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. Am I a Prude?: I’ve been married happily for more than a decade and my husband and I are in our 30s with young children. We have an active bedroom life, and work together to keep our relationship and love life intact. My husband likes sexting (what man doesn’t?) and I usually don’t. I have to be in the right mood for it, and usually during the day I’m busy with work, errands, etc. I’m uncomfortable sending pictures of myself or saying things I’m not really thinking or feeling. I do indulge when I’m in the right mood, but most of the time when he asks, I just don’t want to! Recently, in a text conversation, he hinted toward it, I changed the topic (my gentle letdown tactic), he asked outright, and I told him to stop pressuring me. He said he didn’t like being accused of pressuring me, and we argued. Is this something I should do as part of my “wifely duties” even though I don’t want to? Is there any way to feel less resentful about it?
A: For some people one of the pleasures of sex is not having to form coherent sentences. Also, since most of us are bombarded all day with electronic communications, getting demands to write sexy texts, or send risqué photos while at work or at the grocery store, is not an erotic enterprise. You two need to talk this out—and not right after having a spat about it. Tell your husband you want to accommodate his sexual desires, but sex is a mutual enterprise and for you, his enjoyment of sexting feels burdensome, not stimulating. There’s also the issue of your not wanting to get caught doing things during work that could compromise your employment—which also goes for your husband. You both need to understand and accept each other without pressure or resentment, and I hope your husband can openly and sensitively hear you out. (And he better not threaten to take his sexting needs elsewhere!) In any case, if there isn’t an app for this there should be, something with canned phrases (“I can’t wait to get home and see you standing at attention, you big, big …”) you can generate while standing in the check-out line.
Q. Niece’s Diapers: I have a concern for my niece and how often her parents change her diaper. My sister is extremely frugal, so much so that she doesn’t change my niece as often as she should in order to save money on diapers. It’s not that they don’t have the money: She likes to save every penny and has several thousand stashed in her savings account. I have tried buying diapers for my sister and just telling her that I got them for a good deal but it does no good. She just sees it as an opportunity to save more money. She has now been taking my niece to the doctor for a bad diaper rash that she now attributes to my niece’s eating too much sugar. She didn’t tell the doctor about the diapers. Should I say something? Is this a reportable offense? I feel terrible for my niece.
A: There needs to be an intervention here. A woman who can afford diapers but is letting the skin on her baby’s bottom break down because of frugality is someone with mental health issues. This is no time for hinting around. I hope there are one or two family members you sister trusts who can address this question with her. Let’s hope her husband is more reasonable and perhaps can be reached and will oversee and overrule his wife. If that fails, then you must notify the pediatrician about what’s going on. The doctor should be aware of the underlying conditions in this family, and the doctor will be a mandated reporter. This professional needs to be on the alert that this family needs special attention.
Q. When Your Shrink Dumps You!: I’ve been seeing my psychiatrist two to three times weekly for nearly 20 years. No, I’m not Woody Allen, but I felt it really helped me deal with the stresses of real life. Here’s the problem: My shrink is dumping me! After 20-odd years he’s decided it’s time for him to retire, and I’m not going to be speaking with him any longer. He’s invited me to find a new therapist, and he would give him/her the rundown on our therapy goals. But I have a problem with trying to establish trust with another therapist at this stage in my life. What should I do?
A: I hope your shrink is better at his job than you indicate here. There seems to have been no plan for your therapy beyond seeing you several times a week for 20 years, which surely helped make his retirement possible. You may be under such tremendous stress, or have such significant underlying issues, that to function, you needed such frequent support. But isn’t the goal of therapy to help you cope better with life and end the treatment? I’m also concerned about your feeling that this doctor, who is now wrapping up his career, is “dumping” you. I would say you say some issues that still need resolution. You can’t convince your doctor to not retire. So you have to decide whether you so need a neutral party to listen to your gripes, that you’re willing to break in a new one. Maybe you’ll realize that you just can’t start over, and you can apply the lessons you learned in 20 years of therapy and start coping on your own. But if you do start over, when you begin, discuss with your new therapist what your goals are and how you two can put in place a plan for an endgame.
Q. Utterly Devastated: I have been dating my fiancée, “C,” since we were in eighth grade (2002) and we are getting married this May. However, last night she admitted to cheating on me when we were in late high school with a guy she met on a cruise. I understand that this was nine years ago but I have never been more devastated in my life. I don’t know whether to go ahead with the wedding or call it off. She is genuinely beside herself for waiting this long to tell me and for actually doing it but I don’t know if I can get those images out of my mind this close to our wedding day. She is the only girl I have ever been with and I would have no idea how/where to start over. I just have no idea how to handle this situation with a clear mind.
A: Thanks to “C” for demonstrating the truth of my oft-stated belief that if one has cheated on a one-time basis, that it’s in the past, much regretted, and never to be repeated, one’s punishment is to live with the guilt. But here goes C confessing this little peccadillo. She’s gotten it off her chest, now it’s crushing yours—and for no good reason. I wish you’d had your own exploration long ago. It’s a lot to ask of a couple to commit while they are teenagers and go through life never knowing what’s it’s like to sleep with anyone else. I say good that your fiancée got this curiosity out of her system. What a tribute that she realized that she wanted to be with you. You two are not starting over. Think about it—this thing happened years ago and you have been totally happy in the subsequent years. You need to put it out of your mind. If you can’t, then you two have a big problem and the wedding needs to be put on hold. You simply can’t enter into a marriage where you can’t get images of your teenage wife having a little fling out of your head.
Q. Bone Marrow Match: This is the first time I have written but would appreciate your thoughts on this. I recently received a letter from the bone marrow registry that I was a preliminary match for a patient. This is a very initial step in what could be a four to six month process. I definitely want to help and continue with the process, except that my husband and I are trying to have another baby. If I move forward and am ultimately chosen to be a donor, we would have to commit to actively preventing pregnancy until after the donation. I want to help very much, but I know my husband would not be in favor of putting our plans on hold for six months. I am getting close to 35 so we don’t have an unlimited amount of time here. At the same time, if I can be of help, I want to do so! What are your thoughts on this?
A: You need to tell the registry that unfortunately for medical reasons you cannot commit to going forward at this time. It is a generous thing to sign up for such a registry, but as you know, a preliminary match is unlikely to be a final match, and surely there are other people who are receiving this notification. You cannot delay your pregnancy plans for the next six months. Stay on the registry and maybe in years to come, you will get another notice that you are in a position to follow up on.
Q. Frustrated Girl: I am a girl college freshman who has never had a boyfriend. I have had feelings for a few guy friends but despite some subtle hints nothing has ever happened. I don’t know what I am doing wrong. I am decently attractive and intelligent. I was more reserved in high school and only started really having boys as friends in college. I am not sure why they aren’t interested in me as it seems like everyone else is having much more success in dating/finding partners.
A: You are way more normal than you realize. Sure, it may seem as if everyone is pairing up or hooking up and you somehow missed the message on how to get in on this. But far more people than you think are actually observing from the sidelines and thinking, “What’s wrong with me that no one is interested?” You don’t need a boyfriend now. In fact, it may be better at this point in your college career not to get committed to one person. But what you do is start dating. (This is a concept that was popular in the 20th century. I’m sure if you Google it, you will find some references to what it entails.) You are kind of shy, so look around for the same kind of shy guys. They may be thinking you’re really cool, but they would rather die than say, “Do you want to get some pizza then go to the concert together?” So, you be the one to say it. This is not a race, and there’s no deadline. You are gaining confidence and experience, which is what young people are supposed to be doing at your age. So put yourself out there a little more, and enjoy the adventure.
Q. Re: Am I a Prude: I enjoy a raucous round of sexting now and then, when I’m not being distracted by other things and am in the mood, but my man too seems to be oblivious to subtle and not-so-subtle hints that it’s not the right time (I’m at work, I’m taking care of my child, etc.) and acts pouty and offended when I have to downright tell him to stop. Guys we’re not sex spambots at the other ends of these phones ... but you’re right, Prudie, an app that generates such responses would be a GOLD MINE.
A: I gave you the idea, now get that prototype together!
Q. Re: Utterly Devastated: Since when was cheating “exploration,” “a little peccadillo,” and “getting curiosity out of the system”? I agree this guy should probably get over it or put the wedding on hold, but what happened to calling a spade a spade?
A: These people have been together since they were teens and almost a decade ago she had a brief fling. What’s was she supposed to do, fling herself off the side of the cruise ship? As I said, it would have been better if he’d done his own private exploration. I’m sorry, I just can’t condemn this woman for what she did then. Confessing now, bad idea!
Q. How Do I Get My Parents to Stop Treating Me Like I’m Possessed: I’m 18 years old and a senior at a high pressure private prep school I forced my parents to send me to. I have depression and probably anxiety. Until this year when my parents allowed me to see a Christian therapist (which I’m OK with) they’ve viewed my mental health as an instability making me less trustworthy. I’m falling apart. I have straight Cs and having more frequent anxiety attacks. My parents are trying but they still make me feel like if I had a better relationship with God I could pray it away or that I need to have more fight or that this is a test to make me stronger. I’m already coming up with things to tell my friends when my acceptance to my top 25 college gets rescinded. How can I balance being healthy and keeping a relationship with my parents?
A: You have a therapist and this is something he or she should be helping you negotiate. Focus your next meetings on your feeling of crisis and possible need for medication, and getting help talking to your parents. You also need to be in close touch with your school counselor. You are catastrophizing what’s ahead. Maybe your bad grades second half of senior year can be explained to colleges because of a medical situation. Maybe you will have to go to summer school to prove that you’re ready to matriculate. You have adults around who you can and need to call on to help you address what’s going on inside and out. You will feel better when you start taking concrete steps.
Q. Disinvitation Drama: My fiancée and I disagree whether and how to go about not inviting a handful of guests to a wedding after sending them a save-the-date. More family than expected have indicated that they will attend, which means we need to cut back on our own list. If I’m being objective, we don’t really talk to the handful I’m thinking of, though that may just be a self-fulfilling justification. I feel bad about wanting to uninvite people (who technically have not been invited yet, just a save-the-date), but am not sure how else to fit everyone!
A: Let me break it to you: You have invited these people. A “save the date” is not a fishing expedition to see how many folks will take the hook, and then you decide who you will let loose and tell them to swim away. It’s a commitment. So now, you need to adjust your budget to accommodate the guests you invited who you’d actually preferred didn’t come. That means wine, not full bar, or passed hors d’oeuvres of cheese and crackers, not caviar, etc.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Have a great week. Maybe soon we can put the shovels away.