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.
I adore my son, but my pregnancy was a trial through the pits of hell. I was hospitalized continually in my last month, and my heart rate dropped so low it actually stopped once. While my son and I came out the other side OK, I am never going through this again. My husband has agreed to get a vasectomy. We agree this is for the best.
My husband’s sisters unexpectedly cornered him over us having a second child, and unfortunately he was honest. Now they have made it their mission to correct us. We have talked to them, told them their comments are hurtful and unwelcome, and they stop only to sneak it in in regular conversation. I was taking my son to the park to play with his cousins when my sister-in-law told me that it was “selfish” that my son would never know the “joy of playing with his brothers or sisters.” I opened my mouth without thinking, I retorted, “Only a selfish bitch would ask me to risk my life and leave my child without a mother because she can’t conceive of my life having any actual value.” I was so upset that I called my son over and we went home.
I have unleashed hell upon us. All my in-laws are up in arms over my “bitch” comment and excuse my sister-in-law as just being “concerned.” It has gotten to the point where I cry if I see their names on caller ID. I am tired of this! My husband agrees that his sisters are out of bounds but balks at cutting them out of our life altogether. He keeps telling me this will blow over. I don’t know what to do.
So your husband offers his sisters private information about your plans to have children and then when they turn their ire on you (funny how they don’t seem to be going after him for trying to get a vasectomy), he does, apparently, nothing besides reassure you that they won’t yell at you forever. Your husband is falling down on the job! It is breathtakingly rude and invasive, what his in-laws are doing, and while I agree that cutting them out of your lives altogether is a drastic step, asking you to put up with a torrent of cruelty and speculation for not endangering your body with another pregnancy is frankly more drastic.
All your husband needs to say is: “If you can’t speak to my wife without criticizing our decision not to have more children, then you need to take a break from calling us. The two of us made this decision together, and it’s unfair of you to target her and not me. Whenever you feel able to make friendly conversation about a topic other than our fertility, we’d love to hear from you. Until then, please save it for a journal or your therapist.” If he’s not willing to say something so comparatively mild in your defense (and I very much hope that he does—you almost died during your last pregnancy and his family is descending upon you to make you feel guilty for not doing it again, so his standing by in this moment is cowardly and unconscionable), then you should at the very least stop taking their calls until your in-laws can be civil. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! I Had a Tough Pregnancy, but My Sisters-In-Law Keep Insisting I Have More Kids.” (Feb. 20, 2019)
I am a guy well into my 20s. A year ago I was still a virgin, partly by choice and partly by circumstance. Then I consciously decided to become a “stud,” taking any and every opportunity that I saw (not including intoxication). Each sexual encounter gave me more confidence, which in turn made it easier to find new women. My “conquests” are now in the double digits. I love feeling so confident, but there are moments when I am horrified at myself. Previously, I had looked down on “man whores” (maybe because I was jealous?). Should I be proud or ashamed of my new lifestyle?
I will take you at your word that you are so studly that the opportunities just keep coming. You are putting quite a lot of notches on the bedpost, but I’m a little concerned that it doesn’t sound as if too many of your conquests are asking for a second helping. Maybe you need to focus more on your technique, and less on your tally. If your only interest in women is getting them into bed, and their only interest in you is getting you into bed, then everyone is happy. But you’re right, this sounds like an empty and eventually degrading exercise. You’re not a virgin anymore, yippee! So slow down, stud, and focus on the human being you’re bedding and start learning to form a relationship. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! I’m a Little Alarmed at My Newfound Sexual Mastery.” (Nov 11, 2014)
My wife and I have been married for 10 years. We have 5-year-old twins that she carried. The idea was she would carry one pregnancy, and I would carry the next with the same sperm donor. My wife keeps bringing up that it is my “turn” next. I am older than her, and I know we need to do this now if we are going to do it. I’ve realized I don’t want to. I don’t want to give up my place in my career. I am glad to be out of the diapers stage, and we’re finally able to travel and enjoy our lives again. Having the twins was rough on my wife. She became clinically depressed twice and had to be hospitalized once. I had to quit my job in order to take care of her and the babies. We burned through a lot of our savings. We got stronger as a family for it, but I can’t put my wife through that again. She has always wanted a big family. I am fine with our size now but am open to adoption. I don’t want to break our promise, but I can’t see how giving up the good life we have is worth it. What do I do? How do I tell her?
Before you talk to your wife about this, I think it’s important to do a little more soul-searching. You say that you’re open to adoption, but I’m not so sure that that’s true, based on what you’ve written here. The things that seem to concern you the most about having more kids—going back to the diapers stage, having to scale back at work, not being able to travel as easily, dipping into your savings—wouldn’t change if you adopted kids instead of using a sperm donor. Are you really open to the idea of adoption, or are you just hoping to offer that as a panacea because you’re afraid of giving her news that she won’t like? Settle that question to the best of your ability within yourself before talking to your wife.
Yes, you two had talked about this plan, but it sounds like you really haven’t had a meaningful conversation about how to reevaluate it in light of your incredibly difficult first pregnancy. Don’t feel the need to frame this as “breaking a promise”—we don’t decide to have children out of obligation, or at least we shouldn’t. Things have seriously changed since you initially said “Oh, you take the first gestation, and I’ll take the second” and you’ve had to rearrange your priorities significantly since then. And again, be honest about what part of this has to do with you; don’t try to cover up something you want by claiming you can’t put her through something else again. You don’t want to get pregnant, you’re happy with your family the way it is, you’ve reached a hard-fought equilibrium and sense of peace after what sounds like a traumatic pregnancy, and you need to share this with her. You can certainly tell her that you’re sorry for not bringing this up sooner and give space for her to have her own feelings about this, but I don’t think you should treat this as going back on your word. If you search within yourself and you truly do think you’re prepared to adopt more kids, then that’s a conversation you two can save for a later date. The most important thing to do right now is update her on where you’re coming from; air out each other’s fears, concerns, hopes, and needs; and take some time to process this change in plans. It’s a long-overdue conversation, and I hope you feel better after you initiate it. Even if it’s painful at first, it’s better than hoping she forgets about it or getting pregnant when you really don’t want to. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Wife and I Agreed I Would Get Pregnant With Our Next Kid, but Now I Don’t Want To.” (April 18, 2019)
I’m in a very happy relationship with my girlfriend of about six months. I’m studying in law school right now. I come from a very well-educated family and consider myself to be pretty bright. I’ve had a really tough time admitting this to myself, but my girlfriend—whom I love very much—is honestly just really simple-minded. On pretty much every other front, she seems perfect to me: We get along really well, we have a great time together almost always, and she has a really laid-back, happy-go-lucky, stable personality. In this sense, she’s almost a perfect counterweight to my own neurotic, introspective, and quasi-OCD tendencies.
Friends and family members have expressed their surprise that I’m with someone who seems so different from me in intelligence. My question is, will this difference eventually cause serious problems in our relationship? Am I setting myself (and her) up for some problems later on just by continuing to ignore this intellectual mismatch that exists between us?
I’d say there’s already a problem if you describe the woman you love as “simple-minded.” Obviously she doesn’t have your academic ambition or analytic skills. But it’s telling that you don’t say you admire her insight into people, or her leadership skills, for example. From your description, it sounds as if you enjoy her role as an emotional nurse for you, but I wonder if you see her as a complete, valuable person even if she can’t discuss what you’re learning in civil procedure.
It would be nice to hear that you find the comments of your friends and family members offensive because they are missing something about your girlfriend. But apparently you agree with them. The only answer to whether this makes your relationship unsustainable is to see how you both continue to feel about each other. Perhaps, if she picks up a sense of contempt from you, she’ll be smart enough to get out first. —E.Y.
From: “The Grinch Who Stole Thanksgiving.” (Nov. 22, 2010)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
I’m a female lawyer on the brink of making partner at a midsize firm. I’ve been passed up several times in favor of male colleagues who bill fewer hours and generate significantly less business. When I asked what I needed to do to get there I was told I needed to smile more, come out of my office, and attend more company events and happy hours. I attend all holiday parties and major firm events, but I am already working 70-plus hours a week, which leaves me little time for my family.