Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. What’s in a name? My brother is engaged to a really wonderful woman. The problem is that she shares my relatively common first name. It’s a common-enough name to the point that I am used to being in groups with other people with the same name, and it generally doesn’t bother me. However, I have been surprised that it does bother me quite a bit to deal with this confusion in my family. I’ve said jokingly a couple of times that we need to find a nickname for her, but she hasn’t suggested one and I would never nickname her against her will. Would it be OK to more seriously ask her if she would consider using a nickname within our family? Or should I assume that if she wanted to adopt a nickname she would have already? If I did ask, I would only ask once and drop it if she didn’t want a nickname.
A: I think your irritation is understandable! Having two adults with the exact same name in a close family dynamic can be confusing (more confusing than last week’s dog-human name coincidence, anyhow), and you don’t want to end up in the sort of situation where everyone clarifies they’re not talking about you, “Molly,” by referring to your sister-in-law as “[Brother]’s Molly,” making her sound like household baggage.
That said, I think if she hasn’t responded to the jokes you’ve made about needing a nickname, there’s a chance that asking her to come up with a nickname might come across as unwelcoming. I think you can ask her and your brother if they have any thoughts for dealing with the confusion, whether that be a nickname for one or both of you, a commitment to clarifying in the moment during conversations, or some other option. But don’t immediately suggest that she get a nickname. Wait to see how the conversation unfolds. My guess, too, is that with time you’ll all collectively develop a system, even if it’s an ad hoc one, to muddle through this confusion, and you won’t spend the rest of your life at family events feeling exactly this same degree of confusion and irritation. You’ll start to consider her a member of the family not just mentally but reflexively, and everyone will find ways to adjust, and things won’t feel quite so fraught.
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Q. Why should he have his cake? My friend has been having an affair with a married man with grown children for 10 years. She stuck with him because of the promise of divorce. My friend got (willingly) pregnant and the guy promised (for the millionth time) that he would definitely divorce his wife after she gave birth. My friend had her baby, and surprise, he’s still with his wife! I have kept my friend’s secret because 1) it would get her in trouble, and 2) it’s none of my business.
But now that she’s given birth, I feel infuriated that my friend’s kid is someone’s secret. My friend’s family already knows, so the fear of her getting in trouble or embarrassed is now nonexistent. So here’s my question: Why shouldn’t I out the guy to his family? Me keeping his secret makes me feel complicit in his betrayal. I have no obligation to protect him. My friend no longer cares if the family finds out but would not exactly be thrilled either. (She doesn’t think I’m capable of outing him, as I am generally not outspoken.) My intention is not to break up his family by revealing his secret. If his family chooses to forgive him and stay together, then so be it. I just want the truth out there. In the long run, I think this will be good for my friend’s kid. What do you think?
A: I think it is dishonest to pretend that your intention is not to try to break up this guy’s family. It very much is! You see him as someone who’s been getting away with not only stringing your friend along but having his cake and eating it too for a full decade, and you’re sick of it, and you want him to get his comeuppance. I also think it’s dishonest to pretend you think this will be good for your friend’s child. I don’t know what would be best right now for your friend’s child in this situation, but I don’t think this particular desire is motivated by concern for this baby’s welfare. I’m sure that you do care about this baby and about your friend, but it’s important to be honest about your own motivations before deciding to act on any impulse, especially one with potentially enormous consequences like this one.
That doesn’t mean that your frustration and anger aren’t perfectly understandable. But I think that if you decide to tell this guy’s family about your friend’s child, you can effectively consider your friendship with her over for good—I doubt she will ever forgive you for interfering in this situation, and I’m sure there are a number of ways she might experience pain or embarrassment aside from just her own family members finding out. Whatever promises he may have made and failed to deliver, she decided to continue this affair for the past 10 years even knowing he was married and living with his wife. I think the wisest thing you can do at this point is encourage your friend to make sure she’s getting child support from the father of her baby, so that she’s not left in the lurch if he ever decides to disappear on her. I do think there’s a case to be made for saying something (although not necessarily a slam-dunk one with zero downsides), but I don’t think you’ve exhausted your other options just yet.
Q. Should I tell my fiancé about my crush on a co-worker? I’m in a long-term relationship with the father of my baby boy; we’ve been together for five years and we’re both 30. We’re going to get married next year and I’m very happy about that, but lately I seem to have developed a crush on a co-worker. He’s a professor at the university I teach in, and he’s so handsome and charming! I don’t really talk to him much, but I have romantic dreams about him where we’re flirting and kissing. I feel very sexually attracted to him, whereas my sexual attraction to my fiancé has lessened considerably since our son was born. We barely have time to be with each other at home, and it’s difficult to go out together. I feel like we’re just boring parents, even though I love him and our baby so much. We have really settled into a routine that at the same time pleases and bores me a little bit.
We’re both very monogamous and we have always told each other we’d never be attracted to anyone else, which was true (at least for me) for the past five years—but now I see that’s pretty silly. I love him so much and I want to talk to him about my crush, but I know it will hurt him, especially at a moment when he feels unattractive. (He’s gained some weight since we’ve met, which doesn’t bother me at all.) I really don’t want to hurt him, and I will not act on my crush, because I know it would be a huge mess that I don’t want to deal with, and I wouldn’t want to put my family through the strain, but still I feel like I’m hiding something from my fiancé and that makes me feel horrible. I wish we could have an open conversation about this, but to be honest, if he’d had a crush on another woman, I’d feel awful. I don’t really know if I should talk to my fiancé or just wait in silence until the crush subsides. Tell me what to do, Prudie!
A: I do think it’s telling, at least in terms of figuring out your emotional state at the moment, that you described your fiancé as “the father of my baby boy” with whom you’re “in a long-term relationship” and to whom you’re “going to get married next year.” That’s a roundabout and confusing way of calling someone your fiancé! I don’t say that to scold you or to make you feel bad, but I do think it’s worth acknowledging that you seem pretty detached and alienated from your partner right now. But the upside is that you also feel warmth and affection, even if it’s still fairly distant, for him, and you want to know if it’s possible for you two to reconnect and reprioritize one another. I think it is! There is plenty for you two to talk about besides your pie-in-the-sky crush for a man you don’t know very well or see very often. You feel like the two of you are more co-parents than partners right now, that you aren’t able to prioritize time together, that your sex life has dwindled, and that you two aren’t having many emotionally significant conversations right now. Talk about that with him! He may very well feel the same way. If the two of you can both make time for one another and talk more honestly about what you want from one another, the ways in which being parents of a very young child can take a serious toll on any relationship, your sexual desires, etc., I think there’s an excellent chance that in the long run you’ll find that old connection again. But it won’t happen if you just try to clamp down on your feelings of dissatisfaction and wait it out.
Q. Concerned anti-horse man: My friend “Kira” recently discovered an online horse-breeding game. She quickly became obsessed with it. But the problem isn’t that she’s spending all her time on it. The problem is that she named all of her horses after me and my friends and is “breeding” us. I’m afraid to tell her this makes me uncomfortable because it’s all a big joke to her. She’s been encouraging all of us to join the game.
A: This is genuinely a new one to me! I feel a little quaint and naïve—it never even occurred to me that there were online horse-breeding games. And yet here we are!
It’s always anxiety-inducing to tell a friend that something they think of as goofy and harmless actually bothers us, I think, because the fear is that they will simply laugh and dismiss us. And it can feel easier to simply worry that that would be their response than to ask and find out for certain. But if you don’t ask her to stop, she won’t ever know that it bothers you, so there’s nothing for it but to acknowledge your fear straight out the gate: “I realize this might strike you as insignificant or silly, but I feel really weird about your using my name to breed fake horses. Would you stop using my name? It would only take a second of your time, but it would go a long way toward making me feel comfortable, and I’d really appreciate that.”
Q. My friend’s angry after seeing his ex hang out with me on social media: About 10 months ago, my friend Patrick briefly dated a guy named Mark. Patrick was head over heels for Mark. He said it was his first “love at first sight” situation and that Mark could be “the one.” Mark abruptly ended the courtship after about a month, saying it just didn’t feel right. Four-ish months later, Mark met my best friend (and roommate) Simon, and they started a relationship. Patrick is still heartbroken over Mark and has taken to saying bad things behind Mark’s back whenever I see him. Mark is now also my friend, and I don’t agree with the negative comments, but I let Patrick vent until I can change the subject. It’s worth noting that Patrick constantly says he would give Mark another chance, should he ask for one.
The last time I saw Patrick, he complained about me posting images that include Mark on social media. Patrick said that “it ruins his day” whenever he sees me posting images with Mark and I should adjust my social media settings to avoid upsetting him. I now (resentfully) block Patrick from seeing such posts. I understand not wanting to see an ex online—I block my own ex’s accounts and their associates’ accounts for that reason, but Patrick follows Mark online and “likes” and “views” all of his posts, so he’s going to see Mark and Simon together one way or another. My empathy is wearing thin. Is there a kind way to tell Patrick that he is overreacting to the ending of such a short relationship, and that how he addresses the issue with me is not appropriate?
A: There’s definitely a kind way to tell Patrick that you find some of his requests unreasonable and you’re not going to go out of your way to accommodate them any longer. It’s a little trickier to find a kind way to say “You care too much about someone who doesn’t think much about you,” but not impossible: “I’m really sorry it ruins your day to see pictures of Mark on your social media feed. I know that relationship meant a lot to you, and I know it can be complicated to figure out how to be friends with someone you used to date. But I’ve given some more thought to your request, and I don’t think I can do it. Mark’s a good friend of mine. I’m sorry things didn’t work out between the two of you, but I don’t think he behaved badly or did anything to be ashamed of. If you need to set your own limits and avoid looking at pictures of him for your own well-being, I hope you do it, but I’m not going to downplay my friendship with him.”
Q. Re: What’s in a name? This happened in my family. The brother maintained his name while the new husband was called by the same name if only he was present in a certain situation. If there was possible confusion, they would then be called First Name Middle Name.
A: I don’t know why middle names never even occurred to me! That’s an easy solution. A few other responses also pointed out that it’s easier for the letter writer to create a nickname for herself, especially if the other person has seemed disinclined to accept a nickname so during those earlier “joke” requests.
Q. Former bridesmaid made fun of my fiancé’s looks: I’m engaged to a wonderful man who happens to have a gap between his teeth. I think the gap makes Tom’s smile that much more charming and adorable, but I know kids teased him about it growing up, so he’s sensitive about it. At my bachelorette party this weekend, my good friend “Elisabeth” said some nasty things about Tom’s teeth and how they made him ugly. I saw red and told her to GTFO of my bridal party and life. It’s been 48 hours, and I feel the same way. Am I overreacting to Elisabeth’s comments about Tom? She has apologized for “making me testy” but not for insulting his appearance or him.
A: I think it’s worth making sure that you’ve done your level best to avoid a misunderstanding when it comes to losing a friendship of long standing over a single episode. I’d wait another day or two, when things don’t feel quite so immediate, and then try to give her one more opportunity to apologize: “I’m not ‘testy’ over what happened last weekend. I was hurt and angry because you called my fiancé ugly when we were getting together to celebrate my engagement to him and then offered a halfhearted apology. Is there something going on that I’ve been missing? This is really unlike you, and it’s really hurt me.” If that doesn’t do anything, or if she continues to act like you’re making a big deal out of nothing, I think you’re right to let the friendship go. How sad and baffling!
Q. Re: Should I tell my fiancé about my crush on a co-worker? Regarding the letter writer’s statement: “The thing is, we’re both very monogamous and we have always told each other we’d never be attracted to anyone else, which was true (at least for me) for the past five years—but now I see that’s pretty silly.” It is absolutely, 100 percent normal, natural, and human to be attracted to other people when you are in a committed relationship. The world’s happiest, most sexually fulfilling relationship doesn’t change the perfectly normal human response to be attracted to attractive people.
A: I do think that’s also worth revisiting! You don’t have to go into the gruesome details about how charming and sexy you find this co-worker of yours, but I do think it’s important to revisit your expectations about what monogamy looks like and means to you—that strikes me as a rather young and naïve agreement you two might have made before you felt more secure in yourselves and in your relationship.
Q. I’m worried an acquaintance’s forgetfulness is making me seem racist: Recently I was “introduced” to an acquaintance, who is of Indian descent. I say “introduced” because I have met her and chatted with her at least four times before, and each time at the end of our interaction she said, “It was nice to meet you!” The third time I “met” her, I lightheartedly mentioned that we’d already met before. She replied in a half-joking way, “Are you sure it wasn’t another brown person?” (I am white.) I was, of course, mortified, and scoured my memory to make sure I wasn’t remembering incorrectly. But I’m 1,000 percent sure we’ve already met because I’ve never met anyone else who shares her name, and our subsequent reintroductions confirmed for me that she’s probably just forgetful. Part of me is miffed to have to keep reintroducing myself (especially because some people do this as a sort of weird power play) but I absolutely don’t want her to feel like I’m mixing her up with someone else just because she is Indian. What do I do the next time I see her? I’m confident I’ll have to introduce myself again. Do I keep pretending it’s the first time, every time?
A: You are overthinking this! Whether her joke was meant as a barb or it just missed the mark, all you have to do is say: “Yes, it’s great to see you again. We met recently at [event].” If she asks you the same question again, you can just acknowledge the facts, secure in the knowledge that you’ve met before: “Yes, it was through our mutual friend Y at [wherever the event took place].” But don’t go out of your way to prove your bona fides or make sure she agrees with you; if she’s had to deal with a lot of people mixing her up with other Indian acquaintances in the past, that’s not a problem you can fix by proving the two of you have met before. Just be friendly and polite, don’t take on excessive personal responsibility for a systemic problem, and move on and speak to someone else afterward.
Q. Transphobia or cancer grief? My mother’s best friend was recently diagnosed with cancer that will probably be terminal. My mom is understandably devastated. Last year, I came out as transmasculine and nonbinary. (I use they/them pronouns.) I’ve recently started taking testosterone. I’m thrilled to be doing HRT and excited for what comes next. My mom (who is queer) has struggled with my pronouns but tried to be supportive—until her friend started taking hormone blockers and testosterone as part of her cancer treatment. Now, whenever I talk to her, she rants about how T causes infertility (I plan to have biological kids) and premature menopause, and “wreaks havoc” on your body. It’s always couched in concern for her friend but is also directed at me. I want to support my mom, but these conversations are deeply upsetting and are affecting my transition. How do I get her to stop without downplaying her very real grief?
A: This is one of those situations where, as a person taking HRT, you are uniquely unqualified to be the primary person who helps your mother process her various fears and anxieties around HRT. You’ve already made a lot of room for these conversations, and it’s not “downplaying her grief” to tell her she needs to find someone else to share these particular concerns with. You’re not telling her to stop talking about her friend’s condition or her fears about her survival. Nor do I think now is a good time to get drawn into a back-and-forth about the various effects of HRT, cancer, and cancer treatments. All you have to say is: “Mom, I love you so much, and I can’t imagine how hard it is for you to watch your best friend go through this. I’m not available to talk you through your fears about HRT, but please know that I’m doing really well, staying in close contact with my doctor, and not taking unnecessary risks with my body.” That’s all! It’s a fairly gentle, low-conflict intervention; you don’t need to convince her of anything right now or get into an in-depth conversation about fertility treatments. Just let her know your one limit in this particular area.
Q. Re: Concerned anti-horse man: I work on one of those games! (There are several.) Tell her you’ll try the game only if she takes your name out of it. She wants the in-game benefits of having recruited someone more than she wants to keep your name, I promise. Also, tell her in person. She knows on some level that treating her friends like dolls in a dollhouse is creepy—I see our customers talking about this topic on a regular basis—but the only way to break through her defensiveness will be with actual eye contact. “I know this is a little thing, which is why I also know you’ll do it for me” is also a solid script.
A: Thank you very much. I’m weirdly glad it’s apparently such a common problem, because that means a lot of other people have already had to come up with solutions. How to get out of what sounds like a horse-breeding pyramid scheme, though, that’s another question entirely.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! And a programming note: The chat is happening on Tuesday next week. Until then, may all of your fictional horse-breeding stock be free from fescue toxicity.
From How to Do It
My issue is the guys I’m sleeping with. Before we have sex, I let them know that [an orgasm is] not going to happen for me, so they aren’t expecting me to. The reactions I get vary widely. Some guys seem to think it’s an excuse to not try at all, and others seem to think that theirs is the magical penis that will solve all my problems and get incredibly disappointed when they realize that it won’t. I’ve had a guy burst into tears because he “couldn’t please me” and another who told me that I wasn’t meant to be with anyone because I couldn’t orgasm. Most hurtfully, I had a boyfriend break up with me because “How can I love you if you can’t orgasm?” I don’t know how to make the men in my life just take me at face value when I tell them that I really am enjoying myself and not to worry about it. Should I stop telling them? Fake it? What I’m doing doesn’t seem to be working.
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