Dear Prudence

Help! Should I Dump My Girlfriend Over This One Disgusting Habit?

Prudie’s column for May 18.

Man scratching his head, looking disgusted.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Khosrork/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

To get advice from Prudie, send questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion. Or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,
My girlfriend of four months, “Lucy,” has a really gross habit of coughing mucus up into her mouth so she can spit it out. She sometimes removes the mucus with her fingers and spreads it on a nearby surface (if we’re outside). This happens when we’re alone or in front of others. I’ve talked with her about it. She knows it grosses me out, but she says it’s just a bad habit. There’s no medical reason for it, according to her. I really like her, and I can see us getting serious. But the habit is grossing me out. Am I crazy for asking her to change a lifelong habit if we want to stay together? Would that make me too controlling?
—’Snot a Problem, Until It Is

I promise you that asking your partner not to smear her phlegm on various surfaces in public is not “too controlling.” If she’s coughing up phlegm regularly, it may be worth confirming with a doctor that there’s not something more serious underlying that habit. (It could be anything from untreated allergies to a more serious condition.) But even if there’s nothing else going on medically, pulling ropes of mucus out of your own mouth and wiping it on a guardrail or a wall is totally disgusting, totally unsanitary, and totally voluntary. I am shuddering as I write this! If she knows this grosses you out (and I promise you, it grosses out everyone who sees her do this), and her only response is “Well, it’s a bad habit of mine, so you just have to accept I’ll keep doing it,” then I think now is a good time to stop thinking about getting serious with her.

Dear Prudence,
I dated “Jack” briefly in college. It wasn’t a very significant relationship for me, but we stayed friends. Over the past year we reconnected on a deeper level. He came into town on a weekend, we got drinks, and he proceeded to kiss me and confess that he’d never stopped thinking of me over the past decade. I was shocked, and it took some time to adjust, but we decided to give it a go romantically. It didn’t work out, because of long distance and other reasons, which was probably for the best. We ended things in March, and I took some time to nurse my hurts. I was angry for a few days, and then I was sad, but mostly I’m at a place of acceptance now.

My problem is this: I don’t have a lot of friends. Especially not long-lasting ones. I moved around a lot as a kid, and I’ve always had a difficult time maintaining connections with people once I leave a place. And I’m not a person who’s managed to remain friends with exes. Jack and I managed to stay friends for a decade, and it seems like a waste to just let go of it, but I’m worried that the only reason we managed to stay friends for as long as we did was because he was pining for me all that time. And that now that he’s realized being with me didn’t meet his idealized fantasy and that the romantic relationship is fully off the table, he wouldn’t want to be friends anyway. I don’t want to put myself out there just to get hurt by him again, but I also don’t want to lose one of the few friends I’ve managed to hold on to through my 20s. How do I go about broaching a friendship with him? And should I even bother?
—Friendless in the City

I don’t know if a friendship with Jack is possible in the future, but given the nearly 10-year duration of his unspoken crush on you and the fact that you only broke up two months ago, I think you should give it another couple of months at least before you consider reestablishing friendly contact with him. I understand that losing touch, even just temporarily, with someone who’s known you since college can feel fraught. Consider this time spent apart as an investment in a new kind of friendship that you may be able to have with each other after a little more time has passed and you’ve both been able to let go of your hurts. If your fear ends up being justified and Jack isn’t as interested in a friendship, then your time might be better spent trying to reconnect with other old friends you’ve fallen out of touch with—or making new ones.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

Read more advice from Care and Feeding

I am a single black woman who is considering having a child. Since I don’t have a partner, I would essentially be choosing everything about my child’s other parent, including race. Which is a big issue for me. If I choose a black donor, I’d be consigning my child to the racism that I face every day. I’m proudly black, but because I am black I understand how difficult it is to navigate life as a black person. While I understand that being biracial comes with its own set of issues (like people asking “What are you?”) it still provides certain levels of privilege that I don’t have access to. If I choose a donor with lighter skin than mine, how can I then teach my child to be proud of their black roots? How would I explain that to my very black family?