Dear Prudence

I Can’t Decide Which of the Guys I’m Dating Is a Better “Investment”

Prudie’s column for Sept. 5.

A woman, indecisive, faces two men: one wearing a tank top and covered in tattoos, one wearing a dress shirt and holding out a bouquet of flowers.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by nautiluz56/iStock/Getty Images Plus, g-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and Wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
I’ve gone through a lot in the last year. My now ex-husband left me after I finally got pregnant after years of trying. I decided to get an abortion, which was the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make, although I think it was the right one. I later started dating a friend of mine who’d supported me throughout the process. He’s not a conventional partner: He has a criminal history that he takes responsibility for, lives paycheck to paycheck, and is covered in tattoos, but he’s also smart, family-oriented, funny, and makes me feel excited and loved. However, we were dating long-distance, which was very hard. I got frustrated and looked for local companionship. I found a conventionally attractive man who is kind, silly, sweet. But he doesn’t excite me like my long-distance flame.

Now it’s getting to the “DTR” conversation, and I can’t choose, even as many times as I try to do mental gymnastics. On paper (literally, I’ve made compulsive lists), my local guy would be a better “investment.” In my heart, I long for my exciting, unconventional man. Am I being selfish in trying to have my cake and eat it too? Or is this something that a grown woman must decide alone?
—I Can’t Choose

I don’t think dating someone you feel really excited about is “trying to have your cake and eat it too.” I think it’s just having reasonable expectations of a relationship. If you haven’t already, discussing “local companionship” with your long-distance boyfriend is a good idea, but I don’t think your dilemma is about choosing between the two of them. I think it’s a question of asking for what you want, being prepared to hear “no,” and moving on in response. Do you want to try to move to be closer to your long-term guy? Do you want him to consider moving to be closer to you? Do you want to continue dating other people in your respective towns until you can live closer? Are they OK with being nonexclusive?

I certainly don’t recommend dumping someone you feel really strongly about in order to date someone you like less, regardless of how stable the guy’s employment or reliable his affection. You’ve been through a lot in the last year, and I don’t think you should rush into anything right now. Just be honest and upfront about what you want, what you feel, and what you’re available for. If that means eventually breaking up with both Tattoo Guy and Tattoo-Free Guy and going back on the dating market, great! (Sad, obviously, but also great.) But you don’t have to make a one-and-done decision like you’re on a dating show, picking between two suitors in the next five minutes.

Dear Prudence,
My parents consider themselves liberal and donate to causes that support racial justice and LGBT rights. They are also in their 70s and way behind the times in a lot of ways. Lately, I feel like every interaction with them turns into me correcting their “unenlightened” statements, and I can feel them getting tired of this dynamic. I want to ease up on them and trust that while they may make an off-color statement now and then, their hearts are generally in the right place, and I’m not going to change their entire vocabulary at this late stage. But I also don’t want to let bigotry or racism slide. I’m conflicted: Do I continue to correct them multiple times per interaction, or can I let some things slide? Some examples would be referring to a Chinese friend as “Oriental”; making a joke about not wanting to “look gay”; and saying, “Well, did he resist arrest?” when discussing a black victim of police brutality.

If it were truly the case that it was just an off-color statement “now and then,” you wouldn’t feel like you had to speak up multiple times in every interaction you had with your parents. I can understand not wanting to approach each utterance with the exact same weight, but I’d also like to challenge the idea that your parents simply suffer from the daily malapropisms that afflict all septuagenarians on Earth. I don’t say that because I want you to start treating your parents like secretly evil people, but to free you from the worry of having to identify exactly where their hearts are at any given moment. It kind of doesn’t matter what their hearts are like; you’re not talking about their hearts but their speech. You’re not trying to have a conversation with them about how they vote or what causes they donate to, and you don’t have to make a big deal out of each moment or accuse them of being secret bigots. You can mildly but clearly object to an outdated but possibly well-meaning term. You can ask “What’s wrong with that?” when they joke about not wanting to look gay. And you can offer a calm but serious intervention when they make a not-joke about police brutality.

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Dear Prudence,
My family and I are sponsoring an adult refugee to come live in our community (not in the U.S.). We don’t know this person and have never met or spoken to them; we’ll meet for the first time when they arrive and are very excited about it. We’ve made plans for housing and material needs for our sponsee, but in the interest of privacy, we haven’t told many people we’re doing this yet. My concern is our in-laws and extended family. This person will be a big part of our lives as we help them adjust financially and socially to our community. I don’t know how my husband and I should tell them and handle the inevitable xenophobic disapproval. Everyone in our extended family is straight and white, except for our newcomer. What sort of script can we use to inform our family?

Furthermore, what should we say when people inevitably direct racist comments about our sponsee to us? Our situation has been written up in the news, without our knowledge or consent, implying that we’re contributing to the housing crisis in our city. We’re not—we’re setting up our own unique housing situation and paying for everything—but that shouldn’t matter anyway. I am very comfortable with making other people uncomfortable in the interest of calling out bigotry. My husband, however, is not, so even with his family, I know I’ll have to take the lead. But in this situation, I don’t exactly know how to lead.
—Preparing for Racist Reactions

If your sponsorship is being facilitated by a refugee resettlement agency, I’d start by getting in touch with the workers there and asking for their advice, since they’ve likely helped a number of sponsor families through similar situations in the past. I also think it’ll be helpful to talk to your husband about what you think “taking the lead” with his family is going to look like. He may need to find ways to overcome his discomfort and learn to speak up if he’s going to take responsibility for helping a refugee acclimate to your home city. That doesn’t mean your husband has to become a John Brown–style firebrand overnight, but he’s going to have to at least make it clear that he’s following your lead and disagrees with his family’s racism sooner or later. In the meantime, I’d reach out to friends and family members who you know aren’t active racists to set up a low-key welcome party a few days after your sponsee’s arrival.

As for the people you know are likely to object, you don’t need much in the way of elaborate strategy. Tell them you two are sponsoring a refugee who’s moving to your city. If they say something racist, acknowledge and disagree with their racism, invite them to give you a call if they ever decide to apologize, and then don’t put your sponsee in a situation where they have to be around those people.

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been married for nearly 20 years, and we used to have a pretty good sex life. We figured out ways to help my wife reach orgasm most of the time, but she’s always been fairly indifferent to sex, and as the years have passed, she’s totally lost interest. She still participates for my sake, but she’s ruled out the things that get her off and has made it clear she’s just discharging her “wifely duties.” Occasionally she’s said she would be OK with opening up our marriage so I could have sex elsewhere. Usually I’ve taken that as a sign that she feels inadequate and wants to relieve me of guilt, but she’s brought it up again recently, and I think she’s sincere. But I also believe that she would be deeply hurt if I ever took her up on it.

I’m not crawling out of my skin for lack of a vibrant sex life. But I’m also not averse to a hookup. I love my wife, and I don’t want to leave her. If the situation ever arises where I could plausibly pursue sex with someone who’s flirting with me, am I really at liberty to pursue it? Can I take her permission at face value, even if I don’t think she really appreciates how it will affect her? To be clear, one of her conditions was that she would know about it, so secrecy is not on the table even if it might actually work better that way.
—Is Our Marriage Really Open?

Ask your wife! She’s made it clear that she wants to talk about this with you, so start talking about it with her. Say: “I’ve been giving more thought to your offer, and I have a few concerns. I want to prioritize our relationship, because I love you, and while the idea of having sex again appeals to me, I’m not desperate, and I want to make sure I’m not just rushing into something and ignoring your feelings. I’m also worried that if I did sleep with someone else, it would change things between us.” Then ask her what rules and boundaries you’d want to abide by as a couple, how you can check in with each other before and after, what she needs from this situation, and how you can be useful and attentive to her.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“This isn’t the season finale of Hart of Dixie where you have to make a choice before the next commercial break.”

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

Dear Prudence,
I come from a large immigrant family that touts nearly unanimous success stories: Ivy League educations, high-paying jobs, expensive homes, no divorce, beautiful children. They’re also all really good people. I feel like a failure because I haven’t lived up to my potential. I didn’t take advantage of certain opportunities when I was younger. I didn’t even know they existed, and now it’s too late for things like internships at fancy companies, applying to selective graduate schools, living in the “right” city, etc. I’m unmarried in my late 30s without kids. I have a partner, but we are having trouble. The point is I am not a success story, especially when compared with my relatives.

People tell me “We’re all on different paths” and “Comparison is the thief of joy,” blah blah blah. But the fact is that I came from the same family as my siblings and cousins, and they all turned out really successful. My not having the same relationship, career, academic, or financial success is a reflection on my failures. I just don’t know how to cope. I am sure my elders point to me and think, Thank God she’s not our daughter. I don’t want to continue feeling so hateful toward myself. What are some practical ways for me to change my perspective on myself?
—Making Peace With Being the Black Sheep

The good news is that you’re asking the right question and focusing on things you can change (how you think about and treat yourself) rather than on things you can’t (the relative levels of external and internal success of your family members). And without sounding too Pollyannaish, it’s not too late to change cities or work on finding a different career path. Trying to catch up with your siblings and cousins isn’t the best professional goal, but it might be worth taking a career aptitude exam or visiting a life coach for a couple of sessions to try to find out more about what you do care about, what skills you already have that you might continue to cultivate, what other options are available to you.

I didn’t see much in your letter about what you want, just about what you think you’ve already missed. Do you want kids? Do you like your partner? Do you think these troubles are something you can fix together? Would you prefer to be single or to date somebody totally different? Start focusing on the things you want. If you can’t think of much offhand, then it’s worth spending time investigating your own desires with a therapist and/or career counselor. It might also help you to take a little space from some of your family. That doesn’t mean you have to skip a holiday get-together or ignore their phone calls, but if you’d like to take a few months to be a little less available, to feel a bit less entangled in their various successes, that might prove helpful in the long run. I agree that it might not be realistic to try to stop comparing yourself to your relatives altogether, but I do think you can use that energy in a more productive and less self-loathing way.

Dear Prudence,
My mom and I have been living together in a town house complex for the past seven years. We have a tall tree in front of our unit that is home to a couple of squirrels. My mom and I leave nuts along the stone wall border of our front yard directly in front of our door. In the seven years that we’ve been doing this, we haven’t noticed any increase in the squirrel population or any mess apart from the nutshells that are left along our wall. We haven’t gotten any complaints either—until now. My mother found a note on our wall from one of our neighbors. In the note, we were asked not to place food on their side of the wall as “the squirrels will attract fleas.”

We have never placed food close to the neighbor’s side of the wall. We always keep it in front of our door. My mother and I have not noticed any fleas, nor have we been bitten. We do not have pets. I don’t think our neighbors on either side of us have pets.

I tried doing my own research and came up with conflicting answers. Some sources said that the fleas that are attracted to squirrels don’t usually prey on humans or cats and dogs. But other sources have said that they do. I’m unsure how to approach this, as my mother and I are really fond of the squirrels and want to keep feeding them. We also want to acknowledge our neighbor’s concerns as well, without this issue escalating to the point of getting HOA involved.
—Squirrelly Neighbors

You will still get to see the squirrels if you stop leaving nuts out for them, since it sounds like they’ve lived in that tree and found ways to feed themselves before you got there. As you acknowledge, you can’t control where the squirrels run off and eat their special treats, and it may be that your neighbors are irritated by finding shells on their lawn or don’t feel reassured by the fact that squirrel fleas “usually” don’t bite humans. Or they might be worried about attracting other wildlife, such as raccoons, rats, or possums, that could become more of a nuisance. The United States Department of Agriculture recommends not feeding squirrels for a variety of reasons, even if you’re convinced they haven’t become dependent on your food supply. Squirrels can be pretty destructive, chewing through insulation and wiring and making themselves at home in cellars and attics. I sound like an anti-squirrel curmudgeon, but I think your neighbors have made a reasonable request of you, politely phrased, and I think you should tell them, preferably in person and in gracious tones, that you’re going to stop.

If you find that watching the squirrels feed themselves just doesn’t have the same appeal for you, consider getting a small, low-maintenance pet of your own—an animal you’re not just allowed to feed, but one that actually needs you to!

Classic Prudie

Several months ago, a woman in my neighborhood, “Helen,” died after falling in her kitchen and hitting her head on a counter. Helen lived alone, her three children having moved out as soon as they could because of her verbal and physical abuse. Although the two youngest refused to have any further contact with her, the oldest, “Ruth,” would run errands for her and take her to doctors’ appointments. About 10 days ago, Ruth told me in confidence that she caused her mother’s death. Helen was haranguing Ruth about her boyfriend and grabbed Ruth by the shoulder. Ruth pushed Helen away and stormed out, vowing never to see her mother again. She was aware that Helen had fallen, but didn’t go back to check on her. (Her body was later discovered by a neighbor.) Ruth asked me not to reveal the truth to anyone. She told me because I have mentored her since she was small and because the strain of keeping it to herself was “killing” her. I want to keep her secret, but although I’ve done many internet searches, I can’t figure out whether I’m breaking the law by doing so. Can you help me figure out what to do?