Dear Prudence

Help! I’m Attracted to My Teenage Son’s Teammates.

I need to quit the carpool.

A person covers their face with their hand next to an illustrated car.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by MaksimYremenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Victor_69/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a wife and mother with a small at-home business and a fairly normal life. One of my tasks is sharing carpool duties for my teenage son and his sports team buddies to and from practice and competitions. As it happens, my husband and I haven’t had sex for over two years due to various medical and psychological issues. My husband’s aware of the problem, but it’s been very stressful, and we need to make changes. The other day I picked up my son’s teammates, and I felt a surge of sexual attraction. I was horrified! I would rather cut off my limbs than cause harm to a minor—or cheat on my husband, for that matter. I want to quit carpool because these feelings make me ashamed and deeply uncomfortable. But then I’d have to come up with a plausible explanation that would still enable my son to be in the carpool. If I drive him solo, everyone will wonder what the problem is. Can you think of a solution here?

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I agree that you need to quit the carpool, both for the sake of your own mental health and in the best interests of the kids. If they were capable of driving themselves, you’d have mentioned that as a possible solution, so my read here is that these kids are not in the 16-to-18 range. One potential pitfall I want to help you avoid is this: that you’ll feel like you can’t possibly tell anyone, not even a therapist, that you were attracted to teenagers; that the best thing you can do is keep this to yourself forever; and that in order to keep anyone from asking invasive questions, you have to keep driving the kids to practice and relying solely on your own willpower and self-loathing to get through the next couple of years. That is a recipe for disaster. Tell the other parents that, effective immediately, you’re no longer available to drive the kids to practice. Even if it’s inconvenient, the absolute worst thing that can happen in that scenario is that a couple of student athletes miss a few practices. No one is going to lose a job or die or fail to get into college. The kids will be fine, and the other parents will figure something out. You do not have to go into details about why. Don’t apologize more than once, and then just say it’s not possible for you to drive any longer.

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The most important thing is not that you find a face-saving explanation for why you cannot drive the carpool again. The most important thing—after you make sure you’re not alone with the kids anymore—is that you find a therapist you can start talking to honestly about this right away. You haven’t done anything wrong. You didn’t choose to feel the way you did in the car, nor did you seek out any sexual gratification with your son’s friends. But if you continue to drive these boys, and if you continue to connect your attraction to them with your own frustrations about your marriage and to mentally wallow in shame, you will create a situation where doing something wrong will get easier and easier. The good news is that you’re a sane adult in full possession of her faculties, and you have the power to exit that situation right now. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! I’m Sexually Attracted to My Son’s Teenage Friends.” (Dec. 19, 2019)

Dear Prudence,

My husband is all the usual things: Smart! Funny! Caring! He has, however, turned into a horrible gift giver. He used to be quite creative, but our lives have become busier as we’ve become older. We have a child, a house, and more demanding careers. I’m not looking for extravagant gifts, I’m just looking for a little consideration and I know he has it in him. For the price of the half-dead grocery store flowers I received on our recent anniversary, I would have loved to have been taken out to my favorite bar for a drink. This wouldn’t be a big problem, except for the fact that we are hosting the holidays this year. My entire family will be with us on Christmas morning. I’m still smarting from the flowers, and I’m afraid if I open another so-so gift I’ll cry! We are a really close family and they’ll be able to read my face no matter how hard I try to keep it in check. We also are the kind of family that opens each present painfully slowly and ohh and ahh over every one. Should I bring this up with my spouse, and how do I not sound shallow?

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Your husband is not all the usual things. From my inbox the usual things are Addicted to Porn! Chronically Unemployed! Volatile Temper! So your husband is a gem, one who remembered your anniversary. My husband is a gem too, and when he surprised me with the last bouquet of half-dead subway flowers for Valentine’s Day, I was thrilled. It’s true I’m insensitive and not a gift person, but I understand that other people are gift persons. I even know about The 5 Love Languages and that “receiving gifts” is one of them. Of course, if I were married to such a love-language person, that would make me want to cite another love language, “words of affirmation,” and say to you, “Stop being such a pain about gifts.” There seems to be two issues here: One is that you want thoughtful gifts from your husband, the other is that you expect him to read your mind. So speak up. If you wanted to go to your favorite bar for you anniversary, in advance of it you should have told him and arranged for a babysitter. You have an opportunity this Christmas to tell him what you want. You can even hand him a catalog with an item circled in pen, or show him the website where he can order the leather tote you’ve been desiring. Then, when your family indulges in its fetishistic gift opening practices, you will not have to worry about your chin quivering like Claire Danes’ on Homeland. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Husband Gives Bad Gifts That Make Me Want to Cry.” (Dec. 4, 2014)

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 28-year old man who’s just met an amazing, smart, kind, funny, and totally beautiful 25-year-old woman. We’ve been seeing each other for a little over a week and things have been moving pretty fast (which I’m totally comfortable with) emotionally and pretty slow (also totally cool) physically. That said, it only just came up in conversation that she had been saving herself for marriage and is a virgin. She says that while she’s very religious (I’m religious too, but not to her degree) her views have changed recently, and that as we date she’d be interested in exploring our relationship sexually. She’s never had a serious boyfriend, and I’ve had several serious and casual relationships.

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I’m a little freaked out, not just because I haven’t ever slept with a virgin before, and want it to be a good experience for her, but also because her former religious beliefs about it seem to lend an extra emphasis on how special it would be. Just a lot of pressure (although maybe I’m putting that on myself?)! And what if it doesn’t work out? What if we don’t have physical chemistry, which is important to me? I worry that she’d regret having ever been intimate with me. Maybe I just need to trust she knows what she’s doing and only worry about my role in the whole thing? Am I overanalyzing? I want to talk to her about these concerns but worry that it might add tension in an unhelpful way.

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If you keep dating and things don’t work out, you’ll break up. If you keep dating, sleep together, and then things don’t work out, you’ll also break up. If you two stop seeing each other tomorrow, after an intensely emotional week, she might still regret being intimate with you, even if that intimacy didn’t include sex. You get where I’m going, I think: By all means take your time before sleeping together, and ask each other questions about your fears, your desires, your goals, your needs. Speaking frankly and non-judgmentally about what it might be like to sleep together for the first time isn’t adding unhelpful tension. Quite the contrary—clarity and detail usually help relieve one’s concerns, whereas avoiding discussion of an issue you’re obviously both thinking about makes things more awkward and fraught.

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You can’t guarantee that she might never look back on your relationship, or the decision to sleep together, with regret. Even if you’re generally honest, straightforward, open-minded, a great listener, and totally relaxed about her uncertainty about sex, you can’t act in such a way that precludes the possibility of a partner someday regretting your relationship. It’s not a bad idea to seek to build intimacy and trust slowly over time. But trying to minimize, postpone, or deny already-existing intimacy (emotional, physical, or otherwise) simply out of fear that someday one or both of you might regret that intimacy is the wrong move. The most important thing to pay attention to is what’s changed about her views, and why. What’s made her reconsider? What values does she think are most relevant here, and what would she want from you in order to feel reasonably secure and confident when she makes a decision? And are you as interested in a longer-term relationship if she decides against exploring sex? You can, and should, trust that she knows what she’s doing in the sense that you shouldn’t try to make major decisions for her, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid this conversation out of deference to her right to make up her own mind.

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A last note: Both of you are entitled to think about and refer to “virginity” in whatever terms you think best, but while it’s certainly true that you’ve had sex and romantic relationships before, and she hasn’t, I don’t think what you two are contemplating is best described as “taking” something from her. Yes, having sex for the first time can be a significant event, especially if you’ve previously thought of sex only in the context of marriage, but she’s still an adult with a host of other experiences and relationships to her credit, and she would be an active, self-sufficient party in any sex she may decide to have with you. Good luck; have fun; she sounds lovely! —D.L.

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From: “Help! I’m Afraid to Take My Partner’s Virginity.” (Aug. 18, 2020)

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I met very young and had kids right away. It’s now 25 years later and the kids are off to college, our life together is comfortable. We’re still in love, and everything should be perfect. Except it’s not. I have recurring fantasies of just leaving everything behind, moving to the other coast, and starting over all by myself. I dream of finding a small apartment, furnishing it exactly as I want, leaving a mess when I don’t feel like cleaning up, eating whatever and whenever I want, and basically being a single girl in my 20s, minus the dating and insecurities. I wouldn’t mind if my husband and children visited, but there’s something in me that craves distance and my own space. I have no desire to find another man; I just want to be alone. I’ve been finding excuses to travel solo simply because staying by myself in a hotel is the closest thing to fulfilling my fantasy. I order room service, binge watch movies, and just revel in my solitude. I wish I had an excuse like a job offer or degree program far away to make such a move possible. I would probably want to come home after a while—a year, maybe two—but who knows? I might love living alone too much to give it up. Part of me also feels guilty for wanting this because my husband is adamant that he wouldn’t want to be without me. I’ve tried to talk him into getting separate bedrooms for years, and he refuses. I also imagine that someday I will probably be widowed and have exactly what I’m dreaming of, and at that point I’ll miss him terribly and feel foolish for wanting this now. Is this impulse bizarre and unhealthy? Is it a phase I should just grit my teeth and barrel through? Is it something that will eat away at me until I get off my ass and do it? Can I do it without hurting him too much?

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After spending your youth wiping mouths and bottoms and attending to the needs of others, I can understand your desire to experience the single girl years that you missed—or, as you note, perhaps an early taste of widowhood. More than that, you sound like you have the soul of a Greta Garbo and you just long to be alone. Since you mention nothing about work duties or financial concerns, I’m going to assume you stayed home with the kids and that there’s enough money for you to easily fund your fantasy. But you are mistakenly formulating your desires as a binary choice: that either you take off for the opposite coast without a return ticket, or else remain forced to putter around with your husband and dogs ad infinitum. But there is a range of options that will give you more than a night or two of alone time without your having to fantasize about the death of your beloved husband. Airbnb makes it easy to try on other people’s lives. So pick a city you’ve always wanted to know better and stay by yourself there for two weeks, even a month. No, your husband won’t like it, but it won’t kill him (sorry), and you’re an adult who’s entitled to a lengthy, solo vacation. Maybe you will discover after a while that you miss the company of your guy. Or maybe you will find that while you are fond of him, you dread coming home. This at least will be clarifying. But I also want to focus on what you’ve left out. The kids are gone, and you seem to lack a purpose beyond watching a lot of TV, eating at odd hours, and plotting to avoid sharing a bed with your husband. You must be in your 40s, and that’s too young to feel as if you’ve completed your life’s work. It’s possible that if you were more challenged and engaged in the life you have (which you do acknowledge is pretty darn good), through employment or volunteering, you might find that a companionable meal with your husband at the end of the day is more of a treat than an obligation. Getting deeper into where you are might make you feel less like running away. —E.Y.

From: “Help! I Love My Husband, but I Want to Live Alone.” (April 30, 2015)

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