Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.
While I was pregnant, my husband had an affair with a co-worker, “Missy.” There was a child. I found out the truth when our son was 2 after serious money went missing out of our accounts. My husband begged to me forgive him, and I struggled to, but the reality was I was a stay-at-home mom and would be in poverty if I left. Missy figured out very quickly that the secret was out and mistook my civility for sincere friendship. She would drop off her son on a moment’s notice so the boys could “bond.” I just weathered it. Once my son was in preschool, I got a job and was taking steps to position myself in a better place, when my husband died.
At the time, I was numb and shamefully relieved. Missy’s son inherited an equal share of my husband’s life insurance policy, but the bulk of the estate came to me. I also sold our house and moved two hours away to be closer to friends. My son and I needed a clean break.
But Missy wouldn’t let go. She hounded me on social media and texted me and called me and demanded to know why I had “abandoned” them. She couldn’t find other child care and had money troubles since she lost her job. I finally told Missy to stop or I would get a restraining order. I didn’t want her in my life. If the boys wanted a relationship when they were older, they could seek each other out, but until then, no. Missy cried and said she thought we were friends. I snapped that she fucked my husband and fucked over my life, we were never and could never be friends—it was a lie Missy told herself so she would feel better about being a lying, scheming bitch. If she got in contact again, I would go to the police.
I have gotten serious grief from friends and family for cutting off Missy and her son. I spent years biting my tongue and playing nice. I am tired of it. How do I make them understand?
I can’t believe what your husband asked of you, how he and Missy took advantage of your trapped situation, and the degree to which the dynamic has continued after his death. It sounds like a living nightmare. Your anger is justified, and it sounds like it may be amplified by grief. Even though, by the time he died, you had been shamefully treated by your husband, you married him and at one point must have had feelings for him; he’s your young son’s father. His death must have provoked an incredible storm of long-delayed emotions—including this anger, which you, a new mom, repressed out of self-preservation, and can now let out completely.
It sounds like things are at a fever pitch right now. I would recommend finding a therapist for yourself, if you don’t have one, and using those sessions to vent completely, while keeping interactions with Missy, and with your friends and family when they bring up the Missy issue, cold as ice. You know what you are going to do: cut her out of your life completely, which is your right. Just say that, as many times as is necessary, without much embellishment or heat. That’s not “playing nice,” but you’re also not giving them anything to work with. You made the decision. You’re moving on. —Rebecca Onion
From: “Help! My Late Husband’s Mistress Wants Our Kids to Be Friends.” (June 6, 2021)
I’m a personal assistant to a highly accomplished woman a few years older than me whom I admire and respect a great deal. I’ve worked with her for five years, and we have a close professional relationship. This weekend, we were together late one night when she confided in me how lonely she was; the long hours we work make it difficult for her to maintain a relationship, and she has few friends nearby. Then she told me how good it was to have someone she could confide in and how grateful she was that she could speak to me in confidence. She gave me a look that under any other circumstance I would have taken as an invitation to kiss her, but she’s my superior, so I didn’t. Now I’m not sure what to do. I think I’ve developed feelings for my boss and I don’t know how to proceed. I’d appreciate your input, even if it’s just to tell me I’m being ridiculous and let it go.
I don’t think you’re being ridiculous, but I wish very much I had an idea of what the look she gave you was. It is possible to mistake a “Thank God I’ve got a friend like you” face for a “Kiss me, dammit!” face. One can’t expect every manager to act like a complete automaton with her long-term employees, but she did put an arguably inappropriate amount of emotional pressure on you by sharing her loneliness in such detail. What you do next will depend on the strength of your feelings. (It should go without saying that you should not kiss your boss as long as she remains your boss, no matter what.) If you think in good time your feelings will fade—based on what you’ve told me, she clearly considers you a friend but I’m not at all sure she was making a pass—then let yourself go a bit swoony and wait for it to lift, privately. If you think you’re in danger of falling in deep, you owe it to yourself to find a new job. The degradation of fetching coffee and updating the schedule for someone you’re in silent, agonizing love with is good material for a period drama, but a bridge entirely too far for mere mortals. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! My Boss Gave Me That ‘Look,’ and Now I’m Falling in Love With Her.” (Jan. 28, 2016)
Overall I would consider myself a very easygoing person for someone who is soon to be married. But today, one of my sisters decided to dye her hair orange. And by orange, I mean badly done, fake, and garish orange. I asked her what made her choose the color (her natural dark hair is so beautiful, and she’s never colored it before). She said she wanted to make sure she stood out in photos, given that she and my two other sisters are wearing matching dresses. (She picked the dress!)
In my heart of hearts, I know I should probably let this go, and I truly do want everyone to feel good about how they look on the big day, but the dye job is so bad. The wedding is next month and all I can think about is how our family photos from the day are going to have my twin sister looking like Carrot Top. I trust your judgement and if you tell me I’m overreacting, I’ll try to let it go. I haven’t addressed it any further with my sister yet. What do I say?
I don’t think you’re overreacting, in the sense that your only reaction so far has been to privately think “God, her hair looks terrible” without trying to wrest your sister’s right to hair autonomy away from her. But there’s nothing you can do, and nothing you should try to do. Your sister will have orange hair in your wedding photos (unless she dyes it another color or shaves her head before the ceremony), and life will go on. She will stand out a little bit at your wedding, which will be fine, and will not get in the way of your ability to marry your partner. If someone else loves a haircut that you think looks terrible, there’s not much to be done except to remind yourself that life is, after all, a very rich tapestry, and the point of wedding photos is to record the presence of everyone you love celebrating together, not to establish a uniform aesthetic among the wedding party. “Letting this go” doesn’t mean forcing yourself to like your sister’s new hair color. It just means you don’t waste any time and energy trying to take over her hair decisions just because you’re getting married. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Twin Dyed Her Hair Bright Orange to “Stand Out” at My Wedding.” (April 12, 2021)
I came out as queer years ago and it was a massive change in my life. I’d been married to a man, and it ended because of my sexuality. In the years since, being queer became a big part of my identity.
I knew the person I’m married to now was nonbinary and intended to have some gender affirming processes done before we got married. It seems they will end up identifying as trans masc eventually and are on hormones and have surgeries planned. I’m supportive of that and love them no matter what their gender is. However, I’m struggling with my own queer identity in a relationship that will increasingly appear “straight.” How do I reconcile looking straight to the world when I take so much pride in my queerness?
You deserve to feel understood, and having a circle of friends who get you and your identity, without the need for a lot of explanation, might really help. I’m sure there are online and in-person communities of people who are queer but might be perceived as straight, and these should be your first stops when it comes to commiseration and comfort. But don’t forget that the events you attend, the political and volunteer causes you choose, and the topics you discuss with your friends and loved ones also help to reinforce who you are. And there’s always social media: It’s the perfect tool to hit people over the head—every day, if you want to—with reminders about how you see yourself.
But when it comes to the rest of the world out there, you might have to let it go. And that’s OK; none of us are really being seen by the strangers at the grocery store, the colleagues we only interact with on conference calls, or the people we pass on the sidewalk. In addition to the many gay people who may be perceived as straight, there are others all over who unintentionally “pass,” for example, as a race other than the one with which they identify, or live with invisible disabilities or illnesses.
People in similar situations will be able to speak to this with more authority than I can, but I have a feeling that once your spouse is past their surgeries and you feel more settled in this new phase of your relationship—knowing that you’re still the same person you always were—you might begin to care less about the labels other people use for you. —Jenée Desmond-Harris
From: “Help! My Relationship Makes Me Seem Like Something I’m Not.” (June 16, 2021)
More Advice From Dear Prudence
After a decade in a tough marriage, I’m a recently divorced man. When we separated my ex and I agreed we would see other people, and I dated several women casually.