Dear Prudence

Lost Cause

My boyfriend killed himself after a fight, and his family blames me.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg.

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend killed himself last week. We had a fight after he went through my phone, we argued, and he threw a glass against the wall. I left to stay with some friends. He called and texted and emailed me; I told him I wanted to break up because everything was too exhausting to deal with. He threatened to kill himself, and I hung up. I cried myself to sleep that night, and I woke up to find out he took his father’s gun and shot himself. I am so numb right now. My friends have been running interference, grabbing my clothes and laptop from his apartment (his sister tried to destroy them) and screening my calls. My friends tell me it is not my fault and he was sick, but I know his family blames me. (I have seen the texts.) I don’t know what to think. Help?

—Family Blames Me

What a nightmare. I’m so sorry you’re going through this and glad you have friends willing and able to look out for you. I spoke with a certified crisis counselor, who stressed the same thing your friends did: Suicidality is influenced by an immense number of factors, and a single fight would not have been the sole cause of your boyfriend’s decision to kill himself. Just as you couldn’t have caused his suicide, neither could you by yourself have stopped it. The choice was his. Between going through your phone, throwing glass at the wall, and threatening suicide in an attempt to control your behavior, your boyfriend was escalating a pattern of abuse that could have easily ended in violence against you. You made a rational, reasonable decision to protect yourself. Had you stayed on the phone, or in that relationship—which his threat was designed to get you to do—there would have been no guarantee your boyfriend would get help for his mental and emotional health issues.

If you’re not already seeing a counselor, please make an appointment immediately. You need assistance in refuting the voice that says this was a situation you should have prevented. This was not a friend calling you in a cry for help. This was an unstable man threatening physical violence to get you to stay in an abusive relationship. You were not being callous when you hung up the phone—you were protecting yourself. What he did next was horrible, but it’s not your burden to bear. You can both mourn your boyfriend’s death and also feel relief at having escaped an abusive relationship. Do not read any more texts from his family members or contact them in any way. Their grief will necessarily take a different form than yours. Your primary focus over the coming months should be your own well-being. Take care of yourself.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
Years ago my brother wanted to go into a small online business with my boyfriend. My boyfriend did not ask my brother to be a part of this venture—my brother pushed for it. The business did not pan out, and my brother (and boyfriend) were out some cash. My brother then demanded his money back, but it had been invested, and it was gone. He has cut me out of his life over this. At this point if I had the money, I would give it to him, but he’s been such a jerk over the whole thing that maybe I should just forget it. Was there something more I should have done?

—Not About the Money

How does your brother think that business ventures work? If you talk someone into investing with you, and you both lose money, your fellow speculator is supposed to give you money for … having had a bad idea? Either I am missing important information, or your brother is the most clueless investor on the planet. I have a feeling that even if you gave your brother the money he feels he’s owed, he’d find something else to be a jerk about. This is not your problem to worry about.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’m fairly sure I’m asexual. Hard to prove a negative, of course, but I’m in my 30s and have felt this way for years. My family refuses to acknowledge it, and many of my friends claim that doesn’t exist. They wouldn’t have a problem if I were a lesbian, but they keep telling me to go to a therapist to get “cured,” to just be less uptight, independent, arrogant, stubborn, hard on myself, and get a man or a woman already. Anything but stay single. They don’t know that’s my biggest fear, too—being alone, forever. I have a decent career, hobbies, friends, but I’d love a partner. A total best friend. A person to go on vacation with, spend the holidays with, go to dinner with. Do nice things for. But all that seems to involve being attracted to someone sexually. I can honestly say I’m not attracted to anyone. It’s like standing outside the greatest party, and people keep telling you to join, that all you have to do is give someone the secret handshake. They have left-handed people and right-handed people and even ambidextrous people. And then when you tell them, “What about people who don’t have hands?” they look at you like you’re crazy. “Everyone has hands. You should see a therapist about why you refuse to use yours.” So how do I tell them that that’s not helping?

—Hands Off

I think you’ve made a pretty compelling case here. I’m convinced that you know your own mind, don’t experience sexual desire (not for any traumatic reasons; you’re simply indifferent), and have no interest in developing sexual desire for anyone. The hand analogy is lucid and simple. If you haven’t already deployed it on your friends and family as a primer, I suggest you do so. Tell them you may end up partnered or you may not, but what you’re looking for is a life companion, not a bedmate. It may take a few times for them to start to get it—sexual desire can be such a significant, rewarding component of people’s lives that it’s difficult for them to understand someone else might experience it differently or not at all—but be clear and firm, and they’ll eventually realize you do, in fact, exist.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My ex-fiancé and I had an ugly split around a year ago. I don’t claim innocence—I was struggling with alcoholism (I eventually went to rehab and now have about a year of sobriety)—but throughout the relationship he cheated on me and at the end became physically abusive. Now I found out that my sister, who I’ve always been close to, still talks to him and considers him a friend. I’m really bothered by this, as she knows about everything he did to me. Part of me thinks I should let this go as I know my family suffered while I was drinking, but I also want to say something about how it feels disrespectful to me. Would it be wrong to say something?

—Feeling Guilty

It’s not wrong at all. Your past drinking problem does not earn your sister a “stay in touch with one abusive ex-boyfriend” card. The two aren’t connected in any other way. You may have separate amends to make to your sister about your own behavior, but it’s absolutely appropriate for you to tell her it hurts that she still talks to someone who physically abused you.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I recently started dating a wonderful man who I’m falling in love with. He is kind and intelligent, and has in many ways opened my eyes to what love should feel like. I am also in the process of divorcing my husband (married seven years, separated for two), who was my high school sweetheart. My new beau and I met a couple of months into my foray into the dating world. My question is this: What do I say to well-meaning friends and family whose refrain is, “Just take it slow”? I know they worry for me, but I am neither a rube nor an impulsive person. I try to remember that the opinions that matter in this relationship are mine and his, but it’s hard at times, and sometimes I feel I have to hide how happy I now am.

—Happy at Last

“Thanks, we’re very happy” is just fine. You’re not rushing into anything, and you have nothing to apologize for.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend is a first-generation American and comes from a culture where kisses on the cheek are a common greeting. This has always made me uncomfortable (my family is not physically affectionate), but I’ve learned to greet his parents and extended family in the way they expect. My problem lies with his friends, who also insist on kisses on the cheek when we meet no matter how many times I’ve rebuffed them. I’ve taken to being across the room when they enter or busy with food, hugging my boyfriend, on my phone, anything to get them to just say hi and not touch me. This doesn’t work when I’m the one entering the room and a line forms for the traditional kissing. My boyfriend thinks it’s not a big deal and won’t do anything to curb their behavior. Is there anything I can do to get across the point that I don’t enjoy this?

—Enough Kissing

Pretending to be too busy with your lunch doesn’t seem to be working, so give up on subtle hints. Your boyfriend’s friends likely have no idea you’re on the phone in order to avoid a kiss, so tell them, “I’m so glad to see you, but I actually don’t enjoy kissing hello.” This leaves no room for guesswork, which is the enemy of Getting What You Want.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I love my boyfriend of two years. Whenever I’m around him, I want to be with him forever. But as soon as we’re apart, I descend into this obsessive doubt spiral. Ever since he told me a year ago that he wants to marry me when I’m ready, I go through periods of obsessive anxiety about marriage. My therapist says it’s normal for me (I have chronic anxiety), but when I asked her if other people feel doubts about their significant others, she said she wanted to focus on me instead of other people. That’s fair, but Prudie, I honestly want to know: Are other people actually 100-percent “certain” about their partners, the way they say in romance novels or wedding announcements?

—Sure/Not Sure

Here is my completely scientific, officially researched ruling: Maybe 10 percent of the people who say they’re absolutely sure genuinely mean it. These are extremely well-adjusted people who probably don’t even need an alarm to wake up in the morning; they just open their eyes naturally as the sun enters the room and say something like, “What another beautiful day!” before going on to achieve all of their goals. Another 10 percent aren’t sure at all. They’re terrified and lying. Maybe 50 percent are reasonably sure and generally quite happy but experience periodic, though fleeting, moments of doubt. That leaves 30 percent who aren’t sure what being sure means, but have decided they prefer what they have to continued speculation. I’m not sure what category you’re in, but whichever one it is, you’re certainly not alone. 

* * *

Dear Prudence,
Two elderly relatives of mine can no longer afford their mortgage. Social Security isn’t enough to pay their bills. I have offered to purchase a house in my city or to purchase the house they currently live in rather than pay rent at a retirement community. They would get a house, and after they die I’ll have property I can sell or keep. The problem is their son, who lives with them. While he is also having financial difficulties, his are more self-inflicted and he has an entitlement complex. I’ve pretty much decided that if I do buy the relatives’ house, I will kick him out. But his parents are torn about that option. On one hand, they know that he needs to pull his life back together himself. On the other hand, they don’t want to be responsible for him ending up homeless. Do you have any advice or thoughts on this one?

—Housing Crisis

I answered a similar question just recently, and it astonishes me to what degree people think offering a substantial financial gift entitles them to tell the recipients how to run their lives. I agree that this guy sounds unpleasant, and it probably would be better for all involved if he were to move out on his own and start developing financial and practical independence from his parents. But if you make this offer conditional on your relatives’ kicking their son out of the house, you’re going to provoke unnecessary distress and conflict (and frankly, even having made this proposition is manipulative and just plain awful). Absolutely talk to them about the best way to get their son to develop independence. Encourage them to kick him out, even. But for the love of mercy, don’t make it a condition of their being able to stay in their own home during their last years on earth.

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