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.
I’m a man in his mid-40s who has been happily married for 10 years. I particularly enjoy my wife’s dry, some would say sarcastic, sense of humor. Her wit not only attracted me to her as a partner, but it was one of the things that got me through a difficult time in my career, enabling me to see the humor in absurd and uncomfortable situations. About 18 months ago my wife’s mother passed away suddenly and my wife began seeing a counselor. After a few appointments, the counselor prescribed an antidepressant medication, Paxil, and my wife’s has been taking it ever since. As a result, my wife’s personality has changed. Not dramatically, but enough so that she has become a glass-half-full, constantly cheerful type of person. I have no idea if this is common or perhaps if she was always depressed and her dark humor existed for her to deal with it. I’m glad she’s happy now but I thought we were happy before and frankly, I miss my old wife! The new rainbows-and-sunshine person I’m living with gives me a headache and I find myself less attracted to her. I feel like a jerk and don’t know what to do. Help!
I’ll get back to you with an answer in a few weeks, because now that my husband has seen your question I assume he’ll start slipping Paxil into my half-empty coffee cup hoping for a similar change in my disposition. I have had many letters from people desperate to get their annoying loved ones on some kind of medication to take the edge off of jagged personalities. But I’ve never received such a cri de coeur from someone who wants the old sarcastic, unmedicated person back. But as an old, sarcastic, unmedicated person myself I appreciate hearing that not everyone wants a partner who has the buoyant outlook of SpongeBob SquarePants. You’re right, however, that telling your spouse her new cheerfulness has you wanting to get into bed, alone, and pull the covers over your head, is going to be a difficult, even baffling conversation. It’s best if you first broach this in the context of just checking in with her about the grief that propelled her to the therapist’s office. If she’s feeling more acceptance about her mother’s death, you can ask if the therapy has moved on from that to deal with other aspects of her life. This will give you the opportunity to talk about whether she feels the medication is still necessary and why. Depending on how that goes, you can say that you miss the sarcastic take she had on life. Tell her you don’t want to interfere with the treatment plan she has arrived at with her therapist, but as far as you’re concerned, her personality never needed any tweaking. —Emily Yoffe*
From: Help! Antidepressants Have Made My Wife Too Cheery. (April 11, 2013)
My youngest sister, a junior in college, is pregnant. She is friendly with the baby’s father but is not in a relationship with him, nor does she wish to have one. My sister and the baby’s father decided to give their child up for adoption and quickly found a couple. I am having trouble accepting my sister’s decision. I understand being 21 and finding yourself pregnant is not ideal, but our parents are well-off and are paying for her education. I said to her that as a mother myself, I did not understand how she could give her child away. I told her I would be happy to watch her baby while she is taking courses, since my kids are in school. I know our parents would help with the finances. I simply cannot understand why she is choosing adoption when she has support, both financial and otherwise. I think she is being a bit entitled. After all, she got herself into this mess, and it doesn’t seem fair that she just gets to put the child up for adoption and resume her life. How can I impress upon her that she can, and should, take more responsibility for her actions?
Your sister is making one of the most difficult, and generous, decisions a young woman can make. After what must have been many agonizing nights of wondering how to proceed once she found herself pregnant, she realized that being a single college student meant she could not provide the life she would want for her child. So she decided that out of her pain would come something good, and a grateful couple will get to be parents. The real issue raised in your letter is what kind of person you are, since your attitude toward your sister is both contemptuous and baffling. Your opinion is irrelevant, so it doesn’t matter that you can’t accept your sister’s decision. You say that as a mother you cannot understand how your sister could “give her child away.” (I was once rightly rebuked by an adoptive mother who explained that children aren’t “given up” or “given away” but are “placed” for adoption—an important distinction that puts the act in better context.) Yet you view the pregnancy as a “mess,” one that your sister should not be able to just walk away from. Apparently you think she should be forced to raise her child as a fit punishment for what you see as her sense of entitlement. Perhaps the thought of handing her child over to you every day, and getting one of your superior little lectures, helped your sister make up her mind. No woman who places a child for adoption, no matter how right the decision, simply resumes her life unchanged. But her choice does leave me thinking that when the time comes and she is ready, she will be a wonderful mother. —EY
From: Help! Girl Scouts Are Bullying My Kid. (Oct. 20, 2011)
I have been with my boyfriend for four years, and he is my best friend as well as the man I love. He has a friend of 10 years who is extremely flirtatious, a massive womanizer, handsome, and charming. I had no interest in him, although we got along really well. A little over a year ago, he appeared at my apartment door drunk one night. He said he couldn’t afford a cab. I let him in so he could call my boyfriend to pick him up. After I rejected several of his advances, he raped me in my apartment. Before he left, he said if I told anyone, everyone would think it was consensual, given his reputation and my friendship with him. I never told anyone, and my boyfriend has never found out. The friend has since moved away. Over the last year, I have had repeated nightmares and panic attacks. I’m haunted by the other women this man may assault. My boyfriend only knows I’ve been going through a “rough patch,” but he doesn’t know why. He’s still in touch with this friend. I love my boyfriend so much, and I know he adores me, but I can’t tell him. He will believe his friend over me, and I will lose him forever. Not to mention that I was the one who let the man into my apartment. I feel I am close to cracking all the time. Since that night, my body won’t respond sexually at all. Although we have sex sporadically, I often have to go to the bathroom to cry afterward. My boyfriend is understandably frustrated and has offered to come with me to see a doctor. I’m horrified of the idea of anybody, therapist or otherwise, probing into my sex life. It would be kinder to finish the relationship so the wonderful, kind, and funny man I’m with can find somebody who can make him happy again, but I don’t want to lose him. I don’t know what to do, and I’ve paid a high price for my stupidity. Please help me.
From: Help! I Was Raped by My Boyfriend’s Friend. How Do I Tell My Boyfriend? (Oct. 10, 2013)
You did nothing wrong. Let me repeat: You did nothing wrong. Anyone in your situation would have let in a friend. But it turns out this man is a stone-cold rapist, a woman-hater, and likely a psychopath. You were violently assaulted and traumatized by this monster. But now it’s time for you to stop blaming yourself and get the professional assistance that will help you heal. First, call the hotline at RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. They will put you in touch with a local rape counseling center, where you can start the process of talking about what happened and finally being released from the state of trauma you’ve been in. You say the idea of talking about your rape is horrifying to you. But you wrote to me because you realized you could no longer carry this burden alone. Of course it will be painful to discuss, but it will be the beginning of feeling you’re getting your life back. Think how much it will mean to have professionals reassure you that none of this—none of this—is your fault. Next, you should talk to the police. It may be that it’s impossible now to prosecute your assault—again, that is not your fault—but the police should look into what happened, and at the least a file will have been opened on this man. You’re absolutely right that you weren’t his first victim, and he will strike again until someone is able to stop him. You also have to tell your boyfriend. If this prospect seems too overwhelming, a counselor can help you explain to him what happened. As horrifying as your story is, there will be a kind of terrible relief for him in understanding, finally, what’s been going on with you. If your boyfriend is the wonderful, caring person you say he is, he will be devastated to think he unwittingly brought this criminal into your life and you were too afraid to tell him what happened. If he doesn’t believe you and thinks you had some kind of consensual encounter with his creep of a friend, then your boyfriend is not the man you thought he was, and it’s time you moved on. You were attacked by a beast. Let’s hope he can be stopped so he won’t hurt anyone else. —EY
For several years I had a debilitating illness that nearly killed me and clouded my thinking. I was in the hospital for months on end. Throughout all of it, there was a wonderful man, K, by my side who did everything to be there for me. We used to be friends but ended up as a couple during my illness, despite the fact that I was too weak for anything remotely sexual. This could have ended as a tragically doomed terminal-illness romance. But it didn’t. Despite the doctors’ expectations, I recovered. I’m healthy and I can live my life to the fullest. I’m back in school and things are going great. With the exception of K. I broke things off with him not too long after I recovered. I felt awful about it. He’d spent so much time and energy on me that I felt as if I had taken advantage of him. But we just weren’t compatible; the illness was what held us together. It was like waking up with someone after you’ve been really, really drunk. I tried to be gentle, but since I broke it off he has left hundreds of messages on my phone. He has accused me of emotional abuse and claimed that I’m the reason he has suicidal thoughts. I don’t want to speak to him, but what am I supposed to tell a guy who sends me an email saying that it’s his birthday and he’s alone and asking me to just talk for five minutes? When I’ve done this it ends up with him confessing his love! I should be grateful to him, but I just can’t stand him. Please help.
You’ve awakened from an illness that threatened to end your life, only to find you’re starring in a stalker movie. Your situation brought to mind the film of the Stephen King novel, Misery. (Please don’t see it.) K is not your Florence Nightingale, he’s not your friend, and he was never your boyfriend. Your analogy about drunkenness is apt, but K sounds like the kind of person who instead of waiting for you to get drunk on your own, would slip you a roofie. But he didn’t have to: Your illness put you in a state in which you were not capable of giving consent to a relationship. K used your incapacity to insinuate himself into your life while getting everyone to think he was a sainted presence beside your bed. I’m sure what he actually wanted to do was get into your bed, so thank goodness you were surrounded by bustling hospital staff. K sounds disturbed; he must leave you alone. His behavior and threats of suicide because of you are alarming. I hope you’ve kept his texts and emails, especially those that blame you for his thoughts of violence. You may not have made it clear to him that your interactions must cease, so do so unequivocally. Respond to his latest text or email by saying he should call the suicide prevention hotline because he needs to talk to a professional about these thoughts. Then tell him it’s your wish that you two not communicate anymore, period. If he violates this, you need to talk to the police. Explain the situation and say his behavior is escalating. If you are a college student, also bring this to the attention of the campus police. I don’t want to unnecessarily worry you, but I believe you are being stalked, so you need to take steps to educate yourself and get the help you need. I’m glad you survived one ordeal, and sorry you are facing another. Here’s hoping K just slinks away.—EY
From: Help! I’m Being Stalked by the Man Who Nursed Me Through a Serious Illness. (Sept. 26, 2013)
Correction, Jan. 10, 2021: This article originally misspelled Emily Yoffe’s last name.