Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
During the pandemic, I was diagnosed with ADHD and major depressive disorder and started taking medications that, for the first time in my adult life, have allowed me to live without daily suicidal ideation. I feel great, energetic, and ready to further my career and otherwise make up for time lost to mental illness. My husband is on a different path: He lives off a trust fund, rarely leaves the house, and doesn’t take care of himself. He’s also ADHD and depressed (with some religious trauma thrown in too) and is often in physical pain, but can’t seem to take the step of going to the doctor. We’ve been to couples therapy twice, but he seems minimally engaged and won’t go to a solo therapist to work on himself—he plays a lot of video games, drinks and smokes a lot of weed, and otherwise chooses escapism over reality whenever possible.
One of the side effects of my anti-depressant is a decreased sex drive, so we have sex very rarely and I rarely enjoy it. I think this is partially because of the meds, but also because I’m not attracted to him physically or emotionally—I struggle to see him as sexy when I much more often see him lighting a joint on the couch with a pee stain on his sweatpants. Our couples therapist says we just need to make ourselves have sex more often and it will get easier and more natural, but the idea of pushing myself to have sex that I’m not interested in makes me deeply uncomfortable as an assault survivor. I’ve tried meds that have fewer side effects but they don’t work as well, and frankly I’d rather be celibate and content than in a loving marriage and constantly thinking about death. Divorce would be a hassle, but it’s sounding like a better idea every day. Are there other options, or is this an impasse?
— Impasse-ioned Lover
Dear Impasse-ioned Lover,
I am not a trained therapist so this is just a lay opinion, but I’m stuck on the advice to make yourselves have sex more, especially if your medication has decreased your sex drive. Sex seems largely irrelevant here, from your letter. You’re moving at different speeds right now, so (lack of) sex seems like a symptom, not the problem.
Would your husband consider going with you to a different couples therapist? It will probably take more than two sessions to make significant progress, but I can’t help but think that progress will come faster with a therapist who is focused on the ways that you two are misaligned right now rather than your sex lives.
You’re putting in the work to feel better and you should be proud of that. From your letter, it sounds like your antidepressant has been transformational. As you continue on your journey, part of that transformation may be a shift in your marriage—even a permanent one, like divorce. I don’t get a sense from your letter what your feelings are around divorce, beyond it being a hassle. So you may want to do some work on your own to figure out if all the mounting ambivalence has robbed you of your desire to be in this marriage at all. That question’s complicated by the fact that the marriage you’re in—to someone who is too stuck in his own issues to move forward—isn’t the marriage that you two could have. Once you decide where you stand, you and your husband need space (and on his part, a willingness) to have a conversation about where you’re going as individuals and if you can still get to those places together. Setting sex aside, are you both willing to do the work? Either answer is okay, but you need to know.
Here’s the dilemma. Over the years, my wife and I have become friends with a group of parents who have children who are also close friends of our two children (all of whom are teenagers now). The entire group of kids (plus one girlfriend) were all planning a weekend trip to a beach house together, when suddenly the girlfriend of one of the group members decided that one of our children should be excluded from the trip—no explanations, no notice, just restarting the trip planning conversation with one child left out of the online chat. Neither of our children knows what, if anything, happened between the girlfriend and our excluded child. Maybe there was some kind of legitimate falling out, which our child could then understand and react to, but instead there’s no information or explanation at all, which seems needlessly cruel. My wife and I believe that the other parents in the group are well aware that one child is being excluded and didn’t do much to stick up for our child or ask that their own children stand up to this kind of conduct. That’s left us feeling not very happy with being part of the parent friend group, and we’ve decided to take a break for now. So the questions are: 1. Are we overreacting (that is, should we have just left the kids to work this out for themselves)? and if yes, 2. How do we go back to being friends with a group of people who appear to be ok with their kids treating one of our kids in a pretty shabby manner? Thanks!
— Bummed About the Beach
While capricious social exclusion is, sadly, not unusual, especially for teens, it can often be an indicator of a deeper problem for a group or for an individual. So, I don’t think you’re overreacting. It’s not like you’re inserting yourself into teenage drama you have no stake in; the teens and their parents and you are part of an extended system. And all of you are being affected by this beach trip situation. What stands out to me is that this is an action taken by the girlfriend, which makes it harder to suss out the reasoning; if she was one of the teens whose parents you know, you could just call them, I imagine. You should probably let the kids work it out on their own, for the sake of building this skill. But to get clarity for your own sake I’d suggest you reach out to one of the parents in the group to see if they know more. It’s possible this is cruel exclusion, it’s possible there was some kind of social breach made by your child. All kinds of things are possible. But without asking around, you won’t know.
The other parents may not know either. But the first step in figuring out how you want to be in relationship with this group, if you want to be in relationship at all, is to hear from them directly. Asking the question about what they know can also open the door to asking why they didn’t stick up for your child. Right now, it feels like you’re playing a game of Telephone, pun lazily intended. You can’t go to the source, but you can get closer. You may not like the reasons the other parents give for not engaging, but you’ll be stuck in this place until you get them.
I’m a late 30s Asian American woman in a poly relationship with a similarly aged white man. I am highly aware of this cliché and also of the long history and implications of fetishization of Asian women in Western culture, not to mention the awful rash of hate crimes against us over the past few years.
After a good two years of a healthy and respectful vanilla relationship, we began sharing deeper desires and have been increasingly engaging in BDSM and race play with both of our enthusiastic consents. We check in frequently and have strong communication; I feel respected and desired as an individual. I have no reason to think he is otherwise fetishizing Asian women; he doesn’t have a history of dating other Asian women (we’re both married to people of our respective races) and says he’s never explored this aspect of himself with other partners before, nor does he desire to do so with anyone else.
A year later, we are starting to open up our relationship (which was previously bubbled to us and our spouses due to COVID), and I have requested that he doesn’t date other Asian women because that feels slightly odd to me given what I know now, especially in the context of race play (again, mutually enthusiastic but also, no one wants to feel like they’re desired just for their ethnicity). I have had this conversation with him and clarified that it is important to me, but he feels like I am limiting his dating pool and particularly from a group of people with whom his personality overlaps (the latter comment seemed like a generalization and made me particularly uneasy).
I dislike putting restrictions on my partner like this as it doesn’t feel very “in the spirit” of poly, but I have been burned multiple times by “Asian fetish” before, and it still stings. I’m wondering if I’m being ridiculous even bringing this up and if there’s a better solution that I haven’t thought of yet. For what it’s worth, I know the dynamics are different but I’d be totally OK not dating other white men despite knowing that would limit my dating pool more than him not dating other Asian women.
— The Personal Is Political
Dear Personal Is Political,
While, ultimately, he’s going to be free to do what he wants, I agree with you that his reasoning is not compelling. It’s befuddling to me that he feels he shares personality traits with an entire race, particularly since he didn’t date Asian women before. So, it feels a bit like he’s got some race play training wheels on. But how he feels and how he acts are out of your purview. You told him how his actions would make you feel, which is the most important aspect here. So now the ball is in his court. It doesn’t sound like you’ve given him an ultimatum, and that’s good. Ultimatums shut down communication and aren’t going to get you closer to what you want. But it may be time to call for a resolution. It sounds like you left it at an impasse, but sometimes the impasse is the answer. You’re one of the people with whom he’s actually in a relationship; do these hypothetical other relationships bear more weight?
There are many times in relationships where we ask for something or set a boundary and while the other person may not get it, they respect it because they love us. Your partner won’t understand the intricacies of racial fetishization, but he’s got to be vigilant about addressing your needs inside and outside of the play. So, try having a conversation with him about safety. This is an extension of your play and your enthusiastic consent; what he decides to do affects the dynamics of your relationship as a whole. He may not realize that or want to acknowledge that, but being neither one of you can simply shrug off your racial identities when it suits you.
One final thought: I don’t know if this is something that works within the parameters of your relationship or if it would even make a difference, but how would you feel if you didn’t know what the races of the other people he was dating are? I suspect you’d always wonder a little bit and that wonder might bleed into your enjoyment of your sexual relationship. But if that’s something you can compartmentalize, it might be a way of compromising while protecting yourself.
More Advice From Care and Feeding
My wife lets our 4-year-old son pee on the tree in the yard when he’s outside playing, rather than having to go inside. I think it’s weird. She says that’s what boys do. I certainly was not raised to just pee where I wanted, unless it was an emergency and there wasn’t a bathroom around. I know he’s young, but I’d prefer to not let this become a habit. Is this a battle I should keep fighting?