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Five years ago my best friend, “Jane,” started dating “Scott.” Eventually Jane and I fell out because I didn’t support their relationship. He was rude, often undermined her, and was a passionate Trump supporter. (Jane and I are not Trump supporters.) Recently they broke up, and Jane and I were subsequently able to make up. She told me that he’d been “acting bizarrely,” and discovered he frequented white supremacist forums online. Jane is Black. She learned he had claimed to his racist buddies that he was only with her for the money (she paid for everything), that he was disgusted by physical contact with her, and that he would never have children with her because it would taint his bloodline.
I decided to submit an anonymous tip to the FBI about Scott’s online involvement in white supremacy, hoping someone would keep tabs on him in case he ever escalated to violence. I stand by that decision and don’t regret it. But when Jane found out, she was furious, saying I should have trusted her to make the call. She has cut me out of her life. I’m disappointed because I truly value her friendship and did not do this to undermine her. I want to support my friend. Did I make the right call? What should I do?
It may be cold comfort, but at least you have the gift of clarity in Jane’s rejection: There’s no way you can support her right now because she doesn’t want to talk to you. Some of her response may be inflected by embarrassment that the man she loved held her in such contempt and successfully hid it from her for so long. She may find it easier to take some of her anger out on you, since you’re a readier and safer target than her racist ex is. She may even now feel protective of him if she’s made a habit of defending him from her friends and family over the years, or she may be frustrated over what she sees as a lost opportunity for her to regain control of the situation. But you sound pretty secure in the choice you made. I think the only reason you’re worried you made the wrong call is because Jane is angry now, not because you’ve reassessed the possible threat Scott poses to others. Maybe if you had spoken about this with her before you made your report, things would be different, but there’s no guarantee of that. If she had told you “No, don’t send in the tip—he doesn’t really mean it” but you did it anyway, you two would have fallen out over the exact same thing. For now, the most you can do is think of Jane with compassion from a distance.
My partner normally gets their bikini line professionally waxed and, due to the pandemic, has been unable to go to those appointments. They do not want to shave because of the potential for razor burn and infection. I hate myself for saying this, but—I really, really don’t like the grown-out hair. For a variety of reasons, it’s turning me off during key moments, and I find myself dreading sex. I know this is 100 percent the patriarchy speaking, but I can’t help this preference! What should I do or say to help remedy this?
I think it’s possible to ask a partner to trim their pubic hair without worrying you’ve become a horrible, controlling agent of oppression. There’s no risk of razor burn or infection with an electric hair-trimmer. You can just set the guard to whatever length you prefer and trim in five minutes or less. You do not have to thoroughly investigate whatever remaining issues you have to work out with the industrial-beauty complex before you can (politely and casually) ask your partner to trim their pubic hair before sex. If your partner’s not used to having much pubic hair, they may very well not have updated their grooming routines, and it would be understandable if you found mustiness or mattedness a turnoff.
That said, I think you’re giving the patriarchy a little too much credit here: No, you may not have consciously chosen every preference, assumption, and desire you have about your partner’s body, and you can’t simply will yourself to feel differently. But you’re also capable of investigating discomfort where you find it, occasionally letting go of judgment, and exploring alternate visions of beauty outside of said patriarchal standards. Those standards may exist, and they may have proved formative to you growing up, but it doesn’t mean you’ve been helplessly, permanently brainwashed and are incapable of exercising your own will, either.
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Ten years ago my brother had a child under less-than-ideal circumstances. He abandoned that woman and their child, met someone else, and right away had another baby with her. He has two children one year apart (his paternity was established in both) but has never met or done anything for his first child, my nephew. My nephew has been raised by his mother and her partner, a wonderful man who is my nephew’s true father in every sense. I’ve stayed in contact with my nephew’s mother for updates and had a chance to meet him a few years ago. I told my brother about that possibility out of respect, and he told me that he’d be very angry if I did meet the boy. I chose to do it anyway. It was very fulfilling and emotional, but I was sad I had to walk on eggshells just to be in my nephew’s life. My brother didn’t speak to me for months.
Recently I had another opportunity to see my nephew, and I took it, this time without telling my brother. It felt awful to have to keep a secret, but I’m a grown woman with every right to have a relationship with my own nephew. I don’t want to have to choose between them. I don’t mention my nephew to my brother. He’s part of my life, but my brother tries to dictate to me, saying if I continue to have a relationship with my nephew, he won’t speak to me. Do I continue in secrecy? Is it my brother’s right to know if I have a relationship with my nephew he does not parent? I bite my tongue so much with my brother because of his temper, and it’s stressful. I just want to love both my brother and my nephew without being cut off.
I get that you don’t want to choose between them, and I agree that you shouldn’t have to—but no matter how much you or I might believe that, it doesn’t really matter if your brother decides to insist you make a choice. You can continue to speak to your nephew and his parents without telling your brother about it—you might be able to pull it off for months or even years—but I doubt you’ll be able to make it to the end of your life without your brother finding out, especially once your nephew becomes an adult. So it’s a question of when, not if, further secrecy becomes impossible.
Odds are excellent that at some point your brother will cut you off again over his nephew. You can’t control that, and you shouldn’t try to prevent it by avoiding your nephew. But I wonder what this situation might look like if you stopped managing, placating, assuaging, and avoiding your brother’s anger. It sounds like he’s a habitually angry person, in addition to being a deadbeat father, and he’s determined to set unreasonable limits for the people in his life and is perfectly willing to freeze you out when you displease or disagree with him. That doesn’t mean you have to make it your goal to upset your brother, but it does mean that he’s probably going to find a way to get angry with you no matter how carefully you tread around him. It will make things easier if you treat his outbursts not as shocking outcomes to be avoided at all costs but as a matter of course and something you really can’t prevent once he’s made the decision to lash out. You could think of your brother’s anger like a geyser: You can neither cause it to erupt nor prevent it from erupting, and you’re not responsible for when it goes off. (Obviously at some point this metaphor falls apart, but I think the comparison might still be helpful.) All you can do is protect yourself by stepping back when you’re in danger of getting burned.
Help! I Found Out My Girlfriend Once Said Black People Weren’t “Her Type.” I’m Black.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Krystal Farmer on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
I have been married for 23 years. My wife and I are in our early 50s. Over the past five years I have told my wife on three or four occasions that I am dissatisfied with our lack of a sex life and would like her to show more interest. Every time she agrees and promises to “do more,” but nothing changes. I have asked if it’s me, if I’m bad at sex, or what the problem is, and she says it’s not me but doesn’t give a clear answer, only saying that she will “improve.” I last brought this up in November, and since then we have had sex once.
I am not ready to stop having sex. I am ready to leave—not just because of the sex, but because it feels like she’s lying to me and keeping secrets. It feels painful and disrespectful to be told “Sure, I’ll start making changes” over and over when nothing happens. If I continue to keep my mouth shut, I worry it will reinforce her belief that I’m OK with it. But I know our three kids will be unhappy if we split up. One of our children is on the spectrum, and I don’t know how he would take the news. There is also the real possibility that I could leave only to find no one else would want to be with me. What would you suggest?
—One Foot Out the Door
Are any of your children still living at home or financially dependent on you and your wife? If your concerns about them are practical, that’s worth pausing and reflecting on further, but if it’s simply a concern that “My adult children may be unhappy if their parents divorce,” you’re not obligated to stay just to keep them at ease. In the event that you do leave, and they are upset, you can encourage them to seek support, talk to friends, ask you questions (within reason), and seek therapy, but otherwise allow them to handle their own reactions.
Usually in letters like this one, the letter writer says something like “Aside from the sex problem, our marriage is great,” and I can’t help but notice that you don’t. If you decide this marriage isn’t worth working on, you don’t have to exhaust all your other options before leaving. You will have to take into account the possibility that you still might not end up with a satisfying sex life. But only you can decide whether it’s worth the risk and if you’d rather try dating and remain single than stick it out with a partner who’s avoiding you both physically and emotionally. But if you want to make sure you’ve done your level best before moving out, I think now’s the time to make it clear to your wife just what the stakes are for you: “I’ve brought this up a few times before, and nothing’s changed. I want you to know that I’ve been seriously considering leaving our marriage over this, not just because I’m not prepared to give up on having a sex life, but because I don’t think you’re being honest with me about why you’re no longer interested. I can’t force you to tell me what’s going on, and I don’t want to have begrudging, dutiful sex. But what we’re doing now isn’t working.” Maybe that information will be sufficient to get your wife to take you into her confidence, or to see a couples counselor with you, or to talk about having sex with other people (if such an arrangement appeals to you, which it may very well not). I suspect you don’t have much to lose by being honest. Good luck.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“This is your pandemic sacrifice.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I am a 65-year-old woman who owns my own (fenced and gated) home in a tropical climate due to a settlement from a car accident several years ago. I love spending time alone working in my garden and swimming in my pool. My close friend “Linda” has been living in her daughter’s house rent-free for the past five years. Now that Linda’s daughter is selling the house, Linda has asked to move into my guest bedroom. I’ve told her more than once I don’t want to live with anyone, not even my boyfriend. We’ve been dating for four years and he only stays over on weekends.
Linda’s applied for (and been accepted to) very nice senior housing but hasn’t done anything to move forward. She seems to expect others to take care of her for free. She’s asked if she can live in a tent in my backyard, which is absurd. Recently I overheard her say to my boyfriend that she would be living with me before he does. My health is poor, and this is really weighing on me. Am I too nice? How can I make it clear that I’m not the one to take care of her for the rest of her life? Other than this, she’s a great friend.
“Too nice” and “conflict-avoidant” are not the same thing. You may not even be particularly conflict-avoidant! You may just have a very persistent (and, I’m sure, otherwise delightful) friend who’s learned to deploy selective listening when it’s convenient. You’ve been frank with Linda more than once about how she can’t move in with you, so I don’t think you’ve caused or even prolonged this problem through hedging or evasion. All you can do now is correct her when she lies: “Linda, I heard you saying recently that you’d be living with me soon. You know that’s not true and we’ve had this conversation more than once. If you need help making arrangements to move into senior housing, I’m happy to assist, but I want you to stop saying you’re going to move in with me.” If you think it might help to loop her daughter into the conversation, you can—not because Linda necessarily needs an all-hands intervention but because it’s possible Linda’s been telling her daughter you’ve offered her a place to stay.
I hope you’re able to get through to her. It’s understandable that she would feel nervous and uncertain at the prospect of moving into new housing, and you can offer her practical and emotional support as she navigates this change. But you don’t have to let her use your backyard to build a fantasy about a perpetual camping trip to avoid dealing with reality.
I live in a ground-floor apartment in a major city. My bedroom is alongside the street, and, as happens in cities, sometimes people sit in their cars outside my room blasting music. Often the windows in the car are up, but the noise can still travel. This is only really a problem late at night or early in the morning when I’m trying to sleep. I’ve tried ambient noise machines and earplugs, but neither works for me. Usually I just wait for the noise to stop. Sometimes I go out and ask them (politely) to turn it down, and people are generally cool about it.
This Saturday I woke up at 6 a.m. to the sound of loud music. I closed the windows, which didn’t help much, and after an hour I went out and asked the driver to turn it down. She was obviously annoyed, but she did it, and I went back to sleep. I’m a white woman, and the person playing music was Black. I worried about whether approaching her was itself racist or an attempt to control public space. I don’t need validation, but I’d like to critically evaluate how I can best interact with my Black neighbors. Or maybe I’m overthinking it. Was there anything I could have done differently?
—Don’t Want to Be a Busybody
You made a polite request of a stranger, and she did what you asked. She was a little annoyed, but she’s allowed to be. You two don’t know each other and had competing interests at the time. You seem pretty aware that some of this is just what comes from living in a big city, especially if you live on the ground floor. You’re also aware that you can’t control how much noise people make on the street generally, and you’ve never tried to threaten anyone into turning down their music, or called the police, or appointed yourself the noise-ordinance commissioner of your block. You’re not interrupting people’s picnics in the middle of a public park or following them through traffic. You just occasionally ask drivers playing loud music while they’re parked right outside your window at 6 a.m. to turn it down. As long as you’re prepared to take “No” for an answer without escalating—and it sounds like you are—I don’t think you have to critically evaluate your actions here any further.
My husband and I are expecting our first child in four months, and we’re really excited. The problem? My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their second baby two months after us, and we’re both really angry about it. I know I should be happy, but this particular brother has a history of constantly trying to one-up me and do things just because I’m doing them. I really think he planned this so that they could try to do a dual baby shower and cash in on our gifts (which would not be out of character). So, my question is twofold: How do I get over the anger about this and how do I politely tell my brother, since I know he will ask, that I do NOT want to do a dual baby shower?