Dear Prudence

Try, Try Again

I haven’t been able to have a second child, but my husband won’t give up.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg.

Photo by Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
My husband and I are in our mid-40s and have a 6-year-old child. He really wants a second child. I am open to the idea but not desperate for another baby. I am happy with and grateful for our family as it is. Because he so wants another child, we have tried for years, with assistance from fertility doctors. That’s not a particularly pleasant process. I’ve been pregnant many times and have lost every pregnancy. It’s all been grueling and painful, physically and emotionally. Now my husband wants to try using donor eggs, but I really do not want to. I just can’t get over the idea that I’d be having someone else’s baby, and I’m not interested. I’ve done everything I can, and nothing has worked. I can’t face any more miscarriages. I want to embrace our family of three and move on, but he can’t seem to let it go. Any suggestions? Am I being unreasonable?

—Through the Mill

I want to make you a cup of tea and then make you sit down and rest for at least a year. You’ve been through the wringer both physically and emotionally, and I think it’s insensitive, if not unkind, for your husband to suggest you put yourself in the way of even more miscarriages after you’ve made it clear that you’re exhausted and not interested in having a second child at any cost. I could make some noises about adoption as a possible compromise, but you sound satisfied with the size of your family as it is. Your husband needs to accept the fact that despite your best efforts, you’re a one-child family. He needs to do his own grieving, and then let it go.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend is funny, kind, and I have never clicked with anyone as I do with him. He’s also living with his ex-wife and her boyfriend. They divorced two years ago but have young children together, so he moved into the garage apartment in the back of the house. Housing prices in our area are insane (it is true—I live with my parents to save costs) and anything he could afford would be more than an hour away. He is devoted to his kids, and his ex and her boyfriend are very nice, but the problem is I keep getting weird vibes from it all. I don’t know if it’s a sixth sense or I’m just being a snob (my boyfriend got married young and comes from a blue-collar background). Can you give me some perspective?

—Live-at-Home-Boyfriend

The setup is a little weird, but not necessarily bad. (If it helps, he’s not the only one in the world in this situation.) It’s an imperfect working solution to a tricky situation, and I think it speaks very well of your boyfriend that he’s so committed to his children and getting along with his ex. Dispel your bad vibes, and enjoy your sensible and caring boyfriend.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My sister and stepsister have always quarreled over every issue you can think of. My sister is a professional photographer and records almost every family function in spectacular style. My stepsister got married recently and decided to skip on paying a photographer since my sister always carries her camera. You guessed it: The photographs came out horribly—red eyes, blurry, and fuzzy. My stepsister had a fit and screamed at my sister. My sister said she had accidentally brought some bad lenses but since no one officially asked her to be the wedding photographer, she hadn’t had time to prepare. And it is true—no one asked my sister to be the wedding photographer or offered to pay her. However, my sister has since confessed to me over a bottle of wine that she deliberately chose a bad camera because my stepsister was a “cheap, selfish witch.”

I am not sure what to do here. The entire fallout has most of my relatives talking about what a “bridezilla” my stepsister was. Even my stepmom apologized to my sister for her daughter’s behavior. Was my sister right? Should I say anything?

—Not Picture Perfect

I shouldn’t laugh. I won’t laugh. I’m not laughing now. Nothing about this situation is funny, and I’m going to take it very seriously. Here is my official ruling: Say nothing. There is nothing to be gained by telling your stepsister the truth, as you’ll only extend their ceaseless quarrel. What your sister did was passive-aggressive and mean-spirited, but your stepsister has learned an important lesson: If you want professional wedding photos, hire a professional photographer and pay them. Don’t ask someone you know hates you to do it for free at the last minute. 

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I work at a company with around 30 other people. We’ve never had a reason to suspect we’re doing anything other than fine, but recently, while helping my boss fix her computer server, I accidentally discovered emails that reveal in no uncertain terms that the company is doing very, very badly, and that a lot of us are in danger of being laid off. I should not have seen that information, and I suspect my boss planned on either telling us sometime in the future or just hoping the company can turn it around. Do I have a moral obligation to warn my co-workers that their jobs may be in jeopardy?

—Knows Too Much

Consider the worst-case scenario in both directions. In one scenario, many employees are laid off with no or little notice, and you said nothing, when perhaps in saying something you could have given them a few weeks’ head start on the job search. In the other worst case, no one gets laid off, but it gets back to your boss that you’ve been telling everyone layoffs are imminent because you accidentally saw her email and divulged confidential information that was never intended for you to see. I’m all for solidarity at work, but I think the risks are great enough (and your facts uncertain enough—layoffs are likely but not confirmed) that you’re better off keeping your head low until you have more information, and starting a discreet job search of your own.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have one older cousin, “Mara,” whom I never liked. A little background on Mara: She is an only child to divorced parents and has a particular talent of getting sympathy and pity out of anyone. She was fired as a teacher’s aide for having an inappropriate relationship with a teenage boy and was charged as a sex offender. We were not allowed to touch her as children. She has since completed all of her court-mandated lie detector tests and therapy. She does not regret what she did at all, just the consequences. She has since married and moved abroad, but does nothing for work since she lives off of the inheritance from her mother’s death.

My extended family has not spent much time with Mara and consequently feels pity for her. Recently, I learned why my parents despise Mara. When Mara was 13 and my older sister was 6, Mara manipulated my sister into performing a sexual act in front of her to amuse Mara and her boyfriend. My sister told this to my parents, who then told my aunt. I only learned this as an adult, and now I’m sad for my sister, angry that my cousin’s sins are glossed over once more and forgotten about, and worried because my cousin is trying to have kids with her husband. We have to see my awful extended family every year since we co-own an old family cottage (the scene of the crime), but I never want to speak to any of these people again. Can I get away with never saying a word to them again or am I being unreasonable? My sister has no idea that I know, and if I’m ever left with Mara again I might just strangle her.

—Unsavory Relations

Far from being unreasonable, you may be the only person in your family with a reasonable response to Mara’s behavior. She sexually abused your sister, full stop, and her parents apparently did nothing about it when they learned about it. She then went on to sexually assault a teenager, and in all ways has shown no interest in amending her behavior. If that doesn’t qualify someone for being cut out of your life, I don’t know what does. You know that you’re likely to cause a scene that might embarrass your sister if you’re forced to spend time with your cousin again; I think it’s both a wise and self-preserving choice to make sure you never do.

Where it comes to your sister, I think you should err on the side of not letting on what you know. She was able to tell your parents at the time of the abuse and has seemingly been able to develop peace of mind about it. Since she didn’t tell you herself, it’s possible she would feel embarrassed and violated to know that you know. If it’s absolutely unavoidable—if, say, your sister directly asks you why you’ve stopped visiting the family cabin—you don’t need to lie, but I think in this case to start you should prioritize your sister’s peace and well-being over a confrontation with Mara.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
Recently my stepfather has become close with the intellectually disabled daughter of some family friends. She’s 30, but has the mental age of a child. She’s also very pretty, and I know her family has been concerned in the past that men have tried to take advantage of her. She and my stepfather spend hours texting, even late at night. He regularly intervenes if he thinks she has been “wronged.” Not only does she call him Daddy, but he now insists the rest of the family refer to her as his daughter. He openly says he loves his “new daughter” best and that she’s “his angel, his princess, his sweetie-pie.” Several of his biological children already don’t speak to him; the others have tense relationships because he constantly criticizes their jobs, weight, or partners.

I have no reason to accuse my stepdad of actual misconduct, but the situation feels off to me. Neither my mother nor the other family seem to think anything of it, though. When I said gently to my mother that his contact with this woman seems excessive, she got upset and said it was sweet, and that my stepfather has health problems and we should let him be happy. Now I feel like the villain for even questioning it. Am I just being paranoid, or is this behavior inappropriate?

—Too Close for Comfort

I’m trying to imagine how your mother justified this: “Oh, darling, it’s perfectly normal for men to casually ‘adopt’ the adult daughters of family friends, text them late into the night, and loudly proclaim they love them better than their ‘old’ children. Happens all the time, especially when a man has had health problems.” It’s not appropriate, he isn’t being “just friendly,” and you’re not being paranoid. Whether there’s a sexual component to this relationship or not, your stepfather isn’t just crossing boundaries, he’s leaping past them, and this woman’s parents should be made aware that he’s styling himself as her new father. From your description, I’m assuming they don’t already know. Pull them aside and ask them if they’re aware just how close the two of them really are. Don’t try to suggest more than you know, but tell them there are some red flags you’ve observed (asking to be called “Daddy,” texting late into the night) and it concerns you that no one seems to be monitoring the progress of their relationship.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for nine months, and he’s kind, gentle, and thoughtful. But last week I had an experience that has given me pause. My apartment building has been hit by burglars several times over the past few months. Last week, my boyfriend and I came home and were surprised by a burglar coming out of my apartment door. My boyfriend confronted him, and the burglar charged at him—whether to push past or attack, it’s hard to say. My boyfriend quickly subdued the burglar and told me to call 9-1-1.

Here’s where it gets disturbing. He very calmly told the burglar, “Now it’s time for you to learn your lesson.” And he proceeded to beat the man unconscious, deaf to my protests that he should stop. My boyfriend handled the police (I didn’t contradict him) such that they were ready to pin a medal on him. The burglar left in an ambulance. My boyfriend’s capacity for violence came as a total, and disturbing, surprise—even more for the fact that he was not in a rage; it was deliberate and methodical. But I am not sure how to raise my concerns with him. It would come off as cheeky caviling to basically say, “I don’t like the way you defended me and my property from a criminal.” How can I talk about this with him? Am I wrong to find this scary and worrisome?

—Vigilante Boyfriend

So many questions this week can be summed up as: “Am I wrong to have this [perfectly normal reaction to a horrifying situation]?” The good news: You are not wrong! The bad news: This is extremely scary and worrisome. There are a number of very good reasons that the standard punishment for burglary is not “a public beating into unconsciousness.” This isn’t Daredevil—your boyfriend isn’t the only thing standing between a desperate city and total anarchy. Once the burglar had been subdued and you had called 9-1-1, your boyfriend’s violence was not to protect you but for his own enjoyment. That he was able to “handle” the police after beating someone into unconsciousness suggests a capacity for deception and calculation that should trouble you deeply. Not only do I think you should leave him, I think you should share your side of the story with the police. What your boyfriend committed was a crime. The fact that the man he beat up had just committed a (non-violent) crime of his own is irrelevant.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I am a stay-at-home mom with two elementary-age kids. My neighbor is a divorced dad who works long hours and has three girls. All the kids go to the same school, and I offered to pick them up and drop them off since he can’t get there at three in the afternoon. However, half the time, I am waiting 15 minutes or more in the morning. They have already made my own kids late twice this month. I have spoken to my neighbor and he promised to get his kids out early. It hasn’t happened. I understand he is struggling but I could have my kids in their classrooms by the time he gets his out the door. Do you have any suggestions?

—Sort-of-Deadbeat-Dad

I am, or have been, a chronically late person, and the most helpful thing anyone has ever done for me in that area is to leave without me. (Mild pain is a great teacher.) What you have offered your neighbor is to take his children to school while it’s on your way, not to wait outside his house indefinitely. Tell him you’ll always be happy to pick the girls up at the set time, but that in order to keep your own schedule, you won’t stay any longer than a five-minute grace period. Don’t withdraw your offer completely—it’s not the girls’ fault their father is late—but don’t rearrange your entire morning just because your neighbor can’t manage his time efficiently.

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