How to Do It, Slate’s sex advice column, now has its very own podcast featuring Stoya and Rich! Twice a week, they’ll tackle all-new questions together, no matter how out there. The second episode each week is available exclusively to Slate Plus members. Sign up for Slate Plus for just $1 for your first month.
For our first week only, the episode and transcript are available to everyone.
Dear How to Do It,
My wife and I, a woman and man in our 30s, have been married for almost two years. We live in a condo, and last month, my best friend, Max, got a new job in our expensive city across the country and came to stay with us while he looks for his own place. This arrangement has been nice because we have had no social lives for the past year-plus, thanks to COVID. But it’s also a little frustrating at times because he’s always around, and my wife and I have no alone time.
Max has boundary issues and acts like we were still roommates in our 20s. He thinks it’s fine to walk around in a towel and leave his clothes in the bathroom after he showers—that kind of thing. I throw his dirty clothes at him, but my wife tolerates all of it, and even does his laundry sometimes when she’s doing it anyway. I shake my head at this, but I know she’s just trying to be a nice host.
The other day, when I assume my wife thought I was still upstairs and Max was gone, I caught a glimpse of her picking up Max’s underwear from the bathroom floor and putting it up on her face. I couldn’t fully see, but it looked like she was smelling it. I was a little shocked and made some noise, and she acted like nothing happened. I have not mentioned this since, and I am not sure what to do.
Max is finally leaving in a couple of weeks. I might be wrong about what I saw, but a part of me is now thinking about the few times they’ve been alone. I do trust my wife and Max, but the last year has made us all a little crazy. Should I bring this up to my wife? What should I say?
—Should I Be Worried?
Stoya: I feel like there’s one chunk that’s the smelling of the underwear that definitely happened. And then there’s this other chunk, where our writer seems to be fearing that some physical act of infidelity has happened between his wife and best friend.
Stoya: And that seems like a lot of distance to cover in one paragraph. And I think it might be worth them trying to dial back that concern.
Rich: Yes. So, it’s hard to untangle the suspicion from the jealousy because he says she’s doing his laundry and this is annoying to him. It’s like, are you painting us a picture of this entire thing that’s leading up to this point? Are you crafting this? Or are you walking around feeling paranoid about this for whatever reason that you didn’t specify because Max has boundary issues?
Stoya: Yeah. If I were in his position and my wife was, I don’t know, making positive comments about Max walking around in a towel, I would mention that in the letter. So, I think we can assume that she doesn’t encourage him in any way.
And if she has a fetish, fetishes aren’t necessarily connected to people. Some foot fetishists don’t care at all who the foot is attached to. She may be super into smelling underwear and just be really excited at a fresh set of genitals for some diversity. And be willing to tolerate specifically this laundry thing because it gives her a chance to interact with the underwear.
Rich: But there is the chance that she’s so attracted to Max that she’s sniffing in particular his crotch smell and loving it because it belongs to him.
Stoya: There is. And that is where we then have to tread carefully because we don’t want to send the writer off in this paranoid spiral and have that result in him storming into the room. But it is a valid concern.
Rich: Certainly, my willingness to confront any situation I find gets me into plenty of trouble and creates strife. But if I were in this situation and I saw my boyfriend doing that, I’d be like, “What are you doing? Like what?”
We’re open, so he’s allowed, in any definition, to sniff somebody’s underwear. He’s allowed to do a lot more. So, something like this that exists in kind of a gray area of fidelity, that might be a reason why you wouldn’t want to confront somebody because you don’t want to create a fight, you don’t want to accuse them. If I ask my boyfriend, “What are you doing?,” we can laugh about it, but it can be open like that. I understand, in a different sort of scenario, why it might be difficult to broach that conversation.
At the same time, your wife had underwear on her face. What is she doing?
Stoya: Yeah, they don’t mention whether they’re monogamous or not, which implies to me that they’re default monogamous, which comes with a lot of details not being discussed.
Stoya: So, it’s going to be very difficult for him to broach the conversation because she probably feels conflicted, maybe guilty, maybe ashamed. And she has very good reason, given the situation, to fear that the faintest mention is the prelude to judgment and accusation. She may not be in a position to clearly answer a direct question about what she was doing. But I do think it’s worth asking.
Rich: Yeah. Just: “I happened to see. What was up with that? Are you into Max?”
Stoya: You don’t necessarily have to go at it from that route. He could be like, “So, I’ve smelled your panties,” presuming he has. “Here’s what it did for me. Do you ever smell people’s underwear?” And like give her an opportunity to be like, “Why, yes,” but still feel kind of in control. But I worry if he jumps straight to like, “So, when you had my friend Max’s underwear on your face… ”—that might cause a breakdown in communication.
Rich: It could. Although I would say that if somebody came at it like you just suggested, I would immediately be like, “Oh my God, he saw me doing that the other day. And now it’s a confrontation.”
Stoya: There’s no good way.
Rich: Yeah, this is a rip-the-Band-Aid-off kind of thing.
Stoya: Brace for it to be wacky and make sure you have a good couple of hours to deal with any complications where you have privacy, because the last thing you need is Max walking in, in the middle of some super tense discussion.
Rich: About his underwear.
Stoya: That he leaves on the floor like a 20-year-old.
Rich: And if we don’t know how she’s going to react, then the best that you can do as the person talking to her is make sure you don’t escalate—to make sure that you use compassionate, nonaccusatory language. If you’re trying to find out information, you’re trying to find information. If you want to fight, you want to fight. But I think the former is what you’re going for here. So, just be patient and kind, and say it bothered you.
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More How to Do It
This week, Stoya and Rich answer letters from a man who falls in love for a very embarrassing reason, and a woman whose good friend just started a new OnlyFans account—and seems to be targeting all her friends’ husbands for follows.