Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. I slept with my best friend: My best friend, “Mia,” and I have been each other’s rock for a couple years now. We met at a music festival and there has always been some sexual tension; we have been quarantined together for the past couple weeks and it’s finally boiled over. We got bored last night and took some Xanax to try to relieve some of the anxiety from everything that’s going on and one thing led to another while we were cuddling and we had sex. We’ve talked it over and both don’t regret it and don’t think it’ll change our friendship but feel terrible for doing this to her boyfriend. I really like the guy, and while I’ve always thought about having sex with Mia I would never do it sober because I know how much it would hurt him. She also feels awful since this is the guy she thinks she wants to marry, and if he knew it would destroy him. Should we tell her boyfriend or is this better left a secret till we die? Are we awful people?
A: I hope you and Mia (and Mia’s boyfriend, if you decide to tell him) can all try to cut yourselves at least a bit of slack here, as you’re under a pretty unique and unprecedented kind of stress as you’re forced into quarantine. I don’t know how much Xanax you took (or how used either of you are to Xanax and how it affects you), but you don’t say you felt so impaired that you were wholly incapable of making decisions for yourselves so much as relaxed and disinhibited, so I’ll assume you’re not worried about anyone being taken advantage of. You two may want to have a conversation first about whether you want to take Xanax again first, and if so how much, and if you think it’s wise to take it at the same time or would rather assign one person the “babysitter” role to make sure you save some for emergencies, since that strikes me as a potentially significant health issue you’ll have to deal with for as long as you’re quarantined together.
You and Mia are really close, you’re forced to live together and not see anyone else for the foreseeable future, she can’t see her boyfriend, the news is deeply worrying—I’m not that surprised you two had sex! I’m not saying that because I think you should be thrilled about it, or decide now that it was a good idea, but to stress how unique, remarkable, and unforeseeable these circumstances were, and to not consider yourself “awful people” for looking for comfort and a few hours of tension relief through sex. It also sounds like the two of you have serious physical chemistry as well as a deep and abiding friendship, so part of what may be on the table now is the question of whether you and Mia want to be in a romantic relationship together—possibly in addition to her relationship with her boyfriend, or possibly instead of her relationship with her boyfriend. That might be a conversation worth having too, before you decide what, if anything, to say to him.
If nothing else, give yourselves time; you don’t have to talk about this with her boyfriend tomorrow, or while you’re still in quarantine and unable to talk things over in person. I do think it would be difficult to keep this from him indefinitely, so if you think you just wouldn’t be able to stand the guilt, then you can start planning how you’re going to have that conversation. But if you’re not interested in dating Mia (for whatever reason), are committed to not having sex again, and decide not to tell him, I think that’s pretty understandable.
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Q. My roommate won’t stop socializing: I’m having issues with my roommate “Anya,” who in turn is having a hard time with social distancing. Last weekend, she spent time with two different groups of friends and a couple of people individually. One of these occasions was after our third roommate, “Priya,” told us she had a fever, although thankfully it didn’t turn out to be COVID-19. I texted Anya after that, telling her that she can’t keep going out with people, and she got defensive at first but I thought the message sunk in. Then yesterday she went for a walk with a friend. I know it’s OK if you’re 6 feet apart, and I know that you can still go on walks under my state’s stay-at-home order. But she didn’t tell Priya or me that she and her friend were going out—I found out from a picture her friend put on Instagram. It feels like she didn’t tell me because she knew I wouldn’t like it, and I’m really frustrated with her. Short of liking a lot of tweets about not associating with people outside your house so that she sees them on her feed, how can I bring this up with her again? We’ve had a lot of issues and I don’t particularly like her anymore, but our relationship has been OK lately and I’d like to keep the peace between us as much as possible.
A: I agree that “liking a lot of tweets indirectly aimed at one’s roommate’s behavior” is not an effective strategy for getting what you want. This strikes me as the sort of situation that “house meetings” were designed for. Chiding Anya briefly over text isn’t the same thing as having an actual conversation where you two can compare notes; make sure you’re both in receipt of the same, up-to-date information about how to stay safe; and agree upon house rules that apply to you both. You don’t have to like Anya in order to have a polite house meeting. (And I don’t know that she could have intuited that you wanted to be informed every time she went on a walk with a friend, assuming she and said friend actually did stay 6 to 10 feet apart. If that’s something you want her to do for the duration of the shelter-in-place order, you’re going to have to ask her to start doing it, rather than just assume she’ll read your mind.) Schedule a house meeting, figure out what you three can agree on, then unfollow or mute her on social media if it’s all bothering you.
Q. When do you officially grow up? I am in my early 20s and finishing up my college degree. I have a full-time job secured and will start immediately following graduation in the city I went to school in, although work might be remote due to the current circumstances. My parents helped me pay for school, but I worked throughout to contribute a significant chunk and pay my own living expenses as well. After graduation, I will still be on their health insurance but nothing else. However, my parents are very demanding in terms of my commitment to my family. They still rule my life and need to be involved in everything I do. My question is, when am I allowed to grow up? When does the change happen where I am not being a disobedient child when I make choices they don’t agree with, but an independent adult? I am so grateful for everything my parents have done for me, but I want to be my own person. I don’t know how to set those boundaries with them, or even what boundaries to set. Am I just being selfish to want space from them?
A: Obviously, circumstances being what they are, you may not be able to generate the kind of physical and emotional distance you might like in the next few weeks or months. So I don’t want to offer much in the way of specifics. But it will help to remember that you will not grow up or develop meaningful independence because your parents say: “Well, we’ve thought about it, and we’ve decided to start treating you like an adult now. We’re really impressed with how you’ve behaved over the past four years, and we no longer think of you as a child in any way. Welcome to the adult wing of the family!” Adulthood isn’t something your parents can grant you or decide to take away.
Typically, people who want to run your life for you don’t respond to new boundaries with “Oh, thanks for letting me know—good luck!” but “Why are you being so secretive all of a sudden?” and “How can you be so ungrateful?” and “Don’t be ridiculous—give me that,” all expressions that can be emotionally fraught and logistically challenging to navigate. Therapy will help in the long run, as will prioritizing the battles you want to fight over things you’re willing to let go, as will declining to take responsibility for some else’s feelings (easier said than done, but it does get easier with practice). I think you know the answer to your last question, but just in case you need to hear someone else say it: No, it’s not selfish to want space from your parents, even parents you love and admire. And there is nothing contradictory in saying, “I love my parents,” and also, “I’m not going to accommodate their desire to run my life for me.”
Q. Re: I slept with my best friend: Prudie, I think you were off the mark here. Given that they are close friends with long-standing sexual tension, I don’t think it’s a viable option to continue the friendship and never tell Mia’s boyfriend. It seems as if there’s a distinct possibility this could happen again, with or without substances involved. I also think it’s worth pointing out that notwithstanding the incredibly unusual situation, adult people are able to control their own behavior. The pandemic is stressful, but it’s not a free pass to engage in irresponsible or risk-seeking behavior. I think all of us have met people whom we realize we would like to have sex with in other circumstances but for whatever reason realize those are not the circumstances we inhabit. I’m not saying that Mia and the letter writer are irrevocably bad people, but this is something they—and Mia in particular as the person who cheated on a partner—should feel guilty about. And the fact that the letter writer says they don’t regret it even though they both feel guilty suggests there’s a pretty significant risk it will happen again, which circles me back to the fact that the boyfriend must be told—it is inconceivable that they could indefinitely keep it from him while also not descending into an affair. Either the guilt will be too much and they’ll eventually confess, or they’ll continue to not regret this and over time rationalize the guilt and end up having sex again. Again, the letter writer and Mia are not bad people, but I fundamentally reject the premise of your answer that this was naturally going to happen given the circumstances and that just because it’s a pandemic it’s not as bad to commit infidelity as usual.
A: That’s fair enough. I want to find a balance between “cut yourself some slack, because times are hard enough as it is” and “everybody cheat on everybody right now, no rules!” I agree that if neither of them regrets it, it’s probably time to do some soul-searching about whether Mia actually wants to stay with her boyfriend.
Q. Nine million nervous Nellies: My circle of friends is pretty “plugged in” and online. These folks are generally well informed about news. This was great until the coronavirus pandemic started. Now, just about all my friends want to talk about are the latest stats, death projections, etc. It’s awful. I am already anxious about my elderly family members and the general lack of social safety nets in this country. I’ve tried gently redirecting friends’ conversations away from the coronavirus and on to other topics. But this virus has touched nearly every area of our lives. In any other emergency situation we’d definitely be talking about the news nonstop. Is it even reasonable to expect my entire friend group to change our dynamic in the midst of a pandemic? Do I need to somehow just find new friends? Won’t that make me even lonelier?
A: When “gently redirecting” fails, switch to “explicitly making a request or stating a need” before reaching for “finding all-new friends.” It might be unreasonable, as you acknowledge, to ask for them to stop talking about the coronavirus entirely with you, but you can certainly ask that they limit it, or let them know you’re not available to discuss death projections (!), or ask if anyone wants to talk about books, or movies, or what’s helped to keep them calm and centered in difficult moments. If they say no, you can (lovingly, kindly, without dumping them as friends) bow out of the group thread or offer to call them back later; the need to both discuss coronavirus-related news and the need to talk about anything other than the coronavirus are both real, and important. But don’t despair just yet. You seem to think that, because previous gentle redirects haven’t worked, everyone will sneer and ignore you when you explain why you need to sometimes talk about something else. I don’t think that’s the case! I think once they know what you need from them, many of them will be eager to comply.
Q. I crossed a line in my open relationship: I’m in an open relationship with my boyfriend, but there’s one guy who is off limits. I recently lied to my boyfriend and had sex with the off-limits person. My boyfriend has said that my texting relationship with this person makes him uncomfortable, and when he asked if I had feelings for that person, I lied and said no. I told a friend about this, and I’m pretty sure my boyfriend heard me, but he has yet to say anything about it. I love my boyfriend and I want to stay together, but I also have feelings for this other guy. Any advice on how to handle this?
A: One indicator that your boyfriend likely won’t break up with you over this is the fact that he almost certainly already knows you’ve been lying to him about this guy … and hasn’t broken up with you over it. The Band-Aid has already mostly been ripped off! You admitted it, and he overheard you; the jig is up and the cat’s out of the bag. Further disclosure could only help your boyfriend, because it would give you two the chance to honestly air out your feelings and fears, and he already knows most of what you’ve kept from him.
Of course I can’t guarantee your boyfriend will stay with you, and it may be the case that, if you openly acknowledge what you both kind of already know, he’ll decide to leave. But it doesn’t sound like you’re very good at keeping secrets since you already blurted this one out when you knew your boyfriend was in the room (and you’ve got pictures and likely textual evidence on your phone). So even if you don’t tell him now, my guess is that it’s going to come out again somehow in the very near future. Please don’t treat your boyfriend like he’s stupid, or that you can somehow make him forget what he already knows. Give him the respect and dignity of an honest, difficult conversation.
My guess is the real reason you’re reluctant to bring this up isn’t because you’re afraid he’ll dump you but because you have slightly vague feelings for this other guy and you don’t want to think too carefully about just how much of a deal-breaker this other relationship is for you. But you ought to think carefully about just what kind of open relationship you want, how to advocate honestly for what you want, and how to truly respect someone else’s limits. Because if all you want to do is say “sure, sure,” when your boyfriend tries to set limits and then sneak around and meet up with specifically off-limits people in secret, all you’re doing is cheating.
Q. I’m 45. Why can’t I pick my own haircut? With everything shut down, the only person I know who can cut my hair is my mom. She is not a hairdresser, but she shaves my dad’s head with clippers. I want her to do that for me, but I told her she could use a higher setting since Dad likes it very close. She refuses and says she will “try” with scissors. I don’t want her hacking at my short, curly hair with scissors! She cares about what other people think and I think she mostly cares that other people will judge me, a woman, for the short cut. I don’t care, and besides, it will grow out before we are released again. Besides, I think it would feel great, and when will I get this chance again where work appearance doesn’t matter? How can I convince her to cut my hair?
A: Once, during an eighth grade sleepover, I agreed to let two of my friends (who were in the middle of fighting with each other) cut my hair. I think I hoped that it would be a sort of bonding activity that would distract them from fighting. It did not distract them from fighting; it simply moved the medium of their fight from “words” to “my hair.” All of this is to say: I don’t think it’s a good idea to let anyone cut your hair while they’re angry and agitated, especially when you’ve had to talk them into using the implements you want. The odds that she’d break out the scissors at some point regardless of how strenuously you made your point about preferring clippers, or that both of you would end up frustrated and resentful, are too high.
However, if you search “how to shave your own head” online, a veritable treasure trove of how-tos and instructional videos result. (I myself did it last week in a fit of boredom and pique; it went fine!) Rather than trying to persuade to shave your head against their will, I think it’s better just to save time and grab the clippers yourself. Leave the guard on the 4 setting to start; you can always shave closer later. Also, you’re going to find little hairs everywhere no matter how careful you are, so be prepared to do a lot of tidying afterward. If this were a detailed, delicate haircut, I might have different advice for you (although I don’t think I’d advise anyone to schedule a detailed haircut during a shutdown), but this is something you can do relatively easily yourself. It might not be the most flawless shaved head possible, but as you say, perfection isn’t really important right now.
Q. Pronoun etiquette with former colleagues: On a not-too-tough, nonpandemic note, my question is regarding pronouns and “outing.” Specifically, I have this week been interviewing (virtually) for a job position reporting to a former colleague, “Logan.” When we reconnected through the interview process, I learned from their LinkedIn account that Logan now uses they/them and Mx professionally.
Our field is relatively connected, and in the midst of asking for references during my job search, I have talked with several other former colleagues from that job about my potential position with Logan. They all have referred to Logan with their former pronouns, and I was wondering if I have any responsibility to correct them with what I now know to be Logan’s new pronouns. I have avoided reflecting the old pronouns and instead said “they” or “Logan” but haven’t say anything more. It is public on Logan’s LinkedIn, and my old colleagues and bosses are great, progressive people who would 100 percent want to be using the correct pronouns if they knew. However, I haven’t kept up with Logan since we left our old workplace and only knew about the change myself by finding them on LinkedIn. (We are connected on social media, but I didn’t see Logan ever post anything one way or the other.) Do I speak up in those moments? Or leave it up to Logan to share how they want in their own relationships with these former colleagues? Please let me know if I’m being dense either way; I want to do whatever is the most respectful option.
A: Using “they” when referring to Logan but not taking it upon yourself to correct others is a good balance to strike here, since you don’t yet know Logan’s approach or attitude when it comes to pronouns. That’s not to say you’d be violating a confidence or doing anything like outing Logan if you said, “Oh, Logan goes by they/them now, actually,” to a mutual acquaintance. But Logan hasn’t asked you to do anything like that, and some people prefer not to have others correct pronoun usage on their behalf (for any number of reasons). Since you’re interviewing to become one of Logan’s employees, you shouldn’t consider yourself responsible for how they handle disseminating the news. If you get the job and you see Logan correct someone who uses old pronouns, you can certainly follow suit.
And of course you can say something in the moment now—I don’t mean to suggest that you’d be wrong to offer a (polite, professional) correction to someone who maybe hasn’t checked Logan’s LinkedIn profile for a while. But you’re not making a mistake right now.
Q. Re: I slept with my best friend: I’m definitely not seeing a lot of remorse in this situation, and I seriously wonder whether the woman involved should be with her boyfriend. The fact that neither of them regrets this is a big alarm bell. It sounds like the letter writer found an excuse to do what they wanted to do anyway, and honestly, I’d bet they end up doing it again.
I don’t know how old the letter writer’s best friend is, but it definitely doesn’t sound like she’s mature enough to handle a relationship with the person she’s looking to marry.
A: Original letter writer, if you’re around, please send us an update one way or the other in a few weeks. Do you and Mia think you want to make it a go yourselves? Is she going to try to stick things out with her partner? How will you feel about what happened between the two of you once you’re no longer stuck together?
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks so much, everyone! Take care of yourselves and I’ll see you next week. If you’re free this Wednesday, we’ll be trying another Dear Prudence from home over Facebook Live.
From Care and Feeding
Q. What race should my sperm donor be? I am a single black woman who is considering having a child. Since I don’t have a partner, I would essentially be choosing everything about my child’s other parent, including race. Which is a big issue for me. If I choose a black donor, I’d be consigning my child to the racism that I face every day. I’m proudly black, but because I am black I understand how difficult it is to navigate life as a black person. While I understand that being biracial comes with its own set of issues (like people asking “What are you?”) it still provides certain levels of privilege that I don’t have access to. If I choose a donor with lighter skin than mine, how can I then teach my child to be proud of their black roots? How would I explain that to my very black family? Read what Carvell Wallace had to say.
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