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A really good friend of mine is a nurse who treats patients with COVID-19. She was irate about the lack of PPE, until a guy she was interested in dating invited her over to his house. He has shared custody of young children with an ex-wife but has apparently said nothing to her about his ex-wife’s approval of such an encounter (obviously, because who would consent to such a thing?). I know she’s lonely. I know she wants to have sex. But I was appalled that she’d even consider this invite, defying the rules of lockdown we’re all following in no small part to make health care workers like her safer. I’ve lost respect for her. And I’m angry with her. She thinks I’m overreacting. Who’s right?
—Angry at a Friend
Before I get into the question of right action, I’d like to start by acknowledging everything in this situation that is true, understandable, and human: Your friend is working under dangerous and stressful situations and is not receiving sufficient protection and support from her employer. She is lonely and overworked and hungry for human touch that’s not mediated by fear and avoidance. You are concerned and angry about the possibility that she’s running a real risk that could potentially harm a number of vulnerable people.
I think the best course of action you can pursue is to speak to her once again, neither in anger nor in thoughtless cheerleading: “I love you so much. I know you’re being put in an impossible situation at work every day, and I know how lonely and frustrating isolation can be. I don’t blame you for wanting to have sex with someone you like or for wanting to relax for a few hours. You’re a nurse, and I think you know all the risks inherent in this situation, probably better than I do, so I won’t belabor the point. But it is a risk, and it’s one that I hope you’ll reconsider. I know it won’t be an easy decision, and I won’t pretend that it doesn’t take a toll to have to commit to this kind of social isolation for an indefinite amount of time. If you want to talk through any of this with me, I’m happy to listen.” Feel free to leave off that last line if you don’t think you’d actually be able to participate in such a conversation should your friend decide to meet up with this man. You are entitled to your own anger and have a right to take a step back if you feel you must. But I hope you’re able to speak in such a way that your friend can hear you. I hope she listens to you, and you to her, and that you’re able to offer each other mutual support in a time where support is often in short supply.
I’m a cis woman in my late 20s from a conservative Catholic background. I’ve known I was gay (or “struggled with same-sex attraction,” in the language of my church) since I was a child. In 2018, I married a good, decent man to try to live as a straight woman; this failed, and we divorced shortly thereafter. Due to family and church pressure, I agreed to “walk a holy path of lifelong celibacy.” COVID has turned my life upside down. I’m sheltering-in-place across the country, and my social group is now mostly local artists. One of them confessed her crush on me, I reciprocated, and we have started remotely dating. I’ve prayed and reflected and made peace with being a gay Catholic. I came out to my parents, and they cut me off. I was emotionally destroyed for a few days, but then years of anxiety and depression lifted.
I’m making art and breathing freely again—after seven years of stunning blankness. I’m also suddenly angry, or I cry out of nowhere, because I think about the past and I feel things again. I feel like I’m losing my mind! I’m seriously considering a career change. I have a stable teaching job lined up at a religious school, or I can take a temporary research-based job for the city digitizing archives and curating displays. I’m leaning toward the latter. I love the Catholic Church, but she’s really hurt me, and I’m afraid of being hurt again. How can I be sure I’m making the right decision?
—Am I Losing It?
I felt such a rush of tenderness and recognition reading this letter. I know very well that sense of destabilization, the anguish, the excitement, the self-doubt that can often follow coming out, especially coming out in a conservative, religious context. You are not losing your mind; you are experiencing freedom, possibility, romance, and peace after years of crushing, relentless homophobia framed as “holy celibacy.” This is not to diminish the holy celibacy freely chosen by those with a religious vocation. But that “holiness” was forced upon you by a church and a family that saw your sexuality as inherently dangerous and sinful. This may sound a bit strange, but I want to congratulate you on your lesbianism: It’s delightful, and it’s a gift, and part of what makes you fearfully and wonderfully you in this world, to paraphrase the Psalmist.
I hope you pursue the job digitizing archives for your city. It sounds exciting and interesting, and your employers will have no interest in attempting to dictate your identity or your love life. You have a lifetime to work out your relationship with the Catholic Church, and I think it can only help if the church is not also your employer while you do so. Taking this secular job does not mean you are totally and permanently closed off to the possibility of working in a religious context in the future or that you may never develop a meaningful spiritual life. It may help to seek out a gay-affirming therapist who specializes in treating religious trauma—it’s possible to acknowledge the ways in which your church has harmed you without saying it’s wholly bad or something that you must give up entirely in order to be a happy, self-accepting lesbian. You may find that during certain times feelings of anger and betrayal predominate. At other times you may feel tenderness, grief, poignancy, devotion, connection, or any number of other things. Please give yourself time and a great deal of grace; you deserve it. Your wounds are real, and deep, and many. You are not, I think, faced with a permanent, one-time decision between “good” and “bad,” but deciding what you want, without trying to please others by being celibate, self-loathing, or straight. I wish you all the happiness in the world, and I hope you enjoy these dates with your new girlfriend immensely. Be well.
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I have a delightfully low-stakes etiquette question! A while ago, my partner and I had another couple over for dinner. One of the guests apparently didn’t like part of the meal—I discovered the remains in the kitchen sink while cleaning up afterward. I wasn’t offended (sometimes certain things just don’t work with one’s palate), but I did feel bad that they may have not had enough to eat. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to make things awkward (they probably would have apologized for not liking it, which wasn’t my intention at all) and put them on the spot. Was this the right thing to do? Should I have offered them something else or handled this differently? We had a big meal even without the offending dish, plus dessert. Plus, we’re friends with this couple, but maybe not “speak openly and bluntly” close.
—Hope You’re Not Still Hungry
This is one of the trickiest components of hosting a dinner party! It’s very difficult for guests to say “I don’t like this” or “I’m still hungry” without feeling like they’ve seriously violated dining etiquette. Conversely, hosts want to make sure they’ve anticipated everyone’s needs and made sure everyone got enough to eat but can’t politely ask at the end of each course, “Did you like it?” I think you were right not to say anything in the moment, because they would inevitably have felt put on the spot, and given how many other dishes there were on the table, I agree it’s unlikely that anyone went home hungry. This is just something that happens every once in a while and doesn’t mean you need to reevaluate your hosting strategy. You could, I suppose, ask if there are any particular dishes, flavors, or ingredients your guests enjoy or dislike while you’re still at the menu-planning stage of any future dinner parties, but even then you can’t perfectly guarantee everyone’s going to love everything you make. You can absolve both yourself and your guests in this situation. And I hope you get to host more dinner parties as soon as it’s safe to do so!
Help! My Husband Calls Out His Dead Wife’s Name While We’re Having Sex.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Cecilia Corrigan on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
I am writing to you even though I probably already know your answer. I’ve been married for less than six months to a man with anger issues. If I question him about anything, he will blow up and blame me for “starting a fight.” He says I accuse him rather than ask him, and therefore I never get a response to my questions. Now, every time I want to ask him something, my stomach ties up in knots, because I know I’m going to regret it, and that no matter how carefully I approach him, it will be wrong. I’ve tried changing everything about how I communicate, but at least once a month, it leads to a huge fight that lasts for long, miserable days. He’ll argue about whether we’re arguing. I am afraid of how quickly he gets angry and how he screams at me. Then he’ll deny screaming or says it’s my fault for making him scream. Sometimes we have huge fights, and I don’t even know what I’ve done wrong. He usually ends these fights by storming out.
I don’t understand how one single statement or question can cause someone to blow a gasket this way. I feel crazy and depressed, plus I’m embarrassed that my marriage is this way. Lately, it has had an impact on my health. If I am afraid to ask my husband a question, is there even any point being married? Will counseling help, or will I somehow be blamed there, too? I feel like there’s no one to turn to that I can trust.
—Afraid to Ask
I’m so, so sorry that you’re only six months into this marriage and you already feel knotted-up and miserable because of this furious, cruel man who berates and blames you at every turn. Your instinct that counseling will not be useful here is a good one. The National Domestic Violence Hotline does not encourage counseling in an abusive situation like yours, saying, “[A]buse is not a ‘relationship problem.’ Couples counseling may imply that both partners contribute to the abusive behavior, when the choice to be abusive lies solely with the abusive partner.”
You are right, too, in wondering how a single question can result in this sort of outburst, because the truth is that your husband is not inevitably driven to explosion because you have an inherently accusatory tone. He blows up at you no matter how gently you speak to him because he wants to blow up at you. He wants you to feel guilty, anxious, and eager to placate him so that he can further abuse and control you. Your husband does not simply have anger issues, but employs screaming, blame, denial, and lies as part of a suite of abusive tactics.
Most importantly, I think, is to remember this: Your husband chooses to abuse you. It is not something you could fix if only you managed to frame your questions perfectly. These are not the ordinary communication problems that any couple might expect to have to work through or a sign that you didn’t work hard enough on your marriage. Please don’t let embarrassment keep you from getting the help you need to leave him. This is not your fault, and your husband’s abuse is no cause for you to feel ashamed. If you don’t have anyone in your immediate circle you can trust to help you, please consider calling the hotline at 1-800-799-7233. You can also visit their website and talk to someone confidentially through their chat function; they may be able to direct you to local women’s shelters if you need a place to stay and help you come up with an escape plan. I do not believe you can persuade him to stop abusing you, but I do believe you can get help and support in leaving him and building a safe, peaceful life on your own.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“They can get a hot dog on the way home.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I have five children, ranging in ages from 12 to 20 years old, whom I absolutely adore. My youngest child has recently come out to us, stating they want to start a (very slow) transition to being a woman. We all support them fully on this. My problem is all my children were given names with a fairly specific pattern (I’m that kind of person), and the name my child has chosen, for now, does not match. I have been trying to encourage them to pick a name that matches their siblings’ names a little better. It would break my heart, and drive me crazy, to introduce my children as “Jill,” “Phil,” “Bill,” “Lill,” and … “Alexandria.” The name they have picked isn’t carved in stone, and I feel cruel and petty for not liking it. Am I in the wrong for trying to get them to change their name to one that fits their brothers and sisters a little better? They are already going through so much both mentally and physically. I want them to still feel a part of our family and not struggle any more than they have to.
—Can’t Name My Baby
I think you already know the answer to this question. You’re aware, on some level, that you’re trying to wrest back a degree of control that’s simply no longer your place to wield. I don’t doubt for a moment that you adore your children or that your decision to give them all matching names was a decision you made out of joy and excitement and a particular vision of family unity. Nor do I think you should berate yourself for feeling grief and loss about this change in the family lineup. But please save language like “It would break my heart and drive me crazy to introduce someone to my five children, whose names all rhyme but one” for a therapist, and don’t introduce that sort of intensity to your conversations with Alexandria. You’re entitled to whatever feelings come up for you during your daughter’s transition, but some of these feelings are best processed first in private, with a licensed professional, before sharing them with others.
Your children are growing up. You will never have the same sort of control (benevolent as it may have been) over them that you did when they were babies and you got to choose their names, their outfits, their sleep schedules, their diets, and their day-to-day activities. I can imagine a number of reasons why one or more of your kids might not want to have rhyming names with the rest of their siblings, while still loving all of you fiercely and being happy to be a part of your family. Your daughter is choosing her own name and making decisions about her life that you don’t get to make for her—that’s the point of growing up. It’s a feature, not a bug, as they say. You can attempt to leverage her with maternal pressure into choosing a name that pleases you, but the most it can possibly get you is external compliance and internal frustration. The worst it can get you is a daughter who feels confined, misunderstood, infantilized, and controlled, and who subsequently wants to pull away just when you’re longing to be close. Your vision of having five rhymingly named children is no longer possible. But your vision of five children who feel welcomed, loved, and free to pursue the things that make them different from one another without fear of judgment or reprisal is still very much open to you.
My fiancé and I have recently come to the conclusion that we have to postpone our summer wedding. I know that there are people experiencing much worse things during this time, but we feel pretty let down. I have been particularly disappointed by my friends’ reactions, which have mainly been something along the lines of “That stinks!” and no follow-up. I would have expected a bit more from our close friends. Am I wrong to feel hurt by this?
—Another Postponed Bride
The magic phrase in this kind of situation, at least when it comes to your close friends, is, “I know things are hard all over and that we’ll be able to celebrate our wedding eventually, but I’m feeling really disheartened over having to postpone, and I’d love to be able to talk about it a bit more with you. Are you available for that?” You don’t have to accuse your friends of thoughtlessness to acknowledge that this is a real disappointment. They may very well be distracted or despondent or worried about any number of other things, and you can talk about that too, but it doesn’t mean you’re forbidden from raising the issue or for caring about something non-life-threatening but still painful and frustrating.
A few months ago I joined an online group of like-minded people where we often discuss personal relationship problems. I have found that griping about my husband to anonymous people online is a lot better than venting my frustrations at him. Lately my husband has also been really good at changing some of the behaviors that have always driven me up the wall, and now I know why. While using his laptop, I happened to notice him logged in as one of the members of my group! He created a fake persona and has seen every gripe I ever typed about him! I haven’t confronted him on this, and to be honest it has been a convenient way to indirectly communicate my frustrations to him. So should I tell him I know who he is, quit the group, or just let this be?