Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. In this special Advice Week edition, we’ve gathered some of our very favorite letters from the past. Got a question for Prudie? Submit it here. (It’s anonymous!)
Before meeting and marrying my wife, I had many different sexual partners, mostly casual. I’m her first. We are in our first year of marriage. During a conversation about our sex life, I mentioned that I had been more attracted to past partners than I am to my wife. She became visibly upset; in the days since, she has stopped initiating intimacy and has asked if I want an open marriage. I said no. I tried explaining that I am attracted to her—it’s just that the physical dimension of our relationship is less important to me than the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual connections we share. And, truth be told, I have had some sexual relationships in the past with an explosive chemistry that my wife and I lack. Did I overstep a boundary? I thought I was just being honest, but my wife is clearly hurt, and I don’t know how to reassure her without lying.
Seven hells, dude, surely you don’t need me to tell you that was a dick move. Your wife is “clearly hurt” because you hurt her; your little wide-eyed “Who, me?” routine is like slamming someone’s fingers in the door then asking why his knuckles are broken. I’ve discussed my sexual history with every partner I’ve ever had, and somehow I’ve managed to do so without ever once ranking my attraction to my current partner, so it’s hardly necessary to achieve maximal emotional disclosure. Pretending that saying “No, babe, I don’t mind that you’re not as objectively appealing to me as one of my many former bedmates, many of whom were real firecrackers, because you’re so much fun to talk to” is somehow comforting or reassuring is manipulative and disingenuous. You didn’t “overstep a boundary,” you really blew it. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! I Told My Wife I’ve Been More Attracted to Other Women, and Now She’s Upset.” (Nov. 15, 2016)
Four years ago my mother-in-law had a stroke and lost the use of her right arm. She felt that she couldn’t use much of her jewelry anymore so she gave me a few of her pieces. Although the gesture was sweet, the jewelry was not my taste. I had kept it put away for many years, but finally this past winter, money was a little tight and I decided to sell some of my least favorite. I ended up using the money for groceries so we could have a little extra money for Christmas and a birthday for our youngest child. Just a month or so ago my mother-in-law called me up to ask if she could borrow the very hoop earrings I sold and my heart sank! I told her the clasp was broken from a one-time use and were unusable, and she left it at that. Then a couple of weeks ago, she asked my husband if he remembered the heart necklace she gave me, he told her he did, and she also asked for that back so she could wear it again. Well, I sold that one too! My husband has no idea I sold these items, and I don’t think he would say anything about it if I told him. Now I’m hoping she doesn’t ask for it again, but I know she will. Do I fess up?
I understand that such a gift could be considered handing down an heirloom, but unless the point is made explicitly that this is something that should be kept in the family, a gift is a gift and people are free to do with a gift as they like. There is also an informal statute of limitation on such things. If your mother-in-law had realized a few months after she had given you the jewelry that she had acted too abruptly and wearing her beloved pieces made her feel better, then surely you would have understood and handed them back. But this is now four years later. So if your mother-in-law is enjoying wearing jewelry again, that’s great, but it’s not fair at this point to ask for things back. Especially since you don’t have them. What you do depends on the kind of relationship you have with her. If it is warm and friendly, you just need to tell her the truth. If it’s not so warm and friendly, have your husband be the go-between. It might be easier to hear from him that things are a little tight financially, and you both thought it was fair to turn the jewelry, lovely as it was, into something more immediately useful for the grandchildren—emphasize the grandchildren. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! I Sold the Jewelry My Mother-in-Law Gave Me, but Now She Wants It Back. Oops?” (April 29, 2014)
My boyfriend and I have been together for more than eight years and have two young children together. We have had our ups and downs and generally things are pretty good. We had an active sex life before having kids and now we don’t. While I’m fine with the way things are, he is not. I’m tired after working all day, taking care of the house and kids. I get that sex is important and he’s made his feelings known that he wants to have it more. Things have improved from once every few weeks to once a week. For me, that’s fine, and he is “OK” with it although I know he would be thrilled with every day. When he initiates, I try to accommodate even if I’m not feeling it because I don’t want to hurt his feelings and in the end I’m always happy I didn’t turn him down. I have told him in the not-so-recent past that I don’t like it when he wakes me up to have sex. Sleep is very valuable to me and we have other time in the evening, so why wait until I’m sleeping? He’s been good about it until recently. Last night I had taken a bunch of medicine before bed because I’m sick and had been sleeping for over two hours when he woke me up to have sex. I was so mad … but there’s a part of me that feels guilty, like I shouldn’t turn him down, so I didn’t. I know that sounds stupid to even ask it … but is it wrong of me to be pissed? Here I am, sick and exhausted knowing I have to work in the morning, and I feel bad saying no. Then I ended up being up a couple hours later with sick kids.
If you’re looking for someone to be angry on your behalf when someone wakes you up (repeatedly, it sounds like) with insufficient justification, you’ve come to the right place! Sure, sex is important, but it’s not more important than getting enough sleep or making sure that both partners are contributing equally when it comes to keeping the house clean and looking after the kids when they’re sick. You’re putting so much extra pressure on yourself right now—imagining how “thrilled” your boyfriend would be if you had sex when you weren’t really in the mood more often, reminding yourself that you often end up happy once you’ve decided to have sex with him, worrying that it’s wrong to be angry when he did something you’ve already told him not to do. It is not your job to match your boyfriend’s libido. You have a right to set boundaries, to advocate for yourself even if that doesn’t make him immediately and instantly happy, to get a full night’s sleep, and to find a distribution of housework that doesn’t leave one of you exhausted and resentful and the other bored, horny, and wide-awake. I think it’s important to tell him that your current arrangement isn’t working for you, that he needs to stop trying to wake you up in the middle of the night to have sex (and if he does it again, he’ll be sleeping on the couch or at a friend’s house), and that there are other issues in your relationship that need to take priority right now. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Boyfriend Keeps Waking Me Up in the Middle of the Night to Have Sex.” (Feb. 11, 2019)
For the past two years my husband Harry and I have struggled with infertility. As a teen I dealt with an STD that could have affected my ability to have children. For that reason, and because Harry said his sperm count was fine, I have always blamed myself for our inability to conceive. We’ve kept our struggle with infertility very quiet. Thankfully, our families have never pressed us about when we’re going to have kids. Last week I broke down to my wonderful mother-in-law about how difficult this experience has been. She frowned at me then said, “Harry reversed his vasectomy, then?” I was shocked, because Harry never mentioned having a vasectomy to me, but apparently he had one as a young man. When I spoke to Harry he admitted that he hasn’t reversed the vasectomy and that he wasn’t sure he wanted kids. He thought if we tried for long enough and never conceived I’d eventually give up trying. He’s apologetic, because he never realized how much I blamed myself for our infertility. He has offered to have his vasectomy reversed or to adopt a child to make his lie up to me. My best friend thinks Harry’s a sociopath, though, and that I should divorce him for being incredibly cruel. I’m in shock, devastated, have no idea what to do.
I just looked up “sociopath” and here’s the definition: “(Noun)—A man who allows his wife to despair that she’s infertile when he’s secretly had a vasectomy. (Synonym)—Harry.”
Thank goodness you spilled to your mother-in-law and she spilled that Harry can never spill his seed. What you should do is run to the best matrimonial lawyer in town. Make an appointment today. You are only two years into this sham marriage and if you end it, perhaps can find someone who is not a pathological liar and manipulator with whom you can have children. The fact that a single man would get a vasectomy, then marry a woman who wanted to have children and let her believe there was something wrong with her makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I don’t see how you can share another meal or your bed with this monstrous person. Get out now. —E.Y.
From: “Help! I Just Found Out I’m Not Infertile—My Husband Had a Secret Vasectomy.” (June 11, 2012)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
I have always identified as a straight guy, but I am recently panicked and confused by feelings for my best friend (a gay man), “Greg.”