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 voice mail 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.
Q. Married but in love with someone else: I have known a friend, Dave, since college. We always wanted to be more than friends but the timing was never right. This did not stop us from getting close, talking almost every day, calling each other best friends, or saying “I love you” after phone calls. We always knew we had a deep connection but never tried a long-distance relationship. In the five years after college we saw each other four times and had a couple of hookups, but distance still kept us from going further.
When he got married to his high school girlfriend I was devastated but accepted it and knew I had to move on. When I got married, I stopped talking to Dave because I wanted a deep connection with my husband. Now, 15 years after college, we are both married with young kids and still states away from each other. We reconnected a year ago after not talking for three years. After talking extensively for about six months, we realized we made a mistake in not giving our relationship a chance during college. Neither of us has that deep connection with our spouses that we have always had with each other.
We both want to be together although we have not seen each other. We try to only talk once or twice a month to keep us from engaging in conversation that fuels desires that we can do nothing about. We have joked about running away together but neither one of us will leave our kids. He wants to see me at least once or twice a year to have an affair, but I am willing to wait until we are both available and divorced. If we both divorce right now, we would still have distance between us because we wouldn’t want to separate our kids from our spouses, who are both good parents.
We just don’t know what to do.
A: You can pick one of the options you outlined above! I do not possess a magical alternative. You can deepen the affair you are already having with Dave and hope that your respective spouses don’t find out until you are ready to leave them (not to mention hope you don’t end up Same Time Next Year–ing each other). You can both leave your spouses now, let the chips fall where they may, and start building a long-distance relationship together. Or you can end the affair with Dave and try once more to establish that deep connection you once sought with your own husband. Every choice will involve hurting someone; either yourselves, your spouses, or your children, and quite possibly all three. The reason you don’t know what to do at this point is because you have created a situation without excellent options.
Q: Fighting in the group message thread: My college girlfriends and I have a group message thread and we tell each other everything on it all day. Recently, I was venting about the frustrations of wedding planning and how my fiancé has needed constant hand-holding for all of his tasks. I wasn’t seriously angry, and we frequently discuss issues we are having with our partners. One of my friends on the thread lashed out at me, saying that I was being unreasonable for being annoyed at him, and that I was supporting a series of sexist traditions in the wedding I was planning. I blew up at her and told her I didn’t need her judgmental attitude.
The group thread has been silent for weeks, and neither of us apologized to each other. I feel like this fight damaged our group’s closeness, and I’m not sure who is in the wrong. I know my friend well; she never backs down and has never apologized for anything in the 14-plus years that I’ve known her. What do I do?
A: Talk to your friend. Not over text. I’m not sure who was in the wrong either, although I think in general complaining about a partner in a group text thread is not a great solution to one’s problems. Everyone needs to vent now and again, of course, but knowing just when and how much to complain about a partner is the better part of wisdom. You say that you all “frequently” do this in the chat thread, and maybe this blowup was bound to happen sooner rather than later.
Just because your friend seems unlikely to bend doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to talk to her and see her point of view. If the rest of your friends have all pulled back, then you should reach out to them, too, and apologize for not doing so sooner.
Q. Abusive husband is trying to change—but I would rather he left: Over the past six months I have realized that my husband has been emotionally abusive throughout our four-year relationship. He loves me dearly, but many times he’s kept me from going out or making friends, iced me out and made me miserable for days, refused to apologize for saying cruel things, questioned any dollar I spent, refused to compromise on my desire for tattoos, threatened to leave unless I convinced him I loved him, etc. I was sick of it and, frankly, ready for him to leave.
Last month, he packed up his stuff and threatened to drive back home, 2,000 miles from where we live, and I wasn’t going to stop him. But we had an hours-long talk and for the first time, he suddenly saw where I was coming from. He was deeply ashamed of his actions and remorseful. Since then, he has spoken at length about how he wants to improve himself and even started relaxing his hold over me.
But frankly, I’m pretty much done. I don’t really want to be married to him anymore, especially now that I’ve realized there are men out there who are willing to give me everything I want without my compromising myself.
Here’s the kicker: If we split, I really want him to leave. I love my apartment, which is 10 minutes from my work (it’s 40 minutes from my husband’s), and one of very few affordable places that allow big dogs (I would keep the dog if we split). Logically, I should stay and he should go. But how can I convince him of this if I’m the one who wants out? Do you have any suggestions on navigating a tricky housing situation?
A: You can ask him to leave and see if his newfound contrition carries him that far. You can check your agreement with your landlord and see if it’s possible for you to buy him out of his half of the lease. You can file for divorce and ask your attorney about how best to make sure the apartment stays in your name. You can, and should, try all of these things if necessary. But if it comes down to either losing the husband or keeping the apartment, I think it’s better to lose the husband.
Q. Teach children well: My son is 2-and-a-half and just learning how to talk about the people and things around him. When using pronouns he uses female-gendered ones, even for inanimate objects (e.g., when looking for a toy, “where’d she go?”, instead of “where’d it go?”). At first I was stoked (just quietly to myself, I model back more appropriate pronouns to him). But as it continues and he calls everyone “she,” it occurs to me that I have a chance to model a more open and inclusive approach to gender, and do my part toward the paradigm shift. My quandary is in how monumentally easy it is to teach him binary gender norms, and how monumentally difficult it will be to teach gender fluidity to a young child. How do I nail down this abstract concept so I can break off age-appropriate things to say? How do I demonstrate to him how to talk about people in a way that respects and reflects a nonbinary reality?
A: I think you are overthinking this particular habit! Your son’s quirk of reference is charming but doesn’t necessarily require a response on your part. And as your son gets older, you can have plenty of conversations about gender identity, gender expression, and nonbinary representation that aren’t necessarily pegged to this particular habit. There will be lots of opportunities throughout his childhood to expand his understanding of gender—“Yes, sometimes boys do X, but they also do Y and Z,” “Not everyone is a boy or a girl,” etc. As a general rule, I think it’s a good idea when talking to your kid about anything connected to sex and gender to be open-minded and curious, to make it clear that nothing is off-limits, and to be available to answer any questions they may have.
Q. Mysterious bicycle: Several months ago, I awoke to a mysterious bike in my driveway. I asked around if anyone knew who it belonged to. No one knew anything. I left the bike on my property, visible from the street, in case the owner came by. No one has. Two weeks ago, my grandson confessed that his childhood friend, who was killed a month ago, had stolen the bike and was chased onto my property and hid. (My grandson definitely wasn’t involved as it happened on a weekend that he and his parents went out of town.) The boy who stole the bike is now dead, and I have no idea who the bike belongs to—what should I do with it?
A: Call your city’s non-emergency line and make a “found property” report. If the bike was reported stolen, the police may be able to return it to its original owner.
Q. Update—the girl who thought she loved the misery in a relationship: I wrote to you a year ago about the confusion I felt in breaking up with a person who treated me like shit. I now understand this was toxic chemistry masking itself as love. But despite reading your advice and all the comments and very much feeling like it lined up with my instincts to never see him again, I did and we got back together. I know that was dumb and ill-advised. I finally ended it again a few months ago for good—really—but the web he weaved was astounding in nature. On level with everything I’ve read regarding sociopaths. I eventually spoke with the other “ex” and found out he had been physical with her. It broke my heart and terrified me.
Everything is fine now, but I’m just in a period of isolation and self-doubt. I thought I understood what was healthy but I’m not sure if I can trust myself based on everything that transpired. I don’t do traditional therapy for personal reasons. What can be done here?
I do have a few friends but most are out of state. I have only told one long-term friend, and while she is very understanding, I don’t burden her with this more than I should.
A: I’m glad to hear that you’re out of that relationship, and I hope you’re not too hard on yourself for needing more than one attempt to get away from him. The best thing you can do for yourself right now is to continue to expand your social support system. If traditional therapy isn’t an option for you, what about nontraditional therapy? There are numerous support groups for women who have left abusive relationships, remote therapy, meditation classes—your local women’s shelter may also offer numerous health and wellness services to women who are no longer in crisis but looking to get help recovering from abuse. In addition, consider telling even just one or two of your other friends about the nature of your last relationship and what this year has been like for you. Even if they’re not local, knowing that you have more than one person who knows what’s going on with you and who’s in your corner may go a long way.
Q. Introvert boyfriend ignores friends: My boyfriend is wonderful and kind and a great listener and very engaging with me, but actively is bored by all of my friends. He’s been willing to accompany me on various trips/meals with friends, but usually ignores people and tells me how bored he was afterwards.
It means a lot to me to have him involved in various parts of my life. I don’t ask it of him often (I know he’s very introverted), but having him come just to be a downer is maybe worse than just not having him along. All my friends want to meet him and to become friends with the person who has made me tremendously happy for the last couple years, but on the off chance we do all get together, he basically just looks at his hands!
Is there some way I can get him to interact in a nontaxing way? Just for a little bit? Should I just give up and have him never meet my friends, and tell them if we did all hang out he’d be bored by them?
A: Introversion is not the same thing as rudeness. What your boyfriend is being is rude.
Ignoring your friends and telling you that they bore him is lazy, selfish, and impolite. The fact that he’s willing and able to be kind, engaged, and an active listener when he’s around you suggests he’s only doing so because he’s getting something out of it, and he doesn’t see your friends or other interests as having any value for him. I do not recommend you tell your friends they can’t meet your boyfriend because you know he’d be bored by them—there’s no reason for you to compound and excuse his rudeness. There are a lot of guys out there who are wonderful, kind, great listeners, very engaging, and warm and welcoming when they meet their girlfriend’s friends. Even introverted guys.
Q. What to do when you know a stranger is cheating?: I was talking to a guy on a dating site, and I could tell he was being shady because he kept deactivating and reactivating his profile, but talking to me like there was nothing weird going on. I straight up asked if he was cheating on someone and he said no, that he only had a couple people he was seeing casually. But through some sleuthing, my friend and I found his clearly serious girlfriend’s social media profile. Are we obligated to try to let her know? We feel very torn.
A: If you had actually gone out with this guy, I’d be inclined to say yes, but as it is I think the best move is to simply block him and move on. There’s no need to give him any more time and attention, or sleuthing, than you already have.
Mallory Ortberg: Phew, lots of thorny family planning issues this week! Good luck making it through the day, everyone—personally, I’m inclined to follow that bold reader’s good example and spend the rest of it in bed.