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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Emily Yoffe: Good afternoon. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Post-Baby Sex Life: I have an 11-month-old I’m still nursing but would like to put more effort into getting my sex life back on track. My husband has been very patient but he’s anxious to ramp things back up to where they were before (one to two times a week). The problem is that I think the nursing hormones are killing my sex drive. I’m like a nun here. Any advice?
A: Search around for “breast-feeding and libido” and you will see that you may indeed have identified a reason for your plunging sex drive. You’re likely heading toward weaning in the next few months, so the biological aspect of this should start taking care of itself. In the meantime, just do it. Start by having appointment sex once a week. Does that sound sexy? No. But you will discover having sex is sexy, even if you enter it in your calendar first. Lots of women who experience a generalized loss of desire find that once they are in the middle of making love they start thinking, “Oh, yeah, this is why I used to like doing this.” Doing it will be its own reward for you, your husband, and your marriage.
Q. Furious Fiancé: My state is finally allowing me to marry my boyfriend, and we are tying the knot this summer. Everything looks wonderful except one thing—my fiancé is demanding that I cut off ties with my best friend. I’ve known her since high school, and she has always been there for me. Her family took me in when my parents kicked me out. She stayed by my bedside after my suicide attempt. No matter what, I knew I could count on her. But she won’t come to our wedding because of her Christian faith. I understand where my fiancé is coming from. From his point of view, if someone disapproves of our love, why should we be friends with them? But I do care for her, and I want her in my life. What should I do?
A: Your letter is an example of how paradoxical, complicated, and yes, hypocritical people can be. I understand why your fiancé would want to ban your friend. But as torn as you might feel about your relationship with her, I don’t think you should give into your fiancé’s ban. This person literally was a life-saver for you. I find the religious prohibition on recognition of same-sex relationships to be benighted. But this country has undergone a rapid and remarkable revolution in attitudes about same-sex marriages. That’s been accomplished lots of ways, and one is through these kinds of one-on-one friendships. Explain to your fiancé that you understand his ire, but you think the way to ultimately continue positive change is not by rejecting someone you love (and also disagree with) but by continuing your embrace. Ask him to understand the totality of your relationship and your hope that ultimately he and your dear friend will come to be friends, too.
Q. Cult Recruiting Our Daughter: Some cultists came to our door, and unfortunately our teenage daughter answered. They talked to her, and now they keep coming back. I try to head them off, but sometimes she answers first, and talks to them. They gave her a book, which I have seen her reading. I’m very worried that she might decide to join their cult. How can I stop this?
A: First, stop freaking out. Reading some insane cult literature is not tantamount to packing her bags and taking off. You talk to your daughter about this—calmly and factually. Explain what cults are, and how they target young people, because teenagers by definition are chafing at their normal life. Say she’s certainly entitled to read their literature, but you ask that she look at some articles about what happens to people in the cult. Then you keep your eye on things, but also let it go. If you’re home when these jerks come, tell them to buzz off and that you’ll call the police if they don’t—and maybe your neighborhood has rules about door-to-door solicitation. Remember: The harder you press your daughter, the more attractive the cult becomes.
Q. Re: Nursing Mom: Following up on the nursing mother’s question, why recommend that she make herself “just do it” instead of asking the father to continue to be patient and create conditions that promote the return of her desire? Why is it the woman’s responsibility to meet the man’s “needs”?
A: She is frustrated with her own lack of desire, and there is nothing unreasonable about a husband wanting in a patient way to resume having regular sex almost a year after the baby is born. I also have a letter from a husband who said that once his wife weaned the baby, her libido came roaring back, much to the pleasure of both of them. It can be a shock for someone used to feeling free-floating desire to have it disappear. So I’m suggesting accepting that biological reality and dealing with it in a positive way. I hope in any marriage both partners want to meet each other’s reasonable, and expected, needs—and I don’t think quotation marks are necessary when discussing the need for sexual relations.
Q. Lost After Loss: My mother passed away suddenly about a month ago at the age of 60, leaving my family devastated. I live on the East Coast and have a great job, a husband, and love the area. That being said, I am now very torn about not being close to my father, brother, and the rest of my family who all live on the West Coast. My husband is willing to do whatever I need to do, but I don’t know if I should uproot our life (temporarily or permanently). Or should we just increase the number of visits? I feel huge regret for not being closer while my mom was alive, and I don’t want to feel the same way if I were to suddenly lose someone else.
A: I’m sorry for your loss—your mother was young and a sudden death like this understandably is leaving you unmoored and wanting to reconnect with all you’ve lost. I’ve heard from many people who have suffered such losses and a frequent piece of advice is to not do anything drastic for a year. You are in shock and grief, and that is not a good place to make major life decisions from. If you can, go to see the rest of your family as frequently as possible. Invite them out to see you—a change of scene will be good for them. Be kind to yourself. You are only a month out and your world has been turned upside down. Then, a year from now, take stock of how you feel and see if you still have a desire to—in a methodical way—relocate to be closer to your family.
Q. Re: Back on Track: Just one caveat: Make a deal with your husband that if you don’t get into it halfway through you can pull the plug and try again next week. My husband not giving me any guilt about this at all has worked wonders for our sex life. I’ll give it a go every time I’m tired, and 9 out of 10 times I enjoy it. The 10th time, no harm no foul. The two times I pressured myself to go along with it despite the mood not kicking in I couldn’t stand the thought of sex for at least a week afterward.
A: Of course appointment sex is not a legally binding document! It sounds as if you and your husband have excellent communication and a desire to please each other.
Q. Too Much Touching: I have been dating a really nice guy for about six months. He’s smart, driven, and we have fun together. There’s one thing that irks me, though. When we’re some place like the movies, a concert, walking down the street, he always has to be holding my hand. I enjoy a good cuddle on the couch while watching a movie, but sometimes I need my physical space and sometimes it’s just not comfortable. I can tell he dislikes it when I say, “I’d rather not right now.” Should I suck it up and deal with it? What’s the polite way to broach this?
A: A basic rule of any relationship is respecting each other’s physical needs. I’ve heard from people on both ends of this spectrum—it’s particularly acute regarding those who want to spend the night entwined with their lover and those who feel a touch of someone’s else toe prevents them from sleeping. What’s most difficult is when one party has high touch needs or another party is touch averse. But it doesn’t sound as if you abhor a cuddle or a hand hold; you just need to be more occasional. Once you make that clear, that means your partner has to back off. If he mopes and sulks, you two have a communication problem. So at a neutral time, bring this up. Explain as you have here that while you two are compatible on many fronts, this is a source of tension, and you’d like to be able to talk about it. Let’s hope he is able to let this—and your hand—go.
Q. How to Tell Housekeeper to “Retire”: My grandfather has a housekeeper of almost 25 years. She’s a wonderful woman who treats him very well, and takes care of many of his needs, and whom he also takes care of through proper pay and good companionship and stories of my late grandmother. It has come to my attention that she has no plans beyond his passing, and expects me, his heir and owner of his home, to continue to employ her. I do love what this woman has provided for my family patriarch, but I won’t need or be able to afford her services. How can I gently, and without offending her into leaving while Grandpa is still alive, make sure that she understands that she needs to be prepared to secure her own financial future once his time does come?
A: I think you need to do more than say, when the time comes, “Hazel, we’re selling my grandfather’s house and I use Maids to Go. You’re not needed anymore.” If your grandfather has been able to afford a full-time housekeeper for 25 years, it sounds as if he is a man of means who will be leaving a substantial estate behind. That means he has an obligation to this long-time employee. You need to talk to your grandfather about this and someone from the family, preferably his executor, should go with him to his estate lawyer and discuss making a provision for this loyal professional.
Q. Dating Payment Etiquette: I started going out with a new guy about two months ago, and with the exception of maybe our first two dates—just coffee—he has paid for everything for me. Movies, zoo, concerts, etc. For background, I’m a recent college grad about to get my teaching license, and I’m currently unemployed, living with my mom and dad, and looking for a part-time job. He’s gainfully employed and has standard financial responsibilities for a single guy in his mid-20s. The thing is, I’m starting to feel guilty about his constantly footing the bill, and I’m not sure how to broach the topic. I realistically can’t pay for expensive dates right now, and I’m careful to always suggest relatively low-cost outings that I could pay for myself, but he takes it upon himself to pay for me. I don’t mind (!), but I don’t want him to think I expect it either, when I’m very happy with free local, low-key events. Should I just keep quiet and let him keep paying? Should I say something?
A: Tell him you appreciate his footing the bill, but you need to reciprocate. You can either invite him over for dinner at your place (you can decide whether it’s with your parents there or whether you encourage them to go on a date night) or you offer to bring the food (spaghetti) and make dinner for him at his. It’s fine that he’s able to underwrite your more expensive outings, but you can tell him that until you get a job and can pick up a tab yourself, you want to be able to do things that don’t always require him opening his wallet.
Q. Re: About That Cult: I have a feeling the letter writer in the cult case is a Christian and the “cult” she is referring to are Mormons. This may just be a case of someone not being open-minded to other denominations of Christianity.
A: Interesting, thanks. However, the daughter is a minor and I can understand anyone not wanting their minor child to be evangelized. Whatever the organization, the mother needs to stay cool and keep the communication open.