Get Dear Prudence delivered to your inbox each week by signing up in the box below. Please send your questions for publication to email@example.com. (Questions may be edited.)
Got a burning question for Prudie? She’ll be online here on Slate next Tuesday after Martin Luther King Jr. Day to chat with readers. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.
I was recently asked by a professional acquaintance to be the best man at his wedding. I’m very surprised by the request, as he and I only talk once or twice per year about work, and I do not consider him to be a personal friend. I would feel gross while pretending my way through a wedding I have zero personal investment in. But I also wonder if this person had no one else to ask. I think of how awful that must feel and wonder if going might be a random act of kindness for a relative stranger. And to a lesser extent, I worry about burning a bridge that could be useful for me professionally in the future. Can I say no? And if so, how?
I can’t imagine that being best man in a near-stranger’s wedding would somehow end up a professional stepping-stone for you. It’s certainly sad that you appear to be the closest male friend this man has, but that’s no reason to join his wedding party. He could have you on the hook for party planning and wedding talk for months if you say yes. If you’re interested in being kind to him because he seems lonely, ask him out for coffee and talk about something besides work; don’t rent a tux and pretend you two are best friends. Tell him that while you’re honored by his request, you don’t think you’re the right person for the job and wouldn’t be able to do the role justice, given your busy schedule. (If you don’t have a busy schedule, get one.) There will be other professional opportunities that won’t involve planning a bachelor party for a man you barely know.
* * *
My husband and I have custody of his three young children, and we also have a 10-month-old girl. Thanks to a healthy divorce settlement, my husband’s ex does not work. The problem is she lives close by and often comes over in the morning to see the kids off to school. She gets in the way as I make breakfast, get the children dressed, and answer calls (I run a business from my home). She helps herself to coffee and makes comments like, “You’re so down-to-earth, living without a hairdresser. I couldn’t do it.” Last week she dropped by on her way to yoga and asked if her new Prada bag was accidentally shipped to my house. She then laughed as my daughter violently dislodged her breakfast all over me. I am so angry about her passive-aggressive tactics. My husband divorced her because of her lying, cheating, and meanness, but he tells me to accept the fact that his kids’ mom will always be around. And I do accept that! But I’m down to my last nerve with her condescending visits. Am I being unreasonable?
—Overbearing and Under Foot
I’m impressed that you’ve resisted the urge to poison her coffee. There is no reason this woman should be at your house every morning. Accepting the fact that your children’s mother will always be a part of their lives does not mean you have to give her a front-row seat to your morning rituals. Having children with a man does not entitle her to check in on his new wife whenever she feels like it. Your husband needs to get on your side. She’s interfering with your ability to work and care for your children in the morning. Tell her if she wants to come by after school when things are less rushed, she can call ahead and ask but that it’s too hectic for her to stop by in the morning. If she continues to show up at your door unannounced, politely but firmly tell her that it’s not a good time, and don’t let her in.
* * *
Twenty years ago I came into a lot of money, enough to see me through the rest of my life quite comfortably. I offered to pay for school for my nieces and nephews and set up separate college funds for all of them. I seriously regret it now. One nephew failed out of an expensive private university, and my brother now expects me to shell out for the local community college. Another niece wants me to pay for her Ph.D., and my brother’s third wife thinks I should pay for her three kids (I have met them once as they were born long after my initial promise). I have not been thanked or consulted by anyone but my youngest sister. How obligated am I to them now?
Isn’t it such a disappointment when giving someone a gift doesn’t automatically result in the behavior you wanted from him or her? It takes all the fun out of being a benefactor. It’s perfectly reasonable not to pay for any of your nieces’ and nephews’ postgraduate studies or to refuse to pay for your nephew’s tenure at community college once he spent his fund on an expensive private school. It’s also within your rights not to extend your promise to the children who came long after the time you set up those college funds. I think you have honored your original promise.
As for not being thanked: The problem with gifts is that once you give them, they are out of your hands. The gift-getters may be grateful good stewards of the free education you have given them, or they may be entitled and selfish and clamor for more. You cannot control that, no matter how much money you offer (throwing good money after bad might even make it worse). Let’s hope that ultimately at least a few of your relatives make good use of the free education they received from you. But for your own peace of mind, accept that what you gave is gone and that the gratitude and appreciation you hoped to receive may never come.
* * *
Reading my next-door neighbor’s blog, I learned that, while married to one man, she is also polyamorous. She told me that her live-in boyfriend is their nanny, but her blog paints a different picture. Does it make me intolerant if I do not agree with raising children in this lifestyle?
—That’s No Nanny
You can disagree with it as much as you like. You are not obligated to approve of your neighbor’s choices. This won’t change their situation one whit, of course, but you are free to disagree and to raise your own children however you see fit in the privacy of your own home. I would recommend that you no longer read her blog, as it will only continue to provoke you, but I know how hard it is to resist the temptation of reading about someone else’s business, especially when it’s accompanied by the thrill of disapproval.
* * *
I recently rented a room from a single man whom I had a lot of chemistry with at the rental interview. I vowed not to pursue anything before moving in because he introduced his girlfriend (though seeing how they interacted with each other, I felt doubt as to whether she was really his girlfriend). A few days later, he invited me to an art event he was hosting. He seemed extremely happy to see me, got me a drink, and later sat down beside me and told me his life story, including a couple of serious health conditions. It was clear his implicit question was whether they were deal-breakers for me.
Afterward, I started to walk away, and he suddenly said in a shocked voice that he’d kissed my ear instead of my cheek when we said goodbye. I realized later he’d made a pass at me. Since then, it was somehow as if we’d agreed to pretend nothing ever happened. He recently told me he’d be home all day, with the implicit message that maybe we could hang out, but then wasn’t. He also has a relatively new business that keeps him busy. Should I write him off as unavailable, or try to talk to him? Ideally, I’d like to slowly begin to date him, though I worry that’s unwise, because moving again is impossible at the moment, both financially and emotionally.
Oh, honey. You have expended more emotional energy on a man you have met twice than some people give to actual relationships. Of course she is his real girlfriend. Of course you should write him off as unavailable. This man is your landlord. When he tells you about his health problems, it is not because he is testing your compatibility. Whether the accidental ear-kiss was a clumsy, half-hearted attempt at flirting or simply a fumbled goodbye, it was certainly not an invitation to a relationship. I can guarantee that he has not spent a tenth of the mental energy you have on dissecting your few interactions. Pay him your rent on time and look for a boyfriend elsewhere.
* * *
I’m in my mid-20s. Since graduating college, I have worked for a series of nonprofits, earning next to nothing. I’ve loved the work, but now it’s time to work toward supporting myself. Right now I’m living at home and applying to higher-paying jobs. I know it will be a while before I can afford to move out. I’m close with my parents, contribute what I can to the household, and am not too bothered by my situation. I’m not fully financially independent from my parents but working hard to become so. Should I be embarrassed to live at home?
—Ashamed at Home
Strangely, it sounds as if you want me to say yes, but I don’t think you should be embarrassed at all. You’re working full time at a job you love, contributing to your household, and have developed a plan for financial independence. If you’d like to feel bad about that, you have my permission, but there’s no real reason to, and it won’t help you accomplish your goals.
* * *
About a year ago I met a woman through work who became a close friend and very important part of my life. While we enjoy each other’s company in general, we really bonded over our faith. My church is open and affirming and embraced me as a gay Christian. The problem is my friend comes from a much more conservative church and takes a hard line on the topic. She always knew I’m gay and never said a word about it, but then I asked what her thoughts were on the subject, and now she won’t leave it alone. She says she’s not condemning me, just “giving me things to think about.” She’s so persistent about it that I’m having panic attacks. I don’t know if I’m big enough to stay friends with her. At the same time, she’s been such a meaningful part of my journey. I fear I’m losing my friend and my faith.
—Friend In Need
No wonder you’re having panic attacks—someone who calls herself your friend is suggesting that you are a mistake and an abomination, and then has the gall to say she means it as simply food for thought. Cruelty often wears a friendly mask. She may not be shouting at you or using explicit language, but she’s wearing you down by repeating that she thinks there’s something fundamentally wrong with the way you experience love. That isn’t friendship. Tell her that she’s made her opinion abundantly clear and that she’s hurting you by continuing to bring up how awful she thinks being gay is. Her behavior is neither loving nor compassionate nor Christlike. If she can’t let it go after that, as much as her friendship may have meant to you in the past, for the sake of your emotional health you’ll have to let her go in return.
* * *
My mother-in-law has frequently given us old furniture passed down from her forebears. I’ve never wanted this stuff, and it feels like she just dumps it on us. One batch was a set of painted kid-size chairs from her grandmother. I told my wife that I worried that old peeling paint was possibly a lead hazard. My MIL said she was 100 percent sure they were not dangerous. I managed to keep them away from the kids until we could test them and found, indeed, that the chairs’ peeling paint was full of lead. I got rid of the chairs (and had to pay to have it done in an environmentally friendly way). My MIL actually had the gall to be angry that we threw them away! She thinks we should have found a way to get them back to her. Who’s in the right here?
Good news: You are the sensible person here. Bad news: That means you have to deal with the irrational, angry person who thinks being “100 percent sure” is a suitable substitute for a lead test. There is no room for argument here. Those chairs are a health hazard, and you could not possibly have returned them to her. Tell her you don’t want any future furniture donations and that if she tries to pawn any radioactive ottomans off on you, they’re going straight to the dump.
More Dear Prudence Columns
“Dial M for Matricide: A friend just confessed she may have killed her mother. Do I tell someone?”
“Inbox Bully: An anonymous emailer is trying to ruin my self-esteem—and I think I know who it is.”
“Keep Your Enemies Close: My brother may have been molested by our uncle at age 2, but now they’re good friends.”
“My Mother Is a Catfish: My mom is pretending to be a 28-year-old woman on a dating site.”
More Dear Prudence Chat Transcripts
“Back That Seat Up: Prudie advises a letter writer who doesn’t let passengers recline their seats on planes.”
“Let Him Eat Cake: In a live chat, Prudie offers advice on whether a 91-year-old father should be withheld sweets.”
“A Wee Problem: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose husband wears diapers to bed.”
“Let No Man Tear Asunder: In a live chat, Prudie advises a woman whose husband ruins her clothes with his caresses.”