Dear Prudence

My New Boyfriend Is About to Have a Baby With His Ex

I think I could deal with being a stepmom, but not like this.

To the left, a woman holds her stomach, while on the right, a man and woman embrace.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by petrenkod/iStock/Getty Images Plus and /iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

Nick” and I have been dating for five months. It has been unbelievable, and I have never felt like this before—not even when I married my late husband. Unfortunately, his ex is seven months pregnant. She didn’t bother to tell Nick until someone caught her going out. They had been on and off for years. Nick met me in an “off” period and declined to get back together when she asked. We are all in our mid-30s. Nick is upset. He is angry at his ex, at the situation, and at himself. His own dad pulled a disappearing act when he was a child, and Nick refuses to do that to his own kid. I want to be supportive, but I feel stuck. I can’t have kids. I have dealt with that, and I think I could deal with being a stepmom, but not like this. I feel petty, but I hate the idea of the man I love having a baby with another woman. A woman whom I don’t like and who doesn’t like me much either. This hurts. Nick has begged me to stay and that we will work things out. I don’t think it can. Not even as friends—I told Nick he needs to focus on getting a lawyer and establishing paternity. My sister has told me to come and stay with her. I can change positions pretty easily in my field. Can I leave? Should I leave? I feel like a coward. This is a small town, so there is no avoiding Nick or the situation.

—No Kids

If deciding to end a five-month relationship because the guy’s about to have a child with another woman is your idea of petty, then I’m having a hard time imagining what you might consider serious. You know already that you are going to leave, that you have to leave, that the only sensible, wise, self-respecting decision for you is to leave. Nick is going to be deeply involved—legally and financially, even if he were to commit to being totally unavailable to his child—with this woman, and their kid, for the next 18 years. There is nothing cowardly about deciding not to keep dating a guy you’ve known less than half a year because he’s about to have way less time and energy for you. It would be totally absurd if you pretended it didn’t affect your decision. Go visit your sister, wish Nick the best, and delete his number.

Dear Prudence,

We’ve recently moved to a popular European city. We’ve only barely unpacked, and we are already inundated with requests from people to come stay with us. Just today five people told me about their plans to visit. They didn’t ask if it was OK or if we had space (it’s not a huge apartment) or even how I am doing. Some of them are definitely acquaintances—in one case, we have not spoken for years. My partner has been approached by distant relatives I’ve never met. My partner’s ex, whom we’re barely friendly with, is also apparently coming with their partner. First of all: What on earth? Were this many people desperate to visit this particular city and the only thing stopping them was lack of free accommodation with people they sort of know? Secondly, the answer to all of these people is obviously no, but what is a nice, simple, polite-enough, not-up-for-debate response? And how do I get to it, since they didn’t actually ask?

—Not a Hostel

“I hope you have a great time in Venice! We don’t have any room for guests, but there are a number of lovely hotels in the city.” If you want to be especially polite, add “I’m afraid” before the part about not having any room for guests, but that’s it. As for your first question: A lot of people feel very free to invite themselves over to other people’s houses. I expect they think of it as a “fortune favors the bold” kind of thing, but as you now know, it’s incredibly rude and often comes from people who didn’t give you the time of day before you moved into a conveniently located palazzo. I’m sorry you have to deal with so many rude people! Give yourself a lot of permission to cut off their pretensions quickly and decisively.

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Dear Prudence,

I work at a small company in a progressive coastal city. At a company party recently, I was chatting with a co-worker and we were a few drinks in, discussing how much we love the company. My co-worker at one point deliberately said, “As a trans woman, I can say that I feel safe at this company.” I smiled and nodded thoughtfully, and the conversation went on. My co-worker isn’t out at work, presents as male, and uses a male name. Because my work sometimes involves HR, I’d previously helped them with a matter I suspected was related, so my co-worker knows I have information that suggests they’re trans.

Employees trust me with their sensitive medical, financial, and personal information, and I handle all of it with respect and confidentiality. I also feel a great deal of support for this co-worker; they’re one of my favorite people to work with. We don’t interact often, but we get along really well. Can I follow up? Should I? And if so, how? Saying “I totally support your transition and felt honored you felt comfortable telling me about it—want to come out at work? I can help! Let’s be friends” feels invasive and creepy. I’m in a management role, so I feel like natural ways to make friends, like inviting them to coffee, will not work in this situation. I’m a cis woman, if that’s relevant. I really just want to make sure they know I’m available and that I have their back.

—Silent After Coming-Out

I think you responded just fine! You were warm and friendly after the initial disclosure but didn’t push or pry for any more details. It’s possible they regretted being so frank with you (as genuinely lovely to work with as I’m sure you are) two or three drinks in, and if that’s the case, any attempt on your part to follow up, no matter how carefully couched, could be embarrassing. And since you’re in management and at least part-time HR, I agree that asking your co-worker out for coffee or suggesting they should come out at work (with your help) would be coming on too strong. Keep being warm and friendly whenever you two run into each other at work, and wait to offer your help in the coming-out process until after your colleague has asked for it.

Help! My Friend Has Been Sharing Photos She Took of Me While I Was in a Coma.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Hari Kondabolu on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Dear Prudence,

Recently, I’ve had several people in my life die: my grandparents, my aunt, and then most recently a co-worker I’ve known for a few years (but was never especially close with). On all of these occasions, I’ve felt guilty and uncomfortable because everyone else seems much sadder than I am. In the cases of my family members, my reaction has been “Oh, that’s sad.” I attended their funerals but pretty much continued life as normal. I felt bad for my co-worker’s family, since his death was sudden, but I didn’t experience any personal feelings of sadness. Meanwhile, others around me are crying, taking time off work, acting somber and serious, etc.

Is something wrong with me? Why aren’t I sad? I’m typically a very emotional person, except for in these situations. In the case of my family members, they were in declining health for a long time, so their passing feels to me like a relief, and I am confident that they are in heaven and no longer suffering. While I miss them, it doesn’t make me upset to think about them. In the case of my co-worker, I just didn’t know him that well. For what it’s worth, I start crying just imagining my husband or kids passing away, so I’m not a total robot. It feels disingenuous to pretend to be upset and grieving, but should I, just for the sake of others?

—Not That Bereaved

You’re already acting appropriately when people die—expressing sadness and sympathy, attending their funerals—so I don’t think you need to modify your response in order to seem more upset than you really are. If I were to guess, I’d say your co-workers who are crying or taking time off work probably knew this man better than you did and feel more seriously affected by his death. The only tweak I might suggest is that if most of your colleagues seem fairly downbeat or reserved at work for the next few weeks, don’t bounce into the office or bring up topics that make you feel especially chipper. Try to match their reserve where you can, while also staying professional, and consider asking how they’re holding up every once in a while.

It’s likely that you will experience deaths that do feel more immediate, more shocking, that strike closer to home. It’s OK to experience different losses in different ways or to turn to your religious beliefs about the afterlife for comfort. And there’s nothing wrong with experiencing acceptance over the death of a relative who was sick for a long time. You’re not a robot, and you’re not hurting anyone. Cut yourself a little slack.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“You can say ‘this is too much for me’ without necessarily making it a moral referendum on someone else.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I both agreed we wanted kids, but my pregnancy and postpartum depression sapped every drop of joy out of me. I love our 4-year-old son now, but I don’t want to do it again. I enjoy working and adult conversation and not throwing up every morning, and I am closer to 40 than 30. My husband really wants another kid, and his mother really, really wants another grandchild since both her daughters are (loudly) anti-maternal. How do I have this conversation? I always wanted at least two kids, but now I am happy with my son alone.

—No More Kids

You start by having this conversation with your husband. Your mother-in-law’s input is unnecessary at this point, and she will have to find ways to deal with her disappointment about having only one grandchild. Luckily, that is her job and not yours, and plenty of other people have learned to make peace with far less.

Sometimes I receive letters from parents who worry that allowing their experience of having a kid to affect their desire to have more is somehow wrong or a betrayal of a commitment they’ve made and are never allowed to reassess. But when you and your husband agreed that you wanted kids, you had not yet had any kids. You now know something you didn’t before, which is that pregnancy and its aftereffects were devastating, both physically and mentally, and you’re not willing or able to put yourself through it again. Even if your husband is very disappointed at stopping with one child, it’s not his body or his mental health that would be on the line. I don’t know if you’re open to fostering or adopting children, but if you are, that may be a compromise. If you aren’t, then that’s fine too. Having children really needs to be a unanimous decision, and you sound pretty certain that you’re done. All you have to do is tell him what you told me and give him a chance to talk about his own feelings in response. But don’t feel like you have to put yourself through another torturous pregnancy just because you didn’t know you’d feel this way five years ago. It’s better for your son to have a healthy mother (and for you to feel sane!) than for your husband, or his mother, to have two kids.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 21-year-old college student who became physically disabled in middle school. I can’t walk for extended periods. I’m also mentally ill and have severe anxiety. I tend to avoid public events like concerts or sports games because venues are rarely accessible, and I find the planning quite stressful. But I’ve missed out on a lot of events I’d really rather attend. Recently I had the chance to buy discounted tickets to see an artist I love, and I found the venue had accessible seating. I made plans with friends to rent a house nearby and make a weekend of it. It’s been thrilling, and it’s something I’ve wanted to do since childhood but haven’t been able to.

But when I went to book the tickets, I realized I didn’t know where my friends are supposed to sit. The accessible section doesn’t appear to have any designated companion seating, and even if there were, I’m bringing three people with me. I feel terrible at the idea of taking up seating that could be used by other disabled folks. But I don’t want to sit alone with my friends several rows away. Part of me wants to just not go at all and save myself any trouble, but I was really looking forward to this. Do I book the seats and risk preventing other disabled people from getting this experience, or do I sit alone and risk a miserable time? Or do I not go at all?

—Seating Dilemma

Please book the tickets. The Americans with Disabilities Act’s latest regulations state: “People purchasing a ticket for an accessible seat may purchase up to three additional seats for their companions in the same row and these seats must be contiguous with the accessible seat. Accessible seats may be used as companion seats.” Accessibility doesn’t just mean “Here’s a seat you can safely reach, but you can’t have any of your friends with you.” It’s about making sure you can have the same experience any ticket buyer might expect from a public concert, so you and your friends can purchase seats together. The venue is legally and morally responsible for making sure it can accommodate disabled patrons. It is not incumbent upon you to withhold this delight from yourself because you think you deserve it less than other hypothetical concertgoers with the same access needs. Buy seats together, go with your friends, and have a wonderful time.

Classic Prudie

I am in my early 50s, and almost a decade ago my husband suffered a traumatic brain hemorrhage, which left him with the mental capacity of a perpetual 11-year-old. I am the center of his universe, and not in a good way. I work part time, and when I go out he’s afraid I’m leaving him. We haven’t had a husband-and-wife relationship since his injury. We are more like mother and child. I miss kissing, touching, and sex. Counseling wasn’t helpful; I was advised to get out more. My children are in their mid-20s, and if I left my husband he would become their problem, which isn’t fair. Is it wrong for me to find a man for adult companionship and sex? I don’t think I can do this for another 20-plus years.