Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. This week, Shannon Palus is filling in as Prudie.
I have a terribly embarrassing dilemma. During lockdown the last year, I got into the habit of only flushing solid waste. I go often enough that this is not that gross. I’ve recently been back to the office, and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten to flush in the office loo several times! My boss and I are the only ones who use the bathroom. Should I apologize to her and explain, or never mention it again?
—If It’s Yellow, Let It Mellow
Never mention it again. It’s pee in a toilet. It’s one of those things that we all see all the time but have agreed collectively to not discuss, especially not at work. Yes, someone else’s pee is a little gross, but I bet it’s really not a big deal to her. (I feel like my own first thought here in her shoes would be: Huh, the toilet sort of broke in this specific way during lockdown.) Even if the pee is a big deal to her, it will certainly be a bigger deal if you rope her into a conversation about your pee. All you really owe this situation is to do your best to remember to not let yellow mellow in shared restrooms in the future. But you’re conscientious enough of a person to write into an advice column about what is a pretty minor pee issue, so I bet you’re already killing it on that front.
I have been happily married to my wife for 20 years. I met her when she was in grad school. I’m a decade older than her and was working a successful career when we met. We hit it off right away and were married 18 months later. We have two kids and it has been a wonderful, mutually caring, supportive, loving relationship.
Recently, my wife began talking in glowing terms about “John,” a new male colleague. I thought nothing about it, but then discovered they had been texting frequently outside work hours, and not always about work. I asked her about it and she said it was just work-related inside jokes, funny memes, etc. A few weeks later, we had a casual conversation with my in-laws about buying a vacation property. My wife got excited and immediately started texting John about the possibility of buying the vacation home so that John and his wife could vacation with us. I asked point blank (but calmly) if she was having a physical or emotional affair with John. She denied it and said she understood why I was upset and that she should have talked to me further about the vacation home before discussing it with anyone else. I believe her.
I don’t believe she is having a physical affair, but I remain worried she has slipped, or is slipping, into an emotional affair. They continue to text every day at all hours, including outside work in early morning and evenings. She continues to tell me they are just “good friends.” After I saw another text from John, she revealed that she had been talking to him about stressful issues at work and how they might be affecting her mental health. I conveyed that I was hurt that she hadn’t shared this, and she said she only talked to him first because he is a colleague and he understood the work issues she was going through, whereas I understand little about her field. This was cold comfort. I’m not sure where to go from here. Am I overreacting? Should I just take her at her word?
—Is She Having an Emotional Affair?
Dear Emotional Affair,
Your wife is allowed to have a male friend with whom she discusses her mental health, real estate, and the like. Whether or not that crosses into “emotional affair” territory is pretty subjective, and asking “are you having an emotional affair?” is pushing for an admission or denial of guilt. I suspect using the term with her point blank dramatically raises the stakes of a conversation in a way that is not helpful, especially given that it sounds like she’s being pretty open with you about what her and John discuss, as well as reflective about how it affects you, even if she’s not changing her behavior in the way you’d prefer.
I think you’ll have the most success in future conversations about this by focusing on sharing how you feel and what you’d like your relationship with her to look like. And remember that you are allowed to feel hurt and want more time with your wife, regardless of whether her actions fit a specific label. Conveying that you were hurt that she confided in John about a work issue rather than you is a great start; her response that she wanted to connect with a co-worker makes sense (I cannot imagine trying to catch my boyfriend up on the context of all the stuff I vent to my co-workers about). Could you next express that you would really like to hear more about what’s happening at her job, and with her mental health, because you care about her, and want to feel closer? You’re going to have trouble controlling when and whether she talks to John—but what is in your control somewhat is the curiosity you express about her work life. It’s not about making it a contest with this co-worker guy. I suspect feeling more secure in your own friendship with your wife—romantic relationships are part friendship, after all—will just make you care less that she also has a friendship with this dude.
One other thing I wonder is if the texting John at all hours is just annoying because it takes her out of the room with you. There might be a conversation to be had here that’s less about John and more about how you feel when she’s on her phone with someone else when you’re around. Never texting other people in your presence probably isn’t realistic, but maybe you could schedule some phone-less date time. You’ve been together 20 years, you say a bunch of nice things about your relationship at the start of this letter, and it sounds like you guys are pretty into each other. While there’s no magic solution here, and you might need to keep having some conversations that are a little tricky, I bet that you two have already made it through a lot of things that would have felled other couples.
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I live in a neighborhood where everyone generally rallies around one another in a beautiful way. One neighbor, who is a close friend, has a very complicated life going on. Many of our neighbors frequently tell this person that they need to take a break and offer use of their rental properties, etc. I completely agree with that sentiment! However, I am closer than those people and ultimately I am the one who gets asked to take care of children or pets during these trips. I also have a job and my own family. I don’t take on more than I can handle and have had to decline some of the requests. More than once they have changed plans because I wasn’t available, and I feel horrible, like I’m just adding to their complications. It’s not like I disagree that they have more going on than I do and need the vacation, but it’s frustrating that another person’s lovely offer ultimately requires some generosity on my part. Is there a way to say to the rest of the neighbors, “Please stop offering your beach house unless you’re also willing to take care of the cats and carpool?”
—I Agree, but Also, Stop
Ask to borrow the beach house yourself!
Kidding, kind of. It’s really sweet of you to be concerned about your close friend getting some heavily subsidized vacation time, but, as you have identified, it is not your responsibility to care for the assorted dependents left in the wake of all these plans. I think you are well within your rights to decline the requests without guilt when you just don’t have the time or energy. I don’t know that you necessarily ought to try to go upstream to the neighbors to stop them from offering their properties in the first place—your friend has every right to figure out a child/dog/lizard care situation that is not you in order to take advantage of the free rental usage. Next time your neighbors are scheming to make her life easier, you might mention that you’ve noticed that child care would be a big help, especially in tandem with these trips. But just because you don’t have a maximally chaotic life with the highest number of stressors does not mean you don’t have a chaotic life, with stressors. You deserve a break, too.
Help! My Husband Bit Me During a Fight.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Kate Duffy on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
This will be the last week of the Dear Prudence podcast, as Danny Lavery is ending his run as Prudence. Danny’s new show, Big Mood, Little Mood with Danny Lavery, will premiere next week! Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.
I’m a teenager who’s starting at a new school next year. My friend who currently attends the school says that a lot of people there smoke weed, drink, etc. I know for certain that if somebody offers me something, I will take it. My mental health is really bad, and there’s a history of substance abuse in my family. I know I shouldn’t want to do it, and I know I shouldn’t do it at all, but I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself. If I tell an adult, I won’t be able to go to the school, and it’s been my dream school for years. How can I stop myself? Should I even try when I know it’s probably inevitable?
—Tempted and Concerned
You are a teenager who is starting at new school next year, so far from “shouldn’t want” to try weed or alcohol, I think it makes perfect sense that you might be at least a little interested in saying yes to a joint or a drink. But given your family’s history, the general illegality of substances for minors, and the anxiety I can imagine you might be feeling about starting at a new school, it also makes sense that you’d be a little worried here.
I want to put you at ease on a couple fronts. I think some of your concern about telling an adult here is misplaced. (You’ve already told one—hi!) It might be true that particular adults in your life will freak out, but rest assured that sharing the fact that there might be substances at a new school is neither legal nor sound logical grounds from preventing you from attending said school. Teens at most schools in this country—perhaps all of them—have access to substances. And I think wanting to talk through your concerns about peer drug use with an adult is a sign of maturity and a general desire to be responsible on your part.
If you’re not currently in therapy and not able to see a therapist anytime soon, perhaps a guidance counselor, favorite teacher, or beloved aunt or uncle would be a good source here. I also think you might not be giving yourself enough credit for having agency to say “no thanks” to a beer. Substance abuse and addictions are complicated mental health issues that can indeed run in families and require a lot of ongoing support to handle. But you still have some agency, here. Come up with a canned line—“Thanks, but doing that interferes with my plans later”—practice it a bit in the mirror, and if your wishes are still not respected, be prepared to just get up and leave. This might be awkward and difficult! But it is an option. (If this feels really impossible, that’s another sign a therapist might be useful to help support you).
I also wonder if it would, additionally, be helpful to process this with friends—it might feel otherwise, but, speaking as a former teen who was once a little apprehensive about fellow teens doing substances, I think once you open up the topic with peers, you’ll find that you’re not alone in this. Even designated “party schools” get that reputation from a slice of people who are really gung-ho about “partying,” while plenty of others spend their weekends having sober dance jams or sitting contentedly/angstily alone in their bedrooms or whatnot. Being a teen is hard, and yes, a little scary. No one should do it by themselves.
My best friend of many, many years recently bought me a watch as a gift. It was a really generous gesture. The thing is that I really dislike wearing watches. I haven’t worn one in over a decade, when I had to as part of my work uniform and because the job had me on the move sans cellphone. This dislike of watches is both from a comfort standpoint and a philosophical one. I just don’t like the way they feel, and I don’t like time ticking away on the end of my arm. What’s more, this one is stylistically not really me, either. He’s a great friend and very thoughtful in all things, including gift giving—I think he just saw it, thought it was cool for himself, and decided it’d be cool for me. While we both value honesty and frankness, it’s pretty crappy to tell someone that you probably won’t wear the gift they gave you, and he’s the type of guy who will certainly ask what I think about it and notice if I don’t wear it. We don’t live in the same city, but I don’t want to be underhanded and pretend, either. What to do?
Dear Watch Out,
I come from a family where anytime anyone gives anyone else a gift that is over $25 in value and nonperishable, the first words out of the giver’s mouth are: Don’t worry, you can return it. Which is to say, there are people out there that are first and foremost interested in you getting the maximal personal value out of gifts, all sentimentality be damned. I don’t necessarily recommend this as a way to live—it sort of obliterates the “it’s the thought that counts” messaging. My point is there are people out there who would be comforted to know you are working to put our dollars to practical use by exchanging a gift we gave you.
If you want to go this route, say something like: “Hi friend, thank you so much for the watch—it’s a really thoughtful present, and it made me smile. You wouldn’t have known this, but I am actually not much of a watch person these days. Might you have a gift receipt? In any case, can’t wait to see you when you’re in town.”
If some variation on that feels too awkward—and it’s entirely possible it might, even in a friendship that is based on honesty and frankness—send him a selfie or two of you grinning and holding your be-watched wrist up for the camera. It sounds like you genuinely appreciate the thought of the gift, and it’s not disingenuous to express that gratitude with a couple thank-you photos. (If it’s been a bit since you got the watch, photos and “Hey, just thinking of you!” might be the way to go here). And then put the watch in a drawer and don’t worry about it. I suspect he’s much less likely to notice—let alone point out—that you’re not wearing it in the future than you think.
A couple we frequently dine out with always arrive very early for our dinner dates. When we arrive, they’ve already been seated, looking out at the best view, while we have a view of the wall every time. They’ve already ordered drinks and appetizers. Isn’t it good manners to wait and be seated together?
—Tired of Looking at the Wall
There’s an easy solution: Arrive earlier than them. You have plans at 7:30 p.m.? Get there at 7, order drinks and appetizers, and claim the best seats for yourselves. Or, if you want to be sneaky, figure out which restaurants will only seat you once the whole party has arrived—some quick Googling suggests small, busier ones tend to have this policy—and make reservations there.
You could also be direct with your friends: “Hey, I know this is sort of silly, but could Barb and I take the ocean view next time we go for salmon?” Unless you enjoy confrontation, that approach sounds like less fun! And although Miss Manners may not approve, I don’t think there’s anything barbaric about sitting down to a meal before the rest of one’s party.
I plan to be married soon. My fiancé and I don’t want a big to-do but would like to mark the occasion with a small ceremony and invite immediate family and a few close friends. This is a second marriage for both of us. My ex-husband and I remained civil to one another for the sake of our children. Once the hurt of our failed marriage had healed, we developed a friendship based on mutual interests and shared history. My fiancé and my ex get along well, and we occasionally socialize with him and his significant other. My ex is a judge and as such is able to perform weddings. My fiancé and I talked it over and would like to ask him to marry us. We haven’t asked him yet and aren’t sure he will agree, but we want to extend the invitation. Problem is when I mentioned our plan to my sisters, they had a fit. They said it would be tacky and would make other family members uncomfortable to have my ex marry us. I know it’s an unusual situation, but it is also something we’d really like to do. Are our plans just too “out there”?
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