Dear Prudence

My Boyfriend Told My 3-Year-Old to Call Him “Daddy”

I’m furious. He thinks I’m overreacting.

A 3-year old holding the hand of an older man.
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Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend babysat my 3-year-old son for a few hours while I attended a seminar upstairs. I really appreciated it, and it seems like they had fun going out to the park. This was the first time they’d spent together without me. However, my son is now calling him “Daddy.” He’d never really called him anything before. I told my son that he should call him “Chris.” Chris waved me off and said that he actually told my son to call him that. I am furious. My son was conceived via a donor, and now I feel like I have to have the conversation I was planning on having when he was 5 or 6 a few years early. My boyfriend thinks I’m overreacting, as he was “doing me a favor.” I’m so disappointed. Other than this, he’s an awesome guy, and he’s been in my son’s life since he was 18 months old. I know my poor boy will be devastated if Chris stops coming around. What should I do?

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—Not His Dad

If Chris’ idea of “doing you a favor” is unilaterally telling your kid “Hey, call me Dad” without so much as a by-your-leave beforehand, I’m concerned about what else he might think is a favor. I don’t wonder why you’re furious—it was a bizarrely inappropriate thing to do that makes your life as a parent more difficult, not less. If Chris wanted to have a conversation about his role in your son’s life after a year and a half of dating, that would be one thing. He’s perfectly entitled to initiate such a conversation, if he wants. But that conversation has to be with you, not your 3-year-old.

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In the meantime, you’re right to hold the line on this. If Chris can’t promise to stick with “Chris” in the future, I think you should hold off on future visits. Even if that’s painful for your son and for you, anyone you’re dating needs to be able to affirm that as your son’s parent, you’ve got the right to decide when you talk to him about his parentage and what kind of relationships other adults can have with him. Hopefully Chris will apologize and back off soon. But I think It would be worse to let this slide if it meant Chris continued to cross this boundary and your son grew up with competing messages about who his father was.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a single mom to a wonderful middle schooler. He needs extra help in school and with emotional regulation. He has an IEP (luckily, I’m an attorney and can navigate that process effectively), a therapist, and other professionals in his corner. During the pandemic, our access to those resources has been dramatically reduced, I am not trained to help him sufficiently, he’s failing classes, and I’m finding myself unable to look over his work anymore. I’m also having trouble getting my own work done. I had my son when I was 16, and I’ve spent the last decade trying to get us out of poverty. Now that we are out, I feel like I’m suddenly very lazy.

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I’m finding myself unable to do my work or clean my very messy house, even when I get a chance to do so. I understand that it sounds like depression, but in the deepest depression of my life, I still went to school full time, worked two jobs, and took care of my son with little help. Also, I go to therapy every week and do psych medicine management every month. I am now failing my son and my job. I have no idea how to motivate myself to use my time better and accomplish tasks. The answer seems like “just do it,” but it’s like there is this invisible wall in front of me. I can’t just stop now that I’ve got us here—this was the dream. I’m so lucky to have a job, and I’m so scared I’m going to lose it. How do I hold myself accountable, so I can take some of this pressure off? How do I push through lazy?

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—Not Mom Enough

I appreciate that you want (and need!) to get more done, but I think “lazy” isn’t really applicable here. Your son normally has multiple highly trained professionals who help him navigate each school day, and now that the pandemic has interrupted that access, you’re not able to fill in the gaps. I can’t imagine how you possibly could! The idea that you could fill in for three or more specialists, or catch up on years of pedagogical training in your spare time after work, is absolutely absurd. You’re not alone, either.

Your goal here should not be to “just do” more, but to get help from all possible corners. Start with an appointment with your son’s pediatrician and/or other medical professionals who support your son. They may be able to help you reassess your expectations and help you find appropriate resources. The Center for Parent Information and Resources has a searchable national database of chapters by state. This could be useful to consult for additional support and before you reach out to your son’s teachers and school administrators to discuss his needs and any available options. Next is your house: Apply the principles of triage to housecleaning. What’s the bare minimum you need to do on a daily and weekly basis to make your house livable? Do that, and no more. This is not going to be the year where your house is routinely spotless. If that means occasionally eating off of paper plates so you don’t have to worry about dishes, or assigning one chair “the clean clothes pile” and another chair “the dirty clothes pile,” so be it. Finally, if your boss is even slightly reasonable and humane, I’d encourage you to speak with them (briefly) about how you’ve been struggling balancing all your various responsibilities lately and ask for some help. If nothing else, it may feel better to have brought it up first, rather than waiting and worrying someone else is going to say something to you about missed deadlines. Speaking up sooner rather than later also means there’s a better chance the work will actually get done on time (or close to on time) because your boss can either help redistribute some of your work, reevaluate some of your deadlines, or come up with other alternatives.

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I realize the pandemic has been going on for so long that many workplaces have adopted an attitude of “go back to your former productivity levels, despite being subject to countless new forms of stress and financial insecurity,” but we’re still in the middle of a pandemic! You have so much less help than you did a year ago, and you’re operating under completely different circumstances than during your last bout of depression. This is not a situation where you’re “failing” and need simply to buck up. Many of the social structures you depend upon have vanished, and no single person can make up for that loss. Good luck, and go easy on yourself whenever you can. You’re not lazy. You’re just not five people at once.

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Dear Prudence,

I am an asexual lesbian in my late 20s, and I don’t have any real dating experience. I’ve never even kissed anyone. But I want to! My problem is that I never know what to say when I am on a date, and when they casually ask me about my past relationships, I just freak out and lie! It just seems Pollyanna-ish to act like it’s totally normal and won’t scare people off. Do I really need to be this vulnerable on a first date? I want to tell the truth, but I’m very embarrassed. In addition to this, I don’t know if I want to have sex or not. I do want to try at least once or twice after dating for a bit first, but chances are I probably won’t like it. I don’t know how to navigate sexual compatibility when I’m so on the fence. I am also embarrassed that I’ve never had sex at my age (that’s not why I want to try it, though). What should I say?

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—Late to the Party

You certainly don’t have to go into great detail about your romantic and sexual history on a first date! If you want to keep the tone relatively light and fun, that’s perfectly reasonable, and you should feel free to deflect or reroute questions about past relationships the first time you go out with someone. I don’t encourage lying to someone you think you’d like to see again, because that’s just making extra work for yourself, but you can come up with a brief stock answer designed to change the subject like, “There’s nothing much exciting to tell there. How about you?” followed by a line or two about how strange the pandemic has made dating.

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I’d also encourage you to look for dates with other asexual women, not because I think you have to confine yourself, but because you might find it invigorating to go out with someone else who’s thrilled at the idea of a girlfriend who may want to try sex once or twice for curiosity’s sake at some point, rather than someone who considers sex to be invaluable and high-priority. While you’re not under any obligation to disclose, especially when you’re just getting to know someone, I think you’ll find dating a lot less fraught (and a lot more rewarding) if you find a way to lead with your asexuality, so you can more easily screen for compatibility and not waste your time feeling embarrassed because your experience doesn’t live up to someone else’s standards.

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A final thought: You say you’re embarrassed that you’ve never had sex, but unlike kissing (which you seem more straightforwardly interested in), you don’t know that you want to have sex at all and seem to think odds are good you won’t like it once you do. That seems like a pretty good reason not to have had sex! “I haven’t had sex yet because I’m weird and all the normal people have sex by 27” won’t do you much good, but “I haven’t had sex yet because sex isn’t very important to me” might make a useful replacement.

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More Advice From How to Do It

I’m a single, straight, cisgender man dating in New York in my early 40s. I’m generally looking for a long-term, serious monogamous relationship, perhaps marriage and children. In the meantime, however, I go on many, many dates.

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My problem is this: Twice in the last two years, there have been two people who I have gone on several dates with over a period of a few months, who I have really, genuinely liked and wanted to pursue a serious relationship with. But when it came time to be intimate and have sex, I simply could not get and/or maintain an erection. I could try and cite alcohol consumption or other things as factors, but I do not believe those were the issue myself. I was more than happy to do my part in other ways, but actual sexual intercourse was never in the cards. Both of these relationships ended for other reasons, but it certainly didn’t help!

On many other dates I’ve had over the years, where the date ends in sex, I have never had an issue performing (in any circumstance—drunk, sober, tired, didn’t really mesh with the person personality-wise, etc.). It’s almost like mentally knowing a date is a casual encounter, whether a one-night stand or something a little more, alleviates the pressure for some reason. Do you have any thoughts as to why this happens and what I might be able to do next time I meet someone I really want to be with?

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