It’s Advice Week! In On Second Thought, we’ll revisit questions from the archives and dig into how much has changed since Slate began giving advice in 1997—and how much hasn’t. Read all stories here.
For today’s edition, we dug through Slate’s archives and unearthed questions sent to Prudie from the 2010s. We’ve asked today’s columnists to weigh in with modern-day sensibilities.
I am a widower in my mid-50s with three grown children and many grandchildren. My wife died 10 years ago, and three years ago I moved into a new house. I hit it off very quickly with my next door neighbors “Jack” and “Diane,” a married couple in their late 30s with a now-7-year-old son. Our relationship soon became sexual and we are a three-member “couple.” Their son, whom I love dearly, has his own bedroom at my house and calls me “Uncle.” The problem is my youngest son recently lost his job, is in terrible financial straits, and has asked if he, his wife, and two young children can move in with me! I haven’t told any of my children about my unconventional relationship. My wife and I had a happy marriage, and we raised our children in a normal, loving home. Yet when I met the couple I am with, everything seemed to flow so naturally that I didn’t give it a second thought until now. Turning away my son in his time of need isn’t an option, but breaking off my relationship isn’t an option either. Should I keep the whole thing under wraps while my son and his family are here? Jack and Diane think I should be upfront and tell my son, but then everyone would know about this. Most people wouldn’t understand, and frankly it would be humiliating!
—Can’t Stop This Thing I Started
Now that Big Love is off the air, I hope HBO considers the possibilities of a series called Uncle Bob, which tackles both polyamory and the burgeoning social trend of broke adult children returning home. Since you’re a loving father who won’t turn away his son, you lay out clearly your three options for how to proceed: put your threesome on ice; sneak around; come clean. But since you say you’re unwilling to temporarily retire from your trio, that’s out. And, frankly, your grown son’s financial debacle shouldn’t require you to put the kibosh on your romantic life, however odd. Sneaking around may seem like a possible solution, but consider how that’s going to work. Announcing, “I’ll be staying over the neighbors’ for a few nights so that all of you can have the house to yourselves!” is only going to raise suspicions, especially since little Jack Jr. has his own bedroom at your place. I’m afraid I agree with Jack and Diane: The best course is for you to tell your son. This means explaining that, unlikely as it may be—and no one is more surprised about this than you—you are in a relationship with the couple next door. Obviously, say you aren’t going to go into the mechanics of this set-up, and you intend to protect his kids, as you are protecting the couple’s child, from the details of your intimacy. (I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you are.) Explain that you are only revealing this aspect of your personal life because privacy is going to be at a premium, but you hope he can discreetly accept your situation. Sure, it will be a shock, but ultimately news of your personal arrangements pales in comparison with being in financial freefall. How sly of you to choose Jack and Diane as pseudonyms for your friends. John “Cougar” Mellencamp may have sung about a similarly named pair: “Oh yeah life goes on/Long after the thrill of living is gone.” But your Jack and Diane have found that a once-lonely grandfather is the way to bring back the thrill.
Advice From the Future:
Your son would have no right to complain or protest your current relationship, especially since he’s asking you to move his family into your place. Beggars can’t choose the relationship style of the parent who’s supporting them as an adult child. It sounds like has no choice but to accept it, in fact. So, you have the upper hand here. You have no idea how long he and his family will stay with you, and it doesn’t make any sense to put your relationship on hold for those who might not understand. Have a conversation with your son in which you tell him exactly what’s going on while asking him to keep it to himself (at least for the time being).
Is this a situation that he wants him and his family to be living in, though? In 2011, I think that question mark would be a lot bigger than it is today—polyamory is having a moment and at any rate, it’s grown more accepted and understood in the intervening time. But even in 2024, such acceptance is hardly a given. Your son should at least have the freedom to find an alternate arrangement, as difficult as it may be, should he so choose. I would, in the first conversation(s), not mention Jack and Diane’s son in case your son has an extreme reaction. Poly and other non-monogamous people sometimes face hardship when people close to them attempt to get authorities involved because they don’t approve of a nontraditional situation in which children are present. This can result in the loss of custody. Your son probably wouldn’t have much of a case against two people to whom he has no relation, but in the interest of simplicity, I’d let him process the very existence of the relationship first before highlighting exact details.
I’m pushing hard for this option, rather than letting your son and his family move in and just riding it out while your relationship hangs in the balance, because that’s what Jack and Diane wish. They’re telling you, in so many words, what they’re looking for in a partner—someone who is out to those close to him and who isn’t willing to put a relationship with them on hold when it’s inconvenient. Listen to them. What you have is special and not something that you want to just let go.
I wanted to ask a no-nonsense woman about that age old question that all men have. “Does size really matter?” I have asked this question to my wife several times, and her answer every time is, “You’re fine.” I’m just over 6 inches. The only problem is that the inflection in her voice tells me different. She is constantly reading romance novels and I can’t help but think that she secretly wishes for “more.”
I’m going to guess that your wife is not reading romance novels for the descriptions of gigantic members, but for the confidence with which the heroes wield them. Imagine how you would feel if your wife was constantly asking you for reassurance that her breasts were big enough and her thighs thin enough. I think you would feel she’d be a lot sexier if she thought of herself as being sexy. The romance novels may be fulfilling your wife’s longing for someone who is more assertive in bed. So read a couple of the books and try taking a page from them. I think you will note, none of the main characters brings out a ruler and whines, “See, I’m definitely bigger than average!”
Advice From the Future:
You wanted the opinion of a no-nonsense woman and yet, more than 10 years later, you’re stuck with me. In life we don’t always get to choose, but then, your average-sized dick has already taught you that. And yes, 6 inches is average, at least according to a study that got a lot of play last year for indicating that global penis size may be growing. A 2023 paper in The World Journal of Men’s Health found that over the 29 years that preceded it, the average erect penis went from 4.8 inches to 6 inches. I hope humanity lives to see another 1.2 inches in 30 years, though with the way things are going, I wouldn’t hold my breath. (Also note that one of the researchers on this study called its findings “concerning,” saying that factors “such as chemical exposure, like pesticides or hygiene products interacting with our hormonal systems” may have had an impact on the changing size. So about wanting to see dicks grow even more in the coming years, I’m kidding … kind of.)
Different people will give you different answers to “Does size matter?” Yes, no, length is better than girth, girth is all that matters, etc. This has been debated to death with no clear consensus because a) it’s subjective, and b) most dicks fall somewhere in the middle of the size continuum. If you like dick, you know you’re going to have to deal with some average specimens.
That said, as someone who likes big dicks myself, I can tell you that I don’t find them to be necessary to have fun. I see them as a bonus, a little (big) treat that can make things more exciting but that probably won’t be doing any heavy lifting in the absence of qualities that I find more important, like connection or a handsome face … typically! Everyone’s asset distribution is different, and sometimes I find that an individual concoction doesn’t work in practice even if it would seem to on paper given my established proclivities.
Your wife has stayed with you for long enough for you to ask her “several times” whether size really matters, which means that she accepts your 6-inch dick (and tendency to badger her with questions about it). Trust her. You’re fine. Consider that the inflection in her voice may come from having to answer this question repeatedly, so as to assuage your male anxiety. Sounds exhausting! If she’s constantly reading romance novels, perhaps what she’s longing for is not more dick but (sit down if you aren’t already, because I’m about to blow your mind) more romance. But maybe she wants more dick, too—you could always introduce some larger toys and/or discuss the idea of bringing in an actual big-dick-haver to join you.
Still, with the evidence you’ve provided, I have to assume you’re projecting. The average person isn’t going to turn down an average dick for that reason alone, so do everything you can to make the person attached to the average dick is worth having sex with.
I’m male, age 56. I work in an office with four women, average age 45. One of the women and her husband just installed an outdoor hot tub on their patio and invited all of us (and spouses) over for a Thanksgiving weekend “tub party.” She told us they didn’t wear bathing suits, so we shouldn’t either and should just bring a towel. All of our co-workers said they’d be there. My wife is hesitant, as I am. What do you think?
—Hot Tub or Not Tub?
This is taking office casual to a place you don’t want to go. On Monday you really don’t want to say, “Sue, I hadn’t realized you’d had a caesarian.” Or, “Melissa, no wonder you’re always smiling, Peter is hung like a horse.” If you go to this post-Thanksgiving hot tub party, it will make you hope for your own Hot Tub Time Machine, so that you can travel back in time and change your mind about having accepted the invitation. Lots of people let their belt out a notch at Thanksgiving, but thank goodness it’s not tradition for people to drop their drawers. You don’t want to start a new tradition of soaking with your co-worker and realizing your toe has wandered into someone’s nether regions. Just wish your would-be hostess a happy holiday and say family obligations call.
Advice From the Future:
In the nearly 10 years since we received this letter, the culture has changed enough to make this one immediately identifiable as an HR red flag. Such a casual invitation seems practically impossible in today’s climate, but I’ll attempt an answer anyway.
This sounds like a sex-party scenario if ever I’ve heard one, so if you don’t want to have sex with your coworkers, don’t attend. It’s one thing to, however innocently, discover that you work with a bunch of nudists and invite everyone over for some platonic bare fun. It’s another thing to impose a no-clothing-not-optional policy on guests that you’ve only otherwise interacted with while your bits are fully covered.
That’s typically the kind of invite that you know immediately whether you want to jump on or not. Only someone who’s so high on the fumes of their own lifestyle would be offended or even surprised that such an invitation would be turned down, especially from a coworker that you’re going to have to see again (and keep seeing), irrespective of how the tub party goes.
Listen to your gut. The host’s reaction to your RSVP could tell you a lot about who she is and you should use that information accordingly in future interactions.
I’ve been a single father for the last seven years. All this time I’ve raised my daughter, and her mom moved away and never paid child support. Last year, I finally sued to get child support. My ex-wife claimed she was broke and this month started paying only minimum-wage child support. This Christmas she will fly into town to see our daughter. She’ll be in town a week. She informed me that she’ll be staying with MY mother and using my mom’s car! I called my mother and she says that she just can’t say no. I’m pretty peeved because my mother knows how hard it’s been for me before and during the child support case. She told me if it upsets me, she would tell my ex no. But I feel like I’m in a no-win situation. My daughter’s excited to see her mom. And my mom says if I’m unhappy then I need to tell my ex-wife she can’t stay with her. I feel betrayed, especially since my mom doesn’t even like my ex-wife! Should I just suck it up for the holidays or risk my ex-wife telling our daughter how I won’t let her visit for Christmas?
I agree that your mother should have discussed this with you before opening her home to her prodigal former daughter-in-law. But far more important than where your troubled ex stays is what happens when she sees your little girl. This is going to be a very emotionally volatile Christmas for your daughter, and you need to prepare her, and yourself, for the roiling emotions that follow. Please talk to the school counselor about this and get some suggestions for a professional you and your daughter can talk to to guide your through this reunion. Privately with the therapist you can air your frustration with your mother. If this represents a long-standing pattern with her, you need to be able to address it. If it is more of a singular event, you need to make clear that what hurt you is the subterfuge. But you can also say you understand your mother’s feeling torn about wanting to make it possible for your daughter to see her mother. It doesn’t sound as if your mother is trying to undercut you—she doesn’t even like your ex—but she probably felt pressured and ended up not being forthright with you. Your mother handled this poorly, but don’t let your anger at her deflect you from the central task of helping your daughter deal with a mother who abandoned her and likely will continue to do so.
Advice From the Future:
Your mom’s decision reads to me like it was made for the sake of family unity. If there is a betrayal, it’s of your punitive mindset. One can understand that her child’s ex did things that would lead sensible people to label her a deadbeat and yet, want to do what’s right for the moment. If you didn’t have a child involved, this would be a different story, but your kid is excited to see her mom. You should have had a say here, but you didn’t, and now you’re tasked with navigating the situation. Sorry, Santa, you have no choice but to take this one on the chin. Life has been hard for you, but it’s been its own kind of hard for your daughter who obviously loves her mom irrespective of their estrangement. Also, Christmas tends to operate on a different kind of frequency. Swept up in the holiday spirit, people often find themselves kinder and perhaps more forgiving. It’s completely understandable if you are unwilling to offer your ex grace, but you should in turn understand why someone like your mother is extending generosity.
The plans are made, so the move is to grit your teeth and let them ride. You’ve long been the bigger person in the equation—it could be harmful and perhaps confusing to your daughter if you were to abdicate your role. Being ethical is a 24/7 job. Talk to your mother and tell her that next time, you’d prefer her to discuss any accommodations she’s extending to your ex before she confirms them. It’s better to not make plans at all than change the ones already in place.