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My wife and I have been married for about two years. When we were engaged, she was finishing law school, and she now has a full-time legal career. Unfortunately, her job is incredibly stressful, which has led to tremendous weight gain and cystic acne breakouts. I try not to say anything about her appearance, but the job has also changed her attitude and makes her snappy and impatient about every single thing. I’ve suggested that she change jobs, and I often suggest going on long walks together at night, but she complains that she doesn’t have the time. When I try to plan healthy menus for the week, she hoards candy and eats it when I’m not there. Her trash can is filled with empty wrappers every week. Is there any way I can help her cut her secret junk food habit without coming across as a jerk?
—Building Supportive Habits
While developing new, secretive binge-eating habits and suffering dramatic acne outbreaks are certainly signs that your wife is suffering from stress and overwork, I’m way more concerned about her drastic personality shift. It’s one thing to have a stressful job and temporarily develop some suboptimal coping strategies, but it’s quite another to completely turn into a snappy, impatient person who’s incapable of having a calm, civil conversation. You seem to have primarily noticed her weight gain, but it’s only one of several symptoms, and if you focus on it to the exclusion of the others, you’ll miss the forest for the trees.
It’s time to have a difficult, honest conversation, in which you’ll have to balance kindness with truth. Don’t open with “You’ve turned into a candy-hoarding jerk I don’t recognize.” Tell her you’re genuinely concerned about what this job is doing to her, that you used to be able to talk to her about anything but now she’s become short, impatient, and defensive, that this isn’t a recent or short-term phenomenon, that you love her and want her to be successful professionally but not at the expense of her health or your relationship. If she’s able to agree that her current situation isn’t working for either of you, then you can discuss various short- and long-term strategies, both in terms of looking for a new job and developing better communication skills and personal habits.
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I’m a 28-year-old female, and my life is like a romantic comedy—except I’m the red herring, not the romantic lead. Every guy I have ever been out with even once with has married the next girl they date after me. My record time is one week between my date with a guy and his proposal to another woman (seriously). At first it was a joke, but now that it’s happened 17 times, I get a lot of grief about it—and it’s not funny anymore. I’ve started to let it deter me from taking chances and meeting people. How do I let go off this superstitious baggage?
Look at it another way: It is not unusual for a 28-year-old to have been out with 17 people and be unmarried. The fact that they have all gotten engaged or married shortly thereafter is perhaps statistically unlikely but hardly remarkable, given how popular getting engaged and married appear to be. Everyone’s exes eventually date or marry someone else. This is not a reflection on you. This is a coincidence, like getting a phone number that’s mostly 9s. There is nothing you need to examine or change about yourself in order to prevent this from happening. In fact, even if there truly has been an anomalous trend of your being the “next-to-last,” look at the upside: You like men who have been confirmed by at least one other person to be excellent long-term prospects. So keep going on dates with people you’re interested in, and count yourself lucky you didn’t spend more time on the kind of guy who was dating other people a week before getting engaged.
My partner and I have a good life together. We get along well and have one child. However, my partner expects me to have a professional career that I’m not sure I can handle. I have finished my education (which was very difficult) and am now taking qualifying exams. My partner talks often about how great it will be when I’ve passed the exams and introduces me as “Future [Member of Profession].” I honestly don’t know if I’m smart enough to pass the exams. I’m struggling and scared of failing. I’m not absorbing the material, and the more discouraged I get the less I study. I don’t know what to do, because I’m sure if I fail it will mean the end of my marriage. What should I do?
—Not Smart Enough
I’m not sure if you think your marriage will end should you fail your qualifying exams because of the spiral of self-doubt you’re currently trapped in, or because your partner has made it clear that his or her love is conditionally based on your professional success. I suspect it’s the former. Nothing in your letter suggests that your partner is doing anything other than expressing pride and confidence in your achievements, and I think you should give him or her the chance to support you by sharing your fears and struggles. Whether or not you pass your exams, they are not a referendum on your intelligence or your worth as a partner. You are currently forcing yourself to suffer alone when you don’t have to. If you need to take classes or engage a tutor in order to pass the exams, do so; plenty of (perfectly intelligent!) people fail the bar or their CPA exams on their first try, and there’s no shame in taking help when it’s available. If you need to see a therapist to work through these feelings of self-loathing, there’s no shame in that either. Tell your partner that you’re having trouble absorbing the information, that there’s a real chance you will not pass on your first try, and that you’re afraid of failure and what it says about you as a person. If your partner is a loving, caring person, then I think it’s worth giving him or her the chance to help rather than assuming you will be discarded for needing support.
* * *
My husband and I have a daughter and have been unable to have another child without intervention. We’re about to start our first round of IVF, where they will also do genetic testing to make sure the embryos are healthy. During this process, we can also find out the sex of the embryos. My husband asked that since we already have a daughter, if I would be willing to have a male embryo implanted. I had an immediate, viscerally negative reaction to the idea. But if we had a boy first and now I had the chance to have a daughter, I think I might feel differently. What should we do?
Talk, mostly. Investigate the root causes of your immediate visceral reaction. Does it stem from discomfort about in-vitro fertilization as a practice and the level of control it can give you over the future of your unborn child(ren)? Are you concerned about the possibility that your husband would love a son more than a daughter or that you might prefer another daughter over a son, and what either implication might mean? What is really important to you in this process, and what would the cost be of making either decision? How would the both of you feel with either outcome? Your husband has, thus far, only asked if you would be willing to choose a male embryo, not insisted upon it. Now’s the time to figure out the implications of every possible decision, including saying, “No, I’m not willing to do that.” Ask your doctor if there’s anything you’re unclear or uncertain about. Don’t rush into implantation until you have discussed and are satisfied with where you’ve both ended up regarding the many questions at hand, personal and ethical. There’s no clear law or universal medical directive to guide you here—you two will have to figure out together what is and what is not acceptable to you.
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I would like to delete my Facebook account. I do not check it regularly, do not post things, and no longer find it useful for staying in contact with people. My question is: Am I obliged to send out a message to advise my Facebook friends that I am leaving it? I do not typically keep in contact with many of them, although many are my husband’s relatives. I am concerned they may interpret it as an act of distancing myself. My husband said that it does not matter, does not bother him, and I can do either (message or no message). Anyone who truly wants to contact me can easily text or send an email. What is your opinion?
—Ready to Ghost
You are under no obligation to announce your departure from social media if everyone already has your alternate contact information. Exit quietly and with dignity like Audrey Hepburn sneaking out of her hotel in Roman Holiday, not by making a big production out of it like Audrey Hepburn running out of the Larabees’ party in Sabrina. You or your husband can give a simple explanation if his relatives raise questions. If any of your friends express concern that you stopped using Facebook as an act of personal hostility, you can gently dispel their confusion and offer to get coffee or catch up over the phone sometime soon.
I spend most of my time on social media stalking my boyfriend’s exes. He had long relationships with two of them, and I’m convinced one is still in love with him from the texts she sends him. I don’t know how to stop being so jealous of their past with him and move on. I know he loves me but every time something upsets me, I’m suddenly looking at old pictures of him and his ex. How can I cope and let the past be the past?
The good news is that you recognize this behavior is unhelpful and destructive. The most immediate necessary action is to get the hell off of social media; delete your accounts if you find yourself unable to use them appropriately. Download the Self-Control app if you don’t trust yourself to stop visiting these ex-girlfriends’ profile pages even after you’ve deleted your account. Stop reading your boyfriend’s text messages. Stop reading your boyfriend’s text messages. Pretend that his phone is carrying a virus fatal to all girlfriends and that handling it for even a moment will result in instant death. If you trust your boyfriend, then you should not constantly monitor him. If you do not trust your boyfriend, you should either be having serious conversations about how to establish trust between the two of you or you should break up.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Somewhere Out There: I moved to Dubai but told my parents I’m in Tokyo.”
“Tale of the Tape: My family wants to screen an old home movie of them being horrible to me at Christmas.”
“Kitchen Stink: The restaurant staff think I can’t understand when they call me anti-gay slurs in Spanish.”
“Bang, Bang: My family carries concealed guns around my 2-year-old son.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Amour Feu: Prudie advises a letter writer who carries cigarettes—just to meet women who smoke.”
“Qualms for the Poor: Prudie counsels a letter writer who thinks giving to needy children rewards parents for bad behavior.”
“Roll Over, Tchaikovsky: Prudie advises a letter writer whose granddaughter refuses to see The Nutcracker.”
“A Lighter Shade of Pale: Prudie advises a woman who worries that looking white makes it rude of her to ask people’s ethnicities.”