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!)
My husband and I have been together for about seven years. In that time we (thankfully!) have never had any big arguments or disagreements. We’re both pretty independent people who enjoy living their own lives while still being able to come home to a loving home. Neither of us has ever really had any issues with each other’s friends, and over time our friend groups have seemingly meshed into a shared conglomerate. The issue is, an old friend of my husband’s has reentered the picture and she is really throwing a wrench in things. The two reconnected while I was backpacking abroad alone, as my husband dislikes traveling. Since then, the two have seen each other practically every day and are in constant contact—even having phone conversations all hours of the night! While I was abroad, I booked a room in an area that made me nervous and asked my husband to be available for around an hour as I wanted to have him on the phone with me while I walked the mile to catch my bus. During that time, he was with this other woman and ignored all of my calls and texts. While there wasn’t much he could do from an ocean away, it was a comfort thing for me and he was totally unapologetic. Since coming home, it has been worse, with him blowing me off to spend time with her.
He is also constantly carrying on text conversations with her while we are sharing alone time or hanging out with mutual friends, distancing himself from what is happening outside of his screen. He has fallen asleep at her place a few times because the two of them smoke in her apartment and he passes out afterward and leaves me hanging without any word for hours where he is or if he is coming home. We have other friends’ places that he’s spent the night at before and it isn’t an issue, but with how this woman has been prioritized over me, this behavior has become more upsetting. My husband has even introduced her to a group of friends I haven’t met before because they come from one of his hobbies that he pursues on his own; for me, he previously used the excuse that the situations in which he hangs out with those friends are “guy time.” We rarely do things together anymore, as he opts to spend time with her and her friends, occasions when I am decidedly not invited. My husband and I frequently use each other’s phones interchangeably, as they are hooked up to all the electronics in our home, but when I grabbed his off the counter the other day to change a song that was casting, I found he put a passlock on it. This is just the tip of the iceberg with this woman, and I can go on about the ways the pair acts more like a couple and less like close friends but I’ll spare everyone the novel.
Prudie, I’m very hurt and I have tried to set boundaries with my husband in regard to this woman, but he shrugs me off as overreacting or being jealous. I don’t think I’m jealous of this woman but more resentful that I, his wife, am now a second thought rather than a priority. Because all of our friends are OUR friends, I feel like I have no one to talk to who will be objective or not look at my husband differently after I tell them about this. My husband says that they are just friends and connect really well and that nothing has ever happened nor will ever happen between them, but I can’t help but feel like I should stop this now before things get even worse. None of his other friendships with women have ever bothered me like this. And because neither of us has ever set boundaries before, I feel like I have made my bed and have to lie in it until one of the pair actually crosses a line into nonmonogamous territory. How do I make him see I feel less and less like a priority with each passing day? Or am I really just overreacting and need to get over this new woman in my husband’s life?
You should definitely be jealous! Or, at least, if you would like to be, you have every right to be; you don’t have to wait until this “crosses a line into nonmonogamous territory.” (You can just call it cheating, which is what’s happening.) This isn’t about “making him see” anything, because this isn’t up for debate; it’s a simple fact that he’s now got a new girlfriend in everything but name. If you were to make yourself “get over this,” you would find yourself pushed further and further to the side until you were an afterthought in your own home. Please start talking to your friends about what’s going on in your marriage; if they look at your husband differently because he’s openly cheating on you, then they should.
And let’s be clear: He’s cheating on you. Right now. Maybe they haven’t had sex yet, but he is cheating on you. This is not a fun new friendship that you can learn to make room for, and this isn’t “your fault” for not mentioning sooner, “Hey, if you suddenly started spending every day with another woman, blowing me off for her when I’m in another country and scared about my personal safety, hiding your conversations with her from me, and spending the night with her without telling me, I’d really hate that, so please don’t.” That is a pretty universal boundary, and you don’t have to put up with all of this just because you failed to mention before that you don’t like being cheated on. If your husband is willing to see a therapist with you, acknowledge that he’s had an affair (rather than trying to adhere to the little-kid rule of “Well, we weren’t technically touching, so it’s not breaking the rules!”), and reprioritize your marriage and your boundaries, then maybe there’s a way to move forward here. But if all he wants to do is insist he’s not doing anything wrong and that there’s something wrong with you for noticing all of these changes, then you deserve better, and you should leave. He knows he’s not prioritizing you. It’s not that you’re doing a bad job of explaining it. He’s doing it on purpose and pretending he isn’t, which is designed to make you feel insecure and confused and like you have no right to expect attention or care from your own husband. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Husband Is Prioritizing His ‘Innocent’ Friendship With Another Woman Over Me.” (Aug. 20, 2019)
A few years ago my now 11-year-old daughter found the “back massager” stowed under my bed. I told her that it was for massaging sore muscles and this is, indeed, the way this massager is marketed. In fact, I use it during sex with my husband and for masturbation. Recently, this back massager has been disappearing into my daughter’s room, where she says she uses it to massage her muscles. I just discovered she is also experimenting with it on her genitals. I don’t have any problem with her discovering her sexuality, but it seems awkward and inappropriate that she is using the instrument that I use. I also think it is too powerful for her. Last night she told me that she had used it on her genitals and that they were swollen and hurt. I told her that she needed to take it easy and that the massager should only be used on sore muscles. What should I do? I feel like she will continue to ask me for the massager and potentially use it for sexual pleasure. Again, I have no problem with her masturbation or discovery of her sexuality, but it just doesn’t seem right that it is with my massager. When I hide it, she asks for it, and I don’t want to give her any sense that she is doing something wrong. What should I do?
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this column, it’s that vibrators have a yearning to wander and they end up in the darndest places. I love the idea of your little girl sighing over her aching sacroiliac in order to borrow Mom’s “back massager” for relief. No surprise she’s got sore muscles—as you’re finding out, she’s got a sore love muscle from all the battery-operated overuse. I agree that your daughter has to explore her sexuality, but not by appropriating the goodies under your bed. (Ah, the memories of the stuff under Mom and Dad’s bed! That’s where I discovered Human Sexual Response by Masters and Johnson and My Life & Loves by Frank Harris. The marijuana was in the underwear drawer.) It’s unsanitary physically and messy psychologically for you two to be sharing this magic wand. You have to make clear to your daughter that while she’s entitled to some privacy, parents’ privacy rights trump kids’. That means she can’t just search your bedroom and take anything she pleases. Explain that she can no longer borrow the massager because it’s your personal item. Since she’s comfortable enough to come to you with her masturbatory misadventures, you should address the subject head on. Tell her what’s she’s doing is perfectly normal, but she’s just too young to use an electronic device (frankly, it will be better for her not to get hooked on such powerful stimulation). Let her know that for countless millennia 11-year-olds have been mastering masturbation with just their hands and she should try that route. Say you’re available to talk with her on this issue anytime, and also give a copy It’s Perfectly Normal or another straightforward book on sexual development, in case she has questions she doesn’t want to bring to you. Then put your massager someplace your daughter can’t get it. Until manufacturers come up with a specialty vibrator safe, one of these should do. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My 11-Year-Old Is Exploring Herself With My “Back Massager.” Should I Stop Her?” (Sept. 18, 2014)
I am crafty. In an act of hubris and love, I agreed to DIY my best friend’s wedding dress since she had no budget. It took $100, a dozen thrift stores, 100 hours, and a pint of blood, but I was able to convert an ’80s monstrosity into a rather darling modern frock. She got married and bragged about me on social media, but now everyone and their Aunt Betty is expecting me to do the same for them!
The worst are my half-sister and stepsister, and they have competing weddings going on since my stepsister had to reschedule. They both are borderline bridezillas. My half-sister lives in another state and expects me to hand-sew her wedding dress via Zoom. My stepsister has sent me pics that far extend my skills. My stepmother is borderline hysterical trying to keep the peace and my father has retreated from every fight. I am proud of what I did, but I share a house with my friend and her husband. There is no way I could do what I did with someone far away. And I don’t want to again. I love my family but I am hanging up the needle and thread. Help!
You do not need my help! You know what you need to do, which is say no. You are prepared to say no, you’re aware that you have to say no (because you’re being asked to put together dresses that won’t just look great on a wedding day, but that will also reconstruct the Titanic, cure disease, and julienne fries), and you’re going to say no. And it’s going to be fine. Your stepmother is not bound by a curse to get upset every time your stepsister gets upset; she’s making a choice and she’s free to stop whenever she’s ready. Your stepsister and your half-sister are not being driven by a wedding-induced infection to bully their relatives into promising favors—they are making unreasonable demands and hoping nobody pushes back. You can say no calmly, firmly, and without taking responsibility for the ensuing “But how could yous” and “But what will I wear now that I’m forced to admit you don’t secretly have Oscar de la Renta in your home office?” You did not promise anything to anyone else when you made your friend’s dress.
When I was a kid, I used to ride horses at a local barn that was staffed by terrifyingly self-possessed Midwestern women who had little slogans on their desks like “I can only please one person per day” and “Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.” They intimidated the hell out of me, especially because I didn’t know anything about English-style saddles and was too afraid to ask, but in retrospect they were right about everything, including my inability to hold my seat during a canter. Take your cue from them, these unflappable women of the saddle, and don’t let anyone throw you off balance. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Bridezilla Sisters Expect Me to Make Their Wedding Dresses.” (Nov. 2, 2020)
Recently my 23-year-old nephew asked if we could talk man to man. He told me he was marrying his college girlfriend. He said that if my wife ever treated her as badly as she has treated his mother and his other aunt, he would not be silent about it as my brothers have been. When I replied with shock, he ran down a list of statements, actions, and other offenses my wife has committed that he has witnessed over the past 15 years. My wife has gossiped to the church leadership about my brothers and sisters-in-law, losing them positions they should have had. She ruined family events with childish demands and outbursts when I was not in the room. He suggested failures in my career could be because of her. He ended by saying his mother and aunt have never once said anything demeaning about my wife in front of him or anyone. He told of a time when he was in high school and a lady from church confronted his mother about a lie my wife had spread that the church lady believed. I have been completely unaware of any of this. I talked to our pastor, my boss, and my brothers. All have told me stories that made me sick to my stomach about how she has flirted with them when I am not around, and the horrible things my wife has done to other women. They all have assumed I knew all about this and have been allowing it to continue. After we talked, our pastor agreed to talk to the other leadership and correct the lies that have tainted my sisters-in-law. My sisters-in-law are caring, compassionate, never judge, and put family above all else. I feel like trash having exposed them to 15 years of torture, and for believing for even one second some of the things my wife has said about them. While I am sick to my stomach and worry that my own children may see this behavior and copy it, I am torn about what do to. Our pastor feels that I should address the congregation and ask forgiveness—our whole family attends the same church. He then wants me and my wife to enter counseling to repair our relationship so we can grow and she maybe can change. I want to grab my kids, hit the door, file for divorce, and then begin repairing the relationship with my family. What do you think?
There’s a contradiction in your story. You say that you have been entirely oblivious to the behavior of the apparent sociopath you’re married to. Then you note you’re sickened that you believed any of the nasty things your wife told you about your sisters-in-law. So I think that while the worst things she did may have been behind your back, you willfully decided long ago not to turn and face them. I have to disagree with your pastor’s suggestion. I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to stand in front of the congregation and say that you’ve come to realize you’re married to the spawn of Satan but that you hope with counseling (and maybe exorcism) she can be remolded into a lovely person. Sure, now that you know about the lies she’s spread, you should continue to do your best to address these and clear them up. I don’t understand the silence of your sisters-in-law. It’s one thing to turn the other cheek, it’s another to let someone claw at it for years without defending oneself. You may fantasize about fleeing with the kids, but it doesn’t work that way. First you have to tell your wife about what you’ve discovered. You’ve made a life and had children with her, and you have to find out directly what she’s been up to. If she starts lying to you, say you’ve always found your pastor to be an honest person, and he has attested to her perfidy. If you do divorce, she is the mother of your children and will continue to be a major figure in their lives—being scum is generally not reason enough to lose custody. I do agree that counseling is called for—for you. Whatever happens to your marriage going forward, you must address the fact that you have somehow sleepwalked through much of your adult life. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Wife Flirts With My Brothers and Trashes My Sisters-in-Law.” (May 14, 2015)
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