Dear Prudence

My Wife Wants to Settle Down and Have Kids, but I Don’t

Prudie’s column for Nov. 29.

A couple with a clear split
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Farsai Chaikulngamdee on Unsplash.

Dear Prudence,
A year and a half ago, my wife and I quit our jobs after saving to travel the world. It had been our dream since we met, but in the lead-up to travel, her biological clock went off. Six months into our travels, her brother got his girlfriend pregnant, and my wife suddenly realized she wanted children desperately. We bought a house with plenty of room to grow and resettled down. We got pregnant on our first try but lost the pregnancy at eight weeks. It was heartbreaking for us and especially hard on her. It took until that moment for me to realize that this isn’t what I want. Not even a little. It wasn’t part of the deal.

I hadn’t misled her on this point either. We had both agreed that children weren’t a priority for us. I still want to see the world, and she wants to have a family now. I don’t want a life without her, but I know I’m not enough for her anymore. I feel, at bare minimum, a duty to give her what she wants. I don’t know if I have it in me to stick around in this middle-class suburban life long enough to raise children, but at our age I don’t know that she will ever get a family without me. The way I see it I have two choices: her being a shattered person without children, or me living for the day our kids leave when we are in our 50s. I think there is a very real possibility that this will end our marriage either way. It isn’t what either of us want, but we can’t find a compromise in this scenario. Is it wrong for me to give her what she wants, knowing that our marriage will probably dissolve before the children are out of diapers?
—A Fork in the Cul-de-sac

Please talk to your wife and be absolutely honest with what you now know about yourself, let her make her own decisions with all the facts she needs in order to do so, and be prepared to end this marriage. It is not your duty to help your wife get pregnant again, knowing that you don’t want children. If your wife is as resourceful and clear about what she wants as she sounds, she will be able to find a way to become a parent without you, even if the end of your marriage is heartbreaking. Or, at the very least, she’ll be able to make peace with a childless life on her own, which would be better than trying to raise children with a man who knew he didn’t want them from the start or who fled halfway through raising them. You’re lucky enough to have realized what you want before having a child. Would you want to be parented by someone who was “living for the day” when you left the house? Do you think, if you’re being really honest with yourself, that you could parent a child well with such a mindset? This martyr’s mindset isn’t good for you, your wife, or the children you don’t yet have together.

You say you have two options, and I think that’s true: You can be honest with your wife and accept that this may result in a divorce, or you can lie to her and bring new life into the world with the knowledge that you never really wanted to do so. Both of these options involve pain, but the former at least gives everyone a chance at the life they want. You won’t shatter your wife if you tell her the truth. She’ll be hurt, possibly devastated, and maybe angry, but she’ll have the information she needs to figure out what she needs to do next, rather than making decisions under false pretenses.

Dear Prudence,
Nearly 20 years ago, I came out to my parents. Their reaction was brutal and swift. I was immediately disowned and kicked out. I was 17, scared, homeless, and alone. My friends took me in for the remainder of my senior year. I went to college, earned my master’s, married my husband years ago, and recently had twins via surrogate. A few weeks ago I received a letter in the mail from my mother wanting to patch things up and get together over the holidays. Prudie, I have no idea how she even found me! I haven’t talked to my parents since the day I came out. I even moved across the country after college because it was too painful to stay in my home state. My husband says he’ll support whatever I decide, but I’m not sure I’m ready to forgive them.
—Bigoted Family Wants to Reconnect

If you’re not sure, don’t rush yourself. Just because your mother wants to “patch things up” in time for the holidays doesn’t mean you have to agree to that particular timeline. Frankly, after nearly 20 years of silence after total abandonment, trying to get together in the next month sounds like a pretty big ask. Ask yourself what you might get out of a conversation with your mother or father. Does the idea appeal to you? Would an apology feel meaningful after all these years? Would you want to renew any kind of relationship with them, or would you want to be able to go back to living separate lives after meeting up? If you do some soul-searching and find the answers to be mostly along the line of “not really,” “too little, too late,” and “it wouldn’t add much to my life, and I’m happy without them,” then you can put that letter away and focus on your husband and children. I also worry that your mother’s vague desire to “patch things up” rather than correctly identify how much damage she and your father caused you when they kicked you out for being gay isn’t genuine remorse. If it is, though, it’s good for her character, but she doesn’t get to dictate when, how, or if you let her back into your life.

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Dear Prudence,
My neighbor has an outdoor cat, “Sparkle.” Our front yard is one of Sparkle’s favorite hangouts. Sparkle has no collar, her claws are torn and overgrown, she isn’t well-groomed, and I don’t know if she is vaccinated or fixed. But she’s been very friendly with me and my family since she first saw us. She likes to lounge at our place often, and I’ve seen her with scratches on occasion (I assume from run-ins with other neighborhood cats). The neighbor who I suspect owns her lives a few doors away, but we have never spoken—I don’t even know her real name. But I worry about Sparkle sometimes. Can I approach my neighbor about Sparkle, or should I just butt out? If I can, how should I ask about Sparkle without being intrusive or rude?
—Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Cat

Sure, you can introduce yourself to your neighbor and ask if Sparkle is her cat without being rude. It may be that no one owns Sparkle! It will help to clarify what else you want to ask your neighbor beyond “Hey, is this your cat?” Is it to keep Sparkle indoors more often? To offer to take her to the vet to get her vaccinated and groomed? To ask if you can have her? If your neighbor does own her but doesn’t want to answer any questions about Sparkle, would you be willing to back off, or is your concern for the cat’s health significant enough that you’d want to press the issue (or sneak Sparkle off to the vet when the neighbor isn’t paying attention)? You can say that you’ve noticed Sparkle doesn’t have a collar and sometimes looks like she’s been in a fight and offer to take her to the vet without coming across as a jerk, but it’s worth trying to figure out just what you’re willing to do before you knock on the door.

Dear Prudence,
I just started seeing the same therapist my boyfriend went to until three months ago, and I can’t shake the feeling that something happened between them. It was the way she was smiling when she was talking about him and the fact that she mentioned him without it being necessary. Also, he told me one of the reasons he stopped seeing her was because their conversations “got too casual” and the fact that I don’t trust him or myself. I asked him about it. He told me nothing happened between them and then immediately asked why would I think that. What should I do? I can’t stop thinking about it and would like to search for another therapist if something were to have happened between them. I feel like I’m losing my mind.
—Something Fishy

You should definitely find a different therapist, and don’t feel like you have to wait until you get stronger evidence one way or the other. It was inappropriate for her to bring up another patient with you, especially unprompted, and that’s a sign she doesn’t have great boundaries. Another sign is the fact that one of her other clients recently stopped seeing her for getting “too casual,” whatever that means. I have no idea what exactly happened between the two of them, but it’s not unreasonable for you to express curiosity over why he left her practice. His comments are pretty cryptic, and I imagine 99 girlfriends out of 100 would have at least one or two follow-up questions, like “What does casual mean in this context?” and “She’s been bringing you up in our sessions unprompted and with a big smile on her face. What happened?”

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Do not cross the streams!”

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

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I do not have primary custody of his elementary school–aged son. This is our year for Christmas. (We’ve been on this schedule for three years now.) We were planning on having Christmas with his family at our house this year. However, this weekend his brother asked us which day we’d like to celebrate Christmas. Apparently he and his kids are going to the new girlfriend’s family on Christmas Day. How annoyed can I be about this, and how do I make sure that in the future she doesn’t take over the holidays again?
—In-Laws and the Holidays

Not especially! Or be privately annoyed if you must, but there’s nothing keeping you and your husband from celebrating Christmas with his son on the day itself and holding another celebration with his brother and the rest of the kids a day or two later. You know yourself that juggling Christmas celebrations when your family has a couple of moving parts is tricky, so don’t judge your brother-in-law for wanting to spend the holiday with his girlfriend. (Be grateful instead that he didn’t ask if he could bring her whole side of the family over to your place at the last minute!) You can’t be sure she doesn’t “take over the holidays” again in the future because “the holidays” belong to everyone who celebrate them. You didn’t invent them, they’re not your property, and every family has to balance multiple and sometimes-competing interests in order to make it through them.

Dear Prudence,
Earlier this year I had my first relationship, and it went terribly. The person I dated violated my physical and emotional boundaries in order to “experiment” and said they’d hurt themselves if I left. It was difficult to leave, but I did a few months ago. We still attend the same small school, and I’m civil, but a self-destructive part of me misses them, so I’m trying to stay away.

This academic year I’ve befriended a new, younger student, and I’m trying to look after her. But now she’s befriended my ex, and they spend all their time together. When we’ve all been together, I’ve recognized the same behaviors the ex used on me, and I’m increasingly concerned. I’m really worried the ex will trap her the way they trapped me. But I’m having trouble telling whether my concerns are legitimate or they’re out of jealousy or irrational fear. I feel scared, and I don’t know what to do.
—Confused

Your concerns are absolutely legitimate—a couple of months ago your ex was threatening self-harm unless you stayed. In the months since, they’ve neither apologized nor taken steps to amend their behavior, and now you’ve seen them repeating the patterns that they used with you on someone else. You’re not being irrational; you’re recognizing the beginnings of the same cycle. Since you’re still concerned about your own ability to keep your distance from your ex, I think you should look out for yourself before deciding what, if anything, you want to say to this woman. Don’t force yourself to participate in group hangs in the interest of staying civil. When your ex shows up, find a reason to leave. Ask a friend to text you to ask for a ride or for help studying or some other plausible excuse that will get you out of there. You could also consider reporting your ex’s abuse (crossing your physical boundaries and telling you that you’re responsible for their safety certainly qualify) to a designated reporter or your campus Title IX officer. If you don’t feel ready to do that yet, I hope you can at least tell a friend or a counselor and ask for support. If, after taking a step back, you decide you want to warn this woman, who may have no idea what your ex is capable of, you would be well within your rights to do so. You do not have to if you fear retaliation or feel otherwise unable, but your concerns are real, and your motives are generous. You don’t want a friend to experience the same hurt you did at your ex’s hands.

Classic Prudie

“Our daughter ‘Amanda’ has been married to ‘Jacob’ for several years. Theirs is an open relationship, and I have always known that. My husband, however, has kept his head in the sand regarding this. My daughter has a boyfriend, ‘Tom,’ whom Jacob knows about and has a great friendship with. They are all planning to come to our home this Christmas, but my husband insists that Tom (who has visited us previously) is not welcome. Do I tell them to make other holiday plans?