Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
A lifelong friend of my husband never married. He worked hard for many years—nights, weekends, holidays. Sometimes we didn’t see him for months. Between all the work and many years of college, he didn’t find any female companionship, and didn’t really have time for courtship. His parents, both now deceased, left him a nice chunk of change, and his frugal, penny-pinching lifestyle, along with some good investments, led him to take out a trust written by some high-priced, big-city lawyers.
Now in his early fifties, he finally found Miss Right about two years ago, at the funeral of a close family friend. She’s from the wrong side of town, in her early twenties, and drop-dead gorgeous. Her mother disapproved of their living together, until she got a shiny new SUV. Education is very important to him, and he has paid for her to go to a local state commuter college. Then COVID hit. With just less than two years of college, she had to stop taking classes. Now that things have loosened up, she’s really enjoying his money, having lunches with her girlfriends, shopping, going to the gym to keep her gorgeous figure, and, of course, the beauty salon. She doesn’t want to make time for books and classes anymore.
She doesn’t want to go back to college, and she’s found a way to keep from going: Have a baby. She’s convinced having a baby will change everything and stop her from going to classes permanently, so she’s trying very hard to get pregnant. There’s just one thing. I don’t think he can get her pregnant, and I don’t think he wants to tell her that. When I tell my husband her plan, he just chuckles and says, “Yeah, when she gets pregnant.” I think he got snipped some time ago and isn’t telling her. She’s determined to get pregnant with or without him, and live the nice, cushy life he has worked so hard to get. If she gets pregnant and the DNA shows it isn’t his, he’ll drop her off back at her mom’s house in the ghetto and forget about her. Her ambulance-chasing ghetto lawyers won’t stand a chance against his big-city lawyer trust. She won’t get him for a dime. How do I tell her she’s wasting a great opportunity? It seems we got the girl out of the ghetto but we can’t get the ghetto out of the girl.
Dear Ghetto Girl,
Hey, do you have cable or a good streaming service? I want to tell you about a franchise called Real Housewives on Bravo where you can watch beautiful, wealthy women—some of whom you’re kind of jealous of—live their lives while you judge their choices and talk about them with all your friends. It would be a great diversion from inserting yourself into the lives of your husband’s friend and his girlfriend, who are doing just fine without your input.
In any case, even if this young woman does need advice, she’s not going to take it from someone who oozes classism and racism. Yes, that’s you. Stop.
I’ve had extreme friendship problems in the past, being a person who has trouble being empathetic. Luckily, I’ve managed to overcome those issues and ended up with a wonderful BFF. Recently, though, I’ve gained another friend who is very kind and has similar interests … except they won’t leave me alone! They’re consistently following me around, and because they’re not very popular, my other friends have stopped hanging out with me. I also like to complain offhandedly about my friends (I don’t really mean it half the time, and I never say anything actually insulting), but my new friend now thinks that all my other friends, including my BFF, are terrible and I should stop being friends with them! On top of all this, people have been approaching me asking about a RELATIONSHIP between me and my new friend or saying that it’s obvious that they like me. Besides having no romantic feelings for my friend, I am a lesbian who is only attracted to girls, and my new friend is nonbinary, but I don’t know how to approach this topic without sounding homophobic. What do I do?!
—Not Ready to Be Tied Down
Dear Not Ready,
A few ideas about this situation that are also good rules for your post–high school (I’m assuming) life.
1) Stay far, far away from anyone who would stop hanging out with you because of your association with someone who is unpopular.
2) Don’t talk about your friends behind their backs. It’s not nice, it leads to misunderstandings like this, and also, it makes the person hearing whatever you say wonder if you’re talking about them when they’re not around, which makes you hard to trust.
3) You don’t owe anyone an explanation about your connection to your new friends. But in general, “No, we’re just friends” or “I feel like we have a friendly connection rather than a romantic one” are always softer, better (but still perfectly clear) choices than “No I’m not attracted to them” or “You’re not attractive to me because you’re not my type.”
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I’m a bisexual woman in my mid-20s that primarily dates other women. In recent months, for various reasons, I decided to try dating men again. So, I adjusted my settings on dating apps, and ended up matching with a man whom I thought I clicked very well with. We hung out several times online playing games, watching movies, and in general texting a lot before scheduling dinner. Over dinner, we had a lot of discussions about relationships, further interests, etc.m and overall I had a great time (and thought he did as well).
And then I basically got ghosted. He would make excuses to not meet up or hang out online, would respond very briefly or not at all, but avoided answering when I asked very directly if he was still interested. (He skirted around the question and claimed that he was busy.) I got the message pretty quickly, though, and quit trying to initiate contact after that.
I’m aware that I’m pretty conventionally attractive; many peers have told me this. I pride myself on being a witty conversation partner and an interesting date, and so far everything in my life has indicated that this is true. Yet this latest incident has somehow dredged up the worst of my insecurities. I’m East Asian, and the fact that I had tanner skin (not even that tan, for crying out loud! I’m just not as pale as snow) and was a little heavier and a lot taller than the average East Asian girl was commented on A LOT as a child, almost always by adults. Having been ghosted only after we met in person has made me fall back into unhealthy patterns from high school (being anxious in the sun for fear of becoming “darker,” borderline disordered eating because I wasn’t “skinny” enough, etc.). I never had any indication from other people I’ve met through dating apps (all women) that the photos on my profile were inaccurate to my real-life appearance or that my physical presence was unpleasant, so I’m not sure why this is the issue my mind defaults to.
I know this sounds like such a privileged problem, but how do I get over it? This one bad dating experience with a man is causing me so much distress, and I don’t know where to even start unpacking this. Is it about dating a man? Is it about my childhood trauma? Is it just because I am so unused to rejection that now I sound like an asshole? Please advise.
—First Time Ghosted
I think you know this, but what happened to you was extremely normal. It’s why ghosted became a household term right along with all the apps. I asked Virginia Roberts, a former online dating coach, to weigh in, and she confirmed this. “Sadly, ghosting is standard with online dating,” she said. “Something about the anonymity and the ephemeral nature of apps vs. emails makes people feel OK just disappearing. It’s actually pretty unusual that you’ve dodged the ghosting bullet so far! It’s bound to happen again, and it never feels good, but ghosting is the new norm. That may not reduce the sting, but it’s still true! I guarantee other single friends in the online dating world will confirm this.”
Putting aside the online dating norms bit: To answer your question, yes, I think it’s about your childhood trauma, and it’s not a “privileged problem” at all to be hurt by a rejection that opens up old wounds. It’s so great that you have been able to create a life in which people validate your beauty and worth, but the goal is to get to a place where you like yourself in a way that can withstand rejection—especially from someone who barely knows you! That means you have to heal from the colorism and fatphobia you absorbed as a child, rather than just seeking out situations where you aren’t confronted with them. The distress you’re feeling is telling you that, deep down, you’re not over what you were taught about your body and your value as a person.
“How do I get over it” is, obviously, the tough part. I don’t think there’s an easy way out, but two small tactics, combined, might help a little. 1) Change your input. I love social media for this. Can you fill your social media feeds with women who remind you of yourself (skin tone, height, weight) and seem to feel really good about themselves? I honestly think just passively absorbing other people’s confidence is one of the lowest-effort ways to boost your own. And you have a device in your pocket that lets you do it anytime! Of course, real-life friends work too.
2) You say you’re a good conversation partner and an interesting date. Good! Redirect some more of your focus to caring about the things you can control—how kind and funny you are, the cool hobbies you do, the way you take care of your community, or kids, or animals, or the earth, or whatever. You’ll be doing your future self a favor because eventually, as you get older, the mostly positive feedback you receive on your physical appearance may begin to fall off a cliff, and you’ll want to have something else to boost your self-esteem.
I (she/her) have been best friends with “Mary” since we were 19—about nine years total. We met in college, where initially I thought she didn’t like me! This is probably because she has a contrarian personality—often critical of media, jokes, phrases, public figures, and cultural artifacts other people love—and won’t mince words when expressing that she dislikes something in the presence of those people. She’s had this sort of taste since she was, like, 12. This has led some mutuals to voice that they find her standoffish or too cool.
Mary IS cool, and also generous, intentionally kind, and the most excellent listener I’ve ever met, once she is out of her shell. She has taught me a lot about what it means to be a good friend. She has shown up for me every time I needed her to. Her tastes have influenced mine massively, and she likes my art genuinely. I’ve grown to see her sharpness and her ability to see where other people end and she begins as some of her best qualities. In fact, it’s inspired me to limit some of my own people-pleasing tendencies.
But here’s the thing: I’ve lived long enough to realize that one’s best qualities are also at least sometimes one’s most challenging qualities. Lately, I’ve been feeling a little tired of Mary undermining things I like—whether it’s a pair of funky shoes or a new indie film or an opinion about implementing our (shared) socialist politics. Sometimes she’ll contradict me about something mundane while with a group of friends, and I recoil into myself. I’ll wonder if I’m taking it (and myself) too seriously or if she’s being a little socially ungraceful. Sometimes she contradicts me privately, and I’ll wonder: If we aren’t totally at odds, why can’t you just “yes, and” me? Is that too much to expect?
I try to notice whether she’s doing this equally to everyone, but it’s hard to tell. It comes off stubborn, unwilling to consider that I might have a point. It creates an inhospitable environment for any type of conversation besides a debate, which I rarely want. Or a “well, agree to disagree,” which sounds formalistic and a little passive-aggressive. And I worry that if I do suddenly begin to go to bat for my opinions and tastes without explaining anything, it’ll throw her and others off.
Either way, do you have any advice for whether and how to approach her about this? I’m struggling because I don’t think her outspokenness and well-developed critique are always a bad thing!
—I Have Taste Too
Dear Taste Too,
Ugh, I can’t stand a contrarian. But if you like it, I love it. Or at least I can help you figure out how to live with it. Let’s use a two-step plan:
1) Talk to Mary using a lot of the same very good language you have here. Not in the moment, but in a relaxed environment. Include some specific examples. Tell her how it makes you feel when she behaves this way, how you’ve wondered if she’s picking on you and, even if not, why she can’t be a bit less adversarial. It would also be great to note your hesitation to bring this up, your understanding that this is how she’s always been, and your respect and admiration for her strong opinions—just not her delivery. See what she says and give her a couple of weeks to see if she makes some changes.
2) If she gives you the old “That’s just who I am—take it or leave it” or says she’ll improve and doesn’t, reevaluate the kind of friendship you want to have with her. That doesn’t mean you cut her off, but you really do want to spend most of your time with people who make you feel good. If she no longer falls into that category, it doesn’t mean she’s a bad person or that you have to go no-contact. It just means maybe you hear about her incredible taste by following her on TikTok rather than being chastised for incorrect views on jokes and cultural artifacts [insert eye-roll emoji] in person.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I don’t like Mary. I just don’t. I hear that she’s generous and kind, but she’s a jerk!”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I’ve been married for almost 30 years; my husband has never really wanted sex. He recently hurt himself, and as a result, we haven’t had sex since August. He was released for all activities last week after recovering from surgery, yet he still hasn’t attempted to be intimate in any way. I’m tired of feeling like something is deeply wrong with me—being rejected so frequently for so many years has done a number on my self-esteem. Should we try an open marriage, or do I leave him? I don’t know what to do at this point. He said OK when I brought up the idea of an open marriage. He claims he just wants me to be happy. I feel like he does love me and I love him, but I can’t keep doing it—or not “doing it,” so to speak. I feel like that part of me is dying, and it makes me sad.
—Wanting to Be Wanted
This letter took an unexpectedly hopeful turn toward the end. Your husband said he’s OK with an open marriage! If you find other aspects of the relationship satisfying and would rather not leave him, save for the lack of sexual interest, that’s great! I mean, it’s not 100 percent for sure the solution—you will definitely still want to have some serious talks about whether he’s really okay with this (or if he just feels like he has no other option), what the parameters will be, how you’ll feel if he suddenly has energy for intimacy but just not with you, and what might make you decide to close the marriage again. (You might try following our How to Do It column for more insight, as “ethical nonmonogamy” is one of their specialties.) But “I just want you to be happy” is a wonderful place to start any conversation about a relationship challenge. Just make sure you feel—and behave—as lovingly toward him as it sounds like he’s behaved toward you as you navigate this potential new arrangement.
Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
My father died after a long, tortuous illness in March 2020, just as COVID happened. I had frankly been holding on until he was gone to release that pent-up grief and pain via the “normal” rituals of funeral and burial. But we couldn’t have those, and for reasons that are inexplicable to me, my mom and siblings chose a two-sentence obituary when that was all we had to honor him publicly.
I need to mourn; I need the ritual. But I don’t know how to do it so far past his death. I can’t be the only reader of yours dealing with this issue—how did they honor their loved ones? How did they create a space for healing?
—Grief Is a Fanny Pack
I’ve met the woman of my dreams. We’ve been casual friends for over three years, but we’ve been dating seriously for the past seven months, and I am completely in love with her. We’ve had some hardship along the way rooted in my insecurities and infidelity but ultimately have decided to start fresh and move forward together with couples therapy and open communication.
Here’s where the trouble starts. She is Black. I am Latinx (mostly European). Even though I grew up in a diverse and predominantly Black community and all my first romantic/sexual experiences were with Black women, my ex-wife and several recent partners in adult life have all been white or white-presenting. This leads her to believe that I have a type and that she is very much not it. More importantly, we’ve started discussing the fact that as a Black woman in America, she has felt the heavy toll of racism and tokenism when dating outside her race.
She is a very sexy and confident woman but doesn’t feel attractive in our relationship, even though I’ve repeatedly told her how much I love her body and how much I desire her physically. She feels like an “exception” or like I’m bending the rules of what I am attracted to in order to fit her into my life. It makes me feel awful to hear that. I genuinely love every atom of her being. However, she can’t seem to shake the fact that I have dated mostly white women. A few weeks ago she found a screenshot of a white Instagram influencer in a sexy pose in my deleted photos folder and was very triggered.
I don’t know what I can do to make her believe that I genuinely find her attractive and that whatever type I may have had in the past has no bearing on me choosing her as my life partner. She says that this is something she can resolve only on her own through therapy and soul-searching. But it makes me feel helpless, and I can’t help but feel like there is SOMETHING that I can do on my end. I already compliment her constantly, I show affection and kiss her and touch her, and several other things. But nothing seems to help.
—Crazy in Love
Dear Crazy in Love,
There was a time when I would have said that there’s nothing you can do to cure someone else’s insecurity—even (or especially) insecurity based in some very real, very unjust things in the world, like racism and the beauty standards that go along with it. And I still kind of think that, which is why I’m so happy that your girlfriend has told you she’s going to use both soul-searching and therapy as tools to become happier and more confident.
But I used to think people needed to do this work totally on their own, before being partnered, and now I believe it’s possible to heal while in a relationship. In fact, I think a supportive partner (that’s you!) can help. In your case, I’d focus on three things:
1) Respect her experience. So don’t “No no no, don’t say that, you’re beautiful and I love you” your way out of every conversation about how your recent dating patterns line up with a larger pattern that devalues women who look like her. Acknowledge it. Tell her she’s right to notice, and you understand how that must make her feel.
2) Be consistent. It sounds like you already are. But she’s heard the message that she’s not going to be valued in relationships again and again, and it’s going to take a lot of repetition to counteract that.
3) Ask her what she needs—and decide whether you can offer it. Maybe it’s being a little more discreet about Instagram habits that support her worst ideas about how you see her. For example, are screenshots of your online crushes really necessary? Could you take a break while she works on feeling more confident?
The two of you should come to an agreement that you love each other and both want to be in a relationship that feels secure and healthy and that this might or might not be it. Give yourselves a deadline to get to a place where she feels reasonably secure and you can enjoy the relationship without having to prove your attraction and love. Because you deserve happiness too. And as unfair as it is that society’s racism could tear you apart, there’s no point in being in a relationship that feels this hard and in which nobody is getting what they need.
My son came out to me as bisexual about 10 months ago. On the one hand, I do not love him any less and want to see him happy. On the other hand, I really want him to be happy in a heterosexual relationship. I know that the choice is his and his alone to make, and I’m being supportive, but societal judgment/gay-bashing/targeting IS real, and I fear for his safety. In the crazy world in which we live, what can I do to actually be as supportive as I’m pretending to be? I truly do want him to be happy, but I’m not going to lie: I truly wish he were dating a female …