Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, everyone. Let’s chat!
Q. Slob: My fiancé has started to telecommute full time and it is affecting our relationship. He has turned into a complete slob: unkempt beard, PJs day in and out, eating junk food, slacking on chores. We use to both be vigilant about keeping up the house, but now if I want dishes done before I come home to cook, I have to do them myself. I have to fight traffic, get groceries, and come home to the equivalent of a teenager playing video games. I can’t help but resent that he plays four hours every day while I struggle to find an hour to go to the gym. It is killing our sex life. I don’t find him attractive. I don’t even want to kiss him with that scratchy, scraggly beard. We were great before and now everything is taking a nosedive. Help, please. We aren’t even married yet!
A: Tell him everything you just told me, and then tell him it’s affecting your relationship so seriously that you feel like you’re in a “nosedive.” If he decides to return to adulthood, and recommences doing the dishes, occasionally putting on shoes, helping you out with the groceries, and periodically leaving the house—so much the better. If he doesn’t, and if he knows that you’re struggling to find even an hour of time for yourself throughout the day and continues to ignore your shared household duties because he’s so enamored with the allure of telecommuting, then you should run out of this relationship grateful to have dodged a bullet.
Q. A bad work romance: I’m married and I am hopelessly in love with someone else. This other person is married as well. They pursued me in the beginning, and at first I turned down their advances. But then little by little, I started to develop feelings when they were there to support me through some tough times. We both work in the same industry and often pair together for projects, which leads to dinners alone and a lot of time spent together. We both claim to want to leave our respective partners and be together, but it’s not so easy. We each have kids, there are financial concerns with getting a divorce, and we live in different states. We haven’t crossed physical boundaries besides some heavy make-out sessions, but we both confess our love daily and continue trying to find a way to make it work.
I’m a logical person by nature, but this has me all screwed up. I know in my mind that this is a disaster in the making and that starting a new relationship with all these issues and all the people we would hurt would just be relationship suicide. But I can’t extricate myself from this situation. I have fallen so far down the rabbit hole that every time I try to walk away, I end up falling more in love. Help!
A: At the risk of sounding heartless, you have not “fallen down a rabbit hole” or accidentally stumbled into a meadow that forces you to fall in love with someone against your will. You’re just, you know, having an affair. It will be better for you, and allow you to keep a clearer head and make more sensible decisions, if you stop pretending to have no options. You say “at first” you turned down their advances, as if that somehow ameliorates your later decision to accept their advances. It doesn’t! You have crossed physical boundaries; you have decided to accept intimate emotional support from them during tough times instead of turning to your friends or your partner; you talk about being paired together for projects as if you have absolutely no recourse but to meet up for regular candlelit dinners or you’ll get fired tomorrow; you claim this other person has “screwed up” your naturally logical nature rather than acknowledge that you have chosen to make decisions that are not rooted in logic.
If you continue down this path, where you pretend that someone else is making your decisions for you or that you’re being subjected to a force beyond human control, you’re going to experience the worst possible outcomes—you won’t fully commit to the person you claim to be hopelessly in love with, but neither will you recommit to your marriage. Eventually someone else will find out, and you’ll suffer both professionally and personally as a result. Consider what you will do if you decide to leave your partner and your inamorata doesn’t leave theirs. Will you still believe it was the right thing to do because you’re no longer in love with your spouse? Or will you feel like you got the short end of the stick? Are you prepared to suffer financially for true love? What would “making it work” look like? Apply some of your logic to figuring out how to move this from “affair” to “open and acknowledged” relationship if you truly believe you can’t ever give it up. But continuing to throw yourself down a hole while insisting you fell won’t do you any good.
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Q. Smoke weed every day: I have been with my fiancé for about five years and I want to start this by saying in no way is he a bad person; he is sweet, supportive, kind, family-oriented, and a provider. However, he smokes weed all day, every day. Especially on the weekends. When we first started dating we would smoke together, but I outgrew that era of our lives after a year, partly because I get anxiety and panic attacks from smoking weed. On the other hand, he can’t live without weed.
I’ve tried to talk to him about why he feels that he needs it to be a part of his life so much, but the short answer is that he doesn’t smoke it to escape anything like depression, anxiety, etc. He simply just loves the feeling of exhaling and inhaling smoke. We have a 1-year-old son, and I refuse to let my fiancé smoke in the house, but I often feel pressure for being so uptight about it. We plan on getting married in July 2020, but honestly I’m worried we are not compatible.
A: Whether you two get married or not, if you have a 1-year-old son together, you’re likely going to be in each other’s lives in one form or another for at least the next 17 years. But establishing a mutually respectful co-parenting relationship with a friendly-but-difficult-to-engage stoner is miles away from trying to establish real emotional and physical intimacy with a partner who can’t be honest with you or himself about his relationship to weed. I don’t mean to demonize smoking, even smoking daily, but I don’t think he smokes every day simply because he likes the feeling of exhaling smoke. That’s a ridiculous, patently obvious lie.
I can see in your letter that you’re really worried about seeming judgmental—you hasten to assure me that he’s not a bad person, and you worry you’re being “uptight” for not wanting the father of your son to smoke weed in the house with your new baby—but it’s not judgmental or dismissive to decide you two are incompatible, or to be skeptical of his claim that his obvious, regular dependence on weed is due to the fact he likes blowing smoke rings. Tell your fiancé that you’re having doubts, ask him if he’s willing to consider couples counseling and to be honest with you about what his drug use is doing for him, and consider calling off the wedding if you don’t feel like you two are able to make substantial progress before July. If you decide not to marry him, that doesn’t mean you’re calling him a bad person—it just means you don’t think he’s the right husband for you.
Q. My former Sunday school student: Many years ago, I belonged to a fundamentalist Christian church that was very anti-gay. I was active in this church, including teaching Sunday school. Not long after I broke away from that, I noticed on Facebook that a former student of mine had come out as gay and wasn’t doing well. I reached out to him to offer my support (I am a lifelong LGBTQ+ ally despite my involvement in that church), and he ended up coming to live with me for about six months as his family and church rejected him. I helped him find a place of his own, and after he moved out we kept in touch mostly via Facebook because he was young and free and I was a divorced single mom with a new relationship. I watched from a distance as he went through a few relationships and then got engaged to a man he loved deeply. I was happy for him.
Suddenly, the tone of his posts changed. He went back to church and found religion again, then abruptly removed me as a Facebook friend. I worried about him from time to time, but I did not try to reach out and intervene. I hoped that somehow he’d find a path to harmony between his sexuality and his religious beliefs. Today, he sent me a message and I was so glad to hear from him! He told me that he’d like to catch up and invited me to church. I replied and told him I’d welcome the chance to get together but that I wasn’t interested in attending a church service. (I’m an atheist now, which he knows.) I checked out his Facebook page and most of the posts are about how he has undergone a conversion from homosexuality and is now straight. He even has a write-up in an evangelical magazine!
He hasn’t responded yet to my offer, but if he does want to get together, how on earth do I navigate his “conversion”? I want to show him as much love and acceptance as I did when he was openly gay, while also letting him know that if it ever gets to be too much that I will always be here for him. Should I be explicit or just let it be implied by my warm, friendly interactions? Or maybe, now that he has opened an avenue of communication, I should try to “rescue” him … but that doesn’t seem like the right tack to take. Any advice?
A: There’s a decent chance you won’t hear from him again, now that you’ve turned down his request to go to church. Or if you do, it’ll all be part of an attempt to “rescue” you from your atheism. It sounds like most of his life is now organized around his return to fundamentalism, and I don’t think he’s as interested in catching up as he is in winning your soul back to the team. If he does respond, and is willing to meet outside of a church, be prepared for it to turn into a soul-saving pitch at some point and figure out a polite but firm way to turn him down and make it clear you’re there to reminisce and catch up, not get into an atheism-versus-Christianity-style debate.
If I’m wrong, and he’s still interested in getting that cup of coffee even if you don’t want to go to church with him afterward, I think it’s a good idea to approach things in an inquisitive, openhearted way. My guess is that, on at least some level, he’s exhausted. There’s a reason he constantly churns out posts about how wonderful it is to be ex-gay—he has to constantly remind himself of it, and constantly psych himself up, constantly deliver pep talks, like a great white shark that can’t stop swimming for even a minute lest it sink and drown. (I don’t know if it’s really true they can’t stop for a single minute, but for the purposes of illustration, let’s say they can’t.) You don’t have to come out swinging right away, although I think it’s important to be clear on the fact that you’re an atheist and a proud supporter of gay rights upfront. It’s one thing for him to know via Facebook or the grapevine, but it’s another for you to be able to acknowledge it calmly and openly in front of him. I think your strategy of being warm and friendly is a good one; I don’t think you need to make it your job to rescue him, but I think you’ll be able to provide at least one visible alternative to being the poster boy for “ex-gay conversion.” I hope he keeps reaching out.
Q. Restage the wedding: Three years ago, my husband and I had a courthouse wedding a month into our engagement. His mom got a cancer diagnosis and my family was visiting. (They live overseas.) We felt that it would be the only time all the stars aligned to have everyone here. His mom beat the cancer. I am happy but part of me misses not having the chance to have traditional wedding pictures made. Would I be crazy to hire a photographer and professionally stage the wedding I never got? My friend offered to let me borrow her wedding dress, and other girlfriends like the idea of dressing up and having a photo session. It would be a few thousand dollars. I love the candid photos of our actual ceremony, but we got married like that for my mother-in-law’s sake. I don’t regret what we did, but it wasn’t what I imagined it would be. We haven’t even gone on an official honeymoon because we had to help my mother-in-law and teenage brothers-in-law. I’ve gotten a few harsh responses to my idea that makes me doubt it. Would it be in good taste?
A: I’m hoping that none of the harsh responses came from your husband, because I think it’d be difficult and painful to have a wedding photo session without him. But yes, assuming he’s on board—and that you’re talking about an hour or two of taking photos with your friends in fun outfits, not trying to stage a fake wedding with hundreds of guests and an officiant—it sounds fun and delightful and memorable, and I think you should do it.
Q. Naked at home: I am renting a garden cottage that sits behind a huge Victorian. The back side of the cottage is mostly glass, and it faces the woods. It feels like I am practically outside, minus the bugs. I have taken to wandering in my home in only my underwear. It feels freeing and relaxing. A new family rented the Victorian. I haven’t done more than wave at the neighbors as I leave for work or get groceries. Only last week, I found an anonymous note taped to my door asking me to please cover up and be “decent” since there were children about. I felt embarrassed and exposed and then angry. There is no way for anyone to see me unless someone decided to trespass directly onto my property and swing around to spy over my back fence. It has to be the new renters. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know whether confronting them will make this better or worse. My landlord is mostly absent and I doubt he will do anything. I am not doing anything wrong, but I feel trapped now in my own home. Help.
A: Cheerfully disagree with the anonymous note and wear whatever you like in the comfort of your own home. Children sometimes go to the beach and see people in swimsuits; if they can handle that, they can handle living in a home near someone who sometimes wears underwear indoors. If you’re worried about escalation, I think it makes sense to figure out how and when you’d want to bring this matter to your landlord’s attention and how you’d like to invite your neighbors, politely, to mind theirs. But if they’ve confined themselves so far to one snide and chiding note, I think you should toss it in the trash and enjoy your lovely cottage.
Q. I just want to pee in peace: I share an apartment with one roommate, who’s also a close friend. We get along well, but she has one habit that’s driving me nuts. When she wants to talk to me, she’ll listen until she hears me leave my room to go to the bathroom, then go out into our living room and pretend she was planning on going out there anyway so she can “casually” start a conversation when I exit. She does this nearly every day that I’m home. It feels really intrusive to have someone who’s constantly listening for when I’m going to the toilet, especially since she could always just knock on my door if she needed me. I’ve asked her before if she’s doing this, but she pretends that she just happens to need to leave her room whenever I need to pee. This just feels weird. How do I approach this?
A: “Sorry, we’ve discussed this—I can’t talk right now, I’ll have to catch you later.” Then go to your room or to the kitchen to fix yourself a cup of coffee or whatever it is that you were planning on doing, and let her know later when you’re interested in chatting. You are allowed to decline a conversation just because you’re not yet feeling up to it. You don’t have to pretend to be on your phone or about to head out the door, and your roommate needs to stop trying to push this boundary. Hold it firm.
Q. Re: Slob: It is really common for remote workers to suffer from feelings of isolation and depression when starting to work from home. I have worked remotely for the past three years and still struggle with feelings of depression. I would highly recommend that your fiancé seek out mental health services, because the change in his behavior could be directly related to mental health issues, now that he is working remotely.
A: It’s a possibility, but only a possibility. It’s also possible that he’s being selfish and inconsiderate. (It’s also possible that both of these things can happen at the same time.) Whether or not the letter writer’s partner seeks treatment and/or receives a diagnosis, mostly I’d want the letter writer to know that she’s allowed to be frustrated, express anger, and decide whether this relationship is the one she wants to be in.
Q. Re: Smoke weed every day: If your fiancé truly does love the feeling of inhaling and exhaling smoke, suggest that he look into aromatherapy diffusers. As a person who was raised by stoners, I can confidently say that smoking weed on a chronic basis puts you at an emotional distance from everyone around you, and that your child, even at 12 months, will notice this distance. It is important for the development of children for their parents to be emotionally present, and if the father is always stoned, there is a really limited amount of love and attention that he can offer. Lying about the purpose of smoking weed is a red flag that this is a drug abuse issue, and it should be worked out.
A: I don’t want to go so far as to claim that everyone who smokes on a daily basis is necessarily at an emotional remove from the people they love, but I do agree with you that this guy is not being honest with either himself or his partner about his drug use, and I do think there are a couple of red flags here. The diffuser is a great point about what an obvious misdirection and red herring just claiming to “love smoke” is. My guess is that, if you suggest it as an alternative, he won’t suddenly say: “Oh, this is great. I’m going to save so much time and money now switching to aromatherapy.” There’s way more to it than that.
Q. I lied and told our son the dog died. Now he wants to exhume the body: When my oldest son was 8, we decided to get a dog. I’ve raised dogs before so I had a fairly good idea of what I was getting myself into, until I realized our new dog was the devil’s spawn in furry disguise. I won’t get into all the trouble he caused. We made a difficult decision to send him back to his previous owner, but my son was adamantly against it. He went on a hunger strike and refused to speak to anyone, including at school. (He inherits the drama-queen gene from both his parents.) So one day we sent him to his grandparents under the guise of a happy weekend outing, and secretly took the dog back. After our son came home we lied and said the dog died. To make it believable we pretended to have buried the dog in the backyard. My son is now 13 and he still goes to the “grave” to mark every anniversary of the “death,” which in itself is impressive because he doesn’t even remember his own birthday. Anyway, the problem is, we are now moving. My son has been increasingly worried about leaving Scooter behind and has been asking us to exhume his body to rebury him in our new house. He is insisting that he be there to witness the “ceremony” of exhuming and reburying as he feels he never got a proper chance to say goodbye at the original “funeral.” Knowing our son, he would be devastated and perhaps scarred for life if we admit the truth. I know it was wrong to lie but we don’t want our son to lose trust in us forever because of what happened in the past. What should we do?
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