Dear Prudence

My Boyfriend Tricked Me Into Becoming Friends With His Other Girlfriend

Prudie’s column for Sept. 13.

Couple kissing with man’s other girlfriend in background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Julie Johnson on Unsplash, Allef Vinicius on Unsplash and Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
About a year ago, my boyfriend asked to open the relationship, since he wanted to be polyamorous. I agreed on the condition that I would have nothing to do with that part of his life. I didn’t want to know the other woman’s name, I didn’t want to meet her, she wasn’t allowed in our apartment, and he was never to talk about her. To me, she wouldn’t exist. My boyfriend agreed. Now I’ve discovered that, a few months ago, my boyfriend tricked me into becoming good friends with his other girlfriend, introducing her to me as “a friend from work.” The moment I found out, I ended my relationships with both of them, made him move out (my name is the only one on the lease), and blocked both of their numbers. However, they haven’t stopped trying to contact me. He keeps coming to my apartment, crying, saying that he’s lost without me and that he needs me, and she keeps showing up begging me to take him back and restore our friendship, since she misses me so much. But I can’t. They don’t seem to think they did anything wrong. How do I make them leave me alone? At this point, I’m considering restraining orders.
—Leave Me Alone

I can understand why you’re considering a restraining order. If your ex continues to harass you by showing up at your property, tell him the next time he does so you’ll call the police and have him removed. Tell your landlord or property manager to warn you if your ex ever shows up at the apartment complex, because he’s not a welcome guest. Do the same for her. Restraining orders are not always perfectly effective, but they can go a long way toward establishing a pattern of harassment if you need to go to court. Tell your friends and family that your ex and his new girlfriend are harassing you and that you’d appreciate their help in keeping distance, in case they try to escalate by bothering your loved ones for updates on your whereabouts. If you can, invite someone you trust to spend a few nights with you at your place and help you contact the authorities if these incursions continue. Don’t get drawn into an argument about what they did wrong. If either of them were capable of listening to reason, they would have done so long ago.

Dear Prudence,
My parents are terrible—alcoholic, physically abusive, the works. I moved away from them decades ago to keep my children away from them. My father molested me as well as one of my sisters; my mother knew and did nothing. I just went to a family reunion because there are relatives on my father’s side of the family I love and have missed seeing. During the trip, I found out there is a good chance my father is not actually my biological father. My folks are pretty old. Should I ask my mother about this? I think I would be happier knowing he may not be my father than I would be if I were to find out, without a doubt, that he is indeed my real dad. What would you do?
—Paternal Doubts

I think you have to ask yourself whether you could trust any answer your mother might offer you. You know that she is not a safe person to be around and that she cannot be trusted to look out for your best interests or to treat you well. You know too that if she were to say, “Yes, he is your biological father,” it would feel more painful than believing in at least the possibility that he isn’t. Since there is no answer she could give you that would provide you with any genuine relief, I think it will be better for you in the long run to talk about this with a therapist. It sounds like what has made you happiest over the years is moving away from your parents, both physically and emotionally, and so I think reopening any conversation about your childhood or biological origins with the woman who physically abused you and enabled sexual abuse will not contribute to your happiness or peace of mind. If, after spending some time talking through all the possible outcomes and reactions you might have with a therapist, you decide that you’d rather ask regardless, then you will at least have support and guidance in figuring out how you’d like to approach that conversation, but I think you should only take that option if you find not asking absolutely unbearable.

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Dear Prudence,
My mom was recently diagnosed with cancer that has moved to her brain. This has significantly changed her personality. I was recently planning a visit to see her (she lives several hours away) and she forcefully told me not to bring my husband, that she can’t stand him and he exhausts her. This is causing me extreme anxiety. How do I explain to my husband, who loves my mother, that she doesn’t want him around? He has been very accommodating with my visits, but if I tell him that she doesn’t want him around at all, it will hurt his feelings tremendously. He understands logically that she isn’t completely herself right now, but it is still hurtful.
—Cancer Changing Her Personality

This sounds terribly distressing, and I’m so sorry for everything you and your family are going through. I think the only thing to do is to tell your husband the truth and to let him have his own response. Some hurt and pain is simply unavoidable, and this sounds like the kind of situation where all you can do is walk through it together in honesty and love. You both know, logically, that the cancer is changing your mother’s personality, not secretly uncovering how she “really” felt about your husband all along. It may help both of you to focus on the years of closeness they’ve enjoyed, and how much she’s loved him, and how much he’s loved her, before cancer altered her personality. That may not make the rejection any less painful, but it may help to remember that any outbursts or sudden whims she displays are a symptom of her disease, not the truest form of her unfiltered thoughts.

Dear Prudence,
Both my ex and my current husband were victims of repeated sexual assault (by men) when they were teenagers. My husband was later sexually assaulted for several years by a woman who was a leader in his church youth program. I believe these experiences explain the bouts of anger and odd behavior that both my ex-husband and my current husband exhibit around my children, who are now in college. Part of me wants to share this information with my children so they understand the source of the anger. On the other hand, this information is not mine to share. Should I tell my children so they can understand the anger is not directed toward them, or should I continue to protect the confidence their father and stepfather held with me? Given the nature of my problem, I have no one else to ask.
—A Reason for the Rage

I think you’re confusing “source” with “explanation” here. What your current and past husband have experienced is terribly and deeply traumatic, but it in no way justifies or softens the way they treat your now-adult children. You say only that they have “bouts of anger” and “odd behavior,” which leads me to wonder what you’re leaving out. Implicit in your letter is that your children have cause to resent the way their father and stepfather have treated them, and no amount of abuse these men suffered when they were children makes the way either of them treats your children now acceptable. You say you want your children to understand “the anger is not directed toward them,” but it obviously is—otherwise they wouldn’t be experiencing it. What you mean, I think, is that your husband and ex have both wrongly taken out their anger at their own abusers on the nearest vulnerable targets, namely the children in their care. That’s simply wrong, and nothing they could have gone through in the past can justify it. If your children do not want to spend time with their father and stepfather, or if they simply want to talk about how they feel about the ways they’ve been mistreated, then they have every right to do so. I hope you can see a therapist (I hope your husband and ex will as well, but since neither of them has written to me, I can only speak to you) to talk about how you’ve tried to soften or explain away or smooth over the ways the men you’ve married have harmed others by focusing on their own abusive pasts, rather than their abusive choices in the present. Most victims of abuse do not go on to further victimize others; having been traumatized as a child does not mean that a person is fated to take out their rage on their own children. These men are now adults with the ability to make better choices and seek treatment, if they were willing. Do not disclose the abuse either of these men has suffered without their consent, and especially don’t disclose in the hopes that it will induce your children to forget about bearing the brunt of their rage.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

Danny: God, this makes me really sad
Nicole: Yeah, I’m very bummed out

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

Dear Prudence
My spouse came out as transgender last week. I have suspected she was keeping a secret for the past six months, as she was distant and acting differently. I hadn’t wanted to push her to tell me, thinking it was something that we could deal with when she was ready. Now I want to divorce. The past six months have shaken our relationship, and I signed up to be married to a man. At the same time, I want to be supportive of her and her brave decision to come out. How long do I have to wait to ask for a divorce?
—Looking for an Exit

I hope that you are seeing a (trans-competent) therapist, either separately or together. This is a lot to process, and it’s only been a week. However, if you’re sure that you’re not able to be married to a woman, I don’t think there’s any particular amount of time to wait that would make the decision to divorce any easier. That doesn’t mean you should file for divorce tomorrow in the interest of expediency, but if you’re sure that you want to support her but not stay married, it’s better to be honest about that now rather than let her carry on with false expectations. My guess is that at least part of the reason your wife has acted differently over the past six months was fear of this very outcome—that being honest about this might spell the end of your marriage. My only other advice, aside from being honest about what you can and can’t do, is to avoid using expressions like what you “signed up for” when talking to your wife about divorce. It’s one thing to acknowledge an incompatibility when it comes to your orientation, but talking about what you “signed up for” makes it sound like she has reneged on a gender agreement, rather than come to terms with her identity. But offering her support does not mean you have to continue in a marriage that no longer works for you for some number of weeks or months until you think you’ve put in sufficient time to be honest about your identity too. You can start to talk about this now, and you have every right to do so. I wish you both the best in figuring out how to end your marriage in as kind and supportive a way as you can.

Dear Prudence,
I live in a very nice, spacious apartment with three really good friends and my partner. Recently, one of my roommates has gotten into a whirlwind romance with a woman from his work. They have been dating for four months and now want her to move into our apartment. We have the space, and the extra money would be great, but I’m concerned. His girlfriend can be very difficult and sometimes loud (we’ve recently gotten a noise complaint because of her), and she makes rude comments that make me feel bad about myself. I don’t want to be the bad guy who stops her from moving in, but I don’t want the next year to be complete hell. The apartment was split down the middle as far as letting her move in, but now it seems like everyone but me and my partner are on board. Should I just let it happen?
—One Roommate Too Many

These are pretty significant concerns, so don’t just go along to get along with the rest of the house. If two of the five people currently living in the apartment have serious objections to a potential sixth, that’s a significant minority vote. You’ve seen what she’s like as a guest, and it’s already resulted in one noise complaint and a number of painful interactions, so I think it’s reasonable to assume she’s not going to be more thoughtful as a roommate. As long as you’re clear and polite about your objections, it doesn’t make you a “bad guy” to name them.

Classic Prudie

“My future mother-in-law would like to wear her wedding dress to our wedding. I’m less concerned about the dress and more concerned about what this says about our future relationship. She is a very kind, considerate person, and I am certain that she knows this is not a very nice thing to do. What could her possible motivations be, and what should I do about it?”