Dear Prudence

My Boss Flipped Out When He Found Out I Have a Boyfriend

Prudie’s column for Aug. 22.

A young woman sits at a computer and buries her head in her hand.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
I’m 22 and have been working at my dream job for eight months. My supervisor, Mitch, in his mid-40s, has been an amazing mentor. He personally oversaw my training and has been incredibly generous with his time. I trusted him completely and held him in very high regard. Then Mitch learned about my long-term boyfriend and now seems angry with me. I asked for two days off to care for my boyfriend after he undergoes minor surgery, and when Mitch asked what the time off was for, I thought nothing of telling him. Mitch became very formal and asked me if this was a new relationship. When I told him we’d been together for years, he sent me away. Later Mitch called me into his office and said it was both unprofessional to tell him about caring for my boyfriend and misleading to have not mentioned my boyfriend before. He used the word misleading several times. Mitch denied my PTO request and has since been terse with me. The only thing that makes sense is that Mitch is attracted to me—but I feel sick when I think of that, because it’s such a heavy accusation. I’m not sure what to do.
—Boss Mad About Boyfriend

I don’t think this is an accusation so much as a fact: Your boss has started treating you differently since he found out you have a boyfriend. What’s worse, he’s accused you—his employee!—of misleading your employer by not going into details about your personal life at work, which is absolutely outrageous. This is something to bring up with HR and/or Mitch’s own supervisor: “When I mentioned that I have a boyfriend, my supervisor accused me of misleading him. He’s since denied my PTO request, and while I realize that may be within his remit as my supervisor, he now barely speaks to me, which makes it difficult to get my work done, since he used to be very involved in my training and development here. I’m really troubled by this, and I need it to stop. I’m concerned about further retaliation and don’t feel comfortable speaking to Mitch about it without HR present.” Your boss is letting his spite and unrequited crush on you (again, his 22-year-old employee!) affect your working relationship, and that’s totally unprofessional, totally inappropriate, and completely unmerited. If you haven’t already, start documenting everything Mitch has said on the subject so that you can share it with HR, especially if he’s said any of this to you in writing. You should not have to deal with this by yourself, and it’s time for HR to intervene.

Dear Prudence,
I have been dating a wonderful man for two years now. He is patient, kind, goofy, loving, and completely supportive. In other words, my ideal partner. Our relationship has gotten pretty serious, and we have discussed marriage. We met in a university music program and both have master’s degrees in music. He is a public school teacher, and I perform on the side while working in marketing. I have great co-workers, a good salary, and benefits while I work out the trajectory of my performing career. Everything was great, until we went on a trip to Los Angeles two months ago. I’d had a nagging feeling that L.A. was the ideal place to pursue my career, but since returning from the trip, I have been positive that in order to fulfill my dreams, I need to move there and truly make a go of it. We live in a beautiful city with an active arts scene, but I am such a highly ambitious person that I know I would rather fall off the fourth rung of the highest ladder than climb to the top of a shorter one.

I finally told him this, and his response was that I shouldn’t take him into consideration if I decide to move there. He told me that he knows he wouldn’t be happy there (something that didn’t surprise me) and that he could never let me quash my dreams on his behalf. He also doesn’t want to break up with me. My therapist suggested that I was approaching the situation with a black-and-white mindset; my choices aren’t stay here and try to forget my aspirations or dump him and move to L.A. If we wanted to, there’s plenty of middle ground to structure a nontraditional relationship. This is all true, but if I’m being honest with myself, I know I couldn’t be truly happy in limbo, either when it comes to my relationship or my career. I am a full-force personality.

Prudence, I am older, fatter, less attractive, and less experienced than just about everyone who dives into acting. I have been told more than once that I am “too smart” to pursue performing and that I’m better suited to academia. I am ready to say “fuck that” to all of that negativity and doubt, but I am not ready to leave behind my biggest champion and, quite frankly, the love of my life. Is there common ground somewhere that I can’t see?
—Supportive Boyfriend Versus Showbiz Dreams

I thought I knew where you were heading with this, right until you said “dive into acting.” You’ve got a degree in music; moving to L.A. to become a full-time musician or performer would be challenging enough, but you’re contemplating switching careers and pursuing a brand-new dream that it sounds like you have no experience in. I’d encourage you to do as much research as possible before you head to L.A. to try to make it. Do you know how much money you’d need each month to pay the average rent and cover living expenses? Do you know anyone else who’s trying to make it in the same field? How are they doing? Do they have an agent, how did they find said agent, etc.? How long would you be willing to try doing the same thing before you’d consider yourself as having fallen off the “highest ladder”? Would you be able to support yourself as a musician in the meantime, or would you have to look for a day job that’s totally unrelated to your training? Does your marketing company have an L.A. office it could transfer you to, or do you know anyone at an L.A. firm who’d be interested in taking you on? Spend a little time sketching out what your life in L.A. might look like before you make a decision.

At that point, you’ll have to weigh the “full-force” nature of your professional desires against the “love of your life.” I can’t guarantee that you won’t regret whatever road you don’t take. I would encourage you to take a little time to see if this sudden urge to pursue acting has more to do with the post-vacation nostalgia than a lifelong dream. If your desire to be an actor is rather abrupt and sudden, you may find it doesn’t have much staying power. But if it does stick around, and you think enough of your musical performance skills will translate, then you’ll have to pay careful attention to what you want the most. You might break up with your boyfriend and later regret it; you might stay with him and grow to resent him (or you might stay with him, only for him to later break up with you); or you might “make it” just enough in L.A. to keep treading water but without ever feeling like you can ever take a break. The question is really which path you would rather risk regretting.

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Dear Prudence,
Ten years ago, while I was in college, I had a sexual relationship with a friend of my father’s. I graduated high school a few years early, so I was still technically underage. The relationship was purely on my terms, largely pursued by me, and was strictly no strings attached. Eventually I sensed he had romantic feelings for me, so I ended it. I was already pretty experienced at this point. I never thought of it as anything predatory (I initiated the sex) and never felt victimized. Only a handful of people know about this (due to the fact that he was, and still is, married). I’m not ashamed of it and just thought of it as part of my sexual past. Recently with all of the #MeToo conversation, I’ve been wondering if I should feel like a victim. I’ve thought about it and even talked about it with a therapist, but I still don’t feel like I was preyed upon. Am I crazy for not feeling that I was abused?
—Was I a Victim?

There are a few things to hold in tension here. No, you don’t have to rewrite your own history or force yourself to feel anything. But there’s also no legal loophole that permits an adult to have sex with a minor if it was the minor’s idea, or if the minor had already dated or had sex with other people. It was still this man’s legal and moral responsibility to turn down sex with an underage teenager (as it would be, say, yours now, if a 17-year-old came knocking on your door tomorrow suggesting a “no-strings-attached sexual relationship” with you!). You don’t have to think of yourself as a victim or suffer ongoing, unending pain in order to ask questions about whether he acted rightly, responsibly, openly, and with care and consideration, or to consider whether you would act in the same way when you are his age, if an underage teenager approached you with the same offer. It is possible to consider that he acted wrongly and also to acknowledge that you enjoyed that experience. I don’t think that your acknowledging you have mostly positive memories of that relationship makes his behavior any less wrong. I’m glad you’ve talked about this with a therapist and a few other people. I hope you continue to do so and give yourself a lot of freedom to consider this from multiple angles and to observe, as neutrally and as curiously as possible, whatever feelings happen to come up about this particular part of your sexual history.

Dear Prudence,
My husband recently suffered a stress-induced stroke that resulted in a traumatic brain injury. He is currently in a rehabilitation hospital for several months of recovery. One of the issues that he says triggered the situation was a visit from his family a few weeks earlier. My husband has always had a rather unhealthy relationship with his parents. His mother is incredibly needy and demanding. Several times he’s had to cut off communication with her. During my husband’s recovery, I have asked his mother to not contact him directly. I set up a website where I update on his condition and she (and others) can comment and post sympathy or well wishes. But yesterday she violated the agreement and called my husband on his hospital room phone. During this conversation, my husband told her that he did want to see/hear from her and it was absolutely untrue he had said otherwise. I understand his brain is not working properly right now and he likely said what she wanted to hear, but I feel incredibly betrayed.

Now I question whether or not I’m doing the right thing by requesting she give him space while he heals. I feel disrespected by her disregard for the boundaries I have set, and I am concerned about the negative impact she will have on his recovery. Every day matters in his rehabilitation, and he tends to lose focus and be difficult with his therapists after he speaks to her or she visits. Is it appropriate for me to have his room phone cut off so she cannot call? Am I supposed to go along with what my husband says to her in the moment or stick with the original plan? And if she doesn’t respect the boundaries I have put in place, do I have a right to cut her off from his recovery entirely and stop engaging with the website where I post updates? Am I making this decision out of spite? Because I’ll be honest, I’m pissed. Her behavior has a serious negative impact on my mental health as well. I just can’t figure out which way is up anymore.
—Pushy Mother After Stroke

I checked in with a friend of mine who’s a nurse, since some of these questions involve making treatment decisions on your husband’s behalf, and I found much of what she had to say reassuring (here’s hoping you do too): “So, stress can’t by itself cause strokes. Stress can contribute to the factors that lead to strokes (like high blood pressure), but a visit from his mother several weeks ago did not induce his stroke. That being said, he can certainly focus on his recovery and not on managing his mother. But unless he is not allowed to make his own treatment decisions and his wife is his medical proxy, she likely cannot cut off his room phone even if she wanted to. What she can do is talk to her husband about how much contact he wants with his mother, encourage him to hang up the phone if she’s stressing him out, and find out if he’d like help in screening her calls.”

To which I would also add that you can definitely take “regularly updating a website about your husband’s ongoing stroke recovery” off your to-do list—that sounds exhausting and way beyond anything you should be doing. It doesn’t need to be punitive, because you have every right to stop posting regular updates because you’re focusing on helping your husband recover from a stroke. No one needs up-to-the-moment details on his long-term progress now that he’s out of crisis, and being a site manager in addition to a caregiver is simply too much to ask of yourself. If you need to limit how often you pick up when your mother-in-law calls, you can simply tell her you don’t have time to talk but that you’ll call her when you can. If that happens to be closer to once a week, or even just the occasional text, that’s absolutely fine.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“You don’t have to speculate about his motives. I mean, it’s 100% because he has a crush on you and is projecting.”

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

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have worked hard to maintain a good relationship with his ex-wife, with whom we co-parent two kids—one who’s out of the house, and one who is a rising junior in high school. The ex-wife announced her most recent engagement this weekend on Facebook, to a man she’s known less than six months. Her last engagement ended a year ago, and she got engaged to that man less than a year after her second divorce. It is obviously not my place to weigh in with my thoughts here, but I do have concerns about the effects on the shared kid still in the house. How do I open the door for him to talk to us about his concerns and feelings here without making it seem like I am judging his mom for her relationship decisions? He doesn’t typically talk about his feelings much. Should I just leave it alone and hope he’ll bring it up if he wants to talk?
—Trying Not to Judge

I suppose it depends on your individual relationship with your stepson. It doesn’t sound like you two are especially close, so I think the first person you should discuss this with is your husband. The two of you might better be able to figure out how to broach this subject as a team than as individuals. I agree that you should strive not to bad-mouth your husband’s ex to their kid, but assuming your husband is on board with the idea, there’s a way to signal your availability to listen if your stepson ever wants to talk without being overbearing or assuming that you know how he feels about it. Something along the lines of “I don’t know how you feel about the news of your mom’s engagement, but if you ever want to talk about it, we’re here for you. It might be a lot to adjust to right now” is pretty straightforward without setting yourselves up in opposition to her. Even if he doesn’t take you up on it, it’s better to introduce the topic and then let him take the lead from there, rather than assume he’ll bring it up all on his own.

Dear Prudence,
I’m a queer woman with a conservative family, apart from my siblings. My sister is fairly progressive and tries to be a good queer ally, although she doesn’t always know how to do it. She never asks me for my input but speaks from a place of assumed knowledge. In the past few years, as her social awareness has increased, she’s taken to venting to me about our family and their conservative views. This often includes sending me screenshots of the racist and homophobic things our mom says, for example. I don’t mind her processing the racist stuff with me, and while part of me wants to know the homophobic things my mom says to others (my mom would never say such things directly to me), the other part feels super uncomfortable to have to see it.

Her relaying these homophobic messages from my mother (or aunt or grandmother) that weren’t meant for my ears feels at best like she thinks we’re equally affected by their prejudice (we’re not) and at worst like she wants to incite my hatred of those people. If she phrased it in a way that conveyed sympathy and recognized the fact that she’s telling me that my family hates me, I wouldn’t be questioning this. But she uses casual language that she expects me to easily digest and the purpose of which seems to be to alleviate her annoyance. On top of this, she maintains close relationships with these same people, something that I feel has been taken away from me given what I now know about how they view me. Can you help me suss out these feelings? I don’t want to be blind to the homophobia of those close to me, but I also don’t want my sister treating that homophobia as gossip. Second, am I allowed to feel betrayed by her continued closeness with our homophobic family, while I now feel that because of information she gave me I no longer have that option?
—Would-Be Ally Sister

Yes, of course you’re allowed to ask your sister to limit how often she says, “Oh, my God, can you believe the homophobic stuff Mom’s been saying lately? Look at this! Gotta go, I’m having lunch with Mom in five.” I’d have this conversation in person with her, rather than over text, and stress that this takes a real emotional toll on your relationship with the rest of your family: “When you share these things with me, it takes a while to recover from knowing so many of our relatives feel this way about me and people like me, and I can’t keep going through my days getting such frequent updates on their homophobia.” And you can certainly object to the ways she (seemingly) vents to you about your relatives without challenging either their racism or homophobia in person. Does she ever challenge them when they say those things? Or does she let them think that she shares their racism and homophobia, or at least that she’s comfortable with it? If so, why? Given that you did not invite this information—but can’t now unknow what you’ve learned—do you want to talk to your mother or the rest of your relatives about their homophobic comments? You don’t have to keep this to yourself, even if your sister asks you to. You’re not a diary she can share her secrets with and then close when she’s finished letting off steam. Draw whatever boundaries you need to around her venting and have whatever conversations you need to with your other relatives based on what you’ve learned about them.

Classic Prudie

This year, I met a new co-worker (I’ll call her Sara), whom I immediately had a crush on. We quickly became really good friends, and I didn’t want to mess up our friendship, so I crushed my crush. Skip to a few months later and I find out the feelings are reciprocated, but Sara has not been attracted to women before and is confused and cautious. At this point, we work together (not in the same division, fortunately), she’s one of my closest friends, and we hang out almost every day, but our friendship is filled with sexual tension and flirtation. She doesn’t know that I know how she feels, but I’m scared to act. I fear that our friendship will be hurt or that I’ll get hurt because she doesn’t want to act on these feelings. I know at this point I need to do something—what should I do?