The “Sidepiece Spouse” Edition

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership. Lucky you.

S2: Your freedom, your prudent effort to prudence, dear, dear Prudence here prove do you think that I should contact him again? No help. Thanks. Thank you.

S1: Hello and welcome back to The Dear Prudence Show once again, and as always, I am your host, Dear Prudence, also known as Daniel M. Laborie. With me in the studio this week is my dear friend Alisha Harris, a self-described public health nerd based in Oakland, California. She works as a foundation program officer directing resources to reproductive health, rights and justice organizations. Alicia, welcome back to the show.

S3: Thank you so much, Danny. And you said welcome back. But this is my first time, actually, I think back to my life.

S1: I realized, oh, no, I know it’s been so it’s been so long since I’m so happy to the last time we really talked, we were watching Under the Tuscan Sun together. Yes.

S3: Yes. We were on a trip to Italy together.

S1: Yeah. By the way, was like a week and a half ago, not like, oh, back in 2005. We went and saw it in the theaters. No, no, no. We were there quite recently.

S3: It was a glorious morning in Tuscany. And I hold it close to my heart.

S1: I, I felt as though I was myself under the Tuscan sun. I felt stunning. I felt Tuscan. I felt under this great, wonderful.

S3: And we didn’t have to renovate a house.

S1: No, we didn’t. We didn’t. I do love how much that’s a genre is like renovating a house in the Mediterranean because there was that British travel author who made a whole career out of like, oh, I’m rebuilding a house in Provence now.

S3: I didn’t realize that. But I mean, I kind of get it. It’s like I am rebuilding my life from the start. I’m rebuilding a house from its foundation. Uh, you know, sometimes things crumble.

S1: There’s always a lot of that and then always a lot of sort of like light European on European like, oh, those sunny Mediterranean construction workers, they’re always taking long lunches. I’m from Northern Europe where we think about death and finish things on time. And it’s like, does that have to be part of the dynamic? I guess it does for this genre? I think so. By the way, listeners, if you hear anything in the background that sounds like either a duck or a bumblebee robot, that is, again, bondman who is recording with me and is currently eating a sock and quacking and occasionally buzzing, those are some of the sounds that he makes. And you’re welcome. You just get those for free. Aleesha, would you please read our first letter, which is I’ll say this for it. It’s brief.

S3: It is that it had that going for it. The subject line is on what grounds is cheating? OK, dear Prudence, I’m a 34 year old woman and a sexless marriage with a forty five year old man. He became disabled a year in and we haven’t had sex in five years. He’s made it clear that he’s not OK with me having sex with anyone else. But how is it fair for me to never have sex again with this justify a strictly sexual affair?

S1: So before we get to the questions that she actually asked us, I want to start I often have a difficult time when it comes to somebody writing to me about a partner who is now disabled. Yet because oftentimes the language or the assumptions feels worth checking, I suppose would be the best expression. And I do want to get to this person’s problem because it’s real and it’s legitimate. And it sounds like her husband’s response to the changes in their marriage has been pretty like we’re not really going to talk about it. Just here’s how it is. I get that that’s incredibly frustrating. But that line of just like, well, he became disabled and we haven’t had sex in five years is sort of like, well, a lot of that’s not just like, of course, you know. Right. Did that feel worth addressing? Did it feel does it feel too harsh?

S3: No, like I don’t think it is too harsh at all. Like, you know, it’s just put out there as if like, yes, of course, that’s what happens when your partner becomes disabled. And that’s definitely not the case. Without knowing more about their situation. What exactly happened? This like their sexual relationship before their partner became disabled, you it’s completely possible to have a mutually satisfying relationship if you are disabled, if your partner is disabled, that’s not something that’s just, you know, impossible or should be treated as an impossibility.

S1: And that if anything, the problem here is heterosexuality, which was sort of like something has happened to interrupt a particular idea of what a sex life is. And so obviously, we’re not going to talk about it or like we’re going to make one thing clear, which is that outside pleasure is not OK. And then we’re going to go back to not talking about it.

S3: Exactly. So that was actually one question I had. So it’s like we haven’t had sex in five years. It’s like, what does that mean? Of course, you know, I’m not in dialogue with this person. They’re not going to be able to explain to me what they mean by that. But, yeah, I did get the impression they’re talking about, like, you know, heterosexual pivo or like people like sex. You know, we can’t, of course, be sure that they haven’t had any sexual contact in the past five years. So, yeah, I sort of respond to that.

S1: But it does it does feel very much like because we couldn’t, for whatever reason, have the kind of sex we were having before. And there’s not a lot of details about like. So then we started talking about what are their options we had or range, just like I wanted him around while I jerked off, which, you know, can be very fun. It just sort of feels like it’s this or nothing. And and I realize that five years in this is not something that just needs a conversation of like, well, now you should watch me while I jerk off and we should have like a fun, frisky conversation about it. And that’ll just be fantastic. I get that. Oh, totally. You know, I also have five years of frustration and and distress and resentment.

S3: I just I was really taken aback by the like, how is it fair for me? Which is like it’s kind of I mean, it’s barely a question, right. You know, it’s the type of thing that one considers and thinks. But, you know, from reading that, it’s like, OK, clearly this person thinks that it is unfair that they, in their words, can never have sex again, which I don’t think is the actual situation. But, you know, it certainly seems like they have the impression that sex of the type that would be satisfying to them isn’t possible with their current partner.

S1: Right. And this is so funny. I was like twenty minutes ago having myself a pity party of a slightly similar flavor of the sort of like something’s happening in my life that’s not fair and or the like. I feel like it isn’t fair and I’m vibrating with intensity about how right I am. And one of the things that I think can just sort of be helpful in those moments is not to be really dismissive about it. I get it again, like sex is a big deal. Intimacy is a big deal. Wanting it is not a bad thing. I don’t want this person to feel ashamed for, like, wanting to fuck her husband. But just you’re right. It’s not fair. End of sentence. Not it’s not fair. Therefore, you’re entitled to the following four things like you’ve brought your unfair Chuck E. Cheese tickets to the counter. And they’re like, you can choose anything from unfairness, row seven, like an affair with a stranger or like being passive aggressively rude to your husband three times this week or whatever else. Yeah, just like it’s not fair that you two haven’t had sex in five years. It’s not fair that something happened to your husband. And several years ago, that apparently has harmed him and caused him pain. It’s not fair that we live in a society that requires you to not have more than two thousand dollars in order to qualify for disability benefits. And you often can’t marry your partner because then that means you have too many assets to receive disability, like lots of things aren’t fair and it doesn’t necessarily follow that. Like, that means you get the equivalent of, like, whatever it is that you want.

S3: Right. And I was struck by their asking on what grounds is cheating, OK? And they’re saying, but how is it fair? As if like and I realize they’re writing into advice column. They’re asking you for advice. But it’s not as if there’s some external arbiter who’s like, so these are the grounds. And it’s not fair because here’s his explanation and everyone just has to listen to that and say, OK, I accept.

S1: Yeah, my read on that was kind of like, is it fair in the sense that if, like five years from now we divorce over this because he finds out I’m having an affair and gets mad and I explain the situation to all of our friends, are all of them going to say, well, honestly, you had to like it kind of felt like there was an eye towards like someday the office camera is going to be following me around and the viewing audience at home will say that I was justified. I just don’t think that’s a useful way to think about this.

S3: Exactly. And I do I feel like I see this question a lot, but it’s I feel like it’s is x a good enough reason to leave X meaning like, you know, fill in the blank issue that I have with my marriage. And, you know, marriages look different. And I think it’s a matter of. Determining if your marriage currently is like the marriage that you want throughout your life or if you do want marriage at any point in your life and you know, it seems like. Whatever the situation is, they haven’t had the kind of person who wants to be having they are already expressing interest in having sex with someone else, which makes me think that maybe they’re thinking it’s not likely that they will get the type of sex they want inside of their current marriage. Like it’s not, as you put earlier, the kind of thing that’s an issue of just like communication and finding out what we both like. It seems like they’re sort of, you know, already thinking this is not going to happen here. And so and their husband has already said quite clearly, like, I am not OK with you having sex with other people. And that is something that they’ve this piece of information. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And it’s like, OK, it just seems like. An incompatibility because it seems like this person is like, I want to have sex with other people. Husband is like, I don’t want you to have sex other people. And if those are both things that are crucial to both of them, then I you know, I don’t know how they could continue in a relationship.

S1: Right. But I think, as you were saying, like, you may have to break up or you may have to have a big fight about this, but you also might not. And so like to that end, I would say mostly I think what this justifies is to make it clear to your husband, I’m not happy. Like that’s the thing to do is to say, like, I’m miserable here and I don’t necessarily have a perfect idea of what’s going to happen next. But I want to try a lot of different things. And maybe that includes seeing a couple’s counselor together, specifically one who is like well trained in things like disability rights and disability justice and isn’t going to go along with, like a broken husband model of like, well, he apparently can’t do his job anymore. So you’re now entitled to, like, get a one husband equivalents worth of fucking from someone else? Absolutely. He’s really going to be able to dig in about whatever other issues may have also overwhelmed him in the last few years over what seems like becoming disabled under circumstances where it’s unclear to me if he has much support or if he knows many other disabled people or if he has a sense of other resources that may be available to him. Agreed. And then do that talk about other ways that you can have some kind of sex life together. If all that happens is you say to him, I’m super angry, I’m going to have sex with other people, you can be mad about it and you can leave me over it if you need to. But I’m doing it. You can do that. Frankly, I think that would get you further than just like having an affair and secretly being mad at him. I would push for an open affair and a fight rather than a quiet totting up in your head of what you’re entitled to and doing it right.

S3: I mean, quiet resentment is not usually the best the best option in any scenario, but it is almost always my favorite first option.

S1: I’m almost always like, I’m going to go with quiet resentment. And then if anyone secretly filming a documentary of my life, they’re going to feel so bad for me right now. I really wish that that wasn’t something that I did. And yet here we are. It works for some. It does not work for me. And yet I keep trying it. At least I’m getting better at letting it go. Hey, I have no good Segway for our next letter, but it’s maybe the longest letter, shortest answer combination I’ve had in a while and I can’t wait to get to it. Would you would you read it for us? I’m going to take a deep breath through this one and oh, yeah, it’s going to be the patented Aleesha that I know and love.

S3: So will you. All right. Subject is sidepiece life. Dear Prudence, my husband of five years called me last night from a hotel to tell me that he hates our children and will not be coming home to them again. But he still wants to have a relationship with me. He says he never wanted them, but he had them because he was so in love with me and he expected to feel parental love once he bit the bullet. But he never has. And now that the new baby is here, it’s reinforced that he can’t stand to be a father. The real kicker for me anyway is he says he won’t divorce me and he wants to continue being together just outside of the house where he doesn’t have to deal with the kids at this point. I hung up on him. I no wrong reaction, but I was overwhelmed. And also hearing the father of my children say he hates them was unbearably painful. But after a few hours, I called him back. I told him, I know we’re living through stressful times and he’s been stuck in the house with the kids more than usual. And every parent has felt like running away at some point. So if he needs a break, then he should stay at the hotel, calm down, talk to a therapist, and then we can have a reasonable conversation about our future where he doesn’t insult our kids. He said that he’d been thinking about this ever since our oldest was born and that he’s been planning his escape for months and tried to reassure me that he was still in love with me. He just kept declaring his love for me over and over. When I tried to explain that I would not be getting a babysitter and going to his hotel to have sex and pretend our kids didn’t exist for a couple of hours, I hung up on it when he started crying and saying, this started when our oldest started stealing my attention when she was born. I’m too embarrassed to talk to my friends about this. I’m completely blindsided, as he never mentioned any of these feelings at all. And we’d had many in-depth talks about kids and the kind of future we both wanted before we got married and before each kid. I’m starting to think of how I could have manipulated him into having kids against his will, but I really thought that we were two adults having open equal discussions about what we wanted. I’m furious at him for saying he hates our perfect babies and at myself for saddling my babies with a father like this. If this is a temporary break down, should I even let him back into our kids lives if he wants to come back? How do I navigate this without traumatizing the kids? What should I do to talk him down from the ledge and help him with whatever he’s going through? How could he ever think that abandoning his kids but still getting with their mom would be appropriate? I will want to divorce him and take him for all he’s worth right now. But I recognize that I’m angry. And the most important thing to me is protecting my kids.

S1: I am so sad that you all can feel guilty. And Alisha’s judgmental faces are already a thing of beauty all their own. And this is one of the best.

S3: I mean, I’m on the side of kids in my face right now because I am I’m I mean, I was having trouble reading through that and just like feeling my temperature rise. Oh, my God. Fuck this person.

S1: All right, let’s start with, you know, I no wrong reaction. You hung up on your husband for calling you from a hotel and saying, hey, I’ve always hated the kids, but don’t worry, you and I can still have sex once in a while. You should be given a medal. All you did was hang up on him. That’s the wrong reaction. That is a sign of great restraint. You did a good thing by hanging up on him. Good for you.

S3: I mean, that’s an excellent reaction. I’m imagining the like Angela Bassett from waiting to exhale moment of just like walking away from a car that you’ve just set on fire. And I would still probably think that that was a proper reaction for this, because sometimes they talk about like just because someone does something really unreasonable doesn’t mean you have to say like the worst thing you can think of.

S1: And they think like, oh, I should always be really, really sensible and calm and restrained. No, no, no. You can and should get mad and hang up on people sometimes. And if ever a situation called for it, this was it.

S3: Absolutely. Especially if someone is saying like, hey, so I want to have a relationship with you, but I’ve been lying to you and now I don’t want our kids and I never do and I never did. And I’m just going to bounce and leave them with you right now. Yeah. Right now, but if you want have sex later, I’m around, right, like this is a situation like we’re in the middle of a pandemic, like parents are already having such a difficult time. And to say that you love someone and then, you know, say I’ve been lying to you for a really long time. I’m abandoning you with our children. Hope that’s OK. And that you still want to have sex with me. Like, it’s unfathomable.

S1: I just. Yeah, I mean, this this this is not a temporary breakdown. I get that part of you is just reeling and can’t really absorb this information and is thinking like this has to just be like a temporary moment of taking a leave of his senses. He says he’s been planning this for months and thinking about it for years. I don’t think he made that up. I don’t think this is a temporary breakdown. I think you should take it seriously. I think you should start talking about it to your friends immediately. And a divorce lawyer and anyone else you care to speak. Do not wait to talk to the kids about it until you you have a slightly more palatable version to tell them. But they’re going to be traumatized. That’s just going to happen. I’m sorry.

S3: Yeah. And I mean, you know, it seems to me like just I don’t know from the wording of this letter this person is taking. A lot of the responsibility for the outcomes onto themselves and I mean, I can understand that, given that it sounds like they’re married to a completely selfish person, but unfortunately, this person doesn’t have control over how their kids are going to feel about this. I think they can just do the best they can, which, you know, to my mind is, as you noted, like not get them therapists. Yeah. Like not just not like talking poorly about their father. I think, like speaking to marriage and family therapist would be a great idea. I think that they can usually offer, like scripts or tips for like talking to kids in the middle of a divorce.

S1: Your goal should be helping your kids deal with the trauma that is already there, not oh my gosh, it’s my job to keep them from being traumatized because that is impossible and will set you up for failure. They’re going to be that sucks, but it’s inevitable. And there’s no amount of lying or coddling or waiting for your husband to change his mind and come back a little bit. That’s going to prevent that from happening. So I think the sooner you can accept that that’s going to happen and that what you can do is help them through it, not prevent it from happening, the easier things are going to be.

S3: Exactly. And I know you mentioned already that this person should definitely. Talk to their friends, I I don’t know, just the thought of this person being isolated at this moment, like it’s me in my chest, you know, hopefully they’re talking to someone, whether it be like a therapist or anyone else, but also just having. Friends around you is so important at a moment like this, and I understand the fear of judgment or embarrassment, but. You know, one, it’s possible to tell your friends some limited, limited information and more details later. Unfortunately, many people are familiar with, you know, a friend’s spouse leaving suddenly and then meeting assistance with childcare or just emotional support. So, you know, if it feels too hard to completely open up to friends about the entire situation, like try like wading in with some limited information, if that feels better. But I think, like, really, really leaning into your support system is so important.

S1: Yeah. That bit about like that moment of incredible generosity of, hey, I know this has been stressful and we’ve all thought about chucking it in. And he was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. I’d like to torpedo that bridge. Thank you for trying to soften this one. But just so you know, I’ve hated our children ever since the first one was born. I think of them as rivals for your attention, and they’re just the worst. And I can’t stand them.

S3: Yeah, I just just the words that the letter writer is using, I’m not sure, you know, of course, if they’re the husband’s exact words, but like escape stealing attention, hate. Like, I, I don’t I can’t imagine. Being in a relationship with someone who had to express those feelings and then later said, like, OK, this is, you know, everything’s fine. It would take a great deal of like therapy and rebuilding trust. And for me to even consider that, like, you know, even if they like they said it was like a temporary situation and they were up for parenting. Again, I would have serious, serious reservations about Asians. Yes. You know, and he’s the husband is saying that he. Will not go through with a divorce and you should go through with it.

S1: Yeah.

S3: Oh, absolutely. And it may be hard and it may be time consuming, but I absolutely think that it’s worth it in this scenario. Please do not like feel like you need to continue a relationship with someone who says that they hate your kid right now.

S1: And again, because it was so shocking. I really, really understand that there’s a part of you that just thinks I must have misunderstood. It can’t be that the man that I thought for all these years loved me and our kids was in fact, the whole time thinking like, God, I wish the kids would just fall off a cliff so she and I could hang out the whole time. And so, of course, part of you is like, we’ve got to be able to come back from this. But just imagine yourself saying to someone else, well, my husband left me and our children and then he called me and said he’d always hated them, but he was still willing to, you know, fuck me every once in a while. And then we worked it out, like, do you do you feel good about that? Do you feel proud of that? Do you think that’s what I would want for a friend? I think you kind of know the answer. I don’t think that your shock and horror and anger are unreasonable responses. I think from now on, he could talk to you through a lawyer. I think you start talking to your friends. I think you start figuring out ways to break the news to the kids in a way that is as loving and kind as possible. And then, yeah, your goal in the future needs to be how do I protect my kids from their dad? And then that’s not to say that, like, if he ever changes his mind and wants to do some custody, that you can’t find a civil way to do that through your lawyers. But it does mean that if he wants to, like, have an announcement where he tells the kids, I don’t really love you, and then two years later, he’s like, I feel like going to the movies with them like that, you would want to give that really careful thought, take this seriously, be angry, you know, don’t stab him or write an angry letter to his boss or set his car on fire. But short of that, be angry with him. Don’t be nice to him. Don’t give him the time of day. You have my full permission to do all of those things. And frankly, if you wanted to set his car on fire, wink, wink, wink, don’t do it.

S3: Think again, wink, wink, friends may create alibis.

S1: Tell your friends, tell your friends and fall apart and let them hold you and then watch Under the Tuscan Sun, which is all about rebuilding your life after your husband tries to ruin it. Shall we move on then you shall great, the next one is called Teachers, Honorifics, and I don’t know what the answer is and I feel bad because I should have had an idea, but I don’t. Dear Prudence, I am thrilled to know that I will be an English teacher next year. I’m also trans and in my own process of figuring out where my trans masculine expression falls in terms of pronouns, gender identity, etc.. I will be teaching English at a private school in a super liberal area, much like the one I attended. Did I feel comfortable about my colleagues and most students accepting and respecting me? I’ve also told the school, which came up earlier as references and transcripts had my old pronouns, etc. The school has been great. I’m trying to figure out what students should call me as I may do some classroom observations starting this year. The school will support whatever I want as long as it’s respectful. At my own high school, we called many teachers just by their last name or a nickname when talking about them, and some of them started adopting this themselves. WMS Dubner referred to herself as just Dubner, Mr. Lebowitz as Libo as we did. I don’t feel that many honorifics like Mix really fit me or sound go with my last name and I don’t have a Ph.D., so I can’t use. Doctor, do you think it’s appropriate to ask students to call me by my last name? My colleagues and bosses are lovely cis caring teachers and they’ll follow my lead but don’t have any suggestions. I worry a bit because I’m twenty three and I think an honorific could give me some formality. The beloved middle aged teachers might not need as much. I actually remembered I remembered why I put this in here, and I was like, so I think your problem is that it’s a private school in a super liberal area for all of liberalism’s failings. I think that private schools are sort of antithetical to the project of. The liberal experiment, I don’t think you should teach at a private school, I think private schools should be illegal and I think everyone should have to go to public school. And that’s, I think, one of my bigger lines on this show that is just like I can’t be super helpful to anyone whose problem is I work at a private school because I think you should stop.

S3: I agree. At the same time, at this point, I know that it’s hard for people to, like, seek and find new jobs. And, well, I hope that this person is like. On that trajectory, I understand that there are immediate circumstances may mean that they are teaching at a private school, which is, I don’t know, is a private school in a very liberal area, just kind of chuckle.

S1: It’s just like, well, the public schools aren’t good. I wonder why. So I’m pulling my kids out of it so we don’t have to deal with the problem and just file not found for the rest of society.

S3: The rest of society, meaning like the great unwashed that I want kept far, far away from my precious angel children. Anyhow, OK, this person is saying that they feel like their colleagues and most students would accept whatever decision they make about what name to use with students. I don’t know if they’re concerned about parents that somebody think something to think about. But honestly, if their initial instinct is to go by their last name, I think that that’s probably fine. And I think that there’s a way to have those discussions without having, you know, a longer conversation with unsupportive people about gender. Like, I think it’s totally possible if, like the colleagues are supportive and if students are supportive, I think you can say, like, call me this. And if parents ask, hopefully, hopefully, hopefully the school will take the lead. I’m just saying this is what they’re called without making you, you know, explain your gender identity, which is ultimately not the parents’ business. And I think starting there and I think. People will probably mess up, not even out of bad intention, but I think like in schools, I think students are usually used to using some sort of honorific depending on the school. And I think it’s just generally correct them and go from there.

S1: Yeah, my only thought here is if your concern is that, you know, you’re already, it sounds like, substantially younger than the other teachers. You’re worried about the students not treating you formally enough. I think if you also go by your last name, only when everyone else gets an honorific, you will run into the very problem that you’re trying to avoid. So I think either have them call you instructor last name or teacher last name, which sounds a little weird but is fine and true, or pick a gender neutral honorific that sounds a little goofy like mix. There are worse things than sounding a little goofy. And frankly, part of the goofiness is just that it’s unfamiliar. You know, Mr.. Sounds weird if you haven’t heard it constantly. So I think those are two better options. I think either going with teacher or instructor first or or going with mix and seeing like, can you live with it? But just going by your last name is a little too Dead Poets Society, you know. I mean. Everybody OK, OK, great, yeah, let’s just leave that one where it is, we’ll both just move on with our lives. All right. I’m going to take our last letter. I want to try to advise this young person. Well, I’m also a little concerned. They don’t really want to hear anything because that was kind of the vibe that I got. But let’s see what we can do. The subject is culture shock. Dear Prudence. I spent most of my life living in another country. I recently moved to the U.S. and I’ve been experiencing a lot of culture shock. The biggest one is probably how immature people my age seem. I’m 17 and feel like I know how to make decisions better than most of the college students I’ve met. Because of this. I have friends who are older than me. Some of my friends I met when I was a freshman and they were seniors in high school. That’s not really an issue. But I’ve recently gotten close to a guy, Ben, who’s 20 years old. The age of consent in my state is 18, but I come from a country where the age of consent is lower. It wouldn’t be considered culturally inappropriate for the two of us to date back home. And I’m struggling with the fact that it’s culturally inappropriate and illegal here. He and I have talked a lot about dating and it’s brought us even closer than we were before. I feel like I need him more and more every day. Neither of us want him to get in trouble. And I don’t think my parents would press charges. But I can’t wait for ten more months until I turn 18. Should we hide it even from our friends? We’ve been thinking it might be a good idea to be the only two who know about it. This all seems overwhelming and a little ridiculous. What are your thoughts?

S3: Oh, geez, I. OK, I’ll put it this way, the sense that. You are more mature than other people around you who are of a similar age and you know how to make decisions better than the older people around you. It’s so. Familiar? I was 17 once, and it’s a very 17 year old feeling, I’ll say that.

S1: Right. And that’s not to say like it’s all in your head, you’re making this up. But I would say. Perhaps you would be hard pressed to find a 17 year old who wouldn’t agree with the statement. I’m more mature than most 17 year olds, which is not to say either that it is true or false, merely that it is very common for 17 year olds to feel it. And so you should think of that as something that you have in common with your peers and not something that separates you from them. Agreed. I want to clarify a couple of different points here. It’s not illegal for a 17 and a 20 year old to date. It’s illegal to have sex. They’re not the same thing. Sorry, I feel like I’m a thousand years old saying that like but like if a 17 and a 20 year old were to date and they talked about it with their friends and family, I don’t think every every place in the United States would respond to that as if it were the most shocking. You know, many states have like Romeo and Juliet laws for similar situations. I don’t know that they would apply to a 20 year old. But like for two people within two or three years of one another’s ages, there are sometimes exceptions made. So I say that not to be like, don’t worry, maybe it’s fine. But to suggest that simply discussing the possibility or the idea is not so shocking that you should keep all of it a secret. I think there are actually plenty of years in which it would be not people wouldn’t keel over and freak out.

S3: I totally agree. Like a if you like, a relationship between a 17 year old and a 20 year old perhaps is less shocking to a lot of people than, you know, maybe the letter writer thinks that, you know, it’s possible in their community and where they live. It is more shocking. But you are right. You know, it’s the issue, the legal issue of potential legal issue is sexual contact. And, you know, it’s not even clear that it would necessarily be illegal where they are.

S1: And I mostly say that not because I think, like, no problems have a great time, even though I’m not inclined to necessarily think this is inherently troubling. So much is just I don’t want the letter writer to feel like our only option is to keep this a secret, because I think that is going to put you in a situation like you say. I don’t think my parents would press charges, which is not the same thing as I know they wouldn’t or there’s nothing to press charges about. And I think if if you were to forge ahead with, no one could even hear that we’ve been considering this. They’d be so upset and shocked. So we have to keep it a secret, which means it’s fun and heightened and exciting and ridiculous and overwhelming and only we know about it. And if that’s not a recipe for sex, I don’t know what is. Then you have created a situation where. It’s likelier that if your parents found out, they would be shocked and upset and possibly press charges and I don’t want that for you or for this guy. You’ve known this guy since you were in high school together. He’s a friend of yours, he’s a friend of your friends, he hasn’t done anything like pressure you yet. So I really think you are in a position to discuss this with other people. And I think that’s the best way to do it. And I know that that will probably mean having conversations that you would rather not have. But I’ve been really cares about you, and he really doesn’t want to get either in trouble or pressure a minor, which would all be things that I hope are true of Ben. Then he should not ask that you keep a relationship with him a secret for 10 months so that he can rightly or wrongly like break the law and like, not worry about it. I think that’s way too much pressure if he’s putting that on you. And I think you should talk to people about it.

S3: Yeah, just thinking about the risk continuum. I think that having a secret relationship, if you’re 17 with a 20 year old is definitely toward the more risky side, as I think that, like communicating with your parents, which, you know, could be can be painful for a 17 year old. I think it is is a little just not quite as far down that continuum. And so I would agree that definitely talk to your parents. Talk to your friends. I think that also like it sounds like you and Ben have talked about dating, but I mean, have you talked about the potential risk? Is it something that I mean, is primarily I mean, I’m just thinking like legally the risk would be to him if this is something that he’s OK with.

S1: But then I think that’s a really good point, because, as you say, the legal risk would be on his end. Yes, but you know what I mean. As long as this was a secret, all of the pressure to protect him would be on the letter writers end. And that is a potential for even unintentional manipulation that I want you to be really thinking about. Because if you two are in a relationship where it’s all on you to protect him and keep him safe and and to safeguard his reputation and to keep him from going to jail, all of a sudden, now it’s like it is like this conflation of of responsibility and power such that you now are a minor and it’s your problem. It’s your fault. You’re the problem. And that I don’t want for you. And again, I say that without necessarily believing that Ben is saying and doing any of this intentionally, just that like if he really, really cares about you and he really respects you and he really wants to not take advantage of the difference in, you know, majority status between the two of you and you say, I want to date you. I also don’t want to have this hanging over our head for ten months, which means I want to talk about our relationship with other people and I want to wait to have sex until it’s not a crime. I’m sorry. I feel very fuddy duddies saying this, but it’s ten months. It’s ten months. And that kind of sucks. But when ten months are over, you’ve known him for years, you’ll still probably be attracted to one another. It’s there are worse things in the world than really wanting to sleep with someone and having to wait a little less than a year. You know, it’s not it’s not like you have to wait until you’re married or he turns you into a vampire.

S3: Right. It’s not the end of the world. But I think I think it’s always a good idea, you know, whether or not there’s an age difference between you and your partner to ask yourself, like, do I feel like I have Equal Decision-Making power in this relationship? Do I feel like, you know, I am an agent and not like a person who is just sort of rolling along or, you know, decisions are made for me or things are done for me or to me? That’s just a thing to keep in mind and definitely like I think like you can talk through the potential legal risks, you can talk to your friends and parents about being in a relationship. I think that I don’t know what your relationship with your parents is. That may not necessarily mean like discussing sexual activity with them. If you feel like you can’t do that, that would be great. But I realize that’s not the situation for everyone. Yeah, I think, like the secrecy here is my main concern, because I agree with you that that kind of secrecy can create an imbalance where there may not be as significant of an imbalance otherwise.

S1: Right. And again, it would just create a real vacuum where it would be like if you again, I hope he doesn’t. I’m sure he’s I don’t want to paint him as like this like way, way, way older predator who appeared in your life in a vacuum. I get that you met him in high school and that you are both of the same generation. But if you were in a relationship where for 10 months you knew, if he mistreats me, if he hurts me, if he manipulates me, I would feel unable to talk about it because I’d be afraid of sending him to jail. You know, just again, ask yourself the question, would you want that for the person you cared about? Would you want to put Ben in that situation? And I think if you were to flip those things around and think like, of course, I would not want my partner to be muzzled in that way or to feel constrained in that way, then I think it is a good indicator that you should insist upon it for yourself. And again, you can insist upon it without saying that means you are a predator with bad intent who is trying to take advantage of me. It’s simply an acknowledgement of like relationships don’t tend to flourish when they have to take place under terms of secrecy or where a minor has to protect illegal adults, even if they’re otherwise pretty close in age. And if you are not comfortable or safe talking about sex with your parents, which I would really, really get, you do not have to. But I would encourage you to talk about your relationship with someone who’s, like, really in your life and who you are safe talking with. And to really consider just saying this will kind of suck can be annoying. But let’s wait and have sex until I’m 18.

S3: You can do it, and I think that one way to avoid other people thinking that you don’t have predatory intent is to not engage in a secret relationship. Welcome to 17. You know. Right. You know, if you’re having a relationship with someone and being like, don’t tell anyone. Yeah. That yeah, that seems a little nefarious.

S1: Yeah. And it would be better for him to if like, if you plan on really seeing one another and you’re going to be together in 10 months, you don’t want. I would imagine you would not want people to say like, hey, wait a minute, like what was going on beforehand. And again, like I say, all this while also just acknowledging it may very well be that this line is not one that applies to the two of you in the state that you’re in. And also that there is something a little wonky about some states having exceptions for people within two or three years, one another in other states not. I don’t see any of this wanting to take a side like any 10 year old, 20 year old who wants to date any 17 year old is about do just. The lines are there, whether you want them to be or not, and as a result, they put you in a position where you should not be safeguarding his reputation and he should be looking out for yours. So that’s just, I think, the best principle that you can bear in mind. And you can need him. You can love him. You can be nuts about him. You can chafe against this 10 month restriction. And I promise you, in a little while you will look back and think like, God, that was frustrating and also funny. And it’s over now and it’s over forever. And that’s it. So I got good luck right to us in 10 months. I want to know if this works out or what. Take care of yourself. Please don’t keep it a secret. Yeah, well, Alicia, what a day.

S3: What a day. I’m actually glad that I don’t know. I feel like that was. Who I feel like that was a much lighter question potentially than some, yeah, I thought I was like, oh man, oh, that’s fraud.

S1: And then by the time we got to it, I was like, honestly, at least no one called you from a hotel to say, I hate our baby.

S3: Yeah. I mean I mean, I’m going to tell myself every day when that every day when I wake up in the morning just like, OK, I can do this. I mean, I think that that the letter writer can can do it as well, you know, hang in there without her husband, preferably completely dealing.

S1: What a I am so sorry. My God. It would just how do you even come back from that? You just think like this whole time it was a lie. Every memory that we had where I thought he loved our kids, he was just apparently making hotel reservations in the back of his mind.

S3: I, I don’t know. I mean, even if this person doesn’t like even a letter writer doesn’t burn her husband’s car, I think it’s well within her rights to hope that a giant anvil falls on his head.

S1: Yeah. Yeah. And if you make it until your kid’s adulthood without ever saying to them anything like I hope someone says your dad’s car on fire, buy yourself a present by yourself. Something very nice because I’m impressed. You deserve it, and if you want to tell me anything about his car, like the make or model or where he usually parks it or any other information like that, feel free to drop me a line. I’m just curious. I don’t want to commit any crimes, I mean that.

S3: Simple curiosity, just.

S1: Just that I just want to talk, I just want to talk to his car, that’s all. I don’t have a conversation with the car that he drives. That’s it. Lisa, what are you up to the rest of the day, huh?

S3: I am going to take a walk. I have not taken a walk in a long time. I have been inside of my house. It would be nice to be outside. What about you, Danny?

S1: The sun’s fantastic. I’m going to separate my socks from the ones that my dog has claimed his toys and the ones that I can still wear on my feet. And from there, who’s to say exciting stuff? Thank you so, so much for being on the show. As always, you are a delight. Thank you for being right about everything.

S3: Oh, love your friend.

S4: Thanks for listening to Dear Prudence, our producer is Phil Cercas. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton.

S5: Don’t miss an episode of the show had to slate dotcom. Dear Prudence, to subscribe and remember, you can always hear more prudence by joining Slate. Plus go to Slate Dotcom. Pretty hard to sign up. If you want me to answer your question, call me and leave a message for zero one three seven one, dear. That’s three three to seven. And you might hear your answer on an episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location, and at your request we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short, 30 seconds a minute, tops. Thanks for listening.

S1: And here’s a preview of our Slate Plus episode coming this Friday. It’s not going to work. It’s very reasonable to say it’s not going to work. You can reassure your own kid that you guys are doing everything you can to make sure things work out. And you can also reassure this other girl that you are really happy to spend time with her and help her attend school. And you’re sorry that her mom is going through such a tough time right now. And that’s it. You don’t have to worry about that. Beyond that, she needs to be going to her own parents with these questions. And I’m sorry that they’re failing her, but that doesn’t mean that, like, you know, the nice crossing guard basically needs to be her new dad. To listen to the rest of that conversation, join Slate plus now at Slate dot com forward slash Prudy pod.