Dear Prudence

I Just Found Out the Guy I’ve Been Sexting With for Years Is Married

Should I contact his wife?

Woman's hands holding a cellphone
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Dear Prudence,

I’m a cis woman who’s had an on-again, off-again serious flirtation with a man for years. We used to date in grad school. I haven’t seen him in person in years, but our digital flirting is definitely intense and NSFW. He’s quite charming, and he told me he loves me, but something always seemed to get in the way of us actually connecting in person. I’ve been mildly suspicious, and I’ve even asked point-blank if he was seeing someone else. I’ve Googled him before and never found anything, but he recently told me that he bought a house. I looked up the tax records and discovered that he owns the new home with a woman. Based on the date and location of the sale, plus his unique name, I know it’s him.

I looked her up and discovered that he’s been married since 2018! I’m rattled that I was so easily duped, and I’m disgusted that I’ve basically been a virtual lover. I don’t have any social media accounts and never have, so I don’t know if he or his wife have any, either. Should I try to reach out and let her know that her husband has been trying to cheat on her? I would want to know, especially during a pandemic. I’m trying to view this rationally and do the right thing. I have no desire to talk to him ever again, and I never would have flirted with him if I knew he was married. I just want to know what, if anything, I should do here.

—Deceived and Disgusted

You can try to send her a message if you feel prepared to handle any possible response, including an angry one or none at all. If you choose to do so, stick only to sharing the most relevant information rather than burdening her with every detail or your own resentments about how her husband has treated you. But I don’t think that contacting her is going to do much to displace or heal your own hurt, so only proceed if you feel prepared to subsequently turn your attention to recovering from this part-breakup, part-revelation. And you’re not honor-bound to say anything—you didn’t know he was married when you two were sexting, and you’re not the one who made vows to her. If you simply want to move on, you’ll have no reason to reproach yourself.

It sounds like you’ve had a pretty consistent gut feeling for a long time that this man wasn’t being honest with you, and I hope in the future if you get the sense that someone you’re dating (or even just flirting with) is being evasive and avoidant or is jerking you around, you give yourself permission to treat that as a sufficient reason to end things, rather than waiting and digging around for conclusive evidence. You have a right to expect clarity, consistency, and directness from even the most casual or nonexclusive relationship. If you tell someone “I’ve felt suspicious for a while now that you’re holding something back from me, and when you constantly cancel our in-person dates without explanation, it’s disappointing and frustrating. Are you seeing someone else?” and their only response is “No, I’m not seeing anyone else” with no subsequent apology or change, that’s reason enough to end things. Googling is no substitution for trust that the person you’re dating (or sexting, or whatever!) will tell you the truth.

Help! My Roommate Keeps Bringing Out Her Cat to Interrupt My Dates.

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

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Dear Prudence,

I love my boyfriend, “Max,” but am becoming increasingly worried that we’re incompatible. We’ve been together four years, living together for two. Max struggles to express his emotions and shows his love through “acts of service.” He cleans our home and cooks most of our meals, and if he knows I’m shopping for a bookshelf, he builds it for me. Caring for me makes him feel good and like he “deserves” me. The trouble is that I sometimes enjoy making my own lunch, I want to contribute to our household, and I sometimes like to buy things with my money. I also want to be told I’m loved, that I’m attractive, that he values me. I feel like a jerk comparing us, because I have a much easier time expressing my emotions, but it frustrates me that even when I prompt him (which I’d be happy doing), Max doesn’t really reciprocate compliments. Like I said: I love Max. The thought of ending our relationship is devastating. But recently a co-worker, Jeremy, paid me several compliments over a Zoom call, and I developed a brief but intense crush on him because it felt so good. Max is amazing, but I don’t know if we are compatible. I don’t know if I’m being selfish or acknowledging that two people can be great but not great for each other. Sometimes I feel hollow and don’t think I can live the rest of my life with this ache. Am I being selfish?

—Mum’s the Word

I’ve reread this letter a few times looking for something selfish. But here’s all I could come up with: You love your boyfriend, you both look for practical ways to care for each other, you felt good when someone else paid you a compliment, and you’re hurt because the boyfriend you love doesn’t talk about his feelings with you very often, if at all. You haven’t described a single selfish act here—just a series of feelings. I’ve grumbled in the past about the ways “love languages” gets in the way of real intimacy by conflating something as serious as “My partner won’t tell me he loves me or say he likes my hair once in a while” with “My boyfriend is a bookcase-building robot who is only capable of demonstrating affection through the medium of chores.” But love languages aren’t some innate quality fixed in our hearts at birth. They’re a made-up shorthand for different forms of connection. Max may be a great person, but if you regularly ache and feel hollow because he can’t or won’t share his feelings with you, all the bookcases and perfectly cooked lunches in the world aren’t going to make a difference, and you’re not denying some intrinsic part of who he is as a person by saying, “This isn’t working for me anymore.”

If you don’t want to break up with him over this, and he’s receptive to the idea of change, you may find couples counseling a useful option as you two reevaluate the basis of your connection and he works to find new ways to open up. But if you tell him that you’re starved for emotional intimacy, for hearing “I love you,” and for verbal affirmation, and his only response is “Sorry, I can only do acts of service,” it’s not selfish to say, “I can’t live that way.”

Dear Prudence,

I’m a woman over 50 who was identified as being on the autism spectrum a few years ago. This wasn’t exactly a surprise to me, as I’ve wondered about this possibility (as have some of my teachers) since the fourth grade. But since so much of the focus on autism studies has been on boys and men, I don’t always “read” as autistic to others. Instead, people have considered me rude, odd, or arrogant, or think I’m just pretending not to understand social interactions they think I should because I’m a woman. I’m wondering whether I should just disclose to people and say something like: “I’m not a jerk (at least I try not to be). I’m on the autism spectrum.” Or should I just let them continue to assume I’m stuck-up or mean? I’ve been studying how to interact with others, how to be less awkward and shy, and how to decode what people are really saying, for years, including with a counselor. But I’ll never come off as just “normal.”

—Really on the Spectrum

I don’t think you should consider it necessary to disclose to everyone you meet, not least because that might perpetuate the sense that it’s always your responsibility to meet other people’s expectations of how a woman “should” behave, when some of those expectations may be sexist, unreasonable, and intrusive. But if you think sharing your autism with someone whose company you enjoy or whose judgment you admire might facilitate a shared understanding or a closer friendship, you certainly can. You may also do so if you find that such a disclosure puts you more at your ease and enables you to interact with others less self-consciously. But if you don’t trust that your interlocutor will respond in a gracious, polite, or appropriate way, and you’d feel more comfortable keeping it to yourself, do so. If you do disclose, I’d encourage you not to frame it as “I’m not a jerk, I’m on the spectrum” but as “I might occasionally ask you to explain or clarify something in a conversation. I’m on the spectrum and find communication’s a lot easier when someone’s direct with me.”

This next bit of advice is unsolicited and separate from your original question, so please feel free to ignore it. But you might find a sense of relief and peacefulness if you dedicated some of the time you’ve spent trying to adapt to others to seeking out the company of other women on the spectrum. You may not feel an immediate sense of kinship with all of them, and you might still have to work to understand one another’s frame of reference and communication styles. It’s also not to say that seeking to understand other people, or cultivating a generally friendly seeming affect, is unimportant or that you need to abandon that project entirely. But you may also find that establishing friendships with others who share your experience will prove fortifying, useful, and reassuring. Not to mention you may find relief in a group of other women who don’t expect you to always adhere to neurotypical standards.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

I have a strange, not-really-a-problem problem. I had my daughter three months ago. I’ve always been tall and thin, and I had a 9-pound baby. I got back to my normal weight almost immediately, just due to good genes I guess. My issue is that women—co-workers, family, people on the street—are pretty mad at me. My co-worker this morning upon seeing me for the first time since returning to work said, “I hate you.” I know this is all meant as a compliment, but I’m really at a loss as to what to say. My mom died while I was pregnant so sometimes I’ve been saying it’s a gift from her (she was always naturally thin). I hate that I’m getting caught up in this scrutiny of women’s bodies and making people feel bad. Any advice?