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.)
Q. Texting Female Co-Worker: I found out recently that my husband has been texting with a female coworker for over a year. I knew they texted about work but now know they were texting mornings, evenings, and weekends about random things. None of the texting is romantic, sexual etc. but this has really made me feel betrayed. I knew nothing about the friendship and constant contact. He frequently tells me about texts he receives from other friends but this person was never mentioned. He maintains that they are just friends and nothing was hidden from me. How do I let this go when I feel like he has lied by omission for so long.
A: Maybe I’m just an misanthrope, but I don’t understand the thrill of an open line to exchange life’s banalities. You say your husband and his colleague are texting endless messages about their day, so it sounds like you’ve read the entire oeuvre. You’re the one in the marriage, so you have to sort out whether your husband is just one of those people who’s compulsively welded to his phone, or whether he is getting some kind of frisson by texting messages to her such as, “Why is the person in front of me at Starbucks always buying for the whole office?” In these circumstances there can develop a semi-intimacy which is not quite right, but also leaves no indictable trail, either. Your husband is in constant contact with a female colleague and they’re not discussing sales reports. I’m inferring that your question about how you let this go is one that has been imposed on you by your husband who insists there’s nothing for you to be concerned about. But at the very least he owes you an honest exchange about this. It is fair for you to say you feel blindsided that he has a seemingly close relationship with someone at work whose name he’s never mentioned and with whom he stays in frequent touch during your private time.
Dear Prudence: Disgusting Dinner Companion
Q. What Constitutes Molestation?: When I was a child, my father would do something that would make me incredibly uncomfortable. He would suck and nibble at my earlobe. I never said to stop because I would just freeze in my discomfort. The first time he did this there were people around. I was 6 or 7 and sitting on his lap and even then it seemed wrong, but his sister and her kids were in the room and no one said or did anything, so I thought it must be my problem. Later he started doing it when he came in my room to say goodnight. By this time my brothers and I were visiting him on weekends as my parents had split up. Every night I stayed at his house I would dread that moment. As I got older I started pretending to be asleep and holding the blankets tightly over my head. When I was 14, I stopped going to his house on weekends. I never said anything to anyone growing up because I was embarrassed and thought I’d be told I was making a big deal out of nothing (my family copes with everything through minimization and denial). When I was 18 I told my mom about it and she treated it like it wasn’t a big deal. She said she didn’t remember him having some sort of ear fetish when they’d been together so there was no way it was sexual in nature and I must have just misunderstood. Then she said I should stop making a big deal out of it since I didn’t even go to his house anymore. That was 15 years ago and I still freak out if my ears are touched and feel dirty and ashamed. My husband accidentally got too close last night and I broke down crying and didn’t want him near me. We talked about my past and he was loving and supportive, but neither of us is sure whether or not my dad actually did anything wrong. He pointed out that my reactions are like that of someone who had been molested but when no one has touched your private areas, does it count as molestation?
A.: Your mother confirms your father had an ear fetish, then goes on to say that this proves what he was doing wasn’t sexual! [Update: Yes, I know “didn’t” is the opposite of "did." I address this reading error below.] You had more insight as a 6-year-old into what was going on. You instinctively understood that you were being violated and that your father was getting some kind of sick pleasure from this. Then, as a young teenager, you managed to find the wherewithal to protect yourself by withdrawing from your father’s life. But even when you eventually told your mother why, she minimized what had happened to you. Please see a therapist to talk all this through. Not just the fact that indeed your father was molesting you—he clearly was getting sexual stimulation from touching you against your will—but the fact that no adults in your life listened to you or protected you from this creepy, sick transgression. It’s wonderful that you have a supportive husband who understands. I think that a good therapist will allow you to feel more comfortable in your body and in your marriage.
Q. Re: Ear fetish: You read the letter too quickly—the mother said that she didn't remember the father having an ear fetish. Otherwise, I agree with what you wrote.
A: Yes, reading comprehension is important! Sorry about that. So, the mother can confirm that her ex-husband didn’t fetishize her own adult ears. Yet she was unable to listen with them to the fact that something awful was going on whenever her daughter visited her father and that her daughter was afraid when he came into her bedroom at night. The father was a perpetrator. The mother was unable to support her daughter and offer help. I hope the letter writer will finally find someone who understands what she went through and will help release her from its grip.
Q. Lunch Expense—Eating Out Dilemma: Every day at work, I go out with two co-workers for lunch. I am naturally quiet and shy, and I really enjoy eating lunch with them. I am not enjoying, however, the cost of these lunches. Last month, I spent over $100 on lunch! Also, eating out isn’t that healthy, and I’ve noticed that I’ve started to put on some weight. I’d like to bring in a salad two-to-three times a week. We go to a mixture of fast-food and sit-down restaurants, and I don’t see why it would be a problem for me to bring my own salad if we go to out. Is this too gauche? The guy in our group would never pack a lunch, so not going out isn’t an option. I’d like us to agree in advance that certain days of the week we’ll go to fast-food places so the food I pack won’t go to waste. What’s the best way to bring up this topic?