Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My partner recently moved in with me. Everything was great except for one thing: They were allergic to my indoor/outdoor cat, Muffins. Thankfully, I had a friend who adored Muffins and was looking for a low-maintenance pet, so we found her a new home with minimal hiccups. Or so we thought.
About a month after Muffins moved in with my friend, she unexpectedly gave birth to a litter of kittens! I had no idea she was pregnant—I adopted her as an adult from an informal rescue and mistakenly assumed she had been spayed. My friend is really angry about this. They want me to bring Muffins into my home until the kittens are old enough to adopt out and pay to replace the carpet in their closet, which was pretty much ruined. They say that they took in an adult cat precisely to avoid this kind of headache, and since the cat was in my care when she got knocked up, it’s my responsibility (for what it’s worth, they never asked me if Muffins was spayed).
I think this is ridiculous—my partner is still allergic, and when you adopt a pet you have to be ready for the unknown to happen! I offered to split the cost of caring for the kittens until they can go to new homes, but that’s as far as I want to go. Am I being a jerk?
— Pregnant Cat’s Out of the Bag
Dear Cat’s Out of the Bag,
When you adopt a cat, particularly from a friend, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that the friend will disclose all of the pertinent information that might affect this adoption. True, you didn’t know Muffins was pregnant, but if Muffins is indoor/outdoor and you assumed she was spayed, I would expect that you’d make sure your assumption was correct—if for no other reason than to avoid a situation like the one you’re in now. Your friend is right that this happened on your watch, but I’m not sure your friend’s solution makes more sense. Between the two parties here someone should have taken the cat to the vet for a checkup, chipping, etc. So, there’s bad luck at play and also a lack of preparation. But making your partner miserable isn’t going to solve anything. I think you should pay to replace the carpet, and your friend should take you up on splitting the cost of caring for and rehoming the kittens.
How do you set boundaries with 8-year-olds? My boyfriend’s youngest son (“Kyle”) is generally a good kid, and I usually get along with him well due to my career history working with kids. But an issue has arisen around touching. I’m extremely sensitive to and uncomfortable with touch that I haven’t explicitly consented to because of a combination of neurodivergence and PTSD. I’ll be sitting close to my boyfriend on the couch and Kyle will snuggle up against me, even if there’s room to snuggle with his dad instead. Sometimes we’ll be sitting on different ends of the couch, and then I’ll look and notice that he’s scooted over to be almost touching me and watching to see if I’ve noticed.
The other night we were watching a movie, and he reached up and stroked my ear (!!!). I’m starting to dread spending the night! My boyfriend has 50/50 split custody with his ex, so Kyle isn’t always around, but I feel awful at the thought of arranging all of our time together around when Kyle will be at his mom’s. If Kyle was a peer, I would handle it with a firm but kind “please don’t touch me.” Can I just do that here? If he was any younger, I could chalk it up to being too little to know any better and let it go. I’m very wary about coming across as trying to parent him, but this situation drove me to tears last night, and I want some way to resolve it that doesn’t involve me suffering in silence.
— Not Your Cuddle Buddy
Dear Not Your Cuddle Buddy,
Parents and caretakers teach children body awareness and consent throughout all their phases of development. The words and concepts may get more complex, but the core idea of respecting another person’s space and having one’s own space respected is established fairly early on. From my read, I would guess that Kyle is expressing affection toward you, which bodes well for your continued relationship. But you don’t have to receive that affection in a way that’s going to make you uncomfortable. Let your boyfriend know (if you haven’t already) that you’d like to address this, and then, with his help, have a kind and loving conversation with Kyle where you reassure him that you like spending time with him a lot but you’re someone who doesn’t like to be touched. Maybe offer alternatives for ways you can be close emotionally without being close physically. Your boyfriend can also serve as backup reminding Kyle in the moment that you’re not a touching fan and redirecting his kid to ways of interacting that work for everyone.
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I am a single mom of two, and we live in an apartment complex with a pool. My kids are too young to stay home by themselves, so I pay my 14-year-old niece to babysit them. There have been several incidents where my neighbors have seen my niece watching my kids, so they send out theirs and expect my niece to keep an eye on them (several even scolded her when their kids got hurt running or fighting). The pool complex has no lifeguards, and no one under 12 is supposed to be there without supervision. This is extremely stressful for my niece, and my sister has ordered me to get a handle on it. I have tried, but it isn’t like I know these people personally. I can’t even identify which kids go where, and the few I do will not respond if I knock or leave notes.
This all came to a head when one lady sent her 5-year-old to the pool while my niece was there with my kids and then locked her door and left. My niece had no clue what to do. She was scared. She wasn’t going to leave him there alone, but he didn’t know his mom’s number. I was in a meeting, so my niece called my sister, who had to leave work and drive across town. The mother got back around the same time as when my sister arrived, there was a screaming match, and another neighbor threatened to call the cops. My sister told him to go ahead because she was going to report this witch for child abandonment. It ended with the lady grabbing her kid and cursing my sister and niece out and going inside.
When I found all this out, I asked my sister why she escalated everything. She told me this was crazy and she wasn’t going to have her daughter here anymore. I could find another baby sitter. I have been scrambling for childcare ever since, but I can’t find anyone consistent enough. I begged my sister to relent, but she claims her daughter has been traumatized enough and isn’t going to be put in that position again. (She says I can drop my kids at her house, but my work is in the opposite direction, and I would be fighting traffic all the way, not to mention I can’t afford the gas. My niece was taking the bus.)
I need help here. This isn’t the best neighborhood, but it is all I can afford.
— Pool Side
Dear Pool Side,
While your niece is a capable and available babysitter, the additional element of the neighborhood pool and the childcare free-for-all that ensued has created a situation that requires adult intervention. I think that things were escalated even before your sister showed up. I know you’re in a tough spot, but your niece was put in a position where she’d need to advocate strongly for herself against some very pushy adults, which is difficult for anyone but potentially impossible for a 14-year-old. It’s not fair to keep asking that of her. Unfortunately, this means you need to run more interference before she can safely come back.
If your neighbors won’t respond to your very reasonable requests that they not leave their children with a stranger who is also a child, then the easiest thing to do in some respects is to take the pool off the table. If your kids and your niece aren’t allowed to go to the pool without you or another adult, a big portion of this problem gets solved. This isn’t fair for your kids, of course, but I think you’d agree that the situation has been made untenable by the neighbors, and so someone has to do something. Another option is for your niece to come by bus, pick your kids up, and bring them back to your sister’s. None of these choices are as ideal as the pool seemed initially, but you’ve got to face the fact that the pool has become much more complicated and possibly dangerous.
Whatever changes you decide to make, you can’t go in expecting that your sister will immediately relent. She’s looking out for her kid and trying to protect her. I’d suggest going over there and apologizing to your niece and your sister for the situation you all have found yourselves in. It’s not your fault, but acknowledging that your niece was unfairly saddled with adult responsibilities will go a long way toward mending this fence.
This might be a really obvious question, I don’t have a lot of dating experience so I’d love some advice.
I started dating my housemate three months ago. Bad idea, I know, but we are both mature and kind people, so we thought as long as we communicate honestly, things will be okay. The relationship has been good. We spend a lot of time together, he’s very sweet and great in bed, and I like him. We haven’t defined ourselves as bf/gf, but we are dating exclusively and he’s crazy about me. My only problem is that from the start, I’m not sure I saw a long-term future with him—he smokes weed and cigarettes occasionally, which I really dislike (and he says he will keep doing it), and we are from really different cultures and our families probably wouldn’t get along. So, great to date, but I’m not sure I could marry him.
No problem, right? Until this new guy comes in. We became friends, but we definitely click, and I’m pretty sure there could be something more if I was open to it. He’s kind and attractive but what’s more concerning is that he has the same cultural background as me and he doesn’t do any drugs. I only recently met him, so I don’t know a lot about him, but I’m immediately worried about the possibility that I end up liking this guy more than the guy I’m dating.
How should I think about this situation? If current guy and I were married, I would definitely not pursue this new friendship because I’m aware that I could develop feelings. I know current guy and I are just exclusively dating, but it somehow still feels wrong to put myself in a friendship where I know that might be the eventual downfall of this relationship. I always thought that honest communication would be the key, but I have no idea how I could communicate this. “Hey, just a heads up, I made a friend who I could end up falling for?”
— Worried Friendly Friend
Dear Worried Friendly Friend,
Part of this sounds like a grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side situation. You’re happy enough with your current guy, but mentally you’re already a little bit out the door, right? If he wasn’t your housemate, it might even just be a fling or a casual thing. So this other guy probably seems perfect in comparison because of who he is but also because you’re not looking closely, you’re just looking. This is all fine. This is what happens. And from your letter it seems that you’re aware that all of this possibility is just that, possibility, and, as such, requires a closer look before leaping.
The thing you should do now is decide what your guardrails are. Sometimes we have great chemistry or possibility with friends but nothing comes of it because we don’t let anything come of it. We set personal boundaries that honor the relationships, platonic and romantic, we’re already in. If you can do that and want to do that, more power to you. My fear, however, is that the amount of angst you have about this new friendship is indicative of greater doubts about your current relationship. I’m less concerned about an emotional affair and more concerned that since you live with your current guy, something that’s still very new is asking you to hold on to it more tightly than you otherwise would. A lot of this has to be about what you want, but if you want to communicate with current guy about it in some way, you could have the bf/gf conversation and see where a talk about your future takes both of you. Again, it’s only been three months, but you’re also living together. Everyone’s relationship has different rules.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Something casual and convenient could have less strings if everyone is clear about what they need.”
R. Eric Thomas and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My husband and I had a threesome with another person. He has since become almost “best friends” with them. He tells me it’s strictly platonic and I wholeheartedly believe him, but I’m struggling with insecurities that I am no longer enough and fear of abandonment. This has caused us to fight almost daily and is driving us further apart, when it was supposed to bring us closer. I feel like the friendship is taking priority over our marriage, but since my husband doesn’t feel that way, he is reluctant to change. He says, “we’ve already stopped the sex like you wanted, now you want me to stop the friendship. What do I get out of it?” I’m at a loss. We’ve agreed to begin counseling, but I don’t want my insecurities to ruin our marriage.
— Scared and Insecure
Dear Scared and Insecure,
I’m glad you’re beginning counseling, as it will provide a safe space for you all to work out the lingering feelings that were brought up by the threesome and the ensuing friendship. But you should remember that the threesome probably wasn’t the cause of this insecurity. You should also see about talking with a counselor one-on-one about why you think you’re not enough or fear being abandoned. It’s possible that you didn’t want to have the threesome to begin with but agreed to it in order to quiet one of those insecurities. Or maybe you did want to do it in theory, but the reality provoked some feelings that you thought were dealt with or were unrelated. While this is an issue that sits at the center of your marriage, try to sort out what things are yours to work on and what things belong to you and your husband jointly. A lot of times, we’ll look for simpler solutions to address more complex problems. So ask yourself if your husband cutting off the friendship will actually solve the issues you’re dealing with or if it’s just the easiest thing that’s in front of you right now. Going forward, you and your husband can also work on talking through platonic and sexual interactions to make sure you’re both on the same page and everyone feels empowered and safe.
My soon-to-be ex-husband “Finn” had this friend “Rey” he’d been close to since high school. Even though I trusted Finn totally, everyone always treated Rey like a threat to me. My mom saw him dancing with her at our wedding and warned me to keep an eye on her. My sisters and friends made faces and nasty comments at any mention of her. I had to hide whenever he did stuff with her because they’d all go off on how he must be cheating. I always just felt insulted that they couldn’t see how Finn would choose me over her; I don’t fit the societal beauty standard like she does but I am attractive. Finn told me that despite being such good friends he never wanted a relationship with Rey, because firstly, she’s bi and too promiscuous for him, and secondly, she’s white, and as a Black man he always wanted to marry and have children with a Black woman, like me.
Well, Rey must have finally had enough of being the side piece. Friday night she bombed me with forwards of their X-rated texts and photos, going back to before Finn and I even met. Finn apologized and tried to promise the sex would stop, but I’m not having it. The marriage is over, I’m just grateful I’m not pregnant yet. Should I hide the reason we’re divorcing from my friends and family? The thought of all the “I told you so’s” is unbearable. I feel like I’d just look like a fool admitting everyone was right this whole time, and I was an idiot. But will I regret not swallowing my shame so I can have some honest emotional support?
— They Told Me So
Dear They Told Me So,
The “I told you so’s” are going to outweigh any honest emotional support you could be getting from your friends and family, so I don’t see the upside for you. They may have had only your best interests in mind when they warned you, but the way they chose to do it ended up just hurting you. So I wonder how helpful they’ll be at this point. They may still bring up Rey and have theories that get uncomfortably close to the truth. But what you need right now is people who aren’t interested in scoring points or focusing on villains, but rather will show up for you and give you what you need. Don’t tell them anymore than that you’re getting divorced because it didn’t work out. That’s true, too. And see if you have a friend or family member in whom you can confide safely if you need to unload the full truth.
My elderly MIL moved in with us after suffering chronic health problems. Since she came to live with us, I noticed she treats me with hostility every time I am intimate with my husband. Each “morning after” she will either refuse to look at me, make unnecessarily biting comments, or just glare at me when she thinks I’m not looking. I thought I was imagining it but after several months of living together, this is definitely the reason why. I’ve become paranoid about making love and we are very careful about being quiet—almost to the point of silence—but it hasn’t helped. I feel terrible asking my sick MIL to move out because of this, and I’m too embarrassed to have a discussion with her. Is there any solution to our problem?