My wife and I have been married for 10 years. We have 5-year-old twins that she carried. The idea was she would carry one pregnancy, and I would carry the next with the same sperm donor. My wife keeps bringing up that it is my “turn” next. I am older than her, and I know we need to do this now if we are going to do it. I’ve realized I don’t want to. I don’t want to give up my place in my career. I am glad to be out of the diapers stage, and we’re finally able to travel and enjoy our lives again. Having the twins was rough on my wife. She became clinically depressed twice and had to be hospitalized once. I had to quit my job in order to take care of her and the babies. We burned through a lot of our savings. We got stronger as a family for it, but I can’t put my wife through that again. She has always wanted a big family. I am fine with our size now but am open to adoption. I don’t want to break our promise, but I can’t see how giving up the good life we have is worth it. What do I do? How do I tell her?
—Not Ready for Round Two
Before you talk to your wife about this, I think it’s important to do a little more soul-searching. You say that you’re open to adoption, but I’m not so sure that that’s true, based on what you’ve written here. The things that seem to concern you the most about having more kids—going back to the diapers stage, having to scale back at work, not being able to travel as easily, dipping into your savings—wouldn’t change if you adopted kids instead of using a sperm donor. Are you really open to the idea of adoption, or are you just hoping to offer that as a panacea because you’re afraid of giving her news that she won’t like? Settle that question to the best of your ability within yourself before talking to your wife.
Yes, you two had talked about this plan, but it sounds like you really haven’t had a meaningful conversation about how to reevaluate it in light of your incredibly difficult first pregnancy. Don’t feel the need to frame this as “breaking a promise”—we don’t decide to have children out of obligation, or at least we shouldn’t. Things have seriously changed since you initially said “Oh, you take the first gestation, and I’ll take the second” and you’ve had to rearrange your priorities significantly since then. And again, be honest about what part of this has to do with you; don’t try to cover up something you want by claiming you can’t put her through something else again. You don’t want to get pregnant, you’re happy with your family the way it is, you’ve reached a hard-fought equilibrium and sense of peace after what sounds like a traumatic pregnancy, and you need to share this with her. You can certainly tell her that you’re sorry for not bringing this up sooner and give space for her to have her own feelings about this, but I don’t think you should treat this as going back on your word. If you search within yourself and you truly do think you’re prepared to adopt more kids, then that’s a conversation you two can save for a later date. The most important thing to do right now is update her on where you’re coming from; air out each other’s fears, concerns, hopes, and needs; and take some time to process this change in plans. It’s a long-overdue conversation, and I hope you feel better after you initiate it. Even if it’s painful at first, it’s better than hoping she forgets about it or getting pregnant when you really don’t want to.
My 19-year-old half-sister is currently living with me. Her mother basically drove my sister into a mental breakdown with her unrealistic expectations and forced activities. Once she reached college, my sister realized she hated her major, her life, and herself. She was clinically depressed and borderline suicidal. Her mother told her that she was “weak and useless” and cut her off financially (our father had left us money but only for college, nothing we could use to support ourselves). I offered to take her in for a year, all expenses paid, so she could catch her breath. I have a master’s degree and a great job; one teenager isn’t going to break my budget.
My boyfriend makes “mooch” jokes around my sister, and it has spread to our circle of friends. Despite my warning him to lay off, it still comes up. I don’t want to reveal what actually is going on with my sister and her mental health, but I don’t know how to express how important it is to drop this joke. Last time, I snapped and told my boyfriend to shut up and that he wasn’t funny. It killed the entire mood and affected my sister badly. She doesn’t have any friends yet and spends most of her time volunteering at an animal shelter or with me. How do I get this across to everyone?
—Not a Mooch
In the short term, you’ve gotten your message across by telling your boyfriend it was time to shut up. I’m sorry that it made your sister self-conscious, but it was time for that particular mood to be killed, because you’d tried asking nicely and your boyfriend still wouldn’t lay off. If your friends had been mistaken in thinking that this was a lighthearted joke the three of you shared, you don’t have to divulge the vulnerable details about her mental health in order to correct that misperception. Just take them aside independently and let them know that your sister has been going through a difficult time, that you’re thrilled to have her stay with you, and that you don’t want anyone to make any more jokes about your living arrangement. Hopefully your boyfriend will apologize for mocking your fragile teenage sister, if he hasn’t already. If he hasn’t, tell him that you’d appreciate one—and that if he ever does it again, the two of you are going to leave without him, and he can make all the mooch jokes he wants all by himself.
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About 15 years ago I found out that I have a half-brother who is only six months younger than me. An angry uncle blurted it out during a family squabble. I insisted on meeting him, and we have kept in touch over the years through social media and the occasional letter. It has also brought my mom and me closer together, since I now understand more about why she divorced my father. It was over 40 years ago, but my father still seems very cavalier about how the situation has affected other people in the family. My brother lost time with his grandparents, brothers, sisters, and other loved ones because of my father’s disappearance. My dad went on to have two children with his second wife; they are both about 15 years younger than me. While my stepmother knows about my brother, my half-siblings still don’t know he exists. My father and stepmother are no longer together, but I’m still close with her. I often want to share things on Facebook that have to do with my “secret brother,” like wishing him or his son a happy birthday, but I stop in fear that my other half-siblings will see and question who he is. I was told not to tell them when I first found out, and I’m positive they still don’t know about him. I’m also concerned that this may come up after my dad passes—and they’ll get angry I never told them. I’m really stuck. I feel like he must think he is the black sheep of the family.
If you want to talk about your half-brother on his birthday before you’ve figured out how, if at all, you want to break the news to your other half-siblings, set your filters so that your younger siblings can’t see your private posts. That’s a pretty easy short-term fix. If you’re worried that he feels like a black sheep, ask him if he has any interest in meeting or speaking to other members of the family. It may be that he doesn’t feel that way at all! The only way you can find out how he really feels is by asking. I don’t know exactly how old your younger siblings are, but unless they’re very young, I don’t think you need to feel bound to keep your father’s secret for him. (My guess is that they’re already aware their dad is kind of flaky.) If you’ve been censoring what you’d otherwise say about your other brother, and if your younger siblings are nearing adult age, it’s fine for you to start talking about him more openly. He’s your brother, and you have every right to discuss your relationship with him. Just because your father decided to treat him like a shameful little secret doesn’t mean you have to do the same.
My husband and I have become friendly with another couple, “Nadine” and “Jason.” Their kids are of similar ages (under 5), and we have a lot in common. Nadine and I see each other semiregularly, and I find her warm and friendly, if a bit naïve. Jason is also nice but has been incredibly flirty with me the past few times we’ve met, both in front of our partners and when they’re out of earshot, which has led me to believe they’re in an open relationship. He even took my husband aside one night and said, “Hey, dude, let me know if I cross the line with your wife,” to which my husband said, “She’ll let you know if you do.” Nonmonogamy is not what my husband and I are into right now, and definitely not with them. So far I’ve either deflected his flirtations or just walked away, which hasn’t really deterred his borderline sexual jokes and prolonged eye contact. If this were in a vacuum, I’d say something like, “Friend, I’m picking up some vibes from you that I don’t reciprocate” and leave it at that, but that seems too fraught at this time (he’d probably act stupefied and might even throw me under the bus with his wife). As it is, I’m not sure what to do—continue to make plans just with her? Try to find new friends? Say something to one or both of them? I should also mention he’s a beloved local politician in our small Midwestern town, and our paths will likely continue to cross professionally and in the community.
—Not Picking Up What He’s Putting Down
Is there a sentence less elegant or more unappetizing than “Hey, dude, let me know if I cross the line with your wife”? I think it’s a strong contender for one of the worst pickup lines imaginable, at least in the polyamory subdivision. “I don’t appreciate that remark” or “I don’t like this flirtatious vibe. Please stop” is a perfectly fine reply, vacuum or no vacuum. If he tries to take refuge in bluster or denial—“What on earth are you talking about? What vibe? Why, I’ve never vibed in my life! I’m just a simple local politician who loves monogamy with his wife!”—don’t worry about it. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Moreover, he knows that you know! So you can hold your ground with confidence and disdain until he gets uncomfortable enough to walk away. If the idea of responding in the moment feels too up in the air, you could even say, “Husband told me that you asked him to tell you if you ever ‘crossed the line’ with me. I thought I’d eliminate the middleman and let you know myself that asking him that crossed a line.” But basically what this boils down to is not letting his discomfort at being caught in a lie unnerve you. Why on earth should it? You’re not the boundary-pushing weirdo who ineptly and indirectly hits on women via their husbands.
In addition to that, you should certainly look for new friends. As long as the two of them are a package deal, no matter how nice his wife is or how much your kids enjoy playing together, it’s just not worth the headache of having to constantly parry his unwanted flirtatious ripostes.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I would like to formally award this dude a Creep label.”
Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I have borderline personality disorder, and while it’s usually well-managed, extreme stress in my life has exacerbated my problems over the past few months. My best friend, “Otis,” was initially supportive, so I reached out to him three or four times over a period of six weeks when I was having a hard time. We see each other socially almost every day; however, things started to feel weird between us, so I asked if we could talk. His response was that he wanted distance from my mental health problems. I told him I completely understood and that not talking to him about my problems was something I can definitely do. I still wanted to talk to Otis about our friendship, but he told me the problems in our friendship are just my mental health problems, and once I fix them, our friendship will be fine. Prudie, I’m devastated. I don’t think my BPD makes me incapable of having close, stable friendships. I clearly messed up, but I want to listen to Otis and fix things between us. How can I do this if he’s not even open to having a conversation about it? I really love Otis, and I’ve been so upset that I’ve been avoiding seeing him, which obviously doesn’t help.
It’s unclear to me what the nature of these “problems” are, exactly, and I wish you could have been more specific about how Otis believes your mental health issues affect your friendship with him. Did he actually say, “Once you fix your mental health, our friendship will be just fine,” or “I think your BPD makes you incapable of having close friendships”? Because if so, he crossed a serious line. If he didn’t say that and you’re simply reading that into whatever he did say, then there’s an opportunity here for you to de-escalate. What does “talking to Otis about [y]our friendship” look like? How were those conversations meaningfully different from the conversations about your mental health? In what way do you believe that you messed up with Otis—or do you mean that he’s upset with you, and the quickest way you think you can fix it is by taking immediate responsibility? I can’t answer these questions for you, and I can’t promise that things with Otis are going to go back to the way things were. But I think right now Otis has made it clear that he wants space, and you can give that to him. I’d recommend saying something along these lines: “I know you asked for a break from talking about my mental health issues right now, and I can do that. I care about you, and our friendship is really important to me. I hope you’ll let me know when you feel ready to revisit this so we can talk about what we can do differently in the future, what boundaries we might want to set, and how we can talk about our problems in a way that’s not overwhelming.”
My sister is estranged from my entire family except for me, and her kids have had limited contact with their grandparents and never met any other family members. When I told my sister I was getting married, she immediately said she’d love to come to the wedding and bring the kids with her. The rest of the family is understandably apprehensive about how to behave around them. I’ve given them instruction to treat her as an acquaintance and not get into personal conversations unless she takes the lead. But some are pressing for rules. Any advice on what to tell them? Is there any sense in drawing up rules, or is it safe to assume that everyone’s been in a social setting with someone who doesn’t like them and knows how to behave?
—Estranged Sister With a Twist
This is a surprisingly sweet question about estrangement! I don’t get many of those. Since you and your sister are comparatively close, you might check in with her beforehand. Don’t tell her the rest of the family is asking for rules on how to engage with her, obviously, but do ask if there’s anything you can do to help make things easier for her. It may be that she’s on the same page as you are and plans to be distantly friendly and keep things light; it may be that she’s planning largely to keep to herself. Either way, you can communicate the gist to the rest of the family. If they continue to press for detailed instructions, tell them to err on the side of keeping their distance: “If you’re really not sure how to handle her, Aunt Ellie, just give her a friendly smile and talk to somebody else.”
“I am a married man in my 30s, and I have known for some time now that I am quite well-endowed. Though my past girlfriends and wife have been enthusiastic about it, my problem is with how my wife treats this personal information. She discusses my size quite openly with her friends, which I understand is part of her “girl talk.” However, I recently found out that she told a female acquaintance whom she’d met for the first time! I am a fairly introverted person, and knowing that our friends have this information affects my social interaction with them. I have brought this issue up with her and asked her to tone it down, but her argument is that she is sharing something positive about me, and therefore it causes no harm. My wife and I have an otherwise stable and loving marriage, and I do not want this issue to be a bone of contention. How can I get my wife to stop broadcasting this?”
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