Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is on Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon, everyone. Let's get going.
Q. Imagining Sex: My wife of seven years and I have an amazing life together. It's everything I could have dreamed of growing up. However, when we're having sex, I think of everyone and anyone but her. I imagine myself with past lovers, with friends and co-workers and with women I walk by in the street. I never think of her and am pretty sure I wouldn't climax if I did. Is this normal or a problem? Do I not love her, or not love her enough? Am I destined to cheat at some point?
A: Ever see your wife close her eyes during lovemaking? If so, don't ask, "Am I Channing Tatum now?" Thank goodness there's a hard, impenetrable case around the soft substance that produces our thoughts and our sexual fantasies. There's a reason evolution did not result in subtitles being projected across our foreheads so everyone can know what's really going on in our heads. You have a great marriage. And I think part of the reason your sex life stays so fresh is that you are able to imagine that affair with Scarlett Johansson or the woman in accounting while being faithful to your wife. Your fantasies don't mean you don't love your wife, that she's not enough for you, or that you'll cheat. They mean that you're alive. Be happy you've found a way to be a great lover and keep things fresh.
Dear Prudence: Raunchy Upstairs Neighbor
Q. Depressed Teen?: Judging by some things she has posted on line and said to me, I think my daughter's 13-year-old friend "Mary" is falling into a depression. Her mother is very controlling and expects Mary to be perfect. For example, an A-minus is not good enough. Mary has very low self-esteem. She seems to think that anyone who wants to spend time with her is taking pity on her. I'm worried about Mary and I'm not sure what to do. I told her the other day that if she ever needed a grown up to talk to, she could talk to me in confidence (that I would not tell her mother). She told my daughter later that night that she might have to take me up on the offer because she is really going through some things right now. I know Mary's mother and based on some previous conversations, I am afraid that anything I would bring up to her would fall on deaf ears.
A: Being 13 is "going through some things" in and of itself without the insane pressure of a mother who expects perfection and sees her child not as a human being but as a shiny little bauble to flaunt to the other parents. But intervening here is very tricky. The kind of mother you describe can do terrible harm, but it's generally not seen as abuse to have high expectations. Tiger Mother Amy Chua sold millions of books describing her formula for producing offspring who always gets A's. If you do talk to Mary in confidence, that circumscribes your chance to talk to her mother. Since you're an acute observer of what's going on, and have plenty of evidence that Mary needs a lighter hand and more understanding, I think you should try talking to Mary's parents now. You don't mention a father, but I hope he's around and maybe you can have a gentle conversation with both parents in hopes he's more sympathetic, but perhaps has ceded the bulk of the childrearing to his more demanding spouse. Just say you know that all 13-year-olds are melodramatic—you have one yourself—but when you monitor your daughter's social media you've seen some things that indicate Mary feels that she is inadequate and under tremendous pressure. You can say you've never talked to Mary about this, but you know how hard it is to sometimes back off the expectations—we all want our children to succeed!—but that these young teenagers can need a little room to make mistakes and learn from them. I know, I know, it probably won't make any difference, but you will have tried. Then since Mary is a friend of your daughter's (let’s hope her mother lets her remain so), without even having a private session with Mary, you can in passing conversation express some of these essential points, for example, that no one is perfect and no one is always No. 1.
Q. Hubby Halitosis: My husband and I have been together for over five years now. I love him with all my being, but there is just one huge issue I have with him: His breath smells horrible. I've tried both being nice and being blunt about it with him, but it just never really sinks in. He just pushes it off as me being mean to him. He grew up in a household where both of his parents have bad teeth and they never really made it a priority to keep good oral hygiene habits. I mean, he maybe brushes his teeth once a month. I realized what I was getting into when we were dating, but it's gotten to the point to where I can barely stand it. We recently had a baby and her teeth are due soon to be popping out. How can I make him realize that she will be seeing his lack of oral hygiene and may think it's OK, when it's really not? Is there a way I can show him this is not only hurting his own health, but could possibly hurt his child's way of thinking when it comes to her teeth?
A: Tell me you used assisted technology to produce this baby. Because I'm wondering about a woman who would be intimate with a man with overwhelming halitosis whose oral hygiene consists of a monthly swipe with a toothbrush at his decaying mess. Unless his work requires him to wear a gas mask all day, his co-workers must want to. Now that you have a child, his ability to function in the world is of major importance, and being able to smell his breath from 20 feet is not a career-enhancer. I hear from so many people who despite glaring problems go ahead and marry, hoping somehow that yoking yourself to someone for life will fix a problem. But since you say his teeth were rotten and his breath stunk while you were dating, I really don't understand how you managed to exchange at kiss at "I now pronounce you husband and wife." Your husband must be terrified of dentists, so you should research some who specialize in scared patients and who might even put someone in a twilight state during cleaning and other procedures. You should also show him some information about how parents with dental caries can pass those germs onto their babies through kissing. You have an obligation not to create generation three of the mouth of hell.
Q. Suffering in Silence: I have been married for 45 years and have three adult children. My husband has had a secret addiction to pornography all of those years and our intimate life suffered to the point where we have not had sex since the Reagan administration. For many, many years, I had no idea what was wrong, but assumed it had to be a fault with me, that my husband didn't find me appealing enough. I am sure I don't need to tell you what that has done to me in terms of self-esteem and intimacy. There is a Berlin Wall between us. I have come to accept it. My adult children wonder now at my apparent deadness of spirit and I simply say that I have my reasons. They do not need to know the truth about my husband's addiction. He is their father even though they are adults. Can you offer some counsel?
A: It's too bad your husband never learned the use of fantasy and ran some of these porn tapes in his head while he continued to make love to you. I know a lot of people felt things went wrong when Ronald Reagan left office, but your husband seems to have taken to an extreme. You say it's been almost a quarter-century since you and your husband had sex. But as the Bush administration became the Clinton administration became the Bush administration, with no intimacy from your husband, it's rather extraordinary you didn't decide to impeach this marriage and get out. Marriage is a partnership. Your husband profoundly withdrew from you, but you hung in and let him kill your spirit. The question is not what you tell the kids. It's what you want to do with the rest of your life.