Dear Prudence

Boomerang Blues

Prudie counsels a parent whose adult son lives at home but pretends his family doesn’t exist.

Daniel Mallory Ortberg, 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

Q. Detached adult son: I am sad my 25-year-old son couldn’t care less about his family. He dropped out of school and lives at home but works the late shift, so we never see him. He will not visit his grandparents, whom he used to adore (they live nearby). He never bought anyone (except his girlfriend) a Christmas present, and he avoids all family functions and has no guilt or remorse saying this is just how he is. He gets tested at work, so we know he is not on drugs. He is the type that if he never saw any of us again he would be OK with that. He has a brother who is not like that at all. My heart breaks that they will never have a relationship or that his father and I cannot count on his help since he is so emotionally detached (and content).

A: I’m reluctant to suggest your son may be depressed with relatively few details, especially because it’s very possible to be an alienated young adult without suffering from clinical depression, but it is certainly a possibility to bear in mind as you think about how best to relate to him.

He’s functioning, but he’s not present, and it doesn’t seem to bother him, even as it devastates you. That sounds incredibly painful. While you can’t force him into therapy or to make a doctor’s appointment, I think for your own well-being you should see a counselor about this. Longing for a child who does not want to be close to you is an agonizing state of unrequited love, and you shouldn’t have to bear your feelings alone.

He says he is fine with “never seeing any of you again,” but he’s also perfectly happy to live at home with you, presumably rent-free. One of the things I think you should discuss with your counselor are appropriate boundaries. While you shouldn’t punish him financially for his coldness, there’s no reason you should be his landlord indefinitely. It might be better for the both of you if he could live independently, and the two of you could work on your relationship without the added pressure of living together.

Q. A gift: My husband of 40 years has had some E.D. The treatment is effective, but he still bought me a vibrator. As always he found a highly recommended, green, BPA-free, rechargeable one in a lovely case. The damn thing buzzes and hums so much it annoys me; I don’t require the thing, but he is like a kid with a new toy. My question is how to avoid it without avoiding him, because I really like him. The vibrator, not so much.

A: I’m curious if it’s this vibrator in particular that you object to or vibrators in general. If it’s the former, you can tell your well-intended husband that while you appreciate his thoughtfulness, you’d rather choose your own sex toy. (It seems only fair that if it’s going to go inside you, you should have the final say in its design, and there are plenty of gentle, nonbuzzing vibrators on the market.) If it’s the latter, you’ll have to have a slightly more in-depth conversation about your preferences. If you’d rather he get you off another way when E.D. makes penetrative sex difficult, tell him so. He sounds eager to please; I have no doubt he’ll happily comply with whatever method you’d prefer to that little green buzzkill.

Q. Dating my uncle’s friend: My uncle is 15 years younger than my mom and 15 years older than me. For as long as I’ve known him, I’ve also known his best friend, although the friend never paid me much attention. Recently, after my uncle’s 40th birthday party, I went home with the friend. What began as a tawdry sex-based affair has blossomed into a wonderful romance. We’re in love, and we have a good handle on how the age difference might impact our relationship. Now comes telling the family. He’s incredibly anxious about telling my uncle we are dating. I know this will change my relationship with my uncle, too. We’re consenting adults, so I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong, but I realize there’s a right and a wrong way to handle this. How should we tell my uncle?

A: The age difference between the two of you is a big one, but you’re both adults and nothing romantic happened between you and the friend until you were well in your 20s. Leave out the “tawdry sex-based” part when you tell your uncle, but other than that, just tell him you two have unexpectedly fallen for one another and are very happy together. Make it clear that you’re both excited about your new relationship and that the two of you only saw each other as friends until very recently. Don’t reveal your relationship like it’s a shameful secret. Tell your uncle you know it will come as a surprise—it did to you too—but that you’re both thrilled about this recent development. Hopefully he will be too.

Q. When can I stop being my brother’s keeper? My friend and I have known each other for more than a decade. His mom had an aneurysm about three years ago, and he left college to be her nurse. I began helping him with small sums of money since he could not get a job.

He has since moved to another city for a job and to be closer to his fiancée’s family, and they have had a new baby. At first he was self-sufficient, but lately the requests for money have started again. The amounts are so small ($10-$15 at a time) that I feel petty saying no. I don’t ever press him to pay me back, but he sometimes proclaims that he will pay me back. Then he never mentions it again, and neither do I. I am beginning to feel resentful that he asks me so often when he decided to move and then have a child while not being able to support himself. I want to help him budget better so he doesn’t have to rely on friends for money. Am I being used by someone I have called a close friend for many years? Should I stop helping at all? Or can I help him get back on his feet and create a money plan so he is self-sufficient again?

A: Oh, honey. Yes, you’re being used. No, he’s never going to pay you back, especially since you’ve never asked him to. He’s got a great thing going: You hand him money on command, then humor his obviously insincere promises to reimburse you. You don’t need to draw up a financial plan for him. It was kind of you to help him out when he was nursing his mother, but now he’s a grown man with a job and a family. You just need to stop tossing your money in the black hole he calls his wallet. Saying no is not petty. It’s just a no. Start saying it.

Q. Re: A gift: As a longtime Prudie reader, I feel that I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest that you sell it on eBay. I hear there is a market.

A: Who doesn’t long for a gently used vibrator! “BPA free. Also, I hated it.”

Q. I know life is hard, thank you: My boyfriend and I are moving to L.A. to try to get into the entertainment industry. We know that it’s going to be hard and that things might not work out. But people keep telling us this like we’ve never heard it before. Prudie, I work regularly from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. I’m prepared to work hard. We aren’t stupid. What’s a good response for these well-meaning but condescending family, friends, and other people?

A: It’s tempting to say something biting to really shut them down, but if these are your family and friends, you might not want to sever every close relationship before you move. “We know it’ll be difficult, but we want to give it our best shot” should cover most of it. If you fail, you’ll fail, and then you’ll go ahead and do something else. If someone really pushes you on it after that, you have my permission to say, “My God, you’re right. Darling, cancel the moving van. I’m going to medical school instead.”

Q. My husband has a concubine: I married my husband, a corporate CFO, in 2014, only to learn he has kept a mistress for more than a decade. He has bought her a condo, a Mercedes, and a fashion boutique where she designs and markets her jewelry. He said he married me because he wanted a more stable lifestyle and she wanted more independence. However, he still sees her on the side and escorts her to gala events, museums, and the like, which admittedly are more her thing than mine. While they both seem happy, I of course am miserable. The problem is that I have virtually no financial resources of my own. We had no prenup, I brought no assets into the marriage, and two lawyers have told me my brief marriage would likely not qualify for alimony or a financial settlement. I would likely have to move in with one of my children, both of whom are struggling themselves and have small homes and young children. I could probably work in retail or other low-paying jobs, but that would not be enough to live on. Can you help?

A: Staying in a miserable, humiliating marriage with a surprise third party is not enough to live on, either. I’m so sorry your husband married you under false pretenses, but now is not the time to wallow. Now is the time to strategize. Save whatever money you can. Find a lawyer and a financial adviser who will be the best possible advocates for you. You may not be entitled to much of his fortune, but surely there is some recourse for you, given that your husband never intended to be faithful to the vows you two made. Plan your exit. You can’t count on your husband for either emotional or financial assistance, so prepare yourself as best you can. If that means a retail job and temporarily moving in with family, so be it. The further away you get from this marriage, the happier and more self-sufficient you will be.

Q. Moving: My girlfriend and I have been dating for nearly two years. Next year she will be graduating from a professional school in the small city we live in now and moving to a major metropolitan city in which she has professional connections to set up shop. I have a decent job now, but it’s nothing particularly special, and I expect to be able to find something similar in the new city. My question is how to explain to a potential employer why I’m leaving an otherwise good job. If we were married, it would be simple. How can I explain making this move without sounding like an impulsive teenager? Should I make up another reason for my relocation, or is moving for a committed but not married partner a professional-sounding explanation?

A: I don’t think there are many bosses left nowadays who would frown on unmarried people living together. “I’m moving to [big city] with my partner at the end of the month” is just fine.

Daniel Mallory Ortberg: “I hope your personal life is as much of a nonstory as it appears to be. Also, I have $157 to go in with you on the New Republic.” —Blue Ridge Mt. Fan

My personal life is as follows: I have never made a mistake or caused anyone pain. I spent the last 29 years sitting quietly and inoffensively in a well-lit room, and then I got this job. We’re $157 closer to buying TNR, gang. See you all next week.

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Click here to read part 1 of this week’s chat.