Danny M. 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 email@example.com.)
Readers! Ask me your questions on the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast. Just leave a message at 401-371-DEAR (3327), and you may hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
Danny M. Lavery: Hi, everyone! Let’s chat.
Q. Race impasse: I am black, while my longtime girlfriend is white. We have been talking about marriage for a while, but after the recent shootings, she told me that she couldn’t have a black baby in this world. She is too afraid. I don’t know what to tell her—she hasn’t had to grow up with sermons on how not to get killed by the police or how to speak “right.” We live on the coast in a diverse city and everything else syncs up: our education, political goals, spending habits, etc., but our skin difference has never been more apparent. I know my parents like her but would rather see me with a girl of my own racial background. I really don’t know how to move on here. Can you help? Should we split up? Does that mean the bigots win? Or are we fooling ourselves?
A: I’m concerned that your girlfriend’s response to police violence against black people has been not “How can I support my partner, a person I love who is trying to survive while black in a racist country?” but “I couldn’t possibly raise a black child now that I’m being forced to confront the reality of America.” Your future child is hypothetical, but you are here right now. While her concerns about raising a black/biracial child in America are certainly valid, I wonder why she’s bringing that up as a primary issue right now, and why she hasn’t acknowledged that you would also be raising a black child every bit as much as she would. Raising a child is something you two would do together.
Does her fear of raising a black/biracial child stem solely from the latest acts of violence by police against black people? Or has she not fully come to terms with what it means for her to be partnered to a black person? Is she otherwise supportive of you? Does she listen to you and validate you when you describe your own experience, and does she do her best to examine and challenge her own racial privilege? Only you can answer those questions, and while I can’t tell you whether or not you two should stay together, I think you should ask yourself not “Would breaking up with my girlfriend mean the bigots win?” but “Does my girlfriend see my race as something that compromises her safety and security in a way she can’t handle?”
Q. Is it OK to ban topics of conversation in a relationship?: I’ve been with my partner for 10 years. When we first started dating I was 5-foot-8 and a size 2, mostly because I was a poor single mother who couldn’t afford to go crazy with food and drink. Now that we live comfortably, I’m a solid 4/6 depending on the store. Generally, I enjoy working out and making healthy food choices, but my partner is constantly asking if I’m going to the gym, what I’ll do instead if I don’t go to the gym, and asks nearly daily for a rundown of the food I’ve eaten. Then I “get” to hear about his workouts and caloric intake. This has really sucked the fun out of working out, and I feel like I’m just a number on a label in a pair of pants. While I’m happy with my body, I know from his comments that he is not. Is it OK to just tell him that this is a conversation we will no longer have? FWIW, if it doesn’t stop, I consider that a deal-breaker worth walking away from the relationship entirely.
A: I can’t imagine why you haven’t brought this up sooner. Yes, it’s OK to tell your boyfriend that you don’t want to give him an exhaustive account for everything you ate over the course of the day and that his constant check-ins are intrusive and counterproductive. Tell him that you hate the fact that he’s appointed himself your personal trainer and that you should have told him to knock it off months ago but that you’re at your limit now. You don’t have to wait until you’re at the breaking point to tell your boyfriend that you’re unhappy with the way he’s treating you; you can speak up long before you’re thinking about ending a relationship.
Q. Boyfriend’s family doesn’t believe in psych meds: My boyfriend of two years was diagnosed with a mental illness after being arrested (thankfully it was a nonviolent episode and the people he scared were very understanding) just over four years ago. Two of the conditions of his probation were that he goes to therapy and takes his medication. He’s always been very careful about taking his medicine, hates the thought of returning to the way that he was, and is scared of doing any harm to somebody because of his illness. His family doesn’t believe in mental illnesses and has stated that they think that he was just acting out and that being arrested has scared him straight. His lease for his apartment ends in four months and his parents have offered to have him move back in with them, and asked me to try and convince him—with the implication that they are going to try to get him to go off his meds once his probation ends this year. I lost my temper and yelled at them before hanging up, and he told me later that day that they had asked him about it earlier that day and he said he’d think about it. He’s had trouble before getting a new place to live because of his mental illness, arrest record, and the fact that we live in a city that allows landlords to discriminate against LGBT people. He believes that he might have to move in with them and keep his medication at work. I would like to ask him to move in together. We have discussed it once before but decided that we weren’t ready. I love him, can see us eventually getting married, and think that moving in will be a good next step. The last thing I want to do is add more stress for him or make him believe that the only reason I want to live with him because of his family.
A: If your boyfriend’s family weren’t trying to coerce him into moving back in with them and discontinuing his medication and you’d still love your boyfriend, see a future with him, and think that moving in together would be a good next step—go ahead and ask him to move in with you. This happens to come at a time when his housing alternatives are especially bad, which enables you to be extremely helpful to him, but you’re not asking someone you feel lukewarm about to move in with you because you’re afraid of what will happen to him if you don’t. You’re moving in with a partner you know and trust. Make it clear that you’re suggesting this because you love him and you want to be with him, not because you don’t have faith in his ability to function without your help.
And good on you for standing up to anyone who would try to enlist you in a manipulative campaign to convince your partner to stop taking the medication he needs to function and be well. If ever a situation calls for yelling and hanging up, this one did.
Q. At a loss: After a 29-year relationship (we never married), my partner became ill with cancer last May. Although we were told it was highly treatable, he died in October. Throughout the entire ordeal, his two sons and ex-wife were wonderful. They drove a significant distance every weekend throughout his sickness. They spent more time with their father than ever. The oldest hadn’t been to our home in years. After he died, his children put together a “celebration of life” in their hometown, which I attended in early November. Although I was pretty incidental to the celebration, it was a nice acknowledgment of their father. But it was as if I had not existed, after spending over half my life with this man. The morning of the funeral, his youngest son asked me how much money I was going to give them. He didn’t have all that much, but being put on the spot, I told them I would give them $30K each. I was so distraught at the time and couldn’t believe we were even having this discussion. After two months of “when are you giving us the money?” went on, and his ex-wife sending emails telling me “to do the right thing,” I sent them each checks for $28K, dated for December and January, so I would not be hit with the tax liability. He did not have a will, and I was told by an attorney that since all was in my name, I was not obligated to share anything with them. In January, my daughter-in-law told me I could send the remaining $2K to either her or the grandkids, and to my other daughter-in-law. I was so angry. I told them both that was it, no more money. Neither son acknowledged the fact that I had sent them the money or even thanked me. After several hateful texts, daughter-in-law No. 1 basically told me to have a nice life and the youngest son basically told me I should thank them for letting me keep the money and possessions. They have cut contact with me since January of this year. I have suffered much grief from my loss and the horror I went through taking care of him, and now this added misery. I am having a horrible time dealing with his loss and the family I thought was also mine. Everyone tells me I should just write them off. Your thoughts?
A: I understand that even with a clearly written will, family arguments over parental inheritances can get fairly heated, but I cannot imagine any circumstance that would justify asking a recent widow (formally married or not) “How much money am I getting?” on the day of her partner’s memorial service, or badgering her afterward. Your husband’s children didn’t approach you calmly and ask to have a conversation about particular items they hoped to inherit or to discuss questions about their father’s estate; they hounded you at his funeral and then made incessant demands on you without regard for your suffering or thanks for what you had given them. I’m so sorry you’ve suffered this loss on top of the loss of your partner. Consider yourself lucky that they’ve stopped speaking to you, and consider seeing a grief counselor to deal with your feelings of shock and anger (and be sure that any future attempts on their part to squeeze more money out of you go straight to your lawyer).
Q. Texting condolences?: I have a general question regarding condolences in the digital age. In the unfortunate incident that someone you know passes away (not someone very close, but distant relatives or someone you’ve only met a handful of times), is it OK to text condolences to the immediate family of the deceased if they choose not to hold a funeral or if the funeral is on the other side of the country? As a new college student supporting myself, flowers are a splurge, and I’m not even sure how customary that is anymore. When it’s someone I do have fond memories of, though, I want to let the family members know that I am thinking of them and wishing them well in their difficult time, and a text just seems so much more immediate and practical these days than some Hallmark sympathy card physically sent through the mail. I just fear that a text may come off as rushed or lacking in care even if I write a sincere and heartfelt message. Is this just a matter of preference? Do you think it’s OK to send sincere text condolences, or is a physical mailed card and/or flowers the only appropriate way to go?
A: I don’t see why you can’t both text and send a card. If sending flowers would be an undue financial burden, and for many college students it is, stick to sending a heartfelt note. Sometimes in the immediate confusion surrounding a death in the family it’s easy for mourners to lose track of things and forget who called when or said what, and having a physical card to look at later might bring some small comfort.
If I might make another suggestion, consider calling rather than texting when you get the news. Leave a message if they don’t pick up, but call and let them know you’re thinking of them. There are plenty of occasions in life when a text makes more sense than an old-fashioned phone call, but sudden bereavement isn’t one of them. You can always text later to check in or offer a brief note of continued support, but make the effort to call at least once.
Q. Person I manage often has to go to court: I manage a small team at work and although we get along, we aren’t exceptionally close. I have one person on my team that has needed to coordinate his hours around a “court hearing,” which is fine with me—I am open to working with his schedule—but I have no idea how to react when he tells me he has to go to court. I don’t know why he has to go to court, nor do I care, but this is obviously something ongoing and probably stressful for him. I do care about his well-being and would like to offer assistance in any way possible. What’s the best way for me to show support for him during this time without being nosy or prying?
A: “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know; I hope everything goes well at the hearing.” Since it’s not affecting his work, I don’t think you should push any further than that statement. It’s vague but encouraging, and if he wants to tell you more about his legal troubles, he’ll know that you’re at least open to talking about it. Bear in mind, however, that you might in fact wish you knew less about the situation if he decides to tell you the details. The situation you’re in currently, where he’s honest about his scheduling conflicts, and you’re accommodating but otherwise uninvolved, might be ideal.
Q. Who pays what?: I am single and often socialize with a couple I really like. We take turns hosting each other at our homes, since we live a few hours away. Usually at some point during the visit the “visitor” takes the host(s) out to lunch/dinner as a thank-you. My question is: I feel a bit put out because I, on a single salary, am paying for two people, while they, on dual salaries, are paying for one person. Is there an etiquette rule here? Thanks.
A: If you’re having trouble making ends meet during these hosting weekends, feel free to cook a nice meal at home or to take them to a less expensive restaurant, or ask to split the check more often. But I’m afraid there’s no polite way to tell your friends you’d only like to host one of them at a time. If you invite a couple over to your home and offer to take them out to dinner, you’re paying for two.