Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
Hi, New Prue! (Is that ok?) I have been married to my husband for about 10 years and together for 15. We sort of have a great marriage, but only “on paper” and “when things are working.” I am most likely the problem. My business was decimated during COVID, so I took a full-time job. But I still have my (entrepreneurial) business and it has also returned to full-time. My husband doesn’t want me to give up my full-time stable paycheck—I get that. He also makes at least quadruple what I do. Part of the issue is that he controls our finances. I do contribute, but the amount I pay monthly is referred to (by him) as “the tithe.” If I don’t pay “the tithe,” he speaks to me less. But none of this is the real issue! It’s that when I do something wrong, whether by accident or not, he stops speaking to me. If I do something he doesn’t like, he won’t speak to me for HOURS until he asks me if I am ready to apologize. I am not a pushover type of person. I am strong and smart and dynamic and a leader. But I am not passive-aggressive and don’t have the energy to battle this on a passive-aggressive level. I tend towards direct confrontation. It doesn’t work. Trying to discuss things calmly doesn’t work. I just don’t know what to do. I think my husband hates me but won’t say it. How can I deal with our different styles of conflict?
— Hated By Husband
“New Prue” is fine! :)
I almost don’t know what upsets me most, the behavior that has hallmarks of financial and emotional abuse, the fact that you are married to someone who you think hates you, or that you believe you are probably the problem. I think it’s the last item. Conflict is fine, and different styles of conflict are too, but that’s not what we’re dealing with here. You don’t deserve to be treated this way—especially by someone who is supposed to love you.
Imagine what you would say to a good friend whose husband was doing the things you’ve described. I don’t think it would be “stay and compromise.” I think it would be “the minute you wonder whether someone hates you, the marriage is probably over.”
Therapy is always worth a try, but even if you decide to explore that, you should in the meantime stop paying the “tithe,” and just deal with the silent treatment. Then when you have enough money saved up, you can make plans to leave if you want to.
When I was in elementary school in the late 80s and early 90s, I knew a girl named “Anna” who died of cancer when we were in 3rd grade. I wouldn’t say we were ever exactly friends—we never went over to each other’s houses or anything—but we were good acquaintances. We were in the same class in 1st and 2nd grade, and we played on the same soccer team for a year. During this time, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and frequently volunteered at the school as a classroom helper and field trip chaperone. She always took lots and lots of pictures of everything, but she never did anything with them. She would develop them and put them in shoeboxes to “sort through later.” Long story short, she has about a dozen shoeboxes of photographs in her basement. I started staying with her during the initial shelter-in-place order in April 2020, and I’m still here while I’m working remotely. We both started working on various projects around the house, and I decided to finally tackle those boxes of photos and get them organized and put into albums.
While going through these pictures, I have found a lot with Anna in them, most from before she got sick. The majority of these are of things that her parents wouldn’t have pictures of—Anna in class or playing with other kids at recess, or posing with a group of kids on a field trip. My first thought was that I should reach out to Anna’s parents and pass them on. But how do I do this? Do I just send them the pictures out of the blue? Show up on their doorstep? Write a letter telling them about the pictures and asking if they want to see them? A big part of me thinks they will want these photos, and it wouldn’t be right for me to keep them from them, but then again I don’t know if it would just be opening old wounds to suddenly send them pictures of their child who’s been dead for almost 30 years. What should I do, and what should I say?
— Blast from the Past
I feel almost certain that they would love to have these photos. Three months after her death it would have been tricky, and I would have shared your concerns about opening wounds as they moved through the early stages of grief. But it’s been three decades, they’ve figured out how to live with the loss, and I can’t imagine that some nice images of their little girl would upset them.
I do think a letter in advance would be a thoughtful gesture just so they aren’t caught off guard. Ask if they would like to have the photos, and if they say yes, deliver them, maybe with a note about your memories of Anna or a bouquet of flowers.
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I just found out a man I’ve been sleeping with is a registered sex offender. While some crimes I would be willing to overlook due to life circumstances if someone was making a sincere effort to improve, sex crimes are generally not among them and this one is bad: he solicited a 15-year-old girl. I really liked this man and enjoyed our time together, but how do I get over this twisted feeling of finding out after that he did such a reprehensible thing?
— Disturbing Past
It’s unclear from the way your question is phrased whether you’re still sleeping with this man. If you are, stop. It’s not even about punishing him for what he did. He gives you a twisted feeling, and that’s enough. Get out.
But also, forgive yourself for getting into this situation. You did nothing wrong, it doesn’t reflect poorly on your judgment, and you’re not a private investigator. Nobody expects to discover this about someone they’re seeing.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Humans will always be a disappointment.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My wife and I have a young son, who just started daycare (and walking). I’m Black and my wife is biracial. Aside from my day job, I’m a doctoral candidate who researches whiteness and racism, and I also write and speak about these things. We’ll be sure he has plenty of friends of many backgrounds, but considering my research (and, you know, my life), it can be a challenge for me not to worry that the white families (and teachers) he encounters may … slip up. I’m not so worried about the January 6 types where we live, but the polite, warm people who still might call him “articulate” and so on. Basically, how, as a Black parent (and researcher) with a Black son, might I best handle white liberal parents (and teachers) who still have Work to Do? I surely can’t lecture everyone, and I don’t want him not to have friends because Daddy is annoying.
— Trusting Other Parents
So, I don’t have kids, but I have thought a lot about how I’ll handle this kind of issue when I do. I’ve seen how being in the minority and navigating constant microaggressions and negative messages about what it means to be Black—not just from parents, but from other kids too—can really mess children up. This experience can haunt them into adulthood, permanently distorting their entire sense of self. A lot of these people end up centering their identity on the idea that they aren’t like other Black people, or that they don’t fit in anywhere. It’s bad, and we don’t want that for your son.
My first suggestion is to take the focus off the other parents and the “work” they may need to do and put it on your child. You are not in charge of educating every white person in the world, but you are in charge of making sure he grows up with as much self-confidence and affirmation as possible. If the only option is for him to be in a predominantly non-Black school (which I assume he is based on your question) the microaggressions—subtle, sometimes well-intended messages that end up making him feel like being Black might be a bad thing—are almost inevitable. The question is, how will he receive them?
The best outcome is that they roll right off his back because he’s been so steeped in the opposite messages: That his skin, his hair, his culture, and the way Black people have managed to survive and shape the United States are all good things. I don’t think this happens through lectures (although I’m sure you’ll have a lot to share with him when he’s older!). Instead, you have to balance the white people he’ll encounter with Black ones. And I don’t mean having “plenty of friends of all backgrounds.” I mean many, many days in his life spent surrounded by other Black people in environments where the things that make him different at school and at his white friends’ homes are normal, cool, and fun. Every child in my life who has a healthy self-image and a non-tortured relationship with Blackness has this experience in common, whether it comes from a large, present extended family, clubs and organizations, or extracurricular activities. In these environments, there will inevitably be conversations about the off-color (and straight up racist) comments people encounter out in the world, and he’ll absorb the idea that these represent shortcomings of the people who make them, not of their targets. I know he’s only 3, but I think the earlier he can have one foot in a world beyond your immediate family where he is fully embraced and affirmed, the better.
That said, if you do want to speak up, go for it! Especially to teachers—you’ll be doing a service to other Black kids. In fact, I think the social awkwardness you may experience is what you owe your son if you’ve decided to put him in this environment. And if his friends’ parents balk at the idea that they’ve said something harmful, they are really not people who you want to trust with your child. There are plenty of white adults who would love to learn what they can do better, just as I’m sure you would welcome feedback on how you interacted with a child from another marginalized racial group—and they are the people who should get to be in his life.
I’m going to have an arranged marriage to someone, and I haven’t slept with her yet. Sex is something that will happen only after marriage. So I’m super anxious to know about how compatible we would be with each other. I’m someone who is physically attracted to the opposite sex, but I’m not quite sure if I’d be sexually attracted to this person later if it turns out we aren’t that compatible in bed with each other. What can I do about this? Also is it appropriate to bring this up in a conversation with your fiancé before marriage. I don’t want to feel judged by the other person because I brought this up.
— Engaged and Nervous
I would tell you to go right ahead and have the conversation, which sounds like a healthy and reasonable thing to do. But because I’m assuming you are not a Married at First Sight cast member, and that you’ve chosen to have an arranged marriage for cultural or religious reasons, I can’t really do that. Whether it’s appropriate to bring this up will be determined by the same values and traditions that are behind the marriage itself, so I’m really not sure what’s right, and I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong in a way that would horrify your fiancé or fly in the face of your cultural norms.
But I am sure that you’re not the first person to wonder about this issue during your engagement. So, find your coolest and most open-minded older sibling, aunt, or uncle, and raise this with them (and write back to let me know what they say because I’m curious). I’ll also add that even if you’re not compatible on your wedding night, it’s not the end of the world. You’ll have the rest of your lives together to adjust to each other, communicate, and figure things out.
Give Prudie a Hand
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer on Friday.
I just moved to a new city and joined a gym I’m excited about. I’ve been unhappy with my (lack of) fitness for a few years now—I have trouble keeping up with my fitter friends, and I have some body image issues that have been popping up more and more often. I really like this gym and the community they’ve created. I also absolutely love the workouts—they make me feel powerful and strong in a way I haven’t in years. The problem is, quite frankly, my old friends in the city I just left. I know basically no one in my new city, so my old friends are a crucial social connection for me. They are very into body positivity/health at every size. This is great! I think everyone should feel comfortable in their bodies! But my closest friends make negative comments whenever I bring up my gym or how happy I am with it. They say I’m “selling out” and make disparaging remarks about how I represent the patriarchy because I’ve internalized messages about thinness. It’s pretty upsetting to feel excited about a new development in my life, only to get shot down by folks who I’ve supported in their own endeavors. Do you have any thoughts on how I can get my friends to be more supportive, while not coming off as judgey for choices I’m making that they’re not?
— Fraught Fitness
UPDATE: Read the crowdsourced “We’re Prudence” answer here.
My parents think my husband and I are alcoholics: My parents have expressed over the years both when I was single and while with my husband that we have a drinking problem. We are both very successful in our careers and have a 7-month-old daughter of course I was sober for the entire pregnancy). The comments dimmed down a few years ago but are now coming back. We are very responsible parents and enjoy drinking every now and then, and when we are with family, we are not working and enjoy a few drinks and each other’s company. The passive-aggressive comments that we have a “drinking problem” has become too much recently. It is really starting to get to my husband where he does not feel comfortable around my family and just wishes we could have an honest conversation about it. He has also approached my mom, and she is even more avoidant with him. What do we do?
— We’re Not Drunks!
Dear Not Drunks,
I know people can have very different definitions of “a few drinks,” “now and then,” and “problem”—particularly those who are alcohol averse for whatever reason—so just to check all the boxes, why don’t you 1) take one of those online quizzes about the symptoms of alcoholism and 2) ask one or two trusted friends if they’ve ever had concerns about your drinking. If everything comes out clear, you and your husband should sit your parents down and share that information. Let them know that you took their concerns seriously and looked into the issue, but barring any firmer worries or complaints beyond their broad opinion, you really don’t want to hear any more comments, ever again.
You shouldn’t have to do this, but you could also just try not drinking around your parents—which, if you are really not dependent on alcohol, won’t be that big a deal.
My partner and I, who are in a gay relationship, are close friends with a lesbian couple. “Mary” and “Jean” desperately want a baby, and after some discussion my partner decided to donate his sperm. We have no interest in being parents but are happy to be uncles. Unfortunately, Mary experienced a significant illness and Jane got laid off from work, and now they are worried they can’t afford in vitro fertilization. Mary is infertile, and Jane is already 38, so waiting until their financial situation improves might not be an option. Mary and Jane have now asked whether Jane can conceive a baby with my partner the old-fashioned way. My partner and Jane used to date in their 20s so it won’t be anything new. I totally trust my partner, but this is just too much for me. Am I being too old-fashioned?