Dear Prudence

Taylor Swift Is Straining My Marriage

Prudie’s column for Oct. 10.

Taylor Swift playing from a smart speaker.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for AEG and Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
I love my wife, but she plays the same two to three Taylor Swift songs at a high volume every morning (and sometimes at night). I go out of my way to avoid playing music that I know she dislikes around her. But Swift is immune from complaints. The same songs have played on loop for months now. We are 38 and 37, with two small children. Although I don’t begrudge her a love of cheesy pop, playing the same songs on repeat is pushing me to the brink. I don’t want to pick fights about it because she is highly sensitive to criticism. Am I entitled to be free of the same songs on loop every day? Or does a good spouse write it off as a quirk and suck it up? Help!
—Taylor Swift Is Straining My Marriage

Is she playing these songs while she’s trying to wrangle your two small children into their clothes, while brushing their teeth, or while getting them to the breakfast table? Or is she playing them while she’s getting ready for the day or relaxing in the evening? Because if it’s the former, I’m afraid that little kids absolutely love repetitive, cheesy music, and I’m inclined to rubber-stamp anything that makes baby-wrangling go a little more smoothly in the morning. The good news is that your kids will eventually get old enough to start blasting their own music that you hate for entirely different reasons!

But if this is just music she’s playing on her own time to pump herself up to face the world, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask her to use headphones. That doesn’t strike me as a fight so much as a gentle request, so if your wife interprets “Do you mind using headphones when you’re playing the same Taylor Swift songs in the morning? I’m having a hard time getting them out of my head” as criticism, then her idea of what constitutes criticism is really out of whack, and the two of you might want to have a gentle but in-depth conversation about how you can both bring requests to each other in a way that feels loving and respectful.

Dear Prudence,
Years ago, my father told me a secret. Being a sort of traditional guy, he wanted a cash backup in case of a financial apocalypse. He never told my brother about the stash. He had his reasons, but it’s a long story. It’s, perhaps stereotypically, buried near the house in a lockbox. I know where it is and what’s in it. Now my father is dead, and my mother is aging, and my brother and I are planning what to do after she’s gone. Her will says to split all her property 50/50 between us. My brother is doing better than me financially. He and his wife both have lucrative jobs. While I make good money, my wife definitely doesn’t, and we live in a city that eats a lot of our income. My brother is in a cheaper area. One could argue he’s made better decisions, but the bottom line is that I need that money more than he does. I feel a bit guilty, but can I just take the box before the will is settled out? This box would change my entire life.
—Dad’s Lockbox

At the risk of sounding like a spoilsport, perhaps you and your brother have spent too much time planning what to do after your mother is dead and not enough time planning her care while she is still, at present, alive. It is possible that stealing the money from your aging mother (and it is stealing—if you have to get something by secretly digging it up and never telling a soul where you found it, you can be confident you have stolen it) is not the best use of this money. It’s possible that your frail mother needs the money more than you do right now. You live in an expensive city, and your wife doesn’t make as much money as you do. You’re not facing eviction or crushing medical debt. You just wish you were as rich as your brother.

Imagine the work you’d have to do to keep this windfall a secret for the rest of your life. That means never explaining to your wife where this sudden influx of cash came from or taking her into your confidence and hoping she never tells anyone else, not once, not even in a slightly tipsy moment with a close friend who’s super curious about where she’s been getting all those amazing new clothes. That means figuring out how to report this on your income tax so you don’t get investigated by the IRS. That means hoping your dad really never did tell your brother about the lockbox (instead of, say, telling you both that he hadn’t told the other). That means knowing that if anyone ever discovers what you’ve done, you might potentially face arrest for stealing something that wasn’t openly willed to you through legal channels. That means hoping that you will not wake any neighbors if you go digging through your mother’s backyard one night. If you feel a bit guilty now, imagine the guilt and stress and anxiety that will be yours if you commit to keeping this a secret for the rest of your life.

All of this also presupposed that your dad wasn’t just messing with you, that the lockbox is really as full of cash as he said it was, that you’ll be able to find it, and that the cash inside won’t have deteriorated. I agree that if you take this box, it will probably change your life forever, but not necessarily only in the ways you want it to. I’d recommend you inform the lawyer handling your father’s will about the (possible) cache, look forward to the day when you inherit half of your parents’ property, enjoy what you have, and don’t borrow trouble.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I just had a baby. We didn’t want to know the sex beforehand and picked a neutral-sounding name, but my mother-in-law was obsessed with the idea of having a granddaughter. She’s always wanted a girl but had four boys and five grandsons. She got us everything in pink (my own mom said it looked like she robbed a cotton candy factory), no matter how much we protested. We ended up shrugging and accepted all the gifts. Then we had a little boy. We do dress him in the pink outfits his grandma gave us since it is too late to return them, they fit, and the baby resembles nothing so much as a potato.

My husband thinks it is funny, but his mother is very hurt. She hates it and makes comments about me “making fun” of her if I post a pink picture online. I tend toward deadpan humor and will include a caption about getting spit up on six times before noon. She is making a big deal about this, and it keeps coming up. I don’t understand why or what to do. The rest of my husband’s family even told her it doesn’t matter because the baby is going to outgrow everything anyway. She is still upset. What do we do about this? My husband tells me to ignore it, but I really don’t want to hurt my relationship with her.
—Angry Pink Mother-in-Law

I can imagine your mother-in-law’s frustration, having gone through nine family births hoping for a girl and never being right, but there’s a limit to how much a reasonable adult can express her sex-based disappointment before she really needs to move on and accept something she can’t change. You had a baby boy. Baby boys can wear (and spit up on) pink just as easily as they can any other color. You’re not making fun of her—you’re being practical. I do wonder if there’s an opportunity here to soothe your mother-in-law’s wounded feelings without bending over backward for her: “I know how much you’ve wanted a granddaughter, and I don’t think there’s anything foolish about that desire. I don’t want to make fun of you for it, and I hope you know that’s never been my intention when I put Ruskin in the clothes you gave us. All I’m trying to do is keep him dressed and relatively clean throughout the day. Baby clothes are so expensive, and they outgrow them so quickly. I’m going to keep posting pictures of him now and again because I want my friends and relatives to see how he’s doing and watch him grow. I hope you know that when I post these pictures, I am not trying to belittle or demean you in any way; that I love the way he looks in pink, and that I appreciate how thoughtful you were in buying us gifts before he was born.” If that doesn’t settle her and she continues to complain about his wardrobe, go ahead and mute her on social media. I’d hold off on any more significant interventions or asking your husband to run interference for bigger issues that may crop up in the future. Congratulations on your lovely pink potato!

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Dear Prudence,
My 17-year-old daughter was invited by her boyfriend’s mom to go for parents weekend at her 18-year-old boyfriend’s college five hours away. She was told that it would be just the two of them and that they’d share a hotel room. However, when they picked her up, her boyfriend’s stepdad was in the car too. During the drive over, it became clear that she was to be sharing the hotel room with both the mom and the stepdad. She was uncomfortable with this but did not want to rock the boat. My husband and I felt the sleeping arrangements were completely inappropriate and booked a room for our daughter for the first night. We weren’t able to get a room for the second night, however, because everything was booked, so the stepfather stayed in his stepson’s dorm. Now my daughter is spitting mad at us. It has caused a real rift in our relationship. Did we do the wrong thing? We don’t know the family that well and just feel that a teenage girl shouldn’t be tricked into sharing a hotel room with a grown man. And how do we heal the relationship with our daughter?
—Teenage Daughter Is Mad

You did the right thing. You trusted this woman to act in loco parentis over the weekend, and it’s at the very least odd that she kept her husband’s presence a surprise until your daughter got in the car with her. If you wouldn’t have let her go had you known she’d be sharing a room with an adult man, then it stands to reason that you’d want to make alternative arrangements once you’d found out. I understand that your daughter didn’t want to rock the boat and may feel embarrassed that you drew attention to something she hoped would just blow over, but prioritizing your child’s safety over her embarrassment is a pretty crucial component of parenting. Is your daughter upset because her boyfriend’s parents retaliated in some way when they had to change their sleeping arrangements? Because that would be additionally concerning. If the stepfather had said anything besides “Of course, I completely understand. I’m happy to bunk with [Stepson],” she might feel scrutinized and responsible for making “a big deal out of nothing,” and it’d be a pretty short jump from there to blaming you, even though the blame actually lies with her boyfriend’s parents.

I don’t think your daughter is going to hold this over your heads for the rest of your lives. Let her be angry while you remain secure that you acted prudently. She may never thank you for what you did, but you still did the right thing. There may even be an opportunity to stress an important lesson in self-preservation and trusting your instincts with her: “If someone waits until after you’ve already committed to something in order to change things at the last minute when you don’t feel comfortable saying no, or when it’s impossible to say no, that’s often a sign that they’re looking for ways to pressure you into going along with what they want. That doesn’t mean you have to assume everyone who does something unexpected is out to get you, but you’re allowed to say, ‘No, I’m not comfortable with this change,’ when something feels off.”

Dear Prudence Uncensored

She’s not going to be 30 and saying, ‘Remember that weekend you got me a hotel room? My life was never the same afterward.’ ”

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

Dear Prudence,
My now-1-year-old had a number of complications and health issues and spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. While we were there, I met “Julie” and “Nick.” Their baby, “Gio,” was born six days after mine and had similar issues. They were both upbeat and friendly every time we spoke and seemed optimistic. I felt like we were becoming friends and kept meaning to give Julie my number so we could stay in touch. Then one morning I overheard the doctors talking about Gio, using phrases that made it clear he wasn’t going to make it. Julie and Nick continued to be cheerful, often saying how excited they were for us that our baby would be going home soon. I took this as a cue that they didn’t want to discuss their grief with me, so I left it alone. Gio died the day we took our baby home from the hospital. I never did give Julie my number. Recently, Facebook suggested Nick on “People You May Know.” It turns out we have several mutual friends. I have been considering messaging him to let him (and Julie) know that I think about them, and about Gio, often. The truth is that I think about them every single day. Is it inappropriate to reach out in this way? Will it come across as being cruel, when our babies were so similar but had such different outcomes?
—Reaching Out or Rubbing It In?

Your instinct to reach out and offer sympathy is a good one, and you should do it right away. It may be that Julie and Nick don’t have the energy to continue the acquaintance—they might indeed find it too taxing to maintain a friendship with a couple raising a baby at the same time they thought they’d be raising theirs—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything. I don’t think there’s ever anything cruel about telling someone you grieve with them, that your heart aches with theirs, and that you’re thinking of them often. I don’t imagine that Gio is ever far from their thoughts, so mentioning him isn’t going to bring up painful memories they’ve otherwise forgotten. I think it’s more common, after a profound loss like this one, for people to not say anything out of fear of saying the wrong thing, so bereaved parents often face a great silence after the immediate outpouring of support.

Send that message. You can stress that they’re under no obligation to respond and that you wish them both all the love and support imaginable. I don’t think they’ll see your message as callous because your baby survived. I think it will feel meaningful to them that you remember them, that the whole world hasn’t moved on and forgotten their grief, and that the affection that existed between you in the NICU was real and solid and long-lasting. That doesn’t mean they’ll feel up to a prolonged correspondence or that they won’t have complicated, bittersweet feelings about your happy exit from the NICU. But sending a message of support will be meaningful and kind, and you’re right to want to do it.

Dear Prudence,
I’m Jewish by conversion, having been raised in a conservative Christian environment. My parents are generally good, even mostly liberal these days. However, my mom has directly told my mother-in-law (also a Christian) that she would have any child of mine baptized against my will. My wife is not pregnant, but this offends me deeply, terrifies me, and honestly is making it difficult to even be sexually intimate with my wife for fear of this. What do I do?
—Religious Kidnapping

You have every right to be angry and offended about this promise to directly contravene your rights as a parent and your Jewish faith. In the short term, you and your wife can talk about how you want to respond to this and how you two can back each other up when your respective families try to butt in, and have more concrete conversations about what sort of religious training, if any, you two would want your future children to receive. I don’t know if your wife is also Jewish or to what degree she supports your conversion, but she should be your first choice for discussion and support right now. In the long term, you can tell your mother that her ability to spend even supervised time with any children of yours will entirely depend on whether she’s able to commit to agreeing not to kidnap and forcibly baptize them. If she can’t do that (or even if you suspect her agreement is superficial and an attempt to get you off her back), then she won’t be given the opportunity to take any children of yours anywhere. The choice is hers.

Classic Prudie

I consider myself a decent man, but for the past year I have been cheating on my wife about twice a month with prostitutes. We’ve been married for more than a decade and have three young children. Since the beginning of our relationship, my libido has exceeded hers, and she frequently refused my overtures. Now we have sex about once a month, only when initiated by her, because I became so resentful about being rebuffed constantly. It’s mutually satisfying (she has an orgasm and is not the type to fake it) but bland. Over the years, to increase the likelihood that my wife would be in the mood, I cooked, did chores, and helped as much as possible with child care. She would frequently say she was too tired for sex, although she would not be too tired to stay up late reading or watching TV. We get along reasonably well, and our children are our chief priority, but we are emotionally disconnected. Out of despair and frustration, I saw an escort last year. The thrill of seeing prostitutes and the variation from my usual sex life made me feel better, and I think it’s more honorable than an affair, but it is the worst thing I’ve ever done. If my wife found out it would lead to the immediate dissolution of our marriage. We have talked about counseling, but she’s not very interested. If we divorced it would devastate my children and would deprive me of seeing them every day. My plan right now is to continue what I’m doing until the children are in high school and college, then get a divorce. Is there another way out of my dilemma?