Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I have a long-time friend who recently dropped a bomb on our long-time friend group. She told us that her husband of 30 years is a narcissist and has been cheating on her since day one of her marriage. We have known for years that he is an alcoholic, and he is a lovable guy that my husband gets along well with. She tells us he sleeps with other women and other men, and that he tracks her car, her messages, everything. She says he’s taken out multiple mortgages on the house without her knowledge and all the finances are kept secret. She has no evidence to back any of this up and all she wants is to be believed and be heard. Against my better judgment, I’m asked to believe her. How do I move forward?
She will not leave him because she says she is “trauma bonded” to him. How can we even be friends with her husband anymore? I feel bad. He’s a nice guy, but in order to believe her, it seems our only choice is to cut him off, but they are still together. It’s an awful toxic situation. We have a wedding coming up, which they were both informed about but I don’t want both of them there because they act all happy together and I will be thinking about it during my daughter’s happiest day. I am sick just thinking about this horrible situation. Sometimes I feel like she is exaggerating or lying to be the center of attention. Maybe they are both narcissists?! Am I being duped? I pray for them and I told her to separate and ask her parents for help. I confronted him about his drinking and she freaked out and said he would “kill her.” She always has an excuse not to leave. I have nothing like this in my own life and my husband and I just want to protect our sanity, but we love and care for them both. Any advice?
Dear Sad Friend,
Your friend told you that she was afraid her husband would kill her (which is a real thing that happens in abusive relationships), yet the most intense emotions in this letter are about the possibility of being distracted during your daughter’s wedding. I’m reading between the lines here and picking up on the fact that you really don’t believe what she is telling you, and in fact, don’t really think very highly of her. You say she has no evidence, you think she’s exaggerating or lying, she may be a narcissist herself, and you seem to think her emotions—“fake” happiness and sadness over the situation—are inappropriate. Your “better judgment” is telling you this is all made up. Whether or not what she’s reporting is true, your skepticism and annoyance are going to come between the two of you and create distance in your relationship.
If you really value your friendship with her and want to maintain it, you owe her honesty about your confusion and doubts, and your struggle to square the way she behaves around Kyle with what she’s told you about him. Hear her out. Either she can convince you that she’s truly in a scary, potentially life-threatening situation and you can intensify your efforts to support her in getting out of it, or you can conclude that she’s a pathological liar and part ways.
l have been in a long-term lesbian relationship with a wonderful person. Recently, l have discovered that l want to date men and no longer have an interest in women. As l pursue future relationships, how should I talk about my past one? I want to be honest, but l want to make sure any new partner knows l am committed completely.
Dear Starting Over,
Take it from me, a person who reads a lot of letters about relationships for this column and also used to watch a lot of the television show Catfish: A person who is really into you will be inclined to accept almost anything you tell them. Love makes people believe preposterous things like “The reason we haven’t ever met each other is that my phone camera has been broken for seven years” and, “My wife and I are just roommates, we’re definitely going to divorce soon” and “Maybe I’ll decide I’m ready to commit in year 14 of our relationship.” So I have no doubt that if you are honest and transparent, the right partner for you will absolutely believe the entirely reasonable statement, “I used to be into women but now I’m into men.” So tell your truth. If a dating prospect doesn’t trust you to accurately assess and report your own attraction, he isn’t your person.
I have a large extended family and we do a lot over the holidays. Most of my cousins have kids, but I don’t. I like kids, I just don’t know if I want them. One of my cousins, “Katie,” has a very sweet little boy, “Ben.” He is, however, still a child so sometimes he says things that are a bit rude. This happened at our last family gathering a couple of months ago. Without getting into specifics, Ben said something that he probably heard from one of his parents and he took it out of context. I said it wasn’t very nice to say and he asked me why. I asked him if he would want someone to say that to him. He said no. I said it’s generally not nice to say things to others that you don’t want said to you. He apologized and his mom walked in right as he hugged me. She said I had no place parenting his child. I happened to go into the kitchen, which was not very close to Katie at the time, and Ben followed me in, so there was nobody else to say anything to him. I told her I thought it was better to tell him in the moment than go find her to mention it. She just kept saying that I shouldn’t be teaching her son a lesson just because she wasn’t around. The holidays are coming up and I’m about to see her at a lot of events. Was I in the wrong? Is that not something you should do to someone else’s kid?
—Not a Parent
Dear Not a Parent,
I do think you were a little in the wrong, even though you meant well. First of all, there’s really not a consensus among parents about what’s “nice” and “not nice” or how messages about manners and appropriate conduct should be delivered. Keep in mind that we live in a country where some parents don’t want their children to learn about Martin Luther King and others don’t want their children to be vaccinated against measles. People—even people who are related, like you and your cousin—can be on wildly different pages when it comes to every aspect of raising kids. Even if you two did see eye to eye on the substance of his “not very nice” comment, she might have preferred a different delivery. Or she might have wanted to be present to answer any questions he had.
If a child says something rude or troubling, you have a right to express how it affected you, by saying, “That hurt my feelings” or “That’s upsetting to hear” or something similar. Teaching a broader lesson about what’s nice and not nice and why really does feel like the jurisdiction of an actual parent. At the same time, if Katie wrote to me, I’d tell her that if she doesn’t want her child to have these kinds of conversations with other adults, the best plan would really be to stay present with him, even if that means following him into the kitchen.
You care about Ben. Katie cares about Ben. There’s no reason you can’t see each other over Thanksgiving. Tell her you’ll stay in your lane, enjoy his company, and will let him play games on your phone (with her permission!). Then leave the parenting to his parents.
My husband and I are both working from home due to COVID. Things have been rocky at best. My husband works in a room that is his dedicated office. We don’t have the space for a dedicated office for me as well, so I usually work throughout the house and oftentimes in our bedroom. My husband just does not seem to understand that I am working during the day and will often walk into a room and start asking me questions or make small talk.