Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Sep 12, 2011

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 took your questions on manners, morals and more.

Good afternoon, everyone.  Let's get to it.

Dear Prudie, Yesterday I found out through a mutual friend that my (gay) ex-boyfriend is engaged. 18 months into our heterosexual relationship, I caught him red-handed, browsing gay classifieds when I came home early one day. He confessed everything, telling me how he'd been confused since adolescence, felt religious/family/social pressures to be straight, that he had strategically thrown himself into athletics for the "macho" mask it would provide him, etc.  His fiancee knows absolutely none of this. She's a nice girl, works for a charity, writes a blog about her religious faith, etc., but it's precisely because of her religiousness (shared with his parents') that he would never tell her. He continues to have promiscuous gay sex, unbeknownst to her. Is it right to let this girl marry someone just because he can't bring himself to tell her the truth? Just to be clear about me, I am not the bitter/jealous/angry/stalker ex-girlfriend. Do I write to him and encourage him to tell her, or to re-think what he's doing? Is there any option that does not automatically paint me as a psycho ex-girlfriend trying to ruin their happiness?

Let's say you were the happy young woman engaged to the man of your dreams.  Would you want his ex to come along and ruin everything by telling you that he is a closeted gay man who is secretly having promiscuous sex? I sure would! It's always easier in cases like this to just let adults make their own decisions and find out (or not) what's really going on.  But your ex has the potential to endanger this young woman's life if he's having unprotected sex. And someone who is so conflicted about his sexuality and sneaking around on the side is the kind of person who tends to engage in the riskiest behaviors.  I'm wondering, however, since you don't know this woman, whether the best course might be to have your mutual friend make an approach.  She could tell the woman that she knows important information about her fiance, and perhaps she could suggest the three of you get together.  Sure, the fiancee will likely tell your ex that something is up. But if he then blurts out that she shouldn't believe anyone who tells her he's gay, that's going to be awfully suspicious. 

Last week, in my column I counseled a 75 year-old married, bi-sexual man who was having a gay affair and was not having sex with his wife to continue his secret life because that seemed like the kindest thing to do.  But a young woman embarking on married life, hoping to start a family with her husband, needs to at least know he's already living a double life.

Dear Prudence, I have been married for 2+ years to a man who is wonderful in many ways. However, with all the 9/11 hoopla lately, it's been on my mind a lot and I asked him yesterday if he was thinking about it. He told me that he doesn't allow himself to feel bad about what happened because that doesn't help anything and it would be disrespectful to those who lost their lives that day and in the war since. I don't get his logic and am left wondering if this is normal, or should I be concerned? It bothers me that he doesn't feel what most everyone else feels when they think/talk about 9/11.

It sounds as if your husband does feel profound sadness about all the lives  lost.  But his decision to push the thoughts out of his mind -- a luxury that family members don't have, of course -- is a perfectly normal one that I'm sure many people made.  You asked your husband a question about his emotional life, and he answered you honestly and openly.  His answer is reasonable and he's entitled to his own reaction and is not required to feel what you think "everyone else" does.

Dear Prudence, I have a group of friends I've known since childhood. One in particular ("Sara") was my best friend for almost 20 years. Two years ago she tried to initiate an affair with my husband. I spent the next 18 months wanting to forgive her, in denial about the seriousness of her breach of trust, and trying to make up with her. She has repeatedly lied to me and has zero understanding of the wrong she's done - in fact, she thinks she is the victim here somehow. Although it was hard to accept that Sara is not the person I once thought she was, I've decided to break off the friendship. I still see her in social functions but I deliberately have minimal contact with her. Our mutual friends have no idea what happened, and this isn't something I want to share. They know Sara and I are not friends anymore and have been trying hard to help us be friends again. A couple of them are even angry at me for cold shouldering Sara "for no apparent reason". I know they are well meaning but it is driving me crazy. What can I say to them?

Are you sure you're not the crazy one here?  I wish you had enumerated how she tried to start the affair. Did she say to your husband, "I know it's wrong but I can't get you out of my mind and I want to have sex with you!" Or were you just overinterpreting some harmless flirtation?  It is rather odd to find out your closest friend of 20 years is a cheat, liar, and pseudo-victim, and that no one else in your circle has realized that Sara is rather disturbed.  Also odd is your spending so much time trying to forgive a friend for making a serious attempt to bust up your marriage. However, if  what you describe really is the case, then you should tell the rest of your circle that sadly your friendship with Sara has come undone because of an unforgivable breach of trust on her part, one that's painful and the details of which you don't want to discuss.

Hi Prudie, My husband came home last night and heard me gabbing on the phone to one of my girlfriends. Frankly - I was bitching about our division of labor - namely the garbage that was piling up waiting for him to take it out. My husband sneakily stood and listened at the door and when he finally came in - he acted all angry and sullen. He says I've backstabbed him and he can't trust me. I think he's a) a jerk for eavesdropping and b) way overreacting. Am I way out of line here? I was just blowing off some steam...isn't that what best friends are for? confused

Yes, that is part of what best friends are for, and let this be a warning to husbands that you listen in on these conversations at your own peril. But of course it's never pleasant to hear yourself being disparaged, even if you earned it. Instead of the two of retreating into your corners, see this as an opportunity to bring the  subject into the open.  Apologize to your husband for having to overhear your rather hyperbolic complaints. But say you're actually  glad he did, because this topic is a recurring source of conflict between the two of you and you'd like you both to handle it better. Say you feel burdened by being responsible for the bulk of the household chores, and you  need a better system for dividing them up. Maybe a check list on the refrigerator would work.  Ask him for his suggestions for how to make this more fair. Then when he eavesdrops he will just have to listen to you going on about Ryan Gosling.

My boyfriend of 6 months is an ex-swinger. He is not currently participating in the lifestyle, and I have no desire to enter into it. I don't have any reason to believe that he is cheating, but I do notice occasionally that he gets wall posts on Facebook from women who I am fairly certain are actively swinging suggesting they hang out soon. He also maintains his accounts on some swinger online forums, and checks local personal ads daily. His explanation of why he does this is he finds it humorous. Should I let this go as something he still likes to see, if not do, or should I be concerned that he has no intention of truly becoming a one-woman man? I've already been married to a closeted swinger once, and I really would rather not go down that road again!

I can't get the image out of my head of your boyfriend looking like Frank Sinatra, drink in hand, fedora cocked, as he peruses the swinger websites  saying, "Ringa Ding Ding." Where did you meet this guy, at a support group for exes of swingers,  or of ex swingers? I think the definition of someone who's still a swinger is a person who remains signed up on swinger websites because they're "humorous." If you'd been married to an alcoholic and found yourself dating someone whose couch cushions were stuffed with empty bottles, you might conclude you're part of the problem and are attracted to men who are going to keep making you miserable in the same oh-so-familiar way.  I think you should look to date someone for whom the idea of  a swinger website makes him want to slatherer himself in sanitizing gel

I recently became engaged and have started wedding planning. Recently, I have been approached by several family members about who is going to be invited. There have been several references about how "some other family members" might be "uncomfortable" if "certain" people are invited. While they are trying to be vague and subtle in their comments, I can clearly read between the lines. My maid of honor is a lesbian. Her partner is invited and I am planning to invite several other friends who happen to be gay. In addition, despite a few explanations that my fiance is Christian (Greek Orthodox, in fact), because he is Lebanese, several people in my family are certain he is Muslim and just saying he is Christian. Their solution is that I review the guest list with them. They are adamant that I put family first. I have resisted but they are making a really big deal out of this - daily calls and emails plus trying to get other family members involved. Now that my fiancee has brought up elopement, I have begun to consider it. Do you have any thoughts on this wedding drama?

Forget letting your family vet the list, I think it should be  reviewed by Homeland Security and Focus on the Family.  Normally, I'm all in favor of eloping. But if you want to have a wedding, you should not let yourself be bullied by homophobic and xenophobic relatives.  You need to tell them that putting together a guest list is between you and your fiance and their input is not needed and has to stop immdediately.  Say that if this leaves them too uncomfortable, you will understand if they send their regrets when they get their invitations.

I was just not-invited to my first wedding, of two close friends from college (we've only been out a few years). I know the reception wasn't huge, but I thought we were close until a year ago, when we just sort of lost touch. Other friends who I know also haven't been in touch lately were invited. I'm struggling about writing them a congratulatory note, because I'm worried my hurt over the snub will be too obvious. But I feel not sending one would just deepen the cycle of our not feeling close to each other.

Your twenties are going to be very hard if you view every weekend as a desert of wedding non-invitations.  From my inbox, I've concluded anyone not invited to a wedding should dance with joy at the money saved on gifts, travel, showers, and pre-and-post parties. (And, as in the letter above, avoiding terrifying contact with lesbians and Lebanese.)   You concede about this once close friend, "we just sort of lost touch." That helps puts you in the "we can't afford to put her on the guest list" category.

Instead of struggling with a note that will surely be read as a rebuke, if you want to get back in touch with your friend, just do so in a few weeks time when perhaps you won't feel so touchy.  Call or email and say something (not the wedding page!) reminded you of her and you wanted to catch up.  During the conversation you can also say you're excited to hear she's now married, and try to mean it.

Well, that was not nice! These things do happen. I know somebody whose now-ex-husband not only had an affair with her best friend, but he left her and married the other woman. Sadly, it's not as uncommon as you would hope.

I know it happens,  but there were so many odd things about the letter that I had to raise an alternative possibility.

I was a member of the military who lost colleagues and friends on September 11. This anniversary seemed to me like media hype, picking a scab rather than allowing it to heal. Did I mourn? Yes. But can we put this in context, finally, and move ahead? Surely there is more to our nation than the events of this one day.

Thanks for this perspective.  To the letter writer worried about her husband, I'm hearing from many people who had reactions just like his.

My husband and I are re-doing our wills. This time round we've addressed some issues regarding what to do with us after our deaths. My husband said he wanted to be cremated, which was fine, but the next bit upset me - he wants his cremated remains to be sent to his mother, if he were to die first. If his mother dies first, or after my husband but before me, the remains would be given to me. Why am I second in line to get my own husband's remains? I know we're likely to outlive my mother in law but it is upsetting me that he prioritizes her ahead of me. Am I being selfish here?

I can just see you and your mother-in-law tussling over your late husband's cremains and the two of you making the whole question moot when you end up tipping the vase and both covered with his eternal dust.  Of all the things for couples to fight over, who gets hold of your ashed should be pretty low on the list. Nonetheless, it is bizarre that a married man would want to be returned to Mom if he bites the dust prematurely.  The real questions here are, Is he a mama's boy? Do you have a lot of conflict with your mother-in-law? Does your husband take her side? If none of that is a problem, then you need to calmly revisit this with you husband.  Tell him that discussing all these hypotheticals are kind of silly.  but you were surprised how much it hurt that you both wouldn't mutually decide to entrust your remains to each other, and you'd like to hear more about what he's thinking.

Hi Prudie-I am a mom of two, with no plans for any more kids. When I found out one of my sfriend was expecting, I invited her over to take away whatever second hand baby items she wanted to take. She took most of my kids' old things. A couple of weeks later she unfortunately had a miscarriage. Because the baby was planned I assumed she would keep the baby items and clothes for later use. Then I found out she was selling them off on the Internet! I am a little angry over this. Even though I expected to give them away for good and I know I have no say over how she uses it, I gave the beloved items away in anticipation that a dear friend will use them for her own child, not sold off for extra cash. Should I say something about this or not? -Mom of 2

People who have undergone a loss get a fair amount of leeway on their behavior.  But the  obvious thing for your friend to do would have been to ask you if you wanted the things back, or should she hang on to them, or even pass them on to another pregnant friend.  It's true that people are free to do with gifts whatever they like, but your friend really violated the spirit of helping out a new mother by passing along your used baby items. Instead she turned your generosity into her windfall.  I hope you've already expressed your sadness at her miscarriage.  If so, then you are free to say, "Marcy, I saw that you were selling the baby items I gave you.  If you weren't going to keep them, I wish you'd have let me know, because I would have liked to pass them on to another friend." Then let it go.

Ten years after trying for a baby, we finally had a child who is now 18 months. Our entire family is ecstatic, naturally. My husband in particular is tremendously affectionate and can't do enough for our daughter. He insists on dressing her in nothing but designer label clothing, he bought three different expensive dollhouses and even a miniature car for her to "drive" around the house. We are not well off, but my husband feels like he can't do enough for our little girl. These expenses are eating into our wallets. We've had arguments over how much he spends on our daughter but he says he's just showing his love. What can I do to make him see sense here?

Love is not shown by giving your toddler a car. It's better demonstated by clapping as she bangs on pots or singing to her while she plays with her cheap little bath toys in the tub.  You should be getting your clothes from friends who are passing them on or thrift shops (see letter above).  After 10 years of trying, I can only imagine the joy all of you feel. But now after 18 months, it's time for your husband to stop appeasing the fertility gods by decorating your daughter in expensive finery.  Look for a parenting class in your area. Going together will help your husband learn the very best way to nurture your darling girl.

Dear Prudie, I work in a setting where the vast majority of my coworkers and the people I encounter are, politically speaking, quite conservative. I am not. Maybe I was naive in assuming this was a non-issue when I started this job (which I genuinely love, by the way), but the 2008 election proved otherwise. It was assumed that I was of the right-wing persuasion, and the very few times I mentioned that I wasn't, I was told (seriously, not jokingly), "You'd better not say that too loudly around here." I had to hear a lot of nasty name-calling and ugly generalizations, but kept my mouth shut because, frankly, I don't want to lose my job because of how I vote.  The next Presidential election is over a year away still, but already things are starting to get ugly again. I dislike confrontation, but I'm already dreading months of sitting in silence while ugly insults fly. Do I continue to turn the other cheek, or potentially risk my job by saying, "Hey, I'm one of those people you're talking about. Please stop!"?

Unless you work at the Republican National Committee or some other conservatively affiliated organization, people's personal political preferences should not be a criterion for employment or comfort in the workplace. Sure, people talk about all kinds of stuff at the office, but surely everyone has better things to do than sound like they're auditioning for Fox news.  You should try to ignore most of it. Think how much productive you'll be if you focus on your work, and not the election. And you're the one who knows the dynamics of your workplace well enough to know whether, if the atmophere gets too thick and vitriolic, whether it would advisable to talk to a supervisor about asking that there be some limits placed on the amount of political name-calling in the office.

In the past year and a half, I've made some dramatic changes to my diet and my life. I've gone gluten free, lost over 50lbs and am more active and fit than I have ever been. However, I find I am constantly having to defend my food choices to others. Whether is is about cajoling me to eat something I can't eat "Thanks, but I'm allergic to that.", what I am eating "Full fat dairy can be part of a balanced diet.", to how much or how little I'm eating "Thanks, but I make sure I eat enough/not too much." I'm getting sick of having to go into indepth conversations of my methods of eating with every person who has a problem with a facet of my diet. I feel rude falling back on the "Mind your own business" tack, but I'm tired of having to explain myself to others. Can you think of any more tactful way to defuse these situations?

It is a mystery why people think they need to act as their friends' dietician, nonetheless it's common. You do not have to have long discussions about what you're eating or not eating. If they push food on you, all you have to say is, "No thanks."  If that provokes a diet diatribe, then reply, "Discussing what I eat is so boring. Seen any good movies lately ? I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

Thank you for the laugh! I needed it! I actually met this guy online, and I was upfront about my ex-husband's past. He waited a few months before telling me about his own swinger history, due to fear I would run screaming from the similarities. Now I'm wondering if I should have!

It's not too late to run, so do it. Screaming is optional.

I know your husband is very happy about your long waited for daughter, but he needs to see that what he's doing for her isn't going to make her happy in the long run. It's actually going to make her LESS happy. Some of the most content children on Earth are children who play with rocks and sticks, while some of the most miserable are the "princesses" with everything. Happiness truly is about an attitude of grattitude, and if you get everything you want, you won't be grateful for what you have. Good luck at stearing this Titanic away from the iceburg.

Exactly right about creating an entitled princess. Let's hope it won't be too hard to get Dad to see the potential harm he's doing.

Dear Prudie, I'm in my 20s--a graduate student, and one of my professors is wonderful...I have a huge crush on him. He's very attractive, very smart, dresses nicely, has a lot of compassion, and is also very good at communicating (which is rare in my field.) But he's also 45--I'm 23. He isn't married, but he has kids (teenagers). I think he also finds me attractive. I'm wondering if you think it would be inappropriate for me to (potentially) date this man--after I'm done taking his course, of course. I've never in my life been attracted to an older guy before--so I don't really know what to think! -Too Young? -

I know there are many happily married couples with similar age differences, but I'm going to speak from my own experience. I spent most of my 20s dating older men (Daddy issues, anyone?) and I really wish I had spent that time dating men my own age who were going through the same experiences I was.  I totally understand the appeal of a mature, dashing older man over fellow twenty-somethings who are still figuring things out.  And, true, a fling with an older man can be instructive in many ways, and no doubt he finds you attractive.  But I think you should just privately enjoy your crush, learn as much as you can from him in the classroom, and look to the young men around you who have the potential to grow into a middle-aged man you'd eventually like to be with.

I'm the mirror image of the original poster -- a Republican in a heavily liberal office. The poster said that there was a lot of "nasty name-calling and ugly generalizations." Are they directed at her? If not, I suggest she just grow a thicker skin and not care what these people think of her preferred political candidates. IF she's not being personally insulted, then she can just shake her head at how close-minded these people are and (as you say) just ignore them.

Thanks for this wisdom. But as the election season heats up, it's also perfectly reasonable for there to be an office policy to minimize the political rhetoric at work.

Maybe your husband can be encouraged to see that spending the money more wisely by, say, putting any extra you both can afford into a college savings plan would be much more helpful than buying her expensive toys now...

Excellent suggestion.  Setting up a college fund would be a great way to redirect the tangible evidence of Daddy's love.

Thanks, everyone! Talk to you next Monday.

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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