Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. My embarrassing husband: My husband and I have been together for seven years, married for two. He is a fantastic conversationalist and a devoted and loving husband. The problem is that over the past year, I have definitely noticed my husband becoming more … how do I say this … bizarre. Bizarre in a “someone’s dorky dad” kind of way (he is 39, I am 30). His behavior is not as weird when we’re at home, but whenever we are out, he laughs at his own stories as he’s telling them, does awkward little “dance moves” in public, makes weird or childish sound effects in restaurants, and just recently I overheard him telling a story about himself in the third person at a pool party. He never used to be like this! I watch other people looking embarrassed while interacting with him, and it’s killing me.
I’m finding myself embarrassed of my husband the way a teenager would be embarrassed of their dad. Is there a way that I can bring this up without hurting his feelings? Do I have more of a responsibility to accept his behavior the way it is, instead of asking him to change? I do love him—but I’m starting to feel like I can’t take him anywhere.
A: It doesn’t sound like his behavior is bizarre in the sense of “We need to schedule a medical checkup” or bizarre in the sense of “He’s suddenly acting against our values, and I’m worried he no longer shares them.” He’s just … sort of aging into being a dorky dad. I can understand why you might feel concern if he’s telling really strange stories and monopolizing conversations with your friends, but a few goofy dance moves in public don’t strike me as cause for serious concern.
That doesn’t mean you can’t ask him to stop if he starts making distracting, disruptive sound effects in a restaurant, or even that you can’t have a bigger-picture conversation with him about a change you’ve noticed in his behavior, but merely that it’s important to distinguish between what’s actually rude and what’s merely goofy. Have a sense of what you want to prioritize before you bring this up with him. Try to stay curious and open-minded, ask if he’s noticed a change in his own behavior and if he perhaps feels freer or less self-conscious for some reason, and ask what he’s gotten out of it and if he’s ever noticed that sometimes people feel put off or uncomfortable with the way he sometimes dominates a conversation. If he hasn’t noticed a change, or if he really disagrees with you about the cause, don’t feel like you have to defend your version of reality. Your goal should be to share your own concerns and feelings and ask for his honest response, not to convince him of anything in particular. There’s room for reasonable disagreement over some of these issues, like if he wants to dance like no one is watching. But if you’ve noticed he’s stopped picking up on cues that other people feel talked over or confused or embarrassed during conversation and is behaving less thoughtfully as a result, you have sufficient reason to speak up now.