Danny M. Lavery is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Stunted small-business owner: I live in the same small town where I grew up; I’ve had lifelong relationships with many of my friends (and their moms were friends with my mom 50 years ago!). I was laid off in the pandemic and decided to start a small business from home, just to keep myself occupied and add a little income to the household.
Prudie, I’ve been devastated by how unsupportive my friends have been. I asked them to publicize the small business on their social media and only a few did. This would’ve cost them nothing and was very COVID-safe, yet I heard crickets. I offered some promotions like gift cards, sales, etc., and only one or two friends took me up on it. I feel cheated. I’ve supported dozens of my friends over the years with their entrepreneurial adventures, spending probably hundreds of dollars, and now that it’s my turn to be in the spotlight, the silence is deafening.
My husband says people are stressed and broke because of the pandemic, but no one I know has lost their job or child care—things are honestly pretty normal in our town. I feel hurt and resentful when I interact with these friends in other social settings. I want to bring this up but I don’t know how. Do you have a script I can use to communicate how hurt I am without ending these friendships?
A: I’m not sure I do! I understand wanting to get support from your friends, especially if you’ve spent a lot of money on their various professional endeavors, but I think it’s a lot to ask your friends to patronize your business—especially since I don’t know what your business does. If none of your friends can use your services, it might be difficult for them to recommend said services to others. And while none of your friends may have been laid off (to your knowledge), they may suddenly have family members to support who have been. While they may still have child care, they may suddenly be trying to cope with working from home while their children attend school remotely, or their child care providers may be struggling under new stressors of their own.
The newfound stress of the pandemic is a serious consideration, and just because your friends have managed to keep their jobs so far doesn’t mean that everyone is necessarily doing well and able to do free promotion for your new business, either. I think you should be patient, accept the fact that any business that is wholly dependent on free word-of-mouth from the owner’s friends is not a sustainable one, and do your best to nurse your hurt feelings in private.
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Q. Too much trust? My husband of one year and I seem to have a very happy, loving marriage, but I can’t shake a fear in the back of my mind that he is using me. He is gaining permanent residency status through our marriage, and he has now borrowed over $20,000 from me, without being able to pay me back on schedule. He has firmly insisted that I not tell family or anyone else about these loans, because he is embarrassed. His embarrassment stems from having grown up wealthy in his country of origin and struggling financially since moving to the U.S., particularly during the pandemic.
I am more than willing to help him out if his intentions are what they seem, and I mostly trust him, but I can’t help having doubts. What I want more than anything is to restore my trust in him. How can I bring up the topic of my doubts, and is there a way to protect myself without humiliating him?
A: You don’t have to find a way to “carefully” broach this subject. Telling your partner “you can’t tell anyone that you’re lending me money because it’s your job to protect me from embarrassment” is not a reasonable demand, and you have every right to tell him you’re not going to keep it a secret. That’s not to say I think you should announce it at the next family get-together, but it’s important to get outside perspective once in a while, especially if you feel you’re being burdened with the task of managing your partner’s reputation.
You haven’t done anything shameful by lending your husband money—plenty of married couples share their finances—and while he may not be able to repay you on time (perhaps through no fault of his own), it will do you and your marriage good if you have a therapist or a trusted friend or two you can discuss your concerns with. You can treat his embarrassment with respect without treating it like the most important thing in your marriage. What do you need from him in order to restore some of this shaky trust? Perhaps it’s taking the initiative to develop a realistic repayment plan that he believes he can stick to, so you don’t have to chase after him for it; perhaps it’s figuring out alternate ways he can process his embarrassment and discomfort over not being independently wealthy so that he doesn’t first ask you for money and then ask you to behave as if you’ve done something shameful by lending it to him.
Q. Apartment angst: My partner “Z” and I are apartment-searching, as we’re moving next month for his new job. I will be keeping my current job but working from home, and he’ll be working full-time onsite at a factory.
Z makes considerably more money than I do. We’ve gotten around this in the past by each contributing an amount proportionately relative to our income. I would like to live in a nicer apartment, as I’ll be spending all my time working from home there (and likely my free time for the foreseeable future because of the pandemic). Z has started balking because all of the apartments in this new city are expensive, and he won’t be home that much anyway, so he doesn’t really care where we live. I feel I should have more of a say because I’ll be the one spending nearly all my time there. It’s started to cause significant conflict in our relationship. Do you have an elegant solution for us?
A: An elegant solution is a slightly tall order, but I’ll take a crack at it: What does a “nicer” apartment mean to you? Nicer in relation to what? How much nicer do you want this apartment to be? Is Z balking at these “nicer” apartments, or at the prospect of moving at all? How close is the floor of your proposed budget range to the ceiling of his? How does he reconcile “I don’t really care where we live” with “I really disagree with all of the places you want to live”? Has he actually said that he doesn’t care where you live, or is that your attempt to paraphrase his position? It seems like he does care, or that at the very least like he has a strong sense of what he doesn’t want. What are some of your biggest sticking points? Is it neighborhood, square footage, building amenities, pet policies, security deposit, monthly rent, number of bathrooms, architectural style? What does “more of a say” mean to you—does it mean you want to ultimately make the decision, or do you want to split the decision 60/40, or what? “More of a say” and “nicer” are unhelpfully vague when it comes to something as specific as choosing an apartment and signing a lease. If you can establish two or three things that are most important to each of you, you might get further in finding a livable compromise than if you stick to “I want more of a say because I’ll be there more/Well, I want more of a say because I’ll be making more money.”
Q. Scale of pleasure: I’m a straight man in my early 40s, divorced and in a loving monogamous relationship with my partner. We have wonderful emotional and sexual compatibility, and I’ve expanded my sexual horizons a lot during this stage of my life. We are free, fun, into pleasuring each other, and willing to explore with heaps of love and sometimes giggles. My question is this, “What’s the best that sex can feel physically?”
I’ve had some pretty fantastic orgasms with my girlfriend and I know she’d say the same. We’ve tried all sorts of positions and techniques—edging, g-spot stimulation (her), prostate stimulation (me), toys, etc. We’ve enjoyed sex under a variety of narcotics, from ecstasy to marijuana to psychedelic mushrooms, which have tripped pleasure sensors in my brain I didn’t know existed. Our emotional connection is the best.
I’m just really curious if anyone has ever established a scale of pleasure? I feel we’ve hit some amazing heights, but what if there’s more? Is this greedy? If I’ve reached the mountaintop already, I could go to my grave with a smile on my face. I’m just curious if there’s some substance or technique we haven’t tried under some unturned stone. What do you think?
A: I think you sound like you’re having a great time, and if there is another way you can experience more physical pleasure than you have already, that you’re likely to find it, because you’ve been incredibly diligent in seeking it out. I have no idea if anyone has ever established a “scale of pleasure,” or how they would go about doing so in a meaningful or consistent fashion—Kant’s Critique of Judgment might be a useful jumping-off point there. But there may be a limit to how much quantifying your pleasure can actually increase your enjoyment of said pleasure.
Q. Grieving a ghosted (alive) friend: My best friend started pulling away from me several years ago. Up until then, we had what I considered a warm, decadelong friendship. We had met through work and still stayed close when she left the company. We had kids about the same time and attended family events for each other. Then she made some questionable life choices (which I didn’t agree with, but I tried to support her nonetheless). The last time I saw her, I felt like I didn’t know her anymore. And then I think we ghosted each other. I kept waiting for her to reach out to me (because I often felt like I was the organizer in our friendship), and she never did. Not one message or call.
It’s been three years. She unfriended me on social media. And I still miss her lots. I haven’t found any new friends that fill the same space of a local bestie-type. Recently, I’ve had several nightmares in which she tells me I was a horrible friend. Sadly, I know she treated me badly toward the end, but I still miss her. Am I gaslighting myself? There are times where I want to reach out and ask what I did wrong. My state is under a stay-at-home order, so making new friends is impossible these days. I keep wanting to reach out and just say hello, thinking I want honesty, respect, and truth—but I think what I actually want is an apology. Is this a friendship that I just silently grieve and finally put behind me?
A: I don’t think you’re “gaslighting” yourself. I’m not even sure that “self-gaslighting” is possible; what you’re describing is a genuine state of uncertainty over whether you could have handled the end of that friendship differently, and it doesn’t mean you’re lying to yourself if you go back and forth between thinking “Maybe if I had said something sooner about feeling like I was always the one initiating our get-togethers, we could have resolved our problems before the friendship became untenable” and “I’m still really angry that she didn’t call me.” I don’t think it’s likely that if you reach out to her after years of silence and say, “I miss you, and I want you to apologize to me,” that you’ll get what you want. (I also don’t know what life choices she made that you found “questionable,” and whether you think you have anything to apologize for on that front.) But if you think you’re up for having a conversation about just what went wrong between the two of you, and you want to ask if she’s interested in the same—not a mutual airing of grievances and gnashing of teeth, but a curious, open-minded discussion of what you avoided discussing years ago, with no expectation that you’ll go back to your old friendship at the end of it—you don’t have much to lose by reaching out and asking. Just keep your expectations low; even if you do have this conversation, I think you’re most likely going to continue mourning this loss, and that it will take time to replace such a long-standing friendship.
Q. Religious housemate stressing me out: I had a new housemate move in two months ago and I’m having a hard time adjusting to their habits. They are deeply religious and sing religious music loudly enough that, while they’re downstairs and I’m in the attic with the door and air vents closed and covered with blankets, I can still hear them. There have also been a couple instances where they attended/watched church services in the living room. While I respect their right to their religion, it also makes me really uncomfortable.
A bit of extra context: I’m Jewish and when I was very young, a trusted adult tried to convert me to Christianity without my parents’ knowledge or permission. Constantly hearing religious music and being unable to get away from it is very anxiety-inducing for me. I’ve texted them about it before and they haven’t responded. They stopped for a couple weeks but are now singing even more loudly. Is it reasonable for me to address this? If so, how can I approach the situation kindly?
A: Certainly it’s reasonable! Frankly, it’s unreasonable that your roommate ignored your texts on the subject, and I think you should bring this up in person, as part of a formal house meeting where you can establish basic ground rules, and with total confidence. “When you’re singing, it’s loud enough that I can still hear it with my door closed—I need you to keep it down” and “Please don’t watch religious services in the common spaces” are perfectly appropriate house limits, and you should make no apologies for establishing them. You do not need to disclose your childhood experience with a pushy proselytizer in order to establish these rules, and if your housemate keeps singing too loudly even after this conversation and if they don’t respond to texts, head downstairs and say face to face, “Sorry, but I can still hear you upstairs—can you please sing more quietly? Thanks.” That’s as kind as you need to be!
Q. Good as it gets? I am a 44-year-old divorced woman in a relationship with a 50-year-old divorced man. We have been living together for almost eight years and were seeing each other for about two years while we were both still married to other people. So needless to say, our relationship has a bit of a rocky foundation.
I truly love and care about him but I don’t feel like he respects me or my ideas of what a monogamous relationship looks like to me. He cheated on me a few times about six years ago, right in front of me. He was drunk and put his hands on one of his high school girlfriends whom he insisted on keeping as a friend. I had also seen quite a few text messages where he told her he wants to f**k her or asked her for topless pictures. That is cheating by my standards, and she has caused a lot of upset between my spouse and I, to the point where I finally told him she has to go or I can’t stay in the relationship. He unfriended her on Facebook, and I hope he has cut off contact with her. I have also seen messages between him and other women that border on sexual flirting (lots of winking faces from him and suggestive quotes from the women) and I am really starting to feel like he is always lying to me. We rarely have sex and it’s because he doesn’t want to. I also know that he takes vardenafil to get erect and watches porn if he does indulge me in a 5–10 minute sex session.
I just feel like I can’t trust him and I am just wondering if this is as good as it gets in a “relationship.” He always counteracts my inquiries with telling me he loves me even though I’m crazy. I’m not crazy, and I debate on whether I should do these same things back to hurt him so he’ll understand but I’m just not that kind of person.
A: This isn’t anywhere close to “as good as it gets.” This sounds miserable, resentful, degrading, and exhausting. You say that you love him, but that you don’t feel like he respects you or shares your values when it comes to monogamy, that he’s constantly flirting with other women, that you apparently monitor his text messages because you’re so anxious that he’s cheating on you, that you no longer believe anything he says, that you almost never have sex, and that you constantly imagine trying to hurt his feelings on purpose just so he’ll know how you feel. This sounds unbelievably bad, and I think even if you were never in another romantic relationship for the rest of your life, you’d be better off ending this one.
Q. My sister takes forever in the shower: Not a particularly big problem, but it’s still annoying! I’m a college student who’s currently at home due to COVID, and my teen sister (whom I share a bathroom with) can take upwards of an hour in the bathroom! I get that long showers are relaxing, but this is terrible for the environment, not to mention terrible for me. By the time I get to shower, she’s used up all the hot water and I’m freezing even if I turn the faucet all the way up. I can’t shower before her, and I feel really gross if I don’t shower before I go to sleep (so morning showers are out). Any ideas on how to deal with this, short of knocking on the bathroom door every five minutes?
A: What a classic teen movie problem! I think the best time to discuss it is probably in the afternoon, when neither of you need to use the shower and you can approach the conversation nonurgently. “If you take hourlong showers, there’s no hot water left for me and I have to arrange my whole evening around you. What do you think is a reasonable compromise?” Hopefully she’ll take the olive branch and offer you something in return and you two can negotiate from there. If she’s totally closed off to the possibility of change, it might be time to kick things up the chain and ask your parents for help deciding on a schedule (what a fun trip down memory lane that will be!). But you’re not asking for the moon here (there’s a lot of room between “get in and out in four minutes or I’m cutting the power” and “shower for a full episode of CSI: Miami”), and if you can agree on a reasonable time limit in advance, you’ll hopefully only have to knock once.
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks for your help, everyone! Sorry to suggest you should read Kant when what you really want to know is whether there’s better sex you could be having. You don’t have to read Kant if you don’t want to.
From Care and Feeding
Q. New bi mom: My 16-year-old daughter is out (as bi) to her friends and immediate family, but not to her grandparents. While I was having dinner the other night with my mother-in-law, she asked point-blank if she’s gay. Not knowing how to answer (and frankly, new at this), I answered with the truth. I told my husband via text about this and my daughter read that text and now knows about my revelation. I feel terrible. I apologized to her for violating her trust, sharing information that wasn’t mine to share. She’s furious with me for “outing” her. I asked her how I should have handled it, and she said I should have lied and said she is straight. I told her that it wasn’t fair for her to ask me to do that and I need a better way. This is where it stands today. How can I answer these sorts of questions in the future without compromising my daughter’s trust?
Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Get it from Slate.
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