Danny Lavery, 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.)
Danny Lavery: Hi, everyone. I hope all of your problems are minor and fascinating. Let’s chat.
Q. Secretly a mom: Nearly two months ago, I met a guy on Tinder, expecting nothing more than a casual hookup. However, we ended up clicking really well and have gone on a lot of real dates since then. I think I’m falling in love with him (and vice versa), and we are exclusive. There’s just one little problem: I never told him I have a kid. I’m a single mom, no dad in the picture, and my child is 3. I didn’t think to mention it initially, not expecting to enter a relationship, and since then I’ve just never found the right moment. I totally know this is wrong and my fault, but at this point I’m not sure how to break the news. We can’t keep on seeing each other only at his apartment or when my kid is at Grandma’s, and I really want my child to meet him. How do I get out of this mess?
A: I think you can go a bit easier on yourself here. It’s certainly a point you should bring up with him, but it’s not as if you two have been in a committed relationship for a year—it hasn’t even been two months. Tell him that you weren’t planning on getting along so well, so you hadn’t thought much about how to tell him your life story, but you have a young child and want him to know that you’re a mother. That’s a fact that probably should have come before the exclusivity conversation, but life is a bit messy sometimes. Tell him, apologize for not having told him sooner, and let him ask questions and adjust to the news at his own pace. Save the “and I’d like you to meet my child” conversation for later. If he takes it well and things proceed from there, great! If things don’t work out between the two of you as a result, it will be a helpful lesson in dating honestly.
Q. Couple who argue in front of me: I’ve been friends forever with a wonderful couple. They seem to be devoted to each other, and I love each of them individually and together.
But recently I saw a whole different side of their relationship when I traveled with them: They bickered constantly. I think the reason was that the wife is a very anxious person, and when she gets into an unfamiliar territory, the anxiety is ramped up. The husband is driving too fast, and she shrieks. She is afraid of making a wrong turn, so every intersection requires a debate. And then he gets annoyed and responds in kind.
At the time, I kept my mouth shut, thinking it was none of my business—they directed none of this at me. But by the end of three days, I had a migraine from the stress of listening to them. So I seem to have two choices: Talk to them in the hopes they could change, or never travel with them again. What do you think? Should I say something, and if so, what?
A: Oh, “Couple Who Clearly Doesn’t Mind Fighting in Front of a Third Party,” how I’ve missed you. One of the most uncomfortable feelings is realizing you’re with a couple who’s ready and willing to start airing their dirty laundry in front of you, George-and-Martha style. “Oh,” you think to yourself as you realize that your presence isn’t going to do a thing to slow them down, “I’m about to find out how much these people annoy each other, and we’re all going to pretend I don’t exist until this fight is over.” (By the way, I think it is your business, even if their quarrels weren’t directed at you. When the two of them are screaming in the car and you’re curled up in the back seat with no means of escape, you’re pretty directly affected.)
I think you should both never travel with them again and say something. I’m sorry for assigning you so much homework, but this is the sort of thing that needs to be nipped in the bud. Tell them it makes you deeply uncomfortable when they scream at each other in your presence and that in the future, when they start to fight, you’re going to leave the room, because it makes the situation difficult and uncomfortable for you.
Failing that, you could always invite them over to watch Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and announce, “You know, that reminds me a lot of you” as the credits roll.
Q. Landlord problems: I am a graduate student who moved into my own housing this past summer. My roommates and I searched for months to find something affordable, nice, and in a convenient location. When we finally found something, our joy was short-lived, as our landlord is a nightmare. Among a host of other things, he constantly shows up without notice, will text or call incessantly, is rude to our friends, walks around looking into our windows, and once even stood outside of my roommate’s window yelling her name until she came outside. For all of this, we have just tried to remain cordial with him and keep limited contact. However, he recently has been badgering us about an empty room in our apartment that he wants to fill. Before we moved in, we told him that we were only three women looking to rent the apartment, and our lease reflects the three bedrooms that we occupy. After we refused to let him move in a random person and refused to give him the number of a friend, he is threatening to kick us out. Dealing with him has been awful, but so was apartment-hunting. Should we just cut our losses and move out? Or should we try and fight to stay in our apartment? I feel so distraught over the whole situation.
A: Some of what your landlord wants is reasonable, like wanting to rent out every available room in the apartment. The rest of it, from incessant texting to showing up in the apartment without written notice, is definitely unpleasant and possibly illegal. My answer would differ wildly depending on which state you live in and how friendly tenant law is in your city. I suggest you familiarize yourself with tenants’ rights in your city—most cities have a free housing advice clinic (here’s an example of one in Los Angeles). Get familiar with your rights as a tenant, and then decide whether moving or fighting is a better use of your time.
Q. Sharing isn’t caring: My husband and I recently moved in together after almost two years of long distance. We hit the expected bumps that come along with two people combining lives, and six months later, we’ve worked out the majority of these and are happily cohabiting. The one hangup I have is that he isn’t good at sharing snacks. Or maybe I’m not good at sharing snacks. For example, I’ll buy a box of cookies, expecting it to last at least a week, and the next day I’ll go to have one cookie as a treat and will see that three-fourths of the box is gone! This might be OK if he also bought snacks for us, but that very rarely happens, and when it does, he’ll say they’re for us to share but then finishes them within a few hours usually. (He’s not overweight—no eating disorders or anything like that.) I view snacks as a scarcity to be stretched out over a period of time, while he views them as something to be eaten as quickly as possible. I’m almost at the point where I want to buy two of something and write my name on one just so I can avoid the resentment I feel whenever I see he’s demolished another sleeve of Oreos before I’ve had a chance to have even one. This feels very childish and roommatelike, but it might also help my marriage. Thoughts?
A: I’m very much of the belief that you can love someone while also loathing his policy on snacks. There is nothing wrong with having a separate snack drawer. It is not a sign that your marriage is doomed to college roommate–level squabbles. I know a couple who keeps separate stocks of the same Trader Joe’s brand of chocolate-covered almonds because they can’t agree on a mutually beneficial almond-eating pace. Keep your snacks separate, and your love will flourish.
Q. Re: Landlord problems: Your landlord, depending on location, is probably breaking the law many times over. Here’s a site with links to specific states and the laws relating to tenancy.
Q. How to quit?: My husband was recently accepted into a top graduate program across the country from where we currently live. We are selling our house and moving in the summer. In addition to an excellent stipend from his program, we are due to net six figures from the sale of our house (far more than I or my husband am used to making in a year), and as a result, I have the opportunity to take one to three years off to try to fulfill my dream of completing and publishing a novel. My problem is that I don’t know how to tell my current employer. It is a small startup, and they really like me. I am also the only person doing this particular type of work at my workplace, so I’d have to train someone. I am having a lot of anxiety about how they will react, and a part of me is wondering if I should offer to work part-time remotely. I can’t figure out if that is what I truly want, recognizing that, with my general low-energy self, I don’t know if I could juggle a job part-time and writing full-time. I also know I don’t want to hurt my employers and co-workers, whom I have grown close to. Please advise what I should do and how to tell them (and when—we move in mid-June).
A: First, I think you should offer to work part-time. As someone who has quit many jobs in order to pursue a writing career, I’ve always been most productive and the least anxious when I had at least one form of regular guaranteed income, even if it was small. You will be surprised at how quickly six figures can shrink, even with a generous graduate school stipend, and it will put less pressure on you to finish and sell your book if you know you have a steady part-time paycheck coming in. Working part-time requires a certain expenditure of time and energy, of course, but you’ll also lose your commute in working from home, and if you can keep your non-novel work to 20 or so hours a week, that still leaves you with plenty of time to write.
Second, “I’m giving my notice because my husband and I are moving across the country so he can attend grad school. I’ve loved working here and I want to help find and train a suitable replacement. I’d also love to offer my services as a part-time contractor once I get settled, if you could use one.” They’ll be sad to lose you, but they’ll understand. People quit jobs all the time, and “moving across the country” is an excellent reason. You’re only obligated to offer two weeks’ notice, but if you’d like to give them a month or even longer, that’s entirely up to you. Good luck!
Q. Casual racism: Since my son was born six months ago, I’ve run into an acquaintance a few times. Whenever I see her, she remarks, “Oh, what a beautiful baby! Really, I’m not just saying that. Usually I only think black babies are cute, but he is just darling.” I’m white, she’s white, and my son is white. So far I’ve just been smiling awkwardly and changing the subject. Is this OK? I don’t want to perpetuate her benevolent racism, but I also don’t really know her that well or see her very often. For what it’s worth, she volunteers a lot with black kids in our area.
A: Say: “What a strange thing to say,” then follow it up by saying absolutely nothing. Let her twist in the wind. She should have to experience a few minutes of social discomfort if she’s going to run around announcing her racial hierarchy of baby cuteness.
Q. Mixed-marriage pinch-hitter: My husband was raised Jewish, and I was raised Protestant, in neither case with much intensity. Neither of us is religious. For reasons of convenience, we send our sons to a nearby Episcopal school. I have felt a little guilty that this gives short shrift to our kids’ Jewish heritage, so I’ve made some effort to celebrate Jewish holidays. My husband says he appreciates the thoughtfulness behind the gesture but that he’s not interested in Judaism and would prefer to just “pass over Passover” (sadly, an atheist doesn’t believe bad puns will send you to hell). I think the kids’ Jewish heritage is important, so I gently push back. He says I should defer to him on questions on his religious heritage, and he’ll defer to me on mine. What do you think? Do I have no standing when it comes to my husband’s side of the mixed marriage?
A: If all you feel is a little guilty, don’t create extra work for yourself by continuing this argument with your husband. Your husband isn’t interested in passing along much in the way of his religious upbringing, and that’s absolutely fine; you can’t be encouragingly Jewish on his behalf. If, as your children grow older, they express an interest in learning more about Judaism, you can encourage them to ask questions and find meaning in their background, but you don’t need to beat yourself up for not sending them to shul, especially if neither you nor your husband are especially religious.