Dear Prudence

My Wife Had an Affair With a Woman. Why Am I Relieved?

Is it sexist?

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Dear Prudence,

After months of odd bank transactions, weird absences, and strange smells on her clothes, I confronted my wife with my suspicion that she was cheating on me. She broke down and confessed. I was upset until she revealed she was cheating on me with a female co-worker. She apologized profusely and swore that she still loved me and wanted to make our relationship work. Oddly, I found myself relieved. I’m not happy she lied but almost don’t care that she was carrying on an affair with a woman. Yet I feel like it almost makes me a bad person if I’m OK with this. Somehow it seems sort of sexist! Is it OK that I am (mostly) OK with my wife having had an affair with a woman?

—(Feeling Lousy About) Feeling Fine

Let’s split the difference: It’s definitely sexist that you don’t care if your wife was sleeping with another woman, given how upset you were when you thought she was sleeping with a man, but you don’t have to call yourself a bad person over it either. It is sexist, but “men getting insufficiently mad at their wives’ girlfriends” isn’t a pressing feminist issue. You and your wife don’t have to figure out which of you is bad and which is good. You just have an opportunity to talk about what you’d like to do now that everything’s out in the open. Your wife says she loves you and wants to make things work. Does she also love the woman she’s been having an affair with? Were they emotionally involved with each other, or was it mostly just about the sex? Does your wife want to keep seeing her, and would you be OK with that? Was something about your marriage bothering your wife when she started seeing someone else, or did she just find herself bowled over by her attraction to her co-worker? You say you “almost don’t care” that she was having an affair with another woman, and you’ve dedicated this letter to the part of you that’s indifferent or relieved, but I’m curious about what’s being left unsaid in that “almost.” How much of you does care—and how can you investigate and share that part of yourself with your wife?

You two may find there’s more than one follow-up conversation to be had, and it may take place over many days or weeks or more, but it’s important to start talking now, rather than stopping at “I’m sorry, I won’t see her again” and “Don’t worry, I don’t really care.” I wonder if you’re confusing the absence of anger with not feeling anything at all. There are a number of other possibilities, and you two are free to explore them together, now that you know neither of you is interested in stopping at contrition and the disavowal of desire.

Dear Prudence,

To cope with everyone being stuck at home all the time, my partner has taken to wearing noise-canceling headphones. He says it helps him recharge. But he wears them from breakfast until bedtime (usually streaming content from his phone), and it’s become impossible to talk to him without first having to gesture wildly to attract his attention. I’ve asked him not to wear them during family time and joked that they’ll become permanently attached. His compromise is to wear one side on and push the other side behind his ear. I respect that he’s an introvert and needs time alone. Before the pandemic we accommodated that pretty well: I’d handle the night routine and planned weekend activities that gave him the house to himself for a few hours.

But everyone working and studying from home plus our state’s restrictions mean we have to share the night routine and can’t go out much. We reached a tipping point recently, when I attempted to remove his headphones because I thought he was asleep. He wasn’t, and accused me of “not understanding” his need for solitude. I’m worried that escaping into videos and video games has become an unhealthy coping strategy. And I wonder if some of our youngest kid’s trouble with listening can be traced back to watching their father check out. I want to be respectful, but I also think we have to have a real conversation about this habit. How do I do it?

—Noises Off

Start by apologizing to your partner for trying to take his headphones off for him—even if he had been asleep, you won’t resolve this disagreement or find a meaningful compromise if he’s worried you’re going to take them away. You don’t have to fall all over yourself—a brief acknowledgment that it was the wrong choice and a promise that you’ll use your words in the future will do. Nor do I think you need to displace your perfectly legitimate concerns onto your youngest child. You can have a separate conversation about your concerns about your son’s attention span, but there are plenty of other potential causes, including the fact that he’s spending almost all of his time at home during a pandemic.

As for having a real conversation, just tell your husband that the status quo has to change. If you’ve previously held back because he’s deployed “I’m an introvert” to mean “No one’s allowed to ask me to revise my all-day headphone strategy,” now’s the time to stop. Tell him this isn’t working for you, offer a compromise, hear out his counteroffer, and spend some time negotiating your way toward something you can both live with. You can fight about this while still respecting his need for alone time—a need you also have, introvert or not, which means sometimes he should take off the headphones and take over kid duty so you can unwind for a few hours, too.

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Dear Prudence,

“Julie” and I were 17 when we got married, because she got pregnant and our parents were fundamentalists. She lost the baby, and various life events (college for her, an out-of-state job offer for me) pulled us apart. We got divorced but really thought we’d get back together someday and make another go of it. That was a decade ago. Julie recently moved back to our hometown and has apparently decided it’s time for us to get back together. She sent me a passionate and romantic email full of memories of the past and plans for the future. I loved her—I still love her in a way—and it may even be true that we’re soulmates. But I love my wife and our kids and the life we’ve built together. I have no interest in upending that.

How do I tell Julie that? We made a lot of promises to each other as kids, and she expects us to keep them. I feel guilty that I don’t want to anymore, and I don’t want to break her heart over email. But we haven’t been in contact for a decade. I don’t believe she’s just been pining all this time (she was apparently previously engaged to someone else). I’m a little worried about her. My wife feels a bit jealous, but thinks I should go talk to Julie in person, since she deserves to hear it straight from me. Is that really wise? My father burned down his own life when he met up with a former flame, and I don’t want to be that guy.

—Not Soulmates Anymore

One upside to receiving such an email during a pandemic means you have excellent public health reasons for declining to meet in person. Besides, seeing you for the first time in years only to get rejected likely would be much more painful and embarrassing than getting a written reply. It also doesn’t sound like you’d take leave of your senses merely upon seeing Julie in the flesh. Nor do you need to apologize for a vague promise about reuniting “someday” with your high school girlfriend. That’s not to dismiss her feelings for you, which sound both powerful and like they’re rooted in a shared, formative trauma. But you haven’t been leading her on. You two haven’t stayed in touch since your divorce. And the fact that she feels something you don’t, while sad, doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. All you owe her is a straightforward and kind response saying you’re happily married, and that while you wish her well, you don’t want to get back together. If that breaks her heart, it’s a heartbreak she can survive, and you won’t be the one to help her mend it. When you dump someone (or decline to reunite), you become the least qualified person in the world to comfort them over that breakup.

Help! I Love Giving Gifts—a Lot. My Therapist Thinks It’s Weird.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m a cis woman in my late 20s and recently married my wonderful boyfriend of five years. I also thought I was straight until very recently. Last year, I was out with one of my girlfriends, and we drunkenly kissed. I kept thinking about it, and during quarantine I’ve been dwelling even more. I can’t stop thinking about women, and my sex life with my husband has plummeted, which I feel pretty guilty about. I keep looking for books and movies about lesbians and bisexual women, including porn. I know it’s possible for someone’s sexuality to change (or for their understanding of their sexuality to change) relatively late in life, and I feel like that’s what’s happening to me. I’ve always had gay friends and grew up supporting the LGBT community, but just thought I was a really supportive ally. But I’m worried that I’m not bisexual, that I’m actually a lesbian, and what the implications for my marriage might be. I haven’t confided in anyone because I’m afraid to blow up my life. But I also know this isn’t fair to my husband or to me. What do I do? How can I figure out my sexuality while respecting my marriage?

—Not Ready to Talk

Figuring out your sexuality while respecting your marriage may be an impossible goal. You can absolutely treat your husband with respect and be frank with him—but it may be that your sexuality and your marriage are ultimately incompatible. You owe him honesty, compassion, and kindness, but trying to force yourself toward bisexuality because you’re afraid what lesbianism might mean for your future isn’t healthy or sustainable for either of you. Your husband doesn’t want a wife who’s beating herself up and gritting her teeth to go through the motions of intimacy. And I’m sure if your situations were reversed, even if it caused you great pain, you’d much rather your husband tell you he’d realized he was gay, and not just for reasons of “fairness” either. You’d want to know because you’d want better for him than a stiff-upper-lip attitude toward his orientation.

You don’t have to start by telling your husband everything tonight. But you’ve been thinking about being a lesbian all by yourself for a full year now, without support or guidance or community, and I think you’ve reached the limits of what solitary reflection (and furtive The L Word rewatches) can do for you. What’s the next small step you can imagine taking? Maybe it’s speaking to a therapist or a support group for married women questioning their sexuality. You can continue to prioritize confidentiality while also seeking out real people who can listen to you and say something in return, which is something all the books and movies in the world can’t do for you.

Sometimes it can be tempting to dismiss your own instincts by saying, “Well, this is mostly theoretical—the burden of proof has to be so high that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s worth changing my life.” But you’ve been bowled over for an entire year from a single tipsy kiss from a woman. You find your formerly easy-to-navigate intimacy with your husband now deeply alienating. You gravitate toward anything with the word lesbian on it. You don’t lack knowledge. What you need is support, practical advice, encouragement to say the thing that scares you most out loud, and people you can safely come out to. Good luck.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“He has eyes that radiate support for lesbians.”
Danny Lavery and Grace Lavery discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

Recently I joined a dating app to spice up my solo quarantine and try to find straight men who were interested in Victorian-style epistolary romance. I matched with a professor at a nearby college whose second message told me he was “trans amorous.” Did I do the wrong thing by reporting his account to the app? I’m not trans (not that it was any of his business). The term really rankled, and I can only imagine how it might affect someone else. I was left in a swirl of questions about how I present and how people see me versus who I am. I regret not directly challenging him in the moment. “Trans amory” is fetishistic bullshit, right? Should I have said something? I reported him, but I did not reach out to his employer, who I was easily able to find with a Google search. Ugh! I’m just trying to find love and wear utility ponchos.

—Was I a Bad Ally?

Reporting someone’s profile simply because he’s interested in dating trans women is not an act of solidarity with trans people. Some cis people (and trans people!) do fetishize and objectify trans women, but simply expressing an interest in dating trans women is not itself “bullshit” and doesn’t merit a report. It certainly doesn’t merit contacting his employer. This man didn’t ask you invasive questions about your body, speak to you in a dehumanizing fashion, or threaten your safety. That doesn’t mean you’re obligated to like him. But you had no idea how he treats the trans women he approaches or dates, whether he’s a respectful partner, or anything else. Nor did reporting him improve the lives of any actual trans women. I think the reason you’re second-guessing yourself now is because you’re aware on some level that you were offended that this man thought you might be trans, and you sought to punish him for it. But that won’t remove your discomfort, and it doesn’t help trans people either. Only introspection can do that.

I don’t want to be too hard on you. I also want you to be able to find love and fun and companionship, and I believe you when you say you want to support trans people. But there’s no universal consensus among trans people about whether cis men who describe themselves as “trans amorous” are meaningfully different from garden-variety chasers. (The fact that chasers sometimes go on to transition themselves is also complicated.) I’d encourage you to seek out a variety of perspectives from trans women who have written on the topic, such as Kai Cheng Thom, Diana Tourjée, Janet Mock, and others. And if you’re interested in being an ally, make a donation to trans-led organizations such as GLITS, St. James Infirmary, Compton’s Transgender Cultural District, or the Okra Project today.

Dear Prudence,

I applied for a job as a contributing writer for a website and ended up getting it—but on a volunteer basis. My relationship with my editor went well at first. Then one day I pitched her an idea, she accepted it, and I turned in a completed article. She said she’d respond with notes “hopefully” within a week. She responded two weeks later (which was actually fine) asking me to change the framing, which would mean starting over from scratch. I was frustrated and wish she’d said as much when I pitched the idea in the first place. I also don’t want to put in extra work when I’m not even getting paid for it. I have a separate day job and work for this site on nights and weekends. Later I saw they published an article with a similar framing but from another writer. I’d have felt fine if my editor had said my writing wasn’t meeting their standards, or asked me to pitch something else because another writer was already covering it. But she sent my piece back with a few comments, as if she were only recommending little tweaks instead of asking me to rewrite the whole thing. I think she could have handled it better. Or am I overreacting?

—A Volunteer’s Worth

If you haven’t yet reacted to your editor, there’s no danger of having overreacted. It’s difficult to offer a ruling about whether your editor failed in her duties toward you without knowing more about the framing, however. If your pitch covered a relatively broad topic, it might have been a relatively straightforward call preferring one writer to another, but if the framing and the topic were unique and original to you, you might have grounds for pushing back. Depending on the size of this site and the number of editors, yours may not have even known someone else was writing on the same subject. It sounds like you saw the site had run something else on the same topic before you decided how to respond, so she may have assumed you had abandoned the project and needed to move on.

The bigger problem is that you applied for paid work and were offered a volunteer position, which is not a sign of a well-run organization. Nor does it sound like your editor has offered you much guidance when it comes to her criteria for accepting pitches, editing drafts, reasonable deadlines, or the difference between a conditional acceptance and “Send me something else entirely and I’ll reevaluate then.” You can either ask her for more details about their expectations, policies, and editorial guidelines, or—and this is the better bet, given that you only have so much spare time after work—start pitching to sites that pay writers for their work.

Classic Prudie

I am a young woman who recently married a very successful athlete. He is caring, kind, and thoughtful. We both want children, but in a world where so many children are without loving homes, I can’t imagine having biological offspring when we could provide a wonderful life for children who would never otherwise have one. My husband has always been supportive of this, but recently he brought up an interesting proposition. His ex-wife, who is older than me and has never remarried, asked him to be a sperm donor. She has a successful career and would not need financial support, but I think the proposition is bizarre. He argues that they both have excellent genetics that would be “wasted” if they do not jump at what could be their only chance to have biological children. He said it is no different from donating sperm to a bank, except that he knows the mother will be able to provide well for his offspring. The two split amicably due to pressures of both of their careers. Am I being selfish to say she should find another sperm donor?