Dear Prudence

Help! The Sex Resort We Wanted to Try Has a Racist Theme Night.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

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Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. Nudes and prudes: While locked down, my husband and I have begun to seriously explore our interest in sex with others. Since no one can meet in person, it’s a great time to meet online, Zoom chat, and get to know people pretty well, something that gives me great comfort as we move forward with new adventures. We’ve been chatting with lots of interesting folks and look forward to maybe meeting up in person whenever that is deemed safe. We’ve met one couple whom we like a lot and who are huge fans of and advocates for a vacation resort in Jamaica that caters to people in “the lifestyle,” as they call it. The husband made a really intriguing and compelling case for giving it a try, emphasizing the complete safety and freedom to do or not do anything we would like. The resort itself is even divided between a “prude” side and a nude side to allow everyone to adjust to their level of comfort. He’s urging us to join them in October if it’s deemed safe.

Honestly we have always been rather repulsed by the idea of a place like this and thought we’d never be interested, but after his cheerleading, we took a look at the resort’s website and were considering it—until I got to the part about the theme nights where people dress in costume and act according to the theme. One theme night in particular: Jamaican night. I can only imagine lots of drunk white people with fake dreadlocks speaking in a Jamaican accent. The cultural tone-deafness and naked—literally in some cases—exploitation of people of color appalled me.

Our new friend’s explanation seemed the height of white privilege. He claimed the staff, all of whom are people of color, really enjoy the night too! My husband agrees with me that the themed evening is in exceptionally poor taste but does not think it’s a deal-breaker. I really don’t think I could stomach it, and I see it as a reason not to go. My husband’s position is that we should go and skip that night. Am I being too sensitive and overreacting?

A: It is of course entirely reasonable to decide against going to this resort based on what you have learned about this theme night, especially given that this isn’t the sort of hotel you ever wanted to visit in the first place. If your question is whether it would be an overreaction to decide against pursuing any kind of relationship with this couple, based on their enthusiastic defense of the resort’s theme nights—no, I do not think you are being unreasonable. It’s never an overreaction to say, “I’m no longer interested in having sex with someone because of the way they’re behaving.” That’s just consent! You’re not saying these people should be fired from their jobs or that they’re evil—just that their attitudes are a turnoff for you. (And for what it’s worth, I think anyone who suggests a joint vacation as a first in-person date is sending out some very erratic signals! There’s a reason dates tend to start with relatively safe, low-level interactions like “getting a drink together in public” before proceeding to sex.)

There are many, many couples in the world who like to have sex with other couples; you are not going to be starved for company when you emerge from isolation. Any kind of group sex needs to come with the important caveat that anyone can, for any reason, no matter how small or whimsical, decide to opt out without guilt, pressure, or recrimination. If it’s a deal-breaker for you, it’s a deal-breaker. (Also, for whatever it’s worth, they sound boorish, insensitive, and prone to employing pressure tactics. I wouldn’t want to sleep with them either, in your position.)

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Q. Co-worker crush: I’m sure you get letters like this constantly, but here goes. I’m in love with a co-worker. He’s single. I’m unhappily married. We also happen to be very good friends. In many ways, I feel like he’s my soulmate. There are several obvious problems with this, but two rise to the top: 1) While I know he values our friendship, there has been no clear indication that he has other feelings for me. (There have been deep, meaningful conversations, time spent together, and several things that could be subtle hints, but nothing definitive that I haven’t just chalked up to me reading too far into things.) 2) Did I mention I’m unhappily married? I’ve been trying to push these feelings away for a couple of years and it has not worked. It’s not just a “crush” because, in my experience, those go away. I see him as a complete person and am aware that he’s not perfect. I need to know how to stop fantasizing about being with him. I need to know how to stop setting myself up for constant heartbreak. Thus far, I haven’t opted to cut contact with him because I value his friendship tremendously. At this point, I suspect I’ll choose to endlessly suffer than lose his friendship entirely.

A: You are of course free to endlessly suffer, if that’s really what you want. But I hope you choose to do something else! For example, you might choose to leave your unhappy marriage. Even if your co-worker doesn’t return your romantic feelings, it might feel a lot more pleasant and a lot less miserable to have a crush on a friend if you weren’t also in a loveless relationship. The “setting [your]self up for constant heartbreak” doesn’t come from the fact that you’re mooning over a guy you work with—it comes from the constant heartbreak of being in a joyless marriage. I won’t pretend that leaving such a marriage is as easy as snapping your fingers, but it can be done; people leave loveless marriages every day. Make today the day you do it.

Q. Furious at parents’ real estate agent: My parents are in their mid-70s and have been trying to sell their home for several months. They initially planned for an open house in mid-March, but thankfully that didn’t happen. However, up until that point, their agent insisted it still take place until they canceled (a day before the open house was to take place). Now their agent is telling them to try again in May. I am furious that their agent is potentially putting my elderly parents (and potential buyers) at risk. My parents’ next move is to a retirement facility right by our house. Naturally I am paranoid about these events because of the pandemic and because living with other senior citizens with common spaces sounds frightening. Under normal circumstances, I’d be very supportive. Right now, I am having a hard time not picking up the phone, calling this agent’s business, and insisting that this be put on hold for the unforeseeable future for the safety of all people. My husband says it’s better to call the agent and not get her office involved, but she sounds as though she won’t listen to actual CDC recommendations. How do I handle this? Or should I accept that my parents will make the decision and not us?

A: Assuming your parents are not moving into a retirement facility because of increasing memory problems or difficulty making decisions (I think you would have mentioned those things if they were the case), I think you can accept that this is your parents’ call to make and it’s up to them if they want to speak to their real estate agent about their concerns. You can absolutely share with them that you’re angry at the risks she was willing to expose them to and encourage them to escalate the issue with the agency if necessary, but as much as I understand your indignation on your parents’ behalf, I don’t think it’s time for you to fight this battle for them.

Now, if your parents feel anxious at the prospect of seeming “difficult” toward their agent and you wanted to offer to speak to her on their behalf, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable prospect as long as you’re able to plan out what you want to say beforehand and don’t go into the conversation already maxed out: “Listen up, you would-be murderer,” etc. But I think the best course of action is to encourage them to speak to her themselves, and the next best bet is to offer to speak to her or the agency on their behalf with permission.

Q. Is my ex well-meaning? I’m a woman in my early 30s. A few months ago, my ex “Heinrich” dumped me after a more-than-four-year relationship. We hadn’t been communicating well, but he hadn’t expressed dissatisfaction to me before this. I had a megabreakdown. I ended up running outside our apartment, hyperventilating and nonverbal and bleeding from some accidental cuts on my leg, until a kind stranger called an ambulance. During that time my ex didn’t so much as look out the window. Apparently—and he’s incapable of lying and also a putz, so I believe him—he simply panicked and somehow thought I had called someone to help me. This despite the fact that a) I have a mental illness that he’s well aware of and b) I hadn’t been wearing pants when I rushed outside.

About a month later, I had a road accident and called him to help me get to the hospital. (I probably should have called a ride-share, but I was really upset and didn’t think of it.) We started talking again, and since then he’s tried to be helpful. He’s planning to pay for my ambulance ride from after the breakup, and he brought me food when I was having trouble getting around. He clearly feels awful. We had a few decent text and phone conversations. I even told him I’d like to be friends again.

But recently, I suddenly can’t stand the thought of seeing him or even texting with him. Before all this happened I always thought of Heinrich as the kindest and most compassionate person I knew. Even post-breakup, the thought of becoming friends again someday really comforted me, despite the cowardly way he acted. I will eventually have to get my stuff from his apartment. The other factor is that I got used to seeing his wonderful family once a week (pre-pandemic, of course) and they would like to maintain a friendship with me. Nonetheless, I really want him to know how badly he’s hurt and destabilized me. Breaking up without any prior conversation was his right, but he totally failed to help me when I desperately needed it. He acknowledges as much. And I hate the idea that he’ll get to move on from this while my equilibrium is shot to hell. Frankly, I want him to suffer, even if it’s just by stewing in guilt.

Am I being unfair or overly harsh? What do I tell him? Do I make sure he knows exactly what this has done to my brain? Do I attempt to recognize that he’s trying to make it up to me and offer to be friends at some later date? Say I thought I could forgive him but can’t, but by the way, I still would like him to pay for my ambulance ride? Communicate with him only via third party? I feel like I can’t think rationally about this.

A: I think there are a few good signs in your letter: You’re aware that right now your primary desire is to punish Heinrich, that you don’t actually want to be friends with him, and that you’re not presently capable of treating him with respect or consideration. You’re also able to affirm that he had the right to end your relationship, which is true, and that he did not realize you were in need of an ambulance when you ran out of the house after your breakup. For now at least, I do not think you should communicate with Heinrich either yourself or through a third party. You two are broken up, and friendship is not currently possible—the best thing you can give each other is space, distance, neutrality, and the absence of harm.

You say that he “hadn’t expressed dissatisfaction” to you once in your four-year relationship but admit that you two weren’t communicating before your breakup; I think you’re fixated on the belief that if Heinrich had expressed dissatisfaction in a way that you could have heard, you two would never have broken up, or your breakup would have come in some way you could have anticipated or understood as “fair.” The idea that he gets to “move on” while you have to suffer is, I think, a component of that belief. You of course can’t know what his equilibrium is really like post-breakup. I imagine that learning your ex injured themselves and went to the hospital directly after your breakup would be fairly distressing, and the fact that Heinrich offered to pay for your medical costs suggests that he is not simply skipping away to his happy place. But more importantly, it’s part of the fundamental reality of a breakup that the people who break up do, in fact, get to move on afterward. You cannot say you recognize his right to break up with you while also demanding the right to punish him for “moving on,” since that is exactly what a breakup is.

Heinrich has not damaged your brain; he has ended your relationship, and you are sad, hurt, and angry. You’re entitled to those feelings, but they do not entitle you to seek to make him suffer, nor do they mean he’s single-handedly responsible for either your happiness or unhappiness. Please speak to a therapist, if you’re not already seeing one, with the express goal of making sure you do not contact your ex and finding ways to take responsibility for your own healing and well-being. I wish you all the best in that project and urge you to leave your ex-boyfriend alone.

Q. Quarantine partiers: My boyfriend has a large group of friends in their 30s who still like to party. Despite our state’s shelter-in-place order, they are getting together on a regular basis to hang out, drink, and do drugs. It makes me so angry. I see posts by essential workers putting their lives at risk while begging people to stay home. I have high-risk family members who are terrified.

My boyfriend agrees they are being stupid but also sometimes seems tempted to join—if it weren’t for me, I think he’d be out with them. He also makes excuses for why he can’t attend each invitation instead of standing up and telling them he won’t be socializing because he thinks it’s irresponsible. I know we can’t control everyone’s actions, but am I overreacting by being upset that he isn’t taking this more seriously? When things eventually calm down, do I need to just let it go and keep my mouth shut? I see this as abusing their privilege in a way that would be important to call out in similar but more familiar circumstances.

A: It’s rarely my advice that someone should “let it go and keep [their] mouth shut” when it comes to talking to a partner about serious disagreements regarding matters of public health, safety, and shared values. That doesn’t mean I think your only options are to either convince your boyfriend to agree with you on every point or break up with him! But given that you two are, at least at present, in agreement about what you ought to do (not go to parties), I think there’s room to discuss honestly and nonjudgmentally his desire to be around other people, and the ways in which it can sometimes feel daunting to contemplate disagreeing with one’s friends. That doesn’t mean you have to plan on individually yelling at all of your boyfriend’s friends after shelter-in-place orders have been lifted, but you can certainly talk to him now about your concerns and frustrations and be honest about how you think he should consider telling them why he’s not coming to parties instead of making up in-the-moment excuses.

Q. Live-in love: I am a dedicated mom to my two kids and a hard-working professional with a wonderful family and great friends. I have been dating a lovely man for three years. I took things very slowly with him but now he is an integral part of my life and my kids adore him. He’s a great guy—he is upbeat and active, he cooks and cleans, and he is fun and loving with my kids. He has wanted to move in with us for a long time. The thing is, I do not want him to move in. Part of it is that we have different financial philosophies (he spends every dollar he has and I budget for the rainy days). Part of it is I sometimes feel like my kids and I fill the role of “family” for him, but really he could have latched onto anyone. But mostly, I just love the autonomy of being the king of my own castle and having my own space. After a bad marriage and awful divorce, I feel like living alone (with my kids!) is an opportunity. I don’t want all of his stuff here. Alone time feels more like a need than a want at this time in my life.

We have broken up over this issue in the past but reconciled because we missed each other. We agreed that he would stay with us during the pandemic, and, although he has not done anything wrong, I find myself irritated by his constant presence, and my interest in sex and affection has diminished. He has made it clear that he wants a live-in relationship. I do not want him to move in, but I also don’t want to lose him. We are at an impasse. Do I suck it up and have him move in to spare my kids and me the heartbreak of losing him? Am I a terrible mother for letting my kids love this good man only to break up with him because I don’t want to live together? How would I explain that to them? It’s been three years and if I still don’t want him to live here, I don’t see myself changing my mind anytime soon.

A: At the risk of sounding flippant, you kind of did change your mind: Your boyfriend currently lives with you. I don’t mean to dismiss the extreme circumstances that led to him doing so; I understand that, if your options were to either shelter in place together or apart, you didn’t want to commit to a situation where you might not be able to see each other up close and in person for weeks or months or longer. But if you really don’t want to live with him, and he’s currently living with you, then it’s incumbent upon you to figure out how much longer you’re willing to live together out of expedience and be very clear about a move-out date. You’ll also then have to be prepared for his reaction and for the possibility that you two may someday break up over this issue again, because it’s a pretty serious matter of compatibility.

This feels harsher than I intended when I began writing this out! I really understand why you value your space, and I can hear the ways in which you feel terrible guilt for wanting privacy and space in a way that you fear conflicts with your children’s well-being. But he’s only been staying with you for a few weeks, and I don’t think your children are going to fall apart if he doesn’t move in forever. More importantly, I don’t think it will be good for your children or for you if you keep on as you are out of a misplaced sense of guilt, since you already feel stifled, crowded, itchy toward affection, and sex-averse living with this man. The best thing you can do is be clear with him about how this is not going to work for you long-term and that you need a very clear exit date for this living arrangement, and then let him have his say too. Maybe he’ll be able to swallow his disappointment; maybe you two will break up. Both of those alternatives are better than “slowly being driven to distraction” because you two live together.

Q. Reaching out to estranged family: Growing up, my aunt “Suzanne” and I were pretty close. She was the younger, cooler, single sister living in the big city, while my parent and all our family lived in the conservative suburbs. But over the years, the relationship between my parent and my aunt soured, to the point where they haven’t talked in years. We managed to stay close and in contact from the time I was 10 up through my post-college years. But we ended up losing contact and I didn’t invite her to my wedding, at my parent’s request, despite my misgivings and desire to have my aunt there. We haven’t talked in nearly six years.

Suzanne is a nurse living in one the cities hit hardest by the coronavirus, and she’s been on my mind lately. I want to make sure she’s all right and staying as safe as possible while being on the front lines against this pandemic. I really do miss her. Is this a good idea? Do you think I should just not add this pressure to her given her current focus on saving lives? If I do reach out, is a text the best way—is it too hard to ignore if she doesn’t want to respond? Or should I snail mail her? What do I say to her? I think me not inviting her to my wedding was seen as me sending her a “sign,” so our distance is clearly my fault. But honestly, I was just so tired from being in the middle of the debate between her and my parent. I have no ill will toward her and would love to have my aunt back in my life again if possible.

A: I think it’s possible! You’re aware of the various possible reasons Suzanne might decline to reconnect, but as long as you’re prepared to shoulder the disappointment of an angry or a nonresponse with good grace, I think you can try to get in touch with her. You can keep the initial message relatively brief: Just let her know that you’re thinking of her, that you miss her, are sorry for having let the relationship lapse (save any explanations about your difficult relationship with your parents for a later conversation, if and only if Suzanne seems interested in having one), and that you understand if she doesn’t want to respond.

For what it’s worth, while I don’t want you to be too hard on yourself, I think you not inviting your aunt to your wedding was very much “sending her a sign.” That’s not a strange or unique spin she might have put on the situation, but kind of the only way she could have read it. The fact that you were “so tired” from your parent’s haranguing that you excluded her from your wedding is useful contextual information (I hope it’s clear I don’t think you’re a monster for having done so), but it doesn’t really change anything. You chose to prioritize your parent’s wishes in that case and lost that relationship as a natural result of that choice. That doesn’t mean you have to spend the rest of your life begging forgiveness for having excluded her from your wedding, but there were only so many ways she could have read such a rejection. I think any possible reconciliation would only be stymied if you attempted to relitigate that choice, so it’s better not to try to justify or downplay it. The point here is that you miss her and are sorry that you didn’t prioritize your relationship with her, not to get her to agree that you made the right choice about your guest list for your wedding years ago.

Q. Follow-up—re: Furious at parents’ real estate agent: Hi Prudie, thanks for taking my question. One of my parents’ reasons to move is because of my father’s increasing memory loss. The facility has a memory care unit that my father needs, and my mother would need him to use that because it’s a lot for her to deal with on her own. I don’t know whether this changes any of the scenario, though. And their state is one that has been very hard hit by COVID-19. But so is ours (and it’s where the retirement facility is).

A: That’s helpful background—thank you so much. In that case, I think you should speak with the agent yourself and try to (as best as you can, given your understandable anger) keep a civil tone and stick to discussing CDC guidelines and any local ordinances you think she needs to comply with, rather than speculate about her motivations or her character. If that goes well, you have gained your brother, as the expression goes. If not, and you want to go over her head to speak to the agency to make sure it’s ensuring that its agents comply with public health and safety regulations, I think that’s the next best step. I’m so sorry you have to deal with all of this right now, and I hope you’re able to get your parents somewhere safe as soon as possible.

Q. Re: Furious at my parents’ real estate agent: You could buttress your arguments—and give your parents ammunition—by checking your local Realtors association guidelines and best practices. You can find your local association on the National Association of Realtors website. The associations administer the exams and give accreditation to Realtors. You could give them a buzz and see what they have to say.

A: That’s so helpful. Thank you! Anytime there are centralized guidelines that govern a particular situation, it can only help to familiarize yourself with them. Hopefully they have clear-cut recommendations for how their agents can safely do their work, and you’ll be able to convince the agency to comply.

Danny M. Lavery: Thanks so much for chatting today, everyone! Take care of yourselves as best as you can, and see you next week.

If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat, click here to read it.

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From Care and Feeding

Q. Does climate change mean I shouldn’t have kids? I’m terrified that I’m going to have a kid in the next five or six years, and then things will start to get really bad when the kid is still young. This is obviously terrifying; no young kid could have the psychological or tangible skills to cope with that, and I’m not sure I would either. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for weeks. I’m sure you get emails like this all the time (though probably from actual parents), and I know there’s no real answer, but how does one make this choice? Is it ever the right one? Read more and see what Carvell Wallace had to say.

Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.