Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online 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 email@example.com.)
Q. From Virgin to Stud: I am a guy well into my 20s. A year ago I was still a virgin, partly by choice and partly by circumstance. Then I consciously decided to become a “stud,” taking any and every opportunity that I saw (not including intoxication). Each sexual encounter gave me more confidence, which in turn made it easier to find new women. My “conquests” are now in the double digits. I love feeling so confident, but there are moments when I am horrified at myself. Previously, I had looked down on “man whores” (maybe because I was jealous?). Should I be proud or ashamed of my new lifestyle?
A: I will take you at your word that you are so studly that the opportunities just keep coming. You are putting quite a lot of notches on the bedpost, but I’m a little concerned that it doesn’t sound as if too many of your conquests are asking for a second helping. Maybe you need to focus more on your technique, and less on your tally. If your only interest in women is getting them into bed, and their only interest in you is getting you into bed, then everyone is happy. But you’re right, this sounds like an empty and eventually degrading exercise. You’re not a virgin anymore, yippee! So slow down, stud, and focus on the human being you’re bedding and start learning to form a relationship.
Q. Boyfriend Just Revealed History of Abuse With an Ex: My boyfriend and I have been dating for four months, and I’ve totally fallen for him. He is smart, attractive, talented, great in bed, values self-improvement, is highly communicative and wonderfully sweet to me. Recently, he told me about a long-term, dysfunctional relationship he was in several years ago, where he and his partner were borderline abusive to each other toward the end. There were a few isolated incidents that followed very heated arguments, mostly stemming from her chronic psychological abuse toward him, but has not told me exact details (i.e. what exact abuse took place). He is absolutely guilt-ridden and ashamed about this part of his past, and is currently working it out in therapy. I’m certain I could never provoke him in the way his ex did, but just knowing about his history makes me worry that he has a capacity for violence I haven’t seen yet, even though he has assured me he will never, ever lay a finger on me. I feel inclined to ask him exactly what happened, mostly so I can stop dwelling on it—should I broach the subject, or leave it to the therapy?
A: It’s true his history is a bad sign, but what is a good sign is that at an appropriate time he opened up to you about it, gave you a full-bodied description (except for certain details), was abjectly sick about his role in it, and most of all has sought help to understand why he did it and how to keep from ever doing it again. You have only been a couple for a few months—it sounds like a great few months, but given what you’ve just learned you need to keep it in mind as you go along. So do not make any rash decisions about moving in together or getting engaged—frankly, those would be really bad signs for someone with a history of having had an abusive relationship. Also, you need to get out of your head that you will never “provoke” him. That’s not the cause of abuse. Sure, his ex may have been provocative, but what matters was that he stayed and let himself be provoked, instead of walking away. I don’t think you need to press him now on exactly what happened. But as you two go along, you could ask if you could have a joint counseling session with him. That would allow you to discuss your concerns with a neutral party, bring up exactly what happened if you feel you need to know, and talk about feeling secure it won’t happen again.
Q. Doggie Dilemma: I live in an older home, and I’m not getting any younger myself. I am debating moving since the upkeep is getting to be too much for me (I’m single), but the problem is my beloved dogs are all buried in the backyard. How do people deal with this? Are there people one can hire to—um—discreetly move them? Do I suck it up and do it myself? I can’t bear the thought of leaving them behind. No one I’ve managed to bring myself to talk to about this has any ideas. Any feedback would be welcome.
A: I’m afraid I don’t think you can call the local “Disinter Doggie” franchise for this one. Your dogs are dead and their remains can’t come with you. You don’t want their remains to come with you. Maybe you kept a dog tag; surely you have photos. That’s how you remember and keep your beloved pooches in your heart. But when you think about packing up all your worldly goods, you have to let go of the idea of taking a couple of canine femurs to put on your new mantelpiece.
Q. Friends Putting Down Boyfriend: I’ve been seeing a fantastic man for a few months and I couldn’t be happier. I have an almost comically bad romantic history and he is easily the kindest, most wonderful guy I’ve dated. The issue is my friends’ and family’s reaction to him. He works at a moving company and they think that dating him is beneath me (I’m a lawyer). I don’t know what to say because I’m utterly shocked by their behavior. One friend even sends me frequent updates on an ex’s career news (he’s also an attorney), although she’s well aware of how poorly he treated me. How do I get them to back off?
A: This is one of those things that mostly calls for silence and a bemused look. If you feel the need to respond you could say, “I’m not going to listen to you insult someone I care for very much.” (You could also just smile knowingly and say, “Actually, he moves me.”) To the friend who sends updates, you can say if the updates don’t stop, the friendship will. I hope that you have some friends and family members who aren’t irredeemable snobs. I bet if you don’t rise to the bait, in time your great guy will win them over.
Q. Cheating Partner’s Wedding: Prudence, a few years ago I cheated on my girlfriend. She does not know and I will not entertain the idea of telling her. It was a rough patch in our relationship and I made an immature mistake that will cause me guilt for the rest of my life. She and I are now better than ever. The person I cheated with is part of our friend circle and she is getting married soon. We were invited (why on earth she would do this I have no idea). I WILL NOT GO. But my girlfriend wants to go, all of our friends will be there, and so she doesn’t understand why I don’t want to and I can’t tell her the real reason. We haven’t RSVP’d either way yet, but how can I explain that I will not be going without explaining why? It doesn’t really bother me if she wants to go alone.
A: It’s good you’re not a chronic cheater because you are so very bad at it. Why don’t you just say to your girlfriend, “I will not go to Angela’s wedding. And it’s not because something shameful happened between us three years ago, because it didn’t! So don’t even ask about something that didn’t happen and that I’m not going to talk about!” Yours is the kind of cheating that can actually be salutary because you got it out of your system and you realized your system is not set up for cheating and you’re miserable with guilt. But since you’ve decided to keep this to yourself, and clearly Angela has decided the same, what you do is act as if nothing has happened. So stop acting weirdly suspicious. Angela is right to invite you two because you’re all friends. She has very clearly moved on and has no incentive to let anyone in on your mutual secret. Tell your girlfriend you’ve been silly, the wedding seemed like a pain, but you realize it will be fun, and you look forward to going. In the receiving line, just smile at Angela and wish her and her new husband all happiness.
Q. Re: Boyfriend Abused Ex: Just be warned, abusers are notoriously manipulative and charming. They can spin their own abuse into the fault of the other partner and make you believe they love you too much to ever do that to you, all the while pulling you further in. The letter writer’s comment about provoking him is worrying. Not saying he definitely will do it again, just please educate yourself on warning signs and watch for them.
A: All excellent points. It is true that someone can be in a very bad relationship and address the reasons for it and not repeat those patterns. It’s also true someone can have a deep-seated need to be in bad relationships and behave abusively and the contrition is just superficial. That’s why she should go slow—and I also think some sessions with the therapist can be illuminating.
Q. My Daughter’s Teacher’s Social Media Profile Freaks Me Out: My wife and I found the Facebook profile of our daughter’s second grade teacher. What we saw gave us a jolt. Her “likes” are a cornucopia of Tea Party politics—Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, a Michael Savage book, etc. Her politics seem extreme enough to be incompatible with her job as a public school teacher. I genuinely worry about how my biracial daughter is treated (we’d already suspected that she was disliked and ignored). I understand and respect that teachers have private lives and individual beliefs. Still, I worry that her politics affect her teaching in subtle ways and question the professionalism of a teacher who doesn’t have a watertight privacy setting. Is this worth bringing up with the school?
A: What you need to bring up with the teacher, and then with an administrator if you are unsatisfied with the conversation with the teacher, are specific things that have gotten your attention about how your daughter is being treated. Since you don’t go into any detail here about any offenses, you want to go in and be very low-key. It’s more an exploratory meeting to air your concerns and take the temperature of the situation. Last I checked we still had a First Amendment, and while it is not wise for a teacher to neglect her privacy setting, what you’ve learned is none of your business. Let’s say your daughter were at a conservative Christian academy, and you found out her teacher’s Facebook page was plastered with “Elizabeth Warren 2016” posts. I hope you wouldn’t go in and try to get her fired. The teacher’s political views are not your business; how she treats your daughter is.
Q. Re: Doggie Dilemma: Many years ago, we moved to another town. Our 8-year-old daughter had a place in the back yard where she had buried (with great ceremony) various goldfish, gerbils, hamsters, etc. She was upset about leaving them behind. So we got a small plastic container and dug up a shovelful of soil from the gravesite for her to take with her. Then we buried the container (with proper ceremony) in the backyard of the new house. That made her feel that proper respect had been paid, and that we honored their memory. Perhaps something similar would work for the letter writer.
A: I love it! It reminds me of my childhood when we, too, used to bury our small, departed pets in the backyard. My siblings and I practiced becoming archaeologists by regularly attempting exhume them, but our forensic efforts were always unsuccessful.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week!
Check out Dear Prudence's book recommendations in the Slate Store.