Dear Prudence

I’m Not Going, Really

I visited a divorce lawyer just to “see how it works.” Now my wife’s upset.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg.

Photo by Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
After talking with two different counselors, I discovered that my wife of 20 years likely has post-traumatic stress disorder. The counselors warned me that she might choose to end our marriage rather than go through the process of dealing with her childhood trauma and its effects. So I went to a lawyer just to understand how a divorce would work, how custody is decided, etc., while still pursuing therapy. My wife discovered my notes from the lawyer and is very upset, thinking that I am going to leave her. On the one hand, I don’t intend on staying in the marriage if she refuses to get treated. On the other hand, I hate that she was blindsided like this. What should I do?

—Wife Found Divorce Notes

First, you should drop the disingenuous act: “I have no intention of pursuing a divorce, I was simply told a divorce was likely by a group of experts—and who am I to question experts—and a divorce is like a hurricane or a natural disaster, it simply happens without warning, so I thought it was in my best interest to be prepared, and I happened to forget to mention any of this to my wife, the other person who would be affected by the end of my marriage.” If you really didn’t want your wife to be blindsided, you could have told her you were considering divorce, rather than leaving sneaky little Divorce Post-its around the house. That sentence—“I hate that she was blindsided”—is a passive one phrased to suggest that the blindsiding of your wife was out of your control. It wasn’t. You blindsided her, and you have to take responsibility. Be honest with her. If you don’t plan on staying with your wife unless she seeks treatment, tell her so. Don’t insult her intelligence by going behind her back and having conversations about your future together without her. I hope whatever counselors your wife is seeing are more compassionate (and closemouthed) than yours.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have a cousin who was very close to our family—like a brother to me. When he was 10, his family borrowed $30,000 from my mother to save their failing business. We weren’t wealthy: The money came from a settlement after my father’s death that was meant to care for us children. Our parents drew up the loan together and set up a payment plan. Then my aunt and uncle vanished from our lives and never paid my mother back. I recently found my cousin on Facebook. We are catching up, but he believes we abandoned him without cause during his childhood. He has no idea what actually happened. I hate the anger he feels toward my mother as my mother was heartbroken when his parents disappeared. Do I tell him what happened?

—Cousin Thinks We Abandoned Him

Yes. Bear in mind the possibility that, after so many years of blaming your mother for his abandonment, your cousin may be unable to accept the truth about his parents’ actions, but I still think it’s worth telling him what happened. Don’t blurt it out in response to any anger he shows. Choose a time when your conversation is fairly neutral and say you are so happy to have reconnected, but that you have something important to tell him. Don’t suggest you know why his parents did what they did or offer any speculation as to their motives; just tell him the facts and be prepared to offer support in the fallout.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’m a full-time single dad who’s been raising my now-teenage daughter for the last 10 years. Her mom lives in another state and has her for half the summer. Upon returning home this summer, she told me she wants to live with her mom. I honestly don’t know how to handle it. I told her I would take her desire seriously and talk about it with her, but inside I’m confused and hurt. My daughter and I have a good relationship, so I don’t think it’s that she’s necessarily unhappy. The only thing she says is that she thinks a teenager “needs her mom.” I don’t know the best way to respond or even proceed. Any advice?

—Daughter Wants Mom, Not Me

I think you already have the right read on the situation, and you already know the right thing to do, which speaks volumes about the kind of caring parent you must be. Your daughter is happy with you, and she wants to live with her mother. Both of these things can be true. You know on some level that this request doesn’t make you a bad father or call your relationship with your daughter into question. It makes perfect sense that your daughter wants to spend more time with her mother, given that for a decade she hasn’t been able to see her for more than a few weeks at a time. You should, as you promised, take your daughter’s desire seriously and talk with her about what such a move would entail. Separately, you should also talk to her mother; though you don’t say whether your daughter broached the subject with her already, it’s possible she and your daughter may not be on the same page. Most importantly, save your confused and hurt feelings for conversations with your friends or a therapist. Your daughter shouldn’t have to manage your sense of rejection even though you have every right to feel loss at her possible departure. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend you won’t miss her, just that you’re going to have to be what you are—the adult—and help your daughter reconnect with her mother, even if it hurts you to do so. She will appreciate you all the more for it.

* * *

Dear Prudence, 
I’ve been a really bad friend. Last year, I was in a bad living situation. My best friend owns several properties and helped me out; he asked a long-term tenant to leave, refurbished the whole apartment, and then offered it to me at a steep discount so I could afford it. It’s literally the most beautiful, spacious place I have ever lived in. This coincided with a very intense romantic relationship I was caught up in—which, of course, broke up spectacularly when he stole my stuff and left the country. I realize now that I was really thoughtless. My friend did a lot of the renovations himself and spent thousands of dollars on necessary (but much-appreciated) upgrades. At the time, I was so focused on my relationship that I didn’t even think about pitching in. And now, looking back, I didn’t show up once to clean or paint, or even just bring dinner and say thank you. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to be a good tenant and show my gratitude. He’s never said anything about it, and I don’t think he holds it against me. It’s more that I realized I really dropped the ball. What can I do? I keep jumping between wanting to apologize profusely for a problem he might not have even noticed, making some grand gesture, or just vowing to be the best tenant ever. Maybe all three?

—Bad Friend

Start by easing up slightly on the self-recrimination. As you say, your friend has never once suggested that your tenancy has been a problem for him, and your extenuating circumstances were, well, awfully extenuating. Tell your friend that you’re a little embarrassed this is so overdue, but that you’re very grateful he helped you out during such a difficult time, and you love everything he’s done with the place. If you wish you’d brought over dinner (or flowers, or a bottle of wine) before, do it now. By your own account, you’ve already been a good tenant and tried to demonstrate appreciation to your friend for what he’s done for you. Don’t think of yourself as a selfish leech just because you’ve been the recipient of an act of kindness.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My fiancé and I are marrying next spring. We both have large families and so have a limited number of friends on the guest list. Recently, a number of acquaintances have assumed they are invited to the wedding. Some of these assumptions come through social media (posting things like “Can’t wait to be at your wedding!” on my Facebook wall). Others have happened when I’ve run into neighbors or old school friends while visiting my hometown. Some have joked “I know I’m on the guest list, right?” or simply said “John and I are excited to be there.” So far, I’ve just deflected the comment or changed the subject without making any promises. What is the best and kindest way to let people know they aren’t invited, whether online or in-person? I can’t claim a small wedding because, well, it’s not.

—You’re Not Invited

If these are acquaintances and old neighbors, not close friends you see on a regular basis, the most expedient way for you to let them know they’re not invited is by not sending them an invitation and proceeding to get married without them. You’re not being impolite or unkind by not inviting everyone who invites themselves, and you don’t owe old high school classmates a formal explanation as to why they didn’t make the list. You’ve got enough to do planning a wedding—you don’t have to add justifying your guest list to an outer ring of acquaintances you see once or twice a year.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I am married to a wonderful man. We love one another very much and have a beautiful 3-year-old daughter. My husband has always wanted more than one child, and I used to think that I did, too. Since having our daughter, my opinion has changed. I adore our little girl, but the physical and emotional strain of being pregnant while having a demanding full-time job, the sleepless nights, the body-image issues, etc., means that the thought of having another child fills me with anxiety. I have tried discussing this with my husband, and we have weighed the pros and cons of having another child, yet he seems to think that I am going to change my mind. I feel guilty for not giving him another child. (It’s not that he’s making me feel obligated, I just hate seeing him unhappy.) He is the best dad our daughter could ask for, but I don’t want to resent the next child just because I had him or her out of guilt. How can I put my foot down without breaking his heart?

—One Is Enough

The kindest thing you can do for your husband is be honest. Don’t let him believe there’s a chance you might change your mind if he just waits long enough or hopes hard enough. You sound certain and that you know your own mind. If there’s not a compromise or a different child care arrangement that could induce you to consider having a second child, then tell your husband so. It’s better that he know now so he can deal with reality, however sad it makes him in the moment. Far worse to let him hope indefinitely, only to find out you made up your mind long ago.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been dating a caring, thoughtful guy for almost a year, but the connection I felt so strongly at the outset has faded almost completely. The problem is me: I think it’s because I didn’t take enough time to get over my last relationship, which lasted nearly 15 years. I now have this strong, nagging desire to be alone, to figure out who I am and what I want from life, independent of anyone else. I’ve been in relationships my entire adult life. I’m virtually certain this breakup is what I want, yet it seems objectively ridiculous to end a relationship that is pretty perfect in every way. I’m also at a loss as to how I actually should start this conversation with him—no matter what I do, he will feel ambushed, which kills me because he definitely doesn’t deserve that. So, I am paralyzed over 1) finally committing to the decision to break up, and 2) how to tell him. Help!

—Need a Reason to Break Up

The best and kindest way to tell someone you want to break up is to say, “I want to break up.” Not, “There’s something we need to talk about,” or, “I’m not sure how to say this, but …” Just, “I want to break up,” followed by the excellent reasons you just gave me. He’s going to be sad. That’s part of the package when it comes to getting dumped, and there’s absolutely no avoiding it. Unless you plan on staying with this man for the rest of your life in order to spare his feelings (and I don’t encourage you to do so), you’re going to have to accept that most breakups have at least a degree of the arbitrary to them, bite the bullet, and tell him that it’s not him, it’s you.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have a college friend who is getting married this fall. (I found out about the engagement from a mutual friend and a subsequent email blast from the engaged friend.) I haven’t really spoken to Engaged Friend in the last year due to a history of minor slights and her overall sense of entitlement. (Honestly, I’ve always known she had the potential to be an awful person, but I disregarded it because I wasn’t on the receiving end.) At the wedding, I’d be one of the few attendees who knows that the groom was engaged to another woman two years ago and used Engaged Friend as a rebound. Knowing their history and Engaged Friend’s general bad behavior doesn’t put me in a celebratory mood. I don’t mind just sitting this one out, but I am concerned I will lose our mutual friend if I don’t attend. (She asked me to coordinate flights and hotel arrangements for the wedding weekend.) I don’t know how to explain I’m not attending without speaking ill of Engaged Friend, and I’m really just over the situation. Should I lay out my cards for our mutual friend I want to keep, or just risk losing them both by not attending?

—No-Show = No Friends?

As best as I can tell from reading your letter, you haven’t actually been invited to this wedding yet. You may be jumping a handful of guns here by assuming that your Engaged Friend is as interested in maintaining your friendship as you are in dissolving it. If you’re better at hiding your contempt for your Engaged Friend in person than you are in writing, and you do receive an invitation, you have an easy out in the destination wedding—politely decline and tell your mutual friend you can’t afford the trip or couldn’t get the time off work. (I don’t know what real friend would end a friendship over skipping someone’s wedding.) There’s no need to announce on the eve of your old friend’s nuptials that you’ve never actually been able to stand her.

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