Dear Prudence

Help! I Found Nudes on My Husband’s Computer. He Says He’s Using Them as Art.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

A laptop with a risqué photo of a woman on screen.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by CostinT/E+ via Getty Images and PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat. 

Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Greetings! Let’s chat.

Q. Artistic or predatory? While trying to print a file on my husband’s laptop, I accidentally clicked on a folder that contained images of naked women, including one picture of someone who seemed underage. When I confronted my husband about this, he said that he wanted to try drawing those pictures. He did indeed take up drawing recently, but I’m still uncomfortable with that one picture. It really looked like something from a child pornography website! (Granted, some people make a whole career out of appearing younger than their actual age, but this person looked prepubescent.) He was adamant that he was only using the pictures as figure studies and didn’t understand why I was upset. Should I keep pushing about this? I know it’s nearly impossible to verify the ages of people in online photos, but I don’t think it’s too much to ask that he stick to drawing people who are obviously adults.

A: Please do not let your husband cheat you out of an important, difficult, and necessary conversation by such an obvious misdirection as “Gee whiz, I just happened to save a couple of figures for my very recently acquired drawing habit. Why does it bother you?” He is insulting your intelligence. Lots of people “get into drawing” and take a class, or sketch faces they see in public, or ask their partners to pose for them; there’s no artistic requirement that you save naked prepubescent figures on your laptop. Keep pushing.

Q. Wedding-day regret: I got married this summer, and I did not invite either of my parents to the wedding or tell them it was happening. The reason for this was that my dad has a history of emotionally abusive and terrifying behavior, especially surrounding big events. Examples include: disappearing for three days on the morning of my 18th birthday because he was angry that I’d argued with him the day before (over him violating my privacy), harming himself so badly that he was hospitalized on the day of my sister’s graduation to punish her for something (meaning no one was there at all for her, because our mom was with him in the hospital and I was too young), and just routinely vanishing or harming himself when he’s angry with us around Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s exhausting and painful. My sister and I discussed it at length, but we concluded that he could not know about my wedding prior to it happening, because he would definitely ruin it if I somehow angered or upset him in the runup. We agreed we could not tell our mom, because she tells him everything and has betrayed secrets from both of us on numerous occasions. Well, I had the wedding, with my sister as a bridesmaid, and it was honestly a perfect day. When I told my parents over the phone, they blew up, screaming and crying until I hung up on them. They then phoned my sister to interrogate her about why she didn’t tell them.

We predicted this from Dad, but I did not predict the extent to which Mom would be hurt and personally betrayed. She has called me crying multiple times a day since I told her, saying that she would have kept it a secret and that coming to my wedding would have been one of the “highlights of her life.” I feel so terrible. She seems so sure that she would have kept it a secret from him that it has shaken my initial confidence in the decision. She has pointed out numerous ways I could have had her there without telling him in advance—I could have invited her up to visit for a fake reason, then surprised her with the wedding, for example. I feel so miserable and guilty that it is getting hard to even think about the wedding day without regret. Did I make the wrong decision in not telling my mom? Aside from her inability to stand up to our dad, she has been a good person and good mother to us, and we used to be close. How do I move forward in the relationship with her after this?

A: I’m so sorry that your mother’s guilt trip has made you second-guess your decision. But her promises and protestations after the fact that she would have “kept [your wedding] a secret” from your father, even though it doesn’t sound like she’s ever kept a single secret from him in her life, are worth nothing. They’re empty promises, based on fantasy, designed to punish you for setting a reasonable boundary and refusing to allow your father to once again hijack an important moment in your life. The fact that your mother has “pointed out” various ways you could have turned your wedding into a secret surprise for her doesn’t mean that you behaved selfishly. All that you did, in planning your wedding, was look at both of your parents’ track records when it comes to important family events. You concluded, rightly, that they would both in their own ways do their level best to wrest all of the attention and focus onto themselves. That’s what they’re trying to do now, instead of stopping to ask themselves, “How have we harmed our children so much that they don’t want us at their weddings?”

Your mom’s confidence that she would have kept this a secret is what’s shaking your own confidence now. Rebuild your confidence by asking, “Has she ever, in the history of our family, kept an important secret from my father?” Look at her track record, not at her blustering. It’s not to say that you’re wrong to love your mother, or that she’s not capable of being an otherwise pleasant person, but if she’s only been a “good mother” to you when she’s not betraying secrets to your father, helping him scream at you on the phone, or excusing and enabling his terrifying fits of rage and petulance, then by my count she hasn’t spent very much time being a good mother at all. I think you did the right thing. I think your mother’s love, while real, is very seriously limited and selfish. I think you should spend very little time defending your decision or listening to your parents scream at you; it’s a waste of your energy, and you will never convince them that you’re doing the right thing when you set a boundary.

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Q. Just need to talk about it: I recently got involved with an “unhappy” married man again. He is about 12 years older than me and is much more mature, caring, and attentive toward me than the guys I was previously seeing. He stuck around when those I dated were mostly looking for a hookup and nothing else afterward. Heck, they did not even make sure I was happy, too. This man takes me on actual dates, like, out to dinner, on weekend getaways where he can be possibly seen, and more. We have a lot of fun together. We talk, text, and video chat daily. He is extremely trusting of me with information I would think one would want to keep confidential: his home addresses, places of employment, credit card information, social media accounts, and so forth. I respect that I can’t necessarily have conversations when his wife is around, but we have a system that lets me know “it’s not a good time.” When his father recently died, I comforted him over the phone, in videos, and when he visited me. I do not love this man but do enjoy being treated better than I ever have in and out of the bedroom. I promised myself not to get too attached so my heart isn’t at risk of being broken. I also told him I do not want to share him with other women outside of his wife and he seems to be respecting that. So why am I writing? Well, mostly to talk to someone about it without feeling judged or told “you deserve better” or that he is “using” me. Maybe I do deserve better, but in the meantime, I like the attention and perks that come with a giving and loving man.

A: I don’t often get letters from people who merely want to tell me their plans, but I appreciate the change in pace. I agree that my approval or disapproval from a distance won’t make a difference when your mind is made up. Mostly, I’m sorry that you’ve been dating a string of guys who don’t seem interested in talking to you or treating you with a minimal amount of respect. You say this guy is more caring than any of them, and all he does is take you out to dinner, call you regularly, and pay attention to you even when you’re not having sex. I’m sorry you haven’t been getting such a reasonable bare minimum of respectful treatment from your past partners. Whatever happens with this guy, I hope you start considering this level of kindness as the absolute bare minimum you expect out of future boyfriends, and immediately dumping anyone who can’t come up to scratch.

Q. My co-worker slapped my butt and I froze: I’m working for a man-dominated company, where all the women work in offices except for me—I work on the floor. The other day, while I was getting my supplies, a male co-worker slapped my butt and referred to it as “my big butt” like he was claiming his territory. I didn’t know what to do, so I just hurriedly left the supplies room.

I could have gone to HR that day, but I didn’t. That’s because our HR didn’t really help me when I had another incident when I was just new to the company. My supervisor almost hit me with a floor heater because I cut my hair short and he did not like it. A co-worker reported him to HR, but HR didn’t really do anything. It took them months to move me to a different office. I was told by my boss that a lawsuit won’t do me any good since he didn’t physically hurt me. I still work for the same supervisor, because if I were to change departments, I would receive a 50 percent wage reduction. It’s not easy for me to change jobs, especially for positions that would pay me the same rate. Please advise me as to how to move on with this dilemma.

A: Your boss is not telling you the truth about what makes a lawsuit “any good.” You’ve been forced to work for months with someone who threatened you with physical violence because he didn’t like your haircut, and you’ve been told moving departments would mean suffering a 50 percent salary cut. The threshold for illegal behavior in the workplace is not simply: “Did anyone hit you?” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission includes “threats” and “intimidation” under its description of possibly actionable “offensive behavior.” The reason your boss tried to persuade you not to bring a lawsuit against the company is because he’s scared of how liable the company would be if any female employee ever decided to file suit.

I do think it’s worth reporting this latest incident to HR, if only to keep a paper trail of your attempts to seek redress within the company; send an email describing what happened to your HR department and BCC your personal email address so you have a copy in your own records. You should also document everything (incidents of harassment, responses from HR and your supervisors, anytime someone’s told you not to bring a lawsuit against the company, etc.) and consult a lawyer who specializes in workplace harassment immediately.

Q. Missed hers: I recently misgendered my local barista by using the incorrect pronoun. She corrected me in the moment, and I immediately apologized. I still feel incredibly guilty and embarrassed. She even has her correct pronouns on her apron. I want to somehow make it up to her, but I don’t want to make things more awkward or make her feel like she needs to make me feel better. Would an apology note be appropriate, or should I just drop it and try harder to get it right moving forward?

A: I think an apology note, while well intended, would be counterproductive: The best response to a low-key, in-the-moment lapse is to address it directly and then move on. Going back and drawing more attention to your slip-up would have the effect of making it a bigger deal than it was, or making it seem like you think she requires an apology parade every time someone accidentally misgenders her. She’s already corrected you and you’ve already apologized; your embarrassment will naturally fade with each subsequent friendly interaction the two of you have.

Q. I found my husband’s “sleazy singles” account: I recently found out that my husband of 30 years has registered himself on sleazy singles websites, although he says that he was only looking and never intended to meet anyone. He has also been sending texts to sex workers whom he has found on the internet, asking to meet up for sex. This has all been happening since May and I found out at the end of July, near my 60th birthday. I had been feeling that something was going on because of the way he was guarding his phone—he never usually texts that much. My husband has been having difficulty keeping an erection when having sex with me, but from the pictures he has taken he seems to have no difficulty when texting these women. When I confronted him about it, he said that he did go to meet one of the women he was texting but nothing happened. He contacted another woman and went to meet her, he said, and they did have sex. I am absolutely gutted and my anxiety has spiraled through the roof, but we are trying to get over this.

He has confessed everything and cleared his computer and phone. I have complete access to both. He has been to see the general practitioner regarding his erection difficulties; we have managed to have sex once since with the help of Viagra. I still panic every time he gets a text message or goes on his computer, and I nearly go into meltdown when he is not with me. I want to work things out but am in a constant state of panic about things.

A: Have you told anyone else in your life about this? Are you seeing a therapist? Have you given yourself permission to stay with a friend or a relative, or in a hotel for a few nights? It sounds like right now you’ve been in a state of shock, trying to keep this as much between the two of you as possible, and it’s no wonder that you’re a bundle of frayed nerves, panicking every time he gets a text message—this is way too much to handle by yourself. These are significant, repeated, painful betrayals of your marriage vows, and you’ve been seemingly keeping it a secret for over a month now. I know you say you’re trying to get over this, and I’m not suggesting you have to leave, but I think that trying to keep this just between the two of you, and making yourself solely responsible for monitoring what would have to be a pretty significant 180-degree turnaround on your husband’s part, is a recipe for exhaustion, paranoia, and burnout. If you hadn’t found out, would your husband ever have told you? Would he ever have stopped? What do you need from him in order to feel like you can rebuild trust? Call a therapist tomorrow and make an appointment. Consider telling a trusted friend even if you fear embarrassment at discussing such a painful part of your marriage. You’re trying to carry way too much on your own.

Q. I think my partner is checking people out right in front of me: Recently, my partner has been turning their head to look at guys as they pass us while we walk our dog. I’m talking about a full-on head swivel. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but from their facial expressions it really seems like they’re checking these guys out. It makes me supremely uncomfortable, but I don’t know how to bring it up without seeming controlling. I have no problem with my partner thinking other people are attractive or even checking them out when I’m not with them, but doing it in front of me (if that’s what’s happening) seems crass to me. We’re both trans, but I’m much more insecure in my looks, and I think this discomfort is rooted in that. We have a loving, communicative relationship, but it seems like bringing this up could come off as invasive or controlling. Am I being paranoid, or is this something that I could reasonably talk to them about?

A: It is not invasive to notice something your partner does in front of you. Nor is it controlling to say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been checking out guys a lot, and I want to talk about it. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable and insecure about my own looks.” That is exactly the sort of thing a loving, communicative couple ought to be able to talk about, and you’re perfectly entitled to these feelings. What you and your partner ultimately decide to do about those feelings might be any one of a number of possibilities. But just getting the conversation started is neither paranoid nor controlling.

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Classic Prudie

Q. My friend always “jokes” we should leave our husbands and run away together: My friend and I are both women married to men, with kids (she’s bisexual). She’s funny and we have good rapport. But she is constantly saying and doing things that I would find inappropriate and unacceptable from a male friend. In public she calls me her wife and makes lewd comments about our imaginary sex life to retail workers, waiters, you name it. She repeatedly talks about how good my breasts look. She constantly says we should leave our husbands and live together. Now she’s talking about going on vacation together. I was supportive when she came out, but I’m not interested in women, or in her, romantically. At one point she talked about how she completely hates having sex with her husband. I suggested that being grossed out by men may indicate that she really is a lesbian. She’s in her 30s and has never had a romantic relationship with a woman. I feel bad for her, given that she seems to have committed to not pursuing her pretty blatant sexual inclinations, potentially indefinitely. As her friend, I’d like to see her move on from her miserable marriage and get a proper girlfriend. Being the only outlet for her frustrations is getting weird. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but if call her out, I’m pretty sure she’d just say she was kidding around, especially because she does have one of those boisterous personalities that jokes about anything. For all I know, maybe she is joking. It doesn’t feel threatening or hostile, just relentless. I’d like to keep the friendship and I want her to be happy. So, what should I do? Read what Prudie had to say.