank a therapist? My therapist has helped me move past a major plateau in my emotional health and development, but it’s such a unique and for the most part one-sided dynamic, how could I go about expressing to her my appreciation for the help she’s offered me? Usually this would be the kind of thing I’d ask my therapist.
A: The greatest gift you can give your therapist is signaling that she has helped you understand appropriate boundaries and not overthink situations. Thank her warmly, with your words, and get back to work on hitting that next plateau.
Q. +1 arguments: My fiancé and I are in a long-distance relationship, about two and a half hours apart. I do the majority of driving back and forth so we can see each other every weekend, leaving on Friday after work and then driving back on Mondays at 5:30 a.m. This weekend I will be with him Friday–Sunday, then leave for a work conference about 40 minutes away from his home Sunday–Wednesday, where my work is paying for me to stay at the conference hotel. He was initially mad that I wasn’t staying with him instead, but as a compromise I am skipping the conference social event Monday night for a date with him. I am, however, attending Tuesday night’s event. I didn’t think to invite my fiancé as a plus one, because it’s a statewide work conference on a weekday—how many people will have their partners with them if most people are from out of town? Now he is unhappy about not being invited. I don’t mind if he would like to come, but was I wrong not to include him?
A: He’s being ridiculous, and I’m not at all sure that skipping the conference social event was a great idea; usually, if your company is sending you to a work conference, they expect you to do everything, even the wine-and-cheese mixers and trust-fall exercises. He knew you were there for work, these are not evenings he would generally be able to spend with you, and by all accounts you are the person who has been doing the heavy lifting on the long-distance driving in the first place.
I would explain, politely but firmly, that you have greatly enjoyed your weekend together, but that Monday–Wednesday is a work trip for you, not a personal trip for both of you, and that it would not be appropriate to cross the streams. I’m happy to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s just excited to see more of you and disappointed that the work portion of your trip is about, well, work, but if he continues making a fuss, I would firm up my recommendations accordingly. Under no circumstances should you agree to bring him to your Tuesday event, regardless.
Q. Re: Therapy thanks: Your therapist knows how grateful you are, believe me. But you can always say so explicitly. Ethical rules make it difficult for therapists to accept anything more than a small gift or trinket. Just showing up and paying on time are the best thanks you can give any therapist.
A: Ah, yes, paying on time! Always in style.
Q. That is not my husband!: Last Saturday after heavily drinking with a group of friends, I woke up to my husband using a sex toy on me while I was unconscious. It caused me enough pain to tell him to stop, and then I must have fallen back to sleep. I woke up again to him violating me in a way that I told him I was not comfortable having sex. I had to beat my husband with my fists to get him off of me, after saying no did not work. I wish I could say that this is the first time anything like this has happened, but it’s not. In our years together, there have been at least four incidents like this that I recall. The last time it happened, I told him that if it ever did again I would leave him. He told me that he doesn’t like that I gave him an ultimatum. I feel like asking your husband not to rape you is not an ultimatum.
Now what do I do? I am living with him, and we are acting like nothing happened. In fact, since I discussed what I remembered with him, he has been cold to me like I did something wrong. This is nothing like the husband and father that lives with me every day and takes loving care of our children. I don’t know what to do. I am beside myself. Do you think there is something darker in his nature, or is he just a deviant drunk?
A: I am not particularly interested in whether he was born bad because his pregnant mother saw a two-headed goat or became bad because of alcohol, your husband is a rapist and there is absolutely no reason to think that he will continue to take “loving care” of your mutual children. You need to write down everything you remember about the previous instances, and then call the police and file for divorce. He’s a dangerous man.
Vintage Dear Prudence
“Recently I decided to get a job teaching English abroad. I felt fortunate to get hired exactly where I wanted to go and am now happily living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. The problem is my parents. I knew they would be appalled at the idea of their young daughter going to live in the Middle East, even in a relatively safe place like Dubai. So … I told them I had accepted a job in Tokyo. I’ve been living in Dubai for eight months, and as far as I know they haven’t caught on. I’ve made up stories about struggling with sushi and the Japanese language and even spent a fair amount of time learning about Japan to make my lie more believable. My parents don’t use social media, so there isn’t much danger of them finding out via that route. I love my life here in Dubai and would like to renew my contract, but I feel awful for lying to them! I also feel awful imagining how they will feel if they ever find out the truth. Please help me figure out what to do that will hurt my parents (and me!) the least.”
And find even more letters in the Dear Prudie archive.