Mallory Ortberg, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast. Just leave a message at 401-371-DEAR (3327), and you may hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
Mallory Ortberg: Hello, members of the public! Let’s gossip in the agora.
Q. Wonder woman: What is your take on expectations of women these days? I can’t tell if I’m a total dud or normal, but I feel exhausted by the expectations of me. I am a mother of a young child and this is my main priority. I do all the parenting (literally) and my husband’s only expectation in this area is to say hello to our child when he gets home. You could argue that this dynamic is my fault, but among my friends it’s actually pretty common that the mom does the lion’s share of parenting. However, this task is apparently not supposed to slow me down at all because I’m also expected to work full-time as a professional and excel, kick butt, and be a bad-ass woman who earns a fat paycheck. And of course our house has to look good and clean and neat! Is it just me or is it just too much? A lot of my friends happily accept doing all the parenting, but they are also stay-at-home moms so it’s a bit easier to juggle for them. Whenever I complain to my husband (rarely! I’m not a miserable person!) he says heartily “Ah, I know women who have FOUR kids and work 80-hour weeks! They are just fiiiine!” Where do these women get their energy? I realize they must outsource a lot of their duties (like parenting? and house-cleaning?) but I still don’t get it. I guess I suck as a modern-day woman because, honestly, I secretly yearn to stay at home and raise my baby. Other than taking up meth to give me the zip I need, do you have any advice or insight on how to be a kick-butt modern woman who can do it all?
A: I do not have any advice on how you can do all of these things. The problem you are having is not that you are an insufficiently empowered woman. The problem you are having is that your husband is a selfish jerk. He is not married to one of those mythical women with four children and 80-hour workweeks; he is married to you and you are not getting the support you need. He is also not parenting his child adequately if all he does is stop by and offer a queen of England–style wave once a day. If the majority of your friends’ marriages have similar dynamics, I’d go so far as to venture that the majority of your friends are also married to selfish jerks. You ask where “these women” who aren’t so overwhelmed get their energy—I think most of them get it from their partners, who are pulling at least an approximation of their own weight. Your husband appears to think his only job is to go to work and then let you know if you’ve cleaned the house to his satisfaction afterwards. You are effectively a single parent. If that’s not what you want out of your marriage, then you will need to seriously rehabilitate the basis of your relationship, and be prepared to at least contemplate leaving if your husband’s only response is, “But this relationship is working just fine for me.” Good luck.
Q. Doggie dilemma: My neighbor “Megan” lives down the hall from me in my building. She got a dog a few months ago that is quite aggressive toward my boyfriend and me. She snarls, growls, and barks at us furiously whenever she sees us. She has almost been run over while chasing me. I chose to ignore it for the most part. Then her dog bit my boyfriend, then me a few days later. Both instances were unprovoked. Later that day, I received a Facebook message from her pleading with me not to report it. We are not Facebook friends. She begged me not to report it to the apartment manager or the county. I had already written a letter to the apartment manager. I told her that if her dog bites my boyfriend, me, or my dog again I’m reporting it to the county. There have been two more instances where the dog has been aggressive toward me since then, but she was leashed. Yesterday, I went to let my dog outside and Megan was standing directly in front of my door with her dog. There was no reason for her to have the dog with her. The dog was so close to the door that I could feel the vibrations of her growls from inside. I felt that I couldn’t safely take my dog out. I expressed my frustrations about this incident on Facebook last night. I said I was worried my dog would get bit and I would have to go to animal control. What I didn’t know is that I am friends on Facebook with one of her closest friends who told her what I said, I’m assuming out of context. Not five minutes later she was calling me on Facebook and knocking on my door. We still haven’t spoken because it was after 10 p.m. I am moving in a couple months, but I have to deal with this until then. How should I handle this situation?
A: I can’t imagine hearing what you wrote “out of context” would make much difference—Megan is perfectly aware that her dog has a history of aggression and of biting people, and so far the only steps she’s taken to address it is to send you panicked Facebook messages. Regardless of when you’re moving away, it’s only a matter of time before this dog bites someone else, and you should file a dog bite report with the city (likely through animal control, but the exact procedure will vary depending on where you live). If Megan is sending you unwanted Facebook messages, ignore them and block her; if she’s knocking on your door and you don’t want to speak to her, don’t come to the door and tell her to leave. This is not an issue that needs to be addressed between the two of you; that ship sailed when her dog bit two people and she neither apologized nor did anything about it. Facebook is not the best place for you to express your concerns about your safety. Call your landlord and follow up on your letter to say that Megan has taken to standing outside of your apartment door with her dog, and call Animal Control to report multiple dog bites.
Q. Fertility: My husband and I are using a fertility doctor to try to have a baby. We’re not been ashamed of this and have told a number of close family and friends. My concern is that we’ve told them the date of the embryo transfer and the date of the pregnancy test. Again, I don’t mind them knowing, but I’m dreading the thought of being contacted over and over the day of the pregnancy test. If we’re not pregnant, it’s not something I’ll want to talk about with everyone. If we are, there’s still a chance it won’t work out (miscarriage). So far everyone has been nothing but supportive and wonderful, I just don’t know that I’ll have the strength to tell them all in the likely event it doesn’t work out.
A: Tell your friends that you’d appreciate not hearing from them on the day of the test! “I’m anxious at the thought of having to update everybody in real-time. We’ll let you know if we have good news, but please don’t check in the day-of to see how things are going. The thought of having to update everyone if things don’t work out feels overwhelming and stressful. I really appreciate it.”
Q. Negative husband: I am 42 years old, and I have always been an optimist, I like to be happy, and strive to focus on the positives. I have a very stressful full-time job. My husband of 24 years has always been of the most negative people I know. Perhaps his negativity was easier for me to deal with before, but one of my brothers recently died after a short, and horrible illness, and my mom is slowly slipping away due to dementia. I am increasingly unhappy with my life, and one of my problems is my husband’s constant complaining. No matter how hard I try to be upbeat and positive, he points out the negatives in everything, especially in me. He exhausts me. If it weren’t for my wonderful children, I would not want to come home. I have tried to talk to him about it, but he just doesn’t see his own negativity. He blames me, and our life in general, for his unhappiness. Despite his complaining, I know he loves me, and I do love him, but I just feel like I can’t live like this for the rest of my life.
A: It sounds like you already know what you want to do. You say you can’t live like this for the rest of your life, but it doesn’t sound like your husband has ever been any different, which suggests that if you stay with him, the rest of your life is going to look exactly like the last 24 years. If part of what you are looking for right now is permission to contemplate a separation from your husband after years of trying to get him to change, then you have it. Does the idea of coming home to a house without your husband harping on your every failing and the world’s numerous flaws—even if it means sharing custody of your children and starting over—sound like a blessed relief? If so, that’s at least one point in the “leaving him” category.
If the idea of leaving without first exhausting all your other options doesn’t appeal, ask yourself what you can do to minimize your negative interactions with him. You can refuse to engage when he starts in on his regular Eeyore speculations. When he goes off, you can say, “That’s possible. I’ll think about it,” which gives him relatively little purchase. “Could be! I’ll think about it.” Think of yourself as a flat, sheer mountain face upon which this little mountain goat of negativity can find no rest for his jerk hooves (or think of a better analogy, if one occurs to you). Give him nothing to meaningfully interact with when he attempts to start a What If Disaster Strikes and Also You’re a Bad Person spiral, and it’s possible you find he eventually switches tactics. At the very least, you yourself will spend less time trying to argue him out of his dark places.
Q. Re: Fertility: A woman in my friend network is going through this. She set up a closed facebook group and invited anyone who was interested. One post, everyone updated, done. She posts between milestones for support and validation. Seems to work well.
A: Thanks for the suggestion! If the letter writer feels up to it, this might be an easier way to keep everyone updated when and if she has anything new to report.
Q. Wedding Year: Our local news station in Philadelphia posted the actual video for the dolt who proposed to his pregnant girlfriend at his best friend’s wedding. I was hoping the letter was a hoax but evidently it wasn’t.
A: Everything happens eventually.
Q. Coming out in the 21st century: After a four-year relationship with a man, I have realized that I am a gay woman. I’ve already told my parents and close friends, and they’ve all been supportive and lovely.
It feels important to me to let other people know that I am gay. I come from a religious background where many LGBTQ+ people are closeted, and I want to show that I’m comfortable with my identity and that I’m not ashamed of it. However, I don’t really know how to go about it—especially since I’m still dealing with the emotional fallout of my past relationship and can’t see myself pulling a smooth “So this is my girlfriend” move anytime soon.
Do I make a Facebook post? Do I start subtly dropping clues into conversations? Do I start wearing a rainbow bracelet? I am a private person, and I’m a little afraid that people will think I’m being flashy or too self-focused if I start talking about my sexuality all of a sudden.
A: You can come out on Facebook if that seems meaningful to you! It would be, at the very least, more convenient than telling a lot of people separately, although if you would rather have more one-on-one conversations with the further reaches of your social circle then you should by all means tell people individually. There is the classic My First Gay Haircut, if you’re nervous at the prospect of talking too much but want to be read as gay more often when you’re out in public. (You don’t have to get any particular sort of haircut to be gay, obviously, but it can be fun and affirming to try at least once.) You can absolutely wear a rainbow bracelet if you like. It’s not “flashy” or self-centered to come out, and based on your letter I’d guess you’re more prone to self-effacement than self-aggrandizement. You don’t have to drop subtle hints about your sexuality if what you want is to say, “Something significant happened to me this year—I’ve realized I’m gay, and I’m both nervous and excited to start telling people.” It’s a big part of your life that you (apparently) haven’t been able to discuss with people before. Give yourself permission to open up a little. And happy Pride month!
Q. With friends like these…: My husband and I have been very close friends with a gay couple in another city for nearly 20 years. I used to work with one of the guys, and they moved to a city that’s a two hour drive from us many years back. We’ve shared vacations, holidays, they got married in our house, and for years, we had a steady series of visits, drunken fun nights, in jokes, etc. One of the guys has always been a bit sarcastic—funny but not sweet.
A few years back, I went through a personal crisis after a job loss. I kind of lost my equilibrium, but it didn’t really affect these friends. Since then, these guys have become distant and mean, particularly my original friend. He told me I was a nightmare to be so upset at a layoff, that I was going to lose my husband, that I’m a drama queen, he liked me better when I was fatter, that I should do my hair differently, etc. And all of a sudden, visiting this couple—which we used to do four or five times a year—nearly impossible. They’ll cancel at the last minute, have newly strict rules on how long we can come for (the latest offer is one night and one night only) and will plead “we’re so busy, have a lot of stuff going on, etc.” whenever we try to come. One of them doesn’t even work full-time, BTW. When I try to talk to them about it, they insinuate I’m hysterical and needy. And they never contact us to do anything or visit themselves anymore. I guess I know the answer...this is a lost friendship and I should move on. I guess by showing weakness I blew a longtime friendship? My husband, though he loves them, isn’t much help ... he just says “forget it” and insists it’s not that bad. But at this point, I don’t even want to go visit them for their one-night offer or even talk to them ... I don’t think I like them anymore and don’t know what’s there for us. But I still feel sad, like I lost two brothers. Any suggestions on what to do?
A: Take the time to mourn your loss. You’re absolutely right that this friendship is over. There’s no point in going back for further insults or to try to convince them to conduct a postmortem on your relationship, but that doesn’t mean you have to get over it immediately. This is a terribly sad breakup and it’s going to take time for you to move on. Let yourself cry over it. Write a letter you’re never going to send about how hurt you’ve been by the end of this friendship. Talk to another close friend about it, or a therapist if you find yourself wanting to discuss it obsessively. Whether or not you did something wrong during your “lost equilibrium” phase, it could not possibly have justified the kind of cruel comments your former friends lobbed at you.
Q. Poison ivy farm neighbor: Our neighbor does not take care of his yard. His mow jobs are patchy, and there is a lot of overgrowth. Which is annoying, but fine, it’s his yard. The problem is that there’s a large bed of poison ivy in the backyard, and it keeps growing through the fence into our flower beds. And then I end up getting it. Right now, my husband has settled for pouring a line of weed killer on the neighbor’s side of the fence. And no, he hasn’t noticed. Is this something that I would be out of line to say something about? He’s a physically active guy, so it isn’t that he can’t take care of his yard. He just doesn’t like to. Also, he’s a pretty quiet guy, so there’s not often more than an acknowledging head nod if we see each other outside. So if it’s OK to say something, what should I say?
A: “Hey, neighbor! I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but there’s a patch of poison ivy in your backyard. If you need any help or tips on how to get rid of it, please let me know. I’d be happy to help.”