Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, everybody. Let’s chat.
Q. My boyfriend keeps waking me up to have sex: My boyfriend and I have been together for more than eight years and have two young children together. We have had our ups and downs and generally things are pretty good. We had an active sex life before having kids and now we don’t. While I’m fine with the way things are, he is not. I’m tired after working all day, taking care of the house and kids. I get that sex is important and he’s made his feelings known that he wants to have it more. Things have improved from once every few weeks to once a week. For me, that’s fine, and he is “OK” with it although I know he would be thrilled with every day. When he initiates, I try to accommodate even if I’m not feeling it because I don’t want to hurt his feelings and in the end I’m always happy I didn’t turn him down. I have told him in the not-so-recent past that I don’t like it when he wakes me up to have sex. Sleep is very valuable to me and we have other time in the evening, so why wait until I’m sleeping? He’s been good about it until recently. Last night I had taken a bunch of medicine before bed because I’m sick and had been sleeping for over two hours when he woke me up to have sex. I was so mad … but there’s a part of me that feels guilty, like I shouldn’t turn him down, so I didn’t. I know that sounds stupid to even ask it … but is it wrong of me to be pissed? Here I am, sick and exhausted knowing I have to work in the morning, and I feel bad saying no. Then I ended up being up a couple hours later with sick kids.
A: If you’re looking for someone to be angry on your behalf when someone wakes you up (repeatedly, it sounds like) with insufficient justification, you’ve come to the right place! Sure, sex is important, but it’s not more important than getting enough sleep or making sure that both partners are contributing equally when it comes to keeping the house clean and looking after the kids when they’re sick. You’re putting so much extra pressure on yourself right now—imagining how “thrilled” your boyfriend would be if you had sex when you weren’t really in the mood more often, reminding yourself that you often end up happy once you’ve decided to have sex with him, worrying that it’s wrong to be angry when he did something you’ve already told him not to do. It is not your job to match your boyfriend’s libido. You have a right to set boundaries, to advocate for yourself even if that doesn’t make him immediately and instantly happy, to get a full night’s sleep, and to find a distribution of housework that doesn’t leave one of you exhausted and resentful and the other bored, horny, and wide-awake. I think it’s important to tell him that your current arrangement isn’t working for you, that he needs to stop trying to wake you up in the middle of the night to have sex (and if he does it again, he’ll be sleeping on the couch or at a friend’s house), and that there are other issues in your relationship that need to take priority right now.
Q. Should I insist on repayment? I am very comfortable financially. About 15 to 17 years ago, a good friend was in dire straits and requested I loan him $5,000. He is a struggling performer, has been for 30-plus years, and lives what I consider a Jerry Springer or Judge Judy type of life. Constant conflicts, troubles, relationship issues, money problems, all sorts of drama. He and I have been friends for more than 40 years, and he served as best man at my wedding in the mid-’80s. Through most of our adult lives we have taken different paths, and I don’t see much of him. I immediately loaned him the money, and for a couple of years he paid me back $500 at a time, reducing his debt from $5,000 down to $3,000. We stay in touch, speaking every four to six weeks for five or 10 minutes, but there has been no mention of the money over the past decade or longer. He now has a steady gig in Las Vegas and is making decent money, and I called him and requested he continue to pay off this interest-free loan. He immediately sent me $500 through PayPal. I felt guilty last evening, after receiving this first installment in 10 years, because the three grand he owes me isn’t even tinsel on the Christmas tree to me, but I’m sure he has many other obligations, debts, etc. On the one hand, I feel like a Scrooge. On the other hand, he is an adult and has this debt that has not been acknowledged for more than a decade. It’s really not my fault that he has made dozens of poor choices throughout his adult life, which has led him to this less-than-ideal circumstance. Should I forgo the remaining $2,500? Should I ask him to continue to pay me, and then absolve him of the last $1,000? Or should I continue to collect, and let him regain a measure of self-respect by paying off this long-standing debt, interest-free, in full?
A: I think whatever you decide to do, you should make your choice not on the basis of how it may or may not affect his self-respect (because you don’t actually know if this debt has had any effect on it or not), but on the basis of what you want. It sounds like, based on this letter, that what you want is to tell your friend how much he means to you and that you’d like to be in slightly more frequent contact—maybe, too, to know that your loan has mattered to him, that he cares about you, that he wants you to trust him, and that he’s thought about paying you back over the years. And I don’t see any reason why you can’t tell him that! Since you don’t need the money urgently, why not frame it to him this way: “I don’t mind if it takes a while for you to pay me back the rest. Mostly what I want is to not have to track you down or feel like it’s taking up a lot of mental space. Can you let me know a schedule of repayment that would be convenient for you, and then give me a [monthly, quarterly, whatever] update?” What you want from him more than the money is the sense that he’s taken ownership of his debt to you, and doesn’t consider it your responsibility to track him down and ask for it back, I think—a perfectly reasonable desire. And I think it’s an achievable one! Then while you have him on the line, ask about his new life in Vegas and try to find some time soon to meet and catch up on what you’ve missed in one another’s lives.
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Q: Everyone thinks we should move our wedding: I am pregnant. I am 24 and finishing up college. I am not married, but I am planning to get married to my amazing boyfriend, who has been supportive and incredible. This has not been a happy moment for me, as this is not how I had planned my life. Everything will be OK, but I want to have this baby as a married woman. So here’s the problem. My brother, “Matt,” is engaged to a woman, “Sara”, who doesn’t get along so well with our family.
My now-fiancé and I are getting married in March, about six weeks before Matt and Sara get married. Our wedding is going to be SUPER small, at my parents’ house, and only the closest of family and friends will be there. I asked my brother if this would be OK with him, and cleared the date with him, knowing that it’s a busy time leading up to his own wedding and not wanting him to feel like I was stealing his thunder—I want to ensure my baby arrives in a settled home. He was totally fine with it and gave his blessing. Last month, Matt and Sara came out to my parents’ house for my father’s birthday dinner, where Matt proceeded to attack my decisions and my future at the dinner table. I was stunned and in tears at the table, and I’m pretty sure I gave him some version of F-you, I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission, and stormed off to cry harder.
The next day, Matt and I settled our differences, and I again confirmed with him that he would be OK with this timeline. Sara and I went for a drive and she told me how long she had waited for my brother, and that “this was very hard for her.” Sara did not ask me to move my wedding. After all this was over, my mother told me that in a separate conversation with Sara, she again got very upset and asked, “Can’t they just move their wedding?” So ultimately, they came out to convince me to alter my timeline because of their existing wedding, but not, according to Sara or Matt, because it was too stressful, or because they couldn’t make it, or because it was inconvenient, but because Sara indicated to my mother that it was upsetting to her to have us marry first, after she had “waited so long” for Matt. So, here’s the question—am I being selfish and unfair? Am I stealing their thunder, or is Sara being a bit of a bridezilla?
A: I don’t think this is unique to Sara; I think both she and Matt have been equally out of line. I’m also not sure why your mother passed along additional information about how much they’d like you to move your wedding unless she also wanted to pressure you to do so, especially since that information didn’t come with a direct request. There’s plenty of misbehavior to go around! To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a wedding, especially a small and low-key one, six weeks before a sibling’s. Weddings aren’t zero-sum games, and you’re not taking away from Sara and Matt’s ability to enjoy being married to one another by getting married yourself a month before. That bit about how she’s “waited so long” for Matt, and the subsequent implication that you should put any significant decisions on hold because she’s getting married slightly later in life than she would have liked, has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her own issues, and you should feel totally free to disregard it.
My main priority for you is that your wedding be as relatively stress-free as possible. Do you and your fiancé have a backup location where you can celebrate? Since it’s going to be a small ceremony, if you can possibly hold it at a friend’s house or some other location that won’t feel as weighted or pressure-filled as your parents’ house, you might feel some relief in doing so. But you certainly shouldn’t put it off, if that’s what you’ve already agreed on and you want to make sure you’ve already celebrated your wedding before the baby arrives. When it comes to dealing with your family, I think the best way forward is to minimize any attempts to bring you secondhand information. So if your mother or father or third cousin tries to come to you and say, “Listen to what Sara just told me,” you should stop them short and thank them for their concern and add that if Sara has any questions or concerns, she can bring them to you directly. As for Sara and Matt themselves, if they try more of this vague backdoor pressure (“It’s not that I want you to change your wedding date—it’s just the very idea of your getting married in February makes me sad, and robs me of my own joy”), tell them that the subject is closed and that your wedding day has already been confirmed.
Q. My mother has determined her death date: My mother has recently decided that she has figured out her “death date” by using her own system of number manipulation regarding others’ death dates and her own children’s birthdates. It’s ridiculous. The thing is, she has actually only revealed this information to half of her children … me not being one whom she has told. She has to know that my other siblings have told me all about her nonsense, as all of us always share our different “Mom” stories with one another. She visited a sibling out of state recently and was noticeably upset upon leaving because she truly thinks this is the last time she’ll see these people. My siblings and I have wondered if she’ll off herself in some manner, but we really don’t think so. Is it a cry for attention? Of course. She needs to always play the martyr and make everything about her. But I also believe she thinks this will truly happen. (She’s dabbled in oils, tapping, muscle testing, prayers, and reflexology, and she sees spirits and believes people can levitate if they practice long enough.) Since she hasn’t officially told me about her revelation, how do I deal with her? She wants to get together with family now, when it really hasn’t been a big thing for her to do in the past few years. We can all go visit her, but damn if she’s going to drive 40 minutes to come visit her grandkids. (She is retired, exhausted, and just too much for me to handle.) We lead pretty busy lives with jobs, school, activities, travel. And in the past few years, I have distanced myself from her due to her overbearing nature, and growing up I was forced to do all the religious things and be constantly guilt-tripped by her. When she doesn’t die in the next few weeks, how do I talk to her about this? I grew up with this and don’t want to deal with it anymore. How do you tell a parent that you’re doing everything to raise your kids not like you were raised without actually telling them this (and that you do not for one minute believe any of this nonsense)?
A: I think the fact that your mother hasn’t told you this herself provides you with a (perhaps rare!) opportunity to stay out of her latest game. I think you can continue to keep your distance and focus on your own life and family. If she does try to schedule something abrupt or inconvenient and you can’t attend, send your regrets but offer a more reasonable date in the future—if she tries to allude to a mysterious disaster, cut her off with “Well, let me know if anything changes and if you can make it, otherwise we’ll make other plans.”
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Q. My boyfriend doesn’t support my desire for a prenup: I have been with my boyfriend for over 10 years in a very serious relationship. We never cared about formally marrying, but now we are considering it as we want to have children. However, he recently got very upset when I mentioned that we need to agree on the prenup. He doesn’t think it is fair to do so now after all these years together. I am by no means rich, but due to my work I have assets and savings that I want to protect, at least to a certain degree. He does have some savings but also a couple of loans. I do not have any liabilities. He claims that if we had decided to get married before, the situation for him would have been much better, so he feels that doing this after more than 10 years together is unfair. This really affected me because I do love him, but for me a prenup is something logical regardless of who has any assets. This has been my conviction, but he’s making me feel like I’m being selfish. How can I handle this difficult situation better? Please help.
A: I think it’s fair to say that you’d like to talk about a prenup (bearing in mind that you two will have a prenup if you get married, since every state has a default prenuptial agreement according to its own marriage and divorce laws), but I don’t think it’s worth your time to claim it’s the “logical” thing to do. It’s what you want to do, and it’s worth owning that, rather than trying to imply, “Oh, I don’t really care one way or another. I just want to be strictly rational.” The reason you want a prenup is because you have “assets and savings [you] want to protect” in the event of a divorce, and because you don’t want to be liable for your boyfriend’s loans. Now, he may find that hurtful, and he has a right to feel that way; you two may want to invest in a few sessions with both a financial planner and a couples’ counselor as you try to figure out how you want to develop your own financial intimacy in the next stage of your relationship. Just because you’ll get married doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hold everything perfectly in common, but it does mean you’ll end up having more in-depth conversations about what you’re keeping separate and why.
Re: Q: Everyone thinks we should move our wedding: FFS, people! Here’s my PSA: A marriage is between two people. If a third or fourth person gets married earlier, later, or on the same day as you, it has ZERO effect on the success of your marriage. We’re not living in an Austen novel. No one has to wait for older siblings to be married off before they can be out in society. It doesn’t matter how long (or short) a time you’ve been dating. You be you. Sara can be Sara. Her overreaction to other people’s life decisions are her problem, not yours.
A: It’s one thing to schedule your wedding on the same day as your brother (if you have no other time constraints), but simply getting married around the same time of the year is just that—getting married around the same time of the year. He and Sara will still be able to get the exact same amount of married, and receive the exact same amount of attention on their wedding day, with no harm done.
Re: Q: My boyfriend keeps waking me up to have sex: One important thing that I think you side-stepped is the fact that he’s also doing this after she’s taken medication likely intended to knock her out and help her sleep. Yikes!
A: My hope is that he didn’t know she’d taken medication, but surely he’s noticed that their kids have been sick (and it’s unclear whether he’s been doing much, if anything, to help). If he knew and did it anyways, that’s reprehensible; if he didn’t, he’s still long overdue for a conversation about shared responsibilities.
Q. Widow: I am 21. I got married last year and lost my husband four months into our marriage in a freak accident. The shock and loss were too much for me—I folded up my entire life and moved back to live with my parents. It has been a hard road back, but I am in a grief-support group and have started job hunting. My parents treat me like a child. I have no expectation of privacy. My mother enters my room without knocking and freely goes through my belongings. My father expects me home at 9 every night and will ring me every 10 minutes until I pick up. I can’t have a private phone call without them demanding to know everything I said. It is worse than I remember as a teenager. If I assert myself or try to construct any appropriate boundaries, my parents react like I have slapped them. They are only “concerned” and “acting out of love.” I spend more time caring about their hurt feelings than my own grief. I feel like a well gone dry around them. They take all my energy to deal with. My husband had a life insurance policy, which means I have the ability to move out and be OK for a while, but I am afraid that if I do, I will damage my family permanently. I don’t want to lose anyone else. Please, how do I get through to my parents?
A: I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m glad to hear that you’re in a grief-support group and I hope you can find others there who have experienced similar problems with their own parents who can offer support and advice. But I do think that it’s necessary for your own sanity and ability to mourn that you move out—if they react as if you’ve slapped them whenever you try to have a private phone call or see a movie that gets out at 9:30, then I think you’re going to have to put some physical distance between yourself and them before they get the message. That doesn’t mean you have to sneak out in the middle of the night or tell them you never want to see them again, but the version of love they’re offering you right now isn’t actually supportive, nurturing, or helpful. It’s restrictive, constricting, and based completely in fear. Find a place of your own, don’t give your parents a key, only pick up the phone when you want to have a conversation with them (rather than to assuage their panic), and take care of yourself—you’ve been through a lot in the past year and you shouldn’t be parenting your own parents right now.
Parenting Advice From Care and Feeding
Q. My kid keeps making himself barf for fun: What can I do about it, and what kind of tarp should I buy?