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.
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for nine months, and he’s kind, gentle, and thoughtful. But last week I had an experience that has given me pause. My apartment building has been hit by burglars several times over the past few months. Last week, my boyfriend and I came home and were surprised by a burglar coming out of my apartment door. My boyfriend confronted him, and the burglar charged at him—whether to push past or attack, it’s hard to say. My boyfriend quickly subdued the burglar and told me to call 9-1-1.
Here’s where it gets disturbing. He very calmly told the burglar, “Now it’s time for you to learn your lesson.” And he proceeded to beat the man unconscious, deaf to my protests that he should stop. My boyfriend handled the police (I didn’t contradict him) such that they were ready to pin a medal on him. The burglar left in an ambulance. My boyfriend’s capacity for violence came as a total, and disturbing, surprise—even more for the fact that he was not in a rage; it was deliberate and methodical. But I am not sure how to raise my concerns with him. It would come off as cheeky caviling to basically say, “I don’t like the way you defended me and my property from a criminal.” How can I talk about this with him? Am I wrong to find this scary and worrisome?
So many questions can be summed up as: “Am I wrong to have this [perfectly normal reaction to a horrifying situation]?” The good news: You are not wrong! The bad news: This is extremely scary and worrisome. There are a number of very good reasons that the standard punishment for burglary is not “a public beating into unconsciousness.” This isn’t Daredevil—your boyfriend isn’t the only thing standing between a desperate city and total anarchy. Once the burglar had been subdued and you had called 9-1-1, your boyfriend’s violence was not to protect you but for his own enjoyment. That he was able to “handle” the police after beating someone into unconsciousness suggests a capacity for deception and calculation that should trouble you deeply. Not only do I think you should leave him, I think you should share your side of the story with the police. What your boyfriend committed was a crime. The fact that the man he beat up had just committed a (non-violent) crime of his own is irrelevant. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Husband Keeps Making Me Try for a Second Kid” (March 31, 2016)
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I’ve come to understand that some misbehavior is common among men who travel for business, but I don’t really know where I stand. I love my wife dearly, and we have a happy marriage. We both travel a lot for work. As soon as I arrive at a new destination, I find myself sitting in strip bars, going to porn theaters, and cruising through red light districts. I don’t know why I do it, and often I don’t even want to be there, but something keeps pulling me to these places. I’ve never cheated on my wife, but I’m afraid that I’m going to make a terrible mistake.
Once I found myself in a (legal) brothel being solicited by women who I’m sure were wondering why I was there if I didn’t want sex. I left, felt nauseated for the rest of the trip, and could barely look my wife in the eye when I got home. Would it be OK to go to only strip clubs, but not other sexual establishments? Or do I need to cut it off entirely, something that I’m not sure is possible? I’ve debated finding new work, but that would only solve half of the problem as my wife travels as much as I do, and similar problems appear when I’m home alone.
“Something keeps pulling me to these places,” you write. I think we know what’s pulling you, and if you just lock your hotel door and pull on it in the privacy of your room you could save yourself a lot of trouble. “Do I need to cut if off entirely?” you wonder about your activities. Yes, you need to cut it off entirely, before your wife is inspired by Lorena Bobbitt and cuts it off for you. Thank you for this insight into the dim-witted, nonthought processes of men who behave badly. In essence there is no explanation, as disgraced U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner so eloquently made clear this week. There’s just finding yourself at the “legal” (nice touch!) brothel, or sending pictures of your erections to strangers, and then shrugging in disbelief at how it all happened.
I assume you don’t hold your boss in higher esteem than your wife. Yet your boss can send you around the country and be assured that you will meet with the clients, file the reports, and discharge your duties without needing a minder. Your obligation to your wife is to honor your marriage vows, but you essentially feel that if she’s not acting as your zoo keeper, you can’t be responsible for your sexual actions.
I’m sure there are many diagnoses that can be slapped on your illicit conduct, but how about if you start practicing being as responsible about your sexual behavior as you are about your work behavior. Toward that end, stop with the passive voice. You don’t “find” yourself at brothels and strip clubs. You get to town, look up their addresses, then get a ride there. Since you need help with impulse control, try finding a cognitive-behavioral therapist. Right now, it’s less important that you explore the origins of your behavior than that you substitute your potentially ruinous actions with benign ones. That may mean making sure you schedule acceptable social activities when you’re traveling. It may mean getting into some kind of 12-step program and having a sponsor to call when you feel the urge to inexplicably be someplace you say you don’t want to be. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Wife Doesn’t Know I Visit Strip Clubs and Porn Theaters While Away on Business” (June 9, 2011)
About a year and a half ago, one of my best friends from college proposed to his girlfriend. She was desperately waiting for it to happen and was elated when it finally came around. The only problem is she is literally commanding this is her wedding YEAR. Another friend in our crew got engaged a few months later, and she accused her of trying to steal her wedding year—and stopped talking to her until she got an apology and a promise she wouldn’t set a date for the same year she was getting married. I wish I could make this shit up.
My SO and I quietly got engaged (we’re very laid-back people who tend not to shout about things, it would have happened the same way if our friend were acting sane) but I’m actually afraid to tell any of our friends as their wedding is in about six weeks, and I’m afraid she’s going to go nuts on me like she did our other friend. Should we keep it under wraps until after the wedding? Let word get around as it will, and deal with her if she decides to lose her marbles at us? I’m not very close with this girl, but my friendship with her fiancé is important to me so I don’t want something like this to cause a rift.
I don’t think it will be easy for you and your SO to pull off a full Frank Churchill–from-Emma for six weeks, although you’re welcome to try if you think it’s worth the skulking around. (Would you hide your engagement rings? Ask your family members to keep it a secret from your friends? The logistics of doing so sound pretty complicated!) Odds are, though, if this girl ever gets wind of when you two got engaged, even if it’s after her own wedding, she’ll find sufficient justification to blow up at you, too. If this woman decides to yell at you for becoming affianced, that’s a real opportunity for her fiancé to lovingly encourage her to amend her bad behavior. It may be worth experiencing a rift with him, no matter how close you two are, if he’s not willing to say or do anything when the woman he’s planning on marrying acts like an overbearing, self-centered jerk. Don’t go out of your way to engage with her, but do share your exciting news with your close friends. The whole “During the year of my wedding, everyone else’s life should be on hold” policy is not one you should consider capitulating to.
(Is it terrible that part of me wants to set your Bridezilla up with the couple that got engaged during someone else’s wedding reception we heard about a few weeks ago? That would make for an incredible double date.) —D.L.
From: “Help! I Never Like a Guy More Than a Year” (June 12, 2017)
After a history of dating Eeyores—the woe-is-me types—I’m now involved with a man who has a genuinely positive outlook on life. While a sunny disposition isn’t something we have in common, it’s one of the things I love about him. The trouble is his positive declarations use the word super as an adverb. “That was super delicious!” “He was super helpful!” The way some people feel about the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard, I feel about the word super when used this way. To me it smacks of an aggressive, abrasive optimism that undermines the sincerity and dignity of the sentiment expressed. It also sounds dumb.
I’ve never been the kind of girlfriend who expects a guy to modify his behavior to accommodate my preferences, yet every time I hear him use the word super as an adverb, I go cold inside. How do I communicate the fact that the supers have got to stop without sounding like a demanding and critical girlfriend?
—Not Super Duper
I have a revolting habit: I pick my feet. I can spend hours engaged in what Dave Barry, a fellow compulsive, calls “foot maintenance.” It’s super gross, yet my darling husband, perhaps not the most observant of men, has never remarked on my monkeylike grooming ritual. If my husband ever expressed his disgust, I would try to stop, but I’m grateful he’s decided to ignore it.
Forget fidelity, forget mutual interests, the key to a successful relationship is not noticing your significant other’s harmless yet fingernails-on-a-chalkboard habits. (And fingernails on a chalkboard are nothing compared to toenails on a coffee table.) I’m in favor of letting one’s beloved know about incorrect table manners, or something that truly is a social faux pas. But the annoying little tics we all have are different. You could open a discussion with your cheery Pooh by telling him how perfect he is in every way, except that when he says “super,” you want to come at him with a machete and cut his tongue out. A more delicate approach would require you to leave out your observations about his “abrasive optimism,” lack of “dignity,” and sounding “dumb,” and say you have a complaint you know is trivial, but it’s just one of those silly things that bothers you.
Be aware of how petty you will sound and how self-conscious it will make him. There’s also the possibility that he might say to you: “Thanks for opening this can of fingernails. I wasn’t ever going to say anything, but you should be aware that before you take a drink, you dart out the tip of your tongue like it’s a snail emerging from its shell, and it puts me off my food.” By the time you finish that discussion, you’ll realize it’s time to dust off your profile on Match.com and start looking for your next Eeyore. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Mother-in-Law May Be Trying to Poison Me” (March 8, 2012)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
My boyfriend and his ex had a “mutual breakup” when she chose a new job on the coast over him. He was dating me when she moved back and made a move to “reconnect.” He rebuffed her, but she will not go away—she is firmly wedged into his social group, because she’s best friends with his brother’s wife. Now a friend of theirs is getting married, with her as maid of honor and my boyfriend as best man. She is everywhere.