Slate is now asking those who read the most to support our journalism more directly by subscribing to Slate Plus. Learn more.
To get advice from Prudie, send questions for publication to email@example.com. (Questions may be edited.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion. Or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
My sister and her family live in a state with very loose COVID regulations and, partly due to this, they have not been taking the health risks seriously at all. Her family works out at indoor gyms, eats indoors at restaurants, and has taken three vacations since lockdown started. We aren’t that close, and I knew better than to engage, so I just sat back and watched it unfold. Well, it did. Her husband and two of their kids caught COVID. Her husband had to go to the hospital and was extremely sick for weeks. Her children recovered fairly quickly but were understandably scared. She and her husband have now started a GoFundMe to pay for hospital bills (after railing against “socialism” in health care, go figure). She has asked me to not only donate but to spread the word in my networks. I made a small donation, but I refuse to publicize this in my circle. I think it’s unconscionable that she and her husband put many other people’s health at risk due to their selfishness and stubbornness. Our brother shares many of my views but is still sharing the GoFundMe because he feels browbeaten by our sister. I don’t want to cause a permanent rift over this. Breaking off relations with family members seems to be a fraught decision, especially these days. But I can’t handle the thought of asking my friends to bail my sister’s family out of a situation they 100 percent created for themselves. What should I do?
People deserve medical attention when they get sick, and people who need medical attention should not be bankrupted as a result of getting sick. People sometimes behave selfishly, or ignorantly, or desperately. They sometimes prioritize short-term over long-term interests, and they still don’t deserve to get sick as a result. People who have engaged in high-risk behavior have gotten COVID, and people who’ve engaged in low-risk behavior have gotten COVID.
Your sister and her husband engaged in risky behavior, yes, but this was not a situation they “100 percent created for themselves.” As you yourself acknowledge, their own state government encouraged a relatively casual, low-concern response to the pandemic. Yes, their behavior likely put others at risk—that’s wrong, and they shouldn’t have done it. But sickness shouldn’t be a punishment for bad behavior, and parents shouldn’t have to go into debt to cover their kids’ hospital bills. It’s a pretty straightforward ethical stance and doesn’t even require you to approve of everyone else’s risks, choices, or behavior patterns. Your sister doesn’t seem to have noticed you haven’t shared her GoFundMe link, and you’ve already made a donation, so I don’t think you have to “do” anything here at all, except keep your opinions to yourself. If you truly can’t countenance the idea of sharing a link to a fundraiser with your friends, then don’t do it. But I think you can give them enough credit to assume they’ll either donate or not, as they see fit, according to their own abilities, priorities, and sense of scale.
Help! I’ve Had a Secret Lover for 15 Years.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by A.E. Osworth on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
My boyfriend and I had a relationship where we would bust each other’s chops now and then. A while ago, I asked him to stop the harsher jokes because they hurt my feelings and came much more often from him than from me. We’re now long-distance, and the other day we were talking on the phone about hats, and I mentioned casually that I have a big head—to which he replied, “A big head and a small, stupid brain.” I reminded him that I’ve asked him to stop making jokes like that. A few minutes later, we were talking about gaining weight during the pandemic, and he said, “If you gained weight, I’d still love you. I’d just love you less.” I understood this to be a joke, since he was laughing, and when I mentioned that we’re all going to get old and gain weight, he said (again jokingly) that he’d “trade me in for a newer model.” I had enough. I hung up the phone, cried, and wrote him an email.
A few days had passed, and I finally called to resolve things, as I hadn’t heard from him. I spoke about feeling disrespected and lonely. He apologized and said that he had been out of line, but he still wanted to do some “more research” to discover if other people thought the jokes were funny. I know I’m sensitive (and I actually like that about myself), and I felt like he was “polling the audience” to figure out whether my feelings were justified. He said “of course” my feelings are justified, but he wants to see if his female friends would laugh at these jokes because he’s perhaps more compatible with other people. I really never thought I’d find myself in a position in which my heart is in a relationship where the ability to tell sexist jokes was a dealbreaker. Aside from all of this, we do love each other. I’m irritated on so many levels right now, so I’m polling my own audience. Any way you can ease my small, stupid brain?
—Dumped Over a Joke
I suppose it depends on your definition of “ease.” It’s easy for me to tell you to dump him, because I think you should dump him! I know I say that a lot, but it’s true a lot, and there are a lot of people in real need of getting thoroughly dumped, and your boyfriend’s at the top of the list. “I need to poll my other friends, because I’m so committed to tired, sexist jokes that I’d like to break up with you for one of them if they say it’s funny” is a great indicator that your boyfriend is passed his expiration date and is no longer viable. How many conversations have you had with him at this point where you’ve asked him not to insult you? I count several attempts at intervention in your letter alone, from the initial request to the follow-up email detailing your feelings, not to mention your follow-up to your first follow-up.
The jokes are bad. They’re barely even jokes—just a series of remarks a little too stupid to be interestingly cruel. But even if every one of his friends said, “Your material is hilarious and deeply fresh and must be heard by as many people as possible,” it still wouldn’t excuse the fact that this man ignores your repeated requests not to make fun of you. He likes to hurt your feelings, he likes to do it a lot, he likes to do it even after you ask him to stop, he likes the plausible deniability found in “I can understand why you’re annoyed by it, but your truth isn’t universal truth, and I’m curious to see what other girls think about it,” and you should break up with him.
When I was a child, I had a really hard time sleeping when away from home. Even if I was having tons of fun on vacation or at a sleepover, when bedtime came I’d become incredibly sad and often cry because I missed my house, my bed, and my parents and pets if traveling without them. Now, I am nearly 30, and while I don’t shed tears over it, I still feel extreme homesickness at night. I recently went on vacation with my partner and their family (people I love and have spent lots of time with) and each night found myself in the throes of melancholy, staring at the ceiling, unable to fall asleep for hours out of sheer sadness. This is typical—there’s always 10 percent of me that strongly wants to get out of bed, jump in the car/call an Uber/book a redeye flight and just go home that minute, no matter what it takes. In the morning I’m totally fine and feel embarrassed that I let myself get so worked up the night before. I am sure this is an issue of anxiety, but I don’t generally consider myself an overly anxious person, and I’d never pin myself as having an anxiety disorder. It feels like overkill to go to therapy just because I get sad at night when away from home, but I’d like to figure out a way to manage these moments. Any suggestions?
—Sick of Homesickness
At the risk of oversimplifying a complicated history, what we call “talk therapy” today came into being largely to address things like “just getting sad at night away from home”—meaning, not to treat what was considered severely abnormal behavior, but otherwise well-adjusted, socially fluent adults who wrestled with troubling existential questions, or intermittent neurotic discontent, whose attempts to investigate their own aversions, anxieties, fears, or habits resulted in resistance, repression, and avoidance. “Ordinarily I’d describe myself as happy and well-adjusted, but there’s a peculiar quirk I’ve struggled with all my life, and I don’t understand it, and I can’t explain it away rationally” is the very sort of problem that therapy was made for. The fact that the moments of greatest distress occur in the middle of the night, when you’re far from home, and mostly unable to contact a therapist to book an intake session only exacerbates the problem. Since every “morning after” you convince yourself you were making a big deal out of nothing, you endlessly delay the opportunity to investigate this pattern. (I’m very familiar with this endless delay myself! You’re not alone.)
But speaking to a therapist about this pattern, or even thinking of this as a pattern, doesn’t mean you have to pursue or accept a medical diagnosis, or think of yourself as an anxious person, or commit to seeing a mental health professional every week for 50 minutes for the rest of your life. Think of it this way: You’ve already tried ignoring these feelings and beating yourself up for experiencing them to no avail for nearly 30 years, and now you’re going to try paying careful, nonjudgmental attention to them instead, and see what shakes loose. Internal investigation can be fun and fascinating, and sometimes you end up getting a sex change. Good luck!
More Advice From How to Do It
I was a virgin until age 23. I guess if I were in this position these days I would be classified as an “incel,” although I’m glad that godawful term didn’t exist back then. The main reason I was a virgin that long was because of wild levels of anxiety/panic I’d experience whenever I contemplated rejection, along with a way-too-idealized vision of what I wanted in a romantic partner that contrasted with my actual sexual desires. I was also obsessed with my best friend’s girlfriend (no bueno). In other words, it was much easier for me to masturbate about people I desired than confront my fears.
So at age 23 I had sex with the person who became my girlfriend … then my wife … and now we have a toddler! We have a decent relationship and a sex life that is mostly vanilla with some sparks of domination/submission on both sides, a little bit of butt play, trips to the sex toy shop, etc. Although our sex life these days is severely constrained by stress and busyness, we have a method for both of us getting off before the toddler wakes up. But as with a lot of people in my position, I feel like I missed out on some sexual exploration since I’ve only had one sexual partner. I’m curious about what sex with other people is like. I don’t want another romantic relationship, but my wife would definitely not be open to the possibility of me exploring NSA sex with sex workers or acquaintances. I’m willing to be monogamous for her, but it does lead to a certain level of frustration/regret. So, what am I missing out on?