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Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I got married just before Christmas and am hoping to be divorced or annulled by the end of January. Obviously, that wasn’t the plan originally, but …
I never cared about getting married, but I wasn’t opposed to it. So when my boyfriend proposed in 2020, we decided to go for it. We each took on about half the responsibility for organizing the wedding, but I think I was pretty reasonable about compromise when he really wanted something. My only hard-and-fast rule was that he would not rub cake in my face at the reception.
Being a reasonable man who knows me well, he didn’t. Instead, he grabbed me by the back of the head and shoved my head down into it. It was planned since the cake was DESTROYED, and he had a bunch of cupcakes as backup.
I left. Next day I told him we were done. I am standing by that. The thing is that over the holidays EVERYONE has gotten together to tell me I should give him a second chance. That I am overreacting because of my issues (I am VERY claustrophobic after a car accident years ago, and I absolutely panicked at being shoved into a cake and held there). That I love him (even though right now I don’t feel that at all), he loves me, and that means not giving up at the first hurdle. I don’t want to, but everyone is so united and confident in their assurance I am making a terrible mistake that I wonder if they are right.
—Give Him Till February?
Dear Till February,
Everyone’s sure you’re making a mistake, but they’re not the ones who have to wake up every day with a man whose behavior massively turns them off. You are. So you only have to listen to yourself. I think what he did was a red flag about not respecting you and your wishes—to say nothing of the physical aggression—but even if it wasn’t, the fact that you really didn’t like it is enough. Make a mental note about which of your loved ones don’t seem to value your happiness, and continue with your divorce.
I made two good friends after moving to a new town several years ago. We are retirement-age women, intelligent, educated, with much in common. I’ve always thought one of those commonalities was that we’d each experienced extremely difficult times. Lately, though, I’ve become aware of a theme in the comments of one friend: If I talk about feeling overwhelmed and/or depressed, she gets a bit exasperated and says something to the effect that I “don’t know what HARD is” because I never had kids. This friend has struggled with two difficult children (one is on the spectrum), and the other friend has lost a child. I know that their lives have often been hard and painful. But mine has been, too. I’ve lost decades to serious illnesses. The latest (severe, treatment-resistant depression that ultimately required electroconvulsive treatments) resulted in me losing my livelihood, my (long and happy) marriage, my friends—everything important to me. But now I’m feeling like I’m not allowed to talk about any of this because without kids I’ve “had it easy,” according to this friend. Her comments feel like another version of “What do you have to be depressed about?!” that I heard constantly during my years of illness, and that made my blood boil. Am I out of line to feel resentful when she says these things?
—On Easy Street
Dear Easy Street,
You are not out of line. At all. You could just as easily tell her she doesn’t have a right to complain about her difficult kids because at least she has her health! But you wouldn’t do that because you’re not a jerk. And that is what this comes down to. Many people probably have private, ungenerous thoughts about friends’ complaints. But we don’t have to share them. The fact that your friend does makes me wonder if there are other issues with her personality and her attitude toward you. But it sounds like aside from this issue, you value the friendship, so if you’re comfortable, tell her how her comments make you feel and give her a chance to improve. If she doesn’t, pull back from the friendship. You’ve dealt with a lot recently, and you deserve relationships with people who, at the very least, recognize that you haven’t had it easy.
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I have two close friends who are wonderful, and we’ve regularly hung out together over the years. During the pandemic (starting in March 2020), we settled into a routine on Friday nights where we’d call each other on Zoom, catch up over the week and socialize, and then settle into watching a TV show or movie together.
Their friendship and support has been a lifeline to me during the pandemic, because I live alone. But recently I’ve started chafing a bit at the Zoom meetings. Lately I’ve let them know that because I work from home in an IT job, the idea of being on Zoom in front of a camera at the end of a week of nonstop video meetings all day sounds like a draining proposition. It’s a LOT of on-camera time, but even if I beg off on Friday, the assumption is that next Friday I’m up for more TV time.
My solution to this has been to hint to them to get together in person for a Friday night dinner instead of screen time. But here is where I run into two more issues: The first is their long-standing assumption that I’m available Fridays for Zoom nights (I know, I know, this is a pattern I’ve encouraged over the past 1.5 years). I now sort of just want to veg out on a Friday or two by myself.
And the second issue is that if I suggest we go out to a (responsibly masked) dinner, my friends will show up high. They look forward to the end of a week because Friday nights for them is “party time” where they get to cut loose with wine and pot. But they’re so high that their attention spans shrink, and we’re not really having proper conversations anymore … I’m not jealous that they’re high while I’m sober! I’ve just realized I’m not having a great time either in person or on camera.
I guess I just want to get released from the standing Friday night watch party or being a sober third wheel, but I don’t have the words to say how. Help!
—Stuck With Friday Zooms
Dear Friday Zooms,
You don’t have to hang out with anyone you don’t enjoy, but I worry about you cutting off two people who have been a lifeline and a source of regular social contact during a pandemic that is not yet over. A lot of people are really struggling with loneliness, and I’d hate for you to trade your slight annoyance with these two for isolation. So make sure you have another plan and other people lined up to spend your weekends with. And then do the slightly awkward work of speaking up. This doesn’t have to be aggressive, and I think the differences in your approach to drug and alcohol use actually makes for a perfect excuse.
Try: “Guys, I am so grateful that you’ve been a lifeline for me during the pandemic, and I’ve really enjoyed our routine. As the new year starts, I’ve been reflecting and realized all the screen time is taking a toll on me and also that I want to explore spending more time with people who are sober like I am. So I’m going to use the next handful of Friday nights to focus on that. Let’s still keep in touch during the week and maybe talk about a monthly Zoom hangout?”
I think I lucked out with my mother-in-law. She can be a bit exasperating, but she’s independent, sweet, and kind. What I can’t work out is why my husband has cut her out of his life. He has never been close to his family, but over the past two years, he has refused to speak to his mother, and I don’t get it. When I’ve asked him to explain, he just says, “She annoys me.”
I want to trust and respect my husband’s decisions about his family. Maybe there’s more going on that he’s not comfortable sharing with me (although I doubt it … my husband is not always very tolerant, and he gets irritated easily—I think she just annoys him). I try to play Switzerland: I call her for important occasions, but avoid telling her anything about him that he wouldn’t want me sharing. She loves hearing from me, and has got the hint and doesn’t ask me about her son, but of course I can tell she’s hurt by the whole situation.
Am I doing the right thing by trying to be a bridge between them both? Do I need to be more loyal to my husband and reduce contact with her? Or should I do more to try and help mend their rift? More importantly, what does this say about my husband and how he deals with conflict, and how can I get ahead of this in my own relationship with him?
—Miss My MIL
Dear Miss My MIL,
This concerns me because there’s probably going to come a time when you annoy your husband, and you don’t want him to cut you off too. So I think your worries about what his behavior says about how he deals with conflict are totally valid—to a point. A session with a therapist would be the best place to explore whether there’s anything about his relationship with your MIL that he hasn’t felt comfortable sharing with you—which is something you should allow for and take seriously, because it’s not hard to imagine “sweetly exasperating” in front of the daughter-in-law only being the tip of some much more difficult iceberg for the child. Listen to your husband’s perspective, and find out what he’s comfortable with in terms of your interaction with his mother (it doesn’t seem sustainable for you to stay in the middle of this estranged relationship forever!) even when he wants nothing to do with her. These discussions will help begin to answer your larger questions around how quick he is to use the silent treatment and end a relationship.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“The ‘terrible mistake’ would be staying with this sociopath.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My daughter is dating a nice young man who seems perfect in so many ways. However, recently they found a huge difference of opinion regarding the vaccine. To complicate the issue, my daughter is starting medical school—medicine is important to her.
Discussions end up arguing about the use of ivermectin. What should she do?
—Vaccine Hesitancy Roadblock
If your daughter wrote to me, I’d tell her to keep dating him until the difference of opinion begins to bother her so much that he’s no longer attractive to her—or until she learns about other beliefs that likely go hand in hand with his ivermectin enthusiasm and dampen her feelings. It will probably happen, eventually. But she didn’t ask. And I don’t think she would welcome instructions from a parent about how to handle her love life. So my advice to you is to gently remind her how much you care about her health and worry about the potential COVID exposure that comes with dating someone who refuses to get vaccinated. Keyword: gently. And then sit back and wait this out.
Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”
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.
My brother (a 36-year-old man) is engaging in behavior that I (a 26-year-old woman) find creepy, and I’m trying to figure out what, if anything, I can do to dissuade him. This past spring, he broke up with his 28-year-old girlfriend, and over New Year’s he introduced me to his new girlfriend.
Prudence, she’s 19. She’s just starting college, and he’s clearly her first relationship. I was kind and polite to her when we met and encouraged her to talk about her interests, which he complained to her face are “dumb” and “childish.” My brother has always been pushy and leans towards sexism, but I never thought of him as predatory until now.
We’re in regular contact (although we are not super close), but I can’t think of anything I could do/say to encourage him to rethink this that wouldn’t make him dig in harder. Our parents aren’t in the picture, and he would probably listen to uncles or our grandfather, but unlike the women in our family, they see nothing wrong with it. I’m realizing my family is more sexist than I knew, and I’m trying to think of small, concrete things I can do to at least help this girl from getting burned hard by my brother, as is his habit in relationships.
—My Brother Is a Creep
My boyfriend of four years can be, by his own admission, a bit rigid and critical. I’m having trouble sorting out whether I’m too sensitive to criticism or if he’s going too far. Nothing he asks me to change is terribly burdensome or necessarily unreasonable, but taken all together, it feels like quite a lot and has me exhausted and on edge all the time trying to make sure I don’t do something wrong. I feel like everyone has a few quirks that they are more zealous about than the average person, but at what point does the sheer number become unreasonable to ask of a partner?
• He doesn’t like that after my alarm goes off in the morning, I like to lay in bed for two to five minutes, thinking about my upcoming day, getting used to being awake. He thinks I should get up and out of bed immediately when my alarm goes off.
• He’s a dentist and always drinks with a straw to minimize the time beverages are in contact with teeth and thus prevent them from becoming discolored. He believes I should too, which I don’t necessarily mind, but sometimes I forget or don’t want to dirty a straw or whatever.
• He saw a video about the best way to chop an onion. I usually do it my own way that I’m used to and he admonishes me for not doing it “the right way.” (I do the lion’s share of the cooking for us. He doesn’t really cook much at all, but used to work at restaurants while I haven’t.)
• I’ve gotten into the habit of going on runs/walks every morning. I alternate running and walking for a minute or two at a time. He thinks this is silly and I should focus on my endurance running.
• I read quite a bit and check out books from the local library. He thinks it’s ridiculous and wasteful of space that I don’t use an e-reader so there aren’t books on the tables or my desk.
• I enjoy having houseplants. I feel like I’m pretty good at keeping them alive, but I’m still learning and have lost a couple plants over the past four years. I hope to one day feel confident enough to have an indoor satsuma tree. He says that I have a black thumb and should give up.
—99 Ways to Chop an Onion
Dear 99 Ways,
This level of nitpicking sounds really hard to live with. Miserable, even. You’re going to encounter a lot of unkind people who are unfairly critical of you in the world, but I honestly don’t know why you would choose to spend every day with one of them. If you’re asking “at what point is this unreasonable,” I think you know, on some level, that you passed that point a while ago. Move on. It will be hard (and he will tell you you’re flawed and stupid for your decision), but do it. One silver lining is that you are going to be so much happier in your next relationship if it’s with a normal, kind person who actually likes you.
I’m very worried about my friend “Ted.” He works two full-time jobs at literally all hours—sometimes all day, sometimes all night, but always 12 to 16 hours per day. His wife does not work and stays home with their young son. She is a warm and friendly person when I am with her, but I have been shocked to hear her scream at Ted on the other end of his cellphone. When I saw Ted recently, he was a shadow of the gentle and funny person I have known since we were kids—exhausted, emaciated, and almost silent when his wife is around, which is all the time. He and his wife have fallen out with his family and the other friends he had before his marriage, and I don’t think he has anyone in his life right now other than his wife. Is there anything I can do for him?