Dear Prudence

Help! A Totally Alluring Stranger is Making Me Reconsider My Life Plans.

We had such an instant connection, it was unsettling.

A person closes their eyes to dream with an illustrated plane circling around their head.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Atstock Productions/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Oleksandr Melnyk/iStock/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,

Two weeks ago I left on a short vacation to visit a friend across the country. I said goodbye to my amazing fiancé with tears in my eyes even though I was only going to be gone for six days. We’re in our late 20s, have been together for four years and have always had a strong, loving relationship. When I reached my friend’s apartment, I met her roommate “Josh” who turned my world upside down. I have never given another man a second look during my relationship, but Josh and I had such an instant connection, it was unsettling. We spent hours talking, sharing stories, and getting to know each other’s backgrounds. While my fiancé and I have lots in common, there are issues that we have compromised on (number of children, religion, saving vs. spending). Josh and I, however, seemed to be in sync on every issue we addressed. Nothing physical happened, but I left the trip feeling sad that I was leaving Josh! I am absolutely dumbfounded by these feelings. I obviously don’t know Josh well enough to know that we would work out as a couple, but he introduced a doubt in my relationship that I can’t seem to shake. I still love my fiancé, but now I’m questioning if our foundation is strong enough for a marriage … which is supposed to happen in six months! What should I do?

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I don’t know you or Josh, but I can assure you that if you two became a couple you would also find issues on which you would have to compromise. The alluring stranger you’ve only known for a few days is the one with whom you’ve never had to fight over credit card debt, or messiness, or how many kids you want. I, however, can’t tell if Josh helped put in relief some deep, fundamental problems in your relationship. Or if Josh just reminded you that you’re still young and settled on a life partner awfully early in the game. Or if Josh is it and you’ll regret forever not pursuing a possible relationship. You need to accept that every so often even for the happiest couples a Josh comes along to make one wonder, “What if.” So you have some deep thinking to do. Maybe after a few more weeks at home the thoughts of Josh will fade away and you’ll have your answer. Maybe this encounter will have made you realize you’ve been fooling yourself. What you do is not do anything rash, and instead use both your rational and emotional minds to explore what is the best decision about your future. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! I Just Met a Man I Really Click With. Should I Call Off My Wedding?” (March 31, 2014)

Dear Prudence,

This is my second marriage—I am done raising kids, suburbia, two-hour commutes, and never seeing my house in daylight. I love the city, and I thought my wife and I were in agreement. My eldest son is expecting a baby, and my wife, my 9-year-old stepson, and I went up and stayed for the weekend. This was the first time my wife has seen the old house. Apparently, it made an impression. Suddenly she is talking about crime in the city (historical low), getting a dog (I have allergies), and how our condo is too small for a baby! I told her there was no way I was having another kid at my age. Now she refuses to talk to me. I am going to be a grandfather, and helping raise a 9-year-old is wonderful, but I can’t do diapers again. I haven’t changed and was upfront about my experiences and expectations when we were dating. I thought we were on the same page, but now my life is completely off script. Any words of wisdom? I really don’t think counseling is going to change my mind here.

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I don’t think you necessarily need counseling in this situation. You’ve been very clear about what you want out of a relationship, and until recently you and your wife felt the same way (or at least appeared to) about most things like children and work and where to live. Something’s changed for your wife, but instead of telling you honestly about what she wants now, she’s decided to withdraw and punish you emotionally because you can’t read her mind. It’s not a very effective way of getting what she wants, although I’m sure she’ll succeed in making the both of you irritable for a while.

I don’t know how easy it will be to get her to talk, given her present state of mind, but it’s worth drawing her out and finding out what it is exactly that she wants. Is it to have a child? Is it to move to the country? Because if those are things she wants now, and you’ve always been clear that you love living in the city and are finished having children, it would be better for her to be honest and decide to either compromise or part ways, rather than try to hide her true intentions and throw a temper tantrum. Frankly, I’m a little worried about the kind of adult who thinks sulking and the silent treatment is the best way to say, “I’m ready to have children.” —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! I Slept in the Same Bed as a Friend. That’s Not Cheating, Right?” (May 3, 2016)

Dear Prudence,

I have an emotionally unstable 30-year-old friend, who has been in therapy for over a year but dismisses most of the therapist’s advice. This friend, “Sarah,” is a staff member at a university research center and is having an affair with one of the students. She is one of his supervisors and has influence over his grades. “Tom” is older, married with children, emotionally manipulative, and verbally abusive toward her. This affair has been ongoing for around nine months, and he says many clichéd things about his relationship with his wife. Their relationship is against university policy, and it is causing problems with other students who suspect something is going on between Tom and Sarah. Tom is treated favorably in comparison to the other students by Sarah and Sarah’s boss. I have a professional relationship with the university, but am not directly affiliated. On the one hand, I feel it is not my place to get involved, but I feel terrible for the wife. On the other hand, I feel I have an obligation to inform the university of their transgressions as it is affecting the working and learning environment. This feeling was complicated further by hearing that Tom may soon have authority over some of the other students. I have evidence of the affair from detailed text messages and chats with Sarah, and she has told others who share my feelings. So what is my role here? Is there a “right” thing to do?

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If you act, you must know that you possibly will end Sarah’s job at this institution and potentially her academic career. Tom’s livelihood will be in jeopardy, too. However, these two sound as if wherever they go they will wreak havoc with the careers and futures of others. This is the kind of dysfunctional department that sends people fleeing. Among Sarah’s qualities is being a blabbermouth, so you’d think word of her activities would have made it back the administrators. But all too often the people in charge just don’t want to deal with sticky problems. If you were in this research office, I’d say you’d have to speak up. But you are not employed by the university and not directly affected. Presumably, Sarah has been speaking to you as a friend in what she thought was confidence. I think you have to up the ante with her. Tell her that she is putting her entire career in jeopardy with this affair. She is violating the rules and people know about it. If she doesn’t end it and stop favoring Tom, someone is going to speak up and she will get hurt. Then if she doesn’t take your advice, you should stop being her confidante. But I think word of this den of intrigue should go to the higher ups from those directly involved. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! Should I Tell the University My Friend Is Sleeping With a Research Student She Supervises?” (Aug. 12, 2013)

Dear Prudence,

My son “Glenn” screwed up big-time at a family wedding, and it’s causing problems between me and my sister, “Carrie.”

Carrie’s daughter got married last fall and she had an elaborate reception. Glenn had just turned 21 and unfortunately decided to take extreme advantage of the open bar. He got so drunk that he stumbled into the wedding cake table and toppled it over, then threw up on the dance floor near the bridal couple.

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Needless to say, my husband and I were mortified, hustled him out of the venue, and apologized for his behavior. The next day, Glenn also apologized in person to his cousin and her new husband. But my niece refuses to forgive him; she and her husband barely spoke to him at Christmas, and their animosity was plain to the entire family. This caused a resurrection of the “ruined” reception stories among the guests, and it put a damper on the entire day.

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I think it’s time to let it all go. I know his behavior was pretty awful, but he’s very young, these things happen, and a reception is nothing more than a party in the end. I asked Carrie what Glenn could do to make amends, and she said nothing since her daughter considers what he did to be unforgivable. I think my niece is being childish since Glenn didn’t do any of this on purpose. I told Carrie that, and now we’re barely speaking. I’m truly sorry, but I can’t go back in time and change what Glenn did. What can I do to put this incident firmly in the past and get back to the close friendship my sister and I used to have?

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This will not be an answer you will enjoy, I don’t think, but the best way forward for you is to parent your adult son a little less. He’s 21 years old, and it’s not your job to manage his reputation or his relationships with any of his relatives. If your niece is angry with your son, then that’s between the two of them. I can imagine it feels painful to watch anyone ostracize or ignore your child, but part of the deal when it comes to having kids is that eventually they become adults with their own lives who make mistakes and deal with the resulting consequences without parental intervention.

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Of course, you’re a part of this family too, and you can’t act completely indifferent or impartial if your niece is angry with your son, but you’re currently doing way too much on Glenn’s behalf. Why on earth would you ask your sister what your son could do to make amends to her daughter? They’re not 6-year-olds fighting on the playground. They don’t need direct parental intervention to resolve this. Glenn can continue to respect his cousin’s current need for space, figure out how to drink responsibly, work on repairing their relationship in the long run if such an opportunity ever presents itself—all on his own. Apologize to your sister for trying to manage her daughter’s reaction to your son’s bad behavior, and then drop the subject; it’s not yours to litigate. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Son Got Too Drunk and Ruined My Niece’s Wedding.” (Jan. 16, 2018)

More From Dear Prudence

I am a 23-year-old woman, and I have a sister three years younger who has always been treated as a second-class daughter by our parents. I was always “the smart one,” “the slim one,” “the determined one,” while my sister was constantly told that she was dumb, fat, and lazy. This has created massive psychological problems for my sister: She is unemployed and barely got through high school. (My mother did almost all of her homework.) I thought that there was not much point in risking estranging myself from my parents over this issue. But recently I was out with my mother and she made a comment to me about how when I was a baby, she and my dad would spend hours just gazing at me, how she never did that with my sister, and how I was “just easier to love.” That made me think it may be necessary to confront my parents about their favoritism. I just don’t know how to go about this, especially since I want to be a responsible advocate for my sister and not make things worse for her.

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