Dear Prudence

I Don’t Like My Newly Sober Wife

She seems happier, but I’m miserable.

a hand holding a joint with an X over it
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Olena Bondarenko/IStock/Getty Image Plus.

Dear Prudence,

My wife decided two months ago to quit smoking pot. We’re both daily smokers, and our use admittedly increased during the pandemic. She’s tried to cut back a few times but wasn’t successful, so she quit for good. She attends online Marijuana Anonymous meetings, where it was recommended that she should stop drinking as well, because they think there is a risk of switching one dependency for another. So she is pursuing sobriety with a vengeance. I feel terrible, but I don’t like my wife very much when she’s sober. She refers to herself as a “recovering addict” and is seeing an actual substance abuse counselor (as opposed to her regular therapist). I think this is ridiculous because pot isn’t addictive and her habit wasn’t that bad to begin with. She’s full of “affirmations” now, and I hear her reciting them multiple times per day, and she sounds so pretentious. She relies on a very specific routine and will not deviate from it, even on weekends. She doesn’t give herself much free time and says she needs to keep busy in order to maintain sobriety. She won’t watch TV with me anymore because that’s when she used to smoke the most, and she doesn’t want to feel the temptation. We can only have sex at certain times of day, when she has a pre-scheduled “break.”

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She says that I don’t have to quit smoking but gets mad if she can smell the smoke on me. I’m smoking way less as a result, which she thinks is great and thanks me for being “supportive.” But really I’m just trying to avoid her wrath, which is making me resentful. The thing is that she seems happier since making these changes, but I feel like she’s a totally different person. I wish I didn’t feel this way. I find myself hoping that she’ll hit a bad patch and go back to smoking again. I know that’s wrong, and I won’t deliberately undermine her efforts if this is what she wants, but I don’t know how to talk to her about this without being “unsupportive” of her sobriety.

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—Put Off by Sobriety

It seems important to acknowledge that you don’t support her sobriety before considering any kind of serious conversation on the subject! I realize that you don’t plan to secretly undermine her (a good call, by the way) and that you respect her autonomy, but there’s a serious discrepancy between your shared understandings of addiction, dependency, recovery/sobriety, scheduling, relaxation, intimacy, and routine, and if you’re going to get anywhere together, you’ll have to start out by being honest with each other. That doesn’t mean you should just say the most brutal and upsetting thing that comes to your mind right away. Nothing like, “I find your new schedule mind-numbingly rigid and generally think you’re an uptight bore now.” But if she’s genuinely happier and healthier not smoking every day, and finds these affirmations and more consistently scheduled days to be an improvement over the daily-smoking TV marathons that got you two through the first leg of the pandemic, then you’ll be much better off talking honestly with her about what you want out of your relationship—even if you’re afraid she won’t like what you have to say—than sitting around and hoping she starts smoking weed again.

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Dear Prudence,

When she was 24, my girlfriend, “Lisa,” lost her mother to a sudden illness. By all accounts, Lisa’s mother was incredible—intelligent, accomplished, a pillar of the community. Five years later, Lisa still struggles with the loss. I know I will never truly understand what this loss feels like. My own mother is alive and well. I’ve tried to be supportive nevertheless. Lisa has been pretty clear that she has “little patience” for people who have bad relationships with their (living) mothers. My own mother was borderline abusive. She kicked me out for my sexual orientation, turned my siblings against each other, and cheated on my father for years. We do not have a good relationship. Lisa knows to not push me to make amends. However, I can tell she is impatient and displeased that I don’t “appreciate” my mother while she’s still alive. This is the only fight Lisa and I keep coming back to. In all other ways, we are compatible and she’s the love of my life. But I will never be close with my mother, and Lisa’s will never come back. Does this mean we will never get over this dynamic? Or should we just agree to put a moratorium on all mother-related discussions? What if this keeps coming up?

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—Maternal Mismatch

I agree it’s time to put a moratorium on mother-related conversations (at least about your mother) until Lisa is capable of having a conversation with you on the subject, rather than trying to use the specter of her dead mother to force you into renewed closeness with your abusive one. If all you two can ever agree upon is that your mother as a discussion topic is a no-go, that’s fine; you don’t have to dump the love of your life because she can’t get perspective on this. But maternal relationships aren’t bound by the transitive property, and you can’t swap out one mother for another. No matter how much Lisa might still be haunted by her mother’s death, she’s still very much in the wrong, even if she’s only indirectly communicating her impatience and displeasure that you’re not close with the women who threw you out of the house for being gay. Ask Lisa if she thinks she can abide by the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” principle. If she can’t, then you should feel free to insist that this topic is off-limits.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a woman in my 20s, and I find it impossible to stay single. I have been in serious relationships since I was 13, with no real breaks in between. I have spoken to therapists about my codependency and self-esteem issues, and I logically understand that being alone won’t be so bad once I get used to it, but I just can’t seem to figure it out. I just ended my most recent romantic relationship, and this time I really, seriously want to be single, but I’m scared of falling into my old patterns or just being miserable and lonely until I give in to a new relationship. Do you have any tips on how I can break this bad habit and learn to love being a strong, independent lady who doesn’t need a man?

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—Struggling with Singleness

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I’m not so sure I think it is a bad habit! I realize that’s slightly against the advice-columnist grain and that I ought to say something about how important it is to get to know yourself before you try to love someone else. But I’m less interested in prescribing you a particular length of singledom or in assigning you solitude for solitude’s sake. There’s value in enjoying singleness, but it’s also possible to cultivate meaningful alone time even while in a romantic relationship. You can also see a therapist, reconsider your relationship to codependency and self-esteem, etc, all while dating or in a relationship, too.

Perhaps the better question to ask yourself is: What do you want out of being single? Is there anything beyond a sense that it would be a good idea, like eating your broccoli, that’s motivating this desire? Do you just feel that you’ve dated “too much”? Or are you concerned that you’ve said “yes” to relationships you didn’t want to be in at all simply because someone asked and you were available? If you don’t have a stronger “why” for remaining single than “It seems like a good idea and I’m vaguely concerned I’ve had ‘too many’ relationships,” I imagine you’ll find it difficult to maintain a sense of motivation. I’d instead suggest focusing on what you want to pursue right now—your platonic friendships? Your work with your therapist? Spending meaningful, non-anxious time alone? Dating women?—and identifying specifically what it is about being alone that makes you anxious and looking for alternate ways of dealing with them (aside from getting a boyfriend). But if you meet a guy you like, and you’d like to go out with him, you’re not necessarily sabotaging your own sense of self just by going to dinner, either.

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Help! I Used to Claim I’m Mexican. I’m Not.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Harry Eskin on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

Most people have the wrong idea about my mother. She’s always been the sweet “poster mom” who is also verbally abusive, especially when she’s drinking. She and my father had a pretty distant relationship, and she left us in the worst possible way when I was 12: telling us kids it was our fault for not helping with chores. After that I raised myself and my brother with little help. She rarely had us over, never paid child support, and avoided my brother as he got older because he “wasn’t any fun” (he’s autistic). We have an OK relationship today—that I can only stand because she lives far away. My aunt called me crying a while ago, saying my mother was in the hospital from alcohol withdrawal, because she is an alcoholic. My extended family expected me to be shocked (I wasn’t) and keep telling me that I should try to get her to stop drinking so that she won’t drink herself to death. How much responsibility do I really have here? I’m tempted to wash my hands of it, but I’m starting to suspect she’s getting alcohol-related dementia, which worries me.

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—My Mother’s Keeper

If your mother was recently in the hospital, then the doctors and nurses who treated her will be far better-positioned than you to diagnose alcohol-related dementia and will likely be on the lookout for signs. If concerned children were regularly able to get their parents to stop drinking, whether by exhortation or pleading or ultimatums or any other technique, then Al-Anon meetings would have long since gone extinct. But—as I suspect you know already—the odds that you will be able to change a lifetime of alcohol abuse on the strength of an already-distant relationship are slim to none. Your relatives’ shock, whether genuine or feigned, does not confer responsibility onto you. Even if you were somehow responsible for her well-being, you still wouldn’t have the power to stop someone from drinking who really wants to stay drunk. You may still care about your mother and worry about her health, but that doesn’t make you responsible for her, either. Experiencing worry, anxiety, or even solicitude are not the equivalent of personal responsibility, and you don’t owe a neglectful and abusive parent any help—especially, and tellingly, help that your mother has not asked you for. Your real problem here is less your mother (who doesn’t seem to want anything from you) and more your extended relatives seeking to offload whatever fears or guilt they may feel around her onto you.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Don’t rush to that conclusion after two months, in the middle of a pandemic.”

Danny Lavery and Lauren O’Neal discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

My husband is the youngest of four siblings. For some reason, when we get together with a certain two of them, they tend to speak negatively about him to me. It puts me in a weird position, and I am unsure why they feel so negatively toward him. It is awkward because I feel that they are trying to bond with me by sympathizing with me over his possible faults that make it difficult to be his wife. However, we have a healthy marriage, and I try to be positive. I never bring up these topics and have trouble understanding why they always feel the need to bring them up. Should I address the issue and just let them know that we all have different struggles that need work, in hopes that they will see that I don’t need their sympathy or negativity toward my husband?

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—In-Law Confusion

Yes.

Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit YouGet it from Slate

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Dear Prudence,

I’m a non-binary person who has found empowerment by embracing femininity. Or so I thought! I recently started my first office job, in which it appears that I’m the only person who has ever mentioned being trans or non-binary. Even HR is unsure of how to deal with it. My coworkers were supportive when I came out, but the they/them pronouns I’ve asked everyone to use just aren’t sticking. It’s tough correcting people because when I’m misgendered, it’s usually in the context of a compliment, and I don’t want to seem ungrateful for the praise. But every time I hold back I feel like it’s telling my team that it’s OK to keep using she/her. I don’t want to buzz my head or stop wearing makeup or spend money on masculine clothes I don’t like. And I think it’s silly to change my appearance in order to be respected. How can I push my well-meaning cis coworkers to remember to use my pronouns? Would it be passive-aggressive to wear a they/them pin? How do I gently correct people—alone or in groups—when they misgender me?

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—Non-Binary at Work

Pronoun pins are the sort of thing that work best with people who already know about pronoun pins, in my experience. That’s not to say you can’t start wearing one if you like, just that it’s unlikely to do the work of a follow-up conversation or clear direction from HR. But yes, you can and should correct your colleagues, even if it’s in the context of a compliment. You can be polite, brief, and non-anxious as you would be correcting any other error.

And for whatever it’s worth, while I agree you’re well within your rights to dress however you like for work, I hope you don’t remain under the impression that trans and non-binary people who shave their heads or wear masculine clothing automatically get gendered appropriately and respectfully by their colleagues, either. It’s not a guaranteed path to getting they’d—and all the more reason to follow your own style.

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Classic Prudie

I am a 25-year-old man facing the biggest crisis in my life as I am going to get married. My brief background makes clear my distress. When I was around 10, my female cousin (around the same age) and I used to sleep together. On one such occasion, her hand accidentally touched my thigh and felt something bulging. She asked me what it was. In my childish enthusiasm I opened my shorts and she saw my erect penis. She got excited and started rocking it saying she has been able to see my “shame-shame.” Later, in the same excitement she told all this to her mother as though it were some achievement on her part! For this, both of us got a good spanking with a warning that it is indeed shameful for boys and girls to see the “shame-shame” of one another. As I grew older, I saw the same notion being reinforced in various situations. But the situation I am going to get into demands that the shameful be considered desirable! I have no idea how a grown-up young lady reacts on seeing a penis. Pray tell me whether she would feel shameful, angry, shocked, or worse still mock at my shame-shame. How do I even face the blasphemous prospect of her having to touch it with her hand? I do not see any escape from the situation I find myself in. I would feel extremely relieved if I am able to have a response.

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