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Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. The innocent spouse: My husband constantly thinks I have been unfaithful to him. I am his second wife; his first marriage ended because of his wife’s unfaithfulness. Since we started dating, my husband has always gone through my phone and constantly asked what I was doing or if I’ve been talking to someone else. He recently saw a man on a motorcycle near our apartment when he was leaving for work and saw the same man leave right after he got home and thought he must be my lover. He is always questioning me and even has accused our child of not being his. I was able to put a stop to that, but other accusations continued. I had to stop using social media, but I occasionally do get on just for fun. Once he finds out, he thinks I must have been talking to someone else, while I really just want to see what my friends and family are up to.
We have been married for almost two years. I knew what I was getting into when I married him, but somehow I thought it would get better. I am truly worried that my marriage will end over something I didn’t do. I’ve never given him a reason to think I have cheated on him; his reason has only ever been his fear, and he will not seek therapy. How can I help him with this issue? It is very hard to know my husband does not trust me.
A: This isn’t a problem you’ve caused, and by that same token it’s not a problem you can fix. Even if I thought you could put your husband’s mind at ease by giving him your phone to look through every day, or submitting yourself to wearing an ankle monitor so he could track your whereabouts, I wouldn’t recommend it, because your freedom and ease of movement are more important than your husband’s unfounded suspicions. Constant surveillance does not build trust, and holding one person responsible for someone else’s behavior is unhinged, unhelpful, and unloving.
I think it might be worth reframing this problem. You say that your husband “constantly thinks” you’re being unfaithful, and you assume his constant monitoring is an involuntary byproduct of his fear and insecurity. I think your husband wants you to be isolated and self-conscious, to feel constantly guilty, to always doubt yourself, to stop using social media, to not have any friends, to make him the sole focus of your emotional and physical energy, to ignore your family so you can pay more attention to him, and to exist in a constant state of desperate eagerness to please him. And to that end I think he manufactures anxiety about your possible infidelity even though you’ve never cheated on him. I think he wants you to confuse the cause with the effect. He doesn’t try to control you because he’s afraid you’ll cheat on him—he wants to control you, and he pretends to be afraid you’ll cheat on him in order to do so more expediently.
Even if I’m wrong about the cause and effect, the problem remains: Your husband believes it’s OK to isolate, control, and surveil you, to the point that you feel constantly hounded, hunted, alone, and like your marriage is already over. I think your marriage should end, for your own safety and emotional well-being, not to mention the safety of your child. I’m also aware that controlling men like your husband are likelier to become violent when a partner attempts to leave, so please know I don’t make this suggestion lightly. I don’t think therapy will help. Nor do I think trying to reason with him will help. I think you should leave him, and I think you should reach out for secure, confidential support before doing so. If there’s a local women’s shelter, you might try reaching out to them and asking for advice on how to leave safely; you might also call the Hotline and ask for help creating an exit plan. If you have friends or family members you can trust to keep your plan a secret, please reach out to them. Your husband doesn’t need “help,” at least not the kind you think he does. The person who needs help right now, and who deserves it, is you.
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Q. COVID uncoupling: I’m a nurse. Shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak, I had started dating an amazing woman, “Broomhilda.” Broomhilda and I got along really well, could talk for hours, and had crazy chemistry. Once the social distancing orders came down, I contacted her to let her know that I wouldn’t be dating for the foreseeable future but would love to go out again once COVID-19 died down. She said we’ll have to reassess when that time comes. Then radio silence. I know it’s completely her prerogative to decide she doesn’t want to date anymore for any reason, but I feel hurt, angry, and betrayed! Here I am, on the front lines of the epidemic, and she drops me like a hot potato. What is the etiquette in this situation? Should I just give up on this and plan to move on once I can be within 6 feet of someone again?
A: I’m a little confused as to why you’re upset! You told Broomhilda that you’d like to go out again once COVID-19 has died down; she told you she’d be open to revisiting the subject then. COVID-19 has not “died down,” and you two are not dating. This sounds like exactly the scenario you proposed to her. I hope this doesn’t come across as flippant or cold; I understand you’re under a tremendous amount of pressure and uncertainty. But isn’t this exactly what you asked her for? If someone tells me, “I don’t want to date for the foreseeable future, but let’s go out again after X date,” I wouldn’t then expect them to be in regular contact with me. If what you actually meant was “I can’t see you in person until after certain protections are lifted, but I’d love to keep dating remotely,” and you’d like to clarify, by all means do so. But if what you meant was “I’d like to break up, but please keep texting and calling me,” I don’t think it’s fair to expect Broomhilda to have read your mind on the subject.
Q. My significant other won’t let me foster a dog during the pandemic: My significant other and I own a large home with a yard with a couple of cats. I’ve been an animal person my whole life and have always told my significant other that taking care and having animals around is a part of me. Since we are both working from home during the pandemic, I thought it would be a perfect time to foster or take care of a dog in need. When I approached him about the subject, he immediately shut down and became defensive. I never said he needed to take care of the dog. I would be doing all or the majority of the work. He said that, if I brought a dog home without his permission, he would be extremely upset and lose complete trust in me. I’m having trouble understanding where he’s coming from and don’t agree.
A: What’s there to agree with? He says that if you brought a dog home without his permission, he’d be upset and lose trust in you—that’s not a theory to be proved or disproved, but how consent and trust operate in intimate relationships. Your boyfriend doesn’t want to take in a dog in the middle of an incredibly distressing and stressful time (maybe it feels like the “perfect time” to take on a brand-new responsibility for you, but I don’t think that’s a universal experience), and he’s told you that if you force him to live with a dog he’s already explained he doesn’t want, he’ll be upset. You can disagree with that all day long, but it won’t make it any less true. Saying, “You’ll hardly notice the dog is here because I’ll take care of everything—well, almost everything,” is no solution either. People notice when they live with an animal. Even if you were able to perfectly anticipate this dog’s every need, and never left the house again, there’d still be the sights, sounds, and smells inherent to dogs; it’s disingenuous to pretend you could move a dog into the house and it wouldn’t affect your partner in any way.
You say your partner knows you’re an animal person and that you’ve “always told him” that having animals around “is a part” of you. And to that end, you have multiple animals around you. But your boyfriend is a part of this relationship too, and you need to take his preferences and needs into account, just as he’s done with yours. If you want to revisit the subject in a little while and talk about whether he’d ever be willing to get a dog together, that’s fine—but even then, you’re going to have to listen and compromise.
Q. Cis woman seeks trans man: I’m a currently single thirtysomething cis woman who identifies as queer but has always dated men, cis and trans. I have a history of long-term relationships with men, and I don’t see that changing. At this point, I’m recognizing that my preferences heavily lean toward stealth and trans men (as opposed to cis men). Is there a way for me to make that clear while dating (online or otherwise) without coming off as a shitty fetishist or chaser? My reasons for this are tied to trauma, and wanting to be open about it comes from a confidence gained through therapy. However, I worry about outing past partners by stating this preference publicly as well as inviting uncomfortable interactions with dudes who don’t identify as trans. Am I overthinking this? Is there a special code word I don’t know about?
A: There’s really no group of people who have a “secret code word” you can deploy to immediately generate trust and mutual interest. That’s not how people work. There’s no substitute for gradually built, meaningfully earned intimacy, no magical combination of letters that automatically grants you universal entry among an entire type; any trust or shared respect you develop with one trans man doesn’t automatically transfer to the next. I’d steer away from saying things like “My preferences heavily lean toward stealth and trans men,” not because it’s offensive but because it’s nonsensical, like saying, “My preferences heavily lean toward straight and cis men.” Some trans men are “stealth” (it’s kind of a dated term, but not unheard-of) to varying degrees in various parts of their lives but not all the time. If you’re looking for someone who’s stealth all of the time to everyone in his life and who’s profoundly committed to stealth as a permanent policy, you might find him—but I think it’s just as likely you’ll find someone who is, say, not out at work, and maybe not out to some of his cis friends, but has a few friends or relatives he is out to and/or might consider coming out in a different type of workplace someday in the future. I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that even pretty stealth guys might not be as stealth as you’d like, so it’s best to be prepared that someone else’s relationship to outness might not meet your ideal.
You say your reasons for wanting to date from a very specific demographic are “tied to trauma.” I would not encourage you to lead with that fact if you’re asking someone out. Beyond that, I don’t have much more specific guidance for you. No, it doesn’t necessarily out your previous partners if your dating profile says something like “I like dating trans men.” Some trans men might be turned off by such a preference; some trans men might consider you a “chaser”; some trans men might be into it; some trans men don’t date women at all, etc. Being interested in dating trans men is perfectly fine and morally neutral. Telling someone their trans status inherently maps with your personal trauma is not. Trans men are not a magically safe or inherently nonharmful group of people; trans men are as capable of cruelty, indifference, abuse, rudeness, and selfishness as anyone else.
I can’t give you a “Good for dating five trans men” punch card on the strength of my own transness, I’m afraid. A quick and informal poll of my fellow trans guy friends turned this up: “I’m suspicious of anyone who’s learned to use the language of therapy to justify saying something like ‘I want to date trans men, but only if they pass, and if their transness is a deep secret and kind of wound that I can glamorize.’ ” Be polite, look for guys who have something else you find physically or mentally appealing so you’re not solely asking them out because of their transness, be prepared to be met with rejection and to move on cheerfully, and good luck.
Q. Am I asking for too much? I’m currently living in quarantine with my parents, and we’re all trying to make the best of it. However, their insistence on keeping the television on the news from the moment they get up at 8 a.m. to the moment they go to bed (somewhere around 10 p.m.) is wearing on me. I have tried to deal with it by wearing headphones and working in the yard, but every time I go inside to avoid bad weather or eat I’m bombarded by the 24-hour news cycle. I know my parents derive comfort from feeling like they are in the know, but I can’t stand the constant stream of talking heads blasting through the house. We’re all stuck together for the foreseeable future, so what advice would you give? Should I request that my parents turn off the TV (or watch something else) for a few hours? Would that be asking too much of them?
A: Simply asking your parents if they’re willing to be more flexible about the always-on-TV policy isn’t “too much.” They might say no, and you might have to go back to your old, imperfect avoidance strategies, but it’s a perfectly reasonable request. You’ve laid it all out beautifully here: “I know having the news on helps you feel more up to date and that we’re all trying to make the best of a bad situation, but I find it really draining and exhausting to hear the TV from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Would you be willing to set aside a few hours each day where we either turn it off or watch a movie together?” If they say no, you’re no worse off than before, but it’s not an inherently antagonistic request.
Q. Polyamory proposal: Over the past two years I’ve become close friends with a man who participates in one of the same activities that I do. (I’m a woman.) He’s married and his wife doesn’t enjoy this activity. We’ve traveled to a few larger competitions together, had lengthy deep conversations, greatly enjoyed each other’s company, and had enough chemistry that other people have asked us if we’re a couple. But we’ve never crossed any kind of physical boundaries—he doesn’t talk about things he should be talking about with his wife, and we only see each other in the context of our shared activity. On our last trip, he got all choked up and said he loved me. I’ve been in love with him for years and had no intention of trying to move our friendship to anything more because he also loves his wife. I’ve seen lots of ideas about how to bring up with one’s spouse the desire for a polyamorous relationship, but never anything about how to bring it up with a member of a couple. I don’t want him to leave his wife and I don’t want to live with them, but I would love to be closer than “just” friends. For what it’s worth, I’m 61 and he’s 68. Any ideas?
A: I suppose the most important question to settle with yourself before you ask your friend to broach the subject of polyamory is whether you’d still be interested in dating him if he refused to speak to his wife about it. That strikes me as the likeliest outcome, so if you’re not interested in the idea of having an affair with him, it’s better to say so now and save yourself a lot of trouble later. If you are willing to have an affair with him, either because he’s unwilling to speak to his wife about it or because she says, “No, I don’t want to suddenly become polyamorous in our 60s just because you’ve already fallen in love with someone else,” then you’ll have to weigh the possible benefits (the headiness of sneaking around, the various pleasures of new love, etc.) against the possible costs (knowing you may be causing someone else great grief, having to keep it a secret from others, guilt, inconvenient schedules, etc.).
Once you’ve answered that question to your own satisfaction, then you can tell this guy what you’re available for and see what he’s willing to try. To be clear, I think the odds are quite slim that your friend is willing to ask his wife to try for an open relationship because he’s gone and fallen in love with someone else, that she’s interested in the idea herself, and that the two of you will go on to have a mutually satisfying relationship while he remains married. But if you two have already discussed the fact that you’re in love with each other, then this is certainly a possible follow-up conversation. There are a number of ways this could go wrong and only one very particular way it could go right, so by all means be honest about what you want and pursue it to the extent that you can, but be prepared to move on when things fall apart.
Q. Re: My significant other won’t let me foster a dog during the pandemic: Can we address the letter writer’s boyfriend’s comment, that “he would be extremely upset and lose complete trust in me”? Over a temporary dog? This seems like an overkill reaction on his part, and maybe there’s something deeper there.
A: It does not seem like overkill to me! I might not say “lose complete trust” if I were in their position, but it really doesn’t sound like the letter writer is interested in a “temporary” dog, and I can really understand why a person would be angry and frustrated to have a third (or fourth, or fifth) pet added to their household, over their stated objections, during a pandemic, when a lot of people’s nerves are already frayed.
Q. Re: Cis woman seeks trans man: If you are living a restricted life due to trauma, why not focus on getting that trauma treated? Then you’ll have more options, and even your existing options will be better. You should be dating someone because you’re into them, not because they feel “safe” due to your trauma. There is great treatment for trauma out there.
A: This is an important point, and I’ll just add one thing to it: I think it’s worth focusing on treating your trauma elsewhere, not because I think you can’t date when you’re traumatized or that you have to “heal” yourself before you can be in a relationship, but because expecting someone else’s identity to manage your trauma is too heavy an expectation to place.
Q. Re: Polyamory proposal: Nope, nope, nope. That is not how this works. Not even kind of. You’ve been having an emotional affair and your proposal is to basically shift the burden on the wife for refusing to be polyamorous suddenly after what is presumably a long relationship so you guys can bone guilt-free. Doesn’t work that way.
You need to distance yourself from this guy, not make his wife into the bad guy.
A: I do agree it’s an unpromising start for a polyamorous relationship! That said, every once in a while, messy/painful/thoughtless/unkind beginnings can make for unlikely success stories, so never say never. But I agree that the likeliest outcome here is either the letter writer and this guy have an affair (and his wife either never founds out or finds out and is deeply hurt) or that he asks his wife and she says, “Absolutely not.”
Q. Re: My white girlfriend told my black mom that eating vegan is like the civil rights movement (April 9, 2020): For full disclosure, I am not a vegan. As a biracial father of a vegan son, I’m struggling with your advice to a biracial vegan that he should have his monoracial girlfriend immediately apologize to his monoracial mom for being racist. To many vegans, part of the reason they are vegan is because they do not believe that humans are more important or of a higher order than other sentient beings. In many respects, from an evolution of consciousness perspective, this is a more “advanced” perspective that you may only really understand by watching Star Trek. Many vegans believe we are in the midst of the most massive genocide ever wrought on our planet. Part of the reason nonvegans are comfortable with their genocide is because they implicitly believe their species is more important than other species. Try to appreciate and understand this perspective as you are advising a young, biracial vegan to have his young, monoracial vegan girlfriend apologize to an older, monoracial vegan for being racist. From another perspective, a vegan perspective, your advice is actually racist and demonstrative of a lower level of consciousness.
You are clearly not vegetarian or vegan. I don’t know how the “racist vegan” formulated her comment to her boyfriend’s parents—the letter doesn’t say—but it is unequivocally not racist for individuals who believe animals have a right not to be enslaved, tortured, and slaughtered to draw inspiration from the civil rights movement, which was the struggle of black people not to be treated like they were animals (and to which they were often compared). If you don’t care about animal suffering or believe animals can have rights, fine. But that doesn’t mean that someone who believes the right to be free from suffering is not limited to humans is “comparing black people to animals” when she draws a connection between animal liberation and human liberation. Do you call people racist when they compare the movement for trans rights to the civil rights movement? You owe the writer’s girlfriend an apology.
A: I certainly don’t owe her one. Categorizing humans as a species as part of the natural order is a perfectly sensible thing to do; advocating for veganism by attempting to draw parallels is perfectly possible. But claiming that black people are uniquely like livestock and should therefore have a natural affinity for veganism is racist, vile, and indefensible. She was being racist, as you are being racist; veganism does not require racism as either a logical or ethical foundation. You are free to abandon your racism at any time and your veganism will not suffer one whit.
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks, everyone! See you next week. Remember you do not have to be racist if you would like to be vegan.
If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat, click here to read it.
From How to Do It
Q. My 12-year-old keeps listening when my husband and I have sex: I have two kids, ages 12 and 10. My 12-year-old seems to know when my husband and I are having sex and routinely comes out of her room to use the bathroom, get a drink, or grab a snack JUST as we are getting cleaned up in our shared bathroom. It’s so frustrating because it totally cuts the post-sex mood, and I need to figure out the best way to talk to her about this and get her to stop. I grew up in a very conservative household, so we have been trying very hard to keep sex a very positive experience, but I just want to scream, “GET BACK IN YOUR ROOM!” every time. For the record, we need to walk past her bedroom to get to ours, and our old house has squeaky floors, which we try our best to avoid. We have tried using our guest bedroom, but she still uses her “Spidey sense” and appears afterward for various reasons. What’s the best way to address this? Read what Rich Juzwiak had to say.
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