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I had a small, socially distant party for my birthday. It was supposed to just be my brother, roommate, boyfriend, and me. But my brother brought his new girlfriend, “Emily,” and her small son without asking. Our apartment is on a busy street, and our yard is not fenced in. It wasn’t fun. We had to keep an eye on the kid so he wouldn’t run off the patio. Emily was more interested in our beer than anything else.
My roommate got me an expensive cake. She was handing out slices when Emily pushed her over and tried to take a huge slice for her son. I stopped Emily and told her to take a smaller slice, since the cake was very rich. Then I put the rest of the cake back in the fridge. I told my brother he needed to get a handle on the situation, but he just told me to chill. When they left, only my brother said goodbye to us. Then my boyfriend looked in the fridge and noticed that my cake was gone. I was pissed off and ran after my brother. They were still in the parking lot, trying to buckle up the kid. I went up to Emily and demanded she give me back my cake. First she said she didn’t know what I was talking about. Then I saw the cake box on the back seat and told my brother to give it back. Emily swore I had given it to her because “cake is for kids.” I called her a liar. My boyfriend and roommate followed me out, and my roommate went around the car and opened the door to grab the cake. Emily tried to stop her. The cake ended up on the ground. The kid started crying, Emily started swearing, and everyone went home mad. Emily claims it was an “accident,” but I believe my roommate, and she says Emily knocked it out of her hands. I want nothing to do with Emily ever again, and I am angry at my brother for bringing this witch and trying to defend her. Everyone in our family is appalled by what happened. I told him when Emily apologizes and replaces my cake from the same bakery then I will forgive her. He got angry at me because it was a $50 cake from the city. He told me I was being petty and unreasonable and that it was just cake. I don’t care. My birthday was ruined. This was the first time Emily met anyone in our family, and she got drunk and stole from me. This is a red flag if there ever was one. I don’t think I am out of line here.
I’ll happily concede that your brother should have asked before bringing two guests, one of whom was a child in need of constant supervision, to your birthday party, particularly when social distancing is still so important in preventing coronavirus transmission, and that Emily’s behavior was rude. But neither your brother’s thoughtlessness nor Emily’s rudeness justifies your own response, which was nowhere near the line. You had a number of opportunities to let something go or politely put your foot down before you found yourself arguing with a drunk woman in the street over a cake (yes, even a $50 cake from the city) while her child cries in the back seat. You have the right to decide whether someone is a guest in your home, and when your brother showed up with two strangers, you could have said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t safely accommodate surprise guests. Let’s find another time to plan a safe introduction.” But once you’ve let them in, you ought to treat them with basic hospitality, and insisting someone take a smaller piece of cake is not the act of a good host. The fact that Emily got drunk and ignored her son reflects very badly on her indeed, but if your brother was unwilling to handle it, the best response available is not “Take a smaller piece of cake, you witch,” but to tell them, politely and firmly, to leave. And escalating the situation by chasing after them doesn’t seem to have done much to make your birthday party any more fun. It didn’t even get you your cake back.
I’m sorry your party was unpleasant, and I’m sorry one of your guests took your leftovers. You have sufficient reason to dislike and distrust Emily and not to welcome her into your home again. But what if you (and your roommate and boyfriend) had let it go and focused on having a good time after your brother and Emily left? Plus, it’s a waste of your time and energy to try to persuade her to replace that cake or to grant her the power to “ruin” your birthday. Someone has to deescalate this, so unless you want to spend the next year going back and forth with your brother over whether he owes you another cake, let that person be you.
Ten years ago, I was attacked by a dog in a freak accident. I got excellent medical care but was left with visible scars on the lower half of my face. My partner and I had met before that, and he always told me I still looked beautiful and I didn’t need cosmetic surgery. Thanks to this boost, I’ve been mostly fine with my appearance and haven’t considered surgery. However, now that we’re all wearing masks everywhere and my scars are covered, I’ve noticed a huge difference. People treat me better! I feel more comfortable and confident. It’s making me rethink my “no-surgery” stance. I brought this up with my partner briefly and he expressed sadness that I felt this way, and then said some weird stuff that if I got surgery and became more “attractive” he’d have to worry more about me cheating. I was floored. I’m now spiraling. In addition to my dilemma over whether to pursue cosmetic surgery, now I’m suddenly feeling like the partner I know and love is no longer supportive. What can I do to help him understand the surgery isn’t about him or for him, it’s for me?
Let’s leave aside the question of who plastic or reconstructive surgery might be “for,” if you decide to pursue it. Your partner has just told you that he prefers you with scars because he thinks the only reason you don’t cheat on him is because other people don’t like the way you look. He didn’t misspeak or choose the wrong words in a moment of carelessness. It’s no wonder you were stunned, or that you’ve been spiraling ever since. His “supportiveness” over your relationship to your scars was satisfaction that he was getting his way, and you now understand that supportiveness had nothing to do with trusting you to make your own decisions.
I don’t think trying to help him understand should be your goal. If he had merely expressed reservations about the risks of surgery, or said that he preferred the way you look now, I might have a different answer. But this revelation speaks volumes about why he’s always been so “supportive” in the past. His love for you is bound up with a desire to see you insecure, grateful, and convinced he’s the best and only option you’ll ever have.
Please share the details of this conversation with other people you trust, and ask for their help and support as you decide what to do next. I think this revelation indicates your boyfriend’s motives are untrustworthy and that you should focus now on cultivating support and confidence from other sources. I also think this conversation ought to be a dealbreaker, but if you’re not prepared to end things now, you can at least consider him an unreliable sounding board for thoughts about surgery, and look elsewhere for counsel. Good luck! I hope you find a lot of support, whatever decision you make next.
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I think I’m in love with my ex-husband’s mistress. We were married for three years when I learned he was cheating on me because his mistress, “Kate,” sent me proof. They’d been seeing each other for six months after meeting on Tinder. She’d had no idea that he was married. It wasn’t some big heartbreak, as our marriage had been rocky from the start, and this was the last straw. Kate and I ended up meeting for coffee and got along like a house on fire. We both work with children and love dogs and hiking. We ended up going on a hike together the very next week. That was two years ago, and I haven’t seen my ex-husband since, but Kate and I still go hiking once a week. Now these hikes are socially distanced. They also seem to have gone from “friendly” to “flirty.” I’m very attracted to her. She’s mentioned having had girlfriends in the past, and I’m bisexual myself, although I’ve only dated another woman once before. I’m starting to fall for her, and sometimes she makes comments that suggest she may feel the same way. But I can’t help but feel a little awkward about dating my ex-husband’s ex-lover. I’d like to try to ask her out, but I’m too nervous. What should I do?
While your hesitation makes sense, I don’t think there’s much difference between the awkwardness of falling for your ex’s ex and the awkwardness of asking out your ex’s ex. “In for a penny, in for a pound” seems to be the operating principle here. You haven’t spoken to him in two years, and it doesn’t seem like Kate has anything to do with him herself. Your marriage was relatively brief, and he doesn’t seem to loom large in your memory. The fact that you’ve shared an ex may feel a bit strange as you contemplate the idea of a first date, but it hasn’t stopped you from developing a powerful friendship, and I don’t think it would overwhelm your attraction for each other, either. You know she enjoys your company, you know she’s interested in dating women, and you yourself share that interest.
I often hear from women who want to ask out other women but worry they haven’t had “enough” girlfriends in the past, as if there were some sort of cover charge when it comes to queer dating. There isn’t! Moreover, being nervous isn’t necessarily a barrier to asking Kate out. In this case, it sounds like an indicator of how strongly you feel about her, which is a good thing. Ask her out nervously! By all means, practice what you’re going to say to her, and pair that nervousness with at least a gesture toward confidence (even if you don’t feel confident to quite the same degree that you feel nervous). But a bit of stammering and blushing can be extremely charming. Kate initially contacted you because she had bad news to deliver about your husband. That sort of conversation doesn’t usually result in weekly hiking dates, a profound sense of being known, shared values and interests, mutual disclosures of interest in dating women, and hints that you’re both attracted to each other. All systems are go, and all signs point to yes. Good luck, and write back to let us know what she says!
Help! My Husband Hates My Brother and Wants Me to Choose Between Them.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Natalie Walker on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
I am white and my boyfriend is Black. We have been together almost three years. He has been really struggling with anxiety and trauma from the pandemic (he has already lost a family member) and the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others. I try to support him as much as I can, but I also know that support and empathy are not the same as shared experience. He has mentioned wanting to pursue therapy a few times. He’s looked into low-cost, online options, but they’re out of his price range, even on a sliding scale. He does have health insurance, which could offset the costs, but he wants a person of color as a therapist since he’s particularly interested in talking about racial trauma and hasn’t been able to find in-network options. I’m currently unemployed after having been laid off due to the pandemic, but I have a lot in savings and could afford to pay for his therapy. I’d be happy to do it, but he doesn’t want me to. I also feel like paying for his therapy could make him feel pressured, even if that isn’t my intention. If he doesn’t like his therapist, for example, he might not be as honest about it as he would be if he were paying for therapy himself.
We have always shared expenses in our relationship and talk about money pretty regularly. I’ve occasionally paid for something on his behalf in the past, but nothing on this scale. He wants to be as financially self-sufficient as possible. Are there any free or low-cost resources we’re not thinking of? Is there another way I could offer to pay? Is it possible to pay for his therapy without him knowing?
—Want to Help
Do not try to pay for your boyfriend’s therapy without his knowledge or consent. Even if such a thing were possible, it would be at direct odds with his stated value of self-sufficiency and your long-standing tradition of talking honestly to each other about money. You know that paying for his therapy could result in a sense of pressure, repression, and felt obligation. Imagine how much worse that sense would be when—not if—he discovered you were paying for his therapy without his awareness, not to mention how difficult it would be for him to trust you afterward. Let your guiding principle here be respect for his choices and autonomy, not the fuzziness of “good intentions.”
Both the National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse and Psychology Today offer searchable directories for local support groups dealing with racial identity and racism, many of them free or charging only a nominal fee. That may be an affordable and useful alternative to one-on-one therapy. The Association of Black Psychologists organizes support groups too, and you can learn more here. There’s also the Inclusive Therapists database, which offers reduced-fee teletherapy. Consider whether you might benefit from seeing a therapist yourself if you’re struggling with letting go of control or figuring out your own role in this relationship. You can provide your boyfriend with support, feedback, and encouragement, but you can’t (and shouldn’t!) try to fix his problems for him.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Once you’re arm wrestling a person for a cake in front of a child, things have gone off course very demonstrably.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
When my husband and I got married, I kept my singular surname, and he kept his hyphenated one. Think “Jane Taylor” and “Joe Johnson-Miller.” His mother, a professionally accomplished woman, kept her surname (“Johnson”) and hyphenated her son’s last name with her husband’s (“Miller”). We are now expecting our first child. While I don’t expect the child to have a hyphenation of our surnames like “Taylor-Miller,” I do take issue with only using my husband’s hyphenated surname. My husband wants to use “Johnson-Miller” as the baby’s last name, which makes me feel dismissed. I’d prefer a compromise like “Baby Miller,” but my husband seems adamant about keeping both parts of his surname in the mix, and suggested all three: Taylor-Johnson-Miller, which feels absurd. Am I wrong to feel like the presence of his mother’s surname eliminates me from the picture?
You’re not wrong to want to keep the conversation going, nor in wanting your child to share at least part of your last name, but I don’t think your husband shares your characterization of his surname as half his last name and half his mother’s, but his full last name. That seems reasonable, as that’s been his only surname his whole life. I do agree that a tri-hyphenate last name is somewhat unwieldy, not to say unusual anywhere outside of the House of Lords. It may help to know that you’re not alone (and that the hyphenated compromise really only works one generation at a time). If you have other friends whose parents hyphenated their surnames, you might want to ask around to see if anyone else has come up with helpful strategies for naming the next generation. You have an equal stake in this decision, and you have the right to push for more options than “Johnson-Miller” or “Taylor-Johnson-Miller.” Some parents try to create a new surname entirely, either from some of the letters of both parents’ surnames or from whole cloth. I don’t know what compromise you two will ultimately land on, but you should absolutely keep discussing all your options.
I’ve been with the same company for about five years, but this year I was transferred to a new division. My boss, “Jane,” is five years older than me. We’re both women. I’m openly gay, and she is married to a man. I have a huge crush on her. She’s a wonderful manager who cares a lot about me as a person and demonstrates that frequently. She’s given me no indication she views me as anything more than a direct report, and I would obviously never act on this crush. I’m dating a great woman who’s a few years younger than me. I see a future together, but I often compare her to Jane in my mind. That doesn’t cause problems in our relationship, but I worry it’s harder for me to be fully in love with her. How can I continue this close working relationship, knowing I have a crush on Jane? Crush aside, she’s the best boss I’ve ever had, and I would be really bummed to transfer out of the division, which could likely place me under a less-effective manager. What should I do?
—Best Boss Ever
Your first question has an easy answer: Just keep doing your job. Your boss treats you well, and you haven’t said or done anything that betrays your feelings for her are anything other than professional, so there’s nothing you need to do differently at work. You can stay vigilant about possible pitfalls (don’t look for ways to steer friendly work conversations into more personal territory or start making plausibly deniable flirtatious jokes in an attempt to gauge her interest), but you seem to have a pretty clear head on your shoulders already. Unrequited crushes can be a lot of fun, as long as they’re secured with a healthy dose of reality and manageable expectations. If another year or two goes by and you find yourself unable to imagine yourself happy with anyone else, or you’re tempted to turn down professional opportunities because you can’t bear to be apart from Jane, then you might want to reconsider the healthiness of your situation—at a certain point, she can’t be an effective manager to you if you’re unable to separate your working relationship from your romantic feelings—but it doesn’t sound like you’re at that stage.
I hope you can find a way to discuss some of this with your girlfriend. Relationships do best, to my mind at least, when both parties feel free to acknowledge momentary, or even durable, attractions, crushes, fantasies, desires, and attachments. That doesn’t mean unloading every detail without regard for context, or abandoning a commitment to monogamy, but even the most monogamous of couples ought to find a way to occasionally discuss the reality that happily partnered people still sometimes get crushes. That may mean, in this instance at least, that you two decide to part ways, if you find you’re unable to return your girlfriend’s love as a result of your connection with Jane. Sometimes the best outcome is still a painful one. But your options are not merely “stick with my nice girlfriend and hopelessly, guiltily love Jane from afar” or “dump my nice girlfriend, hopelessly love Jane from afar.” Maybe Jane’s qualities have reminded you that you’re looking for something in a romantic relationship that this girlfriend can’t offer or maybe you’ll realize that constantly comparing someone you’re dating to someone you’re not dating is an exercise in frustration.
At the beginning of the school year, my husband and I brought a 16-year-old exchange student into our home. My husband is a teacher at the high school she is attending, so by necessity they spend a lot of time together (driving to and from school, at school events, etc.). Over the past several months, I’ve noticed that their relationship has become very close. My husband is extremely emotionally involved in everything she does, they spend their free time together, and they text each other constantly. I don’t believe that they are having a physical relationship, but I don’t know what to do about their emotional intimacy. I confronted my husband about it, and he was angry that I would suggest that he was doing anything inappropriate with a teenager. He stated adamantly that he has come to love her as a daughter, but that his love for her is not a threat to me. Still, something feels “off” to me about their level of involvement. So I did something that I am not proud of; I snooped through his phone to see what they are texting about. They are constantly telling each other that they love each other and miss each other. The thing is, he will tell her that he loves her right in front of me. I know that if I confess that I snooped he is going to feel that I violated his privacy. I am starting to wonder if this situation is damaging to her, and if I need to remove her from our house to protect her from further involvement. Or am I just being the stereotypical “evil stepmom”?