Help! I Read All My Fiancé’s Emails—and Other Love Quandaries for Valentine’s.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 14 2013 6:15 AM

Be Mine or Else

Prudie offers advice on a snooping fiancée, a non-cuddler, and a guy who never brushes his teeth—just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am engaged to be married to a wonderful man. We had a bit of a rocky start with his lying to me about a past escapade he had before we met. He was embarrassed about it and lied, but I found out anyway. Since then, he's been wonderfully open and honest and we even exchanged email and Facebook passwords as a way to set a general policy of openness in our relationship. Well, curiosity was killing this cat and, though nothing particular prompted it, I looked at his emails and saw some old ones from before we met between him and his ex-girlfriend. I discovered that he called her the exact same, very specific pet name he calls me and signed the emails with the same loving closings he uses to end emails to me. Seeing that felt like it was taking away some of what he has done to make me feel so special. Am I just a replacement for an old flame he can't forget?

—The Replacement

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Dear Replacement,
Making you feel special sounds like it’s a full-time job. You start by saying your fiancé was embarrassed about what appears to be a sexual adventure that happened before you came along. In that case, unless it was relevant to you—he was in a threesome and the other two participants were your sisters!—he is entitled to keep aspects of his past to himself. I’m inferring that during your interrogation, he denied something, and you then did some digging and confronted him. No surprise he’s been “open and honest” since then, given your belief that couples should have full access to each other’s electronic communication. I’m sure if there were a way for you to monitor his thoughts, he’d be sporting a head full of electrodes. I’m of the belief that even married people deserve privacy. That means no scrutinizing of emails, phone calls, etc. (I make an exception for those cases in which there’s probable cause to believe a spouse is cheating.) But for no good reason you just had to look and there you found that your fiancé’s repertoire of romantic pet names seems limited to My Nooky Cookie. I suggest that you tell your fiancé you decided to read his entire email history, discovered he called his former girlfriend the same pet name he calls you, that you consider this endearment to be sullied and he’d better come up with one that makes you feel super special, and fast. You are worried you’re just a replacement for his old flame. Perhaps this conversation will get him wondering if he needs to replace his current one.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: My Big Fat Chinese Wedding

Dear Prudence,
I'm in my mid-20s. I've recently received my master's degree and am considering the next chapter in my life, specifically, marriage and possibly even children. I have an amazing long-term boyfriend. He's intelligent, hilarious, and attractive. We have many shared interests and a nice group of mutual friends. We are supportive of each other’s goals and ambitions. We have an active and good sex life. However, there is one seemingly small problem. He does not like cuddling, kissing, or having any other form of affection outside of the bedroom. Sometimes I'd just like to cuddle and watch a movie or kiss him randomly at a stoplight. But he is noticeably averse to these types of displays, even in private. This is depressing and I find myself wondering if there is something wrong with me or with our relationship. I've tried to bring it up, but it just results in a subject change or dismissal as "not a big deal." Am I insane for letting this bother me in an otherwise perfect relationship or does it signify a serious intimacy issue?

—No Cuddling Allowed

Dear Cuddling,
You are not crazy to want a physical connection with your partner even when you’re not having sex. I don’t need to cite the endless studies that show the beneficial effects of a soothing touch from a loved one; anyone who’s experienced it knows how important it is. However, humans come in all varieties, and there are some people for whom the kind of contact you describe feels intrusive and irritating. Since you two have a great relationship, you simply have to insist that you hear each other out on this subject. It sounds as if an appeal to his rational side would work with your guy, so present this as a relationship dilemma. Say everything is so good with him that you hope you two can make each other more comfortable on this one issue. Explain what impromptu physical affection means to you, then ask him to describe how it feels to him. Say you want him to be honest and you won’t be offended, you just want to understand why it’s not pleasurable for him. After you’ve heard him out, say you hope there’s a compromise here that will meet both your needs. Ask if you could give him the occasional smooch for no reason, or if he’d be willing to hold hands with you for part of a movie. Maybe a cognitive therapist could be helpful and give you two some suggestions for “homework.” If he treats this as a problem to solve, that might make him more amenable to addressing it. You probably have to accept you’ll never get bear hugs from him, but maybe you can get your bear to come of out hibernation.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
After a few attempts in the dating world, I have finally found myself a fantastic guy with a easy-going personality that is just perfect for me. As a person, he is kind, loves unconditionally, and I always have fun when I'm around him. We are both in our late 20s and have been together 18 months. But I have started questioning everything because of some particular health and hygiene issues. He never brushes his teeth before going to bed at night and the effect on his teeth is obvious and they are deteriorating. He eats more sugar than anyone I know, even though his mother is diabetic, and has put on more than 20 pounds in the last year. I'm in the health industry so these things are very important to me. I want to recognize that these issues don't matter as much as who he is, but what happens when we're 50? Is this worth ending a relationship over?

—There's Something in Your Teeth

Dear Something,
From your description it shouldn’t be long before there’s nothing in his teeth, because he won’t have any. Sure he’s a lovely person with many fine qualities. But you are on track to write to me in five years complaining that your husband is 100 pounds overweight, won’t clean his dentures, and has out-of-control diabetes. You’ll be telling me you’re worried about becoming a widow and raising your kids alone. So before that happens, you should tell your boyfriend that as you contemplate the future, you’re realizing the issue of his health and hygiene aren’t something you can ignore and they’re potential deal-breakers. Tell him if he wants to commit to being healthier, you’ll support him all the way, but you don’t intend to monitor and nag. Add that given the condition of his teeth, it’s not healthy for you to kiss him until he goes to a dentist and starts brushing regularly. Then see if he takes any action. Believe me, down the road you don’t want to be looking for a Valentine’s card addressed to My Toothless Sweetheart.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Several years ago a girlfriend whom I loved very much cheated on me and ended up getting engaged to her new beau. I found solace in alcohol. During one of my binges I broke into her house to take back an item of mine. While there, in my agitated state, I decided to take something else that had monetary value (which turned out to belong to her roommate). I told a lot of people how I had gotten retribution for all the scorned lovers. Since then, I’ve received professional help for my drinking and am in a good place in my life. After moving cross-country I bumped into my by-now-single ex who unbeknownst to me moved years ago. We got back together and are serious about taking things to the next level. I’m sick with guilt over my misdeed but worry if I tell her I will lose the chance at something great. But a lot of people know the story and someone might bring it up. What should I do?

—Worried

Dear Worried,
Sure, you committed a felony in your attempt at retribution, but the person you really owe an apology to, as well as a check, is the roommate. But given that your breaking and entering was because of a broken heart, there’s a good chance your former—and current!—girlfriend will forgive the actions of a man out of his mind because of the loss of her. So tell her before someone else does. If she leaves you over this, then it’s probably best if she’s gone for good. Oh, by the way, what happened to that fiancé of hers she left you for? You probably should find out if she cheated on him, too.

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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