Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we will be diving into the Dear Prudie archives and sharing a selection of classic letters with our readers.
Back when my husband and I were dating, I cheated on him (there were extenuating circumstances, but I still greatly regret it). We’ve now been married a number of years. I thought we had worked through things more or less, though I’ve never been certain he completely trusts me. Recently, he brought up the fact that he’d like to open our marriage. I’m clear I don’t want this—if nothing else, the toxic stew of jealousy and hurt around the cheating episode convinced me. When I said I wasn’t comfortable with an open relationship, he told me I was a hypocrite and have no legitimate objection because of the cheating episode. I feel rotten about the pain I caused my husband but don’t want to be bullied into polyamory or constantly punished for something that happened in the past. Is it time to walk away?
It certainly doesn’t bode well that your husband thinks you’ve forfeited the right to make decisions about what kind of marriage you two will have because you cheated on him years ago while you were dating. You’re absolutely right in that your husband is trying to wield your former cheating like a club in order to convince you that you “owe” him an open marriage, which is cruel and ridiculous and not something you have to stand for. I don’t know if you two have tried the usual bout of couples therapy, but it could be helpful, even if you two decide to separate, in figuring out what you can and cannot ask of one another. I’d suggest it not as a last-ditch attempt to save your marriage but as a tool that can help you figure out how to discuss what you want now and what you feel about the past in ways that aren’t damaging and punitive. —Danny M. Lavery
From: Help! My Husband Is Using My Past Indiscretions to Blackmail Me Into an Open Marriage. (May 10, 2016)
A few months ago, I met a wonderful man through an online dating site. He is a physician and we are both middle-aged. Our relationship has evolved quickly, and we have fallen in love. We spend most of our free time together. Ever since the beginning, though, he has expressed that he would like to see me lose some weight. He was quite thin himself when we met, to the point where it was unappealing (though I did not volunteer this to him). He had lost some weight after the end of his marriage, which had also involved weight issues on behalf of both parties. He has gained some weight back since we met while mine has remained the same. I am at the top end of a healthy BMI, or slightly above, and am certainly not opposed to losing a bit of weight, but I have the feeling from knowing which celebrities he idolizes that his ideal female body type is quite a bit thinner than I’d ever want to be. He keeps framing the discussion in terms of my health (generally excellent), which I think is a spurious low-blow. Apart from this issue, we are extremely compatible in all areas but I feel pressured and defensive when he wants to make a “deal” with me over losing some weight. I have tried to express my concerns but he says I am being too sensitive. Am I?
I’ll say you’re defensive. I’m a stranger and already I know you’re healthy, your weight is a smidge above the recommended, you’re willing to lose weight, but you’re worried your lover wants you to look like Sarah Jessica Parker, you resent his commentary on your body, etc. This does not sound like love. This sounds like what happens after that first flush of infatuation starts wearing off and you begin to understand why his wife is his ex-wife. Sure, parents of teenagers say that unless the kids’ grades improve their cellphone access will be curtailed. But you’re a middle-aged woman. Maybe if you renege on your half of the weight loss deal, your punishment will be your boyfriend curtails your sexual activities. What a fun situation that will be. It’s almost impossible to be happy, compatible, and relaxed with someone who checks your weight every morning and monitors your every mouthful. When you rightly have objected to this surveillance, you’re told you’re too sensitive. (Not to mention you have issues with his body.) I say forget the eating rules and just renew your membership to OkCupid. —Emily Yoffe
From: Help! My Boyfriend Keeps Pushing Me to Lose Weight “for My Own Good.” (March 11, 2014)
I’ve recently moved into a row house in an urban setting. Recently, my next-door neighbor sent an email about HOA business to everyone in our row of houses, and I discovered that she has me in her contact list under the alias “LOUD neighbor.” I’ve thought long and hard about whether it’s possible that I’m too loud. I do have two grade school–aged sons, but they are in bed by 8 p.m. We don’t play music. We don’t have a dog. We don’t bounce balls against the shared wall. We don’t have parties. We do not have loud domestic arguments. We’re noisy enough (in a normal way) that I’m sure “LOUD neighbor” is not meant to be an ironic label. This is a noisy neighborhood with a city bus stop and a bar across the street and a train several blocks away. There should be no expectation of absolute quiet. I’m concerned that the neighbor expects us to live our lives like the Frank family hiding from the Nazis and tiptoeing about on stocking feet lest we be discovered. When we first moved in, I introduced myself and said, “Let us know if we’re too noisy.” This isn’t how I meant for her to let us know. What do you think? Should I put her in my contacts as “UPTIGHT neighbor”? Should I confront her? Should I buy my sons a drum set?
I think before you go the drum set–buying route (or compare yourself to Anne Frank again), you should simply ask your neighbor if everything’s all right. This is a garden-variety, everyday sort of conflict. There’s no need to make a meal out of it. “Anne, thanks for your email update the other day. I noticed that we’re listed in your contacts as ‘Loud neighbors,’ and while I’m a bit embarrassed to bring it up because I’m sure it was unintentional, I wanted to check in and see if there was anything you wanted to talk about. We do our best to keep the noise down, especially after bedtime, and I hope you know you can talk to us if you have any questions or concerns.” She’ll feel chagrined at having her passive-aggressive filing system noted, you’ll get the chance to learn if you’ve been unintentionally causing a noise problem, and you’ll feel better for having frankly discussed what was clearly meant as a secret dig. Never buy a drum kit in anger, only in peace. —DL
From: Help! My Neighbor Labeled Me “LOUD Neighbor” in Her Email Contacts. (Sept. 19, 2016)
My husband and I are looking to purchase a new home. We’ve seen probably a dozen houses in the last couple of weeks, and only two have really felt immediately like they could be “home.” We lost out on the first to another buyer, but the second is still a possibility. Then we learned that the house was the site of an extremely grisly murder—a husband dismembered his wife there. We would be the next occupants. We’ve lived in a few other houses with a “past,” and haven’t felt uncomfortable. But I’m taken aback by the strong negative reaction from members of our extended family. Their biggest concern, and ours too, is our kids, who are in junior high and high school, who we haven’t told about the house. Thanks to the Internet, we know all the horrific details of the case, and that information will be just as easily accessible to them. Are we crazy to think that one bad night in a house’s 100-year history is simply that, one bad night? My husband is a pastor and I am a mortician, so who better to buy this place?
If every home had to have a pristine history in order to be habitable, there would only be new structures. I understand you’re worried that others may taunt your children about their haunted house, or that the kids may be freaked out by the gruesome events. That’s why, if you decide to make an offer, you have to let your children know there was a terrible murder at the house. You have to tell them what happened truthfully but with a minimum of graphic detail. I agree that you two sound like the perfect couple to restore this property to its purpose of being a family home. You are not squeamish in the face of death; your husband has an inside line on matters of the spirit. You can tell your children and your extended family that you understand why some people might be uneasy about moving into such a place. But you are the right ones to do it. If you become the winning (or only) bidder, you should have a ceremony in the new home in which your husband leads prayers for the victim. Then you can say to doubters—and instruct your children to follow suit—that while a terrible thing once happened there, all of you feel you are honoring the memory of an innocent person by making the house a place of contentment and peace. —EY
From: Help! A Woman Was Murdered in the House We Want to Buy. (Aug. 8, 2013)
More From Dear Prudence
My brother and I are having a physical relationship. Our parents are admirable people who took good care of us, but are distant and aloof, and I think that my brother and I turned to each other for warmth and emotional support. He’s two years older and looked out for me in high school, and I shared with him what girls are like, which made him more confident socially. After he went away to college, I chose a college in the same city as his, so we continued to see a lot of each other. I’m now a senior and he’s a graduate student. About three months ago we were sitting on my couch watching a sad movie and when it was over we turned to each other, exchanged a look, and started kissing. Now we lie on the bed, clothed, and kiss and talk and hold each other. When I’m with him I feel loved and cared for. We have not had sex because there’s a psychological barrier that neither of us wants to cross. I go on dates with other men, but I never feel the emotional connection that I feel with my brother. I needed to talk to someone about this so I went to a counselor at the student health service and in the first session she practically ordered me not to see him for three months. I left in tears and haven’t gone back. We want to lead normal lives and have families. We both know intellectually that we shouldn’t be doing this, but we don’t feel the wrongness of it. Must we stop this immediately?
Slate Plus members get extra questions, Prudie Uncensored, and full-length podcast episodes every week.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .