Help! My Husband Hasn’t Seen a Dentist in Over 16 Years. I Want a Divorce.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 30 2014 2:51 PM

Hell Mouth

In a live chat, Prudie counsels a woman whose husband has such bad dental hygiene, she is considering divorce.

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A: I don’t like superstition either, but then I’m not a sports fan, so I don’t have to engage in rituals to help my team win like not changing my underwear during the finals. But being superstitious, and imbuing inanimate objects with talismanic powers is part of human nature. I think you can address both your logical and mystical sides and end up with a lovely ring. Perform some kind of cleansing ritual on the ring. (Only you know how open your fiancé would be to joining you in this.) You can have the ring professionally cleaned as a way of giving it a new start. You can say some kind of incantation over it about how this stone will represent a happy beginning. As I mentioned, I dislike superstition, but that hasn’t stopped me from walking around each new house I’ve moved into with a burning sage stick just to freshen things up.

Q. Re: See a dentist: I have the same problem with my husband of 13 years. It irks me to see Prudie, whenever this issue arises, express astonishment that the letter writer signed up with Mr. Bad Dental Hygiene in the first place. In my case, it’s been 13 years. His teeth weren’t noticeably bad when we first got together, and in my youthful optimism I assumed that he’d see a dentist when we got real jobs with dental insurance. Making a lifetime commitment to someone often means being around long enough to see seemingly small bad habits turn into big problems. I sympathize with the ultimatum-giver (believe me, it’s crossed my mind too), and know exactly how she ended up here. It’s a tough place to be, and if her husband is as scared and stubborn as mine she has nothing but sympathy from me.

A: I agree that what turns into a crisis isn’t always evident at the start. But you and the letter writer each married someone with dental issues, issues that never got addressed, even when the money and opportunity arose. Of course, there’s not necessarily an easy fix when a small problem becomes a major one. You don’t just snap your finger when you realize the guy who used to really like his beer is now an alcoholic. Or that his mouth is decaying, you don’t ever want to kiss him, and he won’t do anything about it. But feeling furious and stuck year after year is not a solution.

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Q. To Tell or Not To?: Yesterday after the post-Pride haze I hooked up with a guy. I am a gay man in my late 20s. I have chronic hepatitis B, I am 100 percent upfront about my health condition when it comes to dating, but yesterday I couldn’t tell this to the guy, though we did not engage in anything unsafe. I now I am feeling terribly guilty for not telling. Maybe subconsciously I was afraid of yet another rejection. Though it was just a hookup and we never meet again, he did add me on Facebook. Now I have absolutely no idea how to deal with my guilt and with this new Facebook connection.

A: You don’t say whether he asked you explicitly about your health status and you gave a false answer, or whether in the haze both of you were in it never came up. What you describe is one of the dangers of casual sex, and anyone engaging in it has to take personal responsibility for making that sex as safe as possible. But you say that the two of you didn’t do anything unsafe. If that’s really the case, stop beating yourself up. And casual though this encounter may be, you did exchange contact information. So send a private Facebook message to this guy, explain there’s something you have to talk to him about and give him your phone number. Then just say you would feel remiss in not informing in that though what you two did is highly unlikely to have exposed him, you wanted him to know that you have hepatitis B. You will feel better for being honest.

Q. Re: Evil ring: The ring could be a reminder that you and your husband are breaking from a cruel, unhappy past and charting a new family course. Think of what that ring could then represent to future generations as a symbol of loving change. It’s powerful to think that you’ll change what the ring represents rather the ring changing you. At least that’s what I tell myself so I can keep my grandmother’s gorgeous wedding silver from her bitter, unhappy marriage to my lying, thieving, womanizing grandfather.

A: There would be no antiques business if everything old was required to come with a certificate that the previous owners lived a blissfully happy life. I love your take on the silver, and I think the fiancée should apply it to the ring.

Q. Bad Mom: I feel overwhelmed with guilt for even typing this now and I would never admit this out loud, but I suddenly don’t like being around my 7-year-old and I can’t explain why. He’s a dream son, my oldest of three. His teachers adore him, he’s never mean to anybody (except for one of his brothers), he routinely scores in the 99th percentile of standardized academic assessments, and his gifted teacher constantly jokes that she wants to adopt him. But he’s also extremely sensitive and doesn’t stop talking and overthinks everything (my husband and I are also both guilty of these things, so he comes by this honestly). But, as much as I love holding and cuddling the younger two, I force myself to give him hugs and have to pull away long before I intended to. I don’t enjoy his cuddles and he loves me so much, but I just cringe when he asks to snuggle with me. I love him, but I don’t like him. I’m crying as I type this because I just feel so guilty. He’s very perceptive and notices everything. He’s also very articulate and tells people about how his mother used to love him so much and cuddled with him all the time and read to him every night, but now she’s always mad at him. And it’s true that I am much harder on him than I am on his brothers. I tell myself I am not going to yell, but when I’ve asked him to put on his shoes three times or he isn’t eating his breakfast because he’s obsessively consumed by some article about osprey catching fish, I lose my temper and raise my voice and then hate myself for it. My youngest is only 3 months old. Could this be post-partum depression, only directed at my oldest and not the baby? How can I get back the overwhelming love I used to feel every time I looked at him? I don’t want to be this kind of mom. I don’t have time for therapy!

A: Good for you for confronting what’s going on, and with such insight. Please talk to your doctor right away about post-partum depression. I think that is an astute insight and you may indeed be deflecting your distress on to your oldest son. Please also consider calling the hotline for Postpartum Support International. I’m sure it will be a relief to you to talk to others who have been there. It’s crucial you make sure you have enough help. It can be overwhelming to be responsible for three small children, and of course you are focused on the needs of your youngest, but get a babysitter or family member to come in regularly to watch your younger two so that you can spend some time with your oldest. It’s also crucial that your husband gives you support and relief—and also focusing attention on your eldest. Your 7-year-old sounds like a remarkable child, but also one who needs special care and handling—you know that because he’s like you. And because he’s like you, you might not like seeing some of your more, ah, difficult traits reflected back. So start with the basics: doctor; support group; babysitting. If that doesn’t help, then you must find the time for a therapist. Your highly intelligent, acutely sensitive son knows something is wrong. There’s nothing more important than taking the steps to set your relationship right. 

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

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