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A few months ago I posted an ad on an ageplay-related dating site. Role-playing with consenting adults is something I enjoy (discreetly). Since then I’ve met a wonderful woman, and we’re currently seeing one another. I recently received an email response to the ad, which I’d forgotten to take down—a mistake I have now fixed. The message was from a 14-year-old-girl. I responded saying I was sorry, but I am certainly too old for her and wished her luck finding someone her own age. Is that a sufficient response? Most of me wants to get as far away from the situation as possible, but I have a lingering concern that I might want to let her parents know that she’d been messaging older men on the internet. I know I’d like to know that about my child at that age, but I also know that everyone’s situation is different. What should I do?
I feel confident in offering this general piece of advice to all of my readers over the age of 18: Err on the side of communicating less with (purported) 14-year-olds on the internet, not more. There was no reason for you to reply to that message in the first place, since posting an ad doesn’t create an obligation on your part to reply to every single inquiry. But you did reply and communicated the relevant information, namely that you are too old for her, and there is nothing left for you to say. You have no way of knowing who this girl’s parents are (and no way to know if it really was a 14-year-old girl, which should be no surprise to you), and the odds of your being able to track them down and warn them to keep a closer watch on her internet activities are vanishingly small. Do not allow some parental or chivalrous fantasy to delude you into thinking you should have any further contact with this person. Whoever wrote that response is either a minor (in which case you should leave them alone), a cop (in which case you should leave them alone), or someone who’s so interested in immersive ageplay that they like to pose as teenage girls online without first obtaining consent from their scene partners (in which case you should definitely leave them alone). This is a flowchart where all roads lead to the same answer: Leave it alone.
* * *
I started dating a girl in January of this year, but we had been friends for a few months before that. In April, she came over to my house and tried to kill herself using some old medications of mine. I called an ambulance, talked to doctors, filled out paperwork, and called her parents. I kept in contact with both her and her family as much as possible over the next few days while also studying for my exams. After she had stabilized, I called her to break up with her. A few weeks later we got back in touch, texting and Facebook messaging each other. I really care about her and miss her. Is there any way I can get back together with her, or has that ship sailed? If I do try to get back with her, what do I say?
That ship ought to sail. This is in no way to suggest that someone who’s depressed or suicidal shouldn’t, or doesn’t deserve to be, in a romantic relationship. It does mean that the odds are not good that you will be able to build a loving, healthy, mutually supportive relationship with someone who only two months ago attempted to kill herself in your home. She needs time to focus on safeguarding her own well-being and relearning how to treat her depression with the help of a medically supervised, therapeutic support network. If you two are ever going to reconnect in a way that’s not just mutually codependent, it’s going to be a long time in the future. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep in touch with her—you like talking to her and she could certainly use (appropriate, friendly) support from you. But for now, consider her as someone who is unavailable until further notice, and don’t try to rush back into a relationship that so recently ended in such a catastrophic fashion.
* * *
My boyfriend and I have been together for about a year and a half now. We are very much in love and have been talking about getting married. He is the kindest and most genuine person I know. However, my one hesitation is that once I’m married, I won’t be able to have sexual experiences with other people. It’s not that he doesn’t satisfy me (he’s very good, and we’re great at communicating about sex and trying new things). It’s just that I’ve only had one other sexual partner, and I still want to explore. I’m bisexual and would like to have the chance to have sex with a girl at some point. The thing is, I don’t think I’m polyamorous, and I know if he wanted to have sex with someone else I’d be insanely jealous! So I don’t think it’s fair to ask him to let me have sex with other people. Perhaps it’s our slight age difference (I’m 21, and he’s 26 and has had more sexual partners than me). What are your thoughts?
—No Wild Oats
I’m sorry to disappoint you, because I think you’re hoping I’ll have a perfect solution to your problem that you just haven’t thought of. You have several options, none of them perfect, and only you can decide which trade-offs you’re willing to make. You can stay in what sounds like a pretty happy, monogamous relationship with your wonderful boyfriend, eventually marry him, and periodically wish you’d had the chance to sleep with more people before you two met. You can break up with him and lose the great relationship, but spend as much time as you like gaining sexual experience with as many women and men as you fancy. You can ask him for an unfair, one-sided hall pass to sexually experiment while staying together, which he may or may not go for. You don’t have to contemplate an entirely quid-pro-quo arrangement. Your sex life together does not have to be governed by a completely 50-50 sense of fairness. That’s not to say you shouldn’t treat one another with respect and seek to compromise wherever possible, but if you want to discuss the possibility of loosening some of your sexual restrictions for a while because you don’t have the same experience as your boyfriend and wish you did, that should at least be on the table as something you two can talk about. Don’t think it’s something you can’t ask for just because it’s not instantly reciprocal. There is a pretty big difference between a polyamorous relationship and what you’d be asking for.
Part of navigating adult life is figuring out what things you are and aren’t willing to live with. If you decide you want to keep your fantastic boyfriend and also have the chance to go on a Sexual Walkabout, you will have to ask for it, and, even if he says yes, spend a lot of time discussing boundaries and hard noes and feelings. You might not get it. He might also be hurt by the fact that you asked for it at all, because he’s his own, separate person. You have to decide for yourself if the benefits outweigh the risks, and act accordingly. Whatever you decide, you’re going to miss out on something else. That’s the nature of life. It’s just a question of what you’re not willing to miss, and pursuing that.
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Dear Prudie: Was I Wrong to Buy My Son’s Girlfriend a Pregnancy Test?
Hear more Prudie at Slate.com/PrudiePod.
My husband’s father died just before we got married, 17 years ago. He had been married to a woman with three daughters of her own, and the two had just had another baby girl at the time of his death. My husband and his brothers had a contentious relationship with their stepmother and stepsisters, and cut them out of their lives entirely after their father’s estate was settled. I have never forgotten my husband’s half-sister, that little girl, and it’s always bothered me that he walked away from her as well as his stepfamily. He didn’t consider it worth having a relationship with them in order to remain close to her.
Over the years I’ve often thought of her and tried to find out more about her—if she looks like her brothers, how she’s doing. I don’t know if her brothers care at all that she exists. Today I found her on Facebook through her mother’s profile. She’s 18 now. I’m not sure what to do with this information. Do I tell my husband I was looking for his sister? Do I just send him a link to the Facebook profile? I know better than to contact her without talking to him first, but I’d love to find out if she knows her brothers exist or if she was told horrible lies about them and hates them. I realize what a can of worms any contact with her will open.
—Found via Facebook
If you don’t know whether your husband ever thinks about his little sister and part of you thinks you should just send him a link to her Facebook profile without comment, I have to wonder just how often you and your husband actually speak to one another. Your husband knows he has a sister he hasn’t seen since she was a baby, so you don’t have any new information to provide him with just because you’ve seen her Facebook page. If you want to know what he thinks about her, you should ask him. If you’re curious why he seems so uninterested in ever getting to know her now that she’s an adult, you should ask him. If you find yourself thinking of her often and don’t understand why it seems to be different for him, then you should tell him and ask him what he thinks. This is a conversation that’s long overdue, and one you shouldn’t avoid having just because on the surface he appears content with the way things are.
* * *
I struggle with consistent employment, and my husband works retail. We live very conservatively and barely make ends meet. My mother (probably and justifiably assuming I’ve passed the point when I’m ever going to finish my degree) recently turned over to me the $20,000 trust she’d intended I use for college. I know from regrettable experience how quickly money can disappear into day-to-day expenses, and I don’t want the windfall to go to waste. There are also several large expenses that have been haunting us for a while that I could put the money toward (repairing and paying off the car, getting out of credit card debt, etc.). Should I use it immediately on something like that, sit on it and try to avoid using it as much as possible (knowing that it may be much diminished from one minor emergency after another), or block myself access to it completely to avoid the temptation and let it continue to accrue value while we keep on trying to become responsible, well-paid adults on our own?
Let’s begin with the very necessary and relevant reminder that I am not a professional financial adviser and that it may be well worth paying to speak with one for an hour or two about your options before making any decisions. My first question is whether you believe you’ve passed the point where you’re ever going to get your degree. If the money was originally earmarked for your college education, and you would like to finish going to college, you could absolutely use this money for its intended purpose. Depending on where you live, how far along you are in your coursework, and what institution you’d plan on attending, this $20,000 may finish paying for your schooling entirely, and might go a long way toward increasing your future earning potential. You could even split the difference if you think a bachelor’s at a four-year institution is untenable and get an associate’s degree from a nearby community college (which depending where you live might even be free)—that’s an awful lot cheaper than even the most no-frills state college.
If getting a degree is no longer your goal, you have plenty of options. The good news is none of the options you outlined in your letter sound reckless or unrealistic. Having a fully paid-off, reliable car is nothing to sneeze at, and neither is getting out of credit card debt. Accomplishing either (or both, if possible) of those goals would very much be in keeping with your desire to become responsible, financially stable adults. Figure out what your biggest values are (getting a degree? Getting out of debt? Starting a retirement account that you can’t touch so you don’t have to keep worrying you haven’t started a retirement account yet?), consult a professional who can advise you how to get the most value from your money, and good luck.
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Is there a newer definition of the term queer than I am familiar with? Growing up, queer seemed to be a pejorative that was reclaimed by the LGBT community. As a cisgender man I’d worry about coming across odd, maybe offensive, if I called a gay or lesbian friend queer, but it was a term they claimed for themselves. (Which I totally understand.) It seems as if queer now seems to refer to either bisexual or gender-neutral people, although from context it’s not quite clear to me which one it is (or both?). Not that labels matter, but it does help in understanding how people classify themselves.
—Unclear on Queer
There is! So, let’s have a quick primer for anyone whose first response to seeing the word queer is “That’s weird, I thought that word was only used by playground bullies in the ’80s—why is it on the cover of this sociology book/the name of this dance party/something the chipper brunette at this party just used to describe himself?” The word queer originally meant “peculiar,” had a long and flourishing run as a pejorative, then shifted again in the 1980s when academics and activists reclaimed the word. Queer Nation was founded in 1990, the term New Queer Cinema was coined in 1992, and in academic circles “queer theory” was introduced as a sort-of offshoot of post-structuralist critical theory around the same time. As you rightly observe, queer encompasses multiple identities—“queer women” can refer to both gay and bisexual women, for example—which makes it a useful shorthand if you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the alphabet soup of initialisms.
For what it’s worth, I think labels matter very much! That’s not to say labels are required or static or can’t change, but I do think labels have gotten an unnecessarily bad rap over the last few years. Labels help like-minded people find one another, communicate significant and important truths about our identities and attractions and relationships, and promote a shared history. That’s not to say we should run around demanding other people provide us with reductive sound bites of their identities, but as you yourself point out—they help us understand how other people think of themselves, and that’s a good thing.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Baby, Bumped: My husband refuses to have sex with me while I’m pregnant.”
“How Sweet It Almost Was: The man I loved for years has admitted he loved me too—but now we’re married to other people.”
“Try, Try Again: I haven’t been able to have a second child, but my husband won’t give up.”
“The Silent Sexuality: I’m bisexual, but my wife doesn’t want me to talk about it.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“All Dogs Go to Heaven Anyway: Prudie advises a letter writer whose husband shot the neighbor’s dogs.”
“Lost to Lust: Prudie advises a woman who kicked her husband out for masturbating to a friend’s photo.”
“Swipe Wrong: Prudie advises a woman who hasn’t told her Tinder fling-turned-boyfriend that she has a child.”
“Thumbs Down: Prudie counsels a letter writer whose husband won’t stop picking up hitchhikers.”