Dear Prudence

Help! My Friend Texts Me While Driving Her 1-Year-Old Around.

Prudie’s column for April 4.

A woman driving and using Snapchat at the same time.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by aleepiskin/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
A dear friend of mine has a 1-year-old daughter and lives a state away from me. She and I communicate regularly via text message or on Snapchat. There are times when she will respond to my texts or snaps while she’s driving. I know this because she’ll take a picture of herself at the wheel, the road in front of her, the radio, or some other view that’s indicating that she’s in the driver’s seat. It’s always bothered me a little because I’m very against distracted driving, but now it angers me that she does it with her daughter in the car. She has replied to messages with a picture of the rearview mirror showing her daughter in the back seat. When I get these types of replies, I generally stop communicating with her for the time being because I don’t ever want to be the reason she is distracted while driving, especially with her daughter. It really bothers me that she’s putting herself and her daughter at risk for an accident. I’m not sure if I should say something. It’s her life, her risk to take. But I’m truly concerned. I feel that even if I ask her not to communicate with me while she’s driving, she’ll still be responding to others. Do I speak up or not?
—Distracted Driving

Yes, of course you can (and should) speak up! My sister spoke to me about distracted driving a while back, and while my first impulse was to get embarrassed and defensive, she was perfectly right to do it and only did it because she cares about my safety and well-being. And at the risk of sounding overdramatic, it’s not just her life that she’s risking. We all have an obligation to exercise caution and judgment when we get behind the wheel of a two-ton metal machine going 40 miles an hour so we don’t kill other people who are just trying to get home. That said, I understand that you’re worried about alienating her by coming across as judgmental or stuffy, and you don’t have to adopt a high-handed tone with her or suggest she’s a terrible mother. It’s probably better to have this conversation over the phone because she’ll be able to hear the concern and compassion in your voice; it’s harder to scrutinize tone via text and you don’t want to make it easier for her to get defensive. Tell her that you’ve noticed she sends you a lot of pictures that make it clear she’s texting (and taking pictures) while driving, and you’re worried about her safety, not to mention the expensive ticket she’s likely to pick up if she gets caught doing it. If you really want to placate her, you can make a big show of saying something like, “I hope I don’t come across as judgmental. I know it’s something we can all stand to get better at,” but you certainly have the right to speak up, since she’s made this habit obvious to you.

Dear Prudence,
I’m a 33-year-old woman who has generally dated men. However, I have from a young age been attracted to both men and women, and would describe myself today as both bi and nonmonogamous. All the men I’ve been in relationships with to this point have known that I have been attracted to both men and women—and often we’ve had fun checking out other women together and having some fun, open relationships with others (I’ve dated bi men too).

About two years ago, I started actively seeking out female relationships, resulting in my first girlfriends. As such, my friends have all learned that I am bi. However, I find myself having a very strange hang-up about how to tell my parents. My parents are honestly some of the most liberal folks on the planet. We talk about LGBTQ issues all the time, and my parents have never expressed any negative attitudes. This should mean I should feel fine coming out to them, right? But I’m freaked out. At 33, I feel I’ve waited too long to tell them I am dating girls. How do I even start that conversation? Whenever I Google information about how to do it, I’m sent to sites that focus on teens coming out, which then makes me feel again like I’ve missed my window to tell them.
—Too Late to Come Out as Bi?

Part of what will make this conversation seem more manageable is getting clarity on what you want to tell them right now. It’s not super clear whether you envision for your future the kind of nonmonogamy you tell your parents about (having multiple serious partners, bringing more than one person home to meet the family, cohabiting with more than one partner) or more of the kind of “fun, open,” mostly private relationships you’ve had in the past. I’ll assume that, for right now at least, you want to stick to telling your parents that you date women as well as men and may at some point in the future have a serious girlfriend they might hear about or even potentially meet.

I get that you feel like you should have figured this out sooner, but there’s isn’t much value in berating yourself for “waiting too long.” For starters, it wasn’t until the past two years that you even gave yourself permission to pursue women romantically independent of a relationship with a man; it’s understandable that you weren’t ready to make an announcement to your family members. And your trepidation isn’t unfounded; lots of well-meaning, broadly supportive parents start singing a very different tune about gender and sexuality when it comes to their own kids. That doesn’t mean your parents are bound to react in a dismissive or upset fashion, just that you shouldn’t feel like you picked that fear up for no reason and out of nowhere. You can start the conversation with them by naming the very thing you’re afraid of: “Mom and Dad, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about my bisexuality for a while now, but I’ve felt like it’s too late to do it, or that I should have figured it out before my 30s. And even though I know you’re both supportive of gay and bi people, I’ve still worried about how you’ll react to my being bisexual. It’s taken me a little time to work up the courage to have this conversation, so I hope you’ll bear with me. I’m not seeing any women right now, but I have in the past, and I wanted to talk to you about this before I brought anyone home.” I’ve had at this point in my life a couple of conversations with my parents about my gender and sexuality, and before every one of them, I spent a lot of time hoping, “Maybe I’m not the kind of ____ where it’ll ever come up, and I’ll never have to tell them!” You’re definitely not alone in that. Good luck!

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Dear Prudence,
I hate my job. The office culture has been toxic from the beginning, and a recent change in management has made things even worse. I have an extremely busy schedule and have struggled to find time to look for a new job. My fiancé makes significantly more money than I do and has offered that I can quit my job now. He will cover the bills until I get a new one, and we can get legally married before the wedding so I still have benefits. My problem: I really want to take him up on it, but I am too scared. What if I can’t find a new job? Everything I have read says to never quit a job without another one. On the other hand, if I don’t quit now, I’m worried that inertia will keep me in my current position for way too long. Am I foolish for not jumping at my fiancé’s offer, or am I right to be worried?
—To Leave or Not to Leave

I will never call someone foolish for wanting to pause before accepting a generous offer! Especially when that offer is coming from a romantic partner. I hear from a lot of people who’ve ended up sacrificing their own independence because their partners extended a “generous” offer that later turned out to be a source of manipulation and control. That’s not to say that your partner is secretly hoping to turn you into a dependent, just that it’s always wise to know that you can take care of yourself financially regardless of your romantic relationship. I think you should consider your fiancé’s offer as an absolute last resort and focus right now on doing everything in your power to manage your busy schedule and prioritize applying and interviewing for a new job. Save as much money as you can so that you’re prepared to cover some of the bills in an emergency. Let your friends and select contacts know you’re actively looking and would appreciate any help they can offer you, like in recommending you for certain jobs, helping you update your CV, or setting up informational interviews. Your fiancé isn’t going anywhere, and neither is his offer, so there’s no reason for you to “jump” at it, even if ultimately you decide it’s worth taking him up on it.

Dear Prudence,
My friend recently met a man on an online dating site. He showered her with compliments, told her he was in love with her after only a few weeks, and asked her to be his girlfriend after a month. Although they’ve video chatted, they have never met in person; he has a chronically ill family member he cares for, as well as a classified job that involves long hours and a nondisclosure agreement, and keeps canceling their dates. Now he claims he’s being deployed overseas on very short notice. I’ve told her my concerns and listed some of the red flags I see, but my friend believes he’s who he says he is. I can’t make her see the truth, and I’ve reluctantly accepted that. My question is: How do I support my friend? Her emotional distress is legitimate, even if he is a liar, but I don’t know how much I can listen to her sing her “boyfriend’s” praises while putting her dating life on hold for a man she will likely never meet. What can I say that would draw a firm boundary but is still supportive? Or do I just focus on saying neutral yet supportive things, change the subject, and hope that she sees the light before she gets in too deep?
—Friend Being Catfished

You were right to bring up your concerns early, and you’re probably right to back off now. This is one of those unfortunate “wait and see” situations where it’s not worth alienating her by standing firm. Since you’ve already made your concerns clear, I think being generally supportive of her well-being (without going so far as to sign off on him) is the way forward, unless and until something new develops that merits further intervention, like, say, if he starts asking her for money because of sudden “emergencies.” But even then, the most you can do is state your concerns, offer your help, and reiterate that you care about her. If she wants to chase a fantasy and isn’t willing to listen to reasoned objections, you’ll have to let her. I hope she can get out of this with minimal heartbreak (and without giving him money). Good luck to you both.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“If this were a 19th century novel you could offer the guy a check to leave your friend alone”

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

Dear Prudence,
I’m in graduate school 11 hours away from my hometown where my family and boyfriend of three years all live. I have lived much farther away in the past for much longer. Generally, though I’ve missed home, I’ve been enjoying the work I do. But this semester has been different. I have my biggest course load so far, my grandfather is going through a lot of health problems, my mom’s anxiety is at an all-time high, my dad’s business is in crisis, and long distance is hard but manageable. These things have been easy to push to the side to focus on my schoolwork, but now just trying to read is like pulling teeth. I keep thinking “I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS.” I can’t finish assignments until the day they’re due because every day I’m not sure if I’ll go back to school or just drop out. My lease is up for renewal, but I can’t bring myself to sign the paperwork because I don’t want to be here anymore. And, the thing is, there’s absolutely no reason for it! Last semester I was excited to get out of bed every day and had ideas to share in class. Money’s not an issue. I have so many scholarships I’ll come out on the other side of this degree without loans and more money than I started with. I’ve never been homesick before, and the only thing that’s changed about me being away this time compared with previous times is that I’m in a relationship now.

Am I really that girl? The girl who gives up all her dreams and ambitions just to be with a man? This degree will give me so many more opportunities in the career I want to go into, but right now I’m hating every minute of it. I just want to sit in a garden with my boyfriend all day, which is unrealistic but all I dream of. Please help me. How do I stay motivated? Should I drop out, even though I know I’ll be taking on significant debt by backing out of the contract for these scholarships and never have a career opportunity like this again?
—Boyfriend or Grad School

It’s interesting that the reasons you give for not wanting to be where you are in the first place have to do with your family, but they all seem to fade away when you start to talk about your relationship. Spend a little time asking yourself which of these things—your grandfather’s health, your mother’s anxiety, your father’s financial problems, your boyfriend’s absence—feel the most urgent when it comes to dealing with your sudden desire to abandon your work. This fact-finding process should be as neutral and nonjudgmental as possible; you’re not trying to find reasons to beat yourself up for being “that girl,” and you’re not trying to paper over a motive you worry is unserious or unfeminist by pretending to care about your dad’s business more than how much you miss the man you love. It’ll be helpful to sort through which of these things feel stressful but manageable versus which ones feel compelling, immediate, and in need of your full attention.

Then I think your next step should be to talk to someone on campus about your new stressors and lack of motivation. It doesn’t sound like you’ve admitted these thoughts to anyone yet, which means that you’re not getting any support in dealing with them. If you can find an on-campus counselor, so much the better. You might also talk to your adviser, who’s almost certainly dealt with students distracted by troubles at home or dealing with a loss in concentration. You are not alone in this, and just because it hasn’t been a problem for you before doesn’t mean that you’re no longer suited for grad school. If you need to spend a little less time trying to manage your mother’s anxiety or solve your dad’s problems by proxy, that’s OK too. I’m not suggesting you stop talking to your family or ignore your ailing grandfather, but if part of you is just wiped out because you’ve been trying to solve problems that aren’t yours to fix from afar, it might be a sign that you need to step back.

It’s also important to talk to your boyfriend about some of your long-term plans. Has he considered moving to where you are? Do you have plans for living together after graduation? Presumably even if you did move back home, you would not be able to make “sitting in a garden with your boyfriend” your full-time job, so you’d still have to figure out a career. Don’t make any sudden movements right now. Talk to your family, your boyfriend, and your advisers about your loss of motivation and ask for help dealing with these feelings—don’t keep it to yourself and let it all build up inside. Figure out what you need to get through the next semester and ask for it (more visits? therapy? some time off? more calls with your boyfriend?), and then reassess when you’ve gotten a little distance.

Classic Prudie

“I have been with my husband for 10 years, but we have always been mismatched sexually. We have a good life together, I love him, and want to stay together both for his sake and our child’s. However, I need more than half-hearted sex once a year, after begging and prancing around in expensive lingerie for months. I have talked about this with my husband probably every year since we got together; I’ve cried, asked for counseling, tried to do what he wants, but I get nothing. There’s very little physical affection in our relationship, and I have to believe that this is all he’s capable of. This past summer, it became clear that a good friend and I have serious chemistry. He is in a similar situation at home, and we have discussed the idea of a mutually beneficial, strictly sexual relationship. It would allow us both some relief. I considered discussing this with my husband, but I think he would react badly. I have no desire to remain celibate for the rest of my life, which seems to be what my husband wants. This seems like a reasonable solution. It gives me hope. I realize there’s a possibility of harming those I love, but I believe it is minimal. Am I crazy?