Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers on Mondays at noon ET. Read part 1 of the chat here. Read part 2 below.
Q. Slow Your Roll Sister: My sister is a young, successful woman who is dating in a major city. She is specifically dating for relationships—while she enjoys hooking up with the guys she dates, she’s not looking for situationships but for something lasting. Her hook-up habits have caused friction with our mom, who will say things like “I didn’t think girls like you did that” (spend the night at a guy’s house after the second date) or “I didn’t raise you to be one of those fast girls.” The problem is, I don’t think my mom’s completely wrong.
No mistake, the old-fashioned sexism is awful, but I do think that my sister could consider slowing down how she approaches her dating life. She does tend to go fast, not just physically but also emotionally—she’ll get deeply into a guy, start thinking way too far into their potential future together, and he’ll seem to reciprocate her level of investment because they’ve just started dating and everything is shiny and new. Then before too long, the spell is broken, he’s freaked out at how fast things seem to be moving, and he breaks things off.
She has never been in a long-term relationship and readily admits that her desire to be in one has affected how she approaches guys. I have no problem with her doing whatever she wants physically, I just think it would be worthwhile for her to consider how her current pattern is influencing the trajectory of her relationships. The physical side is definitely influencing the emotional side, and I think slowing them both down would help her have a better shot at seeing where a potential relationship could go. She asks my advice about dating, and I want to help her, but I have no idea how to talk to her about this without sounding like I agree with our mom or think she’s “loose.”
A: But you do agree with your mom! You do think she’s loose!
You’re pathologizing your sister’s dating life when the truth is being a successful, young woman dating in a big city is notoriously hard. Hell, dating in general is hard. Most first dates don’t lead to marriage. The apps are terrible. People don’t want commitment. Everyone gets ghosted. Men and women break things off after the shiny newness of dating wears off all the time. It’s just how dating work. Finally, plenty of very happy couples jumped right in—physically and emotionally—and never looked back. The idea that you have to treat dating partners like scared animals who are going to get spooked if you make any big or sudden moves is just wrong, in my opinion. Your sister could very, very easily not have sex, not share any feelings, and still get broken up with frequently. She’s going to meet the person she’s supposed to meet at the time she’s supposed to meet them. You don’t have to do anything but remind her of that.
Help! My Wife’s Friend Is Not Her Friend.
The Dear Prudence podcast is back. Listen every Friday on Slate or your podcast player of choice.
Q. To Friend Or Not to Friend: In the fall, I dated someone for about two months. Even though it was a short period of time, I fell hard and I think they did too. We’re both in our early 30s, so we’ve had our fair share of relationships and I feel like I can recognize when my feelings are more than just the honeymoon phase. They ended the relationship in December, largely because of circumstances outside of our control—work, family health, and money. The relationship also helped me recognize some relationship habits of mine that I think I need to change. In short, it wasn’t perfect, but I still care about this person a lot. I wish I had done some things better, and I think they handled the breakup and aftermath with respect for my feelings.
They are temporarily living with their sick mother in another city while they figure out what to do next (both for them and for her). We’ve talked a few times as friends, which has been nice enough, but somewhat superficial. I know that they’ve seen at least one other person since our breakup, but I don’t know how seriously and we don’t talk about it. I’m at a loss for what to do. Even though the relationship was short, I connected with them in a way that’s pretty rare for me. I don’t want to lose the opportunity for a friendship, but I feel like I’m hanging onto hope that this will be something more and it’s getting in the way of that. Do I keep chatting with them occasionally and see if it gets better? Slow fade out of their life? Tell them how I feel?
A: Tell them how you feel. But be prepared to learn that they don’t feel the same. “Work, family, health, and money” as reasons for a breakup could be legit but I have to point out that these are also things that people who truly want to stay together push through—and that many people point to in order to soften a breakup when they just aren’t feeling a situation anymore. Your mention of your relationship habits that need changing also makes me wonder whether this person had more personal reasons for wanting to end things.
I could be wrong and it’s worth finding out for sure! I hear your concern about not wanting to ruin what you have, but being honest is a better plan than behaving as just a friend when you actually want more.
Q. Stop Touching Me: I’m 13 (female) and my best friend “Joshua” has recently revealed that he has feelings for me. I’ve suspected this for a while now and it honestly didn’t surprise me. I told him as non-upsettingly as I could that I don’t have the same feelings for him, but he still took it badly. I have tried to forget about this and get on with our relationship as friends. However, he won’t make the same effort to forget and constantly asks me if I’ve “changed my mind.” I have never been interested in a boyfriend and I’m not starting now. I just want to be friends. I’ve explained this to him. But a few weeks ago he took it to a whole new level, he tried to touch me. I told him quietly that this was not OK and he needs to quit asking me. I told him if his sex drive is so high he’s trying to touch his best friend then he needs to find someone else who can return his love. Several times since this conversation he has tried to touch me. I am not interested, I have made this obvious. Also, my parents would kill me if I had sex. And when he came round to my house the other day and my parents weren’t there, he tried to get me to get into bed with him. I want him to stop. I’m already avoiding him, but he still comes up to me randomly and tries to touch me. Please help.
A: You have handled this situation as well as you possibly could, but it’s too much for a 13-year-old to manage alone. Please tell your parents or an adult you trust. I know it’s hard to accept, but Joshua is not your best friend anymore—he’s someone who isn’t able to respect you and is a real threat to you. You’re not safe around him. It’s never okay for someone to touch you without your permission. It’s terrifying for someone to try to get in bed with you. I want you to let go of any concerns you have about being rude or unkind and continue avoiding him. But again, you can’t handle this alone. Talk to a grown-up. It’s not your job to be concerned about Joshua’s future but if it helps to motivate you, please know that he’s on the road to committing sexual assault and ending up in jail for a long time, so bringing his behavior to the attention of someone who can intervene would actually be doing him a huge favor.
Q. I Want to Have Hope: My husband and I are 50-year-old empty nesters. He is a kind, gentle, very funny person, but I want a divorce. We used to spend quality time together, doing all sorts of things, and I thought we both enjoyed that. However, these last years, he has become an extreme homebody. He explained that when we met, he was “trying to be more adventurous,” but has since realized that isn’t really him, and now that our kids are gone, he is happiest at home, puttering alone on woodworking projects. We rarely have sex, as he has ED, but at first, he would turn me down when I tried to initiate with excuses about being tired or stressed. It was three years, and many tears on my part before he explained the issue to me. Even so, he is not really interested in treating it or having fun in other ways that don’t require an erection. It is painful to passionately love a person who is unable to sustain any sort of intimacy with me (and I don’t mean just sex) and I decided I would rather be alone than live this way.
It wasn’t until I said “divorce” that he wanted to work on our marriage. He says he was stupid and selfish, and he loves me. Prudie, for years, I begged him to help me brainstorm ways to restore intimacy—from counseling to trying new hobbies, or small outings, anything we could do together besides just watching tv. And I am angry that he was so comfortable with my misery all that time. Also, he has stated he does not want to go to counseling and is not sure he has it in him to be the husband I want. I don’t think he wants to change his life; he just doesn’t want me to leave. It breaks my heart and is also scary to think of leaving, but I don’t see how staying is any better. Please, do you have any advice for a way I can lay things out that might have a chance of bringing us together?
A: It feels like there’s some potential here but I don’t want you to waste too much more time figuring out if that’s the case. Tell your husband you appreciate his renewed interest, but you are going to need counseling to help move past the fact that he was comfortable with your misery for so long—and to get help imagining a happy life together. Six months of intense work on your relationship with a therapist. Non-negotiable. He can take it or leave it. If he refuses, he’s still “stupid and selfish” and you will indeed be happier alone than living with him.
Q. Santa Has Issues: Our family has a long history of replacing quality time together and meaningful communication with gifts. As a result, my sister and I grew up with a less-than-healthy relationship with shopping and material possessions. I can’t say that I’ve fully overcome this but I’m working on it (among other things) with a therapist. At the very least, I have managed to avoid the “this is meant to buy your love and compliance” theme. My sister unfortunately demonstrates minimal awareness of the issue some of the time but no real willingness to change. My issue is that a lot of the time her gifts are her only way of connecting with me and my family. She will say “I found these sandals on sale and thought of you, would you like a pair?” or “I got this handmade sweater for your baby.”
The issue is not that she has bad taste but we could do without most of this stuff. She also isn’t in the best shape financially so I know she can’t really afford those sandals even at a huge discount, she can’t really afford much beyond necessities for herself and her son. But she gets incredibly hurt if I turn any of it down, every pair of sandals I don’t need her to get for me is a rejection of her love and attempt to connect. We live in different areas and rarely see each other in person. We are very different people and I don’t think we would have any sort of relationship if we were not family. But she is my only sibling and I feel sorry for the ways our upbringing left her unable to communicate and attempt to connect more meaningfully. Do you see any path forward for us?
A: It sounds like your sister is yearning for a closer relationship with you. Do you want that too? I’m getting the feeling from your letter that you don’t hate her, but you don’t like or enjoy her company very much either. In other words, I think this isn’t really about the sandals. Would you be open to making a dedicated effort to get to know her better, to arrange to spend time with her (maybe you could ask her to visit), and to see if there are any areas where you can connect? I bet if you did that, you would receive fewer offers of random items. And if you truly don’t like this woman, don’t feel close to her, and don’t care if that changes, well, just say a firm no and stick to it.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: That’s all for today! Have a good week—or the best possible week, given the difficult people in your life.
More Advice From Slate
My beloved husband of more than 19 years has accused me of being unfaithful, breaking my vows. I’m not. I didn’t. Nothing can convince him he is wrong. He has started making multiple accusations going back for five years. None of them are true, but there is no way I can prove it.