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My Husband Just Died. Should I Tell His Family We Were Planning to Divorce?

Prudie’s column for Sept. 6.

Dear Prudence,
My husband died while our marriage was dissolving. We hadn’t filed for divorce, but we were sleeping in separate bedrooms. I looked through his phone after his car accident and found out he was sleeping with other women. His family has no clue—we always put up a good show when we were going home. I will be cremating the body and flying home with it for the funeral. My in-laws are hysterical with grief, and I am just numb. I was never close to them, but I can see no good in telling the truth. What do I say to them? How do I lie through my teeth with everyone who loved and misses him? I don’t—I just want this all over.
—Dead Would-Have-Been Ex

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If you have any close friends who would be willing to fly back with you for the funeral, I think it would help to have someone with you during such an impossibly trying event who could run interference for you and help you exit uncomfortable conversations when you’re having trouble just keeping yourself together. If someone else wants to unload their grief onto you at the service (or beforehand), you can always say, “I’m a little overwhelmed right now. Please excuse me,” which is certainly true. If you’re pressed to praise someone you had complicated feelings about, you can say something like, “A lot of people really loved him” or, “He would have loved to see you all here together like this,” without exaggerating your own grief in order to play a certain part. In the long term, when you’re not in the immediate emotional intensity of funeral planning, you can certainly tell your in-laws an edited but honest version of the truth: that the two of you were planning on divorcing before he died. If the alternative is pretending you were blissfully happy for the rest of your in-laws’ lives, that’s a fictional burden you can’t possibly ask yourself to bear. But that’s not a conversation you have to worry about right now—take your time. Plan out what you’d like to say and how you’d like to end the conversation if it gets too detailed. See a grief counselor. All you have to do right now is focus on doing the bare minimum and getting through each day.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a queer woman living in a conservative, rural part of an otherwise liberal state. I am lucky to have support from friends who live elsewhere, but most people I know here think I’m straight. I am taking steps toward moving, but it’ll take a year or more before that happens. My plan so far has been to stay quiet while I am still here, and then once I move, I’ll have the advantage of being out in a more accepting place. It’s not a great solution, but I’ve been able to live with it until now. I met a woman I like a lot, and it looks like we might be headed toward a relationship. I have to decide if and when I tell my friend group here about my sexuality and this potential relationship. I feel strongly that I have nothing to be ashamed of, and I don’t want to feel like I have to hide anything that’s making me happy. It’s just been easier to remain in stealth mode. I don’t want to deal with their fundamentalist-ish perspectives; I don’t want to be their token gay friend whom they love “despite” that fact; I just want to continue board-game nights and let things remain on a surface level of intimacy. But now I’m conflicted. Do I stay in a glass closet until I can move? Will I be able to do that now that I’m seeing someone? It’s all very confusing.
—Coming Out Vs. Moving Out

If you ultimately decide the easiest and best thing for you is to keep your friendship with these likely homophobic fundamentalists surface-level for another year until you can move to a city where your value isn’t determined by your presumed straightness, then that’s the right decision for you. It doesn’t sound like these are deep friendships that you hope to preserve long into the future (although if you decide that even surface-level intimacy with these people is too wearing, whether you’re out to them or not, and decide to pull back on your interactions with them, that would make sense to me too). Certainly I don’t think you should bring around a girlfriend (or almost-girlfriend) to any events where you think it’s likely she’ll be snubbed or mistreated. But if the primary source of discomfort for you right now is the belief that you will be “hiding something,” or are already doing so, by having a romantic relationship you don’t immediately disclose to some people you occasionally play board games with, I think you can go a little easier on yourself. Focus on getting to know this woman and seeing if a relationship with her is even possible before worrying about what to say to some of your casual friends.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie: 

• Send questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I live in a very desirable vacation spot and have a guest room. It has twin beds and a private bath; my twin stepdaughters shared it until a few years ago. We kept the beds (they’re nice), and we have a blowup air mattress for the living room. My sister-in-law and her partner have visited us at least twice a year since our girls went off to college. We pick them up from the airport, feed them, and play tour guide if we have time. My sister-in-law, after her last visit, decided to email me to lecture me about beds. Twin beds, she wrote, are “childish and inconvenient for adults” and said we should buy a new one for our guests. She included links to her Amazon favorites. She included this on a family email list so everyone got one. I saw red and emailed back a cost breakdown of a trip to our location and a link to a local motel, and I concluded that holiday travels were on hold for everyone for the near future. This started World War III.

My sister-in-law has always been brusque, to put it charitably, but I have never had a direct insult like this leveled in my face. My husband told me I overreacted, even though he agrees with me on every point I made. He says his sister is just “like that” and we can’t punish everyone for his sister’s mistakes. But he also says that telling her to get a motel is rude if we still allow everyone else to stay with us. I love my husband and his peaceable nature, but right now I am ready to send him to the other room to sleep in a twin bed. Am I out of line here? We have been married six years and nothing like this has come up before—but we are also a thousand miles away from his family.
—Bed Brouhaha

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If I could, I’d declare a total and permanent moratorium on anyone saying a family member who’s behaving unreasonably should be overlooked because they’re just “like that.” “Oh, she’s always rude and entitled, so we shouldn’t mind it when she acts rude and entitled” is perhaps the mealiest of justifications for spinelessness available. Emailing someone who graciously hosts you for free twice a year (and copying the rest of the family on the thread) with unnecessary insults about their beds and a demand that you purchase her personal favorite bed is incredibly rude, and frankly I think your response was fairly restrained in light of the provocation.

The one point where you may have overreacted was in declaring that no one else could come visit, although I think it’s useful for you and your husband to check in with one another about whether acting as semipermanent hosts for his extended family is something you want to keep doing. There’s a difference between being “usually game” for visitors and actually enjoying them, and if you want to cut back on your open-door policy, you should. When it comes to your sister-in-law, you have nothing to apologize for. You did not call her names or go out of your way to humiliate her. You simply refused to be insulted and pushed around and made it clear that she should seek alternate accommodations in the future. Good for you—I don’t think she hears that often enough. Don’t bend over backward for her just because your husband wants you to. You don’t have to escalate the hostilities, of course, but you can politely hold firm to what you said in the first place and decline to get into an argument over whether it’s “childish” to host guests in the beds you have available.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I plan to conceive in the next several months. My sister-in-law is pregnant, which has prompted some conversations with my husband about how to act once I get pregnant. His sister is very private about breastfeeding. With her first child, she essentially hid upstairs and no one, not even the child’s father, saw her do it. I’m not a particularly private person, and I think that breastfeeding in front of other people is not a big deal. My husband says he wouldn’t like it if I did that in front of his family or in public and wouldn’t go to a restaurant with me and a baby if he knew that I would have to breastfeed. Obviously, since I am not pregnant, this is more of a hypothetical problem we shouldn’t even be arguing about yet, but who’s right?
—Breastfeeding in Public

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You are right, by dint of being the person who would feed any hypothetical child of your husband’s with her body. Breastfeeding is not a furtive, half-sexual secret that must be tucked away in a Shame Attic. It’s how most babies eat. It’s more than a little sad that your husband would be so embarrassed at the mere prospect of seeing you feed your child that he would willingly deprive himself of a nice meal out. I’m afraid he’s going to miss out on a lot of meals if he sticks to that point, because babies tend to need to eat frequently. If and when you do become pregnant (and decide to or are able to breastfeed), I think your husband would benefit from joining you in consultations with lactation specialists and learning more about the challenges you’ll face and the support you’ll need from him in order to feed your child. If his primary objections to breastfeeding in front of other people are “I wouldn’t like it” and “My sister doesn’t do that,” then I think he would do well to spend some time examining the things that make him uncomfortable as well as the assumptions and unchallenged beliefs that lie just underneath them.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“BREASTFEED IN THE SHAME ATTIC”

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Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

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Dear Prudence,
This summer I left an unhappy but reliable job for a transitional teaching program. I’ve always been interested in teaching but haven’t pursued it until now. All summer I was excited and looking forward to being in the classroom. I’ve invested thousands of dollars, my time, and my friends’ and family’s support into this, and three days in, I want out! I came home after the first day and had a terrible panic attack. I almost had to pull over while driving home. The school and the kids are actually pretty nice. My anxiety wasn’t because of these external things but rather because I simply didn’t like teaching! It wasn’t a bad day, but it still left me with the undeniable feeling that I’ve made a big mistake. Could this feeling be real? It felt pretty real, and a few more days into things, even with better, smoother classes, the feeling has only grown. I feel ashamed, embarrassed, and worthless that I am even considering quitting after all of this, not to mention my feeling of obligation to the school and students. Help! I want permission to quit but I don’t know if I deserve it.
—Hello Teaching, Goodbye Teaching

I don’t think it will be useful to frame this as a matter of “deserving” or “permission,” especially when there are young students involved. If you’ve never had a panic attack before, seek help from a doctor and/or a therapist to discuss treatment options and to screen for any underlying health issues. It will also help to share these feelings of doubt and distress with the people in your life so you don’t feel as if you’re carrying around a big, dark secret that you have to either repress entirely or run away from. While there are unique challenges and responsibilities that come with being a teacher, it’s also a job like any other job, and you already know that you’re able to quit your job if you ultimately decide it’s not a good fit, because you’ve done that already. You’ve had a rough start and need to pay attention to the feelings you’re experiencing right now, but you also don’t yet have sufficient information to determine whether you could ever be happy teaching. What would you need in terms of support from your administrators and friends to finish out the semester or even the year, for example? Can you look at the next few months as a professional experiment, trying to be as useful a teacher as you can to your students (I’m glad to hear that you’ve had positive experiences with them), while also gathering more information about whether you want to do this in the long term? Knowing that you have not locked yourself into a permanent career may help reduce the feelings of panic that you can never walk away from teaching. Be honest about what you’re struggling with, ask for help where it’s appropriate, and keep checking in with yourself and your support team before you make another big decision.

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Dear Prudence,
I moved to a new house in the spring and decided to get really into gardening. Among the seeds, soil, tools, pots, and other items I spent close to $700 of my savings on, I bought a small plastic greenhouse. After I had everything planted, I had a variety of leftover seedlings. I gave them, with the greenhouse, to my new neighbor, since she expressed admiration. I told her she could do whatever she wanted with the plants and that I just needed the greenhouse back “eventually.” Since then, we have had many cordial interactions. However, I just asked about my greenhouse, and she said, “Yeah, I wondered if you would want that back! It seemed kind of cheap, so I threw it away.” Prudie, it wasn’t cheap, and I will have to buy a replacement for next year. I want to maintain a friendly relationship with her, because I love the warmth of the neighborhood. But is there a win-win here that gets her to replace or compensate me for the greenhouse without resentment? I know I said I wanted the greenhouse back, but obviously she didn’t remember.
—Greenhouse

You can tell her you feel a bit tentative bringing it up, because you realize you two only discussed it once in passing, but say that you had told her you would want the greenhouse back, that it was not cheap, and that you’ll have to replace it. You don’t have to insist that she reimburse you if you’re worried about damaging the relationship, but you can certainly tell her how much it cost and that you’d appreciate anything she could contribute. If she’s appropriately chagrined and chips in, so much the better. If she doesn’t, you’ll know not to lend her anything again in the future, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you advocated for yourself politely and reasonably.

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Classic Prudie

“I have been married to my wife for two years, and we’ve been together for five. She recently told me some things about her past that have troubled me quite a bit. She said she has had quite a wild sexual past. She has slept with male strippers, been involved in aggressive sex with multiple partners that involved hitting, slept with a number of married men, cheated in most relationships, enjoyed getting choked during sex, and possibly even shared a sexual partner with her mother. She said she did these things because she was sad and depressed and sex made her feel better. I am having a hard time getting these images out of my head.”