Dear Prudence

Play Money

Our kids squander the strict budgets we give them for their birthdays.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg.

Photo by Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
We have three kids and a strict rule on birthdays. The kids get needed items (clothes, bikes, books, etc.) and $200 for the party or a big gift. We want to teach our kids the value of money and how to budget. So the kids can get a sleepover or blow-out water park trip. My eldest saved up to get a brand-new gaming system and TV, one that he doesn’t want to share with his little brothers. My husband just wants peace, and I am hesitant to push either way. I am the oldest of five and have firm memories of my private property being wrecked by the younger siblings. (Don’t ask about my first car.) I don’t want to just blindly react either. My younger boys blew their birthdays on expensive outings while my eldest really saved up for this. (We refuse to buy video games for presents.) Can you help?

—Uncheerful Giver

Socks and underwear only. Just this once. But socks and underwear all around this year—no excluding others, no horse-trading, no starved materialism. This will teach your children the value of socks and underwear. Resist the urge to make your kids look back on their childhoods as one interminable lesson on short-term gratification versus long-term gain at the expense of all human love and comfort, as you apparently do yours.

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Dear Prudence,
Two years ago I got divorced. My ex-husband, who has bipolar disorder, kept many important details about his medical history from me (including past hospitalizations and horrible things he had done while manic) until after we got married. A year after our wedding, he secretly went off of his medication and ended up in full-blown psychosis. This was a horrific time, and his refusal to acknowledge it in any way, even after the fact, ultimately ended our marriage. His family was extremely unhelpful and blamed me for not protecting him from stress. I was able to protect my children from my previous marriage during this episode but was unwilling to risk another. I am still picking up the pieces from this experience. I have just learned he is engaged to a young woman with four young children of her own. I am willing to bet she has not been told the full extent of his illness, nor the reason for our divorce. I feel she needs to know but I also have my own children to protect. Am I under a moral obligation to tell her? If so, how?

—Want to Warn the Next Wife

I’m trying to picture how you could speak with your ex-husband’s new fiancée about the extent of his mental health issues in a way that doesn’t come across as meddling or retaliatory, and I’m not sure that I can. On the one hand, suffering from bipolar disorder should not preclude someone from getting married; on the other hand, your problems with your ex stemmed less from his mental illness than from the ways he deceived you about his mental illness and how he was (or wasn’t) treating it. I think your primary concern should be for yourself and your children, and that any attempts you make to contact this woman will result in, at best, a cold rejection. At worst, the couple might blame you for trying to poison their new marriage and lash out.

However, I can understand your fears for her young children. If you still feel a duty to warn her, you should keep the message brief and dispassionate. Stress that you’re not suggesting he is unmarriageable because he has bipolar disorder but that he has a history of not complying with his prescribed treatment without warning, acting out, then refusing to discuss his behavior, and this is what caused your divorce. Then say no more, and be sure to stay far away from your ex and his family. Your primary obligation is to your own.

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend of six years is refusing to accompany me to a friend’s wedding because an ex who broke up with him 10 years ago will be in the bridal party. From what he says, it was an awful relationship, and its termination was slow and painful and led to the most miserable year of his life. But it happened a decade ago, and he’s moved on (obviously) and become very successful. He says that even seeing her will make him feel anxious and awful and he will be unable to have a good time. Obviously I’m not going to drag him to an event that he will be miserable at, but am I right to be frustrated?

–Forget the Past

Mildly, I think. Letting go of the past is laudable, but I think we’re all entitled to at least one or two people we refuse to share a room with. It sounds like he’s an otherwise-excellent boyfriend who doesn’t spend much time dwelling on his worst ex, so I give you permission to feel irritated for another three days but no more.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I have always speculated that our only child may be gay. In high school, he had a few close male friends that he would be very close to for a few months to a year, and then they would disappear and our son would be visibly heartbroken. My husband and I have had marital issues over the years, which I believe has blinded us in some ways to our son and this burden he must be carrying. I feel horrible. Our son is 24 and finishing graduate school. He recently brought a college friend home and it is very obvious there is something going on between them. They shared a room, and we found an empty condom box after their visit. Additionally, both of them are in a relationship on Facebook, originating on the same date, but it does not say with whom.

We are absolutely supportive of our son no matter what and want him to know that. How do we go about letting him know that we are his No. 1 fans and are totally accepting of the situation, without making either of them uncomfortable?

—Anxious Cheerleaders

The gay cat is very much out of the gay bag. If you’re supportive of your gay son and you want him to know it, tell him you loved meeting his boyfriend and you’re very happy that he’s out. Go ahead and use the word boyfriend, not “It was so nice to see that you’ve … found someone” or “Your friend seemed so nice.”

Your son had boyfriends in high school, not “close male friends who made him sad when they disappeared,” and he has a boyfriend now. There is a very simple solution to your particular problem. It doesn’t make gay people uncomfortable when you acknowledge that we’re gay. It makes us uncomfortable when people try to dance around the subject. Don’t wait for your son to take the lead on this—you know what’s going on, and you’re happy for him, so acting like you’re not picking up what he’s putting down might make him think you wouldn’t approve if he came out and said it. If it’s very obvious there’s something going on between your son and his boyfriend, acknowledge the obvious. Celebrate the obvious. Congratulate him on the obvious. Ask him how things are going with the obvious. I think you’ll all feel incredibly relieved when you do.

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Dear Prudence,
There’s a summer internship I’m really interested in at an LGBT archive near my parents’ house. (I’m in college.) Thing is, I’m not really out to my parents. I sort of broached the subject with my mother a few years ago, but she didn’t react well and we never mentioned it again. (She never told my dad.) Both of my parents are nonhomophobic in theory (they never use slurs or condone other people’s homophobia), but I guess her daughter being gay hit too close to home. I don’t think they’d kick me out or withdraw financial support, but coming out would be awkward and uncomfortable. I could probably find an apartment for the summer, but given how close they are to the archive, that seems like a waste of money and I’d still feel obligated to tell them what I’m doing, so the only problem that would solve is giving me some space.

I hate the idea of not applying to a program that I’m really excited about just because I don’t want to deal with coming out. If I got the job, not telling them about it isn’t really realistic. I’m out to my brother, who’s pretty supportive and (as far as I know) will also be home this summer. I guess the subtext of all of this is that I’m pissed that my parents, who pride themselves on being so progressive and liberal, wouldn’t be happy with my being gay.

—Resentful in the Closet

I think you should come out to them now. My stance holds: In the previous letter, it was the parents who had something they wanted to say but were keeping back, and here it’s you in the same position. Summer is still a few months away (and there’s always a possibility you won’t get the internship), so your parents will have some time to digest the news and settle down before you’re home for vacation. Your mother didn’t respond very well the first time you tried to come out, so don’t “sort of broach” the subject this time. Tell both your parents that you’re gay. Enlist your brother’s help if you need some moral support. If the worst thing you have to fear is some awkwardness, you might as well get it over with, because you’re not getting any less gay. The sooner you come out, the sooner your parents can come around.

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Dear Prudence,
I have a wonderful boyfriend of over a year, and I’m convinced he’s the one. However, we’ve had an on-and-off issue where he gets uncomfortable whenever I go out without him. This isn’t a frequent problem, but once or twice a month I’ll go out to a bar for happy hour or a girls’ night out. I know that he trusts me, but he always texts while I’m out asking if there are lots of guys wherever I am and if they’re hitting on me. The other day, my friend was running late to an after-work happy hour and he insisted on meeting me there to “keep me company” until she arrived, but I know his motive was to make sure no one hit on me as a single woman at the bar. I know where this is coming from, as he was blindsided when his ex cheated on him years ago, subsequently ending the relationship. He went to therapy afterward, but clearly this issue still manifests itself in his insecurity when I go out alone. This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but is there anything I can do to try to lessen these “protective” measures?

—On a Short Leash

I don’t think your boyfriend trusts you at all, and I can’t figure out why the fact that he thinks you can’t leave his sight twice a month without cheating on him isn’t a deal-breaker for you. If it’s not a red flag, it’s definitely burnt orange. If this controlling behavior isn’t enough for you to break up with him, tell him that you love him and you’re not going to cheat on him, but you’re also not going to indulge his paranoia the next time you go out with friends. If he texts you while you’re out, ignore it. He can survive a few hours alone, and if he tries to make you feel otherwise, or that you’re somehow responsible for the fact that he was cheated on in the past, please know that you’re being manipulated.

Something tells me he won’t be able to let it go, and you’re going to have to decide if you’re willing to put up with his jealous text messages and his subsequent tantrums when you won’t indulge him and his driving to the bar just to “check in” on you. I hope I don’t hear from you again in a year or two because he’s escalated his controlling behavior, but that’s very much the road he seems to be dragging you down. I think you should leave him sooner rather than later.

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Dear Prudence,
I recently ended a yearlong relationship after my boyfriend became physically violent. I have learned a lot about the mental gymnastics I put myself through to stay in the relationship, but I am finding it very hard to objectively decide if I should report him to my university for domestic violence. The assaults weren’t severe but they did happen multiple times. He also once destroyed my property and physically prevented me from exiting a car. I want to report him to create a record and prevent this from happening again, but I worry that I might be overreacting. I don’t want to ruin his life, but I don’t want to further minimize his actions.

—To File or Not

You are not trying to ruin your ex-boyfriend’s life. You are merely acknowledging reality. I encourage you to file a report both with the police and with your university, keeping in mind that neither institution has a spotless track record when it comes to supporting victims of domestic violence and assault and may very likely not lead to an arrest or any formal consequences for your ex. As you note, creating a record is important. You are not trying to retaliate or hurt him the way he hurt you. He took steps toward ruining his own life the day he raised his hand against you.

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Dear Prudence,
As it has come up occasionally over the years, I wondered: What is your take on the “can you complain to your neighbors about hearing them have sex” topic? Generally, advice seems to be no, but I was just wondering if there are any circumstances that make it appropriate (time of day/night, day of week, repeat offenders, etc.)? For what it’s worth, I’m the complaint receiver (rarely happens), not the complainer, and I always have a mental battle over feeling like they just need to deal with it versus needing to make everyone happy and not be objectionable in any way in case they complain to landlord. What’s your take? Do I apologize? Ignore them? Change habits? Thanks!

—Too Loud?

Very happy to make an official ruling here. If someone is having sex in their own home or apartment, they have discharged their duties as citizens not to have sex in your home or in the hallway right in front of your door. Unless they’re doing it right in front of an open window or screaming directly into your voicemail, there’s no way you can tell other human beings they can’t have sex on their own property just because it makes you uncomfortable. There is no time of day or day of the week where it is inappropriate to have sex. My only amendment to the rule is as follows: If you live in an apartment building and your neighbors are violating quiet hours, it’s OK to bring it up with them or even follow up with a landlord, but treat it like you would any other noise complaint. It’s not especially egregious because it involves genitals. It’s just noise.

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