Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My husband works long hours and is miserable at his job. I work slightly less, and I am generally happy with my job. We both work most evenings and many weekends, which makes it difficult to cook, clean, spend quality time together, etc. We’ve spent over a year trying to have a baby and now have some embryos from IVF. My husband won’t agree to try a transfer until we both have different jobs because he can’t imagine a child being brought into this environment. I agree that he needs a new job, but I’m reluctant to quit mine until I find something that excites me. I’d like the next year or so (including my maternity leave) to figure out what to do next. I feel like my dreams of parenthood are being held hostage to his demand that I change jobs before we even try an embryo transfer. He feels it is eminently reasonable to want to be married to someone who doesn’t have to work weekends, and he doesn’t trust that I’ll leave my job. I’m on the cusp of receiving a prestigious promotion. Is his demand that I change jobs and work reasonable hours before we start a family reasonable?
—Reluctant Job Quitter
Dear Reluctant Job Quitter,
I have to say, I think your husband’s demand is ridiculous. But whether he’s being reasonable or not is kind of beside the point. When it comes to decisions about being in or out of relationships, or having or not having children, “reasonable,” frustratingly enough, is not a requirement. Everyone gets to decide what’s best for them, and no one has to agree that it makes sense. (Again, it’s extremely frustrating! But this is why, for example, it’s not illegal for someone to waste years of your life and then break up with you. Life is unfair!)
Anyway, in my opinion, the question you should be asking yourself is not “Is his demand reasonable?” but “Should his demand make me concerned about our future together?” And to that I say YES.
That’s because his position brings up a number of questions for me: Why isn’t he willing to compromise with you, by reaching an agreement about work-life balance or quality time, or housework, or whatever issues are making him feel he can’t parent with you if things don’t change? Why doesn’t he trust you to look for a new job during maternity leave when you’ve said you will? Is there a possibility that he is having second thoughts about having children, despite all you’ve been through to get to this point? Is he a person who feels incapable of parenting in a less-than-ideal situation? Even if you each have great work-life balance at the moment your child is born, is he prepared to cope if you have to deal with challenges like elder care, or a relative who needs to come and live with you, or unemployment, or postpartum depression, or home-schooling a child for months on end during the next pandemic? Why didn’t he communicate his requirements during what I’m sure was a long IVF process, to give you more time to think about whether a new job would be right for you and begin to make a transition? Or to decide whether you wanted to go through IVF with him?
The fact that you’ve already created embryos is great. It buys you some time to dig into these issues, ideally with the help of a professional. And please do that even if you do decide to humor him and find a less demanding job, just to speed the baby-making process along. You two have a lot of issues here other than weekend work, and you’re going to want to tackle them so you can have the best possible chance staying together, working as a team, and enjoying parenthood.
How do you break up with a perfectly good guy? In the past, I’ve only had to break up with guys once I finally realized they were jerks. I’ve been in a relationship with a guy for about four months now. We met at a party and saw each other out a few times before he asked me out. I was hesitant because he seemed fun, but there was just something I couldn’t put my finger on about him that I knew was going to be a problem. As it turns out, he’s just too boring. When we’re out and doing things, he’s fun and energetic, but now that we’ve been staying in due to the pandemic, I’ve finally realized I don’t like being around him on a regular basis. He is, however, the sweetest, most thoughtful guy I have ever dated. He has gone out of his way to be understanding and supportive about some personal issues I was having last year.
When I’ve broken up with other guys, it’s been easier because I could point to a laundry list of jerky things they could do, but I don’t have a single one with him—he’s just too boring. On top of that, I know he thinks the relationship is great and the best relationship he has ever had. Do you have any advice on how to let him down easily?
—Letting Him Down Gently
If you’re motivated by kindness, one thing you can think about is how unkind it is to waste his time by allowing him to stay in a relationship that isn’t going anywhere. And you can remind yourself how many people would love to date a boring-to-you, but perfect-to-them guy. Feel good about setting him free to find someone who’s a better fit. As far as letting him down, you might say something like “I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you, and I appreciate how understanding and supportive you’ve been about the issues I’m dealing with, but I’ve realized I’m not feeling the kind of connection I would want in order to move forward toward something more serious.”
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I’m married to a wonderful woman. She’s funny, incredibly smart, beautiful, and hardworking. She is currently supporting us by working two jobs, but in spite of surely being tired from all her work and 5 a.m. starts, she is still positive and energetic. I, meanwhile, am … nothing. When my wife and I met, I was an outgoing and interesting person with lots of friends, hobbies, and a great work ethic. I was actually the kind of person who could deserve her, essentially. Now, I’m struggling through the final years of my Ph.D., have had to give up even my part-time retail jobs due to the sheer crushing exhaustion I felt from them, and barely have energy to text my friends back, let alone attend social gatherings like I used to. The main thing I contribute to our household is housework, and even then, she is still doing a lot of the cooking since I’ve been finding cooking (something I used to love) particularly exhausting in recent years. Add to this, I have gained a huge amount of weight and seem to be aging prematurely: I’m in my late 20s but already going gray and developing back problems.
I miss the woman I was back in college, when my wife met me—I was attractive, funny, and outgoing, with a great-looking future. I’m sure my wife must miss that woman too, although I think she would die before admitting that. She says she loves me and that I make her happy, and has been nothing but supportive while I’ve been forcing myself to try various antidepressants and therapy (although that one is no longer in our budget and the university provisions are terrible). I just don’t know what to do. I hate myself for so many reasons, but the worst is clearly that I am ruining this wonderful woman’s life. She deserves a partner who can contribute financially and be a part of her active social life, not some emotionally draining, self-pitying husk who sits at home all day procrastinating and can’t hold down a job. I’ve genuinely thought about killing myself in part just to give her freedom, but she’s been devastated when I’ve expressed suicidal thoughts, and it’s clear that she would be absolutely distraught if I did this, even if it eventually gave her peace from me. She says she loves me and clearly means it, talking about our life together and plans we made for the future (getting a house, having children).
I just don’t know what to do to be anything like the partner she deserves again. I try every day to find energy to be that person again, forcing myself to socialize when I can and being positive and chatty when she comes home from work, but it’s an exhausting struggle and sometimes I find myself in tears afterward. This is a desperate attempt to seek out advice from anywhere else, as my friends are not helpful when I’ve touched on expressing these feelings to them (they’re all single and talk about my life as though it’s great because, you guessed it, I have such a great partner, and respond to mental health issues with “Are you on medication? Oh, good”). What can I do to either be a better partner to my wife, or give her opportunities for a better life?
—Don’t Deserve My Wife
Dear Don’t Deserve My Wife,
I can understand why your friends’ first response to your dilemma is to urge you to care for your mental health. This isn’t going to be what you want to hear, but I agree with them. It would be inappropriate for anyone to give you advice on specific actions to take to make your partner happier while you are actively thinking about suicide, lacking the energy to get through the basics of daily life, and evaluating yourself and your relationship through the lens of depression. Your partner clearly loves you and is trying to make things work. I promise you the best thing you can do for her is to take care of yourself so that you are, first and foremost, out of danger because you’re no longer suicidal, and then able to experience happiness and see your own worth. This won’t be easy at all, but I am willing to bet your wife will help you through the process of finding the right therapist and the right medication no matter how long it takes, and even if it requires taking a break from your Ph.D. program to care for yourself. I suspect you might be in such a dark place that you aren’t able to convince yourself that you deserve help or deserve to experience joy (even though you do!). So if it helps, get started by telling yourself you’re doing it because it will benefit her.
I met an incredibly beautiful woman two months ago, and I feel I have messed everything up. I am 48 and she is 32. We started dating and agreed after a month to date exclusively, and I am confused about a lot with her. She won’t talk to me in front of her mom. She lives at home with her parents, but she is not a caretaker; she is a nurse and makes good money and could live on her own if she wanted to, but she won’t leave the nest. We have had some arguments over this, and she pushes back. Recently I went to the restroom, and when I walked out, she dropped her phone like she was up to something. I asked to see who she was texting, but she denied it and it became another argument. I asked her to leave, but now I feel guilty for not listening to her. What do I do?
—She Says We’re Done
Dear You’re Done,
If she says you’re done, you’re done. And multiple big arguments before you got to the two-month mark suggest that this is for the best.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Unreasonable requests are always followed by another!”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I, a 42-year-old woman (she/her), just found out an awful secret about my (40-year-old) brother, and I don’t know how to process it. A family member that is in her 30s confided in me that my brother molested her when she was a kid. She doesn’t remember the exact age they were, but we are guessing she was around 6 or 7, making my brother about 12 or 13. I was shocked and confused, but I comforted her and let her know that I was 100 percent behind her on whatever she wanted to do. She also told me that another family member of ours, who is in her 20s, was also his victim. At that point he would have been a teenager!
What he did was disgusting, and there’s no excuse for it! I didn’t confront him, as both my family members asked me not to. But at this point I want nothing to do with him. I’ve blocked him on all social media, changed my phone number, and taken him out of my contacts. He and I used to be very close as kids, but we grew apart as we got older. He’s very controlling and verbally/emotionally abusive, and sometimes even physically abusive (he once broke a door apart to get to me and shoved me over a table) to the point where I’ve gone no-contact with him several times. But this time feels different. While I’m fine with not speaking to the man he is today, I also feel like I’m grieving the loss of who he used to be. It’s like everything I knew about him then as a child and teenager, when we did get along, was a complete lie. He fooled us all and was hurting two people we all love, who will always struggle with what he did to them.
I also feel guilty about not figuring out what was happening back then. And embarrassment and disgust that this person is so closely related to me and someone I used to help and defend when he asked for it. I don’t know how to deal with all of these emotions to the point that I can’t sleep, and I’ve started to drink more than usual. I’ve apologized to both victims even though they said it wasn’t my fault. Is there something more I can do for them? Should I give them space or spend more time with them? How do I stop this feeling like he has died?
—No Longer His Sister
Dear No Longer His Sister,
The two things that make this easier—just in terms of what to do with respect to your relationship with your brother—are that you believe the allegations against him, and that you were already estranged from him and don’t mind cutting him off. But I know it’s still very hard, and the feeling that he’s died isn’t entirely off base. It makes sense to mourn the person you thought you knew, even if that person wasn’t that great to start with. That sadness seems healthy to me. The guilt and embarrassment, however, are things you might want to work to minimize, because you did absolutely nothing wrong (in fact you were very brave when confronted with these allegations!) and don’t deserve to suffer. A therapist could be a great help here, and a great person to talk to about your concerns about your increased drinking. Your apology to your brother’s victims is enough, and they’re absolutely right that none of this was your fault. Follow their lead, and make it your priority to get to a place where you believe them.
Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
My sister has a bad habit of dumping her daughter on our mother and me without any warning. (Dad isn’t in the picture.) She will just show up and drop my niece off on the doorstep. She classifies it as “family bonding,” while I call it bad parenting. We fight about it. I have health issues that keep me from working, so I am dependent on my mother and what money my father sends me (I am going to community college). Mom will never say no to seeing her granddaughter. I love my niece, and she is an easy kid to watch, but I am tired of having my every weekend wrecked on my sister’s whims. Where our mother works is severely short-staffed, so she often has to work on the weekend and inconsistent hours. So that leaves me to do the babysitting.
The straw that broke my back was several weeks ago where my sister decided to drop off my niece and three other kids I didn’t know without even a word to me (they were the kids of a “new friend”). I got up late and came downstairs to watch Disney+. I tried to call my sister, but that went straight to voicemail. Same for the kids’ mother. Same for mine. The kids didn’t know where their mothers were going other than “out,” and had no idea when they would get back. I ended up using one of the kid’s phones to call their paternal grandmother, and she came to pick them up. When my sister and her friend showed up six hours later, all hell broke loose. The friend freaked out that her kids were “missing,” and she was apparently in a custody dispute with her ex. My sister screamed at me, I screamed back, my niece saw everything, and my condition flared up. I had to be taken to the ER. Since then I have refused to speak to my sister and have told everyone that if she tries a stunt like that again, I am calling the cops on her. My mother is right in the middle—she claims my sister “overstepped,” but that I can’t “punish” my niece like this. She loves me and thinks I don’t love her. I can’t control that. I can’t control my sister or her pathological inability to plan ahead. I can’t control when my condition will flare up. I just can’t keep doing this. Help.
I’m a queer, nonbinary parent who most people perceive as a woman. I have a 7-year-old stepdaughter who lives with me and her father, and I am pregnant with her sibling. I am out to my partner and our daughter, and we use they/them pronouns for me among ourselves. Our daughter calls me by my first name and refers to me as her parent. However, I’m not out to much of the wider world or our families, even though we have a great relationship. Our kiddo understands that some people don’t know everything about me, and may think I’m a “she” or a woman, and that I’m OK with them thinking that, even though WE know I’m NOT a man or a woman. I’m not really sure why I don’t feel like coming out more, other than it’s never felt that vital to me that someone I’m not super intimate with know something as intimate (to me) as my gender. (Although my sexuality is also queer, and I’ve been very loud ’n’ proud about that pretty much my whole life.)
Now that I’m visibly pregnant, besides the interesting body dysmorphia that sometimes comes up, people have been calling me “Mom.” My daughter even said to me, “You’re MY parent, but you’ll be the baby’s Mama.” But I don’t know if that’s true! I don’t feel like “Mama” any more than I feel like a “she.” My question is … what the hell do we call me? And if that’s what the baby grows up calling me, does that mean I have to come out to everyone as an explanation of why this kid’s not calling me Mama? Am I setting a shit example for my kids by not wanting to be out more? I’m a little burned out from fielding lots of nonconsensual belly touching and questions about my body or genitals or about why we aren’t finding out or announcing the baby’s genitals. I want to be authentically myself to my partner and children, and to have them know who I really am. I just don’t know if I’m up for suddenly having everyone else we know have that information too.
—Gestating While Genderqueer
Dear Gestating While Genderqueer,
The good news is you probably have the rest of your pregnancy plus at least six months before your baby calls you anything at all, and closer to a couple of years before anyone outside your home can understand what they’re saying or pays a lot of attention. In the meantime, maybe you could see if anything from this list of ideas of gender-neutral titles feels right. Or perhaps the 6-year-old could come up with something cute that’s special to your family.
But overall, I think it’s important to remember that you’re going through a lot right now: parenting in a blended family, grappling with how public you want to be about your gender identity, plus being pregnant and dealing with all of the unwanted input and intense feelings that come with that. Any of these things on their own could be overwhelming. So if you don’t feel ready to make any big decisions, give yourself permission to table them or to make one that’s just temporary. Remind yourself that your stepdaughter and baby need an example of someone who is healthy and compassionate with themself more than they need someone who makes perfect and permanent decisions about their level of outness.
My parents recently got invited to a neighborhood Facebook group that, alongside garage sales, traffics heavily in racist fake news concerning real and imagined crimes by “African youths.” Challenging them on facts doesn’t work. (“Why would someone post it if it wasn’t true?”) Would it be wrong of me to sneakily grab their phone and unfollow the worst offenders? They are pretty hopeless with technology, so they won’t notice, but the world would be a better place if their news feed reverted to baby photos and cat videos.