Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and sharing a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns—your first month is only $1.
After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve decided to divorce my wife of five years. All we did was fight, and we had little in the way of sexual intimacy. The problem is that my soon-to-be ex-wife just had a baby a few weeks ago. I was thinking about divorce when I found out she was pregnant but decided to stay for the sake of the baby. It’s four weeks after the birth, and things are worse. We fight constantly and we haven’t had sex for almost four months, so last week I finally got the courage to break ties and move into an apartment.
The problem? My friends and family say I’m horrible—that my wife just had a baby; that we’re in the miserable newborn stage and of course we’d fight; that she’s not even cleared by the doctor for sex yet, so of course we’re not sleeping together. Even my brother says I’m being selfish. What do I say to these people? My wife stopped being the woman I loved almost a year ago, but I only hung around because she got pregnant.
I don’t know that “hanging around” was the best response to a surprise pregnancy. You didn’t stay for the sake of the baby; you merely postponed your exit for the duration of the pregnancy! You seem to have chosen the worst of both worlds over the past year: You halfheartedly decided to stay a bit longer without trying anything new, and now you’ve chosen an awfully inopportune time to move out. (I’m not enormously sympathetic to your four-month-long dry spell, but I’ll take you at your word that sex had been infrequent long before this particular jab of celibacy.)
Frankly, your biggest problem is not what people are saying about you but about how you’re going to be a present co-parent to a month-old baby and a newly minted ex-wife. If your friends and family criticize you for moving out at a particularly inconvenient time, you may have to simply bear it as the price you pay for leaving a marriage where you’ve already emotionally checked out. If pressed, you can simply tell the truth: “Our marriage has actually been rocky for quite a while, but I think this is for the best, and now I’m trying to focus on raising our child together.” —Danny M. Lavery
From: Help! I’m Divorcing My Wife a Month After She Gave Birth. (June 9, 2016)
My husband’s parents divorced about two years ago, which was the same time we were getting engaged and then married. He’s in his early 30s, but the separation was still extremely upsetting for him. We learned his mom had been having an affair with a married man before the divorce. His dad was completely devastated and relied heavily on my husband for support. Supporting his dad took a real toll. Meanwhile, his mom was living it up and going to parties with her boyfriend. Now, wounds are healing, and my husband has returned to having a loving relationship with his mother. Before all this I had a pretty good relationship with her, too. But I’ve lost so much respect for her. We all live near each other, and I try to be pleasant, but inside I’m still a little bitter. Am I being ridiculous for holding onto this grudge? If so, how do I can let it go?
Be grateful you’re describing a happy ending to this mess. Many grown children whose parents have divorced go through life pressured by one parent to forever punish the other. It is not your mother-in-law’s fault that your father-in-law overstepped his bounds and turned his son into his confidant. Fortunately, it sounds as if that phase has passed, and, most importantly, your husband no longer feels he has to side with his father against his mother. In the years to come you will see versions of your in-laws’ drama played out among your friends. These marital misadventures will confirm just how messy, painful, and even silly life can be. While your husband continues to restore his relationship with his mother, focus on being cordial and enjoying her company. Having a good time with her will help blot out your mental images of her good times. If you someday have children, she will be their grandmother, and probably a devoted one. In that case you’ll realize despite her failings, you’re lucky to have her around.—Emily Yoffe
From: Help! My Mother Keeps Trying to Force Plastic Surgery on Me. (May 10, 2012)
I have a close friend, “Sam,” who I met in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting many years ago. He has gotten very serious with a woman, “Amanda,” and they have been living together now for a little over a year. They have four children between the two of them. Sam recently told me that one of the rules he had set down was that he could not, under any circumstances, be involved with a woman who drank, so his girlfriend supposedly “swore off” alcohol for him. Well, I was at a social function and Amanda happened to be there. She was drinking, and she was buzzed. When she saw me she made me promise not to say anything, and now I feel torn. As a fellow recovering alcoholic, I feel it’s my duty to tell my friend because as alcoholics, our recovery must always come first and foremost, and she might end up jeopardizing this. On the other hand, I would feel terribly if I tore the family apart they are trying to build by speaking the truth. What should I do?
I agree that for an alcoholic staying sober is a foremost task in life. But the person who can’t drink has to learn to navigate through a world of people who do. I know many recovering alcoholics who are married to people who enjoy having a glass of wine in their presence and all is fine. I can’t tell from your description whether you think “Amanda” herself is hiding a drinking problem, or she was just a little tipsy at a social event. Building a relationship on unreasonable demands and lies is a poor basis for success. But I don’t see how Amanda drinking at a party jeopardizes Sam’s own sobriety. I think this is an issue for the two of them, and you should stay out of it. —EY
From: Help! My Father-in-Law Is Sort of Perverted. (Nov. 7, 2011)
I am a straight, single woman. On Friday night, I had sex with a man I’ve had a loose friendship with for about a year and had been hanging out with more often in the last month. It was terrible. I never felt unsafe or violated, but this guy who has been generous and empathetic in all other contexts was way off the mark in bed. Maybe he has limited experience, watches a lot of terrible porn, gets bad advice … who knows! Every time I said no or redirected he apologized and stopped and seemed embarrassed. He wants to hang out again and I think I need to break things off—what level of explanation do I offer? Do I owe it to him and the women who come next to let him know that his understanding of female anatomy is incorrect and his approach is riddled with misogyny? I don’t think he’s a jerk and I believe he could be a great partner to someone if he does some homework, but I also don’t know if it’s cruel to point out someone’s sexual illiteracy as a reason for wanting to go our separate ways.
I think that if you repeatedly stopped him during sex and he had to apologize and fumble about nervously more than once, he probably won’t be too surprised when you turn him down. Tell him you don’t think you two connect well sexually, and leave it at that; you don’t have to become his sex tutor out of a sense of obligation to future women. You don’t want to sleep with him again, and it’s not cruel to be honest about the fact that the sex you two had was bad. You don’t have to belabor the point or enumerate the ways in which he failed you as a lover, but go ahead and make it clear that you’re not interested in trying again, and move on. —DL
From: Help! I Hit a Child With My Car and Have No Choice but to Sue His Parents. (Sept. 15, 2016)
More From Dear Prudence
I am a freelance Web developer who was almost bankrupted by the economic collapse. A few years ago a client referred me to a friend who needed some search engine optimization. The friend operates an adult website. One job turned into another, and working with adult websites has become a thriving business for me. My problem is that nobody knows I do this. My wife thinks that I design websites for local companies. I’m getting to a point where I can’t hide this anymore. I’m going to get a prestigious industry award, which means that an Internet search of my name will reveal the nature of my business. I’ve wanted to walk away for a while, but the money has gotten us a lifestyle that we struggled to have for years. I feel like I’m stuck between disappointing my family by turning off the money pump or having them find out that I work in the adult entertainment industry. What should I do?