Dear Prudence

Weapon of Choice

My husband insists we buy a gun to protect our family, but I disdain firearms.

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

Emily Yoffe

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have been married for a year and a half and we have a wonderful relationship. Before we got married, we discussed what we thought were all the key deal-breakers: children, career goals, finances, etc. When we disagreed, one of us was always willing to reach a compromise. One thing we “agreed to disagree” about is gun control. I’m a pacifist and despise guns. He feels everyone has the right to bear arms. We had the worst fight ever last year over the fact that we do not have a gun in our home. We live in a city, and he fears a break-in. He says guns can be stored safely and he never knew where his dad’s gun was kept. I don’t understand the point in having one for defense if it’s locked up. We agreed to think about it and discuss it later, but it’s been months and he won’t discuss it. We’ve been talking about having children, but I don’t want to raise a child in a home with a gun, and he doesn’t want to have a child in a house that is unprotected. I don’t want to have a child until we can work this out. How do we reach a compromise when we both have such strong views?

—Gun Shy

Dear Shy,
Talk about being held up at gunpoint! You can’t start a family because your husband refuses to discuss the impasse you’re at over firearms. His obstinacy—is he seething about this?—is hardly making the case that you’ll be safer with a gun in the house. You two come at this with strong but rather inchoate views: You’re a pacifist who loathes guns. He’s a Second Amendment purist who needs protection from the hordes stalking your city. Instead of digging in, it would be helpful if you each could concede the other has a point. If everyone shared your view there would be no need for guns; but they don’t, so there is. If he acts as if the world outside your door resembles Grand Theft Auto, he needs to be more realistic about the actual threat. In most of the country serious crime has been plummeting for years. But if your neighborhood requires armed defense, then move. As for break-ins, ask him to explore alternatives that would make both of you comfortable: maybe an alarm system and reinforced windows and doors. My guess is that for him this is less about crime than his desire to be the kind of all-protective figure his father was, and that requires a gun. By nature, I have a terror of guns. But I came to have an appreciation for the pleasure of mastering firearms when I took target practice lessons a few years ago. Maybe one way to get over this impasse would be for both of you to go to a firing range. If your husband won’t get certified in safety and basic skills, then he’s undone his own argument about gun ownership. But maybe he’ll back off his insistence that you need a gun in your home if he sees you’re willing to explore his point of view by wrapping your fingers around one and hitting a bull’s eye.


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Dear Prudence,
Two weeks ago I married the woman of my dreams. However the wedding of her dreams became a nightmare. At the reception one of my college buddies was involved in an altercation with my wife’s cousin. My college friend broke a beer bottle and stabbed my wife’s cousin. He was hospitalized and required surgery that night. The authorities were called, and my friend was charged with felonies and is facing prison time. Believe me, I never thought he was capable of something like this or I would not have invited him. Obviously, the reception was ruined. What is the etiquette following this? For one thing, the assailant gave us a sizable cash gift. Do we return the money to him? How about my wife’s cousin, who gave us a check? And should we apologize to the other guests?

—Reception Regrets

Dear Regrets,
You know you’ve had a unique wedding reception when you can refer to one of the guests as “the assailant” and wonder if you should post on your wedding website: “Sorry for the bloodshed.” Obviously, had you known your buddy was a potential homicidal maniac, you wouldn’t have invited him, so you are not responsible for these horrifying events. I hope your friend gets to contemplate his problem with anger and alcohol in a small cell for several years. Often I hear of brides and bridesmaids who will never speak to each other again over some silly hurt feelings during the wedding frenzy. But when one wedding guest attempts to sever the carotid artery of another, that’s sufficient reason to cut the former out of your life forever. Sure, this guy could use the money he gave you for his legal defense, but he doesn’t deserve it. I assume your wife’s cousin has medical bills and other expenses associated with the attack. You could say to the cousin that you appreciate his check, but in light of what happened, you would prefer not to cash it. You could add that you’d like to use some of your wedding gift money to help pay for his recuperation. (Do not reveal the source of your largesse.) If he accepts the offer, fine. If not, feel free to pocket the cash. You do not have to apologize to the rest of your guests. However, when you write your thank-you notes, you could open by saying something like, “I imagine ours is a wedding party you’ll never forget.”


Dear Prudence,
A dear friend of mine recently lost her hair to chemotherapy treatments for advanced breast cancer. She and I have been friends since high school, 30 years ago. Ever since we were teenagers, she has praised my shiny brown locks and occasionally joked that she’d trade her much admired legs for my hair. She’s understandably despondent about losing her hair since starting treatment. I want to surprise her by giving her a wig made of my hair. I contacted a company that does this and verified that my hair meets their specifications. My husband thinks the idea is thoughtful but lacks propriety. I love a good surprise and really want to help her in an unexpected way. If she were to refuse the wig I could still donate it for the cause. Is it OK to get a short hairdo and surprise my friend as to why?

—Thick and Thin

Dear Thick,
Your husband is right that your idea is touching, but the idea of getting up in the morning and having a friend’s hair attached to my scalp gives me the willies. When you buy a wig at a store, it is a depersonalized commodity. As well-meaning as your idea is, there is something a little like swapping toothbrushes about it. Of course you want to help your friend, and there are many ways you can do it. If she would like meals brought to the house, you can coordinate a dinner brigade by family and friends. If she wants to forget her health problems, you can take her out to a movie. If she wants a shoulder to cry on, supply yours. Because you’ve known her so long, you might also be the best person to get her out of a funk by remembering some of your crazier adventures over the years. Take your cues from your friend about the best way you can help her. That means not springing surprises on her, especially ones that have the potential of making her profoundly uncomfortable. Let’s hope her treatment is a success and that soon she will be seeing her own lovely locks return.


Dear Prudence,
My husband, son, and I live far away from my parents. This means visits last at least several days. It’s cheaper and easier for us if they come to our house, but they prefer we visit them. Their house is a disaster. It borders on a hoarding situation. It’s dirty, and there isn’t enough room to comfortably move, sit, eat, wash up, or sleep. My parents also have a dog that barks constantly and has a history of aggressive behavior. They have no smoke detectors, don’t lock the doors, and the refrigerator is rarely cleaned out, so you never know what’s edible. They are aware that we don’t like staying with them even though we haven’t come out and said it. They just think we should “get over it” and make a “small sacrifice” for them. How do we get them to come to us, or should we just get over it and go to them?

—Love the People, Hate the House

Dear House,
You don’t say you grew up drinking curdled milk and navigating a path through piles of newspapers and animal droppings, so something has gone off not just with the food in the refrigerator but with your parents. It doesn’t do anyone any good to tiptoe around the truth (especially since what’s underfoot is so unpleasant). You need to speak lovingly but directly to your parents. “Mom, Dad, I’m concerned about what I’ve been seeing when I visit the house. It’s dirty in a way it never was when I was growing up. It’s not safe—you have no smoke detectors, the food is not cleared out regularly. I’m concerned that maintaining the house is getting overwhelming for you. Let’s discuss ways to address this.” Maybe your parents need to hire a cleaning crew to get them back to a semblance of normalcy. Maybe they need to move someplace that requires less upkeep. Maybe they each need a medical evaluation. But unless you’re coming in to help them clean up or see a doctor, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to say the house is too uncomfortable for your family vacation and you really want them to get a break and come see you.


How are you making it on reduced or no income? I’m collecting stories of how people are coping in straitened economic circumstances. Write to me at Thanks!

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