Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below 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. Husband’s Fantasies: My husband and I have resolved to be more open about our sexual desires after a long “dry spell,” which has really revitalized all aspects of our relationship and made us much happier. We often dress up during sex, which is really fun, but recently he confessed a desire that gave me pause. He wants me to dress up as a casual acquaintance of ours. He wants to call me her name and for me to wear a very particular kind of clothing she wears. I’m not sure what to think. It’s kind of gross, and also suggests he’d rather be sleeping with her. Then again, maybe I should be glad he’s not and he’s making do with what he’s got (me). What should I do?
A: Of course it sounds to you as if he’d rather be sleeping with her. But I don’t think it means that. I think it means that with this new fantasy-play in your marriage, he gets to act out sleeping with other people while sleeping with you. But your letter expresses the downside of making manifest the erotic tapes we run in our own heads. It’s one thing for you two to pretend to, say, meet at a bar as strangers and pick each other up. But it’s a little dangerous for your husband to ask you to be someone else in your social orbit. Unsurprisingly, this has left you disconcerted. You can tell him this bothers you—for the obvious reasons—but you’re going to give it a try. It may be that you surprise yourself at how much fun it is to be “Darlene” for a night. Alternately, you can tell him that his fantasy is crashing into your reality, and you just can’t get into pretending to be someone you both see, and whom you now know he’d like to sleep with.
Q. Football Trauma: Fifteen years ago my 16-year-old brother died in a tragic high school football accident. Since then, my mother has suffered frequent anxiety attacks related to football (though has improved with counseling) and doesn’t like to talk about it. I am dating an amazing man, who happens to work as a high school football coach. He’s very considerate of my grief, and watches game tapes, NFL games, etc., when I’m not around, and makes sure I’m OK whenever we’re in a situation where the main conversation topic is football. (You’d be surprised how often this is!) For Thanksgiving we’re invited to my mom’s house, but she doesn’t yet know that my boyfriend coaches high school football. I don’t know whether to tell her. For one thing, I think our relationship will last—if anyone’s “The One,” he is—and I want my mom to get to know him better, but I also don’t want her to immediately associate him with something bad, and especially for her to have a panic attack or become depressed on Thanksgiving. What should I do?
A: If you are going to end up marrying a high school football coach, you have to be able to fully embrace his career—while also fully believing, because you know it to be true, that he does everything possible to protect the health and safety of his players. Your mother suffered the worst thing that can happen to a parent, but you cannot hide this fact about your new guy from her. If you are serious about your boyfriend, you need to sit down with your mother and tell her about your relationship and what he does for a living. Then offer to go to the therapist with her to talk this out and develop strategies for how to interact in a normal fashion with your boyfriend, and how both of you—especially she—can cope when football comes up in conversation.
Q. Appropriate Behavior With Adult Male Friends: My daughters are 8 and 11. We are friends with our neighbors, a couple who each have a college-age daughter from previous relationships. They are good people, and I trust them to hang out with my kids when I’m home. The man, “Danny,” helped me teach my younger daughter how to ride her bike last summer. My daughters love doing gymnastics and showing off, as kids do. I feel uncomfortable when they show their cartwheels, splits, stretches, and backbends to “Danny.” I feel like it’s bordering on inappropriate to do around friends and neighbors, especially adult men. I trust Danny, and he maintains safe boundaries (he will give the girls a warm hug in return, but he doesn’t pick them up even if they try to jump on him, etc.), but I still want to avoid these situations. Is this just my issue? Should I talk to my girls about this and tell them to stop? How do I do it without making them feel ashamed or sexualizing nonsexual behavior?
A: Let’s follow your logic. According to your concerns, girls can do gymnastics as long as they perform only for an all-female audience. If your girls can flip and split to the amazement of adults, of course they’re going to want to show off their spritelike skills to all in their orbit. There is nothing sexualized about what they’re doing, or the awestruck appreciation of adults, male and female, at that flexibility. What’s really concerning about your letter is that there is not a scintilla of evidence that Danny is anything but a lovely male presence in their lives, a man who himself raised a daughter. Your expression of generalized unease at a man being around girls while they show off is part of an unfortunate trend of thinking of men as potential predators unless proven otherwise. Of course your daughters need to know about privacy and personal boundaries—physical and psychological. But children need adult men in their lives. Please don’t pathologize what sounds like a beneficial relationship to all.
Q. Sampling Others’ Dishes at Restaurants: It really bothers me when I’m dining at a restaurant with someone and they ask if they can try my dish, or worse, drink. I don’t want to share, and don’t care to try other people’s dishes. If I say no, I’m rude and selfish. If I say yes, I fume up (inside) at having to share out of polite social conduct behavior. Do I need to get over my feelings? (I’ve felt like this since I was a kid.) Or is there a way to politely tell people to back up?
A: You should definitely steer your dining choices to restaurants in which everyone serves himself from a communal platter (unless the thought of that makes you sick). Chinese or Indian restaurants are perfect for this. Then everyone is tasting everything and there’s no need for a fork to head, missilelike, to your plate. But if you’re at a restaurant where you each get your own separate plate of food, don’t get flustered and angry if your companion wants a taste. Instead, approach this with a sense of humor. You can say something like “One of my quirks is that I will never take food off your plate, but I can’t stand other people’s forks on mine. Sorry!” Same applies for drinks—which people ask to share a lot less often. With a drink, you can also say, “You don’t want to share this—I think I may be coming down with something.”
Q. Re: Football Trauma: I’m so sorry for the loss of your brother. As a (reformed) football coach’s wife, I want to make sure you are aware of the commitments that tend to come along with marrying a high school football coach. In most high schools, the expectation seems to be that wives will happily attend games and participate in every football-related activity known to man. Yes, you can skip out on these activities, but in my experience, the other wives as well as the parents will look upon you and by extension your husband with suspicion and disdain. And honestly, coaching football is such a time drain that you might not ever see your spouse during the season if you don’t participate in football activities. Maybe you are dating a man who is just a “casual” coach—I have yet to meet one of those mythical creatures. But I would really encourage you to talk with the other wives at his school to find out what is expected of wives if football is such a trigger for you.
A: Thanks for the warning about what marriage to a high school football coach means. If the letter writer thinks this guy is “The One,” she cannot ask him to keep his profession wholly separate from their lives.
Q. Guest Hospitality: My partner and I entertain houseguests frequently at our weekend home in a vacation destination. I want our guests not to feel obligated to help with chores, cleaning, etc. So I don’t have cleaning supplies in the guest bathroom or bedroom. My partner thinks they should clean up after themselves if they want to and we should have cleaning supplies discreetly tucked under the sink. What do you think? Would this send a message that we expect those supplies to be used?
A: I don’t understand the desire to play maid and butler to your guests—surely the people who partake of your hospitality would feel better about imposing on you if they could clean up the kitchen after dinner, etc. In any case, there’s a difference between having the opportunity to clean up one’s mess and the obligation to scrub the bathroom. Please have a toilet bowl brush, cleanser, and sponges in a ready spot so that your guests don’t feel embarrassed by their inability to mop up after themselves.
Q. Re: Sharing Food: This is ridiculous. If my dining companion wants to sample something—or it’s so good that I say, “You have to try this,” I cut off a little portion and put it on his/her bread plate. It’s a BITE, not a commitment!
A: Good idea about putting a bite on the bread plate. But if someone has a thing about not sharing food, it may seem ridiculous, but she is entitled to decline to share.
Q. Divorce Revelation 45 Years Later: My parents divorced 45 years ago after being married for 10 years. Both are remarried. Being 10 at the time of the divorce, I was not aware of any real fights and it was a sad day when my two younger sisters and I found out they were splitting up. A few weeks ago, I was spending time with my mom, and she told me she wanted me to know the reason for the divorce. She said my father cheated on her for years with a family friend. My dad was always a very good father (with normal conflicts as we were all growing up) to me and my sisters. This news is really bothering me, and I wish I had never been told. I always thought they divorced because they were two people who could both be self-centered at times. My question is: Do I ask my father if this is true? Does this really matter at this time in my life? And why did my mom feel the need to tell me?
A: 1. There’s no reason to ask your father. It sounds true, doesn’t it? But so what? It was almost half a century ago. Do you really need to hear either his denial or his confirmation? 2. I don’t see how the specific details matter. Obviously there was some pressing reason to dissolve a marriage that produced three young children. Again, this knowledge doesn’t change anything at this late date. 3. Who knows? Presumably she felt that as an adult, you were capable of handling this information and she was tired of carrying it alone. But likely your observation about your parents, that they could both “be self-centered at times,” had something to do with this revelation.
Q. Noisy Sex Disturbs Brother: I am a newlywed who married my husband last fall. We are still in the honeymoon phase and have a very active sex life. My brother recently graduated from college and has been living with us while he looks for work (which he has been doing energetically). He doesn’t pay rent—we agreed he would not have to do so for the first six months, and he supplies his own food and incidentals. We all get along well in this temporary situation. The problem is that when we’re in bed, my husband is a pretty great lover and I am kind of noisy. I try to keep quiet, but in the throes of passion it doesn’t always work and I often don’t even realize how loud I am. This has been disturbing for my brother. I understand that it’s pretty horrific to him to hear his sister having noisy sex, but it’s my house and he’s living there rent-free. Do you have any solutions?
A: I have two solutions: 1. heavy-duty earplugs for Bro, and 2. heavy-duty perusal by him of the “roommates wanted” section of Craigslist.
Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week.