Dear Prudence

My Husband Finds My Weight Gain Sexy. I Don’t.

Prudie’s column for Aug. 29.

Photo illustration of someone standing on a scale.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Rostislav_Sedlacek/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have been married for about 15 years. During that time I’ve gained about 30 pounds. My husband has found it really sexy, which is great, but the problem is how much he likes to talk about it before and during sex: how much he likes my weight, how hot it would be if I gained more weight, how he’d like to feed me desserts until I’m “fat,” etc. I don’t find this talk sexy. I’m mostly happy with my body, but I still don’t like this conversation as foreplay. I don’t like feeling pressured to agree to gaining weight. I would like to start exercising more for health reasons, and when I hear his comments, it makes me feel like if my body changes again, it would be unwelcome. I’ve tried discussing this with him when we’re not having sex, and he reassures me that he’s going to love my body no matter what, but when it comes time to get sexy again the weight talk starts up. I’ve also tried to discern whether he just wants me to go along with it in the moment as a sort of role-playing thing, but his responses have been ambivalent. What bothers me most is that when I go along with it, in the absence of knowing for sure whether it’s just playing around, I feel like I’m making empty promises. Any ideas for how to address this?

—Weird Weight Comments

“I don’t find these conversations about weight gain sexy, and I haven’t been able to get a clear sense from you on what’s fantasy and what’s not. So I’d like you to stop talking about my size, what I eat, what you’d like to feed me, or what size you’d like me to be when we’re about to have sex. I’m glad you’ll love me no matter what size I am, but these comments are not doing it for me, and they make me really self-conscious.” That’s it! You might feel some pressure (either internally or from him) to just go along with this kind of talk, but given that it’s a real turnoff for you, that it makes you feel pressured to maintain a certain size, and he hasn’t been able to make it clear what’s role-playing and what’s an actual demand on your body, you’re well within your rights to declare this kind of talk off-limits.

Dear Prudence,

My partner of five years and I recently broke up. It was sad but amicable. We still live together for logistical reasons and are on good terms. I’ve assured her that she will always remain part of my family, as mine lives nearby and hers is several states away. One of my sisters is getting married next year. Should I plan to invite my ex-partner? My sister will make space for her if I ask her to. I want her there and want to give her enough notice, but I am getting fairly serious with another person and don’t want to offend her. Is it weird for an ex to attend a family member’s wedding?

—Still My Plus-One?

If the wedding is still a ways off—like, say, if invitations haven’t been sent out yet—then the best approach is likely to wait to see how serious your new relationship gets, how amicable things remain between you and your ex, and how close a connection your sister and your ex maintain. I don’t think there’s any reason to reserve a seat for your ex any earlier than absolutely necessary. If you want, you could set aside some time to talk to your ex about what kind of events she’d still like to be invited to, what relationships feel most important to maintain, what boundaries feel appropriate, and what she expects from you. That might help you clarify what otherwise feels like a murky area of etiquette. My guess, though, is that any other woman you get serious with will have to come to terms with the fact that you and your ex are close and likely to remain so. And if you’re worried your new girlfriend will be offended by your ex’s presence at the wedding, I think it’s best to raise that possibility with her now so you two have a chance to talk it over before the big day.

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Dear Prudence,

My entire teen years were spent in battle with my mother over my appearance. She wanted a doll she could dress up and dish about boys with, and she got a little hobgoblin instead. The more she pushed me to be “girly,” the more I clung to my weirdness. She refused to let me cut my hair, so I shaved my head before school. She gave me a $150 makeup kit; I gave it away. She got rid of all the pants in my closet, leaving me with nothing but skirts, so I stole my brother’s clothes. She said I would have to wear her clothes or go to school naked. I stripped my shirt off and walked down the street in my bra. We were at each other’s throats constantly, so I went to college on the other end of the state. I’m 19 now and feel a lot calmer. I’m mixing up my style, sometimes wear makeup, and even have a boyfriend. I haven’t told anyone in my family yet. I know my mother is going to gloat about how she was “right.” At that point, I might throw something at her head. How can I ask my mother to let it go or ask the rest of my family to intervene? At 14, I honestly thought I was unlovable because being pleasing to boys was the only measure of my worth. That was the message I got from my mom.

—Hobgoblin

I’m so sorry. That sounds exhausting and relentless, and you’re only, at best, a year out from this constant struggle with your mother. If nothing else, please know that you do not have to tell your mother (or anyone else in your family) a thing about your personal life, what you wear to class, whether you choose to wear eyeliner on a given day, or what store you’re shopping at. I’m glad you’re trying different things once they weren’t being crammed down your throat, but I think it’ll be in many ways the work of a lifetime, trying to unlearn some of your mother’s teachings about your worthiness being directly tied to how attractive men find you. And I’d encourage you to ask any relatives you think might be sympathetic to speak up if or when your mother starts to lay into you for wearing pants, or whatever she chooses to interpret as a sign that you’re failing to be a woman on any given day.

But mostly I think the way forward here is to continue to keep your distance from your mother—emotionally, physically, relationally—until she’s able to demonstrate real remorse for how she tried to control you and has gone months (maybe even years!) without commenting on your appearance or offering unsolicited advice about how to attract men. You’ve only been out of the house for a short while. Enjoy college! Study, make friends, date, try new things, wear unexpected outfits, take your time to develop an independent life far away from home before you worry about how your mother’s going to respond to it. If she asks you how college is, tell her a few light anecdotes about your professors and some of your suitemates, but save the more personal information for when she’s demonstrated she can be trusted with it.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been married for five years. We were together for 13 years before that. We have two young children under 5 and have been separated for a year. Our marriage was awful. He started a new business and had absolutely no time for me or the kids. He also resented that my younger siblings lived with us and said that was one of the reasons he didn’t want to spend time at home. He was neglectful, unsupportive, and distant. I threatened to leave daily, and sometimes he’d laugh. Eventually I found out that he had an online dating profile. He swore he never met anyone. I moved back home with my family, and that’s where I’ve been for a year. However, everyone in my family and his has pushed me to try again for the kids, saying I’ll regret it if I don’t give it one more chance, since he’s apparently changed and sorry and wants to be better. His business is more on track and he has more time. My heart says it’s not worth it. I was so unhappy and honestly can’t remember anything good from those years. But our relationship prior to marriage was good, and I do want to do what’s best for our kids. I’m so confused.

—Worth Trying Again?

Nowhere in your letter did you say that your husband has asked you to give your marriage another try. Your own relatives and your in-laws might want you to give him another chance, but they can’t ask for another chance on his behalf without his consent. If he’s really changed that much, if he’s really that sorry, and if he’s really interested in having a better marriage with you, then why hasn’t he bothered to say so in the last year? He apparently has “more time” but hasn’t apologized for the ways in which he hurt you, hasn’t expressed any direct interest in reconciliation, and hasn’t tried to discuss ways he could support you better as a partner in the future. Is “more time” really all you’d need from him in order to feel optimistic about giving your marriage another shot? I know you had a good long-term relationship with him before you got married, but if everything after the wedding has been that bad, and his attempt to rekindle something this inert and secondhand, I don’t think you have any reason to reconsider your decision to leave.

Besides, both of your children are young enough that they won’t have too many pre-divorce memories. Surely it would be better for them to grow up with two reasonably cooperative co-parents rather than witness neglect, mocking laughter, suspicions, infidelity, and desperation, followed by another separation. Focus on looking after yourself and your kids, figuring out where you’ll live after you move out of your family home, developing a workable custody agreement with your ex, and finalizing your divorce—not on giving in to your relatives’ wishful thinking.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Sure, we could talk about ways to eroticize a waffle every now and again.”

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

Dear Prudence,

My best friend of 13 years hasn’t spoken to me in over a year. I’ve thought about reaching out to “Aberforth,” but I’m not sure how. I was out of town for a few years, and during that time he got into a serious relationship with a married woman. He had a breakdown several years in. She had been introduced as his “friend” and is often out of the country with her husband. At one point, he disappeared for months. When I finally got a hold of him and asked to meet up, he brought her along with him, and I felt ambushed. She chastised us for “gossiping” about her. I assured her that I didn’t know about most of the issues she brought up, and that whatever Aberforth had shared with me, I’d kept confidential. She didn’t believe me.

Aberforth told me that once I had returned home, he’d started having feelings for me and had the idea to cheat on her with me. I was shocked. Then he told me I was emotionally draining, which cut me to the core. I thought we had a mutually supportive friendship. I can’t help but blame his girlfriend for this shift in his character, but he still said those hurtful things to me himself. We didn’t really arrive at a solution and haven’t talked since. I miss him, and I’ve forgiven him, but I feel like I was used as a pawn in their relationship. Part of me still feels like I could get him to talk to me honestly and affectionately, as we used to.

What should I do? How do I move forward? I know I need to talk to someone, but I can’t afford my psychiatrist right now, as I’m presently unemployed. I have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and PTSD from a childhood trauma. I find myself second-guessing almost, everything including my relationships with people.

—Former Friend

I’m so sorry that you’ve felt unmoored and unable to see your psychiatrist. Not being able to afford the mental health care you need to take care of yourself is awful. You say you’ve been second-guessing yourself, so if it helps to have an outside perspective, please let me reassure you that the way Aberforth has chosen to treat you is unkind, ungenerous, unloving, and unworthy of a friend. And make no mistake, he’s chosen to treat you that way. I can understand why it feels like his girlfriend is the bad actor here, but he chose to date her, to allow her to be cruel to you, to instrumentalize you, and then to drop you from his life. No one made him do that. It may be very kind of you to want to forgive him, but please remember that he never actually apologized. That’s forgiveness he didn’t ask for and doesn’t think he needs. Whatever he’s going through right now, you can wish him well from a distance, while also recognizing that he’s hurt you and doesn’t seem to care about continuing your former friendship. I know it feels like if you just tried again that you could get the old version of him, but that has more to do with wishful thinking than anything he’s said or done recently.

If you have any other friends you talk to regularly, I hope you’ll consider telling at least one of them about what’s happened with Aberforth. To lose a friend of such long standing in such a strange and baffling way is disorienting, and it may help to share your burden with others, even if they don’t know him personally. I hope you can get as much support and reassurance as you possibly can from family members and (non-Aberforth) friends before you’re able to afford to see your psychiatrist again. You deserve it.

Dear Prudence,

My son and his new wife are finishing up college and relocating to our coast. We have a spare suite of rooms for them, and they will share the house while they look for work. Our son has always been difficult to be around (childhood bipolar). He is doing much better now, but we worry he or we will revert to old habits while they are here. What are reasonable rules for sharing the kitchen and respecting one another’s privacy during what will probably be an anxious and indeterminate time while they look for work? My spouse is especially anxious because he is bad at dealing with change.

—Living Peacefully With Adult Children

I think it’s a good idea to have a clear sense beforehand of just how long you’re offering these spare rooms to your son and his wife. What if it takes them a year to find work? What if it takes more than a year? Is there any point at which you’d either need to start charging rent or ask them to leave? What are your state’s tenant protection laws? What would be their legal rights in the event of an eviction, even if they had been living with you for free? Would you like to sign a lease with them or ask for a nominal monthly fee to cover bills, repairs, and general upkeep? Beyond that, you can establish whatever rules you like! It’s perfectly reasonable to have communal rules about cleaning up after cooking, quiet hours, knocking before coming into someone else’s side of the house, hosting guests, and so on. Do you want quiet hours to start at 11? Do you want a regular update from your son and his wife on how the job search is going? Do you want them to do their own grocery shopping?

I assume you don’t want to take the kind of responsibility for your son’s whereabouts and well-being you did when he was living at home before college, so try to think of him more as a housemate than a child (at least during the rules-drafting process). If you’re worried about reverting to old habits, talk to your son about this fear before you move in together and make a joint plan on how you might address them if they do come up. Decide on what would be a deal-breaker for you ahead of time, so you don’t have to figure that out in the moment, and make sure all parties know exactly what’s expected of them before they move all their stuff in.

Classic Prudie

My mom is 66 years old and has never been married or dated very much. She’s not rich and looks good for her age, but not unusually so. Last month, she told me her boyfriend was moving in with her, and this weekend I met him. Prudie, he’s my age (31), devastatingly handsome, nice, and seemingly intelligent. I’m totally baffled. My mom seems head over heels for him, and as far as I can tell, he reciprocates. I don’t even want to think about why my mom and this hottie are dating, but should I meddle or leave her alone? A part of me worries she’s being scammed in some elaborate way, and another part is just reeling.