Dear Prudence

My Wife Suggested I Get a Girlfriend—but There Sure Are a Lot of Rules

Am I being given a freedom I can never really take advantage of?

A woman rubs her hands together in the foreground, while a man reviews papers behind her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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.

Dear Prudence,

My wife of 20 years has informed me she’s not so interested in sex any more (maybe quarterly?) and that perhaps I should get a girlfriend on the side. Only this would have to be super discreet, no sleepovers, no hosting, and none of our friends or family or kids can ever find out. We live in a small town so it looks like any girlfriend will probably have to be long distance. Does that sound reasonable, or do you think I’m being given a freedom I can never really take advantage of but that lets my wife feel less guilty in the process? I don’t want her to feel guilty, but I also don’t want the conversation to be shut down with an offer I can’t reasonably use.

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What she’s offering sounds difficult but not necessarily impossible. There are plenty of ways to meet women who are interested in casual sex (not that they’re all growing on trees or that you’ll always be interested in the ones who are interested in you, just that there are bars and apps and the whole wide, weird, sex-seeking Internet at your disposal), but they might not necessarily be interested in becoming a potential girlfriend. If all you’re looking for is casual sex with amenable partners, you have options. If what you’re looking for is one woman who’s down for hooking up a few times a week or month, always at her place, never at yours, and who will never tell anyone about the two of you—that’s going to be pretty tough to find. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! My Wife Wants Me to Get a Girlfriend, but Only if No One Ever Finds Out.” (June 13, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

I have a happy marriage for the most part. I’m a take-charge kind of woman, and my husband normally is happy to let me control most situations unless they are serious issues dealing with our family. Our marriage works on that capacity. The trouble I have is, in the bedroom, I actually want the opposite. I want him to take the lead, be more commanding, and me to be more submissive. He goes along, does what I want, and half the time I have to guide him, goad him, and tell him to tell me what he wants or just simply do it. I’m finding it difficult to have a discussion with him about what turns my crank per se. Our sex life is good, we both walk away satisfied, but I just know it would be so much better (for me) if he went outside his normal personality a bit. How do you suggest I go about telling him, hey, I want you to be more demanding/bossy/alpha/dominant in bed?

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It is somewhat ironic that you’re in the position of saying, “OK, next on the agenda, I order you to stop taking orders from me when we’re in bed, and start acting more caveman. I want you to drag me by the hair (don’t pull really hard, just kind of tug) and take me against the bathroom wall when we’re getting ready to go out because you find me so sexy you can’t wait.” The reason the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy was such a sensation is because lots of women, even alpha women like yourself, want to feel taken in bed. But when you are an alpha woman and you have an egalitarian relationship, it’s hard to say, “Please be a beast!” I understand the quality of writing in Fifty Shades is execrable, but the book does provide you with an opening. Get it, go to some a relevant passages, show them to your husband and say, “This turns me on.” Then talk to him about how your sex life is great and satisfying, but you have a desire to be dominated in bed. Say you know this takes you out of your familiar roles, but you think it would be good for you two to be more wild in bed. Maybe he will rise to the challenge, or maybe your beta male will need more instruction from you about how you don’t want to give him any instruction.

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From: “Help! I Want My Husband to Defer to Me in All Ways—Except in Bed.” (April 15, 2014)

Dear Prudence,

I have a co-worker with a weird habit and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do something about it.

Here’s the deal. We’re professionals, and we often work closely with clients. My co-worker sucks his thumb. Now, I’ll admit, it’s a habit I don’t love, and he’s far from the only adult thumb-sucker I know, but I wouldn’t think twice about it except he does it all the time, in meetings, in front of clients, all of that.

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He’s good at his job and seems to be plenty well-respected by our people and the clients, so I guess it’s not disrupting his career or hurting our image—in other words, why would I say anything to him about it? Except it’s also unsanitary—not the worst thing, but it grosses me out. It’s just so far outside of social norms that I always find it kind of appalling. And if our clients feel similarly, they’re not going to say anything. Also, he’s a grown man, so there’s no way he’s unaware that it’s generally considered inappropriate.

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I’m so confused. I would totally say something, but I look around me—at him, at his wife (who’s a good friend of mine), at our management—and feel like I’m crazy because I must be the only person who cares, or someone whose job it is would’ve already said something, right? At least he’s not a big hand-shaker.

It may very well be disrupting his career and hurting your company’s image; you’ve noticed it, and you feel uncomfortable but haven’t said anything, so it stands to reason that there are plenty of others out there who’ve reacted the same way. It’s unprofessional, and it’s absolutely fair to bring this up. To be clear, lots of people have nervous tics, and you shouldn’t be cruel when you bring this up or make jokes at his expense, but it is fair to ask that he at least try to refrain from thumb-sucking while he’s at work, especially when he’s in front of clients.

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Unfortunately, since you’re his co-worker and not his supervisor, you don’t have a lot of leverage in getting him to change his behavior. If you have a good relationship otherwise, consider talking to him well in advance of your next client-facing meeting, and ask him if he could keep from sucking his thumb until the clients have left and he’s in (relative) private.

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Bear in mind that habits like this one are very difficult to break, and it may be challenging for him to change overnight. If you’re not comfortable speaking to him directly, or if he reacts badly, you can speak to your own boss. Mention your concerns that it doesn’t present a professional image to clients, that it’s unsanitary, and that you’re worried this could affect your business. You can make it clear that you think really highly of your colleague otherwise, but don’t let the fact that no one else has addressed this behavior keep you from speaking up. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Co-Worker Won’t Stop Sucking His Thumb in Front of Clients.” (March 6, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I married a few years ago after just months of knowing each other. I have never once doubted our decision to marry, and on the whole, we are exceptionally happy. He is my perfect partner and an ideal father for our daughter—but, of course, there’s a but. During our very brief courtship, there is one habit he intentionally hid from me—online gaming. Apparently, he didn’t want me to think him nerdy. When he first disclosed this after the honeymoon, I thought it was funny and cute. A couple years later, I’m bitter—we have routine marital disagreements, but this is the only issue we ever fight about. He spends several hours a week (10-20) playing these online games! Every time we fight about it, he’ll cut back or promise to stop … but within a week or two, it’s back to at least a couple of hours every day. This is a man who has quit smoking and quit his pseudo-addiction to energy drinks, but can’t (or won’t) quit online gaming. I can’t imagine life without him, but this is making me miserable. I’m not willing to leave him over it; how can I get him to stop or change my own attitude to accept it? (For clarification, I have no suspicions of any online infidelity—it just bothers me that he spends his leisure time gaming instead of reading a book, watching TV with me, etc.)

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If he were spending all his free time reading books or watching TV, I don’t understand why that would make your marriage better. Sure, he’s doing a lot of gaming. But you are not complaining that he’s ignoring his family duties, just that you loathe his pastime. There are husbands everywhere who spend all their free time looking at porn, or training for triathlons, or conducting affairs. Your husband shouldn’t have hidden this hobby from you, but once he confessed, you had no objection. Obviously the more bitter you get, the more you fight about it, then the more appealing his imaginary world becomes. Make the real world you’re both in more pleasant and vow that you will drop your commentary about his habit for three months. Then see if your marriage and your life haven’t improved. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! My Husband Spends All His Free Time Playing Online Games.” (March 5, 2013)

More from Dear Prudence

I got engaged recently, and while I’m so happy to be marrying a wonderful man, there’s one little problem: I hate and am embarrassed by the ring he bought me. The diamond is so big, and the setting so flashy, it’s completely unlike the kind of rings most of my friends got. The problem is when he proposed and offered me the ring, my initial reaction was overwhelmingly positive. I gasped and gushed about how beautiful it was, and on the surface it is a beautiful ring—just not right for me. I’ve gotten so much unwanted attention, with people asking to see “the rock” and calling me celebrity nicknames. My mom has used every synonym for tacky in the book, and friends have asked if I know whether or not it’s a blood diamond. It’s humiliating.

I’d do anything rather than hurt him, but I’m supposed to wear this ring for the rest of my life. What do I do?

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