Advice from Slate's 'Dear Prudence'

Sep 30, 2013

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.

I'm an 18-year-old, low-income high school senior. About 2 years ago I went through a depression that nearly stripped me of a lot of my will to live, but made it out alive and am still getting better. However my poor grades from that time period has had a detrimental effect on my cumulative GPA. At a 3.78, I'm barely holding on to memberships to honor societies and stakes in merit-based scholarships. I've started hearing less from schools that had previously shown me interest. I've been subject to harsh criticisms from family members and former friends. I feel ashamed and embarrassed. I feel as if the future that was once a possibility is no longer within reach. Most of all, I feel myself slipping back into that place where I fantasize about driving into oncoming traffic on my way to school, or feeling the coolness of a pistol's barrel against my temple. I don't like being in that place. I want to run away. Not now, and not in any real hurry. After I graduate I want to completely disconnect from my family, friends, and community. I want to leave the shame that will inevitably plague me for the rest of my senior year. I have the money part of my departure secured, but other than that I'm at a bit of a loss for how to execute this thing. A big part of me just doesn't know what to do about anything anymore. Should I , or how do I, leave this life without ending my life?

If you have a therapist who helped you two years ago, please, please call that person NOW and explain you are having suicidal thoughts. If you don't have a therapist, please go today to your school counseling office and explain that you need an immediate referral to one because of your mental state.  I wish I could give you a big hug and convince you  how extraordinary your accomplishments are. A 3.78 is a terrific GPA, one that should help propel you to acceptances at any number of excellent schools. I hope you are in a program designed to help low-income students get into college, such as College Summit or College Track. If you aren't, ask your school counseling office if they can put you in touch with such a program immediately. I also wish I could help you understand that while there may be some good reasons for you to run from your current circumstances. running away is a bad life strategy. You have so many wonderful things ahead you should be running toward. Actually, walking step by step is better way to get there. I don't discount that your family might have a punitive attitude, but I'm worried your are catastrophizing your situation and that you probably have more support around you than you are realizing. Once you get some help, it will be easier for you to stay the course. Keep in mind that in only a few months you will be accepted to college that will challenge and nurture you.  So talk to someone who can help you see your life as what it is: one that's only just starting and full of exciting prospects.

Hi Prudence - I'm the letter writer with the mistress. Thanks for responding to my letter. Having read the comments, I wanted to clarify something, since there was skepticism: I really don't call or text my mistress. We set up our next meeting before we part ways each time. This is important to me because I really don't want her intruding on my time with my wife in any way (hence the afternoon sex). I recognize that to many, I am just a cheater and a "scumbag." I would have said that about cheaters once too. Seems less simple to me now, and while I don't feel guilt exactly, the way I have found happiness has surprised me. How that happiness has improved my marriage surprises me even more.

I, too,  came in for a lot of criticism for not calling you a scumbag. I understand that you think you have walled off this relationship and because you only have sex with your girlfriend (does she call herself a "mistress"?) during the work day so it doesn't intrude on your marriage. It's also not surprising that you feel less tension in your marriage. That's because you're having sex with someone else! Yes, I said as long as you're doing this it's good that you're actually more present in your marriage and not carrying on emotionally with your paramour. But this affair will end. And if you think the secret to sustaining your marriage is permanently having something on the side, you may find  that leads to surprises you didn't anticipate.

Recently, I took my developmentally delayed uncle to a park, set him up on a swing set, and ran to the bathroom. The park was crowded, and when I came back from the bathroom two moms chastised me for leaving my uncle alone. They were also upset he was using a swing, as those were meant for children. I think my uncle, who is deaf and often makes grunting noises, frightened their young kids. I thought they were out a line but was flustered, so I left the park with my uncle. My grandma, who lives with my uncle, is upset with me for not sticking up for him. I feel awful about the whole incident. Was I wrong to leave my uncle alone because he's a grown man and was in a park full of kids? I'm not sure if it's inappropriate to take a grown man to playgrounds.

It's very hard in the moment when you're under attack, and possibly feeling that you were in the wrong, to have the wherewithal to respond calmly and lucidly.  Then you go to your grandmother's and recount this distressing  incident, and instead of receiving understanding you get attacked from another side. First of all, good for you for taking your uncle on an outing. The important thing here is that you are a kind and loving person. It is perfectly reasonable that you left your uncle in a safe situation while you attended to your call of nature.  Once you returned it should have been perfectly clear to these mothers what the situation was. They were way out of line for their rude and disparaging remarks. Now that this has happened, you can be prepared for the future. If you get hassled again, you can quietly say the park is for everyone. You can say that your uncle has special needs, and he is entitled to enjoy the offerings at this facility. Let's hope that prompts these busybodies to appreciate how lucky they are to have typical children.

I recently got engaged to my wonderful fiance. Immediately after announcing the engagement to our families, my future SIL sat me down for a serious chat. She says she is currently saving up for breast implants and doesn't want us to marry until she gets them done. She told me she wants to have one family wedding album where she looks perfect and will be heartbroken if I got married against her wishes. The trouble is, my fiance says we should hold off the wedding for this reason, too. He knows his sister will cause so much trouble and doesn't want to deal with the family drama. He thinks since we live together there is no hurry for marriage, anyway. I know how much he detests conflict and it's true we are pretty much living as a married couple, but I feel like this is so wrong to postpone the wedding. He says the other option is to pay for his sister's breast implant ourselves! Am I crazy for marrying into this family?

I've heard that people want others' wedding dates moved because of their pending reproductive plans, or because it's their anniversary which they think should be commorated like a national holiday. But this is the first time I've heard that starting a new life should be put off until someone can afford new breasts. I often tell brides to stop making themselves nuts in an attempt to create the "perfect day." But it's really something that your sister-in-law thinks the point of your marrying her brother is that she can show off her perfect breasts. I have every confidence that right now she can afford the most jumbo set of falsies. That means  that's when it's time for the photos her chest is front and center.  Your fiance should be saying, "Yeah, Stacy has always been a handful. The fact that she wants us to delay her wedding until she's more of a handful is an escalation of the crazy, so let's just ignore her." Instead he is actually considering footing the bill for the boobs, which is rather extraordinary.  It's often the case that one family member is so impossible that everyone just gives in to make life easier, but it's a little concerning that your intended "detests conflict" so much he's incapable of telling his sister she's being ridiculous.  The advantage of this whole thing happening is that your fiance wants to postpone your wedding. So that gives you time to explore just how you two will handle this and other inevitable conflicts, which is crucial information you need before you tie the knot.

Yes, that fun thing. I think I made the mistake of telling someone too soon, instead of saying we should slow things down and get to know each other better first before hopping into bed, because he definitely ran away. But I felt like we were extremely well-matched and I'm trying to restrain the urge to reach out to him again, even though he said "my feelings have changed and I think of you as a friend". It's only been a week, so I know it's way too soon. But would it be worth the effort after a few months, if he never comes around before that?

If you contact him about resuming your romance, he'll probably start running, so you really don't want to contemplate sending up a flare that says, "Come on, it's only herpes!" There are lots of possible reactions and it would have been great if he'd said, "Okay, I need to find out more about this and what my risks would be. I appreciate your telling me. Actually, it's a good idea to slow things down before getting into bed." But he didn't. Instead he broke a world record in the 100 meter dash. Yes, he dashed your hopes, but you both found out something important about each other, so now you each can find someone better for you.

All my feelings of self-worth hinge on how often I can get my husband to have sex with me. How can I get past this? I've always, and I really do mean ALWAYS, had a raging libido. During my first marriage, I had sex with several other people because my husband couldn't keep up with me. When I married my second husband eight years ago, I promised myself that I'd be faithful, and I have been, but I fantasize constantly about having sex with others. My husband and I have sex three or four times a week, and I masturbate at least twice a week, but that's not enough to keep me happy. Whenever my husband needs a day off, I feel unattractive and rejected, and I start feeling sorry for myself. Rationally, I know he loves me, and I know he thinks I'm sexy. He takes great care of me emotionally and, other than the sexual-needs incompatibility, we have a stress-free marriage and a wonderful life together, so why does it hurt so deeply when he doesn't have sex with me? And why do I need so much sex to feel good about myself? (If you're wondering, I'm female, 38, and was never sexually abused.)

There have been so many times over the years when I've wished I could have a libido-based couples matching service. "You sir, the one who thinks your wife should have sex with you every morning and night, Sir, have I got a gal for you!" "Ma'am, you're satisfied if your sexual encounters are limited to the  summer and winter solstice, and I've got an equally celibate guy I want to introduce you to."

There's nothing wrong with being powered by a raging libido, as long as you can channel this explosive energy productively. You apparently do not. You must recognize this physical engine is actually in service of what sounds like a shriveled and needy ego. Unless a man is constantly at full attention, you feel unadmired and unloved. I think you should get a complete physical and  mental check up because more than your libido is out of whack. You need to address the yawning hole in your self-esteem while letting your husband have a well deserved refractory period.

My mom is divorced and retired. Love her lots, but she's a horrible gossip. She constantly tells ME her friends, neighbors, and other family members personal business. I also know she discusses my life with others because folks have asked me about things and when I inquire how they knew X they indicate my mom informed them (of a medical procedure, for example) It's never 'secret' worthy intel, but it's often pure gossip I prefer she not be sharing. I find myself telling her less about my life because of it, and recently she's expressed hurt that I'm not sharing more with her. I've tried to change the subject when she tells ME things about others I'd rather not hear, but she seems to relish her role as the 'town crier' (She also seems to enjoy being judgmental about whatever she's gossiping about, which is probably part of my issue with the entire situation) I want to level with her about why I'm keeping so quiet, but not sure how. She does have a temper...THANKS!

Sure your mother is mad, you're cutting off the oxygen that feeds her gossip fires. If your mother is retired I'm assuming you are a grown woman yourself. Your mother has a temper, but you're way past the point that she can confine you to your room, take away the car keys, or wag her finger and yell at you. Your reluctance to make clear your feeling about her gossiping about you and others only has the effect of making you more harassed because she's nagging you about feeling hurt. You tell her by telling her. Since she's noticed your distance you say, "Mom, you're right, I haven't been telling you what's going on with me because I don't want to hear it spread all over town. I tell you things in confidence -- such as my medical procedures -- then I hear back from other people that you've told them. I just makes me really uncomfortable. I also don't want to hear about their private lives from you. I love you, but I want to talk about things other than gossip." It sounds like your mother desperately needs something to fill up her time more productively. Maybe she could volunteer at an animal shelter -- she can gossip to her heart's content about Fluffy's heartworms and Bowser's anxiety disorder.

IT. GETS. BETTER. In the foggy, irrational midst of my first bout of depression and anxiety my sister told me to defer my judgment to her and to trust her in blind faith that everything would be fine. I clung to that, and it still gives me strength if I falter.

Thanks for the jog, because I think watching the "It Gets Better" videos would be a great idea. They're not just about the pain of feeling alienated as a teen because of sexual orientation. They are powerful testimony to how common such adolescent despair is, and how glad people are that they perservered through that and found their place in the world.

My grandma passed away earlier this year after suffering with Alzheimer's for the past 10 years. She left a sizable estate, but did not include her grandchildren in her will, only her children. My dad (one of her kids) has always said that he would give my brother and I some of the money he received from her estate. He has received a portion of it, more than enough to gift us what he said he would. However, he has yet to gift it but continues to talk to us about all the money he has now and not knowing what to do with all of it. Recently, my brother told me that I upset my dad with a comment I made about the money. I admit to asking about it more than necessary this spring; however, I have said nothing about it since. Meanwhile, my brother and I could really use the promised amount, but I realize we're just going to have to wait. How can I shut him down when he starts talking about it without making myself look greedy or mean? We're a close family otherwise but this topic seems to bring out the worst in us.

First, let go of the idea of the money. Your grandmother did not specifically provide for you.   Your father talked about giving you some portion of his mother's estate, but it's not clear to me if he meant when he got his check you'd get yours. Or whether he meant you'll get yours in due time the way he got his -- that is, after his will is read.  Your brother seems to have handled this better than you. (I guess that means he didn't repeatedly ask, "So Dad, when am I getting the check?") So talk to him about being the point man here. Say you understand you've blown this, but since he still has open lines of communication with your father about this, ask whether he'd be comfortable clarifying if you father intends to give you both a gift soon, or whether that's sometime for the future. If your brother doesn't want to do this,  drop it. It's a given that almost everyone could use money, but put yourself in the frame of mind that you're not getting any. Then if you get handed a check one day, it will be a particularly sweet bequest.

Please talk to your mother about this. Especially if she is being judgmental about you or other people. I have an aunt who fits this exact scenario who told many extended family members and her own friends about a crisis I was in. When I ran into her friends later at her retirement party, they asked me very personal questions about a period in my life that I do not wish to relive. It was awkward for everybody. I eventually had a conversation with my aunt very similar to what Prudie suggested -- and everybody is likely better off because of it.

Thanks for the confirmation that sometimes such a conversation actually has the intended effect!

A few years ago, my husband and I were Peace Corps volunteers in Kenya. We lived in a rural area and did not have electricity or running water, so when we needed some Western comforts we went into the city and spent leisurely afternoons shopping and eating at the Westgate Mall, the recent site of some very violent terrorist attacks. There has never been a terrorist attack on a place that I am so familiar with and have spent so much time, so this attack was especially shocking to me. Then I found out that a friend and her two-year-old daughter were in the mall during the attacks and had a very close call, but thankfully made it out safely. Ever since I heard this, I have been obsessed. I spent a lot of time in the cafe where they were sitting when the shooting began, and I also have a two-year-old daughter. I keep picturing myself and my daughter in her situation and I can't get it out of my head. I am working myself into a very dark place thinking about how unsafe the world is and feeling terrified to send my daughter out into it. I know this is exactly the sort of reaction that terrorists want people to have and I don't want to let my fear keep me or my daughter from experiencing life. How do I get this out of my head and not let it paralyze me?

Of course you're imagining that had you stayed in Kenya you might have been there on the day these evil people went on a rampage  and  turned the lovely place you knew into a masoleum. If you grant yourself the fact your imaginary act of fearful sympathy is completely normal, it might allow you to let go of the obsessive nature of your thoughts. It has only been a short time since this terrorist attack, so give yourself some time to settle back to normal.  It sounds as if you're back in the States. Some simple searches as to the utterly miniscule chance  of any of you being the victims of a terrorist attack should help  you, too.  Force yourself to go on outings with your little girl and your friends. Just resuming your normal life will be salutary. You're a mother and becoming one means that you have someone who's safety is more important to you than anything.  Dealing with that and keeping it in perspective is one of the important tasks of motherhood. If after a reasonable amount of time you can't let it worry go, then talk this out with a professional. I'm sure even a few sessions will help give you some tools to reassure yourself.

I suggest a book by Debby Herbenick, PhD titled "Because It Feels Good." It helped me feel good about my sexuality and I stopped feeling "rejected" if my partner turned down an advance. It helped a lot!

Thanks. I've recommended this book many times. Horny might also want to look into some of the books by sex therapist Gina Ogden as well, particularly, Women Who Love Sex.

Prudie, thank you for your words in support of the uncle using the playground swing. I am the parent of a developmentally disabled young adult, a young man who craves the motion of the playground swings and seeks out playgrounds throughout our major city. Most people are understanding and supportive, but some aren't, and children are often confused and don't understand that this young man should be able to have a turn, too. Your answer helps to educate people. And to the original LW: it's wonderful that you're taking your uncle out in the community. I'm sorry your grandmother was so distressed that she flailed out at you when you were only the messenger. Please keep doing what you've been doing, it's so valuable.

It's so important for kids to know that not everyone is the same. Seeing developmentally disabled people out and about enjoying themselves is a good opportunity for parents to explain that it's great that this man can come to the playground and be welcome.

My wife's sister recently called my wife and asked her if she remembered any childhood sexual abuse by their father. My wife had no recollection and her sister only had one, in which she saw her father naked and aroused in the shower, but no physical contact. I am a bit torn on what to do here ans I am not the type to bite my tongue, and I have children to think of. My gut feeling is that nothing actually happened since this is the first time it has been mentioned and it was just the one incident so far. I have a great relationship with my father-in-law and I don't want this to wreck it, but like I said, I have kids to think about. DO I speak to him about it or do I keep quiet and let my wife and her sister talk back and forth until they figure out what to do?

Based on the evidence here, there is nothing to do because nothing happened.  I wish you'd given more details of what your sister-in-law said. It doesn't sound as if she was asserting she was lured into the shower by her father. Maybe she has a fuzzy, steamy memory of walking in on him and seeing him naked -- who knows if her memory is even correct about him being aroused. But if it was an accidental encounter, then so what? A single distant memory of a naked father in the shower hardly seems like actionable information. Your wife grew up with him and to date has had absolutely no reason to have any concern about having her own children around him. Sure, let the sisters talk. But until something more concerning emerges, don't destroy your relationship with your father-in-law over something that might be a figment.

I'm friends with a man who lost his wife to cancer a year ago. He's starting to date again and struggling with how to refer to the wife who died. First wife sounds weird. Ex-wife sounds weirder. Any suggestions?

"My late wife."

I met a couple a few years ago. They were a very cute couple and seemed to be well matched. Last year they divorced. It seems to have been acrimonious but they share a child and are getting along for her sake. He has expressed interest in dating but, since I know her, I'm rather hesitant. She and I aren't close. We're Facebook friends who have chatted a few times. Is it a betrayal to date her ex-husband?

Not at all. But only do it if you're interested in him!

"Horny" should tread very carefully here. While we were dating and early in our marriage, my wife and I enjoyed an active sex life. We dated for seven years before we got married and had great sex the whole time, which naturally continued into our marriage. About three years into our marriage, though, my wife began expressing anxiety about the frequency of our lovemaking, and equated that frequency with my love for her. I did my best, but soon she began making sarcastic remarks along these lines, and these often morphed into arguments. I got so pissed about it that I began actively refusing to have sex with her, *even when I was interested in having sex*. Long story short: she killed our sex life in this manner, because she turned a joyous thing into a chore and I couldn't get past my resentment. We got counseling, and she got treatment (bipolar, but didn't know it at the time), and we're still together twenty years later, but our sex life is a shadow of its former self, even though my interest level remains high. If we have sex 10 times in a year that's a pretty good year.

Your story is why I suggested the wife get a complete check-up. I'm sorry the therapy didn't help you two enough. How sad that you couldn't get past these issues and your marriage is a kind of detente.

Thanks, everyone. Have a great week.

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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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