Prudie advises a man whose brother wants him to donate sperm a second time, for his second marriage.
Mallory Ortberg, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast. Just leave a message at 401-371-DEAR (3327), and you may hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
Mallory Ortberg: Montesquieu claimed never to have known any distress that “an hour’s reading did not relieve”; bully for Montesquieu, I suppose, but that’s only rarely been the case for me. At any rate, we can hope this hour’s reading can relieve something for all of us. Let’s chat.
Q. Not for stud: I am gay. My older brother suffered from a childhood illness that left him unable to father a biological child. I was close to his him and his wife at the time and I agreed to be the sperm donor for their kids. Flash forward 15 years, I am engaged to a wonderful man and we are thinking of having our own kids. My brother is divorced, estranged from my nephews, and married to the woman he had an affair with. No one likes her. She is small-minded, petty, and self-righteous. And she is desperate to have a baby. She wants me to be the sperm donor again. I have declined but she has my brother wrapped around her little finger. He wants to know why and we ended up fighting. I am afraid that this might alienate my brother from me permanently. He is supposed to be my best man but there is nothing but hostile silence between us. The truth is if it was any other woman, I would, but the thought her being the mother of any child of mine makes me want to vomit. What do I do? What can I do?
A: I’m so sorry that your brother has taken your previous generosity as a blanket obligation on your part to father as many of his children as he likes, whenever he likes. You do not need a reason more specific than “No” when asked to provide genetic material for someone else to have a child, whether that someone else is your brother or a stranger on the street. If your brother cannot take no for an answer, then it may be, and should be, that you two are alienated for a long time (perhaps even permanently, although life is long and he may someday come to his senses and apologize). You cannot budge on this, and you do not have to apologize for refusing to donate sperm. If your brother’s response to that is anything other than “I understand, and I’m sorry for pushing you,” then he’s not behaving any better than the jerk he’s married.
Q. Marriage: The long con: Last December I found out that my husband of almost two years (we had been together for seven prior to marriage) had been cheating on me on and off for five years. He even went so far as to invite his former girlfriend/mistress to our wedding under the guise of friendship! I often shared that I was uncomfortable with their intense “friendship” and would be met with dismissive tones/statements that attempted to invalidate everything I was feeling. Upon getting caught (I called her and she sang like a canary), he has “recommitted” and says he intends to remain faithful, changed his number/email/deleted social media/gave me passwords. To say that I am devastated is an understatement. I don’t wish to go to counseling with him, as we did religious and nonreligious counseling prior to marriage, in hopes to be on the same page. What compounds this issue is that I am working full-time while he attends professional school and supporting our household. I resent him for wasting my time. It’s to the point where being around him is now tolerable but I wish I got to have more sexual exploits in my 20s instead of being in a relationship. Am I wrong to want to have a conquest or two during this clear break I plan on taking from this relationship?
A: I’m not sure why you want to take merely “a break” from this relationship. By your own account, your husband has cheated on you more often than not—not just a regrettable one-off, as he invited his mistress to your own wedding—you find being around him only “tolerable,” he has no interest in going to counseling, and in the past when he has gone with you, he has not been honest. His plan for fundamentally changing the terms of your entire relationship is to change his phone number and give you his Facebook password, and that sounds like about it. It doesn’t bode well for the future of your marriage looking any different from how it’s always been.
I don’t think you should seek to have “a conquest or two,” which would not even come close to affair parity (which is not a great goal to begin with). I think you should leave him and go enjoy those sexual exploits you long for with people who aren’t habitual liars and cheaters.
Q. Don’t want wife to abort: My new bride discovered that she’s pregnant. She says that we’re not ready for a baby, and has scheduled an abortion. I want to have the baby, but I know that it is ultimately her choice, at least under current law. I haven’t been able to change her mind, but I suspect that someone else could. However, she has forbidden me to tell anyone about her pregnancy. On the day of the appointment, I’m thinking of driving her to a pro-life pregnancy center instead of the abortion clinic. She might not realize it until we’re inside, and then maybe the staff could change her mind. Would that be OK to do? I know you are pro-choice, but I’m only trying to make my wife think this through.
A: This has more the feel of a deliberately provocative thought experiment than plausible real-life scenario, but I’ll bite nonetheless. Why do you think that a group of strangers would be able to change your wife’s mind when you, her partner, have not? Why, too, do you think your wife would be unable to tell the difference between a “pro-life pregnancy center” and the clinic where she has scheduled her abortion, a place she presumably has already visited, or at least knows the address of? Why do you believe that subterfuge and dishonesty are appropriate tactics to use on your wife?
If your goal is for her to “think it through,” then make your case, by all means. Argue your position as persuasively as possible. If you find that you and your wife are diametrically opposed over the ethics of abortion, you are free to end your marriage, if you cannot contemplate sharing your life with someone who does not share your pro-life views. In future, consider having those sorts of conversations before marrying someone. If nothing else, I do not think your plan of trying to trick your wife into visiting a pro-life pregnancy center is likely to result in her changing her mind about having an abortion. It is likelier to change her mind about you and getting a ride to the abortion clinic from someone else.
Q. ISO digital manners: My mother does not understand Facebook but uses it constantly. She regularly does things that are mildly annoying, like posting public messages thinking they are private, commenting on old photos thinking they are new, etc. This has caused arguments in real life too, when she inevitably misunderstands something she sees and gets offended. Last week, a young person we know who suffers from severe mental health issues (that we have known about for years) posted some horrific things, and she commented (“WTF is this, this is disgusting”). I called her when I saw hours later and told her to delete her comment, but she didn’t know how to. She ended up giving me her password so I could delete it for her. How can I get her to understand how to use social media in a way that is, at the very least, not harmful for others?
A: You can offer to explain some of the basic rules of etiquette governing modern social media behavior. She may take umbrage at your suggestion, but it’s worth offering at least. Then you can, and should, defriend her. She’s already your mother; you don’t have to be Facebook friends too.
Q. Re: Marriage: The long con: I fully agree with your answer to this LW. Just wanted to point out that she is the one who does not want to go to counseling, not the husband.
A: Oh, that’s a good point, I didn’t catch that! It seems like her sense is “it didn’t bring any of this out before, so what’s the point”—which is a good argument against lying to your therapist, not seeing a therapist in general.
Q. Everyone hates our baby name!: Long story short, we’ve picked out a name we like for our son. It’s a name from literature (and recently TV), but everyone hates it. Really, really hates it. It’s personally meaningful to me and I like that this character is a reader, like I am. My SO is totally on board and likes that he’ll be the only one with his name in his class. What do we tell our friends and family?
A: “We like the name.”
Q. Maybe (not) baby: I’m coming up on my six-year wedding anniversary. When I got married, I was 23 and my husband was 28. We talked about the idea of kids, and both decided that we wanted to be married for a minimum of five years before having children, giving us more time to travel and focus on our careers. We’ve done just that, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Now, it’s been over five years and I’m closing in on 30. The topic of kids is starting to come up more and more, between us and from his family in particular. Here’s the issue—I still don’t feel ready to have kids and now I’m worried I never will be ready! I thought a switch would flip sometime over the past six years and I would start feeling maternal and want children, but that just hasn’t happened. I like the idea of children, but am afraid it will put a strain on my great relationship with my husband and I don’t feel ready to give up our more carefree lifestyle. Also, I honestly don’t have a desire to put my body through pregnancy! It scares me and I keep feeling like it’s unfair that I have to go through the physical and emotional stress of pregnancy and change all my habits and my husband doesn’t. My husband isn’t putting undue pressure on me and is very supportive of my choices in general, but I’m scared to tell him that I’m not sure I ever want kids now. I love him so much and I’m terrified of the prospect of losing him. I feel like I misled him, but I was young when we got married and didn’t know how I would feel when I got to this point. I thought I’d be ready for kids, but I’m just not. What should I do?
A: Tell him everything you just told me, word for word. This is not a situation that is going to get less important with time. The crucial thing to remember is that you did not enter into this marriage certain that you did not want children but lying through your teeth about it. You were 23 years old, children seemed like a far-distant hypothetical, and now that you’ve had more time to think about it, you’ve come to a better understanding of what you want out of life. The worst thing you could do would be to continue to dodge a difficult conversation with your husband and end up having children you don’t really want just to keep the peace. You say that your husband is supportive, which is great—tell him that you’re really scared to have this conversation, that you feel terrified and guilty. It always helps to name directly what we’re afraid of before diving into painful conversations. You two don’t have to get divorced tomorrow if you tell him you don’t think you want children. I can’t promise you that divorce won’t be a possible, eventual option, but this is only the beginning of an ongoing conversation between you and your husband, not the end of it.
Q. Office food sharing policy: When someone brings food to share at work, what is the policy on taking second helpings, or thirds even? For example, you are in a hurry and skip breakfast that morning, and you see in the break room someone has brought in a loaf of banana bread, how many slices are you “allowed” to take? And over what time frame? I assume you should only take one slice initially at 8 a.m., but then maybe a couple hours pass and the banana bread is still there, can you take another slice at 10 a.m.? What if it is the end of the day, are you allowed to finish something? Or should it be left for the bringer to take home? Or, maybe someone brings cupcakes and you don’t want one at 8 a.m., but can you take one and save it for yourself to eat after lunch? (For the record, I also periodically bring in food to share, too.)
A: The general principle you should be guided by is that of maximizing opportunity for others. If you’ve skipped breakfast, don’t consider shared banana bread to be your meal replacement (at least as a general rule; we’ve all had workdays where taking a few minutes to go buy a breakfast sandwich just isn’t going to happen). Taking seconds is fine if you’re halfway through the workday and no one else has made a dent, but sometimes people spend the morning in meetings and don’t get a crack at whatever shared food is available until after lunch, so I’d counsel you against taking thirds (at that point, you should probably just ask for the recipe). Generally speaking, the rules of food etiquette are a little different at work than they are at social events—it’s perfectly polite to take the last slice of pizza when you’re having dinner with friends, but it’s probably better to demonstrate a bit more restraint at the office. If there are treats left over at the end of the day, let the person who brought them in decide if they want to take them home or not.
Q. Re: Don’t want wife to abort: Crisis pregnancy centers are not only pro-life, they are anti-fact. The staff will attempt to convince your wife against having an abortion using disproven, false information about abortion and pregnancy and will probably attempt to detain her until they can get her to agree to keep the pregnancy to term. Do not do this. If you are thinking this is acceptable, your new marriage is already over and your bride should seek a divorce following her abortion.
A: That’s an excellent point—it’s one thing to argue your opinion with the best information available to you. It’s another thing entirely to attempt to lie to someone about their own health and well-being, and crisis pregnancy centers have a well-documented history of spreading misinformation.
Q. Traffic faux pas: Yesterday, my husband hit a parked car as we were backing out of a parking space. He got out to inspect both cars, saw there was no damage on either, and then got into the car to drive away. At the time I just wanted to leave the situation and wasn’t sure of the right thing to do, but now (after some googling) I’m pretty certain he did the wrong thing, and I’m overly anxious that someone saw what happened or reported us to the police, even though there was no damage to the other car. I feel like there’s nothing we can do about it now. Help!
A: Yes, you should always leave a note when you’ve hit someone’s car, even if you can’t see any damage after a quick look on the street—sometimes dents aren’t visible from certain angles, and sometimes what looks to be a no-damage collision can actually result in cracks that later spread across the bumper. It’s not especially likely that you two have been reported to the police. I think that’s likely the work of an overactive and paranoid conscience. If you know whose car it was, or know how to find out, you should get in touch with them and offer your contact information; if you have no way of finding out who it was, you should let it go and resolve to always leave a note in future. Generally speaking, if you can’t see any damage, the other driver will usually agree and let it go, but it’s a good cover-your-ass maneuver, especially when it comes to the law and your insurance policy.