Dear Prudence

Is the Family Feud My Fault?

My sister and I had a blowup, and now I’m getting all the blame for ruining our relationship.

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Dear Prudence,
Recently, my entire family, including all my adult siblings and their families, got together for my youngest brother’s wedding. It was a long trip for most of us, and by the end everyone was exhausted and emotions were running high. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I lost my temper one day, and my sister took the brunt of it. I calmed down and apologized but didn’t get a response. After I offered a second private apology, she verbally attacked me and everything I’ve ever done, calling me a toxic person who infects the whole family. Growing up, I was quick to fly off the handle, but I’ve since worked on my temper. I don’t know where the truth lies regarding everyone else’s opinion of me, but I am brokenhearted that a sister I love and respect would say such horrible things to me. When I asked her to stop because our relationship might not recover, she said, “I don’t want a relationship with you.” Now I’m getting pressure from the rest of the family to fix things, but I don’t know what to do. Frankly, I’m not sure that I want a relationship with someone who could be so cruel over one mistake on my part. I am totally devastated and contemplating cutting off all ties with my family just to avoid any future hurt for me or any hurt I might unintentionally cause. What should I do?


Dear Vivisected,
I appreciate your writing to me because, almost always, the letters I get are from the other sister—the one who has been taking the abuse and now wonders whether she did the right thing by cutting off the relationship. I would have loved to hear your sister’s side of this, but I can say with near certainty that she would disagree with your characterization that she’s severed your relationship over “one mistake.” You acknowledge years of tirades directed at family members, and after this latest attack, which put a pall over what should have been a joyous event, she decided not to allow herself to be subjected to your temper anymore. Respect that this is a result of what you did—although I do not defend her lashing out at you—and accept the reasons why she reached this conclusion. Fortunately, you have some self-insight, on which you can build. You even have a sense of responsibility for your own poor behavior. You say you’ve worked on controlling yourself, but this is something that’s hard to do alone. Of course, I don’t know what’s wrong with you, but it sounds as if you have a personality disorder. These are pervasive, lifetime problems that can be difficult to treat, but getting a diagnosis would be a good place to start. For example, borderline personality disorder is characterized by instability of mood and behavior, and dialectical behavior therapy has helped people gain insight into and some control over their impulses. Forget the melodrama of removing yourself from your family—wouldn’t doing so really be more about hearing their entreaties of how such an action would only hurt everyone? Then deal with the situation you’ve created. You can write to your sister and explain you understand her anger and hope some day you will be able to repair your relationship. You can tell the rest of your family you are deferring to your sister’s wishes, the break was your fault, and you would prefer they not interfere. Tell them you know your temper has caused a lot of pain, and the falling out with your sister has prompted you to seek help, which you hope will improve your relationship with everyone.


Dear Prudence: OCD Neat Freak?

Dear Prudence,
Last week, I had impacted wisdom teeth removed.  A good friend from work agreed to pick me up after the procedure and drive me to the bus station. We’re both younger and single and have many shared interests outside of work, except I’m a gay man and my friend is a straight man. The dentist used intravenous sedation, and I remember nothing of the procedure or drive afterward—my first memory was getting off the bus at my stop. But the next day at work, my friend said that I was very sexually aggressive with him after he picked me up. He says I put my hands down his pants and he even had to stop the car. My friend has been distant for the last week at work, and we haven’t hung out since the incident. Needless to say, I’m embarrassed and horrified. While my friend is attractive, I would never make any sexual advances toward him (except, apparently, when coming off a Valium drip). I want to continue our good working relationship and friendship, but now he’s creeped out by me or, worse, thinks I have a secret crush on him. How should I go about addressing this situation and repairing our relationship?

—Fixed Smile, Broken Friendship

Dear Fixed,
I don’t give a pass to people who try to excuse their bad behavior by saying they drank so much they no longer were aware of their actions. But that does not apply to the I.V. drip. I was knocked out for a medical procedure recently, and my husband said I babbled incoherently on the way home in the car, then fell asleep midsentence. Once home, I apparently asked my daughter repeatedly, and with increasing agitation, where she was going while she was simply standing in front of me. I remember none of this. The reason medical offices release recently sedated people only to responsible adults is because patients could find themselves in deep trouble trying to make their way home solo. Your friend should never have dropped you off at the bus—you’re lucky the Valium didn’t prompt you to grope a fellow rider. He should have been thoughtful enough to take you home and make sure you were safely tucked into bed, no matter what kind of crazy stuff you were doing and saying about going to bed together. You need to tell him that you’re concerned your friendship has been damaged by your Valium-addled mental state. Reiterate that you have no memory of any of this, and now that your wisdom teeth are out, you plan to stay far away from I.V. sedation. If he remains cool, then he’s just the kind of jerk who would dump an ailing friend at a bus stop.


Dear Prudence,
I’m a college student living with a roommate in a wreck of a building in a not-great neighborhood, but the price was right. After we moved in, I found out that my new landlord was convicted of human trafficking and keeping underage sex slaves in the apartments, one of which I now inhabit. He did jail time and is a registered sex offender, but is now back in business. I feel sick to my stomach making out checks to a convicted sex criminal. I never would have signed the lease had I known about any of this. Legally, I’m bound to the terms of my lease. Practically, I need an affordable place to live. Morally, I feel like throwing up. To give you an idea of the kind of mental anguish this is causing me, I’m the kind of person who feels bad about buying factory-farmed eggs. Is there anything I can do?


Dear Anguished,
I talked to a number of tenants’ rights attorneys, and they arrived at a single consensus: You’re stuck. If you moved out and tried to break the lease, you’d likely just end up paying rent to this guy anyway. You don’t want to take a moral stand that bankrupts you and enriches your landlord. At least take comfort that he was caught and did time—think of how many monstrous people get away with their acts. Don’t berate yourself because you failed to investigate whether your landlord once held sex slaves in your apartment. Soon the lease will be up, and you can stop writing the name of this abhorrent person on your check each month. But since you feel terrible if you crack the shell of a mistreated egg, you need some way to salve your consciousness while you’re still there. Perhaps you could put a small amount of money aside each month, or even organize some kind of campus event, to donate to an organization that fights trafficking—the Polaris Project is one.


Dear Prudence,
I recently gave birth to our third child and have decided not to return to work. My husband’s sister “Fran” and her husband, “Frank,” live in the same small town we do. They have two young boys and demanding jobs that sometimes require evening hours, so Fran will drop off their kids at our house around 6:30 p.m. and Frank will come to get them anytime between 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. At first, I didn’t mind helping out from time to time, but now I feel as though I’m being taken advantage of—I am not paid for this, nor do I expect to be. Fran has mentioned not enrolling her kids in day care next summer and instead dropping them off at my house whenever they need a sitter. Is there an unspoken family rule that I must watch their kids? Would it be wrong of me to ask them to find someone else?


Dear Frazzled,
Now that we’re pen pals, could you run to the grocery store for me—I need about seven bags of food. Also, it’s time to get the oil changed in my car, and the dog needs a bath. Clearly, Fran and Frank are freeloaders. You’re a mother with a full load of duties who is not running a (free!) 24-hour child-care service. Tell these two you’ve got all you can handle with your own brood, that you can’t watch their boys anymore, and that they need to find their own child care right away. If this causes a family breach, think of all the free services you will be relieved from providing for this pair.


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