Dear Prudence

My Ex-Wife Changed Her First Name to My Fiancée’s Name

Prudie’s column for March 2.

Photo collage of a woman, a couple, and a sticker with someone's name scratched out.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by EHStock/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Matheus Ferrero/Unsplash, and angga aditya/Unsplash.

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Dear Prudence,
After we divorced, my ex-wife kept using my last name. We’d married young and her professional reputation was built with that name, so it made sense. It is a small town, so I’m occasionally asked if we’re related, but it’s not too bad. I’m going to be married to a woman who wants to take my last name and has a fairly unusual, culturally specific first name—think “Gretel.” So she’s now going to be Mrs. Gretel [Myname]. Except my ex has, apparently, recently changed her first name to Gretel too—so they’ll both have the same first and last name. (My ex’s old first name was much more generically popular.)

Obviously, anyone can change her name to whatever she wants, but this seems weird. But what can I do? Tell my fiancée? Try to talk to my ex about it? Just agree with people that it is really weird? I could take my fiancée’s last name, but we both really like my surname, and I’m worried that if there’s something odd going on with my ex that it will just be postponing the real issue.
—Ex Stealing My New Wife’s Name

This is so odd! The closest comparison I can think of is Ron Swanson marrying two women named Tammy on Parks and Recreation (everyone dubbed them Tammy 1 and Tammy 2), but that was just a coincidence, not … whatever this is. Since this is a pretty small town, I’d be surprised if your ex had no idea she was changing her name to match your fiancée’s, but it is possible. If you and your ex-wife are on even remotely friendly terms, it’s worth asking her what prompted the change. Since she’s apparently sufficiently well-established professionally that she’s able to change her first name now, you might ask if she’d consider dropping the use of your last name. But I’d be prepared to hear “no” for an answer and to accept it graciously if you do. Even if she were doing this to somehow get back at you and your fiancée, it’s not like you’d have any way to compel her to undo it. Frankly, it puts you in a pretty good situation, because you get to look reasonable and concerned if anyone asks you about it: “Yes, Gretel and I thought it was odd when [ex] started going by Gretel too. But it is a lovely name!”

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Dear Prudence,
My 18-year-old daughter is a freshman at a nearby college who lives in the dorms but comes home virtually every weekend. When she had her first serious boyfriend a year or two ago, she asked me if they could hang out in her room. I told her that I’d trust her until she gave me reason not to but that the door needed to remain open. This worked well with boyfriend Nos. 1 and 2. Recently, my daughter told me, with some embarrassment, that she was still a virgin. I gave her a hug and said that at her age, that was a good thing, not the oddity she seemed to think it was.

Well, now she’s on serious boyfriend No. 3, a very nice young man who goes to a different college but lives locally, at home, and has become a regular presence on the weekends. Last night, as I was following my husband to bed, I went to my daughter’s room to say good night, as she planned to drive back to her dorm later. The door was shut, and when I knocked, there was a flurry of activity inside, and my daughter called out: “Don’t come in!” I was stunned and upset but just said good night and went to bed. This morning she was gone, and I’m wondering how to proceed. My husband and I have always been very liberal and spoken quite frankly about sex with our daughter and her older brother. The obvious response seems to be to either ban male visitors from her room altogether or remind her (once) that the door needs to stay open. But this boyfriend visits her at her dorm sometimes, and they could be having sex regularly for all I know, so what are we really trying to accomplish with the open-door policy? If they are already having sex, is it really so awful that they do so, discreetly, under our roof? Sometimes I think my husband and I are being too permissive, and other times I think we’re being ridiculously restrictive. Can you help me get some perspective?
—Unsure Teen Supervisor

This is entirely unrelated to sex, but it might be a good idea to at least consider limiting the number of weekends your daughter comes home every month—maybe just twice a month instead of every Friday. It will be important to find small, incremental ways she can learn to live more independently, and you can learn to think of her as someone who is stepping into her own adulthood, not a child living under your roof and in need of constant guidance. (I also hope you’ve had more in-depth conversations about the construction and deployment of the concept of virginity with your children than just “Are you one or not?” but that’s beside the point too.)

It’s fine if you want to have a “no closed doors” policy in the house with your kids who are legally adults but not entirely independent yet. And you can definitely remind your daughter before her next visit home of that policy. Then, she can decide if she’d rather see her boyfriend elsewhere or stay at college over the weekend; I don’t think you have to worry about perfect consistency here. If she were 25 and bringing a boyfriend home for Christmas, I’d be inclined to suggest you abandon the rule and let them share a bed together, but you don’t have to adopt rules for your home just to match what she does in the dorm. For example, you might have a “call us if you’re going to be home later than midnight” rule when she’s visiting home that doesn’t apply when she’s off at college, because things are a little different when you’re sharing a roof. Lightly re-emphasize the open-door rule in the house, remind her that it’s important to practice safe sex and that she doesn’t have to tell you if she’s having any, and don’t try to establish any rules about what she does in the dorms. That’s part of the point of letting her go off to college.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.