Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Male Teacher: I’m a happily married high school teacher in my 30s. I like socializing while my wife prefers staying home with our young son and dogs. In after-school happy hours, I’m usually one of or the only male. My wife is totally fine with me going to these happy hours and I really enjoy them. The problem is I’m too funny and charming at the happy hours. I’ve become friends with all these women and I enjoy it, but it’s socially abnormal to be a married man who has a friend group that is all women (even in the field of education). I try to invite more males out, but they rarely come. Many of the women in the group are single or divorced and they stay out late and hit the town. They have started inviting me to stay out, but that seems to be a line I shouldn’t cross. I should probably go to only the work happy hours and not anything beyond, correct?
A: You absolutely love this! You love the attention! You love the idea that these women might possibly want to have affairs with you! You love that this event is a little bit of a forbidden feeling! You love having a dilemma over it! Admit it!
The happy hours themselves are fine. Even the after parties are fine. But the fact that you’re all atwitter over the connections you’re making and potentially pushing boundaries is concerning. Be honest about what you’re getting out of these events, and get a hold of yourself before you ruin your marriage.
Q. Ex Name Calling: My husband of nine years, married for four, has recently made mistakes calling me by his ex-wife’s name a lot since his daughters got married in late August. I’m not sure what to do. The first four times at the wedding I got over it. But just yesterday he was talking to his friend on the phone and I was standing right there. “I have to take Jeannie’s car today.” My name is Susan.
A: Ask him “Ever since the wedding, you’ve been calling me Jeannie. What do you think is going on?” If his answer is, “Absolutely nothing, you’re out of your mind and you’re always attacking me! I just won’t call you anything at all!” then he and Jannie reconnected at the wedding and he has feelings for her. If it’s “I know, I am so embarrassed, I can’t figure out why I’m doing it” take stock of whether he’s slipping in other areas and see if he might want to check in with a medical professional about suspected cognitive decline and how it might be treated.
Q. Waiting for Love: I’m in love. We are co-workers and work remotely, we’ve never met in person. I’m 28, he’s 39. We spend hours on the phone, we have a deep connection. This has been going on for a few months. He tells me he loves me and wants to be with me. He has a long-time girlfriend but he isn’t happy. He plans to break up with her but he’s stuck right now. He says she’s unstable and he’s worried she’ll hurt herself. She has issues with jealousy. He said they don’t sleep together anymore. Do I wait for him?
A: Absolutely not.
Q. Sad Broccoli: What’s your opinion on food waste? My partner and I have gotten into several fights when I’ve thrown out week-old leftovers or sad, wilted veggies. I am obviously not pro-food waste, but I don’t really feel bad about throwing out the second half of a dish I thought was only OK. For me, eating food I’m excited about and not feeling guilty about the refrigerator is the higher good, and I do my best to order/shop differently when I realize I’m throwing food out that I thought I would eat. On the flip side, throwing food out seems agonizing for my partner, and I’m regularly met with guilt trips when I throw things out in front of him. I often have to throw his food out secretly whenever it starts to mold in the fridge to avoid the guilt/agony routine, though he does thank me for doing it when he realizes what happened (and seems mad at himself).
Am I a bad person for not feeling more guilt over my food waste? Restaurants and grocery stores throw out so much more than my probably half a dish or one aspirational veggie per week. If I’m not wrong, how do I convince my partner to back down when I’m given the third degree over what happened to the lettuce? If it matters, neither of us has ever faced food insecurity, though both of us are reflecting the food waste values we grew up with.
A: You aren’t a bad person at all but, sure, your partner is right that less food waste is a good goal to aim for. But they need to understand that letting food rot also constitutes waste. So you should work together to avoid that.
I am excited to have a super practical tip here. I probably saw it on TikTok. Get a dry-erase board for your fridge and keep a list of all the perishable items in the refrigerator, so you don’t forget about those aspirational veggies and your partner remembers to eat his leftovers before they mold. Oh, one more idea: Put your condiments in the produce drawers and put your produce on the shelves on the side of the refrigerator so you always see what you have and don’t constantly end up with slimy bags of baby carrots like the ones that are in my kitchen right now.
After that, if some food is still not getting eaten in time, you should have a rule: X number of days until leftovers are tossed, and other foods with visible signs of rot get thrown out with no questions asked. This shouldn’t be a constant negotiation or an ongoing clash of values. Just make a policy that you can both live with and let it guide you. Sneaking moldy half sandwiches into the trash while anticipating emotional backlash is not the life you deserve.
Q. Shut Your Mouth in the Lord’s Name, Amen: How would you suggest telling someone in a social situation that they talk too much and need to work on being more concise and letting others talk—more specifically, in a Bible study/small group setting?
I attend a weekly “small group” for women at my church. One of the ladies, “Tabitha,” does not shut up practically ever. A group like this would typically be expected to go for about an hour, maybe two if a meal is involved, but ours is typically going at least three, often four. Tabitha likes to give an answer to a majority of the prompt questions and will regularly talk for ten minutes plus at a time per question. It’s often fairly off-topic or goes that way quickly. She also seems to think we always need way too much background information. Think “my home life at 7 years old was XYZ, which is why at 15 I did ABC, which led to HJK when I was 22, which is where I met Sara who this story is really about… Now the story….” Yikes. Complicating it even further, Tabitha has mentioned more than once (go figure!) that when she was growing up she was told/taught to not speak up often for various reasons, so learning to be more open and share her story has been liberating.
We’re starting a new study soon and Tabitha has made some suggestions for studies she’d be interested in doing. I’m dreading a new study with Tabitha, to begin with, but I especially worry that if her suggestion is chosen she’ll be even worse than usual with her tendency to talk “at” us and dominate the conversation. It’s truly a small group of around 10 women and we’re all friendly. There’s no “leader.” I’d like to have a kind but frank conversation with Tabitha about it, but I’m fairly certain she won’t take it well, and I don’t know where to start.
A: Suggest to the group that you limit meetings to two hours (because I’m sure all of you have other things to do!) and that you take turns serving as moderator. This person’s job will be to make sure the group gets the most out of this time, including by flipping over a cute sand timer or something to limit all responses to two minutes. When you’re a moderator, suggest an idea designed to encourage equitable participation: “If you’re someone who normally talks a lot, think about making room for other people to speak up. If you’re someone who normally stays quiet, consider participating more.”
Q. Re: Sad Broccoli: Can you compost your leftovers? If you can’t do it in your own home, is there a community composting project you can contribute to? If it’s just vegetables/produce, grains, and coffee grounds, nearly every program will take them. Some will even take fish, meat, and oils.
A: Love this idea.
Q. Re: Sad Broccoli: New rule: Put a dated note on each leftover container. After five days anything still in the fridge is thrown out. Before that, it is HIS responsibility to use it up.
A: Another great suggestion. I personally would never stick to writing these notes, but if it works for them, it would be really helpful.
Q. Re: Shut Your Mouth in the Lord’s Name, Amen: If there is no leader, then how are ground rules set? Can you propose limiting everyone to a certain amount of time (say, two minutes) for an answer? What do the other members think of her off-topic disquisitions?
A: Two minutes sounds fair to me. I am sure other members are equally frustrated. Nobody likes a long talker!
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Our time is up! Thanks as always for reading and I’ll talk to you next week.
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