Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns—your first month is only $1.
I accidentally overheard my fiancée telling a friend on the phone, “John might not have a lot of money, but at least he doesn’t have any parents to annoy me.” My parents both died in a car accident in my early 20s. Shocked by this comment, we took a short break afterward. My fiancée said that it was something stupid she said as a joke and that she was sincerely sorry and didn’t mean it. She and I have much history together, and I love her. Yet, even after getting back together, I can’t forget or totally forgive her for what she said. I may have been an adult when I lost my parents, but they were my whole world. Is it crazy to throw away a whole relationship based on this one comment?
It’s not crazy. I have a fair amount of sympathy for your fiancée, who I don’t think is necessarily a secretly callous monster for making a grim joke about not having to deal with in-laws to a friend of hers, but I can also understand why this would haunt you. If you have a long history together and she has always treated you kindly and well, you must know on some level that she does care about you and is not secretly rejoicing at the death of your parents—that moment of gallows humor was not necessarily a reveal of her true, callous character but a way of acknowledging the painful reality of your situation to a friend.
But if you don’t think you can forget it, tell her so. You can’t take her back only to secretly resent and suspect her for the rest of your lives. Tell her that what she said hit you very hard and that it hurt you to see her make light of the most painful experience of your life, even if she did not say it directly to you. You’re not crazy for entertaining doubts about your relationship, but I do think it would be a mistake not to at least try to move past this together. You would likely get a great deal out of a few weeks or months of couples counseling around this particular fight. Make it clear how much this has hurt you—don’t try to act like you’ve moved past it when you haven’t—and if her response is compassionate and apologetic, then I think you can trust her. Your parents may have been your whole world, but if she’s going to be a part of that world, you’re going to have to be able to fight and hurt one another and apologize and forgive. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Fiancée Made a Joke About My Dead Parents. Should I End Our Engagement? “(Mar. 21, 2016)
My wife and I met 16 years ago when she was 19 years old, we married three years later, and I have been faithful and happy with her. I know she had two boyfriends before me and that she had oral sex with one and intercourse with the other. Somehow I got the idea that she had been forced into the oral sex and didn’t enjoy it. So when she would attempt to do that to me I made her stop. She felt rejected and that has impeded both the frequency and her enjoyment of any form of sex with me. She recently clarified that she was the one who initiated the first oral encounter and that she liked it. As a result, we have enjoyed this activity more in the past few weeks than we had in the last several years. Every other element of our sexual relationship has also improved. But I’m incredibly jealous at the amount of sex she had before she met me, far more than I had before I met her. I’m nearly going insane that she performed oral sex five times more in three years on them than she has with me in 16. How do I move on so that I am not constantly thinking about these guys and the relative number of sexual encounters every time I have sex with my wife?
I think you have solved the national crisis in math education. We might improve our high school graduation rates if math problems read like more like this: “Melissa performed five times more oral sex on her two boyfriends for the three years prior to meeting her husband Eric than she has performed on him in the subsequent 16 years. So how many blowjobs …” (I realize it’s more likely we simply would increase our high-school oral sex rate.) Your situation is an excellent demonstration of why the words that come out of your mouth can be as important as the organs that you put in it. To stop brooding over what your wife was doing in the backseat of the car more than a decade and a half ago, start blowing your horn to celebrate the end of your semicelibate marriage. You two were set to go through life feeling frustrated and rejected because of a silly misunderstanding. That your wife likes to give oral sex, that she’s crazy about sex generally, is a dramatic turnaround in your sexual fortunes, one that should enhance the quality of your marriage. So lighten up and embrace this new connection, instead of undermining it by focusing on the quantitive pleasing she once did. If you forced her to tally her extra curriculars, then shame on you. Since you’re clearly a numbers guy, turn the math to your advantage. Calculate how long it will take the two of you to surpass your wife’s previous record, and start humping toward that goal line. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Wife Had More Sex Before Our Marriage Than I Did.” (Oct. 4, 2012)
My husband and I have been married for 28 years, but our relationship has been at a brick wall for more than half of the marriage. For the past four years, we have lived under the same roof but completely separately, essentially as housemates. Up until now, I have made the decision to stay in the marriage because A) we have two daughters, both in their early 20s, and B) my husband is a pastor and I was once concerned about his image in the church community if we were to separate.
Aggression and worrisome behavior have now entered the equation, and we have both accepted that our union is no longer salvageable. I am ready to start dating and move on with my life, as my husband has been doing for more than half of our marriage, but he still isn’t ready to upset the church community with the news of our formal separation. Personally, I am done putting up a façade. I am ready to move on from not only the marriage, but also the church community, but ultimately I do want to be the bigger person and respect my husband’s image. How do I move on from the church in a respectful manner?
He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to, and I think it’s very big of you not to want to tarnish his image, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep his secrets or lie for him anymore. You’re getting divorced, you’re moving on, and you’re ready to start dating. You can be honest without spreading the news in a salacious or punishing way; if anyone asks, tell the truth, but don’t go into detail. If the truth reflects badly on him, too bad for him.
It sounds like you’re interested in leaving this particular church for good; you’re not required to make an announcement or shake the dust of this unhappy marriage from your sandals at the church door. You can just leave. If there are particular friendships you plan on maintaining, or if you’re directly asked, you can keep your conversations about the end of your marriage honest without being unkind—“We’ve been separated for a long time, and have been housemates for the last four years. I’m ready to move on and start seeing other people, but I wish him the best.” Your husband’s image is no longer your problem. Just don’t go out of your way to discredit or smear him, and you’ll have more than achieved your goal of being the bigger person. —DL
From: “Help! I Want Out of My Marriage and My Church—but My Husband’s the Pastor.” (Mar. 22, 2016)
Recently, my partner’s lifelong best friend and his wife were killed in a car accident, leaving us with custody of both of their children. They are two wonderful girls ages 4 and 2 and we love them dearly and are happy to have them. Both of them are comfortable with us since we spent a great deal of time together before their parents passed away, but we did not have any children of our own and we are taking a crash course in parenting. At this moment, I have two main concerns. One of them is that we are not sure how to help them understand what has happened. My partner and I are confirmed atheists, and although our friends were not seriously religious, they did have some spiritual beliefs and we are not sure whether they would want us to teach their daughters that they’ve gone to heaven or follow our own instincts to say that even though mom and dad loved them more than anything, they’re simply not coming back. Another concern is that before this happened, my partner and I were trying to conceive a child of our own. We’ve decided it’s best to hold off on this for a while because we believe it would be too much for the girls (and us at this moment) to handle after such a loss. How much time does it take for a child to adjust to such a thing? Should we give up on the idea at present?
What a crushing loss for these tiny girls to absorb. Amid this tragedy, they are lucky that you and your partner are there to provide them with love and security. Making such guardianship arrangements is a responsibility of parenthood; let this be a spur to those who haven’t done so. As your case illustrates, the best guardians might not be family members, but dear and trusted friends. You now have a large task ahead in becoming an instant family and creating a good life for two confused and frightened little girls. For advice on what you should tell them, and what you should do about expanding your family, I turned to Dr. David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. He said there are four painful but essential truths that have to be conveyed age-appropriately to children who have suffered such a loss: Death is irreversible; all life functions end completely at death; everything alive eventually dies; there are physical reasons someone dies. Schonfeld is co-author of this pamphlet that gives instruction on how to explain these difficult concepts. While acknowledging people’s belief in heaven, he says conveying that to children, especially very young ones, can cause tremendous confusion. It’s difficult to grasp the idea that your parents no longer exist here, but are in some other realm out of reach. Since you and your partner are atheists, and your late friends didn’t have a strong religious tradition, I think you should follow your own instincts about keeping things simple and factual. The girls’ parents knew of your lack of religious belief and still chose you. As the girls grow up, if they develop an interest in religion, you can decide the best way to respect and foster that.
You do not mention that you are under the immediate pressure of a biological clock, so I agree with Schonfeld when he says now is the time to focus on making yourselves a family and seeing the girls through a traumatic transition. After you feel settled into being a unit, for which there isn’t a timetable, you and your partner can explore the question of whether you want to add another child and when. Bear in mind that the loss your girls have suffered is something they will deal with for the long term. It won’t always be the primary focus as it is now for everyone, but it will echo through the years. Schonfeld says that with the help of the strong, loving, committed family you will be, the loss the girls suffered will simply be a part of their understanding of themselves, and will not keep them from forging happy lives. —EY
From: “Help! Our Friends Died in a Car Crash and Left Us Their Kids.” (Apr. 25, 2013)
More from Dear Prudence
I have been mostly happily married for 13 years. My husband and I get along really well, and I love him very much. That being said, he is not the most affectionate person anymore. We used to cuddle a lot when we were first married and I have told him how much I miss it. He says he doesn’t enjoy it because it’s too hot. He’ll make an effort to snuggle while watching TV sometimes if I ask, but I can tell while we’re doing it that he is counting the minutes until he can stop. About a month ago, I was having a very bad day at work and a male co-worker/friend told me I looked like I could use a hug. Prudie, I did need a hug and he gave me one and I started crying because I couldn’t remember the last time I had received nonsexual affection from someone without begging. My co-worker asked why I was crying and when I told him he said he loved his wife very much, but she wasn’t affectionate either and he knew exactly how I was feeling. Since that day we’ve been meeting in his or my office after work a couple of times a week to hug each other. And that’s all we do—there is no groping or kissing or even talking going on, we just hold each other for five to 10 minutes and then we go home. I like having a hug buddy and I’ve found my relationship with my husband is actually getting stronger because I am not so needy for affection from him. Of course, I have not told him about hugging my co-worker and I’m sure if I did he’d be upset, but I don’t feel like what I’m doing is cheating. Is it?