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 new 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.
Q. DADT or bust?: My wife of 20 years has informed me she’s not so interested in sex any more (maybe quarterly?) and that perhaps I should get a girlfriend on the side. Only this would have to be superdiscreet, no sleepovers, no hosting, and none of our friends or family or kids can ever find out. We live in a small town so it looks like any girlfriend will probably have to be long distance. Does that sound reasonable, or do you think I’m being given a freedom I can never really take advantage of but that lets my wife feel less guilty in the process? I don’t want her to feel guilty, but I also don’t want the conversation to be shut down with an offer I can’t reasonably use.
A: What she’s offering sounds difficult but not necessarily impossible. There are plenty of ways to meet women who are interested in casual sex (not that they’re all growing on trees or that you’ll always be interested in the ones who are interested in you, just that there are bars and apps and the whole wide, weird, sex-seeking Internet at your disposal), but they might not necessarily be interested in becoming a potential girlfriend. If all you’re looking for is casual sex with amenable partners, you have options. If what you’re looking for is one woman who’s down for hooking up a few times a week or month, always at her place, never at yours, and who will never tell anyone about the two of you—that’s going to be pretty tough to find.
Q. Don’t like my godchild: I’m the godparent to a kid named “Elizanthonius.” I love the parents dearly and was honored to receive this recognition. However, Elizanthonius is a volatile time bomb of rage, sadness, biting, stealing, and injury to self and others. I can’t stand this kid. It’s not kids in general; it’s just Elizanthonius. The couple has other kids, who are great; and we have other friends with kids that are generally enjoyable (or at least tolerable). Whenever I’m around Elizanthonius, I pretend to like him. I put a smile on my face, give out gifts and hugs, play games, etc. This is my game plan until I or Elizanthonius dies. I guess my question is: Is this the correct approach? I hang onto this until the grave, right?
A: Yes! I can lend my full-throated support to your strategy. “Grin and bear it and hope he grows out of it” is the absolute right choice for Elizanthonius’ godparent, as long as you’re not being asked to babysit on a daily basis. You can’t (and shouldn’t) tell his parents you don’t like him or offer them unsolicited parenting advice, although you can certainly offer your sympathy and support if they ever try to talk to you about the unique challenges their toughest kid poses. Hopefully your friends are doing their level best to manage their kid’s violent behavior toward others, but since you don’t say that they seem either neglectful or on the verge of totally losing it, you don’t have an obligation to intervene further.
Q. Leave out of résumé?: I offered my opinion to my cousin about this, but she disagrees. Maybe you can solve the dispute: She’s applying for a master’s degree and needs to include her CV. She was previously enrolled in an MA program on a different subject at a different university, and though she completed several semesters, she never finished the program. She wants to include that she studied there, but not that she has a degree. This is because she thinks by leaving it off her résumé she’s hiding something, and if the admissions office finds out she intentionally didn’t include it, it would harm her chances at acceptance. I think it’s irrelevant, and that including it could suggest a lack of commitment that may make them hesitate to accept her into this program. Also relevant: She had some jobs in the area of her former university that she will definitely include on the CV (both because they’re relevant and they account for a couple of years of her life); these would be a big hint that she was a student there.
A: If your cousin were applying for a Ph.D. program, it might pose more of a problem, but schools generally look at students going for a master’s degree as cash cows, because they’re not eligible for much of the same financial aid or TA stipends as doctoral candidates. They’ll be happy to take her money either way. It will likely come up during the application process, and your cousin should be prepared to answer some questions about why she did not complete her last MA program. If it will be clear that she attended her last school based on her work history, then she has nothing to gain by omitting her educational history. Plenty of people include unfinished degrees on their résumé—there’s plenty of specific advice about how to do so properly on a CV—so it’s not necessarily a black mark by itself.
(Would love to hear from anyone working in graduate admissions, or an unfinished MA, who have specific advice on how to best address this!)
Q. BFF after baby?: Ever since I found out I was pregnant, my best friend has been pulling away. Once I had my daughter she went silent, barely responding to texts. We live on opposite sides of the country, and when she made plans to be out here for a few days, I cleared my schedule to go see her and introduce her to my daughter. She said she wasn’t sure she would have enough time and then didn’t text me at all while she was here. We recently made plans to go to her side of the country, and I asked if we could meet up, and she avoided the question. I had left her alone for a few weeks and am the one to text first. Is it just me? I know the baby has taken lots of my time, but I feel slighted when I see that I’m the one initiating all our contact. I don’t think it’s jealousy, although she cannot have children she has been adamant that she doesn’t want them. Should I just leave her alone until she’s ready to talk? Keep being the one to say hi first? I miss my best friend!
A: She’s your best friend, so tell her what’s bothering you. Whatever her reasons are for pulling away, you’re not asking her to do something unreasonable. You want her to meet your child, and to periodically text you, and the fact that she doesn’t want to do either means you have to get more direct. Don’t just try to make plans with her again—say “I’ve missed our friendship since my daughter was born. It hurts me that you’ve pulled away and avoided seeing me and meeting my child. You’re an important part of my life and I don’t want to lose you. Can we talk about this?” This friendship may not be salvageable—sometimes, sadly, people drop off at significant life milestones, even people who were previously very close to you—but it’s worth discussing this directly with her, not just waiting it out until she feels like seeing you again.
Q. Re: Leave out of résumé: If your cousin is applying for financial aid, they will see that she studied there. She should include it in her résumé and address it in a cover letter or essay. If it prompted careful thinking and evaluation, this sort of growing experience is a positive thing.
Signed, someone who does grad school admissions.
A: Good to know—it’s much better to address a potential roadblock yourself than to let the admissions department find out themselves, especially if there are so many possible ways for them to uncover this information.
Q. Unsympathetic spouse in a divorce: In January, my wife (of two years) told me that she is gay and that she wanted to end our marriage. I was (and have been) as supportive as I could be in the face of this shocking development. During this coming out conversation, my wife told me (for the first time) that she had been out in college and that friends and family members had known. Since then, and in the process of the divorce, we have shared the house that we own together. Through much of this process she has been relatively difficult, and has pushed very hard in every step of the process, not being particularly sympathetic to my grief and seemingly oblivious to the fact that her withholding this information from me during every portion of our relationship is the reason that we are in this situation. I have gone to a therapist during portions of this process and, as with many grief struggles, go through moments of being fine and moments of depression.
Recently, she has begun to date and has begun to pressure me to make a decision about the house as soon as possible (i.e., whether I will be able to buy her out, which as a youngish person with not a ton of notice is difficult, or whether we should sell the house, something I don’t really want to do). I’ve tried to stay calm during all of this but am running out of ideas, patience, and hope. Any tips on dealing with someone who has uprooted my life and is totally unsympathetic?
A: You’re already getting divorced from her, which is a great first step. If you’re still sort of thinking of her as your wife, the fact that she’s “uprooted your life” and is “totally unsympathetic” to your grief is shocking and painful. If you’re thinking of her as your ex-wife, while it still hurts, it’s entirely in keeping with her role in your life. You cannot look to your ex to affirm your experience of the divorce. Part of getting through this means accepting that your ex-wife does not (and may not ever!) realize how hard this has been for you. I don’t mean to minimize your pain in any way when I say that part of the freedom you will come to know in this divorce is realizing that you two are no longer partners, no longer expected to share one another’s emotional experience. This will not be an immediately joyous freedom, but it will release you from a certain kind of pressure. I’m glad you’ve been seeing a therapist, and I hope you’re also sharing your grief with your friends and family who can be there for you in meaningful ways that your ex can’t.
Don’t make it your job to be “as supportive as possible” to her, because that’s not something you owe her. It’s unclear if you two are still living together in your shared house, but if you are, I strongly encourage you to find another place to stay, even if it’s crashing on a friend’s or a relative’s couch. Once you’ve been able to mentally reassign her to the “ex-wife” category, ask yourself what you owe someone you’re divorcing—basic respect, politeness, and a reasonable response to pertinent questions about the dissolution of your marriage. That’s it! If you’re not ready to buy her out, then you can tell her what you are and aren’t prepared to do financially right now, and direct her future questions about shared assets to your lawyer. If it makes you uncomfortable to hear about her dating, then keep your conversations with her brief and minimal. If she pushes for increased closeness, you can absolutely tell her, “This has been really difficult for me, and I need space. Let’s keep our conversations limited to the details of our divorce.”
Q. Mad mother: For years I’ve been butting heads with my mother, even now that I’ve moved out. If it isn’t her degrading my clothes or talking poorly about my dates, she’s calling me dramatic, telling me I’ll “grow up” on politics, or disputing everything I say. The other day, I was forced to out myself as bisexual to her and she exploded. She accused me of lying and saying things just to be dramatic. I don’t want to interact with her anymore and she hasn’t contacted me. Half of my friends say she is abusive and to cut her off, but I feel like I’m somehow responsible or need to maintain contact. What do I do?
A: You’re not responsible for your mother, but neither are you obligated to cut her off if it’s important to you to maintain some sort of contact with her. It sounds like you could (and probably should) use some time and space from your relationship with her, but if you want to have an occasional phone call or lunch date with her while still acknowledging that she’s generally unkind and unsupportive, then that’s your prerogative. As long as she’s not compromising your safety or putting you in danger, you get to make the call about whether and how to keep her in your life. Your first priority should be for your own mental and emotional health, however, so don’t rush to get back in touch with someone who thinks your sexual orientation is a lie and a bid for attention. I’ll make my customary plug for therapy, because Jerk Moms are a great reason to see a therapist, and it will probably help you figure out how to set boundaries with her in the future. You can let your mom know that you love her and that you’re available to talk when she’s ready, but that your bisexuality is not up for debate or criticism; if she’s not able to be civil about your sexuality, then it’s not going to be a topic of discussion between the two of you. Don’t rush to reconcile with her, and don’t make it your job to calm her down. Take this break in your relationship to focus on yourself and figure out what’s important to you.
Q. Leave out of résumé?: I believe the appropriate thing to say is: “Attended XYZ University; courses included ....” with no mention of a degree. Gives her credit for what she did accomplish, but does not mislead.
A: That does seem to be the standard way of reporting participation without the awarding of a degree, based on a cursory Googling. If the LW is afraid that simply including the information might look like their cousin is trying to hide something, have no fear—résumé readers will definitely understand that if a candidate doesn’t list a degree awarded, it means they didn’t receive it.
Q. Boyfriend won’t remove ex on Facebook: When my boyfriend and I started speaking again a year ago after a long period of silence, I assumed that he was interested in dating again. He told me he “wasn’t ready” to date, so I was very surprised and upset when he decided to go on a date with another woman on his birthday a few weeks after we resumed contact. He continued seeing her behind my back, and speaking to her after we were officially dating. (I spent Thanksgiving with his family, and he didn’t mention that his girlfriend was there with him when they chatted, and he told her about spending the holiday with family!)
They haven’t spoken since November (when I looked at his phone to see if they were in contact and laid down some ultimatums), but I don’t see why he should remain connected with her on Facebook and Instagram—it really annoys me to see her name whenever she “likes” one of his photos or whatever. Am I being unreasonable in wanting him to cut ties completely? (We live together now and are going to get married, but the reminder really smarts, especially since we have a difficult past for other reasons.)
A: You’re not unreasonable in wanting him to cut ties with her, but you are being unreasonable if you think they haven’t spoken since November. He’s just gotten slightly better at covering his tracks.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks for stopping by, everyone. See you next week!