Dear Prudence

Help! My Ex-Wife Changed Her Name to Be the Exact Same as My Fiancée’s.

I have a feeling this could just be part of a bigger issue.

A name tag that reads, "Hello my name is Gretel."
Illustration by Slate.

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Dear Prudence,

After we divorced, my ex-wife kept using my last name. We’d married young and her professional reputation was built with that name, so it made sense. It is a small town, so I’m occasionally asked if we’re related, but it’s not too bad. I’m going to be married to a woman who wants to take my last name and has a fairly unusual, culturally specific first name—think “Gretel.” So she’s now going to be Mrs. Gretel [Myname]. Except my ex has, apparently, recently changed her first name to Gretel too—so they’ll both have the same first and last name. (My ex’s old first name was much more generically popular.)

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Obviously, anyone can change her name to whatever she wants, but this seems weird. But what can I do? Tell my fiancée? Try to talk to my ex about it? Just agree with people that it is really weird? I could take my fiancée’s last name, but we both really like my surname, and I’m worried that if there’s something odd going on with my ex that it will just be postponing the real issue.

This is so odd! The closest comparison I can think of is Ron Swanson marrying two women named Tammy on Parks and Recreation (everyone dubbed them Tammy 1 and Tammy 2), but that was just a coincidence, not … whatever this is. Since this is a pretty small town, I’d be surprised if your ex had no idea she was changing her name to match your fiancée’s, but it is possible. If you and your ex-wife are on even remotely friendly terms, it’s worth asking her what prompted the change. Since she’s apparently sufficiently well-established professionally that she’s able to change her first name now, you might ask if she’d consider dropping the use of your last name. But I’d be prepared to hear “no” for an answer and to accept it graciously if you do. Even if she were doing this to somehow get back at you and your fiancée, it’s not like you’d have any way to compel her to undo it. Frankly, it puts you in a pretty good situation, because you get to look reasonable and concerned if anyone asks you about it: “Yes, Gretel and I thought it was odd when [ex] started going by Gretel too. But it is a lovely name!” —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! My Ex-Wife Changed Her First Name to My Fiancée’s Name.” (March 2, 2019)

Dear Prudence,

My husband likes to rip my clothes off—but not in the fun way. He is intelligent, gentlemanly and swoonably handsome. He is also very physically affectionate, always absentmindedly rubbing, scratching or stroking me. That part is lovely. However, I favor delicate, feminine clothing, most of it second-hand or vintage. Just in the past few weeks he’s ripped a flower applique off of a satin dress, shredded a silk-cashmere blouse under the back of the neck, where he likes to scratch, and torn holes in the waist of a vintage lace dress while we were out dancing. I love the loving, but it’s like having a rambunctious 6-foot-3 kitten around. I don’t want him to stop being affectionate, just a little gentler on my frocks. Do I pull his hands off when he gets too rough, or—gasp—start living in T-shirts?

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I’m glad you mentioned cats, because your description of your husband absentmindedly rubbing, scratching, and stroking you sounds as if he thinks of you as his giant pussycat. I have had cats all my life, and when a feline is fed up with getting affection, it walks off with the flick of a tail. Press the matter, and you’ll get a swat with unsheathed claws. If your loving clod of a husband paws you to the point of disintegrating your clothing, it’s time for you to stop purring. But before you start hissing, sit him down—with a table between you—and tell him you love his physical affection, but sometimes it’s so rough that your clothing falls apart. Say that if he fails to be more conscious of how he touches you, you’re going to bring it to his attention because your tailoring bills are sky-rocketing. Then if he continues in his ways, remove his hand and say, “Sylvester, please, not so rough.” I also think you might want to obtain an actual cat. Ours like to sit between my husband and me so that if either of us are in the mood to give idle affection, they end up being the recipients. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Husband Ruins My Clothes With His Caresses.” (Aug. 4, 2014)

Dear Prudence,

This is so difficult to write. I’m a 46-year-old married man and father that has fallen in love with a woman at work that is 20 years younger than I am. We work in separate offices on different teams but have made a long-distance connection that grew to something serious. We’ve told each other how we feel, but having a real relationship is complicated for obvious reasons. We’ve never even kissed, but I’ve considered blowing my life up and moving to another state to be near her.

Recently I learned that she’s been seeing another man in her office for the last month or two. She didn’t mention it, I think to avoid hurting me, but I could tell something was off. They are closer in age, have similar jobs, and importantly are both single. I’m devastated, much more so than I thought possible. We’ve talked about it, and while we both have strong feelings for each other, it just seems like the cards are stacked against us. Rationally I want her to be happy and it’s totally not fair of me to make her feel guilty for moving on with her life, but it hurts so badly. I’ve never felt like this, I feel like I’m coming apart. Do I let her go and swallow the pain because it’s probably what’s best for her, or do I throw away the life I’ve made to fight for her and a chance at happiness?

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If you would like to divorce your wife and set up a custody agreement for your children in order to try to convince a co-worker 20 years your junior—who lives in another state and has never kissed you—to break up with her other boyfriend, you are free to do so. The cards are not “stacked against you.” She is dating someone else. I think your time and energy might be better served in asking why you consider that dispiriting vision of the future “a chance at happiness,” preferably with a therapist. —D.L.

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From: “Help! I’m a Married Dad Who’s Fallen in Love With a Much Younger Co-Worker.” (Dec. 10, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

My husband has anger issues coupled with an obsession over our neighbors. My husband’s anger has gotten to the point of hair-trigger rages. He has been obsessively watching the neighbors and getting livid over any perceived infraction. The police have been involved many times and tempers are flaring on both sides. This came to a head last week when hubby pushed neighbor’s kid for being on “our property”—the sidewalk. He is lucky to not be in jail. I convinced him to go to the VA (he is noncombat veteran) where they put him in lockdown. So he is going to be getting out but still doesn’t think he is in the wrong. The docs haven’t made much progress. If he comes home and does something again he goes to jail and loses his job, our home, everything. We are hanging by a thread financially. What do I do?

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I usually hear from the poor beleaguered neighbors who are subject to the rages of the lunatic next door. So it’s instructive to hear from the wife of the sick man. Your husband is very dangerous, both to your neighbors and to your own family. He has struck out at a child, and I don’t want to think about what he’s capable of doing in this paranoid state. You need to talk to the counselor at the VA and explain you are afraid your husband could hurt the child next door. You should also talk to the police, and your neighbors, about putting a plan in place to protect everyone. You say the doctors have made no progress so you are about to have a rage-filled, paranoid husband back in the neighborhood. You must do everything you can to stop this—he’s certainly capable of turning his rage on you. This is a scary, volatile situation, the kind that we tragically look back on and say why didn’t the authorities do something. So before you get to that point, you must press those authorities to keep your husband in treatment and away from your home until it’s clear he’s not in a delusional state. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! My Husband Is Violently Obsessed With the Neighbors.” (Oct. 20, 2014)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

10 years ago, a male colleague and I enjoyed going to sporting events together. He was a bit of a player, but we never dated. He later married a nice woman who, for whatever reason, seemed to have it in for me. We remain friendly at work but don’t see each other outside the office except for the very occasional office social event. A couple of months ago his wife, still in her 30s, was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. I sent her a card and note saying I was very sorry to hear this and hoped treatment would go well. In response, I got a diatribe saying I was counting the days until her death so I could get my claws back into her husband, and much more and much worse.

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