Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My sister’s wedding got cancelled because of COVID last year. It was rescheduled for this September. The problem is, it looks like no one but our parents will be able to attend.
Our other sister is seven months pregnant and lives out of state. Her pregnancy is risky, and her doctors advised her not to travel at all. Our brother just had a serious surgery and will be in physical therapy for weeks. His wife has been the sole caregiver for him and their kids while being the only source of income. The other one is stuck overseas where they have higher travel restrictions.
I just started a new job after being unemployed for over a year and am trying to get my finances back in any sort of order. I was down to my last few hundred dollars when I got this job. It requires long hours, working weekends, and I am right at the bottom of leave requests. I have already been informed that my bosses might swing one day off for me, but not a whole weekend. The wedding is over nine hours away by car one way. Even if I drove all night, I would still have to skip the reception to be home on time for my shift. The cost of gas alone would be more than I could afford to spend right now.
I know my sister was counting on my being there, but when I called her to apologize and explain, she flew off the handle—complete rage. We all “hated her” and “wanted to spoil her wedding” and were “selfish monsters.” I told my sister she needed to calm down, step back, and get some perspective here. What she called me was unprintable.
I hung up and waited a few days to call back to give her time to cool down. She didn’t and worse, went ballistic on social media. She made horrible multiple posts and tagged all our siblings. She later deleted them, but the damage was done. No one is happy with our sister (and a few relationships might be permanently damaged). My parents are beside themselves with worry over this. They have offered to pay my expenses and begged me to come to the wedding.
The rub is my sister refuses to apologize to me. I could let that go, but right now, I am not inclined to drive a 16-hour round trip for someone acting like she is right now. Help, what should I do? (Also, flights are not an option given the cost and locations.)
—Sister of Bridezilla
Do you really feel like celebrating someone who has called you unprintable things? Plus, this was poor planning. She knew about your sister’s pregnancy and the fact that your brother lived abroad and rescheduled the wedding on what sounds like pretty short notice during an ongoing pandemic anyway. And if she would have sent save-the-dates out six months in advance, perhaps you could have made arrangements. Unless she’s going to be there to support you financially if you hit traffic on the way back and lose your job—and I’m sure she’s not—you should sit this one out. Thank your parents for their offer to pay, but explain that the cost isn’t the issue—it’s that you can’t miss work. Tell your sister it’s definitely not happening, and try your best to feel fine about it. In some ways her behavior should make this easier for you.
This is half ethics and half etiquette. I am joining a grad school program this year. Everyone always does introductions with pronouns first, which I think is a generally great thing, except this:
I’m trans, but can’t be out or transition because I’m disabled and cannot afford to lose my (difficult, possibly borderline abusive) family’s support. So, I have to choose between: 1: lying and misgendering myself, which I hate doing because it feels bad and feels like lying; 2: just not doing it, which I also hate because it makes me feel like a jerk who’s disrespecting the program’s norms and my fellow students, and 3: coming out and risking my mother finding out and possibly getting violent or at the very least cutting me off from medical care and financial support.
What is the best balance between safety and politeness here? How do I respect my own identity, the program’s norms, and my personal safety?
—Closeted and Confused
It might be worth checking to see whether your school or any local organizations have resources that you could tap into that might be able to help you live independently from your family. Even if that’s ultimately not workable right now, I hope you’ll speak to someone in your university’s office of mental health services just so you have someone to talk to about your fear of violence at the hands of your parents. If that feels too dangerously close to home, try a national support hotline for LGBTQ people. There might be options you haven’t thought of for getting out of this situation. If none of that feels possible, your first priority should be your own well-being, and you can say whatever you need to without any guilt.
Think of it like this: When the people who run the program ask for your pronouns, they are really asking how you would like to be addressed. And if, right now, because of the difficult situation you’re in, you need to be addressed in a way that doesn’t fit who you truly are, that’s your business. And it doesn’t hurt anyone. You won’t be the first trans person who is not quite ready to come out through no fault of their own, and I can’t imagine anyone would hold this against you. Politeness and the program’s norms are great, but your personal safety comes first.
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I live with a bunch of people. One of them is my boyfriend of four years. He has lived with my housemates for about 17 years—never deciding to start his own life. Recently, I don’t feel any connection with him. He is frequently overbearing, and forces me to let him lean on me, put his head on my shoulder, and hold his hand when I am busy doing something. I hate to feel cold, but it just feels like I’m his mom more than a romantic partner. He doesn’t have a job, nor will he get one. His car is constantly breaking down—so when we do try to go someplace together there’s always that stress. His parents pay for his car insurance, and my housemates have a rent agreement with him that he can stay rent free if he cleans the house and does necessary repairs. Needless to say, that stuff never really gets done either. How do I break up with him knowing that every time that I have tried he just doesn’t leave me alone until I say that we are back together? I would try to move out of here myself, but I can’t financially right now.
— Not His Mother
Dear Not His Mother,
Make it a priority to move out as soon as possible. If you can afford this roommate situation, you should be able to afford another one. Surely there is someone in your city looking for a person to take over their lease and not demanding a huge deposit. In the meantime, break up, spend more time in your own room (or in common areas if you and your boyfriend share a room) and ask for your other roommate’s support in making it clear to him that no means no, and it is no longer okay to touch you without your permission.
My younger son (12) typically has a difficult time making friends. He has had one close friend (Sam) since he started school. Sam is a great kid and lives on the next street, so it’s perfect! Over the last year, we have hosted a number of socially distanced bonfires in the back yard where a small group of friends would sit around, have a few drinks and chat. I started inviting Sam’s parents to these parties and thought they enjoyed them. I was just informed by Sam’s mom that they will no longer participate because they feel attacked. The conversations at these fires can sometimes get political, not everyone agrees on everything, and Sam’s parents are definitely pretty far right from most of my friend group, politically. But no one has ever been uncivil as far as I can tell. Regardless, I completely understand if they feel uncomfortable and no longer want to attend. However, I’m very concerned about the future friendship of my son and Sam. They seem to be hanging out less and less recently, and I can’t help but think my incompatibility with Sam’s parents is the cause. Is there anything I can do to fix this?
— Ruining My Son’s Social Life
Twelve years old is plenty old enough to socialize without both sets of parents around. Why don’t you reply to Sam’s parents and say “I completely understand your decision not to attend the campfires anymore, but I don’t want the boys to suffer because of our political differences. Can we schedule time for them to get together? We’d be happy to have Sam over any time, and I can promise you I won’t bring up anything other than logistics and small talk if we cross paths.”
The fact that you don’t find their far-right views troubling suggests to me that you’re not from any sort of marginalized group and don’t stand to be harmed by them. But if you are, for example, Black or an immigrant or gay, I would advise against sending your kid over to his home alone—you have no idea what kind of hateful messages he might hear. And actually, regardless of your identity, you might want to consider whether that’s the kind of environment you want your kids spending time in.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I get it; it’s frustrating to put these events on hold. But you know what’s tougher? Having to do a remote funeral for someone who died because of your own personal superspreader event.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and Joel Anderson discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My SIL (my husband’s brother’s wife) is a mean girl. We live in the same town, so we see each other often, and she always manages to make snarky remarks about me or my family. I know my MIL is annoyed about her behavior as well. I am always taken aback by her comments so I don’t respond well in the moment.
For example, on a family trip, each family was supposed to prepare a meal. She told me that her kids didn’t want to eat the meal I made because it had weird ingredients. I’m very confident in my cooking abilities. Also, I had to make something that met all the various family dietary requirements (vegetarian, gluten-free, low-sodium, and low-potassium) so I made something basic that I had made several times before that didn’t have weird ingredients (unless you consider beans weird).
Most recently, we had a family pool party, and my husband was playing games in the pool with our kids and nieces and nephews and she asked me if he was drunk. He definitely wasn’t. He is just trying to have fun. I never know what she is going to say, and I don’t do well at coming up with clever rebuttals off the top of my head. I think of things later I could say, but then it’s too late. As far as I can tell, she never says rude things to my husband, only me whenever we are out of earshot of the rest of the family. Any recommendations on how to shut down her rude comments?
— Mean Girl Management
Dear Mean Girl Management,
I think it would be worth it to try talking to her sincerely and directly. Give her a few examples of things she’s said and say “I’m sure you don’t realize it, but these kinds of comments hurt my feelings and make me wonder if you’re trying to hurt my feelings. Is there anything you want to talk about with me?” Because she’s a mean girl, she’ll probably deny everything and accuse you of being sensitive, but at least get that out of the way.
Next, you should do three things:
1) Tell your husband everything. Maybe he’ll say something that will help you understand her—and dismiss most of what she says as evidence of her issues. Either way, there’s no reason you should have to feel this way alone.
2) Come up with some good responses before she says anything. It doesn’t have to be snarky, but something like “Wow, that hurts” or “I’m surprised you would talk about your brother like that” might make her uncomfortable.
3) The next time she says something when you’re out of earshot of the rest of the family, make it the whole family’s business. For example, when you’re all sitting down to dinner after pool time say lightheartedly, “Earlier today, Sister in Law was sure Husband was drunk, isn’t that weird? Sister in Law, what made you say that? I thought it was so funny.” And smile innocently as you sit back and watch her try to explain herself.
Give Prudie a Hand
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
Our neighbors are abusing their dogs: I’m not quite sure what to do here. We recently moved into a new neighborhood from out-of-state. All the backyards have lower, chain link fences and almost every household has dogs. The neighbors next door have three dogs, two of whom are very aggressive and one that seems more standoff-ish but not mean. I have witnessed adults kicking the dogs when they are barking or smacking them in the face with their hands (no wonder why they’re mean). They also have a little girl who’s probably around 3-to-4 years old. She is the worst … she pulls tails and ears, kicks, tries to drag them around by their legs and smacks them. I am terrified that those dogs are going to turn around and attack her at some point. When I’m in the backyard with my pup, I will stop her from hurting her dogs, but I can’t police this all the time. I’ve seen the dogs turn around snarling at her several times now, and she just screams back at them and hits them again. I’m worried about the dogs and the prevention of the (in my eyes, inevitable) attack of this child by the dogs, but I am not sure there would be any physical evidence of abuse if I called the authorities, as the dogs look healthy and don’t have injuries. This is making me sick to my stomach on a daily basis. What should I do?
— Neighbors Abusing Their Dogs
My fiancé had been divorced for a year when we met. He had three preteen and elementary school-age children. We moved slowly with our relationship for the kids. My relationship with them was civil if slightly warm. Our wedding was five months away when their mother unexpectedly died.
I am not a monster—we canceled the wedding and focused on the grief of the children. I moved out and kept my distance as my fiancé struggled to be a full-time single parent of three. He got the children into counseling immediately, but the consequences are that three years later, we are still in a holding pattern.
The kids run hot and cold towards me or the idea of marriage. Especially his 15-year-old daughter. She misses her mom and sees me as the interloper. She will never not stop seeing me as the person trying to replace her mother, even if she admits she knows I am not trying to.
Family therapy sessions are hard. My fiancé loves me. He loves his kids. He wants to do the “right thing.” I don’t think it is possible for everyone.
I love him, but I want kids of my own. I am 34 and have a family history of infertility. People tell me to just wait until the daughter turns 18, but she will still be living at home and what then? Gamble on the grief going away or not getting triggered again with a new potential half-sibling? Forcing my fiancé to choose between his children and me maybe? Potentially permanently alienating my stepchildren?
They aren’t bad kids. They don’t deliberately seek to hurt, but they do lash out, and I am the nearest lightning rod. I feel for them, but I can’t live my life this way. Should I stay or go? I love my fiancé with all my heart. Help.
— Lover in Loss
Your fiancé sounds like a really great, really loving dad, but he also sounds like a person who is not ready to get married any time soon. If you met him now, as a man with three children who said he would never commit until all his kids were on board (and his kids showed no real signs of being on board) or out of the house, what would you do? Probably move on. You’re in love, but love won’t be enough to make you happy if he eventually proposes and it turns out it’s too late for you to have a child. Plus, you’ll resent him. It’s obviously very hard to break up with someone you love. Tell yourself you can always get back together if he changes his tune. But for now, dust off your dating app profiles.
After three years my boyfriend broke up with me. It was sudden, completely unexpected, and the reason for the breakup seems to have less to do with the relationship and more to do with his current mental state. I am constantly fluctuating between hurt, sadness, anger, and confusion. My friends have been the best. I cannot imagine having a more supportive network. However, one of my friends has decided to rail on my ex constantly talking about how awful he was, etc. He was not awful. I spent three years of my life with this person and I love him. When I try to tell my friend this she says I’m “just making excuses” or “you are better than him anyway.” I find this all unhelpful. It does not make me feel better or help me make sense of the situation. I know she thinks she is helping me by painting by ex as a villain but I just want her to back down a bit and maybe even talk to me about other things. I cannot seem to get her to understand this.