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, everyone. I look forward to your questions.
Q. Mom’s Changing Her Name: My mother and her husband (not my father) are going through an acrimonious divorce. She expressed interest in changing her last name to get rid of all traces of him. Because she also is not a fan of my father, she suggested taking my married name as her last name “so we all have the same family name.” I think it’s kind of sweet, but my husband thinks it’s odd. What say you?
A: Your mother surely has a couple of last names she’s used before to choose from. The typical thing is going back to one’s maiden name. I don’t know if she divorced your father and so has bad feelings about that name, but if she was widowed and had good feelings about it, that’s another possibility. People are entitled to call themselves whatever they like. But you took a new last name when you married your husband. I agree with him that there’s something off in having his mother-in-law adopt it too.
Q. I Think It’s a Big Deal: My husband and I, both in our early 30s, have what I always thought was a perfect marriage. I could easily make a long list of his great traits and our great chemistry. However, when my computer broke recently and I went to use his, I discovered that he chats online to strangers about himself and me. This includes even personal information about our sex life, my looks, etc. As far as I can tell, it’s all anonymous online chat, but I still feel like this is a major violation of our trust. Plus, while what he says about me is all positive (from what I saw), it does make me think I’m not satisfying him completely if he needs to be talking about such sexual topics with strangers. Should I confront him about this? Is this a big issue for our marriage or am I overreacting?
A: It’s not the typical thing that when one finds a secret cache of communication about sex on a spouse’s computer that it consists of “I am such a lucky man. My wife is beautiful and sexy.” You didn’t set out to snoop, but something roused your interest, so you did. I don’t see how you don’t talk about this with your husband. But drop the idea of “confrontation.” You want to discuss with him about what you found in the spirit of “OK, this caught my eye, I admit I clicked. Can you tell me what this chat site is about?” Also drop the idea that you are somehow not “satisfying him completely.” Nobody satisfies somebody completely, in that individuals have quirks and corners of their psyches that are theirs alone and outside the reach of even our most intimate relationships. It becomes an issue if exploring these aspects of ourselves violates our relationships. I see the issue here as one of privacy—you need to know if your husband, even if he’s posting anonymously, is endangering your privacy and telling strangers things you feel are violations. If so, you have every right to weigh in. But first take a deep breath, then have a conversation about your perfect marriage, and learn something interesting about the man you love.
Q. Need to Stop Attraction to Co-Worker: I started a new job almost six months ago. I have also been in a loving and satisfying relationship with my live-in boyfriend of three years. Normally I do not fantasize about other men, but I am very sexually attracted to a co-worker. I’m finding myself fantasizing about him every day. I have no desire or intentions to leave my boyfriend to pursue this co-worker, and I don’t think the co-worker has a clue about, or shares, my attraction. How the heck do I get this person out of my head, especially when I’m being intimate with my boyfriend? I feel incredibly guilty fantasizing about this random person when I should really be fully in the moment at home.
A: The only thing you need to do is not act on your attraction to your co-worker. But if this person is arousing you and makes your sex life with your boyfriend more interesting, use it. The hard case around our brains conveniently keeps others from seeing our personal erotic movies. So be an auteur and run some fun fantasies while you have satisfying sex with your boyfriend. (And don’t ask him if he ever thinks of anyone but you while you’re making love.) Stop feeling guilty and enjoy your free-floating erotic feelings, and be glad you are grown up enough to keep them to yourself.
Q. Hong Kong Follow-Up: I wrote to you last week regarding a promotion that required me to travel to Hong Kong, and I just wanted to let you know that thanks to your advice, I’ve accepted the assignment. Thank you for taking the time to answer my question! You really helped ease my mind.
A: This is great to hear. So let us know if you’re going to try to find a nanny in Hong Kong, or let your sister take care of your child. And give us a report when you get back!
Q. Re: Mom’s Name Change: People might be able to call themselves whatever they like, but not always legally. In our state a name change requires a judge’s approval, and sometimes they say no, especially when it appears to create confusion or cause deception. Not that this applies in this instance.
A: Yes, there is that restriction, but as you note, that is not the case here. The case here is that it’s just kind of weird and Mom should come up with another name.
Q. Mother Angry Over Success: My husband and I are in the 30-to-40-year-old range and both of us work for the same great company. We are in different departments, but both careers are technical in nature. Our company has recently provided us both a promotion opportunity within our respective groups and a relocation incentive to move from our current state to one in the Midwest. My mother is currently three hours away and is coming off a terrible divorce (two years out); the move would put us six hours away. She is incredibly lonely, and I love her dearly. When I told her our news, she was devastated and has since stopped speaking to me. It would be career suicide not to move. I love my mom. How do I get her to be happy for our success? She needs a fresh start as well, and I’d love for her to come with us!
A: You really do love your mom if you want to drag along someone whose whole world apparently consists of you and who is stuck—two years later!—nursing her lonely wounds from a failed marriage. That’s quite a way she has of congratulating you on your fantastic new work opportunity. She falls silent because that means you will be able to spend less time attending to her distress. You must take these jobs. If you do, presumably you will making more money, so let’s assume that instead of a car ride away, your mother is more of a plane ride away, and you can better afford her tickets. Do encourage her to get into therapy. Being unable to recover from a divorce two years later and having no friends indicates someone with significant problems. Maybe she’s depressed and getting help for that would make her life globally better. But since she’s not talking to you, I wouldn’t break the silence by suggesting she become a permanent millstone.
Q. Re: Online Chats: To the poster with the online-chatty husband: My husband and I have been together for 18 years, after we met in college. Almost all of our friends are mutual friends. Because of this, I’ve always found it difficult to have detailed conversations with friends about our marriage, sex life, etc., because they also know him so well and it felt like a kind of betrayal of trust. So at times I’ve used Internet forums to anonymously discuss various issues, and found objective advice and listening to be really helpful. All this to say, I’d be upset if he thought it was a violation of trust—that’s exactly what I’d been trying to avoid! P.S. I’ve also done this about pregnancy, baby stuff, etc., to avoid boring my “real” friends who are in different phases of life. These online forums are really a great resource for stuff like that.
A: Thanks for this perspective. But surely there is a danger that one could get too specific and become identifiable.
Q. Re: Fantasizing About Co-Worker: I found myself with a major crush on an attractive co-worker. She gave off a very sexual vibe and was my “type,” but I was (and still am) married and she was my direct subordinate. I found myself fantasizing about her, especially when she would come into my office and be very flirty. If I had kept up the fantasies as “harmless,” it would’ve not been healthy for me. (I was going through a very unsatisfying period in my marriage.) I handled it by doing “self-talking,” telling myself that “nothing was ever going to happen so just put it out of my mind.” After a week or so, I found the crush evaporate. Maybe some people can once in a while indulge in thinking about another person while they are having sex with their spouse, but I think it is a risky path.
A: Thanks for this—it’s so interesting to hear how people handle this common but very private issue. Obviously, this was the right path for you. But I also think it’s possible to indulge in the fantasy, and that by indulging—not acting!—the fantasy can also burn itself out.
Q. A Nanny by Any Name: My closest friend is a single mother with a 9-month-old baby. Money is very tight for her, and as I’m unemployed right now I offered to watch the baby for her so she can work full time. The problem is she now introduces me to people as “Jen, my nanny,” even in social situations! There was one time when she was done with work and I brought the baby with me to hand him off and have dinner with her and a few friends and she was like, “Oh, this is the nanny, Jen.”
One time she asked me to meet her for dinner, and after dinner she wanted to stop back at her house to see the baby. When we got there, her boyfriend was there, and then she asked if I wouldn’t mind watching the baby while she and her boyfriend went out for a little while. I was shocked, so I didn’t know what to say. I feel like I’m being taken advantage of, and furthermore I’m not her nanny, I’m her best friend! I know this is a petty problem, but it’s driving me crazy. I’ve asked her to stop, and she continues. I don’t want to stop watching the baby for her, but am I being petty?
A: You don’t say you’re asking this friend to pay for your services, so you must be a very flush unemployed person to be doing full-time baby-sitting out of the goodness of your very generous heart. Your friend sounds like a jerk. Yes, it’s tough being a single mother, but it doesn’t sound as if she thought through what this meant or how she would provide care for her child. I’m not clear whether this boyfriend is the baby’s father. If he is, then they should be pooling their resources in order to make sure their child has a good life. Of course you don’t want to punish the baby, but presumably your unemployment benefits run out at some point and you have to get a job. Your friend is ungrateful and insulting. (No, calling your nanny your nanny is not insulting; but calling a friend or family member an employee is.) You need to have a very clear talk with her explaining you are not going to provide unlimited child care, and she needs to be looking for other options. You can also tell her that if she doesn’t stop acting as if you work for her, she will be putting your ability to watch her child in jeopardy, along with your friendship.