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I need advice about something that I can’t ask anyone else. I have been with my boyfriend for two years. He is charming, funny, and my best friend. We both have good careers, share common interests, and love each other very much. However, he confessed something horrible to me the other night. He grew up on a farm and ranch, with a very conservative and religious family, and was home-schooled. “Ray” did not receive an early education about sex and was not allowed to talk about it or ask questions. At age 12, while looking for answers on the Internet, he found porn. Some of it was bestiality. He then participated in these atrocious activities from age 12 to 15. Ray went to public high school at 15, finally learned about sex, and found girls. He has not been back to this practice for more than 10 years and feels an incredible sense of regret, shame, and guilt about it. I am the first person he has ever told. I am shocked, disgusted, and fearful of what this means for his psyche. He refuses to see a therapist. I feel so overwhelmed by this confession that I don’t know what to do. Should I have packed my bags that night? Do I seek counseling? Can we move forward? Please help me process this.
There are many dangers described in this letter. One is parents who raise a child with a punitive approach to normal desires and keep him isolated from his peers. We also as a society should be paying more attention to the insidious effect ubiquitous—and notably vile—pornography has on the sexual psyches of young people. Finally, your letter is about the risks one takes in telling one’s deepest, darkest secret to a beloved. Your boyfriend felt he couldn’t carry this burden alone. It’s too bad he couldn’t go to an actual confessional, or the secular equivalent—a therapist—and unburden himself with someone who would keep his secret and give him needed absolution. Instead, you now have images in your head of your boyfriend figuring out on his own the birds, bees, and beasts. Yes, his past is shocking, but I don’t think it says anything about him except that he was a young man with normal impulses that were directed in an abnormal way because of his circumstances. But now you’re looking at him as some kind of deviant. If the facts are as you describe, I don’t think he is. What’s most important is that he is, as you say, filled with regret, shame, and guilt. He loves you so much that he felt you should know everything about him, and he clearly was hoping you would be the person to offer him pardon. I hope you can. Surely you aren’t “fearful” about him running off with a friend’s dog. Just because I suggested that these kinds of secrets might best be told to a therapist, doesn’t mean your boyfriend needs therapy for this, or would benefit from dwelling on it. He’s revulsed by his youthful violations, and you know it won’t happen again. I hope you can tell him, and mean it, that you appreciate he trusted you enough to reveal all, and that while you were initially shaken by the news, you know that it’s simply something that’s in the past, and doesn’t mean anything to your future.
My only child recently started kindergarten. Things are tight financially because I’m out of work. Since school started, we have contributed our share of communal classroom supplies, paid for two field trips, chipped in for the teacher’s birthday gift, and given to the school’s food pantry. Additionally, we receive solicitations to raise money for the school several times a week, including two current fundraisers where they expect us to ask family, friends, and co-workers to donate. I draw the line at this. My sister’s child just started a different school. She has sent out emails to our extended family asking for donations for her daughter. I responded that we have been hit with multiple requests at our own school but that I’d give her daughter a small check. Another relative responded that she donates for her own kids. Others were silent. My sister is now furious that our family is unsupportive of her kids. How are we going to navigate the next 12 years as these kids fundraise their way through their educations? My sister is very sensitive and prickly, and I am already dreading our next family gathering.
Would you like some wrapping paper? My daughter is now in college, but I still have some left over from those elementary school forced purchases. I’m glad you’re standing your ground on the fundraising, but you should get together with a couple of other parents, and go to the principal and explain that this is public school, it’s supposed to be free—although paid for by your taxes!—and these constant financial requests are a terrible burden. As my colleague Rachael Larimore writes in this manifesto that every parent should read, when she didn’t participate in the gift-wrap follies, her son stayed home from school “sick,” because he was embarrassed about his family not participating. Fortunately, for Rachael the school has turned to a low-pressure, contribute-what-you-can fun run. When you talk to the principal, bring Rachael’s story. As for your sister, don’t even write the small check—are you going to solicit one from her? If she wants to ostracize her family because they’re not engaging in a round robin of useless purchases, she needs to educate herself on economics and manners.
I absolutely love my boyfriend. He values relationships, practices generosity, we share jokes and laughter, and he loves me even when the going gets tough. But, I do not love it when he grows out his beard lumberjack style. It smells funny when it’s wet (and sometimes when it’s not). I don’t like how it feels when we cuddle. But he’s so proud of it that he becomes a little obsessed—Facebook pics, constant grooming, telling me this person or that person admires it, etc. I understand that it’s his face and his hair, so I try to stay away from nagging. When he grew out his beard last year, I simply asked that he keep his upper lip trimmed so I can still enjoy kissing him. Now he’s growing it out again and I’m dreading how long it might get. Any suggestions?
—Weirded Out by the Bearded Out
Does he wear a man bun, too? The big beard and the bun is a look I’ve come to think of as the Full Brooklyn. I share your dislike for following the stylings of Rutherford B. Hayes, and your hope that this “lumbersexual” fad quickly fades. It is not sexy to have your beloved come at you with the equivalent of a wet dog on his chin. He should agree to daily shampooing of his face forest; you don’t want him sprouting potatoes out of that thing like some botany experiment from The Martian. It is fine for couples to engage in some constructive grooming critiques: “What do you think about growing your bangs longer?” “Those pleated pants aren’t super flattering.” You can express your preference for the clean shave, but if he wants a luxuriant beard, you have to live with it. Let’s hope that if you two stay together and eventually have children, one day they will look at photos from this era and say, “Daddy, was that your Halloween costume?”
For the past few years, my husband and I have thrown a Halloween party in our home. I like to go all out and make it a really fun experience for our guests. We usually invite about 40 people, which is about all our apartment can comfortably accommodate. My husband has a lot of friends from his early 20s when he used to party and go clubbing all the time. They are nice people, but I find some of them to be lacking in the manners department. They are now in their 30s, but they have arguments in the bathroom, get way too drunk, and show up with uninvited guests whom we don’t know. Last year, a friend showed up after midnight with three people who looked strung out, and I didn’t like them having free rein over my home. I don’t mind if people bring a guest, as long as they ask first. What is a polite way for me to try to ensure this doesn’t happen again?
By midnight the candy corn has been eaten and the ghosts are going to bed, so it’s not a good idea to have unwelcome, strung-out guests who’ve had too many spirits. It’s time to cull your guest list. If you have people who have come year after year who get in bathroom brawls and bring their own entourage, cut them. Yes, they may be your husband’s longtime club buddies, but no one should make you feel uncomfortable in your own home. If the people who come get too drunk or rowdy, cut them off, and show them the door (but don’t let them get behind the wheel if they are over the limit). You aren’t required to host monsters just because it’s Halloween.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Lies and Consequences: My teacher lost her job because I said she hurt me. It wasn’t true.”
“Mama, Didn’t Mean to Make You Cry: A capricious mother figure, an unequal bequest, and cheap body disposal—just in time for Mother’s Day.”
“Rear View Horror: I was sexually abused at 14. Years passed, and he now has a family. Is it too late to say something?”
“A Is for Amen: We stopped our kid’s teacher from conducting class prayer, and now our Southern town hates us.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“You Talkin’ to Me?: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman who likes to think out loud—and gets flak from her boyfriend for it.”
“Swing This Way: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a couple who can hear their neighbors’ active sex life—and wonder if they’d share it.”
“Burning Love: In a live chat, Prudie counsels a man driven to lustful extremes by his wife’s habit of going naked when she gets ‘overheated.’”
“Involuntary Service: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend’s parents are planning a wedding for them against their will.”