Dear Prudence

Help! I Didn’t Know Our Marriage Was “Open.”

Not until my wife’s friend told me.

A confused man with two wedding rings.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Danny Lavery is off this week. In place of today’s regularly scheduled live chat, which will reconvene next Monday, here’s a selection of classic letters from the Dear Prudie archive.

Q. News to me: My wife’s friend solicited me, saying that my wife told her we had an open marriage, which was news to me. I declined. Now I’m wondering whether my wife actually said that, and if so, in what context. I’m contemplating confronting my wife and this woman when they are together, which seems like the best way to get at the truth. Is that a good plan, or should I talk to my wife alone and hope that she is truthful?

A: Talk to your wife alone. There’s no reason to drag this other woman into what should be a private marital conversation. Either this other woman was lying, in which case your wife has the right to know one of her good friends has tried to hit on her husband, or your wife was, in which case you two ought to revisit the status of your relationship. I’m also curious what “context” you think would mitigate your wife lying about the openness of your marriage, if indeed she did tell her friend you two were open. If you don’t trust your wife to be honest without the presence of a third party, you’ve got bigger problems than this one episode.

From: Help! My Boyfriend Wants to Stay Together Even Though He’s Not Attracted to Me. (Aug. 1, 2016)

Q. Facebook pettiness: Last year my husband had an affair with a female co-worker. I obviously found out. I moved out for two weeks. We reconciled with some conditions. Since he couldn’t leave his job or force her to leave, I wanted him to stop any contact with her outside of work. Texting, emailing, casual conversation are completely off-limits. And I’d just have to trust he’d do it. I was totally humiliated. I didn’t do anything wrong but I was the one who was punished. Fast forward a year. This woman has “collected” mutual friends of my husband’s Facebook friends (who are also mine through him). And not just Facebook, but actual friends! So even after I’ve blocked this problem in my life she then pops up in my friends’ Facebook pictures and comments. I’m honestly still reeling. Those mutual friends are no longer my friends. (I refuse to socialize with them.) My husband can do what he wants. But now I’m “in trouble” for no longer going to events and not being FB friends with the “mutual friends.” As an adult I can’t really say you’re either my friend or her friend, not both. (I think I’d then stick my tongue out at them to drive home the point.) But it does come down to that. Everyone knew, and no one clued me in. They aren’t my friends and I don’t want to create a façade on FB or at BBQs they are at. What’s a wronged girl to do?

A: It’s true that you can’t offer your friends an ultimatum over their relationship with this woman, but it’s entirely fair for you to say that it’s painful for you to be in places where she might turn up, and that it’s painful for you to be reminded (either online or off-) about the person your husband had an affair with. I’m not sure who you are “in trouble” with—is it your husband? The friends you’ve stopped spending time with? Third parties who might not know the details of your situation?—but it’s clear from your letter that you’re still incredibly angry with a lot of the people in your life, and I hope you are seeing a therapist to help you figure out how to process that anger productively. If Facebook is causing you distress, consider spending less time on Facebook. If you need to tell some of your friends who only became close with this woman after her affair with your husband came to light that their behavior hurt and humiliated you, I think you have the right to do so. If you need to reconsider whether or not you trust your partner and your friends, do it. I don’t think “avoiding getting in trouble” should be your primary goal. Your primary goal should be expressing your anger without lashing out, setting reasonable (not punitive) boundaries, and taking care of yourself.

From: Help! My Boyfriend’s High-Heel Fetish Is Killing Me. (Nov. 29, 2016)

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Q. Why won’t you bang me?: I recently met a guy, and it was love at first sight. We have a lot in common, can spend hours talking, and find each other physically attractive. However, he seems completely uninterested in sex. We can spend the whole day kissing and cuddling, but he’s extremely reluctant to take it further and almost sees sex as a chore. Whenever I’ve tried talking to him about it, he comes up with an excuse, and I feel bad pestering him about it. I’m no Victoria’s Secret model, but getting guys to have sex with me has usually been the easiest part of a relationship, not the hardest. We’re both in our late 20s and grew up in liberal families in big cities so it’s not that he has conservative ideas about sex and relationships. One friend suggested he might be gay, but I find it hard to believe that someone from his background and circle of friends would stay closeted well into their late 20s. He’s spoken freely about previous relationships, and nothing seems out of the ordinary. What do you think could be up, and how can I approach it with him in a kind way?

A: He may be gay, he may have reasons for wanting to avoid or postpone sex he’s not yet comfortable sharing with you, he may be asexual, he may be interested in sleeping with you in the future but doesn’t feel ready now—there are a number of plausible reasons, but you don’t have sufficient information to speculate why he’s not having sex with you. You do, however, have sufficient information to make an informed decision about whether or not you want to continue seeing him. If you’d like a romantic relationship to include sex, tell him so and ask him if that’s what he wants too. If he prevaricates or offers further excuses, you can say, “I like you a lot, but I think we want different things, and I’m going to move on;” if he shares something with you that you believe you can work with, then you can proceed from there together.

From: Help! I Don’t Want to Visit My Jerk of a Dying Father. (Feb. 14, 2017)

Q. Sister mad at me—for getting pregnant: My sister and her husband have been struggling with fertility issues for a couple of years, and just last month they found out she is pregnant! I am so happy for her and have already sent her a bunch of gifts. Well, last week I found out I am pregnant and now my sister won’t talk to me because she thinks I am trying to upstage her. My husband and I have been married three years, and while we haven’t really been trying, we have always just figured it would happen when it was meant to be. The timing is purely coincidence, but my sister just won’t listen to reason. Her shower is next month, and I really don’t want it to be contentious and stressful since we are both pregnant! How can I help convince her to focus on her happiness and realize I am not trying to be the center of attention?

A: I have trouble imagining the mindset necessary to believe that another person would go to the trouble of creating a new life and committing to supporting a child financially, physically, and emotionally for at least the next 18 years, all for the purpose of “upstaging” the last few months of someone else’s pregnancy. It is not possible for a pregnancy to be upstaged; your sister is no less pregnant because you have acquired the same condition. You have not siphoned away or diminished a single iota of her happiness, and it’s unfortunate that she thinks having children is a zero-sum game. If she has refused to speak to you because you are going to have a baby, there is little you can do to convince her of her unreasonableness, only hope that in time she will come to her senses and apologize. You might tell her, “Sister, I’m so happy that you and your partner are having a baby, and I hope you can be happy for me too. I know it was difficult for you two to conceive and I’m thrilled that you’re going to be parents. I’m not trying to take anything away from you, and I still want to celebrate this new stage in your life and wish you every joy. I want having children close in age to bring us closer, for them to get to know one another and grow up together, and I hope you want that too.” If she continues to think of your pregnancy as a threat to her after that, all you can do is give her space and absolve yourself of responsibility for her happiness.

From: Help! I Don’t Want to Visit My Jerk of a Dying Father. (Feb. 14, 2017)

Q. Emergency dating expense: I am divorced with two kids, and I am dating a divorced woman with two kids (kids are from third to seventh grade). We took a road trip together recently, and during the trip I closed my driver-side door while her kid was holding the door bar so his hand was slammed by the door. I suggested that we go to the local ER, we did, and thankfully everything was OK. Here is the issue. Fast-forward a month or two later, and she texted me the ER bill (about $70 after insurance) with a clear hint that she thinks that I should pay the bill. I paid it, but I am very disappointed that she even thought of sending the bill to me. We both have good jobs so the amount is not an issue. She, on the other hand, thought that she should not have had to ask. I should have offered to pay and pay it without question. The money is not an issue, and I certainly would be happy to help in any way if it is needed, but I don’t see a future together for us if I will be held fully liable, and blamed, for every accident like this in the future. I am thinking this is a deal-breaker and the relationship at this point is too transactional. Am I being unreasonable?

A: Sometimes I hope very much that a letter is fake. This is one of them. I would very much prefer to think someone is having a harmless laugh at my expense by crafting a bizarre scenario than to think somewhere out there exists a person—a parent!—who balks at spending 70 measly bucks he knows he can easily afford after slamming a car door on a little boy’s hand. I cannot begin to imagine why you think you should not have been held liable for her son’s injury. Even though it was an accident (I hope it was an accident! Your letter certainly gives me cause for concern), unless some sort of a ghost or tree nymph slammed the door while you weren’t looking, the fault was yours for closing the car door without checking to make sure no children were still attached to the other end. If you were really “happy to help in any way if it is needed,” you would have happily offered to pay the bill without being asked, which suggests to me you are being disingenuous. I hope your girlfriend breaks up with you as soon as possible. I hope she invents time travel so that she can break up with you before you tried to fob her off with “It’s not about the money, it’s the principle of the thing, and the principle of the thing is that I don’t think I should be held responsible when my actions have consequences I don’t like,” then travels further back in time to convince your ex-wife to leave you sooner. You’re a jerk.

From: Help! I Love My Mother-in-Law but Hate Her Son. (Sept. 7, 2016)

Q. Pet myself?: Your letter writer with the boyfriend whose “rosary” tattoo memorialized his liaisons prompted me to bring up the following—I have a tattoo that I think society would find generally acceptable. It’s a common symbol that signifies strength to me. If you’re not morally opposed to tattoos, it’s not controversial. I thought about getting it for many years before I did and don’t think about it at all now—it’s as if it’s always been there. For another many years now I have wanted to get something discreet that memorializes my pet. I came of age in a very small, very dysfunctional family and my pet was my companion and friend. We did everything together. I don’t judge people’s tattoos, but I had a good friend who’d go on ad nauseam about the idiocy of pet tattoos. (Coincidentally, I never thought this person treated animals all that kindly.) I guess they got into my head and I now feel odd asking my partner what they’d think if I decided to get “Fluffy” within a heart (kidding). Do I honor what was a very loving relationship for me during a time when I didn’t have many of those? Do I even owe it to my partner to discuss a decision about my body? I guess, I want to do this and I’m scared of being ridiculed again by someone who matters to me.

A: There is a world of difference between memorializing one’s sexual history and commemorating a beloved pet. If you’d like to get a tattoo marking a pet you loved during a time when you didn’t receive much love from your family, you should. Talk to your boyfriend about it, not because you need his permission but because you want him to know you better and understand where you came from.

From: Help! My Boyfriend Wants to Stay Together Even Though He’s Not Attracted to Me. (Aug. 1, 2016)

Q. An affair to remember: When I was starting graduate school, I met a lecturer who was 30 years older than me. He was smart, sophisticated, and charming. We ended up having an affair that lasted four years (technically he was married, but they lived separate lives in separate houses on different coasts); he inspired me to go after my Ph.D. and helped me find funding. It ended beautifully, and I have very fond memories of that time. I never discussed him or our relationship with anyone. He died while I was out of the country, and while I was sad not to be able to pay my respects, I never expected anything. Well, I got a phone call from the executor of his estate and was told he left me a rather generous bequest: several valuable paintings and his collection of rare books. I was shocked. Then I got several messages from his children asking to meet with me. I feel uncomfortable and a little guilty about the entire subject now. I don’t regret what happened between us, but I do not want to discuss it with his children and I am a little of afraid of what has been left behind. I don’t see what the unadorned truth will serve anyone, but I have many fond memories about conversations about art, science, and the human condition. Should I contact them or write them a letter? What should I do about the paintings and rare books? I feel like I need an objective outsider to give me the right perspective here.

A: If you don’t want to meet with his children, then don’t meet with them. You don’t owe them an explanation of the nature of your relationship with their father, and I can’t imagine what sort of productive conversation could take place between you. While you have every right to keep what’s been left to you, if you’re truly uncomfortable at the unexpected gift years after your relationship ended, you can legally refuse the bequest; find out what steps are necessary in your state in order to do so. Or you might consider donating your inheritance to a museum or research institution that could use them, like your former graduate school. You’ll still have the fond memories of your time with this man, after all.

From: Help! My Boyfriend Has a Box of Nude Photos of His Exes. (May 31, 2017)

Q. Single and happy: I’m a 31-year-old man who is being increasingly pressured to date and get married. The problem is that I don’t want to. I’m a fiercely independent person, and the thought of giving so much of myself to another is frankly unappealing. I own my own home and earn enough to be comfortable in my lifestyle. I’ve dated before and never saw the appeal in it. However, my family and friends present a nearly solid front on this issue. I’ve been sat down for heart-to-heart talks, set up with likely women, and subjected to all sorts of different guilt trips from my parents who want grandchildren. I love my life, but I have to ask, Prudie, is something wrong with me? How should I deal with all these people telling me how to live my life?

A: In order: 1) Nothing is wrong with you. 2) Tell them that you don’t want to get married, that you don’t feel anything missing from your life because you’re not in a romantic relationship, and that when they pressure you to pair off with someone, it makes you want to pull away from them, not get betrothed to the next likely woman you see.

From: Help! My Wife Doesn’t Count Her Stepchildren Among Her “Real” Children. (Sept. 26, 2016)

Q. Help for my daughter: My daughter “Sarah” is 21. She did extremely well in high school and had her pick of colleges. She chose to attend a great college about two hours from home. Sarah, her father, and I were all happy with the choice. College didn’t go well, though. Sarah had issues with her roommate and had to move out of the dorms because her RA sided with her roommate. She struggled in classes and was under academic probation when she was accused of plagiarism. Sarah says the plagiarism was inadvertent, and I believe her. It was, however, the final straw for her, and when the college moved to academically dismiss her, she didn’t fight their decision. Our plan was that Sarah take a semester off and regroup, then begin applying to other colleges. She agreed to this course of action, but now that the time has come and gone for her to start applying, she refuses to do anything. She says that her record will follow her wherever she goes and she has no chance to get in anywhere.

I want to go to her old college and attempt to get her reinstated. I have read over its policies online, and I believe it might take Sarah back. My husband does not want me to do this and says Sarah needs to make her own decisions. For the record, Sarah does have a job as a waitress and her own apartment that she pays for. But I know she would like to get back into college. I think she would thank me in the end for appealing her dismissal once I get her back into school. Do you think that it is wrong to go against my husband and do this for Sarah?

A: It would be a mistake. Your daughter is 21 years old and ought to be learning how to handle adversity on her own; your job as her parent is to offer support, criticism, and/or advice when appropriate, not to make interventions on her behalf. I can imagine it must be distressing to watch your child respond to a crisis with a defeatist attitude, but fighting a battle she has already forfeited will not do her any good. Regardless of whether Sarah would someday thank you for your actions, the most important thing to ask yourself is this: Would my attempting to get Sarah’s old college to reinstate her help her cultivate resilience? Honesty? The ability to deal with the consequences of her actions and to acknowledge when she has done something wrong? Would it increase her self-sufficiency or improve her ability to tackle her own problems head-on? Or would it make you feel more comfortable? I’m inclined to believe your desire to wipe away the problems of Sarah’s past has more to do with your inability to acknowledge that your child might fail—or, at the least, flail—than it does with anything else. Your daughter is currently working and able to provide for herself; she is in no immediate danger. Let her forge her own path.

From: Help! My Fiancé Wants Me to Pay for Half of His Surrogacy Costs. (Aug. 22, 2016)

From Care and Feeding

Q. Should I call out my child’s teacher’s racist comments? My wife recently accompanied my son’s third-grade class on a field trip. Preparing the children, the teacher commented that she did not want them to behave “like wild Indians.” Naturally my wife was taken aback by this and, in the era of Trump, feels it’s necessary to address, but could not think of a way to do so at the time. She would like to talk to the teacher about this during upcoming parent-teacher conferences. My concern is that, in my experience, people don’t react well to this kind of criticism, and my son is going to be in her class for the rest of the year. I would like my wife to hold off on confronting the teacher with this concern until the end of the school year, when she is not able to adversely affect our son’s school experience. Do you have any advice/suggestions? Read more and see what Carvell Wallace had to say.