Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi, friends. Thanks for joining me for another chat. Who are we mad at this week?
Q. Confused in Cali: About a year ago, I found out my husband had created a fake Instagram account dedicated to role-playing with people interested in sexual wrestling. I was heartbroken, as I saw it as cheating. He said he wouldn’t message these people anymore and we eventually got past it.
But today I found out he started doing it again. While it’s not physical cheating, he is essentially sexting random people. Our sexual relationship hasn’t been great for a couple years, due to my depression from losing my brother and my first pregnancy. I also had my daughter in January of 2020. I haven’t had hardly any sex drive. Still, I don’t know what to do. I saw what my husband did as cheating and my husband knew how I felt about it for the first time. Do you have any advice for me?
A: I feel like I’m picking up on a lot of self-doubt and self-blame in your letter—both in the idea that your husband’s actions are your fault because of your lack of sex drive and the idea that your definition of infidelity might not be valid. I disagree with both of these thoughts! And I don’t think you will be able to approach your husband, negotiate what your relationship needs to look like in the future, or make a decision about whether you want to be in it until you feel more solid and confident about your perspective on what’s happened.
So definitely let him know that you know what he’s doing, but take his response and your feelings about it and bring them to a therapist (individual, not couples) to get some help sorting out what you’re experiencing and what you deserve—without his input. When you feel clearer about your version of events and your expectations, you can start to negotiate with him about whether you two can continue to have a relationship and on what terms.
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Q. I’m a believer: I am a woman in my 30s who is very progressive/liberal in my beliefs and politics. I live in a city that is also very progressive, and my friends all share these beliefs. Many are also vocal atheists. I am not, but as an agnostic, I respect and value their points of view and definitely share the importance they place on science. What I do not agree with is the sentiment that religion is only for stupid people and a blight upon the Earth. While I do not go to church, I have a vague belief system and sometimes pray or communicate with a higher power I call God. I greatly value my few friends who practice their religions and respect their beliefs as every bit as valuable as my atheist friends’ and do not at all find them dumb sheep unable to accept a life without a “sky daddy” and “fairy tales” (exact words from my atheist friends that I find disrespectful and snobbish).
My partner “Sean,” a practicing Catholic, and I recently decided on a break while he focuses on work and mental health. I went out on a date with a guy in my friend group, “Robby,” who is one of the atheists and a more recent addition. Things were going well until he mentioned that he was glad I’d broken up with someone who supports such an evil institution as the Catholic Church. I stood up for Sean and reminded him that I am also a believer in my own way. Robby seemed surprised by this and said he thought I was smarter than that. He then started to ask questions like “You’re not pro-life are you?” (he knows I am not) and “You got the vaccine, right?” (he knows I did) and “You don’t think your invisible friend talks back to you, do you?”
I left in tears. Word is getting around that things didn’t go well. Please tell me how to handle this.
A: You should drop Robby, not because of your different approaches to religion, but because he’s a rude and condescending jerk. On the first date! He’ll only get worse. Run. And don’t worry for a minute about what your other friends think. One of them can have him.
Q. Thirty and thriving … mostly? I’m about to turn 30. Last year, I went through a pretty traumatic cross-country move that upended my life. I had to get a new job and leave my entire support system behind. I sought therapy and have actually found great comfort in solo activities—reading, meditation, and fitness. I’ve made one or two friends in the new city and am finally feeling slightly more stable, if a little bruised by the chaos of the past year.
However, I don’t have a large friend group with whom to celebrate. If I’m being honest with myself, a 30th birthday dinner would be my partner, myself, and maybe two other people. This is a far cry from the bash I always pictured myself having. It’s not even about an expensive celebration—I’d be happy with dinner in the park—but just about my really small social circle. I am starting to dread my birthday because of the loneliness I know I’ll be feeling. I thought about going on a trip over my birthday weekend but I feel like that would just be running away from the problem and confirming that I still don’t feel at home in my new city.
How can I let go of the expectations around what a 30th birthday “should” be and just embrace my situation as it is? Do you have any thoughts on how I can decrease these feelings of loneliness at not having a big group of friends with whom to celebrate?
A: Not having a huge group of friends in a new city is nothing to be ashamed of. And believe me, plenty of people don’t have a huge party or birthday dinner; you’re not at all alone. I think a getaway with a few people close to you sounds perfect and festive. But if that doesn’t feel right or isn’t a good idea for pandemic reasons, here’s another option: Make yourself an itinerary full of things—and people—you love to keep yourself occupied (and in the company of friends) all day. As I’m sure you know, we have the technology to make this happen with people who don’t live near us. You can reach out to friends from your old city or other parts of your life and ask people to help you celebrate and create a day that looks something like this:
Coffee or mimosas on FaceTime with Long Distance Friend 1
Breakfast on Zoom with Long Distance Friends 2 and 3
Peloton workout or yoga session with Long Distance Friends 4, 5, and 6
Walk-and-talk on the phone with family
Drinks on Zoom with Long Distance Friend 7
Real-life birthday dinner with your partner and two local friends
That right there gives you a chance to connect with 10 to 15 people. That’s a lot and will make you feel very celebrated. Planning this will require some vulnerability on your part—telling people “My birthday is coming up and I’m feeling weird that I don’t know enough people here to have a big party. Would you be willing to do [whatever you want to do with them] with me at [whatever time you want them to do it] to keep me company and help me celebrate?” But at this point, everyone is very used to pandemic birthdays and there’s nothing strange about getting creative and doing something other than a giant, in-person bash. I think anyone who knows and cares about you will be totally understanding and on board, and you’ll end up with a day that makes you feel good.
Q. Please keep quiet: My husband had some health problems and was diagnosed with a chronic illness a couple of years ago. As a result he is occasionally hospitalized or needs to go to the ER if he has certain symptoms. My husband and I tend to be pretty private people who don’t choose to share a lot of this, but sometimes we need help with child care when he is ill, and my parents live close by and are always willing to help, which we appreciate greatly.
My mom is someone who worries. As a way to manage her own anxiety, she seems to talk to a lot of people about her health issues. As a result, we have run into random friends of hers who ask personal questions about my husband’s health, and he gets calls and emails when he is ill. This adds to our stress as we just don’t want this private information shared. At the same time, I recognize my mom is helping us and that she loves and cares about my husband.
I have asked her to stop sharing this and have given her parameters about what she can share and with whom. She was agreeable but she continues to share with her sister, who is invasive and oversteps boundaries. How can I address this with her while also respecting that she needs to vent and process her own anxiety?
A: You’ve already done the right thing by asking her to stop and giving her a clear understanding of what she can and can’t share with others. Maybe circle back and have that conversation one more time, expressing your disappointment that she hasn’t respected your wishes along with your compassion and understanding about the anxiety she lives with. Maybe you could brainstorm other options with her? But if it doesn’t work, you’ll simply have to decide what you value more: free, on-demand child care or your privacy.
Q. Freaking frustrated: I have a friend who I’ve liked for seven years. We’ve gone on dates on and off, and we still talk and flirt over text even though we’re currently in different cities. We also occasionally call. The issue is that sometimes he goes weeks without ever wanting to call or stay in contact unless I initiate it. Other times he can’t get enough of me and is always asking to talk. I’m getting so frustrated because this has gone on for the last two years. We’ve never discussed our feelings for each other because he has severe anxiety and I’m scared any discussion will upset him beyond his ability to cope. What on earth should I do?
A: Write him off completely as a romantic partner. He obviously doesn’t have much to offer in that department, whether it’s because he doesn’t really have feelings for you or because his anxiety gets in the way. The reason doesn’t matter. Neither dating nor friendship should require one person to initiate everything and drag the other person along. Dedicate your energy to friends and potential significant others who are able to give as much as you are. If you feel like hearing your old friend’s voice, feel free to give him a call, but do it without the expectation that he’ll reciprocate or share his feelings. And don’t reserve time or emotional investment for him that you could be giving to someone who knows how to show they care.
Q. Re: I’m a believer: This is not a religion question. You’re confused. Why on earth are you dating around—within your friend group, no less—when you have a partner? Stop going on dates, fix or break up with your partner, and find new friends while you’re at it!
A: They’re on a break and didn’t ask about their love life, so I don’t know if this part is our business! But I completely agree that new friends/dating partners who aren’t judgmental jerks (about religion or anything else) would be great.
My husband Mike’s lifelong best friend Luke is dying of cancer. He was diagnosed 18 months ago, and he quickly became dependent on his wife Lucy’s care. Mike often pitched in too, spending the occasional night at their house and acting as a father figure to Lucy and Luke’s three young kids. I just found out that for the past year, Lucy and Mike have been having an affair. After Luke passes, Mike will divorce me and, in an appropriate amount of time, marry her.
I’m devastated and torn about what to do. Obviously telling Luke would be cruel, so I don’t plan on that—but if there’s any hope of saving my marriage, I need to act sooner than later.