When my now-wife and I got engaged, the mother of a longtime friend enthusiastically offered to make my wedding outfit. She took my measurements a year out, I offered to pay several times, and I said thank you at every opportunity. She shipped the outfit the day before the wedding, so I never had a chance to try it on in advance. I put it on the day of my wedding and in the rush didn’t realize that it did not fit until after the ceremony. I had a very loose, deep neckline, and my nipples kept falling out. The seam at the seat also busted. My wife had to physically hold the outfit together for me during our first dance.
The outfit-maker attended the wedding and saw everything (along with my whole family). I wrote a thank-you note and offered one last time to pay. I’m a pretty relaxed person, but I’m mortified to know that several hundred of our nearest and dearest saw me half-naked in a way I absolutely did not want or plan for. My parents have mentioned it since the wedding, and while normally I feel very confident in defending choices they don’t agree with, this was not my choice! I’m also upset that my friend’s mom half-assed something so special to me in a way that gave me no way to back out. Any advice for what to say next time a family member mentions my unintentional flashing at my wedding? I’m fine defending life choices they don’t agree with but have a harder time when it’s something I don’t agree with either.
—Accidental Wedding Flasher
I can relate profoundly to your pre-wedding strategy—“It’s just clothes, so what if they get here the day of the wedding? I know how to wear clothes, everything will be fine, and I don’t know why people make such a fuss about having every little thing ready in advance”—because I’ve made a version of your mistake before, at my own peril. But you must know that the primary responsibility to make sure your wedding outfit actually fit before the day of the wedding fell on you. You took a real gamble, and it didn’t pan out. You had the option either of telling your family friend that you appreciated the gesture but had your own plans or asking to have it sent early enough that you could try it on and make alterations if it didn’t fit. Or even deciding “I can’t wear this after the vows when I’ll be mingling and dancing” and throwing on something less formal but well-fitting for the reception. This isn’t exactly a matter of “I didn’t choose this, and I don’t agree with it.” It’s a matter of “I didn’t schedule enough time to make sure my wedding outfit fit me, and by the time I realized it didn’t, I was in too much of a rush to do anything about it.”
That said, just because this was avoidable doesn’t mean that you should suck it up and blame yourself. Your disappointment and frustration make a great deal of sense, and I hope that none of your family members continues to try to embarrass you. If they do, you can say, “That was really hard for me. I didn’t budget time to try on my outfit before the wedding day because I thought it would be fine, and I didn’t realize just how much it didn’t fit until the festivities were well underway. I felt really embarrassed, and I’m sorry if it made you uncomfortable, but I’d appreciate it if we could let it recede into the past.” You might even ask your parents to mention it to some of your other relatives on your behalf. You’ll be able to move on from this, learn a little, and extend some graciousness toward yourself.
My boyfriend of a year is hardworking, attractive, family-oriented, adventurous, and kind, but I feel like our intimacy has been lacking since the beginning. He is a reserved person, and I believe his love language is spending time with your significant other, whereas mine is very much physical and verbal affection. He does little things like touch my back when he walks past me, put his arm around me out in public, hug and kiss me goodbye in the morning, but that’s about it. We have sex every couple of weeks (we spend six nights out of the week together), but we don’t really cuddle. He doesn’t really express his feelings toward me or compliment me besides “I love you.” The sad part is, when he does touch me, I now feel angry and resentful.
After six months together, he said he was sorry we hadn’t had sex in a while and that he wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel he wasn’t attracted to me. He is just always tired from going to work at 4 a.m. When I’ve talked to friends about this, they think that I need to make more moves myself, but I feel like the lack of verbal and physical intimacy has left me feeling too insecure. To be honest, I feel the most insecure about myself I’ve ever been. I don’t really like to change in front of him and constantly want to go to the gym. I don’t want to tell him he needs to be more intimate with me if he does not want to, because then how natural is that? However, I don’t think I can continue a relationship where I feel like I’m not good enough or angry at him when he has no idea. Do you think we could work this out even if we have different love languages?
The “love language” model was created by an evangelical pastor in 1992 to describe broad relational dynamics as he saw them, not a timeless and universal truth about human beings. So the idea of love languages can be useful when talking about habits and preferences, but it loses all utility when we treat it as some innate, unchangeable aspect of our partner’s nature—especially when we make that assumption without ever talking to our partner about it. Your boyfriend doesn’t touch or compliment you as often as you’d like. Having an honest conversation with him about what you want from a relationship is a much more productive response than assuming “Well, his love language is probably ‘being in the same room with me,’ which means if I ever asked him to cuddle with me, it would be meaningless and go against his nature.” Everyone is capable of displaying and asking for affection, reassurance, or significant emotional contact. And a person might have particular preferences, but that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of accommodating others’. I think the real question you need to ask yourself is: “What’s my baseline for considering something important enough to discuss with my partner, if I’m angry every time he touches me, feel so self-conscious I don’t want to change clothes in front of him, and want to send myself to the gym for punishment and discipline, and still think it’s not worth bringing up?”
I understand your fear that if you do bring it up with him, he’ll only start touching you to keep you happy, not because his heart is actually in it. But telling him what you want, what you need, what’s hurting you, and what’s working for you are not demands that he should start going through the motions to meet. It’s an opportunity for greater intimacy—even if it leads you to realize you two don’t work together long-term. Having a few honest conversations about your disparate expectations and desires for physical touch, possibly even deciding to part ways over a significant incompatibility, is not a bad outcome, and if it makes you feel more confident about stating your needs and desires in a future relationship, so much the better.
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I travel by air quite a lot. I find myself sitting in front of a child who will kick the back of my seat throughout the flight with surprising frequency. Depending on how bad it gets, I might ask the child’s parent, “Can he/she please stop kicking?” This mostly works, but more than once, the parent in question gets irritated or huffy. The last time this happened, the kicking child’s parents had a stage-y little conversation meant for me and others to overhear after we landed about what a jerk I was: “Well, you know how SOME PEOPLE are.” I said nothing, but it really got under my skin. I get that flying is stressful, and I can only imagine how challenging it must be for parents of young children. I’m all for giving parents a break. In fact, I recently endured a three-hour flight full of kicking because I could see that the mother was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t bear to add to her woes by asking her to stop it. I hate to be “that guy,” but hours of having your seat kicked can be exhausting. I think I’m in the right to speak up about this issue. What say you?
I say you’re in the right! I wish that acting politely and appropriately always resulted in polite, appropriate behavior from others, but every once in a while, you can be as respectful and reasonable as can be and still be met with rudeness. Most parents who are traveling with kids are doing their best in a difficult situation, but sometimes parents are also very rude people. I think you were right not to say anything in the moment when that particular couple started a little back-and-forth routine about your cruelty. Once they are determined to martyr themselves in public, there’s nothing to be gained by responding. But just because your strategy occasionally puts you in contact with jerks (or people having an especially bad day) doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your strategy. Keep doing what you’re doing, hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and try to schedule a few minutes of stretching and decompression after you land.
I am in my early 30s, and while I’ve had a couple longish relationships with varying levels of success, I have been single much of my adult life. I spent the bulk of my 20s happily traveling and developing a great career. I’ve done a fair amount of “expiration dating” and have come out of those experiences with long-term, long-distance friends and lovers. Recently I’ve been looking for something stable and more long-term. Despite this, I took a two-month assignment in a different state for the summer. My temporary city is charming; the work I am doing is important to me; and I’ve met someone who is kind, handsome, and great in bed.
But my time here is coming to a close, and I think I have caught a bad case of feelings for this person. Our relationship has always had an end date. It’s hard to know if that chemistry and companionship would linger after the glow of a perfect summer fades. Even if we both wanted to pursue this, my home is 2,000 miles away. I don’t think we have a strong enough foundation to try to make long-distance work. He seems fairly committed to living in this area for the rest of his life, and while I’ve loved my summer here, I simply don’t know if I would be willing or able to uproot myself. But I’ve never felt this strongly about my previous expiration dates. Is it worth talking to him about these feelings? Or should I simply enjoy the time we have left and let our lovely summer fling become a fond, and eventually distant, memory?
—Summer Days Drifting Away
There’s a possible middle ground in between never mentioning your feelings and asking if he wants to try to make long-distance work. Tell him that you’ve been surprised by how strongly you’ve come to feel about him and this relationship and that the prospect of returning home and ending things feels painful. Then ask him whether he’s ever found himself reconsidering your cheerful expiration date. You can even acknowledge that you don’t have a great answer for your predicament, that all the challenges of distance still exist, and that you don’t want to ask him to change his whole life for you. But acknowledging competing desires is meaningful, important, and worth doing even if it doesn’t result in an immediate solution.
It may be that the only thing that comes from this conversation is you both acknowledge you care for each other very much—even more than you ever expected to at the outset—but still have the same breakup timeline. But you’d know yourself capable of initiating a daunting conversation about feelings and commitment with someone you really cared about, and that’s a new kind of risk-taking that will serve you well.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Get it dry-cleaned and never pick it up.”
Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I think I’m starting to lose it in my old age, or else my social skills are leaving me. A new guy started at my job about four weeks ago, and some of us have noticed that he often sounds condescending and even derogatory when he speaks (he doesn’t seem aware of this). Some of the others in the office ignore it or don’t notice, even seeking him out for approval because he almost always agrees with them (it might be worth mentioning that these are all higher-ups). He often abruptly joins discussions that don’t involve him from across the room and reacts with over-the-top shock and dismay when someone doesn’t know something he thinks everyone should.
I have experienced people like this in the workplace before, but now I find myself less able to engage than I used to be. I pull myself out of interesting conversations with co-workers when he enters the picture. I thought it was just that my office has a superabundance of people who seem to require extra patience to deal with, but seeing how others seem to talk to each other so seamlessly makes me think maybe it’s just me.
—Is It Just Me?
I don’t think you’re losing touch with reality. He sounds fairly irritating, and my guess is that he goes out of his way to be agreeable to the higher-ups and combative with his co-workers because he’s trying to climb the ladder. I’m not surprised you find yourself out of patience with him, especially since you’ve encountered colleagues of his type in the past and are no longer inclined to let them take up a lot of your time and energy. And the fact that some of your higher-ups don’t seem to notice he courts their good opinion while acting boorishly isn’t shocking. That’s his intention! It may be that he grates slightly less on some of your co-workers than he does on you, but they may be more conflict-averse (or even discomfort-averse), or they may feel more pressure to get along with the new guy, or they may be screaming on the inside every time he buttonholes them. I don’t think you need to do anything differently here, especially since none of the conversations you’re withdrawing from in order to avoid him sound like they’re work-related. Keep giving him as wide a berth as you’re able to, remind yourself that it’s perfectly fine to dislike someone that other people may find harmless, stay professional, and if he interrupts you or speaks to you rudely, give yourself permission to say, “Sorry, I wasn’t finished. As I was saying … ”
Over the past couple of months, my boyfriend has been having an unlucky bout of car troubles. He has spent close to $2,000 on maintenance and repairs on his 10-year-old car. While he has had to dip into his savings to make these repairs, he isn’t ruined by the expenses. I’ve been trying to be as helpful and supportive as possible, and it wasn’t hard for me at the beginning. However, as he continues to be emotionally distraught over his situation, I have noticed that I am struggling to continue to be empathetic. The thing is that I grew up poor. If these expenses had happened to me, I wouldn’t have anyone in my life who could afford to bail me out. On the other hand, his family is very comfortable and would give him an interest-free loan if he truly needed it. I hate that my past seems to cloud my ability to empathize with his financial stress. How do I drown out the voice in my head that screams, “You have help while a lot of people don’t, and you’re going to be fine”?
—Not That Bad
You don’t need to drown out that voice! One conversation you can have with him is logistical: whether he has a sense of how much money he thinks it’s worth investing in a 10-year-old car and at what point he might want to start making arrangements to sell or replace it. At a separate time you can tell him that sometimes it’s challenging for you to discuss nonemergency financial frustrations because you grew up poor and were never able to access contingency plans, savings accounts, or friends or family members who could have helped you, and you want to find ways to maintain some perspective without shutting down his understandable frustrations. There’s room for that here, especially since you’ve already been listening patiently for a number of months and want to try to redirect some of this energy into more useful channels. You’re not telling him to shut up and be grateful. You’re asking him to look for solutions and keep your own circumstances in mind when he talks about his financial struggles, which is a reasonable request to make of a partner.
“My husband is a hard worker and keeps busy doing little chores all the time. We were at a family vacation house, and the lawn needed to be mowed. It is a normal-size yard—kind of big, but not a field or anything. It took him five hours to mow. FIVE HOURS. He was on a riding lawn mower and went over it a zillion times. I swear—he’d go out with a pair of scissors to make sure it was perfect if that weren’t a crazy-person thing to do. I weeded the flowerbeds, but around hour three I started losing my patience. We were on vacation. I thought that the mowing wouldn’t take all morning (and some of the afternoon); he didn’t care if it did. He thinks I’m a jerk for complaining about him helping. I think he’s a jerk for unilaterally deciding to use up five hours of our weekend without talking to me about it. So, where do we go from here?”
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