Dear Prudence

I’m Constantly Worried That My Boyfriend Is Cheating on Me

I’ve checked his phone and haven’t found anything alarming, but I still feel awful.

man on a phone smiling and a woman looking mad next time him
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Prostock-Studio/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend and I have been together for nine months. Things started off a little rocky before we started dating. He was a total ladies’ man and had his fair share of girls in constant rotation, but he had never been in a relationship. At that same time, I desperately wanted to be with him, but he was too caught up in the single life to want any such commitment. During COVID, he had a change of heart, cut off all ties with other girls, and asked me to be in a relationship.

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But he works at a popular bar in a large city, and as things have been opening up, it has been exceedingly busy and crowded. Girls are constantly hitting on him, and I have been feeling intensely jealous. I bring it up to him often and he brushes it off, saying he loves me and that none of them matter. I’ve checked his phone, his Instagram etc. and haven’t found anything alarming, but I don’t know how to stop feeling so sick and awful. He reassures me that he wouldn’t cheat on me, but because of his past and never having been in a relationship, the whole situation is constantly on my mind. How do I learn to trust him and not be so jealous?

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—Jealous and Exhausted

Dear Jealous,

In an ideal world, we’d be able to figure out for sure whether the issue was you or him. I wish we could hire a private investigator to find out whether he actually deserves your trust. Here’s what we know: You haven’t caught him doing anything, despite all your snooping. That’s good news, but you’re still miserable. Here’s what I don’t know: Have you always been this jealous in your relationships, or is there something about him and what you know about him that’s making you especially suspicious?

That’s worth really thinking about. But even without knowing the answers, I’m not very hopeful about your situation for a few reasons. First, relationships are supposed to make you feel good, and this relationship is making you feel bad. I’m sure when you were dating around, your hope was not to find someone who would have you feeling sick and exhausted and questioning yourself. Even if he isn’t cheating, the stress is no fun. Second, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a relationship that starts off with unmanageable jealousy and insecurity and gets better from there. I’m sure it’s happened, but I don’t think it’s common. Third, I don’t believe you can strong-arm yourself into trusting someone. And finally, the best way to assure you never find a relationship that works and makes you happy is to waste a lot of time in relationships that don’t work and don’t make you happy.

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But I know you probably don’t want to break up because you don’t have proof and are seriously wondering whether the problem is all in your head. So how about you give yourself a few more months to get used to post-vaccine life (and all the bartending and flirty women that come with that). Instead of obsessing over whether he’s being faithful, stop all the snooping and make peace with the possibility that he might be doing anything from flirting that goes beyond your comfort zone to full-on cheating. And focus on how you’ll manage and what your plan will be when and if you find out. Do you have friends you can rely on? Do you have a therapist? Which apps will you use to start dating again? Think of it like an emotional emergency preparedness kit.

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Maybe just having that—a plan to survive regardless of what happens—will take things down a notch and clear up some mental space for you to enjoy the relationship. During this time, make a mental note of behaviors that make you uneasy, and keep a loose tally of how often you feel happy and secure versus stressed and jealous. Ask friends for their honest opinions about whether you have a tendency to panic about stuff like this for no reason. In a few months, take stock of how you’re feeling, and make a decision—not about whether he’s being unfaithful, but about whether the version of yourself this relationship has created is one you want to live with.

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Dear Prudence,

I am currently five weeks pregnant, and I didn’t intend to be. I have a 6-month-old. My husband and I want a second child, but we don’t feel that we’ll be ready for a second child when our firstborn is only 15 months old. I’m hoping to start a new job soon, and most employers don’t give employees the full scope of their family leave policy until the employee has been with the company at least a year. I also very much think of myself as still being in a postpartum phase—I’m not ready to jump back into pregnancy already. I was just pregnant! I keep taking test after test in the hopes that I’m not actually pregnant. I’m a card-carrying progressive, I’ve volunteered at and donated to Planned Parenthood for years, and reproductive rights is the No. 1 issue for me in choosing a political candidate to support. Yet it seems that I’ve internalized some anti-choice thinking, despite my best efforts. I feel ashamed, and guilty, and overwhelmed by this situation, like I should just live with the consequences of my actions. Abortion is legal and accessible to me, it feels the logical choice to make, and my husband agrees. Why can’t I shake this feeling that I’m a bad person for doing this?

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—Get Ted Cruz Out of My Head and Out of My Uterus

Dear Out of My Uterus,

It’s great that you and your husband are on the same page about this—it says a lot about your relationship. You two agree that an abortion is the legal and logical choice, and you’re the only people who matter. But if you need one more person to agree, I’m happy to play that role. You don’t want to bring a baby into the world right now, and you don’t need a reason beyond that. I will gently add that you sound really overwhelmed and panicked, and I can’t imagine that that’s a good way to feel as you parent.

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It may be worth spending a few quiet hours thinking through your emotional response (or talking through it with your husband): What do you think is behind the guilt? Are you concerned there will never be a perfect time to have the second kid? Are you worried about being able to conceive again? If you couldn’t, how would you feel? You don’t have to have all the answers—or any—to make a decision, but it may make the way forward smoother.

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When you start to feel overwhelmed about this, think of what you’d say to another woman in your situation, and say that to yourself.

How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here, or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-3327 to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

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Dear Prudence,

I recently volunteered on an organic farm. When I was working in the fields with the owner, he mentioned that many of the volunteers are overweight and don’t understand anything about nutrition and won’t listen to him about it. He told me that one woman “gobbles down dry granola for breakfast every morning” and ridiculed her “unhealthy” method of cooking eggs, adding “no wonder she’s 30 pounds overweight.” He also complained, “I can’t say anything to her, because you can’t give any weight or diet advice to a young woman today.” Then he told me I was overweight, too.

Now that my volunteer time is over, the farm has asked me to leave a review. In general I learned a lot and was treated well, but I am concerned about the fatphobia that the owner exhibited. Do I have a duty to disclose this information on the website if I leave a review? Should I decline to leave one? If it were racist comments, I wouldn’t have any doubts as to what to do, but I’m torn here.

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— Farming While Fat

Dear Farming While Fat,

Write a review that includes a positive assessment of your work experience along with an honest note about the owner’s comments. It could include many of the lines you’ve written here. By sharing what happened, you’ll protect fat people from being harassed and humiliated and give those who are thin but would rather not work for someone who treats his volunteers this way the information they need to make a decision. What the owner said reflects really poorly on his professionalism and character, and maybe the review will help him realize that.

Sadly, many people are still completely OK with fatphobia and believe it’s acceptable in ways that other forms of bigotry aren’t. So they’ll probably read your review, shrug, and sign up anyway. I think this is slowly changing (and I like that even the owner, who is a jerk, is beginning to pick on the fact that it’s not socially acceptable to harass people about their weight). But for now you can do the right thing and tell the truth without worrying that this means the organic veggies will die on the vine with nobody to pick them.

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Introducing Big Mood, Little Mood

Danny Lavery has a new Slate podcast! Listen and subscribe to Big Mood, Little Mood, where Lavery will be chatting with special guests, doling out advice, and talking about feelings, from the monumental to the minute. New episodes every Tuesday and Friday.

Dear Prudence,

Like most corporate workers, I get two weeks of vacation a year. Pre-pandemic, I usually spent at least seven days visiting my divorced parents, who live in the same state about six hours away from each other on the other side of the country. This means spending about three days with one parent and driving to the other for the remaining three. I don’t enjoy these visits. They feel rushed, I don’t have much in common with my parents or feel much of a connection with them, and no matter how I divide my time during these visits, someone is upset that I didn’t do it “fairly.”

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My parents had a nasty divorce when I was a teenager and were both cruel to me in different ways afterward. I’ve been in therapy over this, but it hasn’t really helped my feelings much. More and more, I am stressed out by the prospects of these visits. I resent having to waste my precious vacation time on this, when I’d really rather be having a fantastic introverted staycation and working on some creative projects or traveling somewhere exciting with my partner. When I return from visiting them, I don’t feel refreshed. Then I get caught in a shame spiral for feeling guilty about not wanting to visit my parents. I am an only child and chose to move to the other side of the country, so I am the reason I need to use vacation time to see them. In the past they’ve visited me here where I live, but that hasn’t worked out too well either. What should I do?

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—Guilty Daughter

Dear Guilty Daughter,

The gray area between “great and loving” and “actively abusive and unkind” is such a tough place to be when it comes to parents. If your mom and dad were treating you horribly now, or if you were constantly having huge fights, the decision to stop visiting would be easy and you’d probably have a lot less guilt about pulling back. But since they’re currently just unpleasant, I don’t think you’d feel great about cutting them off.

There’s a middle ground here. Options include: Visit once every other year. Pop in for a day when a work trip or wedding brings you to their side of the country. Invite them each to pick a weekend to come visit you (even if they say no, hey, you offered) so you don’t have to take as much time off work.

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But before you decide anything, it feels like you need more information to figure out whether they are willing to do their part to be the parents you need. Between now and the next visit, why don’t you try to have two conversations: First, have a talk about the cruel way they treated you when you were a teenager. Tell them what you remember and how you felt during that time. Be vulnerable and explain how hurt you were. And ask them each for an apology. If they manage to hurt you even more in this conversation, deny things that you know are true, or get angry at you, that’s one big check in the “pull back from visiting and enjoy your introverted staycations” column.

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Next, tell them how hard it is on you when they make you feel guilty for not spending enough time with them. See how they respond (defensiveness? Denial? Understanding and a promise to do better?), and again, make a note.

The point is to give them a chance to change. You only get two parents, and I think it’s worth creating an opportunity for them to learn about how hurt and stressed you are and commit to doing better. Maybe you’ll have a breakthrough and you’ll find yourself actually enjoying these trips. But if it doesn’t work out that way, that’s good too because it will make your decision easier. You’ll know you made a real effort, and you can enjoy your vacations guilt-free until you actually, sincerely feel like seeing them again.

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Dear Prudence,

My adult daughter, grandson, and I live together. Her boyfriend of six months is very quiet around the family. I know little about him. When he comes to our house, he never greets me or uses my name. It’s as if he pretends I don’t exist. This is my idea of bad manners. I’m educated and friendly. My other kids’ friends don’t behave like this ever. Help.

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— Invisible Grandma

Dear Grandma,

You’re right, his manners haven’t been the best. But meeting in-laws is really hard, especially early in relationships and especially for shy and quiet people. Plus, we’re all awkward and a little rusty when it comes to socializing after a long period of relative isolation. One factor could also be that he has no idea what to call you. You don’t want to create a situation where you pull back because he’s rude, and then he feels like you don’t like him, so he pulls back even more. So be extra friendly, approach him, greet him and even embrace him whenever he comes over, and at some point say, “By the way, you can call me Carol!” I hope he’ll warm up quickly.

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Dear Prudence,

I’ve always considered myself pretty likeable and easygoing, though I’m aware everyone thinks this about themselves, and we all can’t be right, right? Though for the first time in my life, I simply cannot make friends. I’m 35, with a live-in girlfriend, we get along great, but it’s kind of just us two. My girlfriend is perfect, but I wouldn’t hate a small group to balance things out with. But I’m not sure how to find one.

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— Kind of Alone and Wondering Why

Dear Alone,

This is so, so normal. Please don’t feel bad about yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you.

Beyond the obvious advice (sign up for classes and activities that put you in a position to interact with people who might have similar interests), I have a couple of ideas:

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First, remember that 35-year-old friendship might not look like young adult friendship. That means a group might not happen. You may have to cobble together a coffee friend, a yoga friend, a travel friend, and a movie friend, and they won’t all know each other. Also be open to the idea that some of these new friends might be older or younger than you—even from an entirely different generation.

Second, look for child-free communities and clubs. Depending on where you live, a lot of people your age might have little ones and primarily socialize with other adults while standing around the bounce house at kids’ birthday parties. Now if you happen to stumble upon a friend with children and it works, great. But you’ll probably have better luck starting your search with people who have made extra room in their lives to prioritize adult friendships.

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Finally, ask. Like, explicitly ask. When you meet someone you can see yourself clicking with, say, “I really feel like we could be friends! Want to hang out sometime?” And then make a broader ask too. Make a post on Instagram or Twitter or TikTok letting the people who follow you know that you’re looking for friend dates. My friend Jasmine recently invited her Instagram followers who were looking for new friends to comment on a “friend matchmaking” post with a little bit about where they lived and what they liked to do. The response was overwhelming. It was a good reminder that many people wish they had more friends, and that many of them—even the likable and easygoing ones—need a little help.

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Classic Prudie

I’m the mother of young children and was recently diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, it was caught early and is treatable. Nonetheless, I have been very tired and going through many treatments and doctors’ visits. My husband has informed me that a few days prior to surgery to have my tumor removed at the end of the month, his entire family has planned a party at my in-laws house a few hours away, in order to wish me well. While I very much appreciate the gesture, the party is ill-timed. On top of this, my husband’s family is very loud and boisterous and I just don’t have the energy to deal with this. My husband can’t understand why I’m less than enthusiastic about the party and is asking for me to be grateful. Am I being ungrateful or is it acceptable for me to express my appreciation for the gesture but explain that I simply won’t be able to attend?

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