Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, is online weekly to chat live with readers. An edited transcript of the chat is below. (Sign up below to get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week. Read Prudie’s Slate columns here. Send questions to Prudence at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Significant Others Barred From Family Gatherings: My college-aged brother came out to the family about a year and a half ago. Everyone seemed to be accepting until he began to introduce his boyfriend to the family. That’s when my grandma claimed that she could not bear to be in the same room as my brother’s boyfriend, that she simply wasn’t ready to “see that.” My mom wants to limit drama with my grandma, so she has declared that she won’t be inviting my brother’s boyfriend to any future family gatherings. My mom also doesn’t want to single out my brother, so she has also decided to bar all significant others from family gatherings, including my boyfriend of three years who has enjoyed many holidays with my family. I too want to limit drama and stand in solidarity with my brother, but I do not want to spend the foreseeable future having to choose between spending the holidays with my family or my boyfriend. What can I say to my mom and grandma to make this better?
A: The world will be a better place when such grandmas shuffle off this mortal coil. Your grandmother apparently can’t be in the room with two men who love each other—one being her own grandson!—so your mother, to accommodate this ugliness, has barred all significant others from family gatherings. I think this should mean that your mother and grandmother can enjoy small, undramatic family gatherings from now on, because the rest of you are going to gather elsewhere. You should tell your mother her solution is one that might mollify her mother, but it will blast your family apart. Tell her you want her to know now that a capon will do for her Thanksgiving because the rest of you will be enjoying the turkey elsewhere, thankful you’re out of Grandma’s sight.
Q. My Wife’s Nuclear Family: I am married to a wonderful woman—the only problem is her family. Her father is the most self-centered, aggressive, and arrogant person I have ever met, and the rest of her family is so terrified of his tantrums that they never call him out. I am his favorite target, but he does it to everyone and routinely makes my wife cry. Recently, he began to “research” my profession and likes to interrupt completely unrelated conversations by making, loudly and forcefully, confused and incorrect assertions about it. When I try to politely explain the information to him, he gets angry, yells at me, and tells me I don’t know what I am talking about. My wife finally asked him to please treat me with respect and dignity, especially in our home. In response her dad said that he would rather never see our son again than treat me respectfully (we did not threaten to withhold our son). Her mom says everything is my fault because I cannot brush it off when her dad is rude. Her sister has harassed me publicly on Facebook, even insinuating that I abuse my wife (I do not). I blocked her, but she has now sent my wife an email accusing me of sexually harassing her (I did not). In this email, she also insinuates that I might murder my wife and that I would have molested my own daughter if we had a girl (I would not, on either count). I am terrified that she will begin to contact friends, business associates, or even the police with these lies. I want to take some sort of protective action—a restraining order, a cease-and-desist order—something. My wife and my parents have told me to just ignore her and it will go away. That has not worked so far, so I have no faith that it will work now. What should I do?
A: You need to take the nuclear option with this nuclear family. Sure it’s sad and hard to have to sever relationships with relatives, but if your wife won’t cut off ties, you certainly need to. It is unacceptable to be your father-in-law’s punching bag. More than that, your mentally unstable sister-in-law is threatening to try to blow up your life. First of all, I think you should unblock the sister-in-law from Facebook in order to monitor what she’s up to, and you should also notify Facebook that she is posting false and defamatory information about you. It would be best if your wife spoke to her and said that she needs to stop making false allegations about you, and if she doesn’t, unfortunately, you two will have to take further action. I wouldn’t spend too much time worrying about her right now unless you find evidence she is escalating. And surely, anyone you know who is contacted by this lunatic and listens to her bizarre allegations would realize she was nuts. To ease your mind, it might be worth it for you to talk with a lawyer about what you can do to protect yourself. It’s amazing your wife emerged from this toxic stew emotionally intact. It sounds as if it’s time for your immediate family to let them simmer unattended.
Q. Consequences for Snooping Friend: My girlfriend let her best friend go into our bedroom to borrow a phone charger. While she was there, she snooped through our bedside table, then confronted my girlfriend about what she found. It was a note in a closed envelope from a third friend asking my girlfriend to be a bridesmaid. The snooper was not asked. The best friend refuses to acknowledge the violation of our privacy or apologize. I want to ban her from our house for some period of time. We are also hosting an engagement party for the bride-to-be in a few weeks, to which she has been invited, which complicates this.
A: No wonder the best friend was drawn to the nightstand. It is often the repository of diaries, sex toys, and other aspects of what Freud called the “id.” Whatever the BFF was looking for, she discovered a banal communication announcing that your girlfriend had been selected for bridesmaid duties and she had been passed over. Having opened an envelope to find this out, she then confronted (!) your girlfriend over it. This set of facts leads me to believe that your girlfriend should designate the BFF as a FormerBFF. The violation is stunning, as is the friend’s subsequent gross and oblivious behavior. Invitations should only be rescinded for narrow and compelling reasons. I think the friend’s behavior was so egregious that it would be fine if your girlfriend told her that it would be better if the friend did not come to the party. But this is really between your girlfriend and her friend, and once you’ve stated your opinion, you should accept gracefully whatever your girlfriend decides. If the BFF does come, be coolly cordial and make sure you put all your pharmaceuticals and important papers in a locked cabinet.
Q. Re: Homophobic Granny: “The world will be a better place when such grandmas shuffle off this mortal coil.” Er … I get what you’re saying here, but seriously? Wishing for someone’s grandma (or a generations of grandmas) to die? I’m fine with gay relationships, but that doesn’t mean losing all empathy for a generation that came of age with very different ideas. To some extent, we’re all products of our generation. Fifty or a hundred years from now, someone will probably be appalled by some of what our generation believes, but most of us are living in good faith and doing the best we can with what we think we know. It was the same for Grandma’s generation. Most of those who defeated Hitler weren’t that fond of gays. So … go ahead and strenuously disagree. Lay down the law when necessary. But let’s stop short of blithely celebrating the loss of grandmas and whole generations in advance, shall we?
A: I didn’t say yippee to all old people dying—and please, let’s leave Hitler out of it. I was making a point about someone who would rather run a grandchild out of her life than re-examine her own noxious views. Of course we’re all creatures of our times and we have to look at past generations with this understanding—as future generations will look at us. But in our times, there has been a rapid and remarkable revolution in people’s view about homosexuality. This has come about in part because gay people have refused to stay closeted and family and friends have come to realize that gay people are those they know and love, and have changed their views accordingly. Sure, Grandma is entitled to say she refuses to be in the room with her grandson’s boyfriend. But that should mean Grandma stays home for the holidays, not that the entire family has to bend to her ugliness.
Q. Only Child: Twelve years ago, I gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Sadly, our son died of SIDS at 18 months (we never had any other kids). We just moved to a new city, and our daughter is frequently asked, “Are you an only child?” We’ve said she should answer something like, “I have a brother, but he passed away when we were little,” and then quickly change the subject. She’s recently told us that she hates giving this answer because it makes others uncomfortable and she wants to just say “It’s only me!” (not an outright lie, but not true, either). I know what she means, but I can’t help but be sad that she’s calling herself an only child. Should I let it go, or try to convince her to change her mind?
A: You will always hold your late son in your heart, but you also have to understand this from your daughter’s perspective. She never knew her brother, and for the entirety of the life she remembers, she has been an only child. Of course you don’t want to erase your son’s memory, but the statement you want her to make is a difficult one for a child to handle—or for other children to hear—and I think it’s very fair for her to ask for your blessing to be released from this. It says a lot about your loving and honest relationship with your daughter that she has come to you with this and asked for your help. Please respond in the same spirit and tell her you appreciate her talking to you about this and support her choice to answer in the way that’s best for her.
Q. Re: Seriously? We’re playing the Hitler card?: Also, my grandmother would be offended to be lumped in with homophobia just because of her age. Sure, product of your generation and all, but not everyone agreed with that sentiment, even then, and many people change with the world!
A: Exactly! One of the beautiful things that’s happening today is older people re-examining the prejudices they long accepted and realizing these are no longer acceptable.
Q. My Ex Is Stalking Me Online: I am happily married and have been with my husband five years. Recently I had gotten a friend request on Facebook from an ex-boyfriend who was emotionally abusive. I of course ignored the friend request and told my husband that he tried to contact me. My ex tried to friend request me again and I blocked him. Then he started trying to contact me on Twitter and Instagram. This is really creeping me out. I only dated this guy for three months. I know he knows I’m married because a good friend of his ran into us having lunch with my in-laws a month ago. What can I do to get him to stop contacting me? We live in a small town and I’m worried he will find out where I live. What should I do?
A: This is obnoxious, but doesn’t yet rise to the level of stalking. If everyone who used various social media forums to repeatedly contact people were subject to legal action, the entire country would be in such proceedings. I don’t know if you’ve gotten singular or multiple requests, but although I am no expert on social media my understanding is that on some services if you’ve entered a request that goes unanswered, a follow-up will be done automatically (and I will be corrected if I’m wrong). So while you wish this creep would just disappear forever, from his perspective he may just be trying to add a former flame to his network. As things stand, I think you should just blow away or continue to block his requests and see if that doesn’t eventually solve it. If he does escalate, then you can respond by replying succinctly that you wish to have no further contact with him. If he ignores that request, get a lawyer to write him a cease-and-desist letter.
Q. Re: Grandparents: When my father’s cousin came out—in the Mad Men days—several of his aunts and uncles (probably even older than the OP’s grandmother) supported and loved him. And when he died too young in the 1990s, the explicit message from the elders was that his longtime partner was to be regarded exactly as any widower and remain a part of the family. Sure, people are shaped by their times, but that’s no excuse for ugliness. We can be better. Especially when those we love have the courage to confront us with our failings.
A: Beautiful, thanks.
Q. Re: Changing With the Times: When our state voted for marriage equality, we were proud to say that three generations in our house voted for marriage equality, my young adult daughter, my husband and myself, and my 80- and 86-year-old parents. So even if they are a product of their generation, they were open to persuasion and reason.
A: And you are pointing out something so essential and wonderful no matter what someone’s age—having the ability to re-examine one’s views and realize it’s time to change your mind.
A: Thanks everyone. Talk to you next week.