Dear Prudence

I’m Afraid My Boyfriend Will Dump Me for a Younger Woman When He Gets Successful

Prudie’s column for March 28.

Jealous woman looking at her boyfriend checking out another woman.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Mandy Zhang on Unsplash and AntonioGuillem/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been dating a great guy for over two years. It’s pretty serious: We live together, and I can see a future for us. But there’s one thing that really makes me question what that future would look like. He seems to equate having a younger wife with a certain level of success. For example, if I mention someone who is 20 years older than his wife or girlfriend, he’ll say, “Well, he did well.” Or he’ll talk about senior leaders at his company and mention that they’re on their second wife who is 10 years younger, as if that’s relevant to anything.

I’ve told him this bothers me and makes me question our future. I’m only two years younger than him! He’s very ambitious, and these comments make me feel like the moment he hits his career peak in his 50s, he’ll dump me for some younger woman. I know he’s a little superficial, and so am I, to be honest—I take good care of myself, and barring any major health issues, I’ll probably be in better shape than he is at that age! But I’d like to avoid a divorce in my 50s. Otherwise, he is a kind, caring, and generous partner whom I trust and love. Is this a deal breaker? Should I run? I’m 33, and especially if I want kids, it’s prime time for finding a long-term partner.
—Ageist Boyfriend

If I’m going to give your boyfriend credit for anything—which I’m not especially inclined to—it’s that he’s being remarkably upfront about the circumstances under which he’s going to ditch you for a younger woman. I don’t know that you necessarily need to run. Your shared superficiality might otherwise suit, and he might not end up becoming successful and would consider himself lucky to have a partner a mere two years younger than him. But I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t take him at face value when he says he sees younger women as a status symbol men get to earn after making it to the top. I’m not saying you need to leave him tomorrow without further conversation. But I think further conversations are necessary, especially so he can clarify what he means: Why is he keeping track of the ages of his bosses’ wives? What feels successful to him about younger women? How do younger women factor into his own plans for success? How do you come into play here? If you find his answers evasive or unsettling, pay attention to that.

Dear Prudence,
My husband’s sister is going on a weeklong trip in the near future with her parents. She relies on her parents for child care for all her other vacations, but obviously that’s not an option this time. Instead, she is relying on help from friends and family to take care of her two elementary school–age children. She told my husband that he had to watch her kids for two days (with one overnight stay). He agreed, saying it was our contribution to this trip. However, he is working for the bulk of this time and immediately foisted the responsibility and time commitment upon me without asking.

I am not comfortable watching these kids for an extended period of time on my own, especially with one of them having some pretty troubling issues (he’s been violent at school, is prone to emotional outbursts, and has stolen important things—think credit cards and electronics—from classmates and family). I’ve had weeks to work through this with my husband. I’ve tried my best to get him to get it. I don’t like people promising my time for me. I don’t like how presumptuous his sister is. My husband is very sensitive about his nephew’s behavioral needs, to the point of making it off-limits discussion-wise. When I mention this whole snafu, my husband just tells me I’m being negative and I should want to help his family.

I am being negative about this snafu, but I kind of feel like that’s a reasonable response. If I promised his weekend away to watch my nieces and nephews, he’d likely refuse. The worst part of me wants to ask how I can get out of this. The better part of me wants to ask how I can gain peace with this situation. Mainly, though, how can I set firmer boundaries for myself and my time?
—Chagrined Babysitter

Now is a really, really good time to set that firm boundary. Do not buy into your husband’s way of framing this situation as something you’re trying to “get out of.” He volunteered you for a task that you never agreed to do. If you continue to argue with him about it but end up going along with his plan this time, it leaves him with no incentive not to do it again. I’m sorry your husband is sensitive about his nephew’s needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s an off-limits conversation. It means that he needs to find better ways to manage his feelings so he can have a rational discussion with you about it.

The important thing is that you don’t need your husband’s permission to make alternative plans for yourself. That’s not to say you should do so snidely or without warning—talk to him beforehand—but do it nonetheless. Arrange to see a movie with a friend, schedule a spa day, book a hotel nearby, whatever you can afford and sounds relaxing; then, tell your husband, “I know Damien’s your nephew and he’s just a kid, and I’m not making any claims about what kind of kid he is. All I’m telling you is that I’m not qualified to manage him by myself. I’m sorry that you decided to schedule me with him without asking me first. I hope you’re able to figure out an alternative arrangement. But I’ll be [out of the house doing something fabulous] that day.” Your husband might get angry or try to make you feel guilty, but this is a problem he created and he’s responsible for fixing it. If either he or your sister tries to unload some blame onto you—you’re ruining her vacation, you’re being unreasonable, you’re saying her kid should be in prison—politely disengage and refuse to get drawn into an argument: “Now that you know I’m not available to babysit, I hope you’ll be able to make other arrangements.”

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Dear Prudence,
I have a close friend who has a wedding coming up. She and her fiancé are both from the city we all live in, but they have chosen to get married on a holiday weekend in a location across the country that will be difficult and expensive to get to. I initially agreed to go (though I never formally RSVP’d), even though I strongly did not want to. Then I got a group email from my friend saying that she had booked a house for her guests that would cost each person $700-plus for the weekend! I never agreed to this arrangement. On top of that, the email specifically said I would be sleeping on a pullout couch (as the only singleton of the group) and volunteered me to make breakfast and lunch for the group of about 20 people for the weekend, since I’m a “good cook.” She had never discussed this with me. I think I’m more than justified in not attending, given the high cost and likelihood I will not enjoy myself and instead will feel resentful.

I’m happy to attend the bridal shower and bachelorette party (both of which are in the city we both live in) and buy the couple a wedding present, but I have decided not to attend the wedding. The wedding is about two months away. My question is: Do I tell her the truth about why I’m not going to the wedding? Or do I make up a work or family obligation that has suddenly come up? I know lying is never (or at least rarely) a good idea, but I know it will make her upset to hear my true reasoning for why I don’t want to go. There isn’t a way for me to not provide a reason as to why I’m not going, since we see each other in person frequently, and when I say I’m not coming, she’ll want to know why. Do I upset my friend, or do I lie?
—Nice Day for a White Lie

We can identify the source of your problem as “I initially agreed to go … even though I strongly did not want to,” with a chaser of “even though I never formally RSVP’d.” Hedging your bets and being dishonest about your plans are what got you into this mess, and they’re not going to get you out of it. You say you don’t want your friend to be mad at you, which is why you want to make up an excuse, but if she’s already booked this place and you haven’t said anything yet, making up an obligation (that’s both serious enough she’ll consider it a priority yet small enough that you don’t have to get other people to confirm the lie for you) is going to piss her off regardless. Send her your RSVP declining to attend now and make it clear that you can’t afford the travel or house she’s booked on your behalf, but tell her you’re happy to celebrate with her during the shower and bachelorette party.

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been with my boyfriend for about nine years. We have lived happily together for eight of those years and have a house, our own careers, and a daughter together. We have never been big on “tradition,” like doing something just because everyone else is doing it or because society expects us to. Which brings me to the topic of marriage. It’s something we’ve discussed as a hypothetical, and we always fantasize together on where we would get married or how the ceremony might go. I’ve brought up jokingly that maybe I should propose to him, and he says that I can’t do that because it would steal his thunder (also jokingly). My question is: How can I bring up marriage in a more serious manner? Or should I keep waiting patiently? The last thing I want is for him to feel pressure from me, especially after we have both fought through pressure from our families and friends. I feel like in the beginning of our relationship we both hated the idea of marriage because it was what we were “supposed” to do. But if he proposed today, I would absolutely say yes.
—Waiting for the Ring

Don’t be so afraid of pressuring your boyfriend that you never mention what you want! You two have a kid together; that’s a bond that you can’t unmake, even if you two were to split up tomorrow. The commitment ship has sailed, and you two are on it. Tell him: “I know we’ve sometimes jokingly talked about marriage, but I’ve never just come out and told you what I like about the idea. I’m not a big fan of tradition for tradition’s sake, but I really love the idea of getting married to you. What do you think?”

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I think he would swap you out like a cracked egg if he got the chance in ten years.”

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

Dear Prudence,
I have a 12-week-old son, and I’m blessed with an abundant supply of milk. I offer my extra milk to babies in need via a peer-to-peer social media page. I love donating; it makes me feel so good to be able to help others, and I’ve made some really meaningful connections. Every time I post, I get many, many more requests than I can accept. I choose based on whom I think needs it most in combination with any connection I might have. For everyone else, I have to find a way to say no. It’s so hard to tell these desperate parents that I didn’t choose their baby, but there’s no way around it. Can you give me a script for this?
—The Milk Lady

I think language like “why I didn’t choose your baby” is a little overblown. You don’t need to develop a personalized rejection or make a personal apology. These parents will figure out other ways to feed their babies, and you’re not the only resource they can turn to, so don’t feel like you’re abandoning them to a terrible fate. A canned response works just fine: “Thanks so much for your interest. I get many more requests than I’m able to accept, and I’m not currently able to help you. Best of luck.”

Dear Prudence,
I live in Seattle, a city where so many young professionals are so bad at navigating public spaces politely that a local paper recently published a guide on how to ride the bus. I’m also soft-spoken and felt invisible until after college, and I suffer from some anxiety around asking strangers to do something. Recently I’ve noticed a trend of people invading my personal space without acknowledging me. This week I was sitting in a beer garden when one woman recognized another behind me, and then they had a five-minute networking session, each standing less than a foot from my face. I loudly cleared my throat during this whole interaction, but the two made no indication they had noticed me there. In fact, their loud conversation made it impossible for me to continue my chat with my friend who was sitting opposite me. What is the correct response in public when strangers are invading your personal space without acknowledging you first? What is the polite but firm way to ask people to please not encroach on my own good time?
—Invasions of Personal Space

“Would you mind moving back a bit, please? Thanks.” If the bigger part of the problem is working up the nerve to address a stranger, rather than knowing exactly how to phrase your perfectly reasonable and polite request, I’d recommend practicing at home or with a friend until you feel comfortable saying it. It’s much better than clearing your throat—more direct and friendlier too.

Classic Prudie

“My mother-in-law hates me and makes no bones about it when she and I are alone. My husband doesn’t believe me, and she even gloats about that. We have to attend family functions at her home about once a month. (It used to be more frequent, but after I put my foot down, my husband agreed that monthly would be sufficient.) The problem is that after each visit, I wind up with a bad case of diarrhea; my husband does not. I don’t know if the other in-laws are affected, because if I asked, it would get back to her. I suspect that my mother-in-law is putting something in my food or drink. Last time, I barely made it home before being struck down. Now I am considering getting some “adult undergarments” to make sure I don’t ruin the car’s upholstery on the ride home from her place. Do you have any other advice?