Dear Prudence

My Brother-in-Law Is in Love With Me

And he’s planning to buy the house next door.

Photo illustration of a woman looking shocked at the for sale sign in front of the house next door.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

My brother-in-law, “Bob,” and I have always been extremely close for the 25 years I’ve been with my husband. He is now one of our only living relatives and lives in another state. Bob’s wife died unexpectedly five years ago. He just retired recently and became an empty-nester. As a result, he’s lonely and bored. Normally he visits twice a year, we get along great, and we even take vacations together. But during his last visit at Thanksgiving, I realized Bob has become overly enamored with me. He may even think he is in love with me. He didn’t do anything overt, but he dropped plenty of hints that set off some internal alarm bells. Last year he told me that he loves me more than anyone else on earth. I took it as a family-love thing, but now I don’t know.

I have no romantic feelings for Bob at all. I will also be devastated to lose Bob’s friendship if this all blows up. I am sure this is just because he’s lonely and bored. The kicker is that this weekend my husband told me Bob is planning to buy the house next door to us that is going up for sale. I asked why that house, since it’s the least attractive one in the area and plenty are for sale nearby. My husband said the point is to live next door to us. This would be a disaster if my suspicion is true. I can’t see any way this could end well. I ran this by my best friend to see if I was flattering myself and imagining this, and she doesn’t think so.

My husband worships his big brother. I dread bringing this up to him, but we are very open, and I will. He may not believe me. I have to have a talk with Bob before he makes an offer on this house, don’t I? I risk looking like I’m nuts if I’m wrong or Bob denies it. I’m willing to take that risk if ignoring it or staying silent would have serious consequences. It would be a big, complicated mess. I would actually love to be wrong! What if I am just misreading Bob’s cues? How do I know if I’m just nuts?

—Lovelorn Brother-in-Law

I don’t think you’ve suddenly become deluded or unable to read signals. Your read of the situation seems fairly accurate. But you don’t have to come with a claim to your husband that he can argue with you about. Stick to what’s actually happened and express your concerns. So instead of saying “Your brother is in love with me” and fearing you’ll hear “No, he isn’t” in response, say: “I’m concerned about Bob wanting to move in next door. During his last visit, he was acting really strangely and did [list a few of the hints he dropped]. I care for Bob immensely, but I’m worried that his loneliness and boredom in retirement have led him to ignore boundaries that used to be really obvious and self-evident. I’m especially uncomfortable that he told you he wants to move in next door to us and kept it from me, because that makes me worry he’s trying to surprise me.”

You’ve known for 25 years what a platonic relationship with your brother-in-law looks like. You haven’t suddenly gone “nuts” or forgotten what brotherly affection looks like. Your brother-in-law has abruptly changed his behavior, and you want to blame yourself for it because you’re worried your husband won’t back you up if you tell him what’s worrying you. Your husband can still love and admire his brother while also acknowledging the reality that he’s behaved inappropriately toward you. You’re not saying that Bob is a monster who you two must never speak to again. You just don’t want to be next-door neighbors, and you want him to stop dropping hints that he’s in love with you. It’s a sane and sensible request, and one that your husband ought to be delighted to help fulfill.

Dear Prudence,

I have nearly complete night blindness in one eye. This isn’t debilitating, but it is disorienting when I have to get out of bed and have almost no vision in one eye, so I have a small night light in my room that helps minimize the effects. The problem is my family. I visited them over Christmas and took the night light with me (they know I use it). My brother’s girlfriend thought it was hysterical that a grown man used a night light. She snuck into the room I was in twice and turned it off in the middle of the night. My family took her side and said I was too old to be scared of the dark, that it was a waste of electricity, and I should man up.

I lost my temper, and we fought. I pointed out that I wouldn’t be night blind if they were better parents. They told me I couldn’t throw that in their face for every failure in my life (I haven’t mentioned it in years; it wasn’t their best day as parents, but it was a dumb accident). I drove home to spend Christmas alone with Chinese food. It is obviously ridiculous to cut off your whole family because they think a night light is childish, yet I haven’t answered their calls or read their emails, and I am fine with that. I don’t get angry a lot, but when I do it tends to destroy relationships before I warm back enough to consider fixing things. How do I mend bridges this time when I am still in “Do not speak to me or my night light ever again” mode?

—Night Light License

I agree that cutting off your family over a single fight about a night light might be hasty, but it doesn’t really sound like that’s the whole story here. It sounds more like there’s a family history of minimizing your night blindness, the accident that caused it (I wish I knew more about this), the perfectly reasonable accommodations you use to make sure you don’t stumble in the dark—all of which sound unbelievably frustrating. And why on earth does their definition of manliness mean you’re supposed to be able to will night blindness away? Sneaking into someone’s room in the middle of the night (twice!) because you think men shouldn’t be allowed to use a lightbulb to help them see in the dark is a ridiculously high-effort form of unkindness. I don’t for a second believe your family members are so deeply committed to reducing their electricity bill, and I’ll bet none of them have any idea how much electricity a night light actually uses over a single evening.

As for mending fences, your parents and your brother’s girlfriend are free to apologize. But I think this time apart might be better spent investigating if there are other incidents in your past where they violated your boundaries, mocked you, or suggested you were less of a man for having basic physical needs or emotional boundaries, and whether this radio silence might be an improvement.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have lived next door to a middle-aged couple for about 10 years. We have always been friendly with one another until three weeks ago. Suddenly, they started turning their backs on me when I tried to speak to them and giving me hateful looks. We couldn’t understand why until my husband found a note on his truck one morning accusing me of having a long-standing affair and suggesting that he get a DNA test for our son. It wasn’t signed, but we were sure it came from them. A week ago, things escalated when members of their church came to the door with literature on adultery and offers of marriage counseling. It was all I could do not to slam the door in their face, and I am so beyond furious and frustrated at the neighbors.

I have never cheated on my husband, and I am baffled about where this idea came from, as I can’t think of anything I might have done. After the visit from the church, I stormed over to their house to confront them, but they refused to answer the door. I’ve tried several times since, and they won’t acknowledge or speak to me. At this point, I am at a loss about how to continue to live next door to these people. My husband says that we should return the favor and pretend they don’t exist, but that feels like letting them get away with this terrible behavior. What should we do?

—Not a Cheater

This is baffling and distressing, and I hope you feel free to actually slam the door in the face of any future visitors who try to get involved in your marriage. I understand the impulse to confront them, especially because you’ve had a pleasant (if superficial) relationship for a decade, but their behavior is so bizarre that I don’t think there’s anything you could say to them that would result in a reasonable explanation and an apology. Your primary concern should be for your safety, not for getting them to apologize or explain themselves. If you rent your place, contact your landlord and let them know about the harassment. Keep a record of any notes you receive or visitors who show up at your door in case you need to file a police report. I understand why it might feel like letting them “get away” with something they shouldn’t, but there’s nothing they could do or say that would justify or excuse their behavior of the last few weeks, and it seems safest to give them a wide berth.

Help! Why Do I Keep Striking Out When I Try to Date Women?

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Jordan Blok and Grace Lavery on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Dear Prudence,

My partner is very competitive when it comes to gameplay, whereas I am the opposite and play for fun, never expecting to win nor caring about the final score. There have been times when I happen to be performing better than usual in a game, and my partner worse than usual, so our scores are close. In those instances, I sometimes make choices that will allow them to win (think playing a low-scoring word in Scrabble when I have the letters to play a higher-scoring word). On one occasion they called me out on this. I denied it, saying that I’m just not as good as they are, which is generally true. I truly thought I was doing them a kindness, allowing a person who is invested in winning to have that experience, but is this somehow insulting or disrespectful? I get nothing out of the experience of “winning,” so I thought it made sense to let someone who is invested in the competitive aspect have their moment. It’s not like I pretended not to know the rules or treated them like a child. I’m just choosing to not take advantage of occasional random luck that would allow me to beat my partner at the odd round of whatever board game.

—Let Them Win?

As someone who has more than once in my life has tried to ensure an outcome is to my partner’s liking (believing myself to be acting in nothing but their best interests), I think you should stop playing board games with your partner for a while and be honest as to why: “I want to be able to play together, and I have a good time whether I win or I lose. But I’ve caught myself feeling so responsible for your outbursts when you lose that I’ve started losing on purpose, and I don’t want to develop a habit of losing on purpose just to keep you from getting angry.”

I don’t think you were being insulting or disrespectful. I think your partner was behaving badly and needs to own that and work on that individually. But I do think that’s a choice that places undue responsibility on you to make sure your partner doesn’t lose their temper. They need to either find a way to lose with composure, or stop playing board games if they know that’s impossible.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“If you can’t make competition a kind of flirtation, I think there are probably better ways to while away the hours.”

Danny and Grace Lavery discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I am a gay 54-year-old man. Last year I had a successful operation to remove my prostate because of cancer. I knew the negative side effects associated with the surgery and thought I was prepared to deal with them. I have experienced the typical erectile-dysfunction symptoms for the past year and a half now. Finally, I went to a urologist and was prescribed injections, which I have used with moderate success. But I have discovered that I am now completely unable to experience the feeling of orgasm since my surgery. I have come to accept the lack of physical orgasm because I understand that my body has been surgically altered and that experience is now physically impossible for me.

However, I was not prepared at all for the fact that I would not be able to at least experience some sort of feeling of orgasm for the rest of my life. I know it sounds childish and whiny on my part, and I should just be grateful that I am healthy again and cancer-free so far, but that lack of feeling has turned into a huge issue for me. I keep thinking that I’m only 54 years old. Is my sex life now permanently over? Yes, I love to cuddle and kiss and all the other wonderful intimate things I can do with a partner when I’m able to find one. But at the same time, I feel frustrated and cheated that I will never ever again experience the feeling of “release” that comes from an orgasms. Is this just me mourning something that I have to accept, or are there any options that might help me eventually gain back that wonderful feeling I miss?

—Lost Orgasm

There’s nothing childish or whiny in caring about your ability to have an orgasm. (Also, there’s a time and place for whining, for self-pity, for grief that is not perfectly resigned.) Not everyone prioritizes orgasms in the same way, and they don’t need to be the sole aim of any individual’s sex life, but it is perfectly reasonable to value orgasms, to delight in them, to prize them as an integral part of what makes life pleasurable and fun. Nor do I think that mourning the loss of orgasm means you necessarily devalued other forms of intimacy and pleasure. Cuddling and kissing are wonderful, but they’re not orgasms. So if you’re reminding yourself of other physical pleasures available to you, instead of allowing yourself to feel that fear and sadness and distress and to mourn your loss, it’ll seem like cold comfort. All this is a lot of words to simply say: It is OK to care about orgasms. It is OK to be grateful you’re cancer-free and happy to kiss your partners—and still mourn that loss.

In addition, I hope you continue to talk to more doctors, regular therapists, sex therapists, other men who have had prostatectomies, and your own sex partners to find out what other options are available to you—not in a feverish, success-at-all-costs approach to regaining something that may not return, but in a quest to treat your sex life as something of value and worth, something that deserves your full attention. You may find that there are new forms of touch or toys that result in orgasm that look totally unlike the past. (Have you ever tried using a Magic Wand or pursuing an orgasm without an erection?) You may find it tricky to strike a balance between acceptance that you cannot control the outcome of this pursuit and giving yourself permission to value this “wonderful feeling.” Please let us know how you’re doing a few months from now. I wish you all the best.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 25-year-old woman. After months of therapy and self-reflection, I realize I have been a people-pleaser all my life and have rarely prioritized my own desires in my relationships. I have several friends I don’t actually like that much. I have only been keeping in touch with them out of habit and a sense of obligation. None of them are bad people or have hurt me in any way—I just don’t enjoy their company very much. How can I back off as gently and politely as possible? So far I have avoided initiating conversations, but now one or two of them have suggested meeting up. Would it be better to say, “Sorry, I’m busy right now, I’ll get back to you” (and then not get back to them), or should I formally “break up” with them?

—Dumping My Friends

I don’t want to make an across-the-board ruling about friendships. There’s a big difference between falling out of touch at 25 with someone you met in college and grab drinks with a few times a year versus suddenly disappearing from the life of someone you’ve known intimately for a decade. But it sounds like, if you’ve only been keeping in touch out of obligation, these are superficial friendships, possibly even acquaintances, and I don’t think you have to have a sit-down conversation about how you only have time to prioritize the friends you really like from now on. “I’m not free for [event], but thanks for thinking of me” is polite but less committal than “I’ll get back to you.”

Classic Prudie

A man I work with and with whom I’ve had an affair the last two months died suddenly over the weekend. I am pregnant with his child. He didn’t know. His current wife, now widow, doesn’t either. How do I broach this subject? His estate is rather large.