Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of this week’s chat is below. (Sign up here to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at email@example.com.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon—let's get to it.
Q. Smothering My Faithful Wife: My wife and I are trying to rebuild our marriage after she caught me in bed with another woman. It took almost losing her to realize how much I love my wife. I am 100% committed to reconciling with her, but since she only discovered the affair two months ago, her emotions are still very raw. She vacillates between wanting to reconcile and wanting to move in with her best friend so we can separate. I'm terrified she'll divorce me and I've become clingy. I follow her around when she's home and want to go with her when she runs errands. I've even hovered in the bathroom while she took a shower. My behavior isn't helping us reconcile, but 'm so scared she doesn't know how much I love her. She’s told me I'm smothering her, and that's true. How can I stop being so afraid of her leaving me?
A: I've got a win-win suggestion: You handcuff her to you so that way she'll know you're not cheating, and you'll know she's not leaving. First you have sex somewhere (your marital bed?) where you can be discovered by your wife, and now you're stalking her while she showers. I'm trying to imagine what qualities you do possess that would make your wife not be grateful to be leaving this marriage. Often it's the cheated-upon spouse who installs video cameras and starts behaving like a parole officer. But your wife just wants you out of her hair long enough so that she can wash her hair. You two need some professional intervention. It might not save your marriage, but while she is deciding what to do, at least it might help her to be able to relieve herself in peace.
Dear Prudence: Secret Tattoos
Q. Rejected Baby Gift: Many of my friends have recently become grandparents. And I've rediscovered my love for knitting, making a (soft and machine washable) sweater for each new arrival. I'll also confess that I get a real kick out of seeing pictures of beautiful little babies wearing something I made. I recently sent a blue, white, and green striped sweater, an alphabet board book, and a teddy bear to the grandson of one of my dear friends. Last week, I opened my mail to find the sweater and alphabet book sent back to me with a note from the baby's parents saying that while they would "like to assume you meant no harm" that they were not going to force their child into "a predefined gender role" by dressing him in blue. They also said they reject the "concept of learning on schedule" so would not expose their child to alphabet books. Apparently, the teddy bear was OK. Part of me wants to forget the whole thing, but I worry that my friend, who has seen gifts I made for other friends' new additions, will think I overlooked her first grandbaby. I don't see how I can tell her about the gift return without making it sound like I think the new parents are over the top. Any suggestions on how to handle this gracefully would be appreciated. Sincerely, Knitting Knorma
A: I wish I could be there when this little boy comes back from his gender-neutral needlecrafts class and proudly shows his parents the gun he knitted. As rude and nutty as these new parents are, be grateful they aren't your children. Your friend, the new grandmother, is in for a long slog of listening to lectures on the damaging societal norms she is imposing on her grandchild through her lullabies and how much damage she is doing the ecosystem by trying to persuade the new parents to use diapers on their infant. You can tell your friend what happened in as (gender) neutral a way as possible. "Louise, I didn't want you to think I didn't send a hand-knit sweater to little Joshua. I didn't mean any offense by it, but your daughter said because it had blue in it she didn't want to use it because of gender-role issues. Fortunately, they liked the teddy bear. Do you have any pictures of Joshua, I can't wait to see him."
Q. Boyfriend Wrote an Erotic Story About His Crush: When my boyfriend gave me a folder with a term paper he wanted me to review, I found three pages out of a sexual fantasy he wrote about him and a girl in his major. I've always known he's had a crush on her since they were freshman, but she mostly ignores him, so it never bothered me. The fantasy was graphic. When I confronted my boyfriend about it, he was deeply embarrassed and told me he'd written it ages ago. He swears he loves me and has assured me he's no longer attracted to her. But the fantasies still bother me, perhaps because I fear he'd never write an erotic story about us. I'm also not sure I believe he wrote it a long time ago, because why would it be with a recently printed paper then? Should I drop this or reiterate my feelings?
A: I hope the class was in psychology and that your boyfriend's term paper was on Freudian slips. Everyone is entitled to their own fantasies. They are even entitled to write erotic fiction based on them. What's not such a good idea is to put these efforts into a file folder you hand to your actual love. There's not much point in simply reiterating your feelings, because he will then reiterate his stumbling, mumbling reply. So you can either accept his explanation and move on, or decide that this is a good opportunity to review your relationship. You're college students and maybe your boyfriend's extra credit efforts are an indication your romance has run its course and you two should pursue other extracurricular activities. As all your professors have been telling you, this is a time in life to try new things and explore new interests. It may be opportune to apply this lesson to your dating life.
Q. Dad Thinks BF Should Protect Me Better: Last weekend my boyfriend and I were at a street fair when we saw a fight break out between a vendor and a drunk homeless man. The vendor began kicking the homeless man, and before I had time to register what I was doing, I intervened. In my efforts to stop the beating, I was kicked in the face by the vendor. I was sent to the hospital to fix my broken nose. My boyfriend has been totally sweet by nursing me back to health. My parents visited us this weekend. My dad laid into my boyfriend. He thinks my boyfriend should have protected me better. He directed some emasculating insults at my boyfriend before leaving. My boyfriend thinks my dad's right and feels awful for not "protecting" me. I think their views about female protection are slightly medieval and that if anything I'm to blame, because I put myself in a bad situation. Does my dad owe my boyfriend an apology? I want to make up with my parents but think they were wrong.
A: This is a chain reaction of impulsive behavior. Yours was heroic, if dangerous, and I hope the local news has made note of your bravery. (And I hope the vendor is in jail.) Everything took place instantaneously. Your boyfriend couldn't have anticipated you would act and in the time it took for you to become a victim, your boyfriend was stuck on the sidelines. Then, with your father seeing you bruised and banged up, he wanted to strike out at the responsible party. Since the vendor wasn't available, he chose your boyfriend. He was wrong to excoriate your boyfriend, but your demanding an apology might escalate the situation. Tell your father you understand his anger, but it was directed at the wrong party and because of the way things happened, it was not your boyfriend's fault that you were hit. Say all of you would like to put this behind you. Explain there have been enough attacks in the past week to last a lifetime, and you'd appreciate it if your father would drop his.
Q. Lied About Abuse: Six years ago I was trapped in a disastrous marriage to an emotionally and physically abusive alcoholic. My husband threatened to kill our daughters and me if I told anyone, so I hid the abuse. Eventually a good friend discovered my secret and offered to help me escape and hide from my husband. I panicked and told many mutual friends that she tried to seduce my husband and was out to get me. My close friend eventually reported my husband to the authorities, but by accusing her of craziness my husband and I were able to duck the charges. Our mutual friends sided with me. Later my husband and I moved away, and then I found the courage to leave him. Three years out my daughters and I are much happier. I am still haunted by my behavior towards my friend, though. I want to apologize and to tell our former friends that she was right, but I'm not sure how to explain why I acted so horribly. How should I apologize?