Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Mar 24, 2014

Need help getting along with partners, relatives, coworkers... and people in general? Ask Prudence! Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence takes your questions on manners, morals and more.

Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.

Hi Prudie, Is it okay to change your mind about having a baby? My husband and I have been together for over five years, and one of the things that we agreed upon completely during that time was that neither of us wanted children. I truly never thought I would. Over the last few years, though, I have had many friends, family, and coworkers having children, and for the first time been exposed to the joys and awesomeness of having kids (instead of just the horror stories). And I've found that my thoughts are turning more and more towards wanting a child. I have brought this up with my husband many times, and each time the discussion is shut down with, "we agreed we weren't going to have any kids" I don't know where my thoughts and feelings are going to land on this issue, but I guess I'm wondering, is it fair to end a marriage if I decide thata child is something that I truly want, when the marriage based in part on a mutual understanding that nobody wanted kids? I'm turning 32 this year, so I'm aware that time will soon become a factor, if it hasn't already.

One of the interesting things about life is that it can present us with the fact that what we thought we knew absolutely about ourselves is wrong. Well, sometimes it's not so much wrong, but it turns out what was right for one phase of our lives, may be the opposite of what we want for another. I know there are many happily childfree people who have never wavered in their conviction. But I've often written that I think it's a good idea for people to test their certainties -- especially when it comes to having children -- so I've heard from many people who knew they never wanted one, who then ecstatically send me pictures of their babies. Ideally, when you realize something you were certain about no longer is true, your partner has made the same shift, or is open to exploring it.  As you are experiencing, it's wrenching when this isn't the case. More than that, biology sets a deadline and forces you to make life altering decisions under pressure.  You know that if you end your marriage in the hope you find a partner who wants children with you, you may not find this person.

Yes, you are trying to change a fundamental understanding of your marriage, but I don't think it's fair for your husband to simply shut you down. Tell him this is so important to you, and you feel so stymied in getting him to listen, that you want the two of you to go see a counselor. At the least that will help you clarify your short and long-term goals. If he refuses to go, and refuses to explore this with you, then that says something profound about what kind of life partner he is.

I recently ended a relationship after a year, after I found out that my ex was cheating on me, via Facebook. He woke up in my bed and fell asleep in hers. I was out shopping for his Christmas present at the time he was taking her on a date. She knew he had a girlfriend and did not care. I was blindsided. I have been cheated on before and ended many relationships, but for some reason I am still feeling angry about this four months later. I find myself daily wishing he would die a slow painful death or drink himself to death. I have never felt such hate in my life towards someone and it scares me. I know lots of people joke about this, but I am not joking. I don't want to harm him, I just hope something really horrible happens to make him suffer. I am a good person, I volunteer, have good friends, and have never had feelings like this before and I feel horribly guilty. How can I move past this, or is this normal?

Sure, I've imagined a piano falling on the guy's head. But then, like you, I  realized that would be too quick and hoped for a  slow acting poison. Almost anyone who's loved then said, "Get lost," has been there. You perhaps are having a harder time dealing with this break up because you maybe thought this time you'd get off the dating merry-go-round. Stop feeling guilty. You haven't hired a hit man, you're brain is just pulling a Dexter on a deserving creep. Perversely, the more you try to shame yourself about the anger, the more intense it becomes. I think once you accept that it's fine you have nothing but bad wishes for your ex, it may actually loosen the grip of your obsession. And I have a reading suggestion for you:  start Gone Girl tonight.

I am 28 and my fiance is 30. We're both looking forward to getting married this year on our 8th anniversary. We come from very different cultural backgrounds but have found that our ideals and how we want to live our future lines up very well. Over the course of time, however, we've realized that it's different than how our parents raised us, and that there are things in each of our parents that have begun to bother us. For example, my family over-plans every vacation, and his family decides last minute that they'd like to get together for dinner, and puts the planning on us. We know our parents love us and I think are finally coming to terms with the fact that we don't "need" them anymore. How do we adjust to 1) our understanding that the perfect image we had growing up isn't a reality, and 2) help shape our relationships with our parents as adults? There are no major issues, we'd just like some advice from people who have been there.

I wonder if you and your fiance are cognitve late-bloomers in other ways. I don't have the literature in front of me, but from my own experience of having parents and then of becoming one, I'd say the realization that the people who are raising you have some serious failings hits  hard by around, oh, two years old.  It's wonderful that both of you love and honor your families and their traditions. It's also simultaneously true that your families can be big pains and impossible to deal with.  Your parents never were super heroes, they are just people. And now that you're both adults, you have to figure out to respect them and also assert your own independent needs (this latter is also something 2 year-olds are good at).  That means when they make demands that don't work for you, you politely decline.  When the parents act shocked -- as surely they will -- just stay calm and recognize it's all for their own good.

Dear Prudence, I left an unhappy 15-year marriage to a man who made me miserable for a man who adores me. In the two years since, I have worked out a great custody arrangement with my ex, been promoted at work, and bought a house on my own. I am still with the man I left my husband for, and we are happy....except for one thing. He is unemployed and seems to have no desire to change that. I have not been too concerned because the job market is tough, and he has made a little pocket money pet sitting and tutoring. He also handles a lot of household chores. I can make ends meet on my own (though things are tight), but he lives with me and contributes virtually nothing. He goes to bed late and sleeps late. He does not seem to think finding a job is a priority, but what can I do? I feel so lucky to have a man who is into me, finally! My best friend is aghast at the situation and says I am being taken advantage of. Am I?

So you left a louse for a leech. It's one thing if you have a demanding job and make enough money so that you  would be happy with a partner who didn't work and could run the household. It's another if in exchange for being treated nicely and having sex, you are supporting someone who lives like a teenager who's on suspension from high school.  You're right, there's really nothing you can do about your boyfriend's lack of desire to be gainfully employed. Frankly, if he's a skillful tutor and has a way with dogs, he could  be applying himself to these enterprises and making more than pocket money. But it sounds as if he just prefers hanging out.  But you are only being taken advantage of if you start looking at your situation from the vantage point of your friend and end up agreeing with her. If all you want in a guy is someone who's nice to you, then tell your friend that he may not be working, but the relationship is working for you.

Hi Prudie, The mother of my 8 year old daughter's day care provider just passed away. The kids all knew her as Grandma "Judy". Should I bring my daughter to the memorial service? Is it appropriate for a child to attend the funeral of someone other than a very close friend or family memeber? Thanks!

She wasn't your daughter's Grandma Judy, so I think it's best not to bring a young child to a funeral service for someone you had more or less a professional relationship with. However, this would be a good opportunity to help your daughter understand about death and how it affects loved ones.  Encourage her to make a card for her day care provider. She can draw a picture of Grandma Judy (or anything she likes) and write a couple of sentences about what made Grandma Judy so special. I'm sure your day care provider will treasure it.

Dear Prudence: I am expecting my first (and only) child in a few months. This will also be the only grandchild on both sides. What my husband calls "The Christmas Wars" have already begun, with my dad sending multiple emails announcing he will not spend time with my mom (they're divorced) and that I need to acknowledge his request and ensure their visits are scheduled apart. He also doesn't want the other grandparents around.  Other fun communications have arrived from the others, but it is mostly him. My husband said he wants to take our little family of three out of town for Christmas and leave all the craziness behind. The issue is that I am older than most first-time moms (40) and the grandparents are all well into their 70s, so they won't have as much time to enjoy being grandparents, as they keep telling us. Is it okay for us to leave town with the new baby for his/her first Christmas? If so, how soon do we tell the family and what do we say? Thanks! I'm Dreaming of a Family-Free Christmas

At least your not coping with the breaking news that your parents aren't perfect. I know that this winter has seemed unusually long-lasting, but last time I looked at the calendar, it showed we actually have three seasons to get through before we're back to winter festivities again. You are about to have the only grandchild for people quivering with anticipation. However, if one of them, prior to the birth, is already throwing tantrums over how much attention he gets, you need to learn how to ignore and reduce such behavior.  Tell him now that you don't want any more demands from him on who visits and when. Say if the emails keep coming,  you're going to delete them without answering. Understand the rest of the grandparents are eager, but tell them you're going to put a lid on everyone's demands.  Do not make plans to flee for Christmas. You will find that having a baby tends to change things a lot, including your energy level. It might also mean that those old people who are annoying you now turn out to be a godsend in a few month (maybe with the exception of your father).

Dear Prudie- My boyfriend of four years and I are breaking up after a rather bitter relationship. At the worst part of the relationship, he cheated on me with someone he used to date in college. He says, and I believe, that he thought it was a mistake. Upon my request, he let her know that I'd found out and that he would not communicate with or see her anymore. She works for a corporation with a household name, and I viewed their ethics policy online. It states that members of the public and employees of the corporation can and should report any unethical use of corporation resources. There is no "statute of limitations" and it can be done anonymously. My ex-boyfriend said that he did not want me to inform the corporation that she had used the company hotel suite and comp account to carry on an affair -- she paid for his drinks and his parking -- because that would "bring her back into our lives." (she had threatened to press harassment charges against me if I contacted her.) Can I file an anonymous complaint with her employer?

The statute of limitations has expired on your relationship, and you should seek to have it expire on the way you deal with the world. By your own account you had  a four year bitterness fest. It was punctuated by your boyfriend seeking more pleasurable company elsewhere. What you do now is look inward and try to understand your role in this unhappiness and address that. It's one thing, like the letter writer above, to have understandable fantasies about the grisly end of someone who broke your heart. It's another to actually try to damage the career of a bit player in your life.  Note that your boyfriend's paramour has threatened to press harassment charges against you. I'm imagining that didn't come out of the blue, but it's because you see other people as the source of your distress. Get some help so that you don't continue to go seething through life.

If Unmotivated Boyfriend is doing the housework, then he is not unemployed - he is a househusband. What's wrong with that? A lot of working women would like to have that kind of support. I have a lot of working friends with husbands at home and I think they're lucky.

He's not her husband, and this isn't something they've discussed and agreed to.  He's a boyfriend who kind of does some stuff around the house and otherwise is not interested in being economically independent or even contributing to his room and board.

Honey, all of us who've been cheated on are in the same boat. My solution was to bake bread: the recipe I used required lots of kneading -- and boy, did I knead that stuff! (I even slammed it into the clean wall.) I had the lightest, fluffiest bread in town ...

I love this, and what an idea for a bakery. You could advertise the guaranteed fluffiest bread kneaded by the most pissed off bakers in town!

I am a 20 year old female student in a current relationship with a successful 46 year old male. We are very much in love and want to spend the rest of my life with him. With this being said, I sometimes feel like I'm not good enough for him. I'm still in college getting my life started and he's already been through this stage and is making his living. I feel when he goes on his trips to give his "talks" to big companies that he's going to find someone more equal or on his level. He says that our connection is too strong for him to go anywhere and that he's never felt this love with anyone before. How can I know this whole thing isn't me just kidding myself?

Since you're in college, take a statistics class and run some regressions on how much life you would have left to live without him if you ended up marrying someone 26 years your senior. You're 20, so it's perfectly understandable you've never felt this way before. He's 46, so I'm guessing he's felt this way before lots, only he's enjoying regressing to a more juvenile state where it seems appropriate for a middle-aged professional to be dating someone who lives in a dormitory. Despite your great love that will last forever, you feel insecure self-conscious with him.  That's not a good sign. It's one thing to have a fling with an older guy and learn some new moves in bed. It's another to plan your life with someone who's your parents' age. So I'm going to speak for your parents and tell you you're kidding yourself. You're not even very happy with this guy.  Break up and start seeing the promise in the boys your age who like you are just trying to figure things out.

Pru, From the wording of you response, it sounds like you are putting all the guilt and problems on the husband wanting him to go see a counselor with his wife. That is so wrong. He went into this marriage (at the time) with a woman who didnt want kids and HE still doesent want kids... now that she does you think he should change his mind. No he shouldn't. 

He's in a marriage, so I think he has an obligation to at the  least discuss with his wife the source of her feelings and give fair consideration to them. It's really not beyond the bounds of imaging that people who don't want kids in their twenties feel differently about it in their thirties. And it's not much of a marriage when your spouse asks to talk to you about something profound your response is, "Asked and answered."

Hi Prudie. I'm finally in a position to start traveling a bit off of the North American continent but my wife has a problem that makes this difficult. She suffers from crippling anxiety about flying. While medication could ease her 8 hour flight, she says that she'd be just as anxious during the whole trip knowing that the flight home is fast approaching. She also suffers from drowning anxiety, so taking the Queen Mary to Europe is out as well. I've never been outside of the US and would love to see a bit of the world while I can, but doing so without my wife would be difficult if not impossible. Should I give up my desire to see Europe or should I live my life without letting my wife's issues cripple both mine and hers?

Your wife needs the help of someone who treats phobias. If she agrees to go, obviously, the end point of treatment is that you both get on a plane, so you will have your answer as to whether or not it worked. If she refuses to even consider getting help, then I don't see why you have to be limited to driving radius of your home.  Lots of couples vacation separately. Sure, it's not ideal, but you don't give any reason for your assertion that it would be virtually impossible.

My husband and I have recently been asked by his brother to help support their mother with a monthly amount of money. The amount is fine, but I am having a hard time not being annoyed that I know the money is going to go to cigarettes and not necessarily toward bills. I think it would also be helpful for us to provide a smoke-cessation aid to improve her health and also cut her cost of living, but I'm not crazy. I know that there isn't a good way to broach this subject as the daughter-in-law. Do you think we just send the money no questions asked and hope for the best that she uses wisely and that the amount doesn't creep up? She is married, to a heavy-smoker who is in failing health and both are retirement age but bereft of any savings or retirement plan.

A montly stipend for nicotine does not sound like a useful way to address your in-laws' financial troubles. Your husband and his brother have to have some serious talks with each other, and eventually with mom, because what happens to her and her husband has to be addressed now. You don't want to wait until mom and stepdad  show up on your doorstep with their possessions and a case of Marlboros. However, if you're willing to help out now, do not send cash. Pick a bill (or bills) that has to be paid monthly and do it as an autopay from your end. Then at least you know no matter how much they smoke, they won't be doing it in the dark.

I love to travel; my husband is a homebody. We usually take a together weekend each year, and then I'm off on my various trips, across the country or even overseas. I know he wouldn't enjoy my trips, and I would be worried the whole time that he's not. Plus: we are always so happy to see each other after a trip--we realize just how much we miss each other.

Lovely! And you sound so understanding I bet you are a great travel companion.

Thanks, everyone. Have a great week. It's going to get warm someday, right?

In This Chat
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe -- a.k.a. Slate's advice columnist Dear Prudence, offers advice on manners, morals and more. She is also Slate's Human Guinea Pig, a contributor to the XX Factor blog, and the author of What the Dog Did: Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner.

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