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My husband cheated on me while I was pregnant, and when I found out he stopped the affair a year ago. During the time of his affair if I tried to talk to him he would either not hear me or give a quick response to get back to his phone. If I persisted he would get angry and leave. As I was on bed rest I ignored it and just withdrew into myself to keep my blood pressure from going up and putting my pregnancy in any more jeopardy. My issue is that while he was cheating on me I got used to him ignoring me. So much so that when we have time to ourselves I would much rather read a book than have a conversation. It just became a habit to try to do things on my own. I can sense he is getting frustrated with my always reading or doing individual activities instead of having more couple time. How can I break the habit?
—Too Much Me Time
It’s a habit you developed to protect yourself, and it will likely take a while to change. You knew asking your husband for some attention or affection would likely result in getting ignored or outright rejected, and rather than put yourself through that pain on a regular basis, you developed a coping strategy that kept you feeling safe, or at least safely distracted.
You say that your goal is to reduce this habit and establish a greater sense of intimacy with your husband, so I hope he’s made some serious apologies and spent an enormous amount of time and energy atoning for his behavior. I’m more than a little worried that you can “sense he is getting frustrated” with your increased self-sufficiency, because it suggests he has an expectation that things will return to “normal” on their own, without continued, good-faith effort on his part. Moreover, it suggests that he’s still not using his words to communicate with you, just indirectly making it clear when he’s displeased, which was the problem in the first place. If you two aren’t able to have regular, honest, loving conversations about how you want to spend time together and how to re-establish trust, then couples’ counseling should be your very first stop.
Beyond that—how would you like your husband to spend time with you? If you want to open back up, put down your book, and trust him again, what can he do to help that along? Do you want him to take you out on dates? Cook meals together? Ask you about your day? He might ask you to tell him about the book you’re reading, for example. It’s not just a matter of habit, as if your newfound preference reading is the sole barrier to intimacy between you and your husband. It’s whether you can both rekindle the trust and connection that should lie beneath whatever you “choose to do” together. If you put down the book and try to talk to your husband, he will have to really be there in a way he wasn’t before. If he can’t or won’t do that, it doesn’t matter what you do. He’s got to meet you well more than halfway.
* * *
I’m a 28-year-old guy, and I finally got my first girlfriend earlier this year. Then, out of nowhere, she broke up with me. She said she didn’t see it going long-term so it made sense to end it early, though there really wasn’t any conflict. We only dated for two months, and it was great. We seem to connect fine even after our breakup. But one thing she told me that’s stuck is that I won’t do well dating online because none of my “great qualities” come across there. And I have struggled tremendously with online dating my whole adult life. I don’t get matched often and my messages often get ignored, but I’m reasonably attractive and I have a lot going on in my life.
I am very busy with my career and my new campaign for political office, so I can’t spend tons of time meeting women in person. I established some confidence from the relationship, but it has been completely wiped away in the months since then.
I want to encourage you not to give too much weight to the words of your ex, which is advice I think we should all be generally ruled by. Her criticism is also unhelpfully vague—what good qualities of yours are somehow impossible to communicate through either words or photographs? Moreover, many online daters experience a low response rate and have to spend a lot of time wading through detritus before they manage to go on a successful date; most of what you’ve described is a not terribly unusual part of the experience. You haven’t experienced “online dating failure,” you’ve just experienced online dating. That said, if you think it’s unlikely you’ll meet anyone in meatspace and want to continue dating online, one option would be to hire a professional (they exist!) to help you touch up your profile and send fewer, more judicious, messages. This isn’t a guarantee, mind you; and most importantly, this is just to get neutral, experienced advice for playing the online-dating game. What you do to build a relationship after that is an entirely different question.
* * *
My boyfriend and I are very similar politically, so we rarely argue about hot-button topics. He’s a Silicon Valley engineer who believes H-1B visas have depressed wages in his field, although I’ve never heard him express any other negative thoughts or feelings about immigrants. He’s a registered Democrat and voted for Hillary Clinton.
He subscribes to an “immigration reform” newsletter that I’ve recently learned has ties to white supremacists. He never even reads the newsletter, but he’s given the organization money in the past so he’s on their mailing list. (I don’t think he donates regularly.) I think he should disavow the organization and get off their mailing list, but he seems unperturbed. Should I push the issue or not worry about it? He shrugged off my concerns about his name being on the rolls of this organization. Again, I’ve never heard him express any racist ideas; he just thinks wages would be higher for engineers in Silicon Valley if there wasn’t so much competition from engineers from overseas.
—Cancel Our Membership
Ask your boyfriend this: “You now know, as I do, that this organization you’ve supported financially has ties to white supremacist groups. Can you explain to me why this doesn’t bother you?” His answer may help clarify your next move.
* * *
Dear Prudence: The “Dickensian” Edition
Hear more Prudie at Slate.com/PrudiePod.
I work for a tech company where the men outnumber the women. On the elevators in our building, men often go out of their way to ensure the women exit first. This drives me nuts—it’s one thing to hold the door open for everyone, but it’s another to do it just for female co-workers. Sometimes men who are closest to the doors will shift around awkwardly to let me out ahead of them rather than just exiting first themselves, which would be easier for everyone. Is there anything I can say to make it clear that’s not necessary? I generally try “Please, go ahead” or “You’re closer to the door, after you,” but should I be more direct?
—Stuck on the Elevator
Some of the specifics of polite public behavior may change over time, but a good general guiding principle is to make sure your behavior increases the convenience and comfort of the people around you, rather than confusing or delaying them. Those male co-workers who regularly throw themselves against the walls to make sure you get to walk out first end up maximizing the time everyone spends cramped in a small space. It may help them feel chivalric (a feeling that might be an especially competed-for resource, given the gender ratio), but it’s not actually benefiting you at all. That said, delivering a lecture about efficient exit strategies in the middle of an elevator isn’t much better. You can’t get much more direct than “Please go ahead, you’re closer to the door” without going into a whole spiel about efficient exit strategies. Your response is the only polite deferral imaginable; anything beyond that would match one social breach with another.
* * *
Last summer, I met John during an internship. We quickly became close and developed a friends-with-benefits relationship about three months in. When the internship ended, we visited each other (he lives about an hour’s flight away), and just as I realized that I was falling for him, he broke things off. When I asked why, he mumbled something about “not really connecting on a deeper level.” This was both surprising and hurtful: I thought we were quite close and intellectually and sexually compatible. I fell for him in the first place because I thought we were connecting on a deep level. I’d made it clear from the start I wanted to keep things casual, so I know commitment and/or being long-distance weren’t an issue, so he must have genuinely thought there was something wrong with our connection. We'll be living in the same city starting next autumn, and I'm not sure what to do—I'd love to reconnect with him but not if we have diametrically opposed views on our “relationship.” Help!
—The One That Got Away
Do not get back in touch with John! This guy dumped you only recently and if you try to “reconnect” with him once you’re living in the same city, you’ll likely just be asking for him to reject you again. You two were only friends for about three months before you started sleeping together, so it’s not as if you had a solid, yearslong foundational friendship you could try to rebuild with him. It sucks when somebody likes you less than you like them, but you should find someone else to connect with—somebody whose views of your relationship aren’t diametrically opposed to yours. But take note: Finding someone compatible is much easier when you are honest with the other person (and yourself) about how casual or how deep a connection you really want.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Lost Cause: My boyfriend killed himself after a fight, and his family blames me.”
“In Fidelity: My cheating husband died suddenly, and I want to help his mistress.”
“Play Money: Our kids squander the strict budgets we give them for their birthdays.”
“The Wall Between Us: My husband supports Donald Trump. Will it ruin our marriage?”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“You, Me, and … Him?: Prudie advises a woman whose husband wants to have a threesome with his unattractive best friend.”
“Graveyard Shift: Prudie advises a woman who doesn’t want to be buried next to her deceased first husband.”
“Chosen One: Prudie advises a woman whose in-laws only give gifts to one of her kids.”
“I Ink I Love You: Prudie advises a student who got tattoos in tribute to her professor.”