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I’ve been dating a medical student for four years (she’s in her last year now). She eventually decided to specialize as an OB-GYN, particularly in reproductive rights and abortion care. Theoretically, I’m all for this. I’m a pro-choice liberal too, and as someone who will probably be her future husband, I know it’s important to support her career choices. Right now she’s only assisting with abortions, but once she graduates, she’ll be doing them independently nearly every day. I hate that I’m saying this, but the ethics of this decision make me feel squeamish. I believe abortions should be safely available to all folks who want them. But sleeping next to someone who does that procedure day in and day out is taking a toll. I absolutely cannot bring it up because a huge part of her value system is being pro-choice and preparing to provide abortions for those who could not otherwise safely access them. I feel so horrible for having this hang-up. What should I do? Is there a way I can fix this by myself so I can be the supportive partner she deserves?
It’s worth getting specific about what’s bothering you. Where exactly does your support turn into discomfort? Is it the “day in and day out” part? Would you feel more comfortable dating someone who assisted with abortions once a month? Do you feel like abortion access is important in theory but have some unexamined sense that it ought to take place less often than it does? Are you concerned about her safety or the judgment of others? Is it a NIMBY thing—“Someone should be providing people with abortions, but I don’t want to know whoever that someone is”? An ethical objection is not necessarily the same as a feeling of squeamishness, and the most important thing you can do right now is investigate the real source of your discomfort. Ask yourself these questions as nonjudgmentally as possible, and answer them thoroughly and in detail.
Once you have a clearer sense of your discomfort, you can figure out how best to address it. Your partner has been clear with you, and you owe her the same transparency and honesty in return. She doesn’t need you to only say what you think she wants to hear or make a big show of self-flagellation. If this actually turns out to be a difference in values, better to have it out now, before you get married. If it doesn’t, your girlfriend may be able to help you talk through the issue—it’s presumably something she’s thought about a lot. She may not be shocked, and there may be more room to talk things over than you’d guessed. That doesn’t mean you should drop a heap of unanalyzed feelings of “ickiness” on her lap and ask her to sort through them for you. But any long-term relationship should have room to discuss surprising, unwelcome, complicated, even guilt-inducing feelings, as long as you do so carefully, and this one should be no exception.
I know I don’t have a thing to complain about. My partner is attentive and sweet. He listens when I am unhappy about something and always tries to improve. But now that he wants to propose, I can’t stop thinking about the one thing he can never fix: how we got together. When we met, he was an asshole (as he himself will admit), dismissive, self-absorbed, and only interested in sex. We met on Tinder, so it’s not like I was surprised about what he wanted, but he was so rude about the “casual nature” of our relationship that once a waiter came over to me during one of our dates and asked if I was OK. After that, he broke things off, and I moved on. I was sad, but I also had bigger concerns than some jerk who used me.
Later, he came back, completely changed in his thinking and gushing with romance and commitment. I tried to slow his roll, but we got along extremely well, and all the attraction was still there. That year, I moved in. It’s been two years since then, and he’s never gone back to being a jerk. So why can’t I let it go? He wants to propose. He wants to buy me a house! My family and friends love him. My dogs love him. Most importantly, I love him. But, despite him being more sensitive in the last two years than any friend or lover I have ever had, I just can’t shake the mistrust. What is wrong with me?
Reevaluating the origin of a relationship on the verge of a big step like getting engaged isn’t weird, or wrong, or mystifying—it makes perfect sense. It sounds like your boyfriend has been pretty open and willing to discuss his own past bad behavior without getting defensive. So why not bring this up to him? Tell him you’ve found yourself thinking more often about the way you two got together and that you want to hear more about what changed his thinking during your breakup and why he found himself more interested in commitment and romance. I suspect that part of the reason you can’t shake this mistrust is because you’re afraid that asking him to analyze the past will make him feel overwhelmed by guilt, and he’ll disappear, as if you broke a rule in a fairy tale and had to suffer the loss of Paradise as a result. But if this change is real, he should be able to occasionally discuss it with you, and apologize for the ways he hurt you, without falling apart.
That’s assuming, of course, that he has apologized for it. You say he’ll freely acknowledge he used to be a jerk and that when he came back around the second time he was overflowing with romance. But if none of that has ever come with a heartfelt apology about how he treated you when you two first met, then that apology is long overdue. You also say that you’ve had trouble slowing him down when he wants to move things ahead. Give yourself permission to need time without self-flagellation. If he wants to get engaged, and you’re not sure that you’re ready, it doesn’t matter how much your dogs or your friends like him or how well he behaves himself. If you’re feeling more pressure to get engaged (however well-meaning that pressure may be) than readiness to get engaged, then you should insist on slowing things down. There’s nothing wrong with that, or with you.
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Recently my father asked me to fix his laptop. In doing so I discovered a bevy of incest porn, and not “step” incest, either. I was disgusted and had trouble looking him in the eye ever since (I’m his daughter). I immediately flashed back to middle school when a couple of my friends told me the way he kissed them on the cheek makes them uncomfortable, and some other memories that seem different under this light, like visiting sex workers to ostensibly provide “medical care.” I always thought he just had a big heart. Finally I asked him about it and he lied through his teeth, spewing every excuse from a computer virus to accidental clicks. Is there a way I can disregard this information? I don’t watch incest porn, so I can’t imagine being totally divorced from the concept. But I know porn is in part an escape and fantasy. I find myself uncomfortable being alone with him now knowing he has erotic tastes for family members having sex. Am I overreacting?
No. You’re not making a universal ruling about whether people in general are capable of fantasizing about scenarios they don’t actually want to enact in real life. You feel uncomfortable because you saw your dad’s pornography, which would make anyone uncomfortable, especially considering that he apparently did nothing to attempt to hide it before handing you his laptop. Moreover, you’re allowing yourself to reconsider moments from your childhood where your friends told you that your father was making them uncomfortable. (If you’re still in contact with any of those friends and you feel prepared for this conversation, you might want to gently revisit it with them and ask what they remember about his behavior.) There’s a real problem here that has nothing to do with guessing whether your father’s preferred porn genres are a predictor of what he wants from his real-life family members. He’s pushed your boundaries, and the boundaries of other young women and children, when it comes to kissing, sex talk, and privacy, and it’s made you uncomfortable. That’s not an overreaction—you’re not trying to put him in jail or get him fired. It’s simply a reaction.
And that makes the conversation a bit easier for you, I think, because you don’t have to worry about what his intentions may have been—the point is what happened, not what he intended. You have a right to feel uncomfortable, you have a right to dislike the way he talks about sex, you have the right not to pretend to believe his excuses, and you have a right to your own response, whether that means taking time before talking again, refusing to help him with his computer in the future, asserting new conversational limits, or bringing up past boundary violations.
Help! I Accidentally Screen-Shared Erotic Fan Fiction During a Work Meeting.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Milisa Burke on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
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I am very excited—I just got accepted onto a postgraduate that I’ve wanted to do for years. Since my undergraduate I have been doing a course part time and working full time in a teaching post. The place I worked for was corrupt, misogynistic, and homophobic. It knowingly employed unprofessional, even dangerous people. I am not sorry to be leaving. But I was helped by a mentor and a few colleagues, and I’m going to miss them. They’re all more than twice my age, and I know they expected me to be in this job for a long time, probably until retirement, often telling me how I could use the next 20 years to my advantage.
Now that I’m leaving, I know I’m going to be hit with disappointment, annoyance, and anger. To be honest, I’m a bit scared to face all this. I’m not good with confrontation and terrible with even the idea that someone is mad at me. Especially my mentor, whom I love, but has had issues with cutting people off in the past. So how can I best deal with quitting a job that I’m glad to leave, but a bit sad to be leaving the people? I’m not sure we’d ever be friends that would meet outside of work, but I’d at least like to leave on good terms.
—Foot Out the Door
In practical terms, you can best deal with this the way anyone leaving a job would: Give your boss your two weeks’ notice in writing, then let your colleagues with whom you have good relationships know privately. Don’t offer to train a replacement or act like you’re getting away with something you shouldn’t. You can pay lip service about being sorry to leave, even if that’s not true, then stress how excited you are about this new postgraduate work and what a wonderful opportunity it is for you. Hopefully your colleagues will take your cue and keep their disappointment largely to themselves. Given the sort of professional environment you’ve described, I wouldn’t be shocked if at least some of them responded, let’s say, suboptimally. But just because you’re afraid of the prospect of conflict or even disappointment doesn’t mean you have to accede to their terms of “If I’m disappointed over unreasonable expectations I created all on my own, it must be your fault for failing to live up to them.”
If your mentor decides to cut off all contact with you because you accepted another job, that will be painful and unpleasant, but there is no reasonable recourse available to you. I would not advise you to turn down this job, and all future offers, just to keep this one person happy, even if I thought it would work. You may even find yourself less sad about leaving once you’ve gotten some distance from this office and realize (I hope) what it’s like to have polite, professional, respectful colleagues and mentors. If things get really bad, you don’t even have to stick to that two weeks’ notice. You can say, “This is getting really counterproductive, so I think it’s best if we part ways now. Today will be my last day.” Hopefully it won’t come to that, but you might feel less anxious to please if you know in the back of your mind you really can just walk out if you have to. You’re not doing anything wrong, so don’t act like you’re doing anything wrong. You can’t control whether you leave on good terms, but you can control how you behave as you leave. Even if their reactions are the worst ones imaginable, you’ve got a new job and don’t ever have to see them again, so there’s a limit to how much they can affect you.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Oh, boy, time for some emotional detachment.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My mother raised me as a single parent, and I only met my father a few times as a child. I’m now in my 20s and a relatively accomplished woman. Last year my father visited me (he lives in another state), and we’ve been in touch since then. I like talking to him on occasion, and we have a few shared interests. But he’s emotionally needy, texting a few times a week, saying how much he loves me and begging me to talk to him more often. I do not feel loved as a person, but craved, like I represent a void in his life. Once, when I didn’t respond to his texts for a while (I was feeling withdrawn when the shutdown started), he wrote, “I’m having [my name] withdrawal.”
He does not seem to register anything less blunt than “I haven’t been up for talking lately, but hope you’re doing well.” But in my experience, anything direct is met with anger and defensiveness, or yet another flood of emotion, which is exactly what I’m not prepared to deal with from him. I listen to your podcasts, and I think I’m pretty good at stating what I need in a way that is kind. But let me tell you, it doesn’t work on everybody. I want to be very clear: I do not feel like I owe him anything. But do you think there is a way for me to have a relationship with my father that is enjoyable for both of us and not a burden on me?
—Needy Absent Father
Probably not. The “I’m having [Daughter] withdrawals” is a chilling sentiment, and if he only knows how to respond to distance by either blowing up in anger or freaking out and begging for your attention, I don’t think you two have a very compatible vision of what an ideal parent/adult child relationship looks like. The good news is that his guilt trips haven’t worked on you, and you’re very aware that you don’t owe him on-demand affection and attention. I don’t think you’ll be able to just respond to the “normal” messages once or twice a month and simply ignore the hyperdramatic, excessively demonstrative, or creepily intimate ones. They’re already taking up a great deal of your time and energy.
If there’s any hope for a continued relationship, it will have to come with a shared sense of expectations: “I’m happy to talk a few times a month, but I’m not going to respond to your demands for my attention or announcements of how much you need me. They’re inappropriate, alienating, and counterproductive, because they make me want more distance from you, not less.” If he can agree to that (and actually stick to it), that’s fine. But if he refuses to stop, even when you respond with something like, “This is exactly what we talked about. Don’t send me messages like this one,” then I think you have your answer as to whether an enjoyable relationship with your father is possible.
I was widowed four years ago at 53 years old. Friends started asking if I was dating only a few months after the funeral. Some have even told me I should no longer be wearing my wedding rings. I feel like some kind of weirdo. I have no desire to date, let alone remarry. My rings have sentimental value not only because of my marriage, but because they first belonged to my beloved grandmother.
I did take off my rings for a few months because of the pressure. But I felt naked without them, so I started wearing them again. I have felt flat-out defensive about my choices and got pretty snippy with a friend about it. How should I respond to the other inquiries about these things without feeling like a bitter person?
—Not Taking Them Off
If the friend repeatedly badgered you to take off your wedding rings and pushed you to date after you made it clear you weren’t interested, snippiness was probably warranted and not something you should apologize for. Anybody who asks, “Why are you wearing your wedding ring? Didn’t your husband die?” does not deserve an answer of highest politeness. It’s not a polite question! You have every right to defend your choices, not to mention discourage any future questions, suggestions, dating-site sign-ups, blind-date arrangements, unsolicited advice, and all other forms of “helpful” interference. Your friends should listen when you say, “I don’t want to date, and wearing my wedding rings makes me happy,” and cheerfully drop the subject. Anyone who doesn’t deserves a sharp response.
I am having a rather silly problem with my otherwise wonderful wife. She gets up early every morning before work to go to the gym, and then takes a shower when she gets back to our small one-bedroom apartment. After her shower, she says she gets overheated easily while we’re both getting ready for work. I can understand that—I’ve already showered while she’s gone, she’s been exercising, and then she’s showered, plus she needs to use a blow dryer to style her hair. But her way of dealing with this is to walk around almost naked (in just her bra and underwear) until she absolutely has to get dressed to leave for work. She eats breakfast like this, puts on her makeup this way—she basically just goes about her morning routine with barely any clothes on and sometimes she skips the bra entirely. Under other circumstances, I would enjoy this. But when I’m trying to get myself ready for the day, this is kind of distracting. I find myself getting aroused, and since we’re both trying to get out the door for work, it’s a bad time for sex. But then I get to work and I’m frustrated all day long. I’ve tried raising this issue with her (delicately) and she gets offended that I can’t control myself after we’ve been married for eight years, which I find offensive. She’s the one walking around half-naked. How can I try to resolve this with her peacefully?
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