Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I just moved in with my boyfriend of eight months. This is quicker than I’d normally move in with someone, but I had problems with an awful landlord, and my boyfriend had just bought a house. Things have been going really well, except for one issue.
My boyfriend’s hobby is woodworking, and he plans to furnish the house exclusively with pieces he builds himself. He’s really talented, but has limited time due to a demanding job, so one piece can take him months. In the meantime, we are going without a lot of furniture: sleeping on a mattress on the floor, eating dinner on the floor, etc. I offered to pay for secondhand furniture to use until he finishes replacements, but my boyfriend claims that living with substandard furniture will “pollute (his) imagination.” (He has lots of odd views about things, which 99 percent of the time I find funny and endearing, but can make it difficult to reason with him on occasion.)
Should I insist on temporary furniture? It is his house, and he was kind to let me move in rent-free, so I’m not sure if it’s within my rights, and after a lot of rocky dating history I don’t want to start an argument with a guy who could be “the one.” But I also don’t want to spend the next couple of years making friends sit in a circle on the floor when I throw a dinner party!
I don’t think it’s the possibility of an argument that puts his potential “the one” status at risk. It’s his being stubborn, difficult to reason with, and disinterested in your comfort. I’m sure there is a woman out there who would be happy to live without a place to sit so this guy’s creativity could thrive, but it’s clearly not you. And I don’t think it ends here. Do you want to spend the rest of your life wondering whether your requests to live like a modern human and other reasonable needs are “within [your] rights?” There really aren’t a lot of “rights” in relationships because you can’t make anyone do anything, so if you’re going down this path, you’re not in a great place. You want to be partnered with someone who cares about how you feel and is open to compromise. I’m not sure how clear you’ve been with him about your needs, but make sure he understands how important this is to you and see if he changes his mind. If not, it might be time to start thinking about a move to a home—and a relationship—where you can be a little more comfortable.
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I circle through the pros and cons of my physical location on a daily basis. I currently live in a beautiful lakeside small town with great schools and clean air and water with my husband and young son. We have a large chunk of land and a decent but not great house. We are a few hours from my husband’s family and a whole day’s drive from mine. We’ve been here for six years and have not been able to truly build a community. We never struggled in the past, but the people in this area have completely different values, mainly money and status-driven, whereas we just love enjoying nature and laughing. My job requires me to live in the state but I could live anywhere. I crave community, and his family and our college friends mostly all live in one area of the state that is not nature-rich or clean, and we’d deal with heavy traffic, crime and worse schools. My family is in another state in a beautiful area that is polluted from farm runoff, and I’d have to find a new job, which isn’t easy as my education and profession are kind of niche. I would need to sacrifice my career to move there, but maybe that’s ok? I weigh all these pros and cons 100 times a day, especially when I should be sleeping. How can I be sure that the unhappiness I feel here would go away if we moved closer to family and friends? Would the cons we would deal with after the move put me right back into wishing we lived where we do now? Please help me end my nightly spirals.
— Homesick and Lost
If the shortcomings of the place you live have the power to make you truly unhappy day to day, I have a feeling you’re going to be very vulnerable to unhappiness wherever you move. You could relocate near loved ones and find they’re busy or flaky or annoying. You could move to a beautiful area and stress every day about sending out resumes and not getting interviews in a new career field. So stay put. For a year. Commit to trying to see if it’s possible to be happy where you are.
I want to push back on the claim that you can’t find community there. While I believe there may be challenges when it comes to the culture and values of many of your neighbors, how many people does it take to feel a sense of community? Four? Six? Surely there’s a family or two that also enjoys laughing and nature. It’ll be easier to try to find them (look for the people hanging out having a good time at the beach!) than to uproot your entire life. During that year, also gently explore whether there is something other than geography that’s making you feel dissatisfied. Look at your relationship, the quality of your friendships (including long-distance ones), your work-life balance, whether you’re doing anything you’re passionate about, either professionally or as a hobby. Do you possibly need something to give you a sense of purpose, or something to look forward to?
If you’re still in the same place 12 months from now, reevaluate a potential move. You’ll know you should do it when you feel excited about it, not when the idea is causing a nightly spiral.
My husband of eight years recently discovered some texts on my phone that are a little problematic. I work with a guy who seems to have a crush on me and in a moment of weakness, or several moments, I allowed these messages to keep happening and even played along a little. I crossed a line and I messed up. My husband is terrific, kind, funny, a great dad, great lover, I can’t figure out why I even did this. No physical lines were crossed—they was relatively harmless flirty texts. I was horrified when my husband discovered these. Years ago, when we were dating, he did have a jealous streak, and I thought he would be devastated. He was not. He didn’t get mad, didn’t yell, didn’t freak out one bit. He laughed it off and said “that’s sort of cute” after he confirmed that nothing physical had happened, and he asked who else knew anything about it—he was mostly worried about MY reputation, almost like an HR person. AND that night we had particularly mind-blowing sex. I’m so baffled by this response—is he OK with it? Is HE doing the same thing? Does he not love me the way he used to? Is he excited by this scenario?
— Befuddled Bride
Dear Befuddled Bride,
This letter took a much less catastrophic turn than I thought it would! If there’s been nothing else to suggest to you that your husband wants to have an open relationship or has fallen out of love with you, that’s great news. It sounds like you have a good marriage to a nice, reasonable, mature guy who really loves you. It also sounds like you’re itching for some kind of drama or excitement, whether it comes from outside your marriage or from your husband—like you’re digging for a problem or complication or secret desire. And maybe there’s something there. Who knows? Maybe he is in fact a little turned on by the situation. But you’d have to ask him about that and before you do, make sure you’re ready for whatever the answer is and how it may change your relationship. It’s also possible that your curiosity about his reaction (paired with your problematic texts) is a sign that you legitimately need something else in your relationship—some novelty, more time together, more time apart, or even a better understanding of your spouse’s inner life. Give it some thought, figure out how you feel, and bring that up to him.
Catch up on this week’s Prudie.
More Advice From Slate
My son, almost 3, goes to a day care, and has always been happy to attend—he’s never even cried when I leave him there. The problem is there is one girl in his class who keeps biting him! It has happened three to four times in the last three months. I’ve been keeping quiet because I understand this girl has issues (she is slightly developmentally challenged) and that toddlers, in general, bite and stuff. But seeing my son behave like he did today worried me. Should I be speaking up for him with the day care manager, asking them to keep that child away from her, if possible?