Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Welcome! I hope you spent the weekend forgetting about all your own problems while obsessing over women’s gymnastics like I did. How bad can things be if you’re not having to do flips on a piece of wood the width of a cellphone, right? But if you still have stuff on your mind, let me know …
Q. Husband’s ex-girlfriend: I have been married to my husband for 19 years. We have a good relationship with minimal issues, just one that resurfaces. In the past few years, he reconnected with a girlfriend he had in high school, and they began emailing each other regularly. I sadly found out when I read the emails on a tablet that was left open. These first emails were of a sexual nature. I confronted him and he apologized, and said it wouldn’t happen again.
He has continued emailing her to this day, though nothing sexual that I have seen. He’s aware that I’m reading the emails and I’ve told him I don’t appreciate the communication and it upsets me. He refuses to stop, saying he doesn’t do anything wrong anymore. He gets very angry at me, and has even said he is sorry I don’t have connections like he has with my exes. They talk about life, work, and sometimes personal items. One email she sent was about how her daughter is interested in a college in the state where we live and how it was hard for her to know he was just a few miles away, but wouldn’t be seeing him. I worry about an emotional affair, and don’t want to lose all trust in him. Should I email her? What should I do at this point?
A: Yes, this is an emotional affair. No, do not email her. It won’t make them stop communicating—and in fact, it will probably just give them more to be all secretive and giddy about and add fuel to their mutual crush. Even if she did cut him off after hearing from you, you’d be left with a husband who doesn’t seem to care as much as he should about your feelings and doesn’t have much regard for your wishes.
All relationships have different rules, and there’s certainly room to negotiate the amount and nature of contact with exes that’s right for you two. But the details of the communications aren’t as important as the fact that he’s doing something that he knows is hurtful to you and hasn’t even tried to comfort you, compromise, or repair your trust. And he’s getting angry at you on top of it! Putting aside how he feels about his ex, that’s really painful. Take the sex and romance out of it and it would still be bad: If he made a salad for dinner every night and covered it with ranch dressing, knowing you hate ranch dressing, and got mad when you asked him to use oil and vinegar instead, that would also be a big problem. What I’m trying to say is the title of your question should have been “Unfaithful husband,” rather than “Husband’s ex-girlfriend” because she’s not your problem—he is.
You should make one last big push to communicate as clearly as possible, maybe with the help of a couples counselor, how painful this is to you. Tell him in writing, too, so he can’t play dumb and say he didn’t know it was that big a deal if you do end up reaching your limit and walking out one day. If, after a crystal-clear conversation about what’s at stake, he still seems more upset about the idea of giving up contact with his ex than he does about hurting his wife, you’ll have to start thinking seriously about whether he’s the husband you want.
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Q. Did I drive my friends away? Prior to the pandemic, I had a very close group of friends who I met soon after giving birth to my first child. We met weekly, had a great time together, and I never questioned my status with the group (I felt like I connected well with everyone). Soon after finding out I was pregnant with my second, the pandemic hit. We all kept in touch via text and video chat, and I was looking forward to when we felt comfortable getting together again. A few months ago, I noticed that the group had started getting together but I hadn’t been invited. I expressed interest in their outings, and how we had been very safe during the pandemic with very minimal chance of exposure. Finally, we got invited to a birthday party. We had a great time! It was just like pre-pandemic. But then afterward, two of my friends made comments (separately from one another) that we should start getting together when I feel comfortable taking my two kids out on my own.
These comments rubbed me the wrong way. It sounded like they hadn’t been inviting me because they felt I wasn’t capable of going out as a mother of two. I decided to approach my closest friend about it, and told her how that made me feel and asked her if they really believed that I hadn’t been going out alone with my kids. Did they really think I was incapable? My friend wasn’t very receptive to my feelings about the comment, and said I hadn’t been invited because we had all fallen into different routines. She completely avoided addressing the comment that was made to me.
It’s been about two months now, and I rarely hear from anyone in the group anymore. The friend I had approached hasn’t spoken to me since. I did get invited to one outing a few weeks ago, but it didn’t go very well. The location was more than an hour away from me and they chose to meet up very early in the morning. We got there as soon as we could, about an hour after they did, and they all left about 25 minutes after we arrived. I was so disappointed. Did I overreact to that comment? Should I have just let it go? Should I approach them about this again, or consider this friendship over?
A: As I mentioned in my response to the question above, I’m always in favor of one final, super-clear attempt to communicate before ending a friendship or relationship. So I suggest reaching out to the person you’ve identified as your closest friend in the group, to find out if you’ve done or said anything that made everyone pull away.
I can think of a couple of explanations: 1) When you went to that birthday party with two kids, maybe you appeared to have a hard time managing things, were distracted by the baby, or the older child was very loud and lively in a way that made it hard for the kid-free people in the group to enjoy themselves, and they would rather not do that again. 2) You’ve said or done something to offend one or more of the people in the group, fairly or unfairly. Maybe something was miscommunicated over text or maybe they’re in QAnon and now that you’re vaccinated, they don’t want to be near your microchip. It could be anything! 3) Life happens, everyone has lots going on with post-pandemic socializing, and people are struggling with their own issues and haven’t been able to give much thought to making everyone feel included.
I really don’t know.
But I do know that real friends make you feel wanted, welcomed, and secure about where you stand with them, and you leave their company feeling good about yourself. It doesn’t sound like this group meets the criteria anymore.
Q. Not an abuser: I am concerned about my friend “Dean.” In college, he was in a volatile relationship with “Maura.” Maura was very emotionally abusive to him and would constantly needle him about things like his job, friends, etc. She was always picking fights with him. One escalated to the point where he lost his temper and hit her face. He was immediately remorseful; he had never treated any woman that way before.
Thankfully, he and Maura are no longer together, but he’s nervous about getting in another relationship because of his “abusive” past. While I think it is never right to hit a significant other, I don’t think he deserves to be labeled as an abuser. I think that Maura was more the abuser than he was in that relationship. What Dean did was wrong, but I don’t think it’s something that should define him for the rest of his life. How can I convince him that he deserves to be happy, and while he needs help to make sure it won’t happen again, he shouldn’t let his actions in a difficult situation define him?
A: You don’t need to convince him of anything. Dean knows what he did and whether he’s at risk of doing it again much better than you do. For the sake of the women he dates in the future, let him be as hard on himself as he thinks is appropriate, label himself the way he feels he should be labeled, and move at his own pace.
Q. Family nudism: We are a family of six: one adult male and one adult female, one male teen (15 years old), one female teen (17), and boy/girl twins (7). We have always been casual about being partially and fully undressed around one another in the house, toilet, and shower, as well as in our backyard (yes, we have a tall wall). Some of our family members have been remarking that this is harmful to the children. The children tell us they are comfortable with it as this is the way we have always been, and they know they can cover themselves if they want to. Should we enforce wearing clothes all the time or is our way OK?
A: Your way is totally OK. It might be worth having a conversation with all the kids about how your family sees bodies (normal, nothing to be ashamed of, uncomfortable when covered in unnecessary clothes) compared with how many other people in the world see bodies (sexual, private, scandalous) so they can have some talking points prepared for when they inevitably receive questions and judgment from their friends or outsiders.
Q. Fantasy podcast: I have a friend who thinks he is going to work for ESPN and has a podcast that he makes in his trailer, drinking a 12-pack of beer every day. He is in his 40s and yet he thinks he is in his 30s. He has said a lot of stupid things on his podcast and he refuses to accept that he won’t work for ESPN. Any suggestions on how I can get my friend to accept that ESPN will never hire him?
A: He’s not hurting anyone. Let him have his dream!
It does sound like he’s drinking too much (and maybe not working?), so if you want to express concern about those things and let him know you care about him, that’s fine. But you don’t have the power to make him change, so the best thing you can do is continue to be a good friend.
Q. Re: Did I drive my friends away? I noticed this comment from the writer: “Finally, we got invited to a birthday party. We had a great time! It was just like pre-pandemic. But then afterward, two of my friends made comments (separately from one another) that we should start getting together when I feel comfortable taking my two kids out on my own.” Could the two friends be referring to the writer’s partner?
A: Oh yeah, I assumed “we” meant the writer plus kids since those were the only people mentioned but that’s definitely possible. If so, delete possible explanation No. 1.
Q. Re: Family nudity: My family was the same—my parents are European. It made me much more comfortable with the fact that bodies are all different and ultimately comfortable with my own body. Yes, have that chat so the children can answer questions about it, but you’re fine.
A: Yep, even though I’m a person who finds clothes cozy and likes wearing them at home, I totally think the people who are scandalized by nudity are the ones with the issue. Now that I think of it, the older kids are probably well aware of this already but it’s probably a good time for a talk with the little ones.
I don’t get along with my sister-in-law. She adores my brother and makes him very happy so I try to be friendly when I see her, but now that we’ve moved back to his hometown and she lives just a few miles away, it’s gotten much harder. She criticizes my taste in furniture, my clothes, and my cooking. I try to deflect the comments, but she will not let it go. Recently, my husband and I adopted two rescue dogs and posted pictures of them in Facebook. I then get a text from my sister-in-law telling me that I have to change the names of my dogs because she is going to use those names for her kids, and that she is now pregnant but I can’t tell anyone. This is ridiculous and I don’t know what to do. Do I just ignore her and hope it goes away? Share the text and get raked over the coals for spoiling the pregnancy surprise? Post tons of pictures of my dogs and refer to them as my babies? I have to live with this woman in my life and I don’t want to hurt my brother but I am not changing the names of my dogs.