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 just got out of the wreckage of a five-year marriage. My husband blatantly carried on an affair for two years with a young woman I considered my protégé. I counseled her on her career, recommended her special projects, and invited her into my home. I came home unexpectedly early one day and found them together in bed. Apparently everyone knew—neighbors, colleagues, mutual friends. I was so humiliated, I fled town, transferred to out of state, and only communicated to my ex via my lawyer. A few friends kept me informed—she was pregnant, they were engaged, and just waiting for the ink to dry so they could have a wedding.
Then my ex drove drunk and ended up crashing into a semi. She lost the baby, and my ex-husband lost his right leg. After I heard the news, I cried tears of joy. I was so fiercely happy that it scared me. I used to be a kind person, a good person—now I don’t know. I haven’t told anyone; it is a sick, sad secret I don’t want to give up. I try to move forward and concentrate on my new house and new job, but then I get an impulse to look on Facebook and gloat to myself or call my friends and fish for more details on their misery. What is wrong with me?
The human condition is what is wrong with you, and you are not alone. I don’t think this is an impulse that should dictate your behavior, but I don’t think it’s a sign that you are irredeemably broken or incapable of empathy. Your ex-husband and ex-protégé hurt you badly, and now they are hurting badly; the wounded-animal part of your brain that rejoices in their suffering is not your best and highest self, but it’s an instinct I think most readers of this column can identify with. (The writer of this column also identifies.)
This is part of why I myself am often anxious about experiencing anger—there is a part of me that does not simply want to see justice done or boundaries honored. There is a part of me that wants to punish anyone I perceive to have wronged me without a thought for proportion. It is so easy to take delight in anger, to want to see someone suffer not just in the same amount he or she brought suffering to us, but forever and in a way that does not abate when we see his or her suffering come to pass. This is not an impulse that we should encourage in ourselves. I think therapy would be extremely useful to you at this juncture. It would help you deal with these troubling emotions, as well as acknowledge the very real hurt you yourself experienced quite recently. You will not, I think, ever find yourself rid of a desire to inflict pain on the people who have hurt you, but you will find a healthy way to acknowledge and set it aside and not to encourage yourself to dwell on the details of their misery. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Cheating Ex and His Mistress Got in a Terrible Car Accident, and I’m Happy About It.” (Nov. 14, 2016)
My boyfriend of one year and I are both recently graduated twentysomethings living at home like true millennials. While this has caused a few bumps in our love life, his mother is very open, liberal and allows me to spend the night at their house with him. Usually his mother gives us plenty of space, except for insisting on making us coffee and breakfast some mornings. The other day as we were being intimate, his mother called him on his cellphone. She often calls even when she knows we’re in the house so as not to barge in. This time, he answered the phone and continued to have sex with me as he talked to her. I was livid and disturbed, not to mention feeling cheap in a very Oedipal way. We talked it over at length and he recognized that it was inappropriate and immature, and he apologized. But I can’t help feeling that this should send a self-respecting young woman packing and running. Am I overreacting?
Obviously what he should have said was, “Mom, we’re in the middle of coitus, so don’t interrupt us.” Millennials assert that one of their distinguishing characteristics is the seamless ability to multitask, and if you accept the thrust of that argument, then your boyfriend was only demonstrating his prowess. You’re also looking at the wrong Greek myth to explain what happened. I don’t think the events revealed an attraction to his mother, but to the siren song of the cellphone, a device to which people of all generations often feel more intimacy and loyalty than to their human partners. I’ll also offer the following excuse on your boyfriend’s behalf since he neglected to: Maybe when he realized it was Mom calling, he worried that since she knew he was home, if he didn’t answer she might go looking for him and find herself barging in flagrante. Alternatively, being in his childhood bedroom may have kicked in the Pavlovian response that when Mom calls, he responds. Whatever his subliminal thought process, of course his answering the phone ruined your mood. But this is just a tiny hump in your relationship and not a reason to flee. I’m sure he’s learned his lesson, but the next time you two get romantic, make certain to lock the door and turn off the phone—don’t even let him think about leaving it on vibrate. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Boyfriend Answered a Call From His Mother While We Were Having Sex.” (April 4, 2013)
Todd and I had been going out for eight months, spending every spare moment together and practically living together. He’s smart and funny, and we fit together so well at one point I thought he might be the one. Until last month. I live on a farm (Todd is definitely a city boy), and one morning I went out to fix my electric fence. I turned it off before working on it, of course, but while I was leaning over the top wire Todd thought it would be funny to turn it back on. Now this isn’t the electric fence from Jurassic Park, but it has a pretty powerful charger on it, and it knocked me back on my heels and made me cry out. And Todd laughed. I was so hurt and angry I told him to get his stuff and get out. At first he didn’t believe me: I had to physically get his belongings and take them out to his car, then told him I never wanted to see him again. And I meant it. He apologized and has kept apologizing, sending me flowers and asking my forgiveness. My friends (who unanimously love Todd) say I should take him back, that it was just a juvenile prank and that he had no idea how large a wallop the fence packed. He’s even offered to let me shock him as payback, which is, in my view, just another sign of his immaturity. I believe that he’s genuinely sorry, but it was such a egregious breach of trust I can’t get past it. The memory of that shock, and his laughter, still makes me cry. Am I overreacting? Should I give him a second chance?
Absolutely not. —D.L.
From: “Help! I Dumped My Boyfriend for Electrically Shocking Me. Should I Take Him Back?” (Aug. 8, 2016)
My husband and I are happily married and expecting, but due to my fertility issues and my husband’s desire for a biological child, we ended up choosing a wonderful surrogate mother who is now almost eight months along. She has been an absolute dream and has been very considerate of us, but now that it’s almost time for the delivery she has made a request: She has asked for a women-only delivery room as it will be more comfortable for her. My husband is beyond upset with this request, seeing how much he wanted this (I was OK with adoption, and we still plan to adopt in the future), he financially supported her and the pregnancy and it is his biological child. I can understand making her as comfortable as possible during this time, but I can also sympathize with my husband’s desire to be a part of the event, rather than waiting outside. What should I do?
This is the sort of thing that should have been sorted our contractually before your surrogate became pregnant. But your husband is fixating on a not very important issue and you don’t want what has been a lovely relationship to degenerate into recriminations on the eve of her presenting you with your child. I think you should tell your husband you totally understand his desire, and you will try to be the go-between, but if your surrogate doesn’t want a man who’s not a doctor, or not related to her, in the room, you can’t force her to change her mind. Remind him that a generation or so ago, all fathers were in the waiting room having a smoke, or waiting it out at a nearby bar. Tell him right now it’s easy to get fixated on the moment of birth, but parenthood will actually begin when you take your bundle home. When you talk to your surrogate tell her that it would mean a lot to both you and your husband if you could both be there for the birth. You could say he could sit quietly in a corner until the baby is born if that would make her more comfortable. If it’s a no go, then work on convincing your husband that seeing your child when he or she is cleaned up and swaddled will not mean he’s missing anything in the grand scheme of parenthood. And maybe the surrogate would allow some more or less discreet filming of the big event, if that would mollify the new father. —E.Y.
From: “Help! Our Surrogate Doesn’t Want My Husband in the Delivery Room.” (Dec. 10, 2012)
More from Dear Prudence
My husband forces me to give him hugs. I know this sounds like a really stupid problem to have. He has created a “hug toll,” and he won’t let me leave the room until I give him a hug. Here are some examples. I am running late for work and need to rush out the door. He will physically block my exit until I give him a hug. He doesn’t do this in a way that will hurt me; he’ll just pick me up until I give him his hug then he’ll let me go. Another scenario is when we are downstairs and I have to use the bathroom. He will block the stairs until I hug him. It’s really annoying. Sometimes I just don’t feel like giving hugs. I have told him this, but he just laughed at me. The hug “tax” is really obnoxious. How do I make it stop? He is 100 pounds heavier than me and a foot taller, so I can’t push my way out. How can I make it stop, Prudence? I love hugging him, just not on command. He’s a hug bully.