Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
My wife has been working from home since the pandemic and now that the kids have all left for college, she has a lot of time alone at home. She used to go on daily walks with a female neighbor who moved out about six months ago. The new tenant is a recently divorced man who also works from home. The two of them have started a daily walk together, which I didn’t have an issue with, but now she’s started to bring him a plate for dinner once or twice a week and stay while he eats it. What brought matters to a head happened the other day, when she brought home a bag of new workout clothes so she’d have something new to wear on their walks. When I mentioned I wasn’t comfortable with her going over to his house anymore because I thought it gave the wrong signs to him, she got angry and told me I didn’t understand because I wasn’t home all day as they were. I’ve seen nothing specific that they are having an affair, but it’s making me wonder. He’s a nice guy, he’ll wave when he sees me, but is not someone I have a lot in common with nor really want to hang out with. Should I say something more to her? Am I wrong to be concerned?
—More Than Friends
Dear More Than Friends,
I have so many questions ranging from “Is this out of character for her?” to “How is your relationship right now?” to “Were her old workout clothes worn out?” But my main piece of advice isn’t about whether you should be concerned. It’s about how to handle that concern. Telling your wife not to go over to see him because it gives “the wrong signs” is misguided, and actually dishonest. You’re not worried about signs. You’re worried that she is having an affair with him, or is on her way there. So, instead of policing her actions, which can honestly come off as a little controlling and weird, you need to be vulnerable enough to tell her you’re scared, worried, jealous, and sad. And ask her to talk to you honestly about what, if anything, is going on and if there’s something in your marriage that needs to be addressed. If she insists that nothing’s going on but you still find that you don’t trust her, you might need to ask yourself the same questions.
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Recently, my ex’s daughter reached out to me, after 20 years. Her mom and I dated for about three years. When we broke up, we went our separate ways but remained cordial. When her daughter contacted me, I was pleasantly surprised. She’s all grown up now. She’s now in her 30s. As we conversed, she confessed to me that she is attracted to me. My question is, does it make me a creep to want to entertain her interest? Should I just thank her for her flattery, and politely dismiss her flirtation? I’m so conflicted.
—Should I Stay or Should I GO??
Dear Should I Stay,
No good relationship has ever started with the question, “Does it make me a creep?” You know what you have to do.
I met a very nice woman named Kelly about five years ago at an event hosted by our mutual friend. It’s a small town, and ever since then we see each other around every few months and say hello and chat pleasantly. We have a lot in common around our careers and interests (as well as tons of mutual acquaintances) so I thought maybe we’d become friends but she has never once initiated hanging out or responded to an invitation from me. The thing is every single time I see her she says something like “Sow it’s so nice to see you, I’d love to hang soon!” and not even in a flakey, rhetorical way. Most of the time that I see her is actually at her workplace, where she takes the time to come over, give me a huge hug, and speak with me for a while when she could easily just give a wave and a nod. It’s clear that Kelly has been following me on social media because she always knows what I’ve been up to. She always sounds so genuine and at this point, I’m baffled as to what to say in response. What I want to say is, “Oh, I’d love to but I’ve invited you individually and as part of a group to coffee hangs, potlucks, group hikes, etc. for years and you don’t even respond to the text so I’m not sure why you’re still doing this??” I get that you just can’t be close with everyone you find likable, and my feelings aren’t that hurt—I just truly don’t know what to say at the moment. Should I just say, “Sure, call me sometime!” and then dip?
That’s exactly what you should do! I can think of a lot of circumstances that could explain why she’s so friendly in person but doesn’t follow up. Maybe she really does like you and enjoys seeing you, but her life feels incredibly unmanageable and she never has the time for the events you suggest. She might freeze up when she gets a text from you because she doesn’t want to decline but also can’t commit. Also, we as a society have got to come up with a better way than “I’d love to hang soon!” to close out in-person run-ins with acquaintances. It sounds like you two follow each other on social media, so one line I’ve tried out that I would love to suggest to her is, “I’ll see you on the internet!”
My husband has executive functioning and emotional dysregulation disorder. When he is on his medicine, he is a conscientious, loving, patient man. Off of them, he is short-tempered, has no filter, and can’t concentrate. The trouble is, his meds (which is at least the tenth combination that he’s tried and works really well) make him feel “not like himself”—so he only wants to take them during the week when he needs to perform at his job. On the weekends, he often skips them or “forgets” to take them until it’s too late (he can’t sleep if he takes them after a certain time), and then our kids and I are left dealing with his issues. I feel like it’s unfair that we never get his best self on the days we spend with him, and he feels like his family who loves him should understand that he doesn’t want to be medicated 24/7. When I try to explain that it’s hard on us dealing with the scatteredness and temper, he gets really defensive and says I only love him when he’s on drugs. What should I do?
—Always Getting Mr. Hyde
Dear Mr. Hyde,
I think this comes down to the two of you thinking about his medications in different ways. You see them as tools that help him to be his real, delightful self. He sees them as drugs that turn him into a different person and make him feel bad. Since he’s the one who’s taking them, his point of view has a little more weight. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to deal with him flaking out on his responsibilities and snapping at you. I just think you should focus your critiques on the actual behaviors and how they affect you, not whether or not he’s taken his pills. Try “It was really hard for me when you lost the keys and yelled at the kids on Saturday. It made me late and hurt their feelings. That’s not OK” rather than, “Please take your medicine so you can be in a good mood tomorrow!” If he doesn’t care enough about the toll he’s taking on the family, then you have to get honest with yourself and realize this is the husband you have. Someone who is great during the week and hard to be around on weekends. Can you live with it? Should your kids have to live with it? If the answer is no, let him know and tell him what’s at stake. You can have this conversation without mentioning any prescriptions.
My ex and I had a one-night stand that ended in a pregnancy. Neither one of us was in a position to be a parent, but she couldn’t stand the thought of getting an abortion. We actually did have a great family lined up to adopt the baby, but my ex’s religious nut of a mother messed with her head and guilted her into keeping the baby. At this point, I offered to sign away my parental rights because I was just tired of the entire situation. They accepted and the grandparents adopted the baby. I haven’t heard from them since and went on with my life.
The kid is now an adult and has been messaging me on social media and wants “answers.” I had already sent them our full medical history and a short explanation about the circumstances of the conception (aka us being young, dumb kids). I wished them well but said I would rather not continue contact. They still want “answers” and are asking to meet face-to-face. What are my ethical obligations here?
I have been told by other people the kid deserves closure but closure over what? There is a biological link but that is it. I had nothing to do with how they were raised and I don’t feel anything particular about them. I also don’t want to particularly cause them pain. What should I do?
Dear Sperm Donor,
The kid does deserve closure. They didn’t ask to be born to someone who signed their right to parenthood away. But they’re not going to get closure—or anything of value —from a person who doesn’t “feel anything in particular about them” and who is clearly still bitter about the entire saga. Something about the tone of your letter tells me you’d cause your child more pain by being in touch than by remaining firm about no contact.
Can you settle an argument between my partner and our middle school kid? A few years ago the school system converted their faculty bathrooms to “all gender” bathrooms. Our child is cisgender but insists on using the all-gender bathrooms which were (in my partner’s mind) meant for people not on the gender binary. Middle school kid says that the all-gender bathroom is cleaner, private, and everybody can use them. My partner says that they should use the bathroom that is labeled for their gender, despite the lack of privacy, cleanliness, and frequent vaping activity. Who is right?
—Who’s Bathroom Is It Anyway?
Everyone wants clean and vape-free bathrooms but you’re right that this bathroom was created for kids who can’t use others, and their need for a safe place to pee trumps your kid’s need for a lovely, spacious single stall without graffiti.
It would be nice if we knew what those students thought, but I definitely don’t recommend that your child approach them individually to ask for permission. Middle school is awkward enough without unexpected questions that combine gender identity and bathroom use. If there is a gay-straight alliance or similar club on campus, maybe the advisor could provide some guidance. If not, I would say, the bathrooms are not totally off limits to your kid—and in fact, if cisgender kids use them it could potentially decrease any stigma attached to them.
But the conversation you’re having shouldn’t be about whether they “can” use these bathrooms. It’s about when and how they should. I think a middle school student is old enough to think beyond what’s allowed and not allowed, and consider the kind of friend and classmate they want to be, and the impact they want to have on the people around them. Encourage your stepchild to put themself in the shoes of a kid who only feels comfortable using an “all gender” bathroom. Would they care whether anyone else used it? Probably not. Would they care whether it was occupied for 25 minutes while someone changed for soccer practice or did their makeup? Probably! In other words, I hope the thought exercise leads to your kid using this bathroom quickly and respectfully, and not, for example, during a five-minute break between classes when someone else might need it urgently.
Several weeks ago, I discovered that my husband of 12 years had been having an affair for six months with one of his former high school students, who is now 21. It was an emotional and sexual affair, and he took great risks, such as taking two days off work to spend time with her and going to see her on his lunch breaks and planning periods.