Dear Prudence

I Think I’m Getting Too Close With My “Work Husband”

He lives 1,500 miles away, but I’m married.

Woman sitting in front of a laptop looking at a smartphone
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve been married for almost 17 years to the only man I’d been with (I was 21, and he was 19). I work in a predominantly male industry, so I have what I call “work husbands.” I have found one in particular who is 1,500 miles away and have worked with for close to four years. All of our interaction has been through email or work calls. Over the last several months, we’ve taken our work relationship to a personal level, so much so that we call or text each other on our personal cells after work to just vent about the day. We work in the same industry, so we have the same frustrations and even share the same customers. He has become one of my closest confidants. We have shared personal thoughts, pictures, etc. Is it possible to have a work spouse many miles away who you can develop feelings for? How do you suggest handling those feelings? He is not married, but I still very much am. Quitting my job is not an option, and to be honest, I don’t want to stop talking to him. He understands me and my workload better than my husband ever could. What do I do?

—Love My Work Husband

I don’t know exactly what you mean when you say “work spouse,” so I’m not quite sure how to answer your first question. It’s got quite a number of definitions: “a co-worker I like,” “a co-worker who often takes up my cause as their own,” “my favorite co-worker,” or “someone I’d like to have an affair with.” It’s absolutely possible to develop feelings for someone who lives far away. I hear from people in that exact situation regularly and would go so far as to call it fairly common. Nor do I want to reflexively pathologize your relationship—wanting to commiserate with a co-worker after a hard day’s work, or enjoying a friendship with someone you met at work, is not wrong! And lots of people, even happily married ones, can develop crushes. It’s part of life and not something to treat with shame and recrimination.

That said, now is an excellent time to start asking yourself what you want to do with these feelings and this connection. Do you want to spin this into an exciting, overwhelming, all-encompassing, furtive, guilty connection, where you start sharing emotional intimacies with your co-worker that you withhold from your husband and friends? Do you want to try to hide how much time you spend talking to him and feel increasingly torn between two lives? Do you want to share some of your feelings and concerns with a trusted friend or your husband? You haven’t done anything wrong, although such a conversation could still be tricky and sometimes painful.

Mostly, I want to caution you against reacting too extremely, thinking that your only two options are either to launch yourself full-heartedly into a secret pen pal courtship or totally stonewall him and stop talking about anything except work. You don’t say much about your husband or your relationship with him except for the fact that this guy understands you “better” than he ever could. And I can’t help but notice you say that quitting your job isn’t an option—but you don’t say leaving your husband isn’t an option. How’s your marriage doing? Does your husband have any idea that you feel misunderstood? Do you think he’d be interested in trying to repair things if you told him? And if not, do you want to consider divorce—not necessarily so you can move across the country to be with this person, but because you’re alienated from your own partner? These are all questions I can’t answer for you, but they’re worth spending time thinking through.

Dear Prudence,

Three times in the past year, my boyfriend and I have been verbally invited to weddings but never received formal invitations. In one instance we were told the verbal invite was the save-the-date, so we made travel arrangements to their international destination wedding location. We only realized we weren’t invited after we saw the formal invitation posted on another friend’s fridge. I’m not sure how to handle this. I understand that weddings are expensive, and I would not be insulted if we had never been invited; however, telling us to book our flights and then failing to actually invite us is expensive on our end, too! I also feel like it creates a weird tension between us and the newlyweds when we see them after the invitations go out.

We recently went out of town with a couple who verbally invited us, and we couldn’t have a casual conversation about their upcoming wedding without seeing them tense up. At this point, we knew the wedding was only two weeks away, so we had long assumed we were no longer invited. My boyfriend says I need to let it go because they probably didn’t mean to do anything rude, but I’m having a hard time. How do I reset? Is there a way to kindly point out that this impacts us, too?

—RSVP

What an unpleasant thing to have to experience three times in a row! In the case of the couple who gave you a verbal save-the-date, you would have been well within your rights to check in with them before booking your travel. That’s not to say it was your responsibility to anticipate they were going to forget or exclude you , but it wouldn’t have been rude to check in. And of course you’ve felt a bit uncomfortable around these couples afterward! This is why physical save-the-dates are better than just telling your friends and promising yourself that you’ll remember everyone you spoke to. Wedding planning is a confusing and stressful endeavor, and trusting in one’s own memory is imperfect under even the best of circumstances.

The likeliest explanation is that these couples promised invitations to as many people as possible before they started finalizing their budgets, then realized they’d overcommitted themselves and had to winnow down the list. Your boyfriend’s probably right that your friends didn’t intend to make you feel slighted, although that doesn’t mean that your hurt feelings are baseless—unintentional rudeness can still sting. And there’s also the concern that your invitation was either mislabeled or lost in the mail.

If you find this is still weighing on you after the ceremony is over, you can politely acknowledge both that you understand why the couple needed to keep their guest list manageable and that you felt bewildered to be told to expect an invitation and then not receive one. I hope your friends will apologize graciously! And in the future, treat a verbal wedding invitation as a vague expression of goodwill rather than a sure thing.

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Dear Prudence,

My adult child “Cory,” who is 32 and on the spectrum, came out to my husband’s siblings four years ago. In all that time, not one of them has tried to understand. They all roll their eyes, use Cory’s birth name, and “forget” pronouns. Part of the problem is that the family sees any sort of queerness itself as a moral failing—something Cory can and should “un-choose.” They give lip service to loving Cory and to “supporting” their “choices.” They then use this love to guilt Cory out of asking them to use the correct name and pronouns. This has led to a rift, with Cory, myself, and my husband as the odd ducks out. Cory is heartbroken, to the extent of writing to each member (twice) to ask for real acceptance. No one responded. My husband has said he will not discuss the issue with his siblings, preferring to simply limit our time with them to once every few years. I would rather be clean and cut them off (loudly) without looking back. Neither my husband nor Cory is OK with that. Do you have any advice as to how I can support Cory with the family while not resenting the hell out of all of them?

—Hate Husband’s Family

The fact that your child is 32 seems relevant here. It’s not as if Cory were still a minor and had to see them every Christmas because they depended on you and your husband to drive them places. Without taking on Cory’s problems as entirely your own, you have a right to decide whether a continued relationship with your husband’s relatives is possible for you, and their yearslong hostility toward Cory’s transition is a pretty serious indicator of their character. I’d encourage you to speak to Cory and your husband about your concerns as well as your realization that you’re not interested in making nice with these people even once every few years. If Cory feels that your cutting the in-laws off “loudly” will make things more difficult for them, you might consider another approach before declining future invitations to get together. You don’t say if you’ve said anything to your in-laws about supporting trans people, so I’m not sure if this is something you’ve already contested with them to no avail or if there’s still room for conversation here. Regardless, resenting the hell out of your in-laws is a perfectly reasonable reaction to their behavior. You ought to resent the hell out of them! Resent them freely and with my full approval.

Help! A Co-Worker I Barely Know Has Been Keeping a Diary About Me.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Jaya Saxena on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Dear Prudence,

I am in my 30s. My parents have become enthusiastic foster parents and have told me they have plans to adopt several of their foster kids, two of whom are special needs. I am uncomfortable because my mother has made comments about me needing to know my “siblings” so when the worst happens I will be able to take care of them. Some of these kids will never be able to live without regular care. My father had serious health problems several years ago. I am concerned they are biting off more than they can chew here and don’t know how to have this conversation with them. I love my parents, and if their health declined I would move home to help, but I have zero connection to these kids. I am not concerned about the estate, but my parents are not overly wealthy. Both sets of my grandparents lived long lives but had serious health issues. My parents are healthy now, but five or 10 years from now? I live far away and only can visit twice a year. How do I talk about my concerns without looking like a witch? They are very happy helping these kids.

—Not Parenting

There is nothing witchy about declining someone else’s insistence that you become a parent against your will! Every human being has the right to determine their own reproductive futures, which includes deciding whether to become an adoptive parent. Don’t look at this as trying to “talk about [your] concerns” with your parents, because that leaves way too much room for argument. Make your sole aim letting them know that you do not consent to take over their parenting duties. You don’t have to convince them of your reasons, just as they don’t have to agree with you or think your reasons for saying no are justified. All you have to do is be clear that they need to make alternate arrangements for the future and stick to your guns without guilt. I imagine they will attempt to use a fair amount of guilt to get you to change your mind: These kids need so much, they raised you for 18 years, they’re your siblings, and so on. But none of those facts entitle your parents to decide when and if you become a parent on your behalf. Prepare yourself to have this conversation and for it to be difficult. But be secure in the knowledge that you have every right to make this choice for yourself.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“This is why the Mesopotamians invented cuneiform to remember how much grain they had from year to year!”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

While in high school, I was hiding a pretty tumultuous home life, including homelessness and living out of my car. As a result, I was pretty shy in big groups and, now that I think back, quite rude to potential new friends—think showing up at small house parties and completely ignoring the host or lying to people who wanted to be closer. I realize this was a long time ago, but as my high school reunion comes up, I feel compelled to explain myself and apologize for my behavior. I’m sure it’s not as memorable as I think, but I genuinely feel guilty about people I may have made such a horrible impression on. I know now that there is no excuse for being such a rude person, and I feel bad. Would it be out of line to reintroduce myself with an apology and explanation, or should I just pretend like it never happened?

—Explanations Owed

You have a good excuse for what sounds like mild rudeness: You were a scared, homeless child trying to put on a brave face. That’s not to say you have no right to feel conflicted about your high school experience or that there’s something wrong about wishing you could have spoken more freely with people who wanted to be your friend. I don’t believe anyone is preparing to attend this reunion with the thought, “If [letter writer] doesn’t explain why they never invited me over for sleepovers, I won’t be able to enjoy myself.” Your impulse to explain yourself and apologize is not one you have to pay attention to. You have every right to talk about your difficulties as an adolescent and your struggles with homelessness, if you think it would bring you relief and enable you to reconnect with old friends and potential friends. But you’re under absolutely no obligation to do so, and you shouldn’t open any conversations with an apology. You weren’t shoving classmates into lockers or calling them names. You were a homeless child trying to protect yourself, and you needed more support than you received. I think a lot of your guilt is misplaced. That doesn’t mean you couldn’t ever have hurt someone’s feelings by being abrupt or cold! But it’s not the headline here—not by a long shot.

Dear Prudence,

My beautiful teenager is transitioning, female to male. I understand that a trans person’s birth name becomes “dead” to them. But how should I refer to him if discussing his childhood when he was female? I think he was as adorable then as he is now, but I recognize he may not remember his childhood so fondly. Kiddo is a people-pleaser, so I’m worried he’ll only tell me what he thinks I want to hear or that he won’t tell me if I’ve inadvertently hurt his feelings.

—How to Help

It sounds like you have something stronger than a suspicion that your kid would like you to use male pronouns for him, whether you’re speaking about him now or in the past, but you worry he’d pretend to be fine with “she/her” as long as you’re talking about the past. If that’s the case, I would encourage you to use his pronouns consistently. If you’re talking to him or other family members, they’ll certainly remember that he existed prior to transition, whereas if you’re speaking to people who don’t know him, you can include “This was before he transitioned,” for quick context if necessary. And for whatever it’s worth, a lot of teenagers don’t love hearing stories about how adorable they were as kids. It’s not uncommon for a parent to say, “You used to do the cutest thing when you were 4 … ” and for the kid to protest, “Mo-oom!”

Classic Prudie

My wife, who is infertile, and I have recently decided to have children—we’d like eventually to have three—using an egg donor. (We decided against adoption because we would have no biological connection to our children.) We have just settled on this option but it has thrown open a whole new dilemma for me. I am white and my wife is East Asian. Her race isn’t a problem for me and I would have had no difficulty raising mixed race children, but frankly, now that I have the choice, I’d prefer my kids to be white. We live in a fairly homogeneously white area and at the end of the day I want my kids to look like me, their cousins, and the kids they’ll go to school with. I don’t think my wife has ever experienced racism, but I think she might understand my point of view. Then I think I maybe I’m just convincing myself about this. I really could use a second opinion before I broach the subject with her.