Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Wish I could unsee this: I’m a cis-gay man. My best friend is a cis-straight woman. She has been through a journey the last few years with her spouse, who came out as a trans woman. There were some breaches of trust along the way (starting hormones and hiding it, etc.), but with counseling and a lot of work, they have come to a good place and are very happy.
I know their relationship is monogamous, particularly from a recent conversation where my friend asked me as a gay man how I navigated my ex-partners’ friends all being part of the sex he was attracted to. She wasn’t trying to keep her wife from having female friends, just had never thought of that dynamic and was curious how it has been in my relationships.
Well, I was on Grindr tonight and stumbled across my friend’s spouse. It was clearly looking for hookups, obscuring parts of her face, and even linked to an OnlyFans that I am sure my friend doesn’t know of. What should I do? I have been cheated on in the past and always said I wished someone had told me. But I’m not so sure I would’ve really wanted that. They have worked so hard to rebuild their marriage, and I don’t want to be the one to blow it up, and especially to cause my friend all of that pain. But I also know how guilty I’m going to feel every single time I see her.
A: Dating apps are not at all private. And how do you run an OnlyFans without your spouse knowing? How many bad excuses can you make for going out on dates with other people you meet on Grindr? It almost seems like your friend’s wife wants to get caught. Since she is doing such a bad job keeping her activities secret, I’d just let it play out. If your friend really wants to turn a blind eye to what’s going on for the sake of maintaining a “happy” relationship, she will. And if she decides to pay attention and ask more questions about these “friends,” and why the person she’s allegedly in a “good place” with is always being secretive about her phone, it won’t be hard for her to get to the truth herself.
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Q. Should I stay or should I go: I lost my husband in a car accident about three years ago. COVID gave me enough courage (and stir-craziness) to dip my toe back in online dating. “Zach” and I hit it off so hard it felt like a home run. Similar backgrounds, interests, and goals, he made me laugh, owns his own business, and was very attractive.
He was divorced but didn’t tell me he had two kids until six months of dating and after our first vaccinated weekend together. It was perfect until Sunday night, when his ex called to tell him their son was in the ER. Everyone was fine, but nothing was fine again. Zach apologized for his deception and told me it was “hard” to date as a single parent but our connection was so “singular” he was scared to lose me.
I am on the fence about kids. I don’t want to deal with other people’s kids. My dad died when I was a toddler, and my mom remarried twice to men with kids and terrible exes, and I had a lot of really hurtful experiences with family dynamics and my stepsiblings. I want to be married again. I was happy with my husband. I miss waking up to another warm body and the inside jokes and comfort of having someone in your corner. Maybe on kids. I turn 30 this year. Zach and I were great together, but I don’t know if we should be together. I need an unbiased perspective.
A: I don’t like this. The lie itself is really troubling, and I wonder when and if Zach ever planned to tell you the truth. Even if you could forgive it, you don’t really want stepchildren, so marrying him wouldn’t be fair to you or to the kids (who already have a dad who thinks it’s OK to deny their existence). I know six months feels like a long time, and you want a partner. But you’re young, there are a million other men on the dating app where you found him, and after all you’ve been through, you deserve a relationship that doesn’t start off with deception and major compromise.
Q. Apologizing to Mom: I have a difficult relationship with my mother, which I’m afraid I have recently made much more difficult. She’s a very critical woman who rarely has anything nice to say about other women’s appearances, especially mine and my sister’s. (My sister actually no longer speaks to her at all, but that’s a long story.) In a Skype call recently with her, my dad, and grandparents, she demanded to know what I thought of her new pixie haircut. I sincerely said I thought it was lovely—I had one just like it a few years ago, which in retrospect she critiqued all the time. She responded to me complimenting her hair by launching into a tirade about how, “No, it’s a horrible haircut! Look what that hairdresser has done to me! I look like a lesbian!” (I am a lesbian. She knows this.) She went on and on about how ugly her hair looked, how it made her face look bony, it made her look older, etc., while my dad and grandparents weakly tried to change topic. Eventually, midway through my mom reiterating what a tasteless idiot I am for liking that style, I snapped and said, “OK, Mom, I concede. It’s hideous. You look like a withered old hag. Happy now?”
Prudence, she was not happy. The way my family reacted, you’d think I had shot her dead. My mom burst into extremely fake tears (an old trick of hers) while my dad and grandparents started yelling at me to apologize. I’m afraid I was so wound up that I just rolled my eyes and ended the call. Now it’s been a week of radio silence, and I’m starting to feel bad. I do know it was wrong to call her names but I also don’t know how to apologize without opening myself up for a stream of verbal abuse. She does not historically take apologies well—she tends to take the opportunity to insult you more while fake crying. Can you please recommend a script or some better methods for me to deal with her (and the rest of my family, who do everything she says and won’t talk to me if she’s not)? How do you apologize to someone who is terrible at accepting apologies?
A: “Mom, I’m really sorry that I insulted your appearance. That was wrong and immature. I actually love your haircut, but I think I lashed out because I was so frustrated that you wouldn’t take a compliment, and I was hurt that you said looking like a lesbian was a bad thing when you know I’m a lesbian. Under that was also a lot of pain about the way you’ve criticized the way I look over the years. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you how much that hurts me. I’d like to talk more about those things with you if you’re open to it, but I realize being unkind to you in front of everyone on Skype wasn’t the right way to start that conversation. I hope we can talk soon.” But, in the meantime, it might be good to use this radio silence to evaluate whether you want to continue opening yourself up to her abuse.
Q. Lonely auntie: I often babysit my niece. I have a small place and have a disability that leaves me tired easily but it has never been a problem with my niece because she is a calm, quiet child. My problem is my brother left lockdown dating “Terri,” a single mother of two boys. They aren’t bad kids, but they have high energy and have to be watched every second.
What was one or two “date nights” turned into Terri taking advantage any time my niece came over, despite me specifically telling my brother and her it was too difficult for me to watch all three kids. It tired me out too much. Terri laughed and told me I don’t know how tired I am until I have been a single mother. I told my brother that I would stop babysitting all together unless he got his girlfriend to back off and find other arrangements. He agreed.
Terri was supposed to drop my niece off from school, only her boys got out as well. Terri claimed she had no idea what I was talking about and got in my face about the fact my refusal was going to cost her work and she was leaving now. Between the stress of the situation and the boys going at each other like a pair of wild dogs, my condition was triggered, and I ended up blacking out and hitting my head. My niece had to run and get a neighbor. I woke up in the ambulance.
Right now, I am dealing with that huge hospital bill, missing work, and Terri refusing to take any responsibility for her actions. She says I am “attacking” her. I am no longer babysitting my niece, but my brother has taken it too far and refuses to even let me see her anymore. This is breaking my heart. I have been in her life since her mom died three years ago. It is like my brother has been replaced by someone else all together. I don’t know what to do.
A: This is so hard, but Terri is out of control, and you’re not going to get an apology or help with hospital bills from her. I’m so sorry your brother has taken her side and is keeping your niece from you. You should keep doing everything you can on your end to maintain the relationship with this little girl: Make regular requests to see her, send her cards and letters, and if she has a phone or social media accounts, reach out to her on your own. I hope Terri is as unreasonable to your brother as she has been to you, and this relationship ends before too long.
Q. Man at home: I am a 32-year-old man, and I live with my mother. I live in a major city where rent is ridiculous (think $1,400 a month at minimum for a little studio). In the past few years I finally began to make enough money that I could consider moving out, but I decided to wait until I was done paying my car off. I have just done so, but now I am working from home full time, so moving closer to the office no longer makes sense. I would like to be independent (I have offered to pay rent a few times), but financially it makes far more sense to stay at home and save money until there is more of a reason to move out, such as a new job or a girlfriend. I otherwise pay for everything and manage my own life. Am I at an age where I should just move out and learn to live on my own? Or is it OK to stay at home for the time being?
A: It’s more than OK—it’s great. You have a place to live, you’re saving money instead of going into debt, and you’re getting quality time with the person who probably loves you more than anyone else in the world. You’re very lucky to have this arrangement and also to be the kind of person who does things that work for you rather than things that you “should” do to make sure your life looks the way others expect it to.
Unless your mom is extremely comfortable financially, insist upon contributing to household expenses. And think about how you can make sure she’s getting as much out of this arrangement as you are—whether it’s taking the lead on gardening or household projects, sitting down for meals together, or accompanying her on her errands. She’s made your life better and easier, and you should make it a priority to return the favor.
Q. Re: Wish I could unsee this: I’d like to offer a slightly different perspective. Jenée called out the lack of discretion on the part of letter writer’s friend’s wife as a reason not to tell the friend, but I disagree. Yes, dating apps are public, but if you don’t have a dating app account yourself, you can’t see who else is on them. I would have no idea at all if my husband was using Grindr or any other app, and I certainly wouldn’t be particularly suspicious if he went out one to two nights a week for “work dinners” or “nights out with the guys” that were actually covers for hookups. And depending on the letter writer’s friend’s work situation, it could be that the wife has hours at home in which to operate her OnlyFans while letter writer’s friend is at work or elsewhere.
Being married doesn’t mean having 100 percent visibility into how your spouse spends their time. I would feel doubly betrayed to find out my best friend had known my spouse was being unfaithful and hadn’t said anything. And if this secret is impacting the letter writer’s ability to behave normally around his friend, imagine how hurtful for her to feel her best friend distancing himself and not know why. I know it is a difficult conversation, but if this is really your best friend, letter writer, you need to tell her what you saw.
A: It’s true that the friend’s spouse hasn’t put a dating ad on a billboard or anything. I just feel like the friend has been through a lot and is really committed to making this relationship work right now, and people in that position are easily talked out of bad news about their partners. Plus, I worry about the relationship between the friend and anyone who confronts her with negative news. Maybe I’m naïve, but I just think if the spouse continues to be this flagrant and the friend is ready for the truth, it wouldn’t take a lot for her to find it herself.
Q. Re: Should I stay or should I go: He waited six months to tell you and would have not said anything at all if it wasn’t for the ER visit. If someone is willing to lie—and not saying anything is the same as lying—about something as HUGE as having kids, then what else isn’t being said?
Q. Re: Lonely auntie: I’m assuming you’ve actually spoken to your brother about what happened and it hasn’t got filtered through Terri and made far less egregious? It’s bizarre that after such a close relationship with your niece you’re not even allowed to see her anymore given the extreme nature of what happened. I suppose Terri has the whole household in her grip, sigh.
A: That’s a good point. The letter writer should make sure the brother knows what actually happened.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: That’s all for today. Thanks for the questions and the feedback. Let’s do it again next week!
From Care and Feeding
My 6-year-old is about to start swim lessons again. She’s been in them before, and she hates them with every fiber of her tiny being. But it’s not negotiable. She has to learn how to swim! Luckily, she’s close (hundreds of dollars spent on past swim lessons have helped her make very, very, very, very slow progress). She’s in private lessons, which seem to work better for her. How do I get her through this with minimal tears?