Dear Prudence

Help! I Only Date Married Men. And I Like It.

I have never felt guilty.

A woman with her index finger in front of her lips.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we will be diving into the Dear Prudie archives and sharing a selection of classic letters with our readers.

Dear Prudence,

I have always tried to be a kind person. However, I have lived my adult life in a way many people would disapprove of. During the last 11 years I have been a mistress of five married men. One had a long string of previous affairs. One was a friend for whom I had much tenderness and who told me he would rather have had me. One was a three-year relationship that caused deep feelings and deep distress. I do not regret these or the other adventures. I have not been the initiator of the affairs; the men have pursued me. Apart from one, I would not have wanted to live with these men. I do not know any of the five wives, and I am discreet. When people discuss adultery, the cheater and the other woman are often spoken of harshly as deceivers and egoists. I have never felt like either, and have never felt guilty. Is it possible the rest of the world has a limited emotional imagination and cannot see that such affairs are meetings between two people who don’t want to hurt innocent partners, but who choose to explore their intimacy and chemistry in secret? Or have I somehow become morally crippled since I can so easily do something most people would chastise me for?

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Give the rest of the world more credit. Most people’s emotional imagination is able to grasp that affairs are precisely about delivering the kick of clandestine intimacy and chemistry. That they exist in a nether world of pure sex, without all the domestic thrill kills of bills, groceries, kids, and mortgages. Of course it’s silly to say there’s only one way to live and everyone should settle down to a monogamous relationship. (I don’t have to tell you, since your lovers are all people who vowed to do just that and then found it lacking.) But you sound proud of your furtive life—you’ll never be the deluded wife who doesn’t know that the real secret to her devoted marriage is that her husband has a girlfriend. Sure, you can say you were never the initiator. But at least acknowledge how much you enjoy the pursuit, how well-versed you are in sending signals you’re available. You’ve ruminated here about your choices, so I suggest you examine why you so easily have slipped into the role of other woman. Maybe you are afraid of being in a sustained, open relationship. Maybe you’ve become addicted to the narcotic of the illicit. Maybe you like the safety of knowing the affair is bound to end. Imagine that you are writing to me five years from now, and you’ve concluded affair No. 7, or 8. Perhaps in that time you will have started seeing these interludes as not so much tender and deep but tawdry and dishonorable. There are women who spend their whole lives as the other woman—until perhaps they realize that while men are still pursuing, they’re no longer pursuing them. If this is not a place you want to end up, take a long break from this role. Decide not to exchange those glances, or stop at just one drink, and see how it feels to create a different kind of life. —Emily Yoffe

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From: Help! I Only Date Married Men. And I Like It. (Aug. 2, 2012)

Dear Prudence,

I am 27 and very excited to be pregnant with my first child. However the thought of bringing an innocent little baby into this world has forced me to face some mistakes from my own past. From the ages of 12 to 16, I babysat for a little boy three to four days a week until he started school. I had a lot of pent-up anger from my own childhood, and something about having control over this little boy was a power trip to me. I played with him and taught him to read, but I also took advantage of the fact that his parents approved of spanking. I went overboard and would spank him for things that were not punishable, beside the fact that I shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place. Once I started I couldn’t stop. I feel disgusting admitting this but I believe I enjoyed it. I would also do things to shame him like make him stand in a corner with no clothes on. I moved away a couple of years after I stopped baby-sitting for him. This little boy loved me and trusted me and I have never confessed this abuse to anyone. I want to apologize to him and to his parents, yet if he doesn’t remember this I don’t want him to hear this now. What should I do?

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It speaks highly of your maturity and moral growth that you can look back on what you did with insight and disgust. Something was awry both in your childhood and that of your charge. It sounds as if you were not just a babysitter, but a part-time nanny to this child while you were just a kid yourself. None of the parents involved seem to have been paying enough attention to their children. Since you were feeling anger because of your own upbringing, it’s unsurprising that you turned your frustration on the one vulnerable person for whom you were responsible. I spoke to Sherry Hamby, a professor in the psychology department at Sewanee, the University of the South, and editor of the journal Psychology of Violence, about what you should do now. First of all, she says that while what you describe was cruel, it probably did not cross into legally punishable physical or sexual abuse. She points out that you are understandably looking for catharsis and possibly absolution, but the real issue is what effect your confession would have on the boy. She says it’s probable that he has only dim memories of a baby sitter who could be both loving and hateful. For you to show up now and offer details of what you did would likely just be confusing and damaging. Hamby says since you left his life long ago, just keep things that way. Although you have made personal progress, becoming a mother can take you back in unexpected ways to your own childhood, and caring full-time for a baby can tax even the most mature and loving mother. I think it would good for you to talk to a counselor before your child is born about dealing with your emotions and impulse control. You also need to make sure you have the kind of support in place that will provide you with the encouragement and respite any parent needs. —EY

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From: Help! I Used to Spank the Boy I Babysat. Like All the Time. (Jan. 31, 2013)

Dear Prudence,

 My co-workers and I have all been victims of a lunch thief over the last couple of months. We’ve tried putting notes and signs on our lunches asking people to please leave them alone, we’ve spiked our lunches with hot sauce or pepper in an attempt to make them unappealing (which also leaves them inedible for us), but the lunch thief has still been striking a couple of times a week. This was brought up at our last company-wide meeting, with dire consequences promised if it doesn’t stop. After having his lunch stolen three times in one week one of my co-workers installed a hidden camera in our break room. It only took two days to catch someone stealing a lunch and it was our CEO! Only three of us know it is him, and my co-worker has it recorded, but we are not sure what to do about this now. Our co-worker doesn’t want to turn this over to HR all by himself, but my other co-worker and I are really hesitant about turning in our CEO. I don’t want to lose my job over this! Should we turn him in, or destroy the evidence and invest in insulated lunch boxes instead?

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I wonder if stealing subordinates’ lunches correlates with other activities, like embezzlement? Maybe the boss’ sandwich thievery is not just a cry for a BLT, but for help. However, you seem to have supplied the answer to whether or not to report in your own letter. The spying co-worker doesn’t want to tell HR alone, and you don’t want to join him. I also want to raise the possibility that setting up a covert operation in the office—even though you caught the thief—might itself be grounds for termination. Of course the boss, who in stealing your cheese and crackers sounds a little crackers, shouldn’t be doing this. But he has hiring and firing power and all of you who know want to stay out of the line of fire. It sounds as if insulated lunch boxes in a desk drawer is a good solution. —EY

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From: Help! My Lunch Keeps Getting Stolen at Work—by the CEO. (June 9, 2015)

Dear Prudence,

Last summer, my 14-year-old son Andy went to the same summer camp as his classmate Jenny. He claims they “dated” while at camp and that she “ghosted” him as soon as they came home. I wrote it off as a popular girl dumping a sweet but socially awkward boy due to peer pressure. Recently, Jenny’s parents contacted me claiming that Andy has been stalking Jenny. Unbeknownst to me, Andy sent Jenny thousands of texts and emails; he also called her a lot. Jenny never responded or told him to stop. At school she ignored him. Jenny claims she and Andy never had a relationship. Her parents have wanted to meet with the principal of their school (and possibly with the police) so that we can discuss how to protect Jenny from Andy’s “stalking.” I’m a single mom, and Jenny’s parents are wealthy. How should I advocate for my son?

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I think you should speak to him with this new information and see how capable he is of responding to it. If he continues with his “summer romance” story, which seems fairly obviously untrue, it may be that he is experiencing a break with reality and needs immediate psychiatric help. You say Jenny never “told him to stop,” and it concerns me that you’re trying to place equal responsibility at her feet. Whether they dated or not, your son (and you!) should be aware that sending “thousands of texts and emails” to someone who has stopped responding is a wildly inappropriate, threatening response to being dumped. He absolutely is stalking her. Whether Andy perceives his messages as friendly or not doesn’t matter; the fact that he has sent thousands of messages to her that are clearly unwanted meets just about every definition of stalking there is. Either way, the best way you can advocate for your son is to find a counselor you can trust and get him the help he needs—and make sure he leaves his classmate alone, for good this time. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: Help! My Sweet, Awkward Son Sent Thousands of Texts and Emails to a Girl at School. (March 7, 2016)

More Dear Prudence

My husband and I are looking to purchase a new home. We’ve seen probably a dozen houses in the last couple of weeks, and only two have really felt immediately like they could be “home.” We lost out on the first to another buyer, but the second is still a possibility. Then we learned that the house was the site of an extremely grisly murder—a husband dismembered his wife there. We would be the next occupants. We’ve lived in a few other houses with a “past,” and haven’t felt uncomfortable. But I’m taken aback by the strong negative reaction from members of our extended family. Their biggest concern, and ours too, is our kids, who are in junior high and high school, who we haven’t told about the house. Thanks to the Internet, we know all the horrific details of the case, and that information will be just as easily accessible to them. Are we crazy to think that one bad night in a house’s 100-year history is simply that, one bad night? My husband is a pastor and I am a mortician, so who better to buy this place?

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