Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. My boyfriend has sent nudes to over 100 people: I need advice on how to get over/get my mind off of something that my boyfriend did before we were dating. My boyfriend (male, 24) and I (male, 22) have been dating for five months. He just recently told me that he has sent nudes (pictures and videos) to over 100 people. This is in a span of a few years before we have been together, up to right before we started getting serious. He told me this less than a week ago, and it’s something that I have not been able to stop thinking about. It is changing the way I view him and act toward him.
I knew he had sent nudes in the past. Right when we became “official,” he scrolled past a folder in his phone that had countless nude pictures and videos of other men. He deleted the folder, and I trust that he is not sending nudes anymore. What bothers me most is that 1) so many people have seen such a sensitive part of him; 2) if he sent it to that many people, odds are that there is some content of him online and still in the hands of many people; and 3) these people still follow him on social media, know who I am from his posts, and know that we are together.
I have never been one to openly send nudes to people, so I just don’t understand why he would want to do that to so many, even when single. The other day even, I scrolled past a nude photo of someone I don’t know on Twitter, and it turns out he has exchanged nudes with that person. That made it settle in for me how many people I might or might not come in contact with who have seen him like that. I really want to continue this relationship. He makes me happy, he is patient and understanding with me, and I believe I can trust him. I want to continue this relationship, but I don’t want to keep being miserable and keep thinking about how many people he has sent nudes to.
A: Before you and your boyfriend got serious, he was a single adult who enjoyed sharing photos of his body with other adults. I can understand how relationships can bring up fears and insecurities for anyone, and I don’t want to suggest the only possible response to your feelings is to berate yourself and get over it. But yes, strangers have seen your boyfriend’s naked body, and you cannot wipe their memories just because you are dating him now. It is also likely true that some of these strangers do not know he has a boyfriend. Some of those strangers may go on to post pictures of their own nude bodies. None of the people in question are doing anything wrong or seeking to get in the middle of your relationship. If you need to set stricter boundaries for your own Twitter/Instagram use in order to keep yourself from spiraling, please do so. If you want to tell your boyfriend that sometimes you feel insecure and that you need attention from him, please do so. But trying to resolve your own insecurities by attempting to clean-wipe his sexual history will never work; it won’t actually make you feel any safer, and it will only make him resent you. My fear here is that you believe your boyfriend has “too many” sexual options and as a result can’t really want you, and that your best course of action is to try to make him feel guilty for having enjoyed sending nudes so that he’s less likely to leave or cheat on you.
If the thing that bothers you the most is that “so many” people have seen him naked, I’m curious—what number of people that have seen him naked would have made you feel comfortable? What’s the correct number of people he should have sent nudes to? And what’s wrong with the number just above that? How is it changing the way you “view and act” toward him, and what are you hoping to get out of this new, changed behavior? Talk to him about your fears, certainly. But you’ll need to find a way to let go of your desire to control his past.
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Q. My aging dad is a long-winded bore: I’ve always been generally close with my family and really love them a lot. But I moved out of state for college 10 years ago and have lived far away from them ever since. My parents and siblings aren’t really the traveling type, and until recently I couldn’t afford to visit home every year. In the past few years, I’ve been able to visit a few times a year for a week at a time.
I’m pretty shocked at the dynamic that has developed among my family members. My parents are approaching 70 and are both retired and in somewhat poor health. My dad, a good guy and patient listener to me as a child, has become an incredibly irritating mansplainer. He seriously can’t participate in a conversation without spiraling out of control into a long-winded explanation of the subject at hand. For instance, I was just going over my timeline to return home with my mom, letting her know I needed to leave a bit early to grab dinner before returning my rental car. That simple note led to him explaining to us the traffic dynamics of our city, the great conspiracy of rental car companies scamming customers for damage claims, how airport security works, etc. I know it’s a stereotypical dad thing to lean into vigilance and over-preparedness, but this intensity is baffling. He does this with absolutely everything. If he were interrupting to speak over people or going off topic, I feel like I would be able to address it, but it’s more like he waits his turn in a conversation to deliver the most boring monologue that no one asked for. I talk to my mom on the phone a lot, and she agrees he’s tiresome but doesn’t think there’s anything to do. She and I run errands and get lunch on our own when we can. But other than that I can’t figure out how to help this situation. Do you have any advice?
A: Yes. Talk to your father. There are very few substitutes for directly telling someone you have a problem with their behavior. You don’t have to do so rudely or confrontationally, but neither do you have to assume it’s a “stereotypical” (and therefore normal, and therefore unexceptionable, and therefore inevitable, and therefore something you must grin and bear) side effect of being a father. Nor do you have to assume that unless a problem is actively and obviously malicious, it’s not worth talking about. That’s not a reasonable bar for wanting to discuss something that has seriously impeded your ability to have a real relationship with your father. Ask him if he has time to talk, and tell him what you’ve noticed about the past couple of years. You don’t have to call him “tiresome” or “the most boring monologist,” but you can say, “Ever since you’ve retired, I’ve noticed a real change in the kinds of conversations we’re able to have. You don’t leave a lot of room for other people to talk or ask questions, and you’ve developed a habit of delivering monologues about traffic dynamics or rental car policies that make it feel like I’m listening to a radio host. I don’t say this because I want to hurt your feelings, but I’m curious if you’ve noticed this change in yourself, and whether you’ve noticed that it makes you harder to be around. Can we talk about what’s going on? I want to be able to have real, meaningful conversations with you—and I hope you do, too.”
Q. Racist nephew: I am engaged. My fiancé is from India. My brother’s family hadn’t met him yet, and my nephew will be 17 come spring. We planned to drive my old convertible (we fixed it up) and give it as a surprise Christmas gift and then fly back. His parents knew about our plan, but they didn’t warn me that their son was a militant racist. My sister-in-law just told me he was at a “difficult age.” When we arrived, my nephew wouldn’t shake my fiancé’s hand and sneered at us. At lunch, he made inflammatory racist remarks about “immigrants.” I tried to change the topic, but my nephew bulldozed on. His parents just sat there. My fiancé told my nephew that he and his parents are as American as anyone at this table and he’d better educate himself. My nephew called him a raghead. I got up and told my fiancé we were leaving and to go pack the car. This got a response from my brother and sister-in-law. They yelled at their son to apologize, and I told them it was too late to try and be parents. They failed. And I wasn’t going to give a car to a budding Nazi. My nephew seemed to realize that he screwed up, and his parents did nothing but try to spin the situation. My fiancé and I had been at their house less than four hours. We drove to a motel. He is angry, and I am furious and heartbroken. I rarely get to see my family since I live so far away. My brother left a dozen messages on my phone. I haven’t listened yet. My fiancé and I will be spending Christmas in a motel and driving back. Our tickets are a waste. Lunch was over 20 minutes, and my brother and his wife didn’t breathe a word against their son. They just sat there. I don’t know what to do or what to feel. I considered myself close to them given the distance. We talk on the phone. They knew my fiancé’s background. I never expected this. How do I go on from here?
A: You’ve done everything right, I think. It makes sense that you’re still “catching up to” your own feelings, as it were, because everything you thought you knew about your brother’s family changed almost instantaneously and irrevocably. I imagine it will take a long time for you to work through your grief and anger over their profound commitment to racism. Right now your brother is attempting to wear down your defenses by demanding you pay attention to him, leaving over a dozen messages—but you have direct evidence that when it actually mattered, he couldn’t be bothered to do the right thing. For 20 minutes he listened comfortably while his son hurled racist abuse at you and your partner; the only reason he’s panicking now is because he’s afraid of the consequences, not because he actually cares about you two. Take all the time and space you need, and give yourself permission to delete those messages. Let him know that you need time before you’re ready to hear an apology from him. Find someone else who can use the car, prioritize spending time with people who don’t use racial slurs toward your partner, and let them figure out how to deal with the consequences of their choices.
Q. Daughter has outgrown a longtime friend: Curious what’s my obligation to a longtime friend when my daughter has outgrown hers. Our kids are both 12, but in the past year or so, her daughter has gone down an increasingly dark path—one that my daughter has no desire to be part of. It’s unfortunate, because my house is the “safe” house: My kids’ friends know that if they are struggling or have a secret, they can share it. “Sarah” came out to me last year and asked me to share the news with her mother alongside her. We have a lot of history together, go on vacations as families, and her mother and I are great friends. Her mother had confided in me that Sarah feels left out by peers. I’ve tried to help my friend see that Sarah is kind of a jerk—screams when she doesn’t get her way, punches others when her mom isn’t looking, and is just generally unpleasant to be around—but my friend doesn’t see it. What’s my moral obligation to Sarah? I want my daughter to know I support her and our house is still a safe zone, but I also do not want to lose a great friendship and leave a kid who is struggling out in the cold.
A: I’m a little curious about the nature of your “longtime” friendship with a woman whose house you apparently don’t consider “safe.” Is she homophobic? Indifferent? Neglectful? Abusive? Have you been turning a blind eye to her dangerous behavior because you don’t want to rock the boat? When you say you’ve “tried to help” her see that her daughter is acting out, but that your friend “doesn’t see it,” I can only conclude that either your friend has her head in the sand or you haven’t been sufficiently clear and direct.
I can see why your daughter doesn’t want Sarah to come over if Sarah regularly screams at her or gets physically violent when there aren’t any adults in the room, and I think that’s your cue to step in and have a serious conversation with Sarah’s mother. Don’t hint or speak evasively. You can make it perfectly clear that you both love Sarah and can’t have her over unsupervised unless and until she stops being violent. If your friend grows defensive or angry, don’t try to prolong the conversation and give her a little time to cool off, but let her know you’re telling her this out of love and concern, and that while you’ll do anything you can to help make sure Sarah gets the help she needs, that can’t include overlooking her violent behavior toward your daughter and other kids.
Q. Swimming pool walker: My sister and I both have chronic health conditions that affect mobility, but both of us are young-looking late-thirtysomethings. We are members of a “health club” and meet up a couple of times a week to use the swimming pool. We mainly walk rather than swim and use the half of the pool designated for slow swimmers—a double-wide lane (the pool also has a single medium lane and a fast lane), because we tend to go a little slowly and chat. It’s way better because our condition affects the joints, and swimming pools are great for that.
We try to match the speed of the swimmers, but occasionally we lag. There is room to swim past without disturbing the swimmers coming the opposite way. We’ve now twice been berated by older swimmers for this, and we’ve both struggled to respond in any meaningful way in the moment. One time a man swam into us, then berated us. Another time a lady swam up behind us to berate us. I was shocked both times. Is what we’re doing not OK? Would she have done the same thing if we were obviously disabled?
I feel like I want people with disabilities and chronic health conditions (visible or not) to engage in physical activity; having a social aspect is really motivational for people with chronic pain. And if I were swimming faster than someone, I’d just swim around or use the next lane up—I’d never tell people off. Are we being selfish? How can we respond more meaningfully in those moments?
A: For what it’s worth, based on the letters I’ve received, people who are visibly or “obviously” disabled also receive a great deal of in-person harassment. But that doesn’t mean you or your sister have done anything wrong or that it’s incumbent on you to explain or advertise your own disability in order to use the local swimming pool. You’re using the lane for slow swimming in order to swim slowly and aren’t blocking other swimmers from using the same lane; just because someone’s yelling at you doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. It’s not unlike how some drivers honk and flash their headlights at someone else who’s going the speed limit/obeying traffic laws because they want everyone else to operate for their own convenience.
It might help to speak to the front desk of your health club and ask them to post reminders about not hassling other swimmers in the slow lane. But you don’t have to do anything differently when someone is being rude to you; you are free to ignore them, alert the front desk, or tell them off.
Q. Anxiety vs. aid: I’ve lived with the same three roommates for several years. All of us are transgender and/or people of color, and my roommates are all very involved with local communities, while I have intense social anxiety and mostly keep to myself. Every few months or so, my roommates meet someone who desperately needs a place to stay and end up offering them our couch for anywhere from a weekend up to a month or more. I always agree, and I’m really glad that we are able to be a safe harbor for these people … in theory. In practice? I have an extremely hard time even leaving my room when other people are in the house. I get so anxious I can barely function. I stop eating at home because I don’t want to go through the living room to the kitchen. I don’t cook or clean. I feel bad getting ready for work in the morning because I don’t want to disturb anyone. Mutual aid is extremely important to me, and I would hate for anyone to be out on the street just because of my own issues, but I feel like my life falls apart every time we have a new person staying! I often find myself wanting to ask my roommates to limit how often we have people stay, but it’s not like they’re planned visits—sometimes there’s just someone who needs help right away, and I feel like an awful person for wanting to say no. I’m currently seeking therapy/medication for my anxiety, but in the meantime how do I balance my own needs with helping others?
A: Seeking medical treatment for serious anxiety is a great idea—but so is coming up with a house policy about overnight guests. This is what house meetings were made for! I know these guests can’t plan their crises in advance, of course, but that doesn’t mean you all can’t adopt a policy of needing to alert one another for stays lasting longer than X number of days, or set a cap on how long someone can crash on the couch, or set aside a certain number of days per month you all don’t have any guests over, or even come up with a list of other friends/acquaintances who might be able to offer a couch so you don’t only have your own house to offer up when someone’s in need. Everything you’ve brought up here is compassionate and thoughtful, and you’re also clearly doing what you can on your own to treat your anxiety. I’d imagine that your roommates would want to consider your particular needs when figuring out how to help friends in crisis. This is worth talking about!
Q. Co-worker openly dozing off in open office: I noticed a few months ago that one of my co-workers seemed to be nodding off at her desk, but I figured she was just listening to a meeting or something on her computer with her eyes closed. (She had on headphones.) But one day, after she didn’t respond to a message, I got up to speak with her. She was literally startled from sleep. I didn’t tell my other co-workers or boss about the interaction or what I have been noticing.
The woman is in her late 20s and was at the company before I joined. She was recently promoted to a more senior role. I figured our boss must feel she’s getting her work done, and there could be more at play—like a health issue—than I realize. We recently moved into a new office where I can more clearly see her nodding off. Other co-workers have started making similar observations and commenting to each other about her behavior. I’m concerned she’s going to either get in trouble or end up being ostracized. Should I talk to my co-worker or boss about this? Or should I just stay out of it?
A: I think you can trust your boss will handle this with her, if and when it becomes a problem affecting her work. If your co-workers try to bring it up with you, you can just say something like “I don’t think this is any of my business” and make it clear you’re not interested in gossiping about her. I think this a real opportunity for nonaction. If you see her fall asleep and it doesn’t affect your ability to get your work done, don’t worry about it; if you see an opportunity to encourage others to leave her alone, take it.
Q. Re: My aging dad is a long-winded bore: My dad was also engaged in long-winded monologues about boring logistics after he retired. I’ve come to understand it as an indication of his loneliness and isolation. Happily, the more time I spend talking with him, the more he’s able to relate in mutually satisfying conversation. It’s a choice on my part to engage him more and more, and it’s a choice I’ve been very happy to reap rewards from.
A: I think that’s definitely possible—and it’s very much my hope that the LW is able to talk to their dad about whether that’s a factor. But I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to dismiss curmudgeonliness/rudeness/conversation-hogging as a sign that someone is “probably” actually suffering and needs to be further accommodated. There’s no substitute for honest conversation here. I’m really glad that your father has responded to further conversation by actually being able to quiet down and listen, but there’s no guarantee that the OP’s father will.
Q. Re: Daughter has outgrown a longtime friend: The letter writer describing her house as a “safe” house does not mean that she sees her friend’s house as “unsafe” in a traditional sense (physical, emotional safety). She gave the definition of her “safe” house: Kids can be open with her on subjects they may not want to discuss with their parents.
A: I think you’re right, but I do think it’s worth flagging. Calling your own house “the ‘safe’ house” strikes me as a little unusual (rather than neutral or something), and I felt it was worth at least asking if she considers her friend’s house unsafe. But yes, it’s likely that she just meant “safe from [your own] parents,” in the way it can often be easier to talk to a friend’s mom than your own.
Q. Congratulations: I don’t have a chat question, but I want to wish you the very happiest on your recent marriage.
A: Thank you very much! It was wonderful!
Danny M. Lavery: Happy New Year, everyone! See you all next week.
From How to Do It
Q. My husband wants to watch me have sex with another man: I am in my mid-30s and happily married to my husband for five years. We have a toddler and a fantastic sex life—better even than pre-parenthood. I had an intense crush on my husband for a long time before we hooked up, and he still gives me butterflies on a regular basis. We are very open with sharing our desires and fantasies, and we communicate really well about our sex life. This has led to us trying things for the first time that were unspoken desires in past relationships, and just generally having a lot of fun together in bed. One of the things we’ve discussed semi-seriously is my husband watching while I have sex with another man. Read more and see what Rich Juzwiak had to say.