Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
Last week, I was doing some work on our shared desktop computer while my husband’s personal email was still logged in, which I didn’t realize until a notification popped up, and I caught sight of his ex’s name. This is the beautiful, sparkly, outgoing woman who swooped down and took his virginity when he was 27, dated him for six months, dumped him out of nowhere, and broke his heart. She is the only other woman he’s ever been with, whereas I haven’t been with anyone but him. As much as I know he loves me, our 4-year-old daughter, and the baby we just found out I’m pregnant with, I’ve always felt insecure about how he still seems to put his ex on a pedestal and agonizes occasionally over losing her.
Unable to control my curiosity, I skimmed the long message she’d sent him, wherein she apologized for how she treated him, rambled on about her unloving parents, their nasty divorce, her abusive early relationships, mental illness, and drug problems, then told how she’d cleaned up, gotten into therapy and meditation, and now, heading into her late 30s, is desperate to become a mom. She said he was the only truly good man she’d ever known, and despite knowing he was already married and a father, she wanted to give their relationship a second chance.
Almost without thinking, I replied as my husband, saying I was very happy in my marriage and to please never contact me again. Then I deleted the sent message, the original, and deleted them from the trash. I haven’t said a word to my husband, and as far as I know she hasn’t emailed him again. But I can’t help feeling guilty about snooping in his email and impersonating him. Do I owe him the truth, even if it ends up costing me everything?
Dear Shamefaced Snoop,
Honestly, I’m really torn. It’s so easy to just never say anything about this. But if we’ve learned anything from Julia Roberts’ character’s consequential email in the anti-rom-com My Best Friend’s Wedding, these things can pop back up at any moment like an impromptu rendition of “I Say a Little Prayer.” So I think it’s best for you to share with your husband the way you feel about his ex and the thing you ended up doing. The email that the ex sent is way over the line and indefensible. But there’s something about your response that you should pay attention to. Why did you immediately reply as your husband and then cover your tracks? Is there a part of you that worries that he might be too tempted? By talking openly with your husband about the thing that you did, you give your relationship the chance to not be further complicated by this insecurity. It’s not your fault that you feel insecure; that’s normal. But it might be an indicator that something is off in the relationship that’s probably only fixable by bringing things into the light.
I am a 25-year-old male and a virgin (not for religious or moral reasons, just focused on studies rather than dating). Now, though, I am looking to get into the dating world, and something is worrying me. My dick, when erect, tops out at 4.4 to 4.7 inches (which, to be fair, obviously is based on masturbation so I don’t know if it would get “more erect” in live play, but I don’t think that’s how it works). I know that isn’t a micro-penis, but it is also below-average.
My question is this: Is it possible for me to be the best sex of a partner’s life, with that physical length? To be clear, I know it won’t happen right away. It will require learning moves and positions, learning oral and other forms of stimulation, and communication. I am willing to put in that work. I guess my question is—is it POSSIBLE to be the best sex of my partner’s life?
I don’t ask to satisfy some ego trip. I guess I am worried that it will be hard to enjoy sex in a relationship if I know that the best sex of their life lies elsewhere, so I’d know during sex they’d rather be with someone else.
—Limited but Hoping
Dear Limited but Hoping,
One of the things that you will discover as you embark on your life as a sexually active person is that sex is different at various stages of life, in various contexts, under various moods, and more. You can and will have sex with the same person and find that the experience feels completely different—sometimes better, sometimes not as great. But “best” might be elusive, because like everything else about relationships, sex is an ever-changing thing. Yes, you may end up with a partner who has had a very memorable sexual relationship, one that was consistently thrilling and satisfying. It is also possible for you and this person to have memorable, consistently thrilling and satisfying sex. So, in answer to your question, yes, it is possible for you the be “the best” sex of a partner’s life. But, but, I really encourage you to release the idea of “the best” from your mind. Sometimes sex changes, deepens, and grows as a relationship changes, deepens, and grows; other times it’s amazing right off the bat. Most of the time it varies a little. But if you are in a communicative, giving, and game sexual relationship, I think it’s unlikely that your partner will hold some other sex in their head as the unbeatable gold standard to which nothing you do will ever compare. If they want to be with you and they enjoy being with you, believe that, accept that, and enjoy that.
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During the pandemic, my wife and I started a garden, orchard, and backyard chicken coop since we have a double lot in our new neighborhood. It is a lot of work, but we enjoy the pleasure of eating the fruits of our labor. My wife even learned how to can and makes her own jams. Our garden and chickens started producing more than we could reasonably consume, so we started leaving out the produce on the front porch with a sign for our neighbors to help themselves (but please not to be greedy—we were all in this together). We also posted on the local neighbor social media. There were a few bumps—the clueless who didn’t know fresh eggs don’t need to be refrigerated or the self-centered who didn’t understand their desire for grape jelly was impossible to fulfill when we only had peach trees.
Then there was “Dee.” She was a neighbor from down the street we really didn’t know. We could identify her on sight. Our security camera lets us know when someone is on the porch. It caught Dee taking everything we left out, multiple bags of food all in one go. She had done this several days in a row, so my wife and I tried to time it so we could have a discussion with Dee. Instead, she nearly assaulted us. We came out and Dee didn’t even stop trying to take the bags of food even as we called after her. Half the way down the walk, Dee turned around and told us to shut up—the sign says free so it was “fucking free.” My wife retorted that the sign said not to be greedy. Dee gave us a dead-eyed stare, smacked her lips, and said she had kids. I explained that other people had kids too. Dee grabbed a jam jar, started to curse, and threw it midway between us. My wife and I freaked out and retreated to the house. We didn’t know what to do, whether to call the police or let this blow over.
What we did do was take down the sign and post on social media that due to an “incident,” our larder would be locked down for the immediate future. Only Dee returned the day after. Our camera recorded her on the porch looking around and then having a fit where she kicked over and broke several flowerpots. We went to police with our video. Later, the police went to talk to Dee, only she had a meltdown and starting screaming at the police. She was arrested and her children picked up by CPS. Apparently enough neighbors witnessed the screaming fit and heard Dee blame us (we are the only “local” lesbians). Our social media got flooded with comments scolding us for hurting an obviously mentally ill woman and breaking up her family. We had no sense of compassion or community.
All of this has left us very shaken. Before we felt welcomed and even had warm relations with our neighbors. My wife is particularly bitter—she has stopped all her side projects and has been throwing the extra produce on the compost and giving the extra eggs to our dogs. She has talked about scaling back our homestead and even giving our chickens away. We have gotten a few thank-you notes left in our mailbox, but the overwhelming feel of negativity is hard to shake. What can we do?
Dear Semi-Rural Life,
It’s a little jarring how quickly the community turned against you after the incident with Dee. Sending the police to her house is an escalation, but it also seems obvious that Dee and her kids needed some intervention. The community needs better options for intervention in this case than the police, but that’s not completely within your control. The way things have deteriorated (and the early bumps) cause me to wonder whether you really want to try to rebuild the bridges in this community and whether they were that strong to begin with. Maybe you might get more from donating the food to a nearby food bank that has the resources to take it. Or you may want to keep putting the food out without an expectation of community response.
This is also a good time to look a little closer at what you’re trying to get out of this. I know that Dee taking all of the food went against the guidelines you set and therefore wasn’t fair, but is it possible that you were trying to exert too much control over where the food went? I bring this up not as a criticism, but as an opportunity to recalibrate what you want from community vis-à-vis this food. Since the blowup, you’ve stopped giving away food and are composting the extra. I understand this impulse—if the community is not welcoming you, why do something nice for them? But it seems the original impulse was to help people in need. That’s why you stopped Dee from taking everything after all, wasn’t it? I expect that the need still exists. People can still eat the food that’s going to the dogs or the compost. I suspect that some of the joy of the growing and harvesting might return if you hold a little less tightly to the food.
I am a 46-year-old woman with a good career, living in a big city. No kids, never married. I am conventionally attractive, fit, and I’m often told I look young for my age. In my 30s, I had no problem garnering attention on dating apps. Now, however, it’s a very different story. It’s a struggle to get any traction, even when I reach out first. I have asked friends to review my profile and no one sees any glaring issues. I am guessing that I am now falling outside many guys’ search parameters, age-wise. I’ve been considering changing my age on Hinge (the app lets you do it once) to shave off a few years, but that seems deceptive, and could come back to bite me once I eventually get to know someone and reveal my true age. Thoughts?
Dear Coming Un-Hinged,
While we all probably want to assume everyone logs on to dating apps with pure intentions, seeking to make a human connection, soul to soul, there’s also a way of thinking about app profiles as a kind of marketing. You are, in some ways, creating a campaign for your dating self and putting that campaign into the marketplace. Is this a cynical way of looking at things? Perhaps, but I prefer to think of it as just a means to an end. It’s possible to get attention with poorly lit photos and an uninspired bio, but it’s easier if you put a little zazz on things. To that end, it sounds like your question is less an ethical one than a marketing one. On the pro side, as you mentioned, is the possibility of slipping under some guys’ search parameters and besting their conscious or unconscious biases. But you’re setting yourself up for a Younger-style complication down the line. Younger was the rom-com TV series about a woman in her 40s who convinces the staff of a hip magazine that she’s in her 20s. Hijinks ensue. But she and the viewers always knew that eventually she’d have to come clean and risk blowing the whole thing up.
The core idea, however, was that people have value that is unrelated to the artificial worth we place on youth. So if you’re marketing your value on Hinge (as best one can given the limitations of a dating app), then you should put whatever age you want. The risk is that you’ll attract the kind of guy who would swipe one way on a 46-year-old and the other way on a 39-year-old. It may get you more attention, but will it be the attention you want? I say try it and find out.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“No shade to the fine folks in the dating algorithm business, but perhaps the Hinge is rusty.”
R. Eric Thomas and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My husband and I have been together for nearly 10 years, married for almost four, and we recently welcomed our first child this winter. I have had a very difficult time postpartum. A few weeks after my baby was born, I felt overwhelmed with debilitating anxiety, depression, and insomnia. It became so bad I was prescribed antidepressants along with medication for panic attacks. Since I started medication, it has slowly gotten better, but due to my ADHD and anxiety it’s still a struggle. I haven’t felt like myself at all, and I’ve also been feeling extremely insecure about the weight I gained during my pregnancy (close to 50 pounds) and getting back to my pretty fit previous weight. I’ve lost about 35 pounds so far, but I don’t feel confident about my body, and while I know I should be exercising regularly (my husband bought me an expensive exercise bike for this purpose), I am so exhausted and overwhelmed nearly every day and completely lack motivation. Due to the antidepressants, my sex drive has also pretty much disappeared, which is another thing I feel anxious about.
My husband has been amazing. He’s the one that will get up with our baby in the morning after I’ve had yet another sleepless night to give me an opportunity to sleep in. I still take on the lion’s share of caregiving (feedings, playtime, diaper changes, bath, and bedtime routine), but I do appreciate how he’s supported me in this way. About three months postpartum, he went to his close friend’s wedding on the other side of the country. I was home alone with our baby and dog and felt completely overwhelmed. I couldn’t stop crying and was so on edge I was too scared to even shower when the baby was asleep in case something happened, and I couldn’t hear the cries. It was miserable and very scary for me. Now, a few months later, he wants to travel again to a friend’s bachelor party—internationally. It’s only for a weekend, but I don’t think I can handle it and every time he brings it up I beg him not to go, but he says that I’m being unreasonable and that the wives of other friends of his that are going and have more than one baby are handling it just fine, so I should too.
I know this is in part due to feeling insecure about my postpartum body and uncomfortable about him being in a tropical country at a bachelor party where there will most likely be strippers or just women in general in various states of undress. But another part of me feels like he’s completely negating my feelings and the trauma I’ve dealt with postpartum just because he wants to go on this trip. He is going to this friend’s wedding later this year, which is also across the country, while I will stay at home with our baby and dog. This friend also lives locally, so they could get together nearby any other weekend. Am I being unreasonable by asking him to skip this overseas bachelor party? If so, what can I do to help myself get through this? I don’t have family or close friends nearby to help out, and I’m a shy and introverted person that dreads asking for help from acquaintances/neighbors. I feel like I’m losing my mind and would really appreciate any advice you have to offer.
—Am I an Unreasonable Wife?
Dear Unreasonable Wife,
You are not being unreasonable. I can’t stress this enough. You are not being unreasonable. First of all, it’s inappropriate for your husband to bring up what the other wives are OK with or how they’re handling things. Each person is different and also who cares? You’re not the other wives, you’re you, and your experience is valid and deserves care and attention. You are going through a very difficult postpartum period, and I am so glad that you’ve sought help. I encourage you not to rush yourself. Your husband needs to do more research on what being a supportive partner to someone struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety looks like. He needs to listen to and acknowledge the things you are feeling, because they are real. He needs to verbalize the things about you that he appreciates. He needs to help you even more, both in terms of at-home labor and emotional support. This isn’t something that you need to just deal with on your own, and it isn’t something that’s simply an inconvenience for him. This is a part of your lives, your marriage, and your shared parenting responsibility. He’s got to get that through his head.
I commend you for asking for what you need regarding this overseas trip. Not only is it not fair to burden you like this, but you’ve made it clear that him being far away for an extended period puts you in a dangerous situation. This period will not last forever, but while it is happening, he needs to deal with it. If you have the resources, have a conversation with your husband and a therapist or counselor. Or ask your husband to set it up—another way that he can show up. It shouldn’t be on you to explain to him how to best support you right now, and so an outside perspective might help guide him and might give you another helping hand out of this space.
You may also want to look up the organizations Postpartum Progress and Postpartum Support International to see if they’re good fits for you. You deserve to have as much support as you want for as long as you want.
I want to know if I’m overreacting, and if not, how to proceed without blowing up my marriage. My husband is not from here and moved to the city about 10 years ago. It was supposed to be short-term until he met me. We have been married for eight years and have two wonderful daughters. When we got married, a lot of his friends and family declined to come based on the costs associated with traveling. I understood and never held a grudge. My husband was upset but let it go. Since then, about seven friends from “back home” got married. Regardless of our financial situation, family situation, health (high-risk pregnancy with numerous hospitalizations), he has flown home to attend, and partake, in all these weddings. We have had fights, I’ve voiced my opinions, but in the end, I caved.
His lifelong best friend moved to our city a few years ago and also met someone. He has recently popped the question and asked my husband to be his best man. He’s planning the wedding for next year. I thought this one was going to be simple enough, but my blood is boiling. Through a recent genetic test, his best friend found out he has Scottish ancestry. He has now announced that he wants to have the wedding in a castle in Scotland. Since most of the family would be traveling out of town, he doesn’t think the destination will be a big deal. Fine. He has also stated that he wants the bachelor party a few states over and have a guys’ trip to the mountains for a week. All of this will cost us over $10,000, and the semi-demands haven’t stopped. He wants the men to arrive to Scotland early so they can do traditional things and go sightseeing before the wedding. He has a list of things he wants to do before and after.
I told my husband no. There is a limit and I’ve reached mine. I said we will arrive a few days early and attend the wedding, but right after we will leave and travel to a few other destinations, including my home country, since we will be there already with our young kids. My husband said we can’t and that most likely everyone else will just go with it. He claims we can’t be the only family leaving and it would be insulting. I am so angry I’m actually considering leaving him. I feel his friend is a fricking bridezilla and he’s not even the bride. I feel like my husband should see the ridiculousness of this situation and tell his friend to rein it in a little. I also don’t want to save and save to appease someone else’s dreams without them being considerate of others. I don’t think I want to be in a room with his friend because I’m worried I’ll say something I’ll regret. His friend is allowed to make all the demands he wants and ask for whatever he wants, but I feel like my husband should think of his family and say no. Or set realistic plans of what we (he) can and can’t do. But I don’t know, maybe I am the “crazy one.”
—Annoyed at the “Bride”
Dear Annoyed at the “Bride,”
Well, all of this sounds very extreme. Ten thousand dollars is an incredible amount of money to spend on another person’s wedding. But if it’s in your budget, go for it. I’m not sure, however, what that budget looks like, and I think that’s near the center of the issue. At least part of your frustration is coming from spending this money on something other than the family. So I wonder what your family’s shared understanding of money is. It might be helpful to revisit it in conversation with your husband, but hopefully a conversation not tied to this wedding. Do you have a wedding savings account? Is this cutting into other plans you have? Is there a budget for this kind of thing? I can’t tell if this is breaking your bank or more of an annoyance, but it seems clear you two aren’t aligned on your financial philosophies and that’s creating some strife.
Strife is also coming from the yearslong pattern of destination events, and it seems like your husband’s best friend is bearing the brunt of all of it. I don’t know that this is all his fault, though. True, this Scottish/multistate saga is pretty demanding, but I wonder if it would be such a sticking point for you if your husband hadn’t already traveled to the other weddings. I know you’re frustrated with both your husband and his best friend, but it really seems like the issue sits squarely with your husband. In fact, I’ll bet that if the best friend wasn’t getting married, you and your husband would still be bumping up against an issue. So see if you can get to the bottom of what the misalignment is. See a couples counselor if you can’t work it out together. You’re not the crazy one, but I don’t think either of you is going to get anywhere continuing to argue about this one wedding.
I work at a small nonprofit of about 20 people, most of whom are under age 35. Our president is a big personality and often tries to treat employees as friends, whether they like it or not. She makes jokes that are highly inappropriate and she bullies our more timid employees. Last week she took things to a whole new level. In an attempt to scare a female employee who’s been the victim of some of her bullying, she snuck up behind her and planned to give the employee a soft tug on her skirt. What actually happened was that the employee’s skirt came off her waist and exposed her underwear.