Dear Prudence: I want to be alone, even though I love my husband.

Help! I Love My Husband, but I Want to Live Alone.

Help! I Love My Husband, but I Want to Live Alone.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 30 2015 6:00 AM

Mistress of Solitude

I love my husband, but I want to live alone.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I met very young and had kids right away. It’s now 25 years later and the kids are off to college, our life together is comfortable. We’re still in love, and everything should be perfect. Except it’s not. I have recurring fantasies of just leaving everything behind, moving to the other coast, and starting over all by myself. I dream of finding a small apartment, furnishing it exactly as I want, leaving a mess when I don’t feel like cleaning up, eating whatever and whenever I want, and basically being a single girl in my 20s, minus the dating and insecurities. I wouldn’t mind if my husband and children visited, but there’s something in me that craves distance and my own space. I have no desire to find another man; I just want to be alone. I’ve been finding excuses to travel solo simply because staying by myself in a hotel is the closest thing to fulfilling my fantasy. I order room service, binge watch movies, and just revel in my solitude. I wish I had an excuse like a job offer or degree program far away to make such a move possible. I would probably want to come home after a while—a year, maybe two—but who knows? I might love living alone too much to give it up. Part of me also feels guilty for wanting this because my husband is adamant that he wouldn’t want to be without me. I’ve tried to talk him into getting separate bedrooms for years, and he refuses. I also imagine that someday I will probably be widowed and have exactly what I’m dreaming of, and at that point I’ll miss him terribly and feel foolish for wanting this now. Is this impulse bizarre and unhealthy? Is it a phase I should just grit my teeth and barrel through? Is it something that will eat away at me until I get off my ass and do it? Can I do it without hurting him too much?

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—Dreaming of Solitude

Dear Dreaming,
After spending your youth wiping mouths and bottoms and attending to the needs of others, I can understand your desire to experience the single girl years that you missed—or, as you note, perhaps an early taste of widowhood. More than that, you sound like you have the soul of a Greta Garbo and you just long to be alone. Since you mention nothing about work duties or financial concerns, I’m going to assume you stayed home with the kids and that there’s enough money for you to easily fund your fantasy. But you are mistakenly formulating your desires as a binary choice: that either you take off for the opposite coast without a return ticket, or else remain forced to putter around with your husband and dogs ad infinitum. But there is a range of options that will give you more than a night or two of alone time without your having to fantasize about the death of your beloved husband. Airbnb makes it easy to try on other people’s lives. So pick a city you’ve always wanted to know better and stay by yourself there for two weeks, even a month. No, your husband won’t like it, but it won’t kill him (sorry), and you're an adult who’s entitled to a lengthy, solo vacation. Maybe you will discover after a while that you miss the company of your guy. Or maybe you will find that while you are fond of him, you dread coming home. This at least will be clarifying. But I also want to focus on what you’ve left out. The kids are gone, and you seem to lack a purpose beyond watching a lot of TV, eating at odd hours, and plotting to avoid sharing a bed with your husband. You must be in your 40s, and that’s too young to feel as if you’ve completed your life’s work. It’s possible that if you were more challenged and engaged in the life you have (which you do acknowledge is pretty darn good), through employment or volunteering, you might find that a companionable meal with your husband at the end of the day is more of a treat than an obligation. Getting deeper into where you are might make you feel less like running away.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I’m a 19-year-old female, and I’ve been with a great guy for about three months now. He is my first boyfriend, I lost my virginity to him, and I’m really in love with him. We talk and laugh for hours, we have amazing sex, and I feel totally comfortable with him. The problem is that he recently said some things that are kind of worrying to me. He mentioned that in a high school relationship his girlfriend cheated on him, it hurt him a lot, and he broke up with her immediately. Understandable. Then he said he started a hate campaign against her at school. He enlisted his friends and made her life so terrible that she ended up transferring. I was horrified. I did not tell him this, as I wanted to be supportive of his hurt and not sound like I was defending his ex. He seemed to feel no remorse and considered what he did fitting punishment. The thing is that I’m a bit scared now. What prevents him from “punishing” me if something goes wrong in our relationship? Am I overreacting, or is it a reason to call it quits? I really am in love with him!

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—Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Dear Go,
What a brilliant stroke on his part for making sure no one ever hurts him again. You’ve been put on notice that if you cheat, break up with him, or do anything else he doesn’t like, he’s capable of going on a campaign to ruin your life. I don’t want to overly alarm you, but your great guy has just revealed a cruel, vindictive approach to human relations. The most disturbing part is that he didn’t tell you by way of revealing a shameful episode in his recent past that he regrets; he was boasting! Since you say how great he is, test this by bringing up the story. He’s young, so let’s hope he is capable of moral development. Say you’ve been thinking about it, and while there’s no defense of his ex’s cheating, you feel that hounding her into leaving the school was going overboard. If he’s open to considering your perspective, perhaps he’ll start to view that part of his past differently over time. But if he gets angry and accusatory—let’s say he suggests this must mean you’re planning to cheat on him, too—then it’s time for an exit plan. And if he looks at you with the Kubrick Stare, start running.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
In a few short weeks, I will be graduating from college! I’m terribly excited for this day and it has a particularly strong significance for me. I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college. My family weathered abuse, homelessness, and poverty—and so far, I’m the only one who has broken this cycle. I moved out when I was still in high school and put myself through college (with the help of extraordinary teachers) and have worked so hard for this day. However, as it approaches, I can’t help but feel a little empty. I know it sounds petty, but I was secretly hoping someone would offer to help me throw a little graduation party. I know my mom isn’t planning to celebrate and honestly I’m just grateful that she is even coming to my commencement ceremony. Would it be in terrible taste to do something myself? I don’t want anything big, but I secretly, truly want to celebrate one of the most meaningful achievements of my life. Is that tacky or narcissistic? Or should I say nothing and just be grateful without the need to celebrate? 

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—The Almost Graduate

Dear Graduate,
Throw that party! It is not tacky or narcissistic to have the people you love raise a flute of champagne, or a plastic cup of sparkling cider, to an incredible achievement. I’m sure your nearest and dearest, even if they aren’t family members, will welcome this opportunity to cheer your triumph. You don’t have to break the bank on such a party—cheese and dessert, or a bagel brunch is fine. Your invitations can be a low-key email: “I’m having a little gathering to celebrate my graduation and thank all the people who helped me get here.” I will note that a “commencement” marks the end of your education at an institution, but the word actually means “beginning.” So you should be proud of all the steps you’ve taken to get you to this exciting new phase in your life.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I was raised in an immigrant family that worked hard to build a small florist business that is unbelievably busy during major holidays. My mother wants me to go home and help out the week leading up to Mother’s Day. I’m exhausted just thinking about working for them. I’ve already spent three weeks at home in February to help out for Valentine’s Day and, before that, three months to help out when my dad was seriously injured. I was physically and mentally drained after working those stints for them. I was paid after long negotiations and didn’t get all of the money until February. I’m probably expected to work gratis that week. I’m currently finishing up a master’s degree and trying to look for a job. Should I suck it up and work for them or can I finally draw a line? 

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—Exhausted Daughter

Dear Exhausted,
First a note to readers: Mother’s Day is May 10, so get your floral order in now so that Mom will be happy and these hard-working florists stay in business. I spoke to Slate’s managing editor, Lowen Liu, the son of a florist. He said while he was never expected to help out past high school, he sympathizes with both the demands of the trade and your plight. His mother eventually wilted from the relentless pressure and was able to retire early. Lowen’s view is that you’ve discharged your duty to your family this past year and can decline given you’re in the home stretch of your studies. My view is perhaps colored by never having had to help out at the family floral business. I can understand your reluctance to have your fingers bloodied by thorns only three months after the horror of Valentine’s Day, and you have every right to say you have to attend to your own business. But you don’t have a job yet so you sound available to help out for this limited period of botanical misery. Yes, your family ultimately needs to prepare for when you’re busy with your career, but surely your immigrant parents made many sacrifices so that you could have opportunities closed to them. Think of this as tossing them a last bouquet of thanks.

—Prudie

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