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My fiancé and I are both gay but he was married very briefly, 25 years ago, to “Pam.” They had two girls, and they stayed a part of each other’s lives after the divorce. Pam was even the biological mother for the son he had with his next partner. They’ve shared every holiday, vacation, and family event, even after the kids grew up and left the house. My fiancé lost his partner several years before we met. Pam affectionately referred to the two of them as her “gay husbands.” Now, she has started referring to me the same way. I understand that it comes from a place of affection and that she is trying to be welcoming, but I hate it. My fiancé is going to be my husband. I want us to have our own separate lives. I hesitate to bring this up because of their history. How do I do this?
—Out of the Way
Talk to your fiancé! This is a reasonable and achievable request, especially if you make it clear that you like Pam and respect her pre-existing independent relationship with your fiancé. “I know Pam is being affectionate and welcoming, but I don’t like it when she calls us her ‘gay husbands’—can we find a different nickname?”
As for the rest of it: Is there a part of you that would prefer not to share “every holiday, vacation, and family event” with Pam? Your letter suggests that there is, and that’s a conversation worth having too. She’s clearly an important part of your fiancé’s life, and it sounds like you’re fairly comfortable with that, but if you want to ask that the two of you occasionally take a trip alone together, now is absolutely the time to bring it up.
* * *
I recently asked a friend out after she’d broken up with her boyfriend. It was a hard pass on her part: no gray areas, definitely not going to happen. I’m not going to lie, that was not the best five minutes I’ve ever had. We’re still friends with no hard feelings, except … I still like her. If she ever said, “Hey! I was wrong about you being completely sexually unattractive to me! Let’s go dance and make out like bunnies,” I would be there. If she never feels that way, that’s grand too. She’s fun to be around. She didn’t say I was completely sexually unattractive to her, but that was the gist I got, just phrased nicely. So while hope springs eternal, it’s a very small spring of “maybe my pheromones will just change one day and my musk will draw her to me.”
Is that creepy? Am I Nice Guy–ing her? I just don’t want to be that sad weirdo who’s waiting for someone else to drop their standards.
Oh, my friend, I think you already know the answer to this one. “No hard feelings” is not the same thing as “uncomplicatedly and mutually platonic and without a fraught network of conflicting impulses and desires.” That’s not to say you two can’t ever hang out. But the worst possible outcome, for both of you, would be for you to come up with excuses to spend more and more time together, being careful all the while to present yourself in the most attractive and appealing light possible just in case—no big deal either way, obviously, but just in case—she decides to open her mind and her eyes and see what’s been standing in front of her this whole time. You say that if she never changes her mind that’s fine with you, but you’re clearly fixated on the possibility that she’s going to if you just hope hard enough and wait long enough. That doesn’t mean you have to excise this friendship from your life, but you should take sufficient time and space until you’re able to spend time with your friend without this persistent hope distracting you from your actual, you know, friendship.
* * *
My father received an inquiry from a woman claiming to be the “love child” of my late uncle. (We have verified her claim.) She wants to know more about the family and has requested to connect via social media, but a quick glance at her Facebook reveals a torrent of conservative posts and borderline-racist comments. Is it OK to gracefully decline but still provide health information and family linkages?
It is always OK to gracefully decline a request from someone who wants to connect with you if you don’t feel the same way. Your father may or may not want to do the same, but you are perfectly free to decline her request to become Facebook friends, especially if you’ve already seen a significant sample of “borderline-racist” (which is usually just racist) posts from her public profile.
Dear Prudence: Should I open up my sexless marriage?
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* * *
I can’t tell if I’m hanging onto a grudge, overly insecure, or justified: Recently, my husband confessed to having an emotional affair with a young woman who worked with him. It happened 10 years ago. We were, I thought, happily married when they became close. He tried to kiss her, and she rebuffed him. They continued working together and he felt she “understood” him while he was feeling lost; six months later they briefly made out, then pulled back physically, but continued to have a “special, close” relationship until they stopped working together several years later. He claims that he always loved me, they never had any kind of sex, and anyway, I wasn’t meeting his needs at the time. He’s apologized profusely since telling me, and I believe that he’s sorry. I know he loves me and I love him. So I should be able to let go of this, right? After all, it wasn’t a very physical affair and it didn’t involve sex. But I can’t seem to let go of it.
—Long Ago and Far Away
Sex is not the only form of intimacy, and the fact that your husband has voluntarily confessed and apologized does not mean you should be able to immediately “let go.” (It’s worth pointing out that this woman was much younger than him, may have been subordinate to him at work, and at least once turned down his advances. What he describes as a “special, close” relationship may have been at the very least a misuse of his professional position and is worth asking more questions about.) If your husband felt that he wasn’t getting his needs met in your marriage, the right response would have been to have a difficult, honest conversation with you about what he wanted—not to invest his affections in a co-worker then tell you a decade later. You have every right to feel hurt, dismayed, and betrayed because your husband had an affair. Whether or not you two decide to work through this together, to see a couples counselor, or to separate is entirely up to you, but don’t convince yourself you don’t have the grounds to be upset or angry just because he didn’t sleep with her or because he’s apologized to you. If you two are going to work through this, it won’t be because you’ve convinced yourself you aren’t really allowed to be upset about what you’ve learned.
* * *
I don’t know who to ask without sounding like a braggart, so I’m hoping you can help. After years of living paycheck to paycheck, my spouse was unexpectedly promoted. The pay is excellent and right in time for the holidays! I should be celebrating—but I don’t know how. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have to stretch a penny, even in childhood. I excitedly picked out some cheap but beautiful holiday decorations the other day but returned them before I could even get to the register. Less than $30 worth of stuff that made my and my children’s eyes light up, but I could not do it! How do I get past this mindset? I never want to be a “make more, spend more” type, but how do I get to the point where I can relax and even, gasp, enjoy a little financial freedom?
—No Longer Struggling
This is a big change, and it’s not one you’ll necessarily be able to adjust to overnight. You’ve built a lifetime of habits that served you as you struggled to make ends meet, and now that your circumstances have changed, it’s going to take a lot of conscious work to override that instinctive voice that says, “You can’t afford that; you’ve got to pay rent.” You sound like you’ve got your priorities in order, and it’s not like you need help figuring out a budget, but it might help, at least for now, if you set yourself the task of spending $30 a month (since $30 was the original amount that felt insurmountable for you) on something like holiday decorations or movie tickets or lunch out—something that you don’t necessarily need but that you enjoy. It’s also fine if you can’t. Don’t beat yourself up for feeling frugal or for pausing before making a purchase. You can always go back and get a few of those decorations later once you’ve encouraged yourself a bit. Offer yourself a gentle reminder: “These decorations make my kids’ eyes light up. They fit my budget. I can afford to buy them. We’re going to get a lot of use and joy out of them, and it’s OK for me to spend $30 on them.” Repeat it as often as necessary until you’ve made it past the register. And congratulations.
* * *
I’m 54 years old. I’ve been divorced for 11 years and haven’t dated since—until last month, when I started dating an acquaintance. I really enjoy his company. He’s made a few passes at me and I wonder if he’s wanting sex. Nowadays, is there an appropriate period to wait before taking the plunge?
—When to Start
Whenever you feel ready to talk about having sex is the appropriate time period, I think! The fact that he has made several passes at you is, you’re right, a fairly good indicator that he is interested at least in the possibility of having sex with you. There’s no one-size-fits-all rule, so you get to make the call. Which is sort of terrifying, and sort of freeing. If you’re ready, great; go for it! If you’re not, tell him that you’d like to hold off and continue getting to know one another first.
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