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. My Boyfriend Can’t Stand That I Talk to Myself: My boyfriend and I moved in together a few weeks ago and it’s been a somewhat tricky adjustment. One problem in particular has been that he’s very bothered by my habit of talking to myself. I’ve lived alone for many years and talking to myself is something I’ve just always done. I kind of see it as a way of thinking out loud. I’ll sort of ask myself questions and answer them, for example, or say something like, “Guh, I don’t know what I feel like having for dinner,” and then say, “Maybe pasta? No ...” I absolutely see how this would be annoying, and out of courtesy, I am trying my hardest to limit how much I talk to myself now that I’m not living alone, but he’s taken it to a new level. He seems to think I need to talk to a psychiatrist if I’m “having conversations with myself” and he’s been asking if I “hear voices.” I’ve tried to explain that this is just a habit of thinking out loud and that it’s relatively normal but he won’t let it go. I think this is a fairly innocuous, but irritating habit, that he needs to accept in me as long as I work on it, just like I accept certain harmless flaws in him. I certainly don’t think I should be talking to a shrink about a bad habit. What do you think?
A: If you walk down the street these days, it looks like everyone is “hearing voices.” OK, they are, but there is still something disconcerting about people having very animated conversations as they march along the street by themselves. So there’s a technological fix for your situation: Stick in a pair of earbuds and as you debate what to have for dinner, tell your boyfriend that you’re discussing this with your best friend. I myself am a self-talker. When my daughter was very little she would wonder who I was talking to. Later she came to ask, “Mommy, are you talking to Dad or your editor?” I do try to keep a reasonable lid on this in front of loved ones because no one else in close quarters wants to hear someone endlessly vocalizing every stray thought. However, the problem here is not that you have a somewhat annoying habit you realize you have to temper. It’s that your boyfriend has diagnosed you as being a head case who needs medical intervention. That’s quite a ratcheting up of the rhetoric, and one that makes him sounds like a nasty, judgmental prig (and he also doesn’t know what he’s talking about when it comes to your talking to yourself). Sure, you can be attentive to your habit, but I think you need to be more attentive to whether moving in together was a big mistake.
Q. I Might Have Cancer and My Ex Gave It to Me. What Do I Tell the Kids?: I have been divorced for three years and so far it’s been pretty amicable. The reason I divorced my ex-husband didn’t include sexual infidelity, but did include emotional infidelity with a teenager. I know that relationship was never consummated. However, I was just diagnosed with severe cervical dysplasia almost certainly caused by the HPV virus. Since my ex-husband and I were virgins together, I know I caught HPV from him and as a result I know that sometime in our marriage he was unfaithful. I never want to see, talk to, or have anything to do with him ever again. We share two young adult children, and I can be civil at graduations and weddings, but no more shared holidays and I don’t want him in my house. My first priority is my children, and I have always encouraged them to have a good relationship with their dad. They will soon know about my condition (it requires significant medical follow up). They will want to know why I am giving my ex the cold shoulder after years of friendliness. I simply can’t bear to have anything do to with him unless it includes wielding a baseball bat. What do I tell the kids?
A: You tell your kids that you’re going to have to have a medical procedure. You don’t say, “I’m having my insides reamed out because that rat father of yours gave me an STD that he might have picked up from a teenager because he’s a pervert. But remember, I’m supportive of your relationship with him.” You say that you and your ex were both virgins when you married (and that he never had a sexual relationship with the teenager he was emotionally attached to). But all you have, presumably, are his assurances on both these fronts. Maybe he wasn’t actually a virgin and he brought the HPV virus into your marriage. Or maybe, as you assume, he was unfaithful at some point. As long as your condition has been caught in time, you should be fine. (And this is a good time for a public service announcement: Young men and women, get that HPV vaccine!) You are divorced, so like many divorced people, you’re no longer in each other’s lives except as demanded by family obligations. So maintain your civility. But you are dealing with justifiable anger and pain, so please seek a counselor to discuss this and help figure out how not to knock your ex’s block off at the next family graduation.
Q. She Saw Him First: I’m a young woman and a female friend of mine invited me to go camping this past weekend with two guys. My friend has a crush on one of the guys, Dave, who flirted with me the entire time. I really liked him and flirted back. He asked for my number and I texted him the next day to tell him I enjoyed meeting him. He said he wanted to see me again. I was very excited to hear this, but by the time he responded I had talked with my friend who informed me that she would be hurt if we did go out and that she had been annoyed with our flirting. So I told Dave that I was only interested in friendship for now, which is not true. I couldn’t tell him that my friend has a crush on him. Clearly, if Dave was interested in my friend, he would have made a move a long time ago. I also feel like it’s a bit juvenile to give up an opportunity to date someone simply because my friend has a crush. Prudie, what do you think?
A: Get back in touch with Dave and say that since your friendship has been going so swimmingly the past 48 hours, you’d like to take him up on his offer of a date. See how things progress—eventually you might explain to him the original awkwardness with your friend. You are correct, Dave is just not into her. If you and Dave start seeing each other, you do need to give your friend a heads up. But she doesn’t get to put someone on the injured reserve list just because she’s hurt that he’s not interested in her.
Q. Re: Talking to yourself: My mother does this. It is incredibly invasive. I don’t live with her, but when we’ve shared a room on vacation, and she’s talking, I have to disengage from whatever I’m doing, tune in to her, figure out if she’s talking to me or just talking, then re-engage in whatever I was doing. By the time I’ve done that, she’s babbling again, meaning I can’t do anything but attend to her. She’s said I should ignore it, but since she does sometimes want my attention, that’s not a real option, just something she’s thrown out pretending to be generous. Stop talking to yourself already, it’s selfish.
A: I agree that someone in close quarters talking to themselves in an animated and incessant fashion can drive one buggy. But your note seems to go beyond annoyance at your mother’s habit, and into more global annoyance with your mother. If the original letter writer produces an endless torrent of words, that’s a problem. But surely her boyfriend would have noticed this before they moved in.
Q. Re: HPV: OP here. I don’t want to tell my kids that their dad is a cheat. I want a way to explain that he won’t be coming for Christmas and stopping by the house without letting them in on the details.
A: It’s May, so you don’t have to worry about Christmas. If you are used to hosting your ex for family get-togethers during the year, you can just tell your kids that you did that when they were younger because you felt it was important for them. But now you would prefer to see less of your ex, so they need to make separate arrangement to see their father. I assure you, your children don’t want to know about their parents’ STD status.
(Lots of people are commenting that the woman with cervical dysplasia may not have gotten it from her husband and that while the majority of such conditions are caused by HPV, a minority are not. In addition, while HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, people can technically be virgins and still be exposed. The CDC is a great source of information. Most of all: Young people need to be vaccinated.)
Q. Husband’s Small Manhood: I was so deeply in love with my husband that when we first became intimate, his unusually small male member didn’t matter. Now 14 years later, I’ve gotten to the point of having pure hatred for him and his penis. He’s never been able to satisfy me in the bedroom and it’s now becoming a problem. What do I do?
A: Pure hatred for a spouse’s body part—especially a body part thoroughly vetted and approved—speaks less to your spouse’s shortcomings than your own. You were fully aware of the size of your husband’s penis and decided to go ahead and marry him. Although this organ is noted for its variability under different conditions, its essential dimensions cannot be changed, presumably a basic biological fact of which you were aware. If you married him despite your desperate distaste for your sexual life, then you are a fool. If you find his penis less than satisfying during intercourse, a look at any sex book would show you that there are many wonderful, creative ways two partners can satisfy each other in bed. You sound as if perhaps you’ve come to hate your husband, but have focused all your ire on one small reason. You have several choices. You two can expand your sexual horizons with each other. You two can go to counseling (or you can go alone). Or you can conclude your love and marriage are dead, and see a lawyer to end the pain for both of you.
Q. Re: Talking to myself: My hubby and I talk to ourselves all the time. When I hear him talking I always ask “am I supposed to be listening to you?” If his answer is no I tune him out. He does the same thing to me. You don’t have the problem LW, your BF does.
A: This sounds like an eminently reasonable approach. Although it can be complicated when you’re not talking to your spouse, but talking about your spouse.
Q. Unwanted Birthday Attention: This past January, I started dating a wonderful guy. His birthday came early on in our relationship and I knew that acknowledging the occasion was important to him. My gift to him was a handmade humorous card that he loved. As my birthday approached, I requested we not celebrate it and I kept the date a secret. Well, a friend told him. No big deal, and it seemed as if he went along with my request (I turned 49). This weekend, we went to a Mother’s Day celebration at his brother’s place. He surprised me with a cake and the whole family sang happy birthday. This was the first time I met his family, and I was feeling uncomfortable as I had a giant cold sore on my lip. I tried, unsuccessfully to act pleased and excited. On the way home it was a disaster. He claims it was “just a cake,” which turned into one of those “I always and you never” conversations. I ended up placating him and apologizing for not being appreciative enough—without his apologizing for putting me on the spot. His whole stance now is that I always ignore his offers of help, and don’t praise him when he does something nice. I tried to open a dialogue, to no avail. Is this relationship doomed?
A: After all that HPV talk, thanks for switching the conversation to the herpes virus. So, your boyfriend found out that it was your birthday, and during his family’s Mother’s Day celebration, he was thoughtful enough to make sure a cake was there to acknowledge you. I assume the happy birthday song did not conclude, “Happy Birthday, Dear Jennifer, and don’t kiss any of us on the lip!” Even if you hate being the center of attention, especially when you’re sporting a mouth sore, your reaction to the cake sounds churlish, foolish, and ungrateful. However, this incident has devolved into a general critique of your relationship. You say you tried to open a dialogue, but if you’re doing so, you need to start not by “placating,” but by sincerely apologizing for making him uncomfortable about a lovely gesture. If he then continues to sulk in his corner and mumble about how unhappy you make him, yes, you two have considerable problems.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.
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