Dear Prudence

I Got Mad and Flushed My Wife’s Birth Control

I think she’s being unfair to me about it.

Hand holding a pack of birth control pills
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Dear Prudence,

Three months ago, my wife and I had a calm disagreement over whether we should start a family. A few nights later, I replayed the conversation in my mind and got extremely angry about it. I went into the bathroom, flushed her birth control pills down the toilet, left the empty case on the counter, and then went back to bed. When I woke up in the morning, I was ashamed of myself, but I knew she had already seen what I’d done. She never confronted me about it but has displayed strange behavior since then. She is unusually quiet and acts withdrawn. Her body language has changed, and although we still have sex regularly, it is different than it was before. In addition, she is constantly taking phone calls in private and leaving the house on superfluous errands. I realize I made a mistake, but I don’t think it’s fair that she continues to punish me for it by avoiding me. I want to ask my wife for us both to give up our smartphones and share one car so we can work on our communication. I don’t want to fall into the same trap of doing something rash and then regretting it later. How can I talk to my wife calmly about her behavior?

—Flushed Guilt

To recap: You threw away your wife’s birth control, and now you want to rebuild trust by telling her to give up access to her phone and her car. “Sorry I violated your trust and autonomy, but I think it would help if you gave up more of your trust and autonomy” is not the marriage-saving solution you think it is. What you need right now is accountability, not increased control over your wife’s conversations and movements. Be honest with your friends, your relatives, and a therapist right away: “My wife and I talked about having children recently, and when the conversation didn’t go my way, I threw away her birth control pills and left the empty case where she could see it. I did this on purpose to frighten and intimidate her into giving me what I wanted. This was controlling, abusive, and wrong, and I need help holding myself accountable.”

You also need to apologize to your wife, not in order to extract forgiveness and renewed trust from her but because it’s the right thing to do. Then you need to back up that apology with action. Do not ask her to give up her phone and her car, don’t listen in on her conversations, and don’t try to stop her when she leaves the house. She has a right to privacy, to safety, and to make her own decisions about birth control, and no amount of “calmness” can mitigate the fact that you deliberately violated those rights. Take responsibility for your behavior. And although that may not save your marriage, it’s the first step toward building a life where you don’t harm the people closest to you.

Dear Prudence,

I was approached three times for modeling opportunities, once by what I didn’t realize at the time was a large fashion magazine (that Kim Kardashian herself “broke the internet” on). I thought myself spiritually and intellectually above it and that my life would amount to more, so I put the cards handed to me in a little box. Well: Hello, 28th birthday; hello, not amounting to what I thought I would; and hello, regret. It haunts me. I do catwalks in my room. Is it too late? Do I even want it? I’m aging. I’m not the fabulous writer I wanted (want) to be (depressed, unmotivated). Am I doomed to regret? Do I pursue modeling? I enjoy my beauty, maybe more now than I did then. For the record, I know 28 is when models usually retire. Or should I pursue therapy? It really sucks. I feel like a waste.

—Haunted by Should-Haves

Let’s agree that 28 (or thereabouts) may be when professional runway models often start retiring, but there are older models in the world, and even modeling agencies (like Silver, in Paris, for one) dedicated to exclusively representing “mature” models. There are also subgroups (like fit modeling, catalog modeling, local ad work) that employ a variety of models, not just the 18-to-24 crowd. Yes, it’s unlikely that you’re going to become a full-time editorial model at this point in your life. It’s also no guarantee that if you’d called the numbers on those cards that you would have become a full-time editorial model then, either. I don’t say that to minimize your current regret or to encourage a sour-grapes perspective, but because it will help your outsize sense of having missed out on something spectacular by tempering it with reality. If you’re interested in a creative outlet, not an immediate source of full-time income, you may have a number of options available, from local boutiques, to community theater, to getting into makeup artistry and photography on your own time. Therapy is a great idea, especially if you’re grappling with a nonspecific but pervasive sense of regret and “not having done anything” at 28. While you’re not a kid anymore, you’re hardly approaching your golden years either. You have time to seek help for your depression, to clarify your goals, and to pursue creative activities outside of your career. And keep doing catwalks in your room. There’s meaning and delight in doing something for the pure pleasure of it, even if no one else sees you doing it.

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Dear Prudence,

I have been with my boyfriend for only three months, but in this short time we’ve developed a strong connection. Despite using birth control, I got pregnant. I just started my career, and my boyfriend has stated he doesn’t want any more children. He also has severe anxiety when things change, and I feel this news will destroy our budding relationship. Between the two of us, we already have two 11-year-old children with special needs. Is it morally wrong to get an abortion without telling him I am even pregnant? I love him, and I don’t want to lose the one man I am willing to give my heart to.

—Unexpectedly Pregnant

You have a legal and, I believe, moral right to pursue abortion without disclosing it to your partner or anyone else. It’s your body, your pregnancy, and your decision. The more important issue is that you’re afraid to tell your boyfriend about either your pregnancy or your decision to terminate because you’re afraid he’ll be so anxious about “change” that he’ll leave you. Please mention your concerns to your doctor and ask for additional resources and support as you decide whether and when to disclose this to your boyfriend.

I can’t help but notice that you mention your boyfriend doesn’t want more children but don’t say whether or not you do—only that you’re already raising for at least one child who requires extra attention. That’s not to say you don’t have the right to make a context-based decision, but your letter deals mostly with fears about how your boyfriend might respond to the news of either your pregnancy or of an abortion, and has little to say about your own feelings about this pregnancy, independent of him. Those feelings deserve at least as much serious consideration as you’ve already given to his. You can extend compassion and patience to an anxious partner, but if you believe it’s your job to spare him from even the possibility of feeling anxiety, rather than trusting him to look out for his own well-being, I’m afraid you’ll set yourself up for a very heavy, ongoing responsibility indeed.

Help! My Girlfriend Is Late to Everything.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Hannah Selector on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Subscribe to the Dear Prudence Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

My ex and I were together for nearly six years. We got engaged a year ago and, like many others, saw our wedding plans delayed by COVID-19. He was devastated, but I found myself somewhat relieved. I’m Black, and the pandemic, subsequent Black-led protests, and the racist backlash, along with some unrelated family issues, have been hard on my mental health. My partner’s white, and while he’s not racist, he tends to “move on” quickly after making decisions, and I don’t find much refuge in our partnership over such things.

For the last few years, he has had multiple unexpected medical emergencies, and I stuck through every one of them, even though they stressed me out as well. Recently, I let him know that I would like a month’s break from our relationship, just for a mental respite. I had hoped that he would want to be my friend during this time because we always talked about our relationship being so strong that it could survive anything. Instead, he flipped out and told me that he could not reconcile his romantic feelings for me and did not want to be my friend. He has since apologized, but he did pack up and head to his parents’ house to “give me space.” Which was kind of the last thing I needed right now. When I called him out on leaving me during a mental health crisis, he insisted that his heart was in the right place when he left. However, I feel like he was taking a break from me by going to his parents. He also said that he “never would’ve left if [he] had known” that this would prompt a permanent end to our relationship. To me, that implies that he was leaving for his own purposes. He thought he could come back and everything would be fine after I got it out of my system. That’s why I’m sad.

Now I’m alone in our old apartment. He wants to come back, but I told him to stay with his parents because he didn’t give the appropriate response initially. He let me down. I can’t tell if I’m overreacting or had a miscommunication with him during a stressful time. He now wants to see a couples therapist and is sorry about how he responded. But I don’t feel like being in a relationship right now, and I really wish he had wanted to be my friend when I had first asked. He’s trying now, but it feels disingenuous. Should I see the therapist with him, or is this a normal end to a relationship that’s not the best for me right now anyway?

—Broken Up or Not?

I think individual therapy is the better choice for you right now, not least because you’ve been unable to find support or solidarity, and you deserve to seek such support independently. But I also think this breakup may prove valuable to both of you. By your own account, you broke up with your partner, however much you might have wanted to soften the blow by calling it a monthlong “respite” and asking to stay friends. I’m not sure why you were surprised that he wanted space in that moment. Asking for a “break” from a relationship necessarily implies at least some sort of distance where previously none existed. It seems like you yourself aren’t quite sure what you want from your ex, and although there’s nothing inherently wrong with uncertainty, it’s also difficult to get mixed messages like “I need a break from this relationship for a month, but I don’t want space” or conditional demands like “I want to break up for a month, but don’t leave me.”

The part about “sticking with him” through a series of medical crises despite the stress it caused you is also slightly concerning, as it implies an expectation of quid pro quo reciprocity. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with wanting a mutually supportive relationship—quite the opposite—but it seems to have fueled your expectation that you could set contradictory terms for a not-quite breakup that your partner was under some obligation to accept because you hadn’t broken up with him in the past. Letting go of that expectation, and figuring out what kinds of support you want in future relationships, may benefit you immensely. Rather than trying to relitigate what you two owe each other in front of a couples counselor, I think you should take advantage of this newfound distance from a relationship that doesn’t seem to be working for either of you, and find a therapist you like on your own. Good luck!

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I could not sit across from my FIANCÉE while eating EGGS pretending we’re ‘friends’ for a month.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a woman who recently turned 35. Having kids is important to me, so (with help from a therapist) I made an appointment with a fertility center in May and have been getting the zillions of tests necessary before I can get turkey baster’d. But I met a wonderful guy in May. If I liked him any less, I would already be moving ahead with sperm donation, but I think we could have a future together. We’ve talked a little bit about kids (he’s open to the idea but doesn’t have a sense of urgency about it like I do), but I don’t know how or when to talk to him about my “timeline.” I’d like to start trying no later than a year from now. But it seems like a lot to drop on someone I haven’t been dating for very long, especially when dating during a pandemic is already weird. Do you have any advice for when it’s appropriate to have that conversation and how to have it in a way that is not a really scary ultimatum? I know the “when” is arbitrary, in a sense, but it’s hard to balance sharing deal-breakers ASAP versus waiting until I have a better understanding of our relationship.

—Sperm Donor Revelations

You can bring it up as casually as you like, but if this guy finds the idea of having a child in the next year (or dating someone who’s likely to get pregnant in the next year) scary, all the careful couching in the world won’t change that fact. If you want to wait another month or two before you discuss it, you certainly can. But if you’re hoping that holding off for a bit longer will make a substantial difference in his reaction, I’m not so sure. You’re certainly free to delay that conversation until you’ve had the more important “What are we to each other?” talk—in fact, I think you should have them in that order. But I don’t think you should postpone the sperm-donor conversation until the last possible minute either.

The real question, which you don’t get into in your letter, is whether “seeing a future together” means you would give up the sperm-donor idea entirely if he said he wanted to have children together, or you’d like to pursue a child that you raise on your own while dating him as a single parent, or you’d ask him to co-parent a child you conceived through donation. Only you know which of those options appeal to you. But don’t downplay your own desires, or your sense of urgency, in the hopes that appearing nonchalant will make him more interested in having kids “soon” instead of just “someday.” Figure out which of those options you’re interested in presenting to him, and then do so in the next few months. You can acknowledge the weirdness of dating during a pandemic, as well as the fact that you two may simply be on incompatible schedules, without sacrificing either directness or confidence in saying what you want. But if you want to start trying to get pregnant no later than a year from now, don’t wait 11 months and three weeks to find out if the guy you’re seeing is on board.

Dear Prudence,

I live in a house with several close friends, all in our early 30s. I’ve mentioned how great my housemate “Alex” is to my relatives a few times. Last year, my mother told me she wanted to knit a blanket for Alex. She’s an avid knitter and often gives similar gifts to her friends. I told her Alex is sometimes reserved about accepting gifts, so it was possible that Alex might regift or donate it to one of the other roommates, or even me. (They do that sometimes.) She said that was fine and started on the blanket. What I didn’t tell her (because it didn’t seem like my story to share) is that Alex is mostly estranged from their own family and has made sure they don’t have our address. Once or twice I’ve helped Alex get rid of unwanted gifts from their relatives because they felt too guilty to get rid of them alone.

Last December, my mother sent the finished blanket home with me, along with a very sweet, not overly personal note. She asked me about Alex’s favorite colors and found a type of yarn that wouldn’t trigger Alex’s allergies. I think working on this blanket was very helpful to my mother while she was processing the death of her own mother earlier that year. I panicked and told my mother that I’d given Alex the blanket—but I actually still haven’t. It’s been on my bed for the past eight months because I couldn’t decide what to do. Now Alex is moving out soon, and it feels like time is running out to say something. I’m not even sure they’ve noticed the blanket in my room, but I worry it will feel weird if they have and I reveal that it was a gift meant for them. I don’t want to make them uncomfortable, but I do want to give them the chance to take it. How can I resolve this gracefully? Is there a path that both lets my mother feel appreciated, rather than letting her handmade gift vanishing into a black hole, and also gives Alex a chance to decide without imposing obligation? And if not—what should I do with the blanket?

—Knot My Knitwear

One upside to acknowledging you’ve been overthinking something is realizing that all your available options are good ones. Your mother started this knitting project in full knowledge that Alex might give it to someone else and was cheerfully prepared for that outcome. Alex isn’t hurting for blankets and doesn’t know your mother well, so it’s not as if you’re withholding information that’s impeding their relationship. Just say: “I’m embarrassed I didn’t mention this sooner, but last December my mother sent home a blanket she’d made for you, because I’ve told her what a great housemate you are, and she likes to knit for friends of mine. I wasn’t sure if you’d actually want it, and then enough time went by that I felt self-conscious about how much time had gone by! If you want it, I can put it next to the rest of your things before you’re packed up, and if you don’t, I’ll find a good home for it.”

Be sure to wash the blanket before having this conversation so it’s ready to hand over right away if Alex accepts. If they do, you can mention that Alex took the blanket with them to their new house the next time you speak to your mother. If they don’t, you can say that you’ve kept the blanket now that Alex has moved out so she knows it’s being used and appreciated by somebody. That’s it! Either way, you already know your mother anticipated that as a possible good outcome, and you’ll feel relieved that Alex got to make a decision before moving out.

Classic Prudie

I am a nursing student who has worked as a part-time nanny for the past two years for adorable twin 4-year-olds. Their mother is 65 years old. She had them with the help of a fertility clinic. I’ve stayed with her this long solely for the sake of the children. She is single and is majorly in over her head. She has been in three car accidents with the twins in the last 18 months. She wasn’t even able to take them for an outing by herself until they were 3 years old because she said she couldn’t handle it. Her neighbors and parents of the twins’ classmates have enquired about the situation because they just can’t believe their eyes. She has nannies six days a week, often working 12-hour shifts. She doesn’t eat dinner with the children and rarely puts them to bed. What kind of doctor would allow this to happen? She will be nearly 80 years old when they are graduating high school! There are no other family members involved and I can’t imagine what’s ahead. The twins need me but I’m reaching the end of my rope and don’t know how long I can stay involved.