Dear Prudence

My Children Are Furious I’m Having Sex With Their Half-Brother

Prudie’s column for May 16.

Photo illustration of a man and woman smiling at each other, but the center is a cut-out of a girl making a "no" expression with her face and holding her hand out to halt.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by PredragImages and ChristiTolbert/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
My significant other died six months ago from a long-term illness. In our 25 years together, we had a 25-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son. During that time, he had an illegitimate son who is also 21 years old, just a few months older than our son. I didn’t even meet this son until he was 15. After my significant other’s death, he began living with me and my son. About a month ago, I developed a sexual relationship with my significant other’s son. My children have now disowned me, calling the relationship disgusting, a poor decision, and inappropriate. The way I see it, other than the age gap of 25 years, we are both single, both adults, we are not related, I didn’t raise him, I didn’t even meet him until he was 15 years old, and I was never actually married to his dad, therefore I was never his actual stepmom. Do you think my children are correct in their perception of this relationship, and if so, for what reasons?
—Sexual Relationship With “Stepson”

Even if you came up with an airtight list of reasons why your children are incorrect, it wouldn’t change the way they feel. If your main goal is to get out of trouble by explaining why you two aren’t really related, you’re missing the forest for the trees. Their father died six months ago, and you’re dating his son, so even if you two just met yesterday, they’d still be hurt and upset. They’d have good reason to be. You say you met him when he was 15 as if that explains everything. All that tells me is that you met him when he was a child and have watched him grow up. No, you two aren’t related by blood, but it’s not exactly true to say that you two have no family relationship to each other: You’re the mother of his half-siblings, and you were with his father for decades. I think you should have been able to predict that this relationship would hurt and alienate your children. The fact that you appear to be surprised by this makes me worry about your judgment, especially in the wake of a recent bereavement. Are you seeing a counselor? Have you spoken to any of your friends whose judgment you trust about this new relationship? Who’s giving you good insight and feedback into your choices right now, and how can you ask for more help than you’re currently getting?

I don’t think your approach of trying to reason your children out of their feelings is going to work, and I think you should drop it. Give them time, and don’t push them to talk to you when they’re not ready. Reconsider whether this recent, short-lived, only-sexual relationship with a 21-year-old is worth alienating your children over, and spend time figuring out if there are other, more independent ways you can process your grief and establish a new kind of sex life.

Dear Prudence,
I am a young woman (23) who recently moved out of state with her boyfriend (21) after graduating college and accepting a job. I can see myself spending the rest of my life with him. It took him a while to find a job in our area. That did not bother me considering he battles a mixture of depression and anxiety that makes some work difficult. He has finally found a job delivering pizzas, which seems to suit him well. There is one problem: He insists on calling me every time he delivers a pizza and is in his car (about once or twice an hour). At first, I didn’t mind the chats and used it as a way to help him feel more comfortable. Now, I cannot stand them. I almost loathe every time he calls. I don’t like talking on the phone and hate trying to carry a conversation. I also really like the alone time I’ve gotten since he started working again. I have had conversations with him about calling so much, explaining that I want time alone and I am not always up to talking on the phone after my own demanding job.

It gets complicated because I do spend a decent amount of my time playing games. Most of these people in gaming communities are male, and I often struggle to find people I enjoy talking to because of rampant sexism. Recently I have found a community that is diverse, friendly, and actively anti-sexist. I found this community about a week before he started this new job, and therefore at the same time I have been spending more time talking to them. So when I bring up to my boyfriend I do not enjoy talking on the phone that often, he keeps insisting it is because I would rather talk to them. He has also been increasingly jealous of this community to the point where he has gone through my private chat messages. Of course there was nothing there, and he apologized, but he is still feeling anxious and jealous.

What I really want to do is find a good balance between talking to him but also protecting my own alone time and friendships. I don’t know what to do. I feel like I am suffocated right now every time he calls, but I don’t enjoy hurting him when I choose to decline the call to occasionally do something alone or talk to others.
—Let’s Talk Later

If you two see each other regularly and he wants to call you twice an hour for an entire six- to eight-hour shift, then we’re talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 phone calls a day in addition to whatever time you two spend together before and after work. No wonder you’ve come to loathe picking up the phone! I understand that you don’t want to hurt him, but if he gets jealous over you having friends and hobbies outside of your relationship with him, then he has an unreasonable standard for what constitutes hurtful behavior. I’m sorry that he struggles with anxiety and depression, but if he’s using that as an excuse to try to control your behavior and isolate you from your other friends, then that’s a pretty serious red flag. He needs to find a better way of addressing his own issues than making you responsible for soothing his anxiety every single time he feels uncomfortable at work or unsure of your love for him. If he’s not able to do that, and he continues to act as if you’re being unreasonable for wanting a few hours of alone time every day, then you need to start picturing a future without him.

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Dear Prudence,
I work for a large multinational company that occasionally goes through layoffs. I’ve been here for seven years but am still the most junior member of my team by decades (people who don’t get laid off stay forever because the benefits are fantastic). Several of my colleagues, who are generally nice people, approach me from time to time to tell me they’re “hearing rumors” about another round of layoffs. This inevitably strikes fear in my heart because, as the most junior team member, I am the most likely to be let go. I find my anxiety growing, and it gets hard to concentrate on my work. I spend part of my days job hunting and being distraught that I won’t find another job as great as this one. I would really like my colleagues to stop spreading these rumors (which have so far not resulted in my being let go, but there’s always next time). How do I politely tell them to knock it off? Or do I just have to learn to tune them out?
—Layoff Rumors Don’t Help

Tuning them out will be your best bet in the long run. You can try something like: “Thanks for thinking of me. I find it’s best not to speculate about layoffs unless I have a concrete reason to think they’re imminent. It becomes very distracting, and I’ve been through enough false alarms that I’d rather not hear anything when it’s still at the rumor stage.” However, you still may encounter one or two colleagues who remain steadfastly convinced they’re doing you a favor by alerting you every time they hear even a whisper of a possibility that it’s time for layoffs again.

Dear Prudence,
I’m a guy, and for the past year I’ve had a friendship with a female colleague. This friendship has always been above-board and respectable, I’ve been open with my wife about it, and she’s never been bothered by it. Generally, it involved a lot of friendly chat at work and lots of instant messaging after work about music, TV, and co-worker gossip. I honestly felt more like one of her girlfriends than anything else. Recently, however, my friend was bothered by the attentions of a male friend of mine and blamed me for somehow encouraging him. I didn’t encourage him, but since she was so annoyed at what happened, I pulled out of a work event we’d planned on attending together on short notice. I thought this was a respectful way to handle things, but she then deleted me from all social media platforms and asked that I not contact her outside of work again. I was shocked, but I agreed.

Now at work she acts like her old self around me—always joking, occasionally flirtatious, clearly treating me with more trust and familiarity than the average co-worker. And to other colleagues, I bet it seems no different at all. Yet, whereas we used to chat up a storm after dinner, now I go home to radio silence. I’m finding it hard to understand what’s going on. Particularly as we are still our old selves at work, I can’t fathom how she can go home and not want to continue the fun we’ve had during the day like we used to. Is she the world’s best actress? Why remain so friendly at work if she doesn’t want to be pals outside of it? Any thoughts?
—Confused Co-worker

I wish I had a little more detail about how, exactly, your co-worker feels like you encouraged your friend to pursue her, or what, if anything, he did beyond simply asking her out that made you feel like you couldn’t attend a work event with her. If there’s a chance that he said or did something you knew to be inappropriate or threatening, and you simply looked the other way, then I could understand her response and would encourage you to intervene more strenuously with your male friend. But I’ll take you at your word when you say you did not encourage him and that she’s either mistaken or simply trying to take her discomfort out on you. In that case, I don’t think you’re obligated to keep up appearances with her at work, especially since you find the marked drop-off in friendliness at 5 p.m. on the dot disconcerting and alienating. Spend that now-vacant time after dinner talking with your wife or with other friends whose interest in you remains consistent throughout the day. Scale back your attitude toward your former friend at work so that you’re polite but disinterested. If she tries to draw you into old inside jokes or initiate semi-flirtatious banter, tell her that you’ve got to get back to work. It may feel odd or forced at first, but I think it’ll feel better than pretending you two are still best buddies just to convince your co-workers that you’re as close as you ever were.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“My natural instincts in this situation would be ALL wrong.”

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

Dear Prudence,
I am a 30-year-old trans man who came out roughly a year and a half ago. I was raised within a strongly female family, went to an all-girls’ high school, and have generally been mostly in communities with women. I do not feel comfortable at all in all-male spaces, including bathrooms, and while I have a few friends who are also trans men, I’ve not really enjoyed being part of groups that are all trans men and transmasculine people. I just prefer mixed-gender spaces.

However, I also really miss women’s spaces. I think partly this is down to the “lad culture” in my country making male spaces (even trans ones) unpleasant, but also I miss feeling like I was part of a community that I just don’t feel with other men yet, not helped by still having fairly feminine interests. I feel like the women’s spaces I am mourning have been taken from me for something I didn’t choose, which I know is an unfair way to think about it, but I don’t know how to move past that. I am on the waiting list to see gender services in my country, but I probably have at least another year to wait, and therapy in our health service is very difficult to access with long waiting times. I do not have any income to see a private therapist.
—Missing Familiar Spaces

First, the good news: You don’t have to give up anything in your own personal life or your own history that you’re comfortable with! If you want to go to your next high school reunion, have a standing lunch date with your sisters, or host a movie night with your female friends, you absolutely can. If you envision most of your social scene in the future to skew largely female or coed, that’s perfectly fine too. It doesn’t negate your transition, there’s nothing wrong with it, and you’re not hurting anyone or taking anything away from women in general. And for what it’s worth, I don’t know any trans men who transitioned because they just felt so relaxed and at-ease in men’s bathrooms. You’re not alone in feeling weird or self-conscious there.

I wish you said more about the “women’s spaces” you feel you’ve lost. Do you mean that you miss the ease with which you used to be able to run into the women’s room in public? In that case, some of what you miss may be the ease of being treated like a cis person. I’m glad to hear that you have some other transmasculine friends, just because it can be helpful to know you’re not alone. You may want to ask some of them if they’ve experienced similar senses of loss and what’s helped them establish new ties to their old communities as well as new communities. If you put out the word that you’re hoping to meet more trans men who share your nontraditionally masculine interests, who have no interest in joining or replicating laddishness, you might find that there’s a compensatory new richness to your life as a direct result of your transition in addition to the loss you’ve experienced.

Dear Prudence,
One of my dearest friends has published his first novel. It’s very well-written, and obviously I bought a copy to support him. But one of the primary themes is BDSM. I don’t judge or begrudge anyone who wants to read about that, but I’m not interested in it at all. I know I don’t really need a reason not to want to read a book, but I have spent the past 20 years in (and trying to get out of) a psychologically and emotionally abusive marriage. While I know that BDSM is not abuse, just reading about sexually harsh treatment makes me anxious and uncomfortable, no matter the context. I don’t want to finish the book.

How do I manage this with my friend? He’s a dear person, and I know I will be asked to give my opinion about the book, either to him or to our mutual friends. I don’t know most of his friends well and have no idea who thinks what. What do I say? Can you help me think of some phrases to have at the ready when the subject arises?
—Backing Away From BDSM

When it comes to your mutual friends—or anyone you don’t know well and don’t especially care to share your personal history with—it’s fine to stick with what you’ve already said here: “It’s a remarkably well-written book! I’m so proud of him.” My guess is that you’ll have more company than you think, not necessarily because everyone else will share your particular reaction to the subject, but because plenty of people whose friends end up writing books feel a distant approval (“You wrote a book! Congratulations!”) rather than a profound hunger to close-read it. Probably there are more than a few of who you love your friend, are absolutely thrilled for him, skimmed a couple of chapters, and are just hoping to get through a conversation about the book without revealing that they never finished it.

When it comes to your friend, however, I think he’ll understand and be completely sympathetic if you decide to share the truth with him. You can tell him that you’re absolutely thrilled for him and loved the parts of the book you read, but given your history, you simply aren’t able to read books featuring intense dynamics as they relate to sex and intimacy. If he’s really a dear friend, he’ll completely understand why you need to tap out early and won’t assume you don’t care about his work or that you can’t tell the difference between BDSM and abuse.

Classic Prudie

I had been struggling to make a living at my job for a few years now and decided to apply as a bartender at a local strip club. After a few days of working there, the manager said he was low on girls and asked if I would like to dance for the night. I was a little hesitant at first but decided it was just one night. I ended up loving it and made around $800 in a few hours! We talked, and I became a dancer overnight. This was about a year ago. The other night while doing a set, one of my parents’ friends comes up to the stage and asks for a VIP dance. The entire time he was telling me how he wants a cut of my earnings to stay quiet and not tell my parents what I am doing. I either have to come clean to my parents (who are very religious and would disown me), quit my job and get further in debt, or start paying this guy half of my nightly earnings. What do I do?