Pay Dirt

My Wife Won’t Stop Soliciting Donations for Her Embarrassing “Charity”

I just want to hide my face forever.

A dog wearing a sweater on a leash
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus and Spoon Graphics.

Pay Dirt is Slate’s money advice column. Have a question? Send it to Athena and Elizabeth here(It’s anonymous!)

Dear Pay Dirt,

My wife started a “charity” and has been soliciting everyone for donations to it. She spams people on social media with messages and posts, and if we run into someone in person, she’ll flat-out ask people to hand her cash or a check on the spot, and if they demur, she’ll then try to get them to give her their Venmo/PayPal/etc. info so that she can send them a request. It definitely makes people uncomfortable, as she doesn’t want to take no for an answer.

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The worst part is that the charity is more or less a way for her to fund an eclectic hobby of hers (think along the lines of knitting high-end sweaters for animals), and it doesn’t really do anything for the community. She recently crossed a line when my boss’s wife posted a fundraiser for suicide prevention on Facebook in honor of her late brother who sadly died last year from suicide. The caption talked about how much he had meant to her and it was really sad. I donated to the fundraiser, and not only was my wife mad that I donated to it instead of hers (don’t know why, as we share our finances and she can just go buy anything she might need without me “donating”), but worse, she commented on the fundraiser post with a link for people to donate to her own charity and posted that she hoped that people wouldn’t overlook her worthwhile cause if they were feeling generous. Everyone else had been commenting with condolences and supportive stuff. My boss’s wife deleted what my wife had posted and she de-friended/blocked her.

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Then my boss took me aside at work and relayed to me how upset his wife was about the incident and asked me not to bring my wife to any work events for the time being (we often have social outings that people bring significant others to). My wife thinks people are “jealous” and “uncomfortable” that she’s doing “charitable” work when they are not, and she insists that people are being ridiculous and that she’s doing nothing wrong in the way she’s asking for money. My wife has been unreasonable and a bit socially out of touch in the past, but never to this degree. I am embarrassed and angry, and I’m afraid that she’s putting us in jeopardy socially and burning bridges for us. How can I get her to stop and how do we mend fences with the people she’s aggravated?

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—My Wife Is Out of Hand!

Dear Wife Is Out of Hand,

Your wife is absolutely behaving inappropriately, and worse, it sounds like she’s deluding herself about the way people are reacting to her and why they feel the way they do. Her reaction to your boss’s wife’s post was wildly out of line, and a deeply insensitive response. If she wants to do charity work, that is her choice, but it doesn’t make her more virtuous than other people, and other people are not obligated to fund her projects. She is not entitled to their money.

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But you know all of this. I think she needs to better understand the way her behavior is affecting your relationships with others and your relationship with her. If telling her directly that what she’s doing is damaging sounds difficult, then this is precisely the kind of thing you go to marriage counseling for. Sometimes people need a neutral person to give them that kind of feedback before they’ll actually listen.

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You also need to set some boundaries for her: She cannot ask your colleagues and friends for money anymore. It’s not fair to put you in a position where they can’t be comfortable around you both because your wife will put them on the spot in a social situation. If she cannot fundraise for her charity outside of your immediate social circle, she needs to ask herself whether the charity is really sustainable to begin with.

She also needs to understand that the way she’s going about fundraising is deeply unprofessional. I have several friends who work in and run nonprofits, and fundraising is a necessary part of what they do. But they do not use every interaction with other people to ask for money, nor do they feel resentful when people don’t want to contribute. There are appropriate times and places to ask for donations, and that process generally involves engaging potential donors with the cause so that they feel invested in the future of the organization. Effective fundraising is about relationship-building and making a reasonable ask at an appropriate time. Your wife is doing the opposite of this; she’s steamrolling people into giving her money. Not only does that have the opposite effect—it makes donors resentful and unengaged—the people she’s bullying into donating are probably paying for her to go away, and will not be repeat donors. If she cares about her cause—whatever it is—she needs to understand how she’s undermining it by alienating potential supporters for short-term gains.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

Five years ago, our 15-year-old nephew was caught red-handed stealing from the petty cash we kept in our office. My husband and I run our own business and had hired him to help out. His parents were divorced and his father bailed out years ago. My husband felt he needed to be a good influence and spend time with all three of his sister’s kids, despite not getting on with his sister.

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Our nephew was unrepentant about the theft. He didn’t see what the big deal was when we had the money just lying around. What did a twenty here or there mean when we were so “rich” anyway? But my husband and I worked very, very hard to get to the level of success that allows us the finer things in life.

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My nephew’s attitude was awful but his mother’s was worse. My sister-in-law made every excuse in the book and even blamed us for “tempting” her son. She and my husband had a huge blowout about this. The fight led to a three-year estrangement that only thawed after one of our nieces got sick. My sister-in-law needed help. There was no apology; we all just ignored the past situation and focused on the future.

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My husband and I had modest college funds set up for all our nieces and nephews since kids of our own were not in the cards. Everyone knew this. Obviously, our nephew didn’t receive his when he turned 18. First, we were still estranged. And second, my husband and I don’t reward such betrayal. These college funds are gifts, not obligations.We took his money and divided it among the rest of the kids.

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Our niece turned 18 in January and will be graduating in the spring. Her father is supposed to pay for school but owes a ton of child support still. For her birthday, we got her a gift and a printout of her college fund. She cried and hugged us. Her mother glared at us. Her brother left early and then trashed us on social media, including on review sites for our company. (He deleted everything after my husband called him and told him he knew exactly why we didn’t pay for his education, and to cut this out before my husband made it all public.)

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My sister-in-law is still very vocal about our “favoritism” to anyone with an ear. My husband and I kept the theft quiet and brushed off inquiries about the estrangement with the excuse “it is complicated.”

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At this point, I am ready to rub mud in their faces. Our niece is especially anxious about all this. My husband is all for blaring out the truth but I worry about the backsplash. One niece is 18 but the other is 14. I don’t want to put them in the middle.

—We Tried to Take the High Road and Are Paying for It

Dear Tried to Take the High Road,

Anyone with a brain who hears your sister-in-law complain that you’re only paying for two of her three kids to go to college will think she’s being an ungrateful jerk. It’s her job to get them through college, not yours, and I don’t know how she could even plausibly frame this complaint in a way that doesn’t just make her sound incredibly entitled.

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It’s perfectly understandable that you don’t want to fund your nephew’s education after his behavior to you. You don’t need to rub mud in their faces—and I wouldn’t suggest doing it, because it will only escalate the situation—but you should remind your sister and nephew that what he did was theft, and that you’ve already cut him a break by not pressing charges. You have no intention of taking their bad behavior out on your nieces, but if she and your nephew continue to smear you to other people and online, you should let them know in no uncertain terms that you will be equally public about why you’re not funding your nephew.

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It sounds like you have a decent relationship with your nieces, so I think you just need to be honest with them about your thinking. You do not need buy-in from their mother to support them or to have a good relationship with them. It is unfortunate that she is excusing your nephew’s behavior and being ungrateful for your generosity, but her character flaws are not your problem to remedy.

Dear Pay Dirt,

Three years ago, my wife died while we were in the process of separating. Her death was unexpected and left me with conflicting emotions, so I haven’t dipped a toe back in the dating pool until now. “Zoe” is my first serious relationship since then. She is a single mom to a 5-year-old boy. Dad is dead (and a deadbeat). I never thought I would enjoy kids, but I really have gotten attached to her son.

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After seven months together, we discussed them both moving in with me and marriage. Zoe and I seemed to be on the same page about everything, until it came to my furniture. My late wife was an interior designer and basically chose everything in our house. Most of it was high-end and expensive.

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Zoe wants to get rid of everything. I have told Zoe I would be happy if she wanted to repaint the walls or choose new artwork or a new bedspread and pillows. But shelling out thousands of dollars for new furniture is nuts. Her stuff is all thrift store finds that have seen better days. And her son sleeps on a camping bed. If we need to spend money, it needs to be in his new room.

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Zoe insists I can afford it, and if I love her, I will do this so there are “no ghosts left.” I pointed out that I don’t have any pictures of my late wife up, save for a few group family reunion photos. Zoe has several framed pictures of her ex with their son as a baby. Zoe tells me that isn’t the same. The pictures are up for her son; she was bitterly over her ex before their son was born. Zoe said I can’t say the same. If my wife had lived, would we have gotten back together?

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I threw up my hands and told her unless she knew a medium with a counseling degree, that point was moot. My wife died. Maybe we would have gotten a divorce. Maybe counseling would have worked. Speculation is pointless.

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I want a future with Zoe and her son. I want to move on, but I don’t think getting rid of my couch and coffee table is going to do it. I have hit the brakes about Zoe and her son moving in, but their lease is up in a few months. This is such a bizarre sticking point. I like how my house looks. Zoe did too until she learned my dead wife designed the place.

My friends tell me this is a red flag, but otherwise Zoe and I get on great. I am starting to love her kid.

—Am I Making a Mistake Here? If So, Which One?

Dear Am I Making a Mistake Here,

I think you were right to put the brakes on the move-in plans, but you should also hold off on the marriage plans. Zoe has no right to dictate how and when you deal with the loss of your wife, and it’s exceedingly bizarre to be threatened by the memory of a woman she knows you were in the process of divorcing. Her concern should be making sure you are dealing with the ramifications of your wife’s death in a way that is healthy and allows you to move on. She needs to understand that your late wife is part of your history, and moving on is not about erasing her and pretending she never existed, which would not be a healthy response anyway.

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Zoe needs to accept that there will always be reminders of your wife here and there because you had a long history together. If she can’t accept that, she is not ready to marry you, no matter how you feel about her. Seven months isn’t a very long courtship to begin with, and maybe she needs more time to understand how your history—including your relationship with your late wife—shapes who you are now. It’s particularly absurd that she’s jealous of someone you were planning to divorce, but even if that had not been the case, her behavior is unreasonable. She needs to understand that she is not a replacement for your late wife; she is an entirely different relationship. So it does not matter what your relationship with your wife was like; the only thing that matters is how you conduct yourself in your relationship with her.

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The all-or-nothing ultimatum she’s given you isn’t a good sign either. Successful marriages require compromise. It’s understandable that she’d want to put her own fingerprints on your home together, but that doesn’t require removal of anything that your wife might have been involved in selecting. The obvious compromise here is that you use some of your furniture (and Zoe needs to understand that is your furniture, not your late wife’s) and some of hers. If she cannot accept this, you have bigger problems to work out than deciding whose kitchen table you’ll keep.

This question was also sent in to Dear Prudence. Click here to read how Prudie answered it.

Dear Pay Dirt,

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My ex and I never married, but she and our 15-year-old daughter live in one of my houses for extremely low rent. We have a lease. My ex has health issues and would be priced out of the city if she paid market rates. My job hours are unpredictable and I wanted my daughter close and in a good school district. This arrangement worked well for several years until “Dolly” got in the picture.

My ex came out as gay years ago but never had a very serious relationship. I knew she was dating Dolly but was completely blindsided when she moved Dolly and her two kids into the house. It violates the lease, and the house only has two bedrooms. Worse, Dolly insisted on dragging my daughter out of her bedroom and having her sleep in the living room because her kids had more need of the space. She also told my daughter she needed to start “contributing” to the household by giving her mother money from her part-time job and babysitting Dolly’s kids.

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My daughter had a meltdown because her mother backed Dolly up. I was out of town for business and the area had spotty cell reception. I got home to a dozen texts and voice messages from my crying daughter. I went straight over to my ex’s to get my daughter. My ex and I had a huge argument on the front porch that turned into a full-blown screaming match. I told Dolly she had a week to find another place to live or I would have the sheriff escort her and her kids off my property. My ex got physical with me so I backed off and left with my daughter.

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She is living with me full time and doesn’t want to see or speak to her mother. Dolly and her kids are no longer staying at the house full time, but my ex still is seeing her. The lease is up in three months. Honestly, I have been wanting to sell the house for a while but kept putting it off for the sake of my daughter.

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I am ready to let the chips fall where they may. My ex isn’t going to keep getting the sweetheart rent deal anymore and I know she will not be able to find anything close to that in this market. She most likely will have to move in with a relative.

None of that is my concern after she treated our daughter like this. My question is how to keep the drama to a minimum. Should I give my ex a heads-up, which means the next three months are going to be hell, or just offer her money to move out?

We were never close, but kept things civil for our daughter.

—That’s Over Now

Dear That’s Over Now,

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If your daughter is living with you, I don’t see any reason you need to indulge her mother’s behavior or continue to offer her cheap rent. If you think your ex will go quietly if you pay for her to move, it may be worth it just to minimize the potential escalating conflict. Only you know how much you’d pay to avoid that. But from what you’re saying, it sounds like she’s going to be angry no matter what. In that case, it’s reasonable to give her notice that would give her enough time to find a new place, and three months is definitely reasonable. You should give her written notice that you don’t intend to renew the lease as soon as possible, and be prepared for the possibility that she refuses to leave—in which case you would need to begin eviction proceedings.

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Your ex is within her rights to date whomever she wants, however appalling you may find them, but she is obligated to keep anyone she dates from behaving badly toward your daughter, so you are within your rights to limit your daughter’s exposure to Dolly as well. Your ex also should have discussed it with you before Dolly moved in, both for your daughter’s sake and on the basis that you are also her landlord and it’s a lease violation. Nonetheless, these things already happened, and I would prepare for the possibility that your ex keeps seeing Dolly and that she is in the picture, even if your ex isn’t living in your house.

All of that considered, I think you should move forward with your plans not to renew the lease, do it as fast as possible, and accept the fact that your ex is probably not going to react well—though paying her to move might take some of the edge off of it. When she inevitably gets angry about it, respond the way you would if she was a regular tenant: communicate expectations in writing, and don’t make it personal in any of the communications. Even if the drama with Dolly and your daughter is why you don’t want to renew her lease, it’s perfectly reasonable to choose not to renew simply because you want to sell the house and don’t want the responsibilities that come with maintaining it for rental rates that are way below market. If you can make it about that as much as possible, you may be able to deflect some of the personal animosity.

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Most importantly, your daughter will be watching, and how you both conduct yourselves in a situation like this is going to stay with her. Keep that in mind any time you communicate with her mother. Even if your ex behaves badly, your daughter will recognize that you are not responding in kind, and it’s important that you be the stable parent for her right now.

—Elizabeth

More Advice From Slate

My husband and I have been married for a year and have a new baby. We were talking about abortion in the context of news this week when my husband casually asked me if I had ever had an abortion. I changed the subject. The thing is, I have had two abortions, both when I was a teenager. My husband is pro-choice, as am I, and I’m neither ashamed of nor regretful about my decisions. I’m not sure why, but I just really don’t want my husband to know. It was during a tough time in my life, and I would rather put it behind me forever. I know this is a big thing to keep from him, but would it be OK if I kept that part of my past secret?

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