Help! My Boyfriend Is Also in a Relationship With a Mannequin Named Barbara. – Slate

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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—your first month is only $1.

Dear Prudence,

I have a boyfriend of two years with a weird hobby. He has a mannequin he’s kept since college, named “Barbara.” I discovered her existence when we’d been seeing each other for over a year. He spends a significant amount of money for her maintenance and talks to it like a real person. When he comes home from a trip he kisses her and tells her he missed her. He sleeps next to her at night when I’m not there and basically treats her like a second girlfriend. I’ve asked him to get rid of it and his responses range from either ignoring what I’ve said, telling me he’ll do it later, or pleading me to understand how important she is to him. He definitely has some kind of an emotional attachment to it. If it was a childhood blanket or even a teddy bear I wouldn’t care so much, but having a life-sized, real-looking doll is just too much. We’ve fought over it so much he gets angry whenever I bring her up and says I’m being petty and jealous over a doll. Who’s in the right here? Is this worth giving up an otherwise excellent relationship?

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You would think one of the advantages of having a mannequin for a girlfriend is that the money needed to preserve her looks is minuscule. But Barbara sounds pretty high maintenance. Ryan Gosling starred in a movie, Lars and the Real Girl, which I had no desire to see, about a guy like your boyfriend who eventually gets everyone to accept his sex doll as his girlfriend. But your boyfriend is not so devoted to Barbara. There he is, cruelly leaving her at home, while he goes out on the town with you, and locking her in the broom closet when you spend the night. I’m trying to imagine the moment, a year into your relationship, when you discovered he was cheating on you with a life-sized doll. I am wondering how you managed not to run screaming into the night when your boyfriend finally introduced you to his love. Your boyfriend points out how petty you sound fighting with him over his feelings for a department-store mannequin. He has a point. There is no limit to the human capacity for kinkiness, and he’s committed to his fetish. But you sound nuttier than he is by throwing jealous fits over Barbara. It was unfair of him to keep his obsession hidden while you two developed your relationship. That relationship may be “otherwise excellent” but excellence seems like an odd concept when your boyfriend is sleeping with a mannequin when you’re not sharing his bed. If you choose to stay, then you’re the one who has to accept that your boyfriend will likely never change, and neither will Barbara. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Boyfriend Has a Mannequin Named “Barbara” That He Kisses and Talks to.” (May 14, 2012)

Dear Prudence,

My mother is a very emotionally sensitive person and struggles particularly with her birthday. She never wants a party and sends mixed messages on gifts; if I ask what she wants she says “nothing,” but the one year I didn’t get her anything she was visibly upset and shut herself in her room until I left. More than anything I think she wants to feel appreciated by our scattered family—both my sister and my father spend most of their time at least a six-hour plane ride away from our family home. I live in an adjacent city. This year we took a family trip to a destination of her choice a few weeks before her birthday as a celebration of a milestone year. She had a good time on a trip, and a few days after our return I gave my mother a few small, personal gifts and my best wishes. On her actual birthday, I was admittedly rushed and not thinking, so I didn’t contact her until I got out of work. She ignored all of my calls and text messages. The next day she notified me that she has nothing to say to me and has resisted any attempt to contact her since. Through my sister I know that she’s upset that I waited until later in the day to call and also that my father got her a thoughtless present she’ll never use—all of which, combined with her usual birthday malaise, have triggered a mompocalyptic rage that I don’t know how to defuse. I feel like it’s all my fault for not trying harder. When my mother gets like this, I get stuck on the image of her being upset and alone while my father and sister are away, and know that she relies on me to feel appreciated. The guilt is unbearable. Please help.

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I think I have an idea why your sister and your father spend most of their time so far away. Your mother does not—should not—“rely” on you to feel appreciated. It is a good thing to show appreciation, but it is not your responsibility to manage your mother’s feelings of value and self-worth. Anyone who insists she wants nothing for her birthday, then locks herself in her room when she receives precisely what she asked for is a person who is determined to be disappointed by the people around her, no matter how hard they try. If your mother is upset, it is because she has refused all opportunities to be consoled. What she wanted for her birthday, more than anything else, was to feel aggrieved and misunderstood, to refuse to be comforted, to remind the people around her that they have once again failed to live up to her standards. She wanted that state of martyrdom more than any phone call or present, and that’s why she’s refused to hear your apology. I promise that you could spend the rest of your life trying to make your mother’s birthday perfect every year, and she would still find a way to make you feel guilty. I think you would benefit immensely from taking the space your mother has recently granted you and seeking therapy to figure out how to assert healthy boundaries with a parent who throws tantrums like a child. —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! My Mom Stopped Speaking to Me Because I Didn’t Say Happy Birthday Until After Work.” (Aug. 29, 2016)

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. Over time, one of those became more serious, to the point where we have been dating for almost a year and are now essentially exclusive. A second marriage is out of the question. I want to focus on my young kids and prefer to separate my “kid time,” which I love, from my adult “dating time,” which is also great. I envision that for the rest of my life there may be a series of girlfriends. My dilemma is that I really like the person I’m dating, but I recently met someone else who interests me. I don’t want to break off a good relationship to go on a date with the new person, only to find that we don’t have much in common. Because I plan to be serially monogamous indefinitely, I need to figure this out now. How do I try out a new relationship while gently easing out of my old one, without crossing cheating boundaries and maligning my good name?

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I applaud that you want to focus on your children and not make them spectators to your serially monogamous parade. I think that when parents split, children should only get to know significant others when they are truly significant. That is, when the new relationship is solid and continuing. When you first became single again, you thought you would happily juggle your many options. Instead you found that by nature you’re less interested in variety than in harmony. You found someone you really like, and even though apparently you have never made declarations about the future or fidelity, you feel you would be cheating if you started exploring how compatible you are with this new woman who’s caught your eye. So to answer your question, what you do is have a long overdue talk about where the two of you are in this relationship, and explain that you don’t want to be exclusive. But in larger terms, I hope you’ve explored, or are exploring, what went wrong in your marriage and what your contributions were to its lousiness. You may think you want to play the field forever, but I’m guessing that at some point you’ll tire of living such a bifurcated life. If you come to love someone, it will take a lot of energy to keep her concealed from the other people you love most. You say a second marriage is out of the question. But I have heard from children of divorce who grew up with a sense that a parent sacrificed a personal life for their sake, or that a parent indeed had a love life, but it was always hidden from them. Your marriage did not give your children a template for happy adult relationships. Don’t be so quick to declare they will never get to see you in one. —E.Y.

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From: “Help! How Does a Recently Divorced Man Play the Field Without Being a Cad?” (April 9, 2015)

Dear Prudence,

While I was traveling recently, my husband started chatting with another woman, which eventually led to him sending a nude pic of himself. The woman had asked him to download an app that essentially stole all his phone contacts. She told him to send money and threatened to send his picture to his contacts if he didn’t comply. He reported this to the police, and the next day she sent his photo to several people, including my mother and his boss. He is completely humiliated and in shock. I know he is a victim here, and I want to support him, but a part of me is livid that he got involved in an intimate chat with a strange woman online. I feel like he cheated on me, even if there was no physical contact involved. It is hard to describe how betrayed I feel, but I can’t talk to him about it while he is dealing with such a public humiliation. How do we deal with this in our marriage? Do I let it go, demand counseling—what?

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I can’t imagine why on earth you’d want to let this go. This was an upsetting and humiliating private experience turned public, and both you and your husband ought to seek counseling to deal with the fallout from his blackmail. You have every right to feel angry and betrayed, and there’s no reason that you should let your feelings go just because your husband has been publicly embarrassed. Your desire to present a united front is admirable, but that doesn’t mean you have to swallow your own feelings in private. —D.L.

From: “Help! My Husband Was Blackmailed After Sending a Nude Photo to Someone.” (June 14, 2016)

More from Dear Prudence

Several years ago, after accepting that I’d be alone forever, I met a wonderful man. He was kind, compassionate, intelligent, hilarious, and widely respected. Shortly after we married he was diagnosed with a terminal illness. He fought bravely for several years while I gladly worked full time, cared for him, and basically took care of everything so that he could focus on his health and the things he enjoyed. He recently lost his battle. While searching for information on some loose ends, I stumbled across email responses he had sent to singles and couples seeking casual sexual encounters. I am destroyed. I’m now grieving for the relationship I thought we had and the man I thought he was. I don’t want to tell our families what he did and destroy their vision of him. But I don’t think it’s fair that I bear the brunt of this pain alone and live behind the facade of grieving widow.