Dear Prudence

Help! My Sister Just Made a Stunning Accusation—and Now the Whole Family Is on My Case.

I can’t keep getting asked this question over and over again.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by dolgachov/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

A few weeks ago, my younger sister accused an extended relative of abusing her when she was younger. Obviously, the fallout in my previously very close family has been enormous.

There was never any indication that this person was abusive before, so a lot of people are having a hard time believing it (I’m not sure I believe it myself). Because of that, dozens of family members have been calling me and my other sister to ask if we were also abused, which is a very unpleasant, heavy, and intrusive topic, except neither of us remember any uncomfortable or abusive interactions with this relative. Saying we weren’t feels like we’re not supporting our sister, but if we try to say we don’t know if she’s telling the truth, our relatives get accusatory and say we’re either ruining this relative’s life or putting other kids in the family at risk. But we weren’t abused! And I don’t know how many times I can repeat that without losing my mind.

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It sounds crass and insensitive, but to be honest I’m sick of talking about this and sick of hearing about it. I have a lot of other stuff going on in my life right now (a sick pet, moving, starting a new job, my boyfriend’s family issues), and I just don’t have the time or the energy to repeat that I wasn’t abused over and over. I’ve tried to direct all questions to my sister and tune everyone else out, but my family thinks this should be some sort of familywide experience. Even if my sister was telling the truth, I have no idea what she thought she’d gain by telling everyone. The one friend I’ve told about this says I should go to therapy, but going to therapy would mean continuing to discuss this, which is the opposite of what I want to do.

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Is there a way I can keep myself out of this?

—Can’t Deal

Dear Can’t Deal,

Guess what’s harder than hearing about your sister being abused? Being the sister who is abused, finally comes forward, and isn’t supported by her own family. I can’t force you to believe her, but I encourage you to take a harder look at why your first instinct is to think she made this up out of thin air. What would she have to gain? And do you really think that when someone is abusive, there are always tons of signs? What kinds of indications would you have had to see to be convinced? Do you have any reason to believe those indications are typically present in cases of abuse? Ask yourself these questions and also explore why you’re so incredibly eager for this story to disappear. If you truly don’t believe there are any painful memories of abuse in your family, why is it so hard and stressful to talk about? Why is it “uncomfortable” and “intrusive” if the answer is truly as simple as “no”?

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I think you do, on some level, believe your sister—and maybe you even know something that you’ve tried to forget—and that makes you very uncomfortable. Don’t take that out on her.

The answer to “What does she have to gain by telling everyone?” is to unburden herself of this secret, and find comfort and compassion. Even if you truly have absolutely no idea what she’s talking about, you can at least give her that.

Dear Prudence,

My wife, L., and I (both women, early 30s) got married before the election in 2020. We’d been engaged and were planning to marry after the pandemic, but chose to do it alone in our living room via Satan’s platform (Microsoft fucking Teams) because L. is from a country that has been in absolute freefall for two years, and we’d faced an earlier, supremely Trumpian deportation scare. I’m so glad we did it, but the “ceremony” was a wee bit depressing. We had initially planned to do a small wedding later, which my parents supported vaguely, but now that this is a possibility, it’s impossible to pin down.

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L. and I have just about as much money as we need to support ourselves, and L.’s family is unable to help pay for a wedding (which they unequivocally want to happen). My parents could help pay for a small wedding (and have made it known that they’d be horrified if I “wasted” my limited resources just funding it myself), but when I bring it up, my mom acts like I’m a very silly little girl asking for something baldly self-indulgent that she will consider only because she feels obligated to, and the conversation stalls out. I was married once previously, and they were displeased then by my decision to elope, so there really does feel like there is no winning on this.

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Additionally, my sister, H., thinks that my parents will eventually get on board, but that nobody will actually come to this event because, since we’re already married, it’s “not a real wedding.” L. thinks H. is just being hateful, but I don’t know, is she right? I feel very, very stupid about this, but it’s been such a hellacious two years for society generally and us personally that part of me just wants a fun dumb party. It’s also important to L. and I’m worried that she and her family (who I love, and who have really Had a Year!) will be disappointed if I fail to make it happen. At this point, I’m just confused and disproportionately stressed about this. Should I try to plan a wedding, or is this really doomed to suck?

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—Wedded Abyss

Dear Wedded Abyss,

Put some feelers out to see who would commit to coming to a small wedding (or a big dumb party, whatever) if you had one around a certain date. Count up the affirmative replies, and if you and L. think you’ll have a great time and be happy if one-third of those people don’t end up coming (because obviously some will flake out), ask your mom directly for that check, and start planning!

Dear Prudence,

I am a 40-year-old woman married for 10 years with two well-adjusted, happy children. My husband and I have had great chemistry, a good sex life, lots of fun, and really enjoy being with each other. On the flip side, he has a job where he is gone often. Over the past decade, he has gone to strip clubs and lied about it, kept many secrets from me that I found out later about, and the tip of the iceberg was a four-month affair that nearly destroyed both of us. I feel like he is a good person, but not the best husband material.

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After the affair, I gave the marriage a year. I believe in doing self-work to see my side and to heal. I didn’t want to hate him and have my kids bear the pain of me hating their father. I acted out a lot that first year after the affair; I had no boundaries and would just tell the truth to my husband when I made out with someone else. I recommitted after that year and said to him I’d take it one year at a time. I have not acted out since. It’s been three years. The affair memories and lies are no longer raw. I can honestly say this has been the best our marriage has ever been.

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So my problem: After the affair, I stopped having boundaries with my heart. Prior to the affair I was as loyal as they come. Didn’t have male friends. Didn’t even engage. Post affair I vowed to never lose me again. Forget boundaries and be me always. I wouldn’t be rigid with black and white for others. I would be authentic, loving, and open. This leads me to my current situation. Over the past year, I made friends with a single man. Our children are friends so we see each other often. I wasn’t attracted to him, we have the same circle of friends, we help each other out since he’s a single dad and my husband travels often. I can count on him. He matters to me very much as a friend and just as a human. He’s been solid with his boundaries with me for a year (we barely hug, we banter but don’t flirt, etc.).

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And yet, I have developed deep feelings for him. He is loyal, follows through on what he says, isn’t into the stripper-ish stuff, and I have deep meaningful conversations with him. Last week we drank a lot, and ended up talking about the feelings we both have for each other. We made out and it was wonderful. He is solid, so I don’t see this carrying on with me being married, and I do not want to be a secret keeper. But my eyes are so wide open to the fact that I settled with my husband. I settled and I worked so hard to not destroy our family. Yes, he worked on himself and the marriage too, but not nearly to the extent I did. I have played the primary role in doing the work. I don’t trust him, not so much for the affair part, but for just basic follow through. I feel like I’m lecturing and having to remind him to do the most basic stuff, like calling on a bill or finishing a project. I love him dearly as a human, but I am resentful as a wife. I don’t want to hurt him or more importantly hurt our children. I don’t want to jump into another relationship either. But my eyes are just so wide open right now that, if I did something this out of character, then the obvious answer is that I’m not happy in my marriage. Help!

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—Heart Pulled in Two Directions

Dear Two Directions,

I agree that you are obviously not in a happy marriage. It’s OK, it happens! When you decided to “forget boundaries” without giving your husband the heads up that your marriage would be changing as the result of his affair, you basically checked out—just without any communication. He checked out too, when he half-assed doing the work to save the relationship. Have a conversation with him about separating and seeing if you could both be happier alone or with other people. Do it now, before you get to the point where you hate each other—because that’s where you’re headed. I can’t promise no one will be hurt at all. But I think everyone (you, your husband, and the kids) will be less hurt if you figure this out like adults rather than waiting to do it down the road, when someone is feeling angry, betrayed, and hurt.

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Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend “Josh” (27) is bisexual, and I think he still carries a torch for his ex-boyfriend, “Felix.” My best friend “Kate” (also bi) has suggested my problem with this is biphobia, but I’m definitely not biphobic.

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We have been dating for just over a year now, and are thinking about moving in together. He is pretty much the most perfect guy I’ve ever dated, and I am in love. I’ve never fallen quite so hard before, but I could have kids with Josh and spend the rest of my life with him, something we have talked about. But I’m worried he is still in love with his ex. For example, he has one picture of us hanging up on his wall. But he has five photos of him and Felix hanging around the house as well, his very much alive ex-boyfriend. I’ve said it is weird, but Josh argues I have pictures of my friends in my own place as well, such as Kate—which is true. And admittedly, Josh has photos of other friends up as well, though not as many.

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In his opinion, he and Felix ended on mutual terms about a year ago, as Felix got a permanent job in his home country, Germany. Not a short-term move, but a forever move. Josh was torn, but decided he couldn’t leave his parents, siblings, and friends. So they broke up, but decided to remain friends, after eight years together.

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They chat on the phone at least once a week (in German, so I can’t even understand them), as friends. I chat with my girlfriends on the phone as well, but never for an hour or two hours like they do. I joke that I thought us girls were meant to be the ones who never get off the phone, , but he just shrugged it off and said they had a lot of catching up to do. Which I don’t think is true, as they spoke for like 50 minutes on the phone last week!

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—Biphobic or Not?

Dear Biphobic or Not,

I don’t think you’re being biphobic, but I can’t be 100 percent sure. Who knows what’s going on in the back of your brain and shaping the way you feel. I also don’t know if Josh still has feelings for Felix. He very well might, or he might not.

What I do know is that it absolutely sucks to be in a relationship when you think your partner is in love with someone else. And I don’t believe you can just turn that feeling off or talk yourself out of it. On some level, it reflects that, despite the fact that you call him the most perfect guy you’ve ever dated, you and your boyfriend may not be the best match. Because if you were, one of the signs would be that you felt secure and confident about your connection. The most perfect guy you ever date—if you meet him at the right moment, when you’re ready for a relationship—won’t leave a single doubt in your mind that you’re his first choice. Sadly, I don’t think you’re there with Josh. You love him, so I understand that a breakup would be tough right now, but why don’t you hold off on moving forward and press pause on any plans to move in together? Don’t pick them up again unless and until you feel convinced that you’re the only one for him.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

I’m a gay man in my early 30s who lives in a city that’s big enough to contain what feels like an endless supply of potential sex partners. I don’t have as exciting of a sex life as my orgy-frequenting friends, but I am generally up for a good time and oftentimes find myself having one, if you know what I mean, with one-time randoms and regulars alike. There’s a thing some guys do, I’ve noticed, that has been bothering me and I’m wondering if you could help shed light on why they do this or whether I should put up with it without complaint. The thing they do goes like this: After we meet and have a hookup that from what I can tell is mutually satisfying, they go cold. I’m not trying to marry any of these men, but I can barely get more than a word back in response when I send a follow-up text. I’ll sometimes see them out soon after hooking up, and it’s like they’re looking past me. But then I’ll run into them a few months later, well after I’ve given up ever thinking we’ll ever get naked together again, and they’ll be all over me. Totally into it. What’s up with this?

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