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 firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Q. Boyfriend uses derogatory language while gaming: My boyfriend, who is a tolerant, liberal guy, uses anti-gay slurs when playing games with his friends. He never uses this language in “real life,” just online. I know at least one person who games with him is gay, and has asked him and the others to stop using these words, but they haven’t stopped. I feel like using that word is borderline harassment, especially if someone he knows is gay and has already said it bothers him. My boyfriend says that I’m just being hypersensitive and that he should be able to say what he wants to say when he’s blowing off steam with his friends, especially since he’s not otherwise a hateful person. I think that while actions may speak louder than words, it doesn’t mean that words still don’t matter. I also think it reflects poorly on him as a person when he truly is otherwise a very tolerant individual. Is this a battle I should just stop fighting since he really only uses the word in the context of playing games with his buddies?
A: I disagree that your boyfriend is as tolerant a guy as he would like to think. “Sure, I called Tim a faggot, but I’m tolerant, so it doesn’t count.” Tolerance isn’t an identity but an action. He’s repeatedly used anti-gay slurs in front of a gay man who asked him to stop doing it. That’s unkind and intolerant behavior, full stop. He was presented with an opportunity to apologize and change his behavior, but decided to continue doing it. The amount of steam he feels entitled to blow off has nothing to do with it. The fact that he doesn’t use homophobic language 95 percent of the time doesn’t justify the other 5 percent when he does.
To stop challenging someone from using anti-gay language simply because they persist in using anti-gay language strikes me as a defeatist approach. I think you should continue to speak up when you hear him use those slurs. The real question is why your boyfriend feels it’s so important he be “allowed” to call other men homophobic names despite multiple requests to stop.
Q. Blindness: I am blind, and I wear dark glasses and use a cane. My problem is that everywhere I go, strangers will come up and grab me to help me walk and yell at me as if I am deaf. I know they mean well, but it throws off my balance when they grab me and it’s scary. I get a headache from people yelling at me. I can hear quite well so what can I do? Being blind does not mean I can’t walk or hear. I find myself staying home rather than deal with people. Suggestions?
A: If just one person touches you without your permission, stepping back and saying clearly, “Please don’t touch me” should get them to stop. “Please don’t yell at me. I can hear you fine” should do well for the shouters. But it sounds like when you leave the house, you’re beset by multiple well-meaning oafs who think pawing at you and bellowing in your ear is the best way to offer their assistance. Are there any readers with vision impairments who have had similar experiences? Do you have any tips for keeping overbearing do-gooders at bay that you’d like to share?
Q. Date problem: My best friend met her now-boyfriend when we were out celebrating my birthday night two years ago. They’ve been dating ever since and seem to be heading down the road to marriage. Each year since then, she celebrates their “anniversary” on my birthday, and it always takes priority in her eyes. Now, she’s told me that when they get engaged, she wants to have their wedding on that same date. I’ve told her this makes me uncomfortable and that it truly hurts me that my birthday would be forever known as her anniversary, and that I want to be able to make plans each year for my birthday without wondering if she will be able to make it because of her own plans. When I brought this up, we got into a small argument about it and didn’t reach a resolution. Am I being ridiculous? It was just the day they met, not even the day they went on their first date. Any advice?
A: I’m afraid you are being ridiculous. An adult woman should not be so possessive of her own birthday that she begrudges her friends the chance to get married on the same day. The day they met is an important date. Your birthday is not in any way diminished because two people happened to fall in love on it. You owe the two of them an apology for being churlish and petty.
Q. Lost in LDR: My boyfriend and I have been dating long distance for about 1½ years. The pros: I love him because he’s an incredibly kind, smart, talented guy who always makes me laugh, in addition to supporting whatever wayward dreams I have. In a perfect world, I might marry him eventually. The cons: He lives in Florida, and I live in New York; on average we see each other every few months for a weekend. In the beginning, we visited each other more frequently, but for the last 10 months, I’ve seen him for a total of a week. I don’t think our situation will change for the next few years (neither one of us can/wants to move within the near future). Whenever I tell him I’d like to see him more often, he apologies and promises to plan ahead more. I’m almost always free to see him—his schedule dictates our visits. Dating him long distance makes me feel lonely and sad, as a part of me is always 1,000 miles away, but I can’t quite pull the trigger. He’s not open to an open relationship. Do you have any advice on what I should do? Also, we are both 23. Also, he has the world’s cutest dog.
A: (Please send me pictures of the dog at your earliest convenience.) You seem fairly aware that this relationship is approaching its expiration date. No matter how great the boyfriend, if he can’t muster up the time or enthusiasm to see you more than one week out of every 52, that’s not a great sign. If he’s not interested in coming out to see you or in opening up the relationship (and neither of you plans on moving to be closer to one another), it’s a question of when and not if you two break up. You are separated less by time and space than a general sense of friendly indifference.
The real question is what will you get out of this if you end things now? What experiences or other relationships are you potentially missing by kicking the Decision Can a little further down the road? If you’re not terribly interested in dating someone else and you have a good time texting each other, you may not feel a sense of urgency to end things, but I don’t think you should treat your breakup as lackadaisically as he treats your visits. He may very well be a great guy, but this relationship is already over. You’re not really changing anything, just acknowledging reality. Break up and stay friendly; maybe someday he’ll work up the energy to have a full-hearted feeling and you can revisit things then. (This will also ensure your continued access to the dog.)
Q. Re: Blindness: I’m not blind, but I use a wheelchair. When people try to push me without my permission, I have a three-step process—first I ask nicely and explain why it’s an unsafe idea, taking a moment to (hopefully) educate. If that doesn’t work, I speak more forcefully, and then tell folks to back off if necessary. It seems to me that the problem doesn’t get better if folks don’t know why it’s a problem … however, advocating all the time is tiring.
A: It’s a great reminder to anyone who wants to help: Ask first. Someone who has a disability is not necessarily in distress. You may be embarrassing and inconveniencing someone by butting in and making assumptions.
Q. Too young to step-parent: I recently started talking to a man I met on an online dating site. He is attractive, well-educated, respectful, and driven; we hit it off and have talked for over a week. He informed me that he has a 5-year-old son from a previous relationship and I feel a little blindsided. I am a recent college graduate who just started her first salaried job, and I am worried that dating someone with a child is a little over my head. Am I being too preoccupied with the idea of being with someone who has a child while I’m still trying to figure my own life out? Or is this something that I need to worry about after I’ve spent more time with him?
A: He’s not looking for a stepmother for his son, he just wants to get dinner. I’ve dated single parents who were very careful about when and how someone they were dating met their children; if he’s a good father, he’ll have plenty of space between his family life and his dating life. If things start to get serious and you realize your lifestyles just aren’t compatible, that’s one thing, but I don’t think you should dump this man pre-emptively just because he has a child.
Q. Homophobic alma mater: My wife went to a small religious college as an undergrad. At the time, she did not know that she was bisexual, and she ended up marrying me (also a woman) several years after graduating. She donated small amounts of money as an alumna, but stopped when she heard that the college was not allowing any LGBTQ student groups to form. When the school asked for donations, she wrote back and said, “Not until you support and recognize all your students.” However, she still wants to go back for class reunions—I said that this is a bad idea, as the college still gets money and goodwill from those. But, she enjoyed her college experience overall. Is there a way to keep ties with one’s alma mater while disapproving of its discrimination?
A: I also went to a small religious college that didn’t allow LGBT groups on campus (and am also out now, and also do not donate to my alumni fund), so I feel uniquely qualified to handle this question. I think your wife has drawn a pretty reasonable line. She’s not contributing to the school financially in any way, she’s made her position known to them, but she still wants to see old classmates and reminisce about her college years every once in a while. As long as they’re not asking her to pretend she’s married to a man whenever she walks on campus, I think she’s struck a healthy balance.
Q: Hate job but feel guilty about leaving: I’m 30 and have been working off and on for the same employer since high school. I’ve been with them full time for eight years. My father worked for the same (small) company for 30-plus years as a high-level manager, and was unceremoniously let go by the owner’s son (who came on board recently to take over for his own father). He replaced my dad with a college friend of his. This company meant everything to my dad and to have him treated so poorly and then “put out to pasture” has sent us both into a bit of a depression. I like the people I work with and the work I do, but I hate the company and the new owner for how my father has been treated. I want to quit and look for a new job, but leaving would put a burden on the people I work directly with. I know the new owner wouldn’t replace me, so it makes their lives harder, which I don’t want, but I don’t want to work for this guy anymore.
A: Look for a new job, then quit. You don’t want to stay tethered to this company for the rest of your life, which is perfectly understandable, but it’s a lot easier to find a job when you have a job than when you don’t.
Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone. See you next week!