Dear Prudence

How Do I Tell People About My Shameful Job?

Prudie’s column for June 8.

Photo illustration of hands typing on a keyboard.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Damian Zaleski on Unsplash.

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,

I’m a professional writer. When I meet new people, they often ask what my job is, and I answer truthfully. However, on hearing that I’m a writer, they ask what I write about. The problem is that I write for an E-list website that mostly publishes thinly sourced celebrity trash stories. I doubt I’ll ever win a Pulitzer, but it pays the bills. Is there a polite way to say that I’m basically a yellow-journalist hack?

—My Shameful Job

I will assume that you are not looking for advice about whether to look for a different job, so I’ll restrict myself to just one sentence: If you feel embarrassed about explaining what you do not just because you think people will look down on it but because you yourself think it’s a waste, and if you’re able to look for work elsewhere, now might be a good time to consider doing so. In the meantime, you have plenty of options. If your goal is simply to discourage further conversation about your line of work, you can say, “I write copy for an entertainment news site. It’s pretty basic but it pays the bills.” (Drop the entertainment news part if too many people say, “Oh, like celebrity gossip? I’ve always wanted to know about X—what’s his deal?”) But it’s also fine to have a kind-of-cheeky line like “I’m a yellow-journalist hack at an E-list website” as long as you’re comfortable making jokes about it.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve reached a point where I would love to experience motherhood and (as selfish as it is) would love to experience being pregnant, giving birth, everything. My husband (40) and I (35) have been trying for nearly three years without success. It turns out he has extremely poor sperm quality. My fertility tests came back fine. I don’t know how to approach this. My husband wants to have children “eventually” but doesn’t quite feel the urgency I feel, to the point where he continues to follow a rather unhealthy lifestyle, including smoking and drinking.

As it turns out, our only chance of pregnancy, with his sperm, is through IVF. There’s a part of me that is a bit resentful that I have to put my body through invasive medical procedures for someone who isn’t proactively taking care of things on his end. His mother insists we should go through with IVF, while my mother is furious at the thought of putting my body through IVF for him (and, in her words, his “subpar sperm and poor attitude”) and suggests we go through a sperm donor. He’s said he’s OK with going with a sperm donor, but then I feel guilty that I’m not trying hard enough to give him children biologically related to him. I don’t know what my specific question is—I don’t know how to untangle this jumble of resentment, guilt, anxiety that’s clouding my judgment right now. Would love to hear your take on this or any little pearl of wisdom.

—IVF for Husband’s Infertility

This is quite a jumble! I don’t know what exactly you mean by your husband’s “unhealthy lifestyle”—you say it includes smoking and drinking but isn’t necessarily confined to it, and it’s unclear whether he’s casual about his health or is in full-tilt self-destructive mode. But presumably this lifestyle is going to conflict not just with your plans to get pregnant but to have children. Can you imagine your husband being a present, loving, committed father while maintaining his current lifestyle? If not, has he indicated any interest in changing it? And both his mother and yours are very involved in the details of his health and the reproductive journey you two are on, and their solutions are really short-term answers to a long-term problem. Do you want them that involved, or would you prefer they take a step back? If it’s the latter, do you believe that your husband would back you up if you set some boundaries with them?

You say there’s a part of you that’s a bit resentful, but I think you should take an honest appraisal of your feelings without minimizing your resentment toward your husband. It may be that you are a lot resentful of someone who seems pretty indifferent to something you care a great deal about. He’s 40 years old and wants to have kids “someday” but doesn’t seem to care how you go about it. That doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with using a sperm donor, but if you’re using a sperm donor because your partner keeps saying, “Sure, whatever you want, don’t bother me” at every turn during the reproductive process, then that does mean there’s something wrong in your relationship. He’s made it clear that biological children are not a priority for him. The question you’re facing now is: Would any children be a priority for him?

I don’t think the resentment, guilt, or anxiety you’re feeling right now is “clouding” your judgment. I think you should pay a lot of attention to it because it’s trying to tell you that your partner is not, at present, prepared to be a good father, and that if you continue trying to get pregnant in this relationship, you will in effect be signing up to become a single mother (with two very involved, opinionated grandmothers). Now is the time to be brutally honest with your husband about your fears and concerns before you start moving ahead with IVF treatments.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

My daughter has always been an independent soul, from the time she was a tiny baby. In grade school she loved to sneak out and sleep in her treehouse, and she’s done every Outward Bound–style activity she can get her hands on. Now she’s in her last year of high school and has just presented me with an extremely detailed plan she has concocted to spend the summer planting trees in the Canadian wilderness, which is apparently a thing you can do? For money? I’m worried that this is a terrible idea and she’s more likely to fall out of a tree than arrive at university intact. Should I shut this plan down? She has secured full financial aid for four years, so it’s not like I can threaten to withhold her tuition if she doesn’t listen to sense.