Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi everyone! I survived the record-breaking Bay Area heat wave and partially blame it for being in such a bad mood with everyone last week. I’m cooler and maybe 10 percent less judgmental now. Let’s get started.
Q. Her Body, Her Choice, My Body, My Choice: My wife and I are 33 and 34, respectively, and have two children. Pregnancy was hard on my wife (nonstop morning sickness, food aversions, and constantly uncomfortable) and she said she didn’t want to have any more children after our son was born four years ago. I was supportive of her wishes, even though I thought we’d have at least one more child.
After Roe v. Wade was overturned, our state enacted stricter restrictions on abortion. We are both outraged at what is going on and I have tried to be understanding and supportive of the complex feelings she, and all women, are dealing with. One of my wife’s solutions is for me to get a vasectomy. She is currently on birth control but has, rightly, decided that preventing pregnancy shouldn’t be all on the women. I do not want a vasectomy and told her I was willing to use condoms and explore other options to prevent pregnancy if she no longer wanted to be on birth control. She did not like this response and insisted I need to get a vasectomy, and even scheduled an appointment for me to see the doctor.
Prudie, I do not want a vasectomy because there are a lot of unknowns in life and I don’t want to permanently take away my choice of having future children if something happens and I am left divorced or widowed. My father’s first wife died unexpectedly when my brother and sister were 6 and 9 and five years later he married my mother and had me and my sisters. I tried to get my wife to shelve this conversation and talk about it at a later date, when emotions weren’t so raw off of such a major event, but she wouldn’t let it go and kept pressing.
I finally told her my reason—that if we ever ended up divorced or anything happened to her, I didn’t want to take away the option of more children. As expected, this did not go over well and we had a big fight, resulting in her going to spend the weekend at her sister’s house. She came home, but is angry at me and claims everything from I don’t really love her if I am thinking about children with another woman to accusing me of cheating on her and plotting divorce. I am trying to be patient and understanding. I tried to explain the situation like our prenuptial agreement (that she proposed), and that just because we signed one didn’t mean we were thinking of getting a divorce before we married. I don’t know what else to do. We tried speaking to a marriage therapist but the session was not productive. We both go to therapy individually, but I do not know if she is talking about the situation with her therapist. A couple of months ago our relationship was warm and loving, and I felt like we were partners who could communicate honestly with one another and now my marriage feels cold, distant, and bitter. How do I get us back on track?
A: How are you discussing this with your therapist? Because it sounds to me like your anxiety about a hypothetical future in which you get divorced or are moving past a dead wife is ruining the marriage you have now with your very-much-alive wife. That’s a problem. To refuse to do something to keep your current relationship intact and happy because you might one day be in another relationship is not wise. And no, this isn’t like a prenup. A prenup is signed once and from then on has no effect on your day-to-day life unless the worst happens. A decision about birth control is completely different. Someone has to do something, or you have to stop having sex or risk having an unplanned child.
You need to apologize to your wife. Not for your choice to pass on a vasectomy (yes, it is your body, and that’s your right—if you just don’t want to have surgery because you don’t, that’s OK) but for prioritizing your future with a possible second wife over your present. Try to figure out how you go there, mentally (I’m guessing it might have to do with the tragedy in your father’s life) so you can explain it to her and reassure her that you aren’t actually planning to leave, you’re just over-fixated on worst-case scenarios. Re-emphasize your very fair offer to take responsibility for birth control by using condoms. Perhaps the two of you could even look into other options, like fertility awareness or natural family planning (though these options leave fewer room for mistakes). But none of these conversations can happen until you repair the damage you did when you shared your exit plan. Make that a priority. Because right now, you’re closer to moving on to family #2 than you ever thought.
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Q. Trying to Put My Own Oxygen Mask On: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for five years, and we’ve been living together for just under three years while we both work full-time. For the first two years of living together, I had a short commute and he had a long one, so I took over pretty much all of the household upkeep. This arrangement worked pretty well for us, and I don’t have many complaints because taking care of him is a nice way for me to show that I love him.
Now we have both changed jobs, and our commute time is about the same. I am much happier in my new job, and I find it more fulfilling and interesting than the work I was doing before. But the opposite is true for my boyfriend. He is absolutely miserable at the new job and feels that it plays into many of his weaknesses, especially his anxiety around meeting deadlines. He is a stressed-out wreck and comes home to rant about how terrible his job is and how much he’d rather be doing anything else.
To try to help out, I started taking over all of the household tasks again, even though now I have less time to complete them. I feel like after keeping our household running I have no energy left over to comfort him emotionally, even though he clearly needs the support. I’ve tried gently suggesting therapy, but he seems resistant to the idea. We’ve been brainstorming ways for him to ask his manager to transfer teams or be assigned different projects, but it is likely he would have to continue in his current role for at least another three to six months. He says that working at this job makes him feel like he’s drowning, and I’m starting to feel like I’m drowning too.
A: Take a minute to read over what you wrote. You stepped back in to take over household tasks because your boyfriend was a stressed-out wreck. But he’s still miserable and feels like he’s drowning. That’s because, while you see doing all the chores as a way to show him love during a difficult time, this kind of work doesn’t solve his actual problems. He feels about the same despite your efforts. And you feel much worse because you’re overwhelmed.
I want you to try to mentally separate housework and care for your partner. Keeping the home running should be something that you split relatively evenly—maybe each doing a bit more or less depending on how much time you have each week. It’s not something one person gets to quit when life gets tough. Things get tough a lot! Life is hard! So that’s just not sustainable. Think about it: If he were single, he’d still have to wash clothes and dishes and water the plants, even when he had a long commute or was going through a difficult time. Adults don’t typically just get to check out of these kinds of tasks and decide to spend evenings ranting about work instead. So, raise your expectations for him a little. He can pull his weight, even through the ups and downs of being a grown-up working person. And you deserve to get some of your time back. Make a list of chores, agree on how often they need to be done, and divide them up.
But this is going to leave you with a partner who’s still stressed out and struggling, and you’re still going to have a strong urge to fix it for him. I have bad news: You can’t. The situation he’s in involves him, his manager, and his (currently nonexistent) therapist. I’ll mention again here that he’s a grown-up. The appropriate way for you to be there for him is by being kind and nonjudgmental, by listening, by making suggestions if he’s interested, and by stepping back when he’s not. Maybe even try distracting him by suggesting some activities he enjoys to take his mind off how bad things are at the office. It sounds like you’ve already done many of these things so the real challenge is going to be to find a way to let go and let him do most of the work of figuring this out himself. And to make sure you don’t end up as unhappy as he is in the process.
Q. Honoring Myself and Others: After a tough two years, I planned a nice birthday brunch for myself, friends, and family at a unique and private venue post-pandemic at a reasonable cost. On my invitation, I indicated the amount per person. Though it wasn’t obvious on the invite, I reserved the members-only venue and also paid for a nice cake to feed 20 people. After the event, everyone commented on how much they enjoyed the gathering. Almost all my friends remembered to Venmo me for the cost of the meal except for two who forgot. Would it be rude to remind them and if not, what would be the most respectable and appropriate way to do so? In the past, I’d shrug this off while remaining upset about it, but I realize I often bypass how I’d like to be treated and want to find an appropriate way to address this while making sure I’m being a forgiving friend.
A: Just take the loss. You are totally allowed to do whatever you want for your birthday, including inviting people to a celebration and charging them. But one risk of this unconventional approach to hosting is that there isn’t an actual contract in place. Some people just aren’t going to pay—because they’re cheap, because they forgot, or because they didn’t read the fine print on the invitation and it would not have occurred to them to look for the fee. 18 out of 20 isn’t bad.
Q. Suddenly Second Best: I was just dumped by my best friend of two years because according to her, I “don’t care enough about what she talks about.” Simply because I’m not particularly excited about her third boyfriend of 2022 and because I don’t care about what’s going on in the lives of her online friends. This all stemmed from me being mad when she asked to hang out and ignored me the whole time. She seems to have latched onto someone I knew several years ago, and I believe that she’s the one pulling the strings in all this because this other girl loves to cause issues. I really care about this girl and I don’t want our friendship to end like this. Should I reach out to my friend to try and fix things or should I just let it go?
A: Seems like she’s right that you don’t care about her and beyond that, you don’t love being around her. Let it go.
Q. Re: Suddenly Second Best: Reach out one more time expressing concern about where you find yourselves, and suggest an in-person meeting for just the two of you. Which you will use to lay this out non-judgmentally and neutrally. If she declines, refuses, or evades, well, you have your answer. Do not shut the door completely unless you want to do so.
A: I don’t know about this. Now, it can’t hurt. But I don’t think the letter writer actually feels nonjudgmental and neutral about their former friend. Do you hear the contempt here?? “I’m not particularly excited about her third boyfriend of 2022 and because I don’t care about what’s going on in the lives of her online friends. This all stemmed from me being mad when she asked to hang out and ignored me the whole time.” Plus, the friend is the one who did the dumping. Unless LW can say “I really do care what you talk about” and mean it, I don’t think a conversation will help.
Q. Re: Honoring Myself and Others: Prudie, usually I would agree with you, but the per person cost was on the invitation. If they accepted the invitation, then they accepted the charge. I would ask again, nicely and politely, and then let it go. I once had someone I thought was a friend not ask me to make good on a cancer walk pledge I had made months earlier (but had completely forgotten about) when I was a sleep-deprived new mother who had just gone back to work full-time. I paid up as soon as I was reminded (and apologized profusely) but she held a grudge. For a long time. My forgetting and her failure to follow up made me realize that I couldn’t continue the friendship with you because I would always wonder why or even if she was silently angry at me about something. If you can forget about it without resentment, then do it. But I would ask once again.
A. I get it. Maybe this isn’t fair but I just feel so uncomfortable with the idea of “please come celebrate me, here’s an invoice” that I don’t want the LW to ever talk about this again. I don’t think that’s the same as “Just a reminder that you pledged to give money to this fundraiser that was 100 percent centered on raising money.”
To be clear, I actually think it’s OK if everyone pays for you on your birthday. Especially if you’re young and broke and the social norm is for everyone to split and cover your portion because nobody could ever afford to host a group. But it’s the explicitly charging people that rub me the wrong way.
Anyway, asking again is fine if the LW is OK with being the person who made this slightly tacky choice and then really drilled down on it.
@dizzyjudge just made a good point on Twitter: “Yeah, charging people to celebrate you has to stop. It’s tacky. At least go through the fiction of having a friend organize on your behalf.” It would be so much less weird if someone else hosted and operated as the collections officer.
Q. Re: Her Body, Her Choice, My Body, My Choice: It’s not unreasonable to consider the issue of a second marriage when discussing fertility decisions when in one’s 30s. He may have gone too far with his comments, but both of them need to figure out with their own therapists (and whether the wife is discussing this with her therapist is none of the LW’s business) how they feel about whatever matters to them. Full stop.
A. I mean, I feel like there are a lot of things that fall into the category of “not unreasonable” but also the category of “very bad for a marriage.” What if, say, one spouse needed an expensive medical treatment and the other spouse said they couldn’t help pay for it because they were saving money for a possible future second marriage? I guess under your theory, that’s reasonable. But it still sucks and is no way to live.
Q. Re: Her Body, Her Choice, My Body, My Choice: Prior to getting a vasectomy, the husband should get some of his sperm stored in a sperm bank. WIN-WIN for everyone involved.
A. Not a bad idea, but he might argue that he’d rather get his next imaginary future wife pregnant the old-fashioned, free way instead of IUI or IVF.
I had a baby two months ago. About two weeks ago, my husband had to go out of town for a few days, so his mother came to stay with the baby and me. One night I heard the baby crying, and heard my MIL go to him. I thought she was going to bring him to me to nurse so I stayed in bed for a while. When she didn’t bring him, I figured she was just rocking him back to sleep and went to see if she needed anything, like a bottle from the fridge. What I saw was not at all what I expected.