Danny M. Lavery is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Wife spent life savings: I’m married with four little kids. I work, my wife stays home. She has struggled with anxiety and depression, for which she is on medication. We are pretty easygoing, except for one big rift in our marriage: credit cards. I am against them and don’t have one. My wife has always been financially smart and has often taken care of the bills in our home. We agreed that she would use her credit card smartly and pay it off every month. She did not like me seeing her card statements (part of her anxiety is feeling judgment where there is none). I agreed and it was never a problem. However, in the last three months, she has spent our entire life savings in online purchases. I’m devastated. I had put a little aside every month for various projects and vehicle upgrades, and it’s all gone.
My first reaction was nothing but love. I want her to be comfortable enough to come to me when there is a serious issue. But now with sleepless nights and building anger, I don’t have that same compassion. Do you have any advice on how to continue a healthy marriage when we are literally starting over financially?
A: You don’t have to feel compassion right now. Of course you should generally treat your partner with compassion, but you don’t have to place compassion at the forefront, having recently realized the extent of your wife’s deception and betrayal. The fact that she struggles with anxiety and depression is meaningful context, but it does not mean you should close yourself off from reasonable, appropriate anger. Be devastated, and be honest about how she has violated your trust and seriously compromised your financial security. I wonder how you came to know of this violation—did she admit it to you because she felt guilty and wanted to come clean? Or did you find out by accident? That would be a relevant factor when it comes to figuring out where to go from here.
This isn’t solely about making sure your wife feels comfortable all the time so she never lies to you again. You did not cause this problem by failing to prioritize her comfort! She made a series of bad choices, then decided to lie to you about them, because she did not know how to cope with her own feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. You can love her and work on your relationship together—but you should also insist on seeing a counselor together, on reviewing your credit card statements and bills together (if she’s using those cards to pay for shared bills, even if they’re in her name only, I think you have a stake in reviewing the accounts), and on setting up a separate account that she doesn’t have access to so you know your own savings are safe. Take this one day at a time. Balance compassion with appropriate anger, as long as you continue to treat her with basic kindness and respect.
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Q. Neighbor help: Our street formed a pod of eight children during the pandemic. None of us could work from home, but my husband and I have a flexible workweek. We arranged to work weekends; he took two days, I took two days, and Friday was rotated between the other parents.
Except “Mary.” Mary is a single mom with one son. Mary has not lifted a finger to help us out at all. Other parents have stepped up to help us get groceries, do the yardwork, and even clean our home. Mary makes excuses—she is too “busy” or too “tired” or work was “rough.” If she agrees, she will later bail. I am tired of it, particularly because Mary likes to throw herself pity parties—her ex is awful, it is hard raising a boy by herself, etc. Well, everyone has it hard; it is no excuse to make it harder for other people.
My husband and I haven’t had a real weekend off in months and had a crash course in becoming emergency elementary teachers. I raised the question that Mary needs to take one of the Fridays, and it was met with no opposition. I don’t want Mary to feel like we are ganging up on her, but this can’t go on.
A: I don’t know if Mary is the only single parent in your pod, but I think you can both allow yourself to experience real frustration and take her at her word when she says she’s really busy and tired. I think she probably is really busy and tired! I’m sure you all are—I don’t think any parents have an easy job of parenting during the pandemic—but if the rest of you have partners and she doesn’t, it makes sense that she doesn’t have the time/energy/wherewithal to clean your house or get groceries. I don’t say that in order to pressure you into feeling bad for Mary. You don’t have to! But I think you should try to minimize how much time you spend stewing over her, assume that she is going to be less regularly helpful than the other members of the pod, and remind yourself that her son still needs help just as much as the other kids in the neighborhood (and that he has no control over his mother’s behavior).
You can certainly minimize the amount of time you spend listening to Mary’s complaints about her ex, and you can even revisit the work-sharing agreement with her in light of the fact that she hasn’t been able to keep up with the original terms. But I wonder if you’ll get further by asking her what she realistically thinks she can commit to, rather than saying “You’ve got to start taking Fridays.” It would be better (if perhaps less satisfying) to strike a realistic bargain based on terms Mary can honestly handle, instead of saying “Fridays are yours” and then perhaps getting disappointed all over again when she can’t pull it off. (What do her Fridays look like, for example? Go ahead and talk to her about the present schedule, and ask her—as politely as you can muster!—what she thinks she’d be able to take over.)
Good luck! I hope there’s something she can do, even if it’s less than the others, so that you feel like she’s at least trying to meet you halfway. But I’d encourage you to try to look after her kid as much as you can, even if she can’t (or won’t) pitch in.
Q. My dad remarried way too quickly: My mom died 15 months ago. It was unexpected and horrifying. My dad attended a counseling group for widowers, where he met “Sharon.” They fell in love, and when the pandemic began, they decided to get married. Suddenly my family of three became a family of five. Sharon and her son “Abe” moved in with us, and everyone keeps talking about how this was meant to be and how we are supporting each other through our grief.
My brother “Nick” and Abe get along, and my dad has Sharon, and I just miss my mom. I miss her so much I can’t breathe sometimes, and it makes me hate Sharon and Abe, even though they’re not to blame. My dad remarried Sharon without talking to Nick or me, so it’s not like he cares about how we feel. My grandparents would let me move in with them if I asked, because they were pissed when he remarried Sharon so quickly, but it’d kick off a big fight with my dad. I don’t know what to do.
A: Can you talk to your grandparents (and your father) about the possibility of an extended visit? If you’re attending school remotely right now, you might be able to do so without totally upending your daily schedule, and you don’t necessarily have to frame it as a permanent move or even as a reaction to your father’s remarriage, if you’re worried about starting a fight you’re not prepared to have yet. There are plenty of pandemic-related reasons you might want a change of pace, and if it’s possible to do so while mitigating your risks (if your grandparents have been vaccinated, for example, or if you’re able to quarantine between moving from your house to theirs), a few months away might do a lot to relieve some of the pressure you’re under.
I do hope, however, that you at least consider the possibility of talking to your father about your need for space. I’m so sorry he didn’t talk to you or your brother before remarrying. That’s not to say he should have offered you the chance to veto his relationship, just that it would have increased the trust and security among the three of you if he had given you the opportunity to talk about your concerns, your grief, and your limits before taking such a big step. If everyone else in your household is exclusively focusing on how much this remarriage was “meant to be” and how great it is that you can all support one another, it’s no wonder that you feel isolated and constrained. Blending families can be complicated and hard even under the best circumstances without adding grief into the mix, and while I wouldn’t encourage you to use the word hate with your father, you have every right to ask for space: “I know you love Sharon, and both she and Abe have been friendly and polite, but I’m not able to move at the same pace as you.”
Prioritize your own grief and need for support, rather than trying to force yourself to stay quiet because everyone else in the house seems happy. As long as you can speak civilly (think “I need a break/I’m not ready for X” rather than “I hate you”), I don’t think you should worry too much about editing yourself. I can certainly understand why you want to avoid a big fight with your father, but it’s clear you’re not looking to tell him that he should divorce Sharon or apologize for finding love. You just want him to understand that this is sometimes very hard for you, and that the purpose of this increased distance is so that when you do spend time with Sharon and Abe, you’re not overwhelmed or feeling constrained. It’s in the service of developing a meaningful, honest, long-term relationship, rather than being rushed into ready-made intimacy.
Q. Two-guy dilemma: I’ve been dating two guys for several weeks now. It’s been a challenge with the pandemic but I really like both of them. The first guy, “Tod,” is really romantic. He’s a bit quiet and seems very enamored with me. I’m pretty outgoing, and he seems to sit back and enjoy when I get really energetic. The second guy, “Ben,” is really outgoing. We have a lot of fun and joke around almost the entire time we’re together. I really like both of these guys, but I have my reservations about both of them. I worry Tod is a bit too quiet and might get overwhelmed with me down the line. I worry Ben feels a bit too much like a buddy and I’m not getting the romance I would like.
I guess I’m wondering how long I should wait to make a decision about these two? What is normal now? Before the pandemic, I would have thought I should have decided by now, but things have been moving really slow. I haven’t slept with either of them. I’m also wondering if you have any advice on what to do in the interim to figure out which guy is best for me. Any ideas?
A: It strikes me as perfectly reasonable that you would not yet be exclusive with someone you’ve only been dating for “several weeks,” pandemic or no, especially if you haven’t slept together yet and are still getting to know one another. I’d encourage you to think of each guy on his own merits, rather than in relation to each other—if you weren’t also seeing Tod, you’d still want to pay attention to your lack of romantic chemistry with Ben, for example. If you decide you don’t see a future with either guy, and you end things with both of them, that would be fine too. You don’t have to “pick one” so much as you should consider whether or when you want to get more serious with each guy on his own. I also assume that you’re already talking with both of them about your relative exposure risks/getting tested regularly/how many people outside your household you spend time with unmasked or indoors, but if you’re not, you should be.
This is relatively arbitrary, and feel free to pay attention to your own response based on how this suggestion makes you feel, but why not give it another three or four weeks before deciding whether you want to keep seeing either Tod or Ben? I don’t think it’s unusual or misleading to wait a month or two before having a conversation about exclusivity with a date (even three or four is fine, if you ask me, as long as you’re relatively upfront about your interests and expectations). You’re certainly not doing anything wrong. This is what dating is! You don’t have to go from a second date to a serious, committed, long-term relationship. The whole point is that it takes a while to get to know someone well enough to decide whether you can see a future together.
Q. Dysphoria and the gynecologist: My nonbinary friend has really killer periods. I thought he was being dramatic, but he once told me a story of passing a kidney stone and said it felt like his period pain, just in a different location. I was helped dramatically with my own period troubles with a visit to a gynecologist and an implant covered completely by insurance, but I know my friend is afraid of doctors, and a gynecologist would be even worse. It’s difficult to see my friend of 30 years in this much pain every month, knowing that there could be a treatment, but it’s also not my life. If you think I should say something, could you help me with the words? Scripting really helps.
A: I wouldn’t over-script this one—just ask your friend if it’s OK to offer some advice, then repeat what you’ve said in your letter. Mention your own relevant experience, acknowledge his fear of doctors, then ask if there’s anything you can do to help, like researching trans-competent OB-GYNs or going with him to his first appointment. (I don’t think you should mention that you used to think he was just being dramatic, though; feel free to keep that one to yourself.)
Q. COVID bed death: My partner and I had been dating for about six months when the pandemic hit. Once lockdown started, she moved in and we’ve been living together ever since. This has been amazing for our relationship in most ways: We have better communication, we’re closer, we still love spending time together even though we’re around each other all the time, we’re great at sharing space, etc.
The only problem is that our once-flourishing sex life has all but disappeared. This was never even close to an issue pre-pandemic, and both of us have always valued the fact that we couldn’t get enough of each other. We’re both still very attracted to each other, but it’s almost as though actually having sex has become a chore. We’ve talked about it a lot and we’re moving past the stage of being embarrassed about experiencing “lesbian bed death,” but we’re still struggling to find a solution. Both of us are under increasing stress from work, we’re both feeling shitty about our pandemic bodies, and there have been a variety of outside stressors, so we know all of that is contributing. However, we still feel confused about what exactly is going on. We are still wildly in love and need help figuring out how to work through this. How can we reconnect? How can we stop worrying that this is some big omen that our relationship is doomed? Is this normal? Is it even possible to measure that in the midst of a pandemic?
A: I don’t think it’s unusual that your sex life has taken a back seat now that you two are spending all of your time together! (I very much doubt that you’re alone in this, for what it’s worth.) One important question is whether masturbation feels like a chore now too—if it doesn’t, you might find that mutual masturbation is a relatively low-impact short-term fix, so that you still experience regular sexual intimacy but without necessarily having to wade through body image issues. You’re both aware that you’re under increased amounts of stress and anxiety in general, which can often affect one’s libido, and it’s difficult to experience anything like sexual urgency when you’re living in someone else’s pocket for months on end. It’s great that you’re able to talk about your embarrassment, which is hugely important. So many people find it unbearable to discuss things they find embarrassing, and you should give yourselves credit for talking about this openly and affectionately, even if that doesn’t result in an instant solution.
To that end, I don’t think your expectation should be that any amount of planning or negotiating or schedule-changing is going to make the rest of the pandemic a really thrilling, robust sexual period for either of you. That’s more than fine. That doesn’t mean it’s no big deal (especially since you say you miss your formerly flourishing sex life!), but it might help to go easy on yourself, acknowledge that some of these factors are way outside of your control, and plan to revisit when you’re able to regularly and safely leave the house, spend your working hours largely apart, and actually have an answer to the question “So how was your day?” again. In the meantime, you might want to pick one day a month (or once a week, depending on how your week is going!) where you plan to spend as much of the afternoon apart as you reasonably/safely can before you have sex in the evening. You can set that day aside—not necessarily as a chore or the day you “have to” have sex, but as the day you want to specially reserve for anticipation, solitude-then-togetherness, and sex (or at least some enthusiastic making out). But keep going easy on yourselves—it’s definitely a sign of the times, and not an indicator that you two are sick of each other.
Q. Revenge served ice cold? My friend Alton has been bragging for months about the windfall he’s made investing in Bitcoin. I’m really happy for him, but he’s acting like some sort of investing genius when really it was 100 percent luck. I had been biting my tongue, but then I got a little tipsy at a party and said out loud what everyone else is thinking: that he has been acting like a snob ever since he lucked his way into getting rich. I said it a little more harshly than I should have, but I felt like he deserved to know what people have been saying. The host, Chris, asked me to leave the party, to which I correctly responded that Chris has been talking more trash about Alton than anyone else for months. I left the party. I said sorry to Alton the next day and showed him a bunch of messages where Chris talked trash about Alton.
Now I realize I know another secret about Chris that I have been keeping in the vault: that he cheated on his girlfriend with his ex two years ago during spring break. I asked my roommate whether I should reveal the secret. My roommate says I’m being petty, but I say Chris started this when he asked me to leave the party when all I did was tell the truth. What is the right thing to do? I say Chris’ girlfriend has a right to know.
A: Come now, be honest with yourself! You do not care about Chris’ girlfriend’s “rights.” You are angry with Chris for calling attention to your drunken rudeness, and you want to hurt and embarrass him. You already have, of course, by showing his text messages to Alton—and that’s another friend you’ve sought to hurt and embarrass recently, instead of having a polite or sensible conversation with him months ago when you first noticed he was bragging. You seem very focused on what people “deserve” in order to justify your obvious attempts to lash out, and I think a better use of your time than trying to hurt Chris’ girlfriend is to try to figure out why you seem to hate all of your friends.
Q. Re: Dad remarried way too quickly: Losing a parent is so isolating when the remaining parent isn’t supporting you the way you need. I don’t think your dad has done anything inherently wrong, but it’s clear that you need support in your grief and aren’t able to get it from him. I think you could really benefit from attending (probably virtually, at this point) a grief support group where you can talk freely about your feelings with other people who will completely understand what you’re saying and won’t be distracted by their own feelings of defensiveness.
Alternatively, you could ask if your dad would be open to family counseling for just the two of you so that you guys have a safe space to try and reconnect and focus on each other.
A: I think that’s a great suggestion. It seems like perhaps part of the problem with the fight between the letter writer’s father and grandparents was that they just got “really pissed” that he remarried quickly. If all they were able to offer him was “It’s too soon” or “You shouldn’t be in a relationship,” I’m not surprised that he got defensive. But while he has every right to pursue a fulfilling relationship now, I do think he missed obvious opportunities to learn more about how his kids were doing and to involve them in decisions that affect them. There’s a lot of room in between “You shouldn’t get remarried until X number of years have passed” and “Remarry and move in together on your own timetable, without consulting your kids who still live at home with you.”
Q. Re: Dysphoria and the gynecologist: Queer lady here, married to a queer lady gynecologist. Please encourage your friend to visit a queer-friendly gynecologist! There are often lists available online of providers offering queer-affirming health care (our city has an “Out” list, created by our local LGBT community center). There are so many gynecologists out there who are well versed in nonbinary care. Your friend should not have to suffer this level of physical pain every month. If you live in a more remote area, it is not at all unusual for folks to drive one-plus hours to find a queer-affirming doctor—please consider this option. You sound like a caring and considerate friend.
A: Thanks for this! I hope there are a number of options, and that none of them is an hour’s drive away.
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks, everyone! See you next week, and until then, design your own T-shirts, make your own Valentine’s Day, and don’t chew out your friends when you get drunk at a party.
From Care and Feeding
Q. Six months old! My husband and I have a 6-month-old daughter who is amazing and doing really well, per her doctor. She is in a day care center four days a week that for the most part seems to be going well. However, they provide daily notes about when she ate, slept, etc., which include comments that she had a “tough day with floor play,” and they have said in the past that she is “needy.” This seems crazy to me—she is a baby! Also, she often plays on the floor at home, and while she does not love being on her tummy, she is able to roll on her back and play with us or on her own.
The day care recently sent home a two-page 8-to-12-month developmental checklist (keep in mind our daughter is 6 months old) with everything indicated as “No” for my daughter with a note saying that if floor play is not encouraged at home, we may possibly need early intervention so she can reach her important milestones.
I was so upset I burst into tears. I do not understand why they just left this for me to find rather than discussing it with me. Also, her doctor and I don’t have concerns about her development, but now I am worried they are judging us each day. This does not feel like we are on a team in raising my daughter. What can I say to them to improve the situation? Is this crazy or am I doing something wrong? Is it normal to receive this type of feedback?
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.