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.)
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 Lavery: Hi, everyone. Let’s dive in!
Q. Paying for fiancé’s baby?: My fiancé wants, at some point in the future, to pay for in vitro fertilization or surrogacy in order to have a biological child of his own. I don’t want to have a baby, but I would like to adopt a child for numerous reasons. He wants me to pay for half of whatever his costs would be. I want him to be happy, and I would be fine with him doing this, but it can run to thousands of dollars. I don’t mind contributing, but not half. Am I being mean and selfish not wanting to pay up?
A: I don’t know that you’re being selfish, but I’m a little confused by the logistics of your future arrangement. Is this a sort of “one baby for you, one baby for me” deal? You say, “I would be fine with him doing this” and that you don’t mind “contributing,” but it sounds as if the two of you plan on raising separate children according to your particular preferences rather than having an honest conversation about what you are and aren’t willing to compromise on. This arrangement strikes me as suboptimal! If you’re not interested in having biological children and don’t want to commit to potentially spending thousands of dollars on treatments to create one, be honest now. It’s not selfish to say, “I’m not interested in having biological children.” The real danger would be in half-heartedly supporting your fiancé’s desire for biological children and looking at them as “his” passion project, rather than a shared venture that should be undertaken willingly by both parties or not at all.
Q. Should I stay or should I go?: I have been married for 22 years. My husband is in his mid-50s, and I am in my early 40s. We have two grown children and one teenager. For most of my marriage, I have been mildly unhappy. There were the usual things: money, division of chores, intimacy issues, etc. I have thought about leaving many times, but what has always stopped me is that my husband is a genuinely nice guy. He is a great cheerleader for my accomplishments, works hard, and makes every effort to co-parent our children (though he has never really connected with them).
I generally feel like I have a wonderful live-in boyfriend. He cleans up after himself (but never does any regular maintenance on our now-dilapidated house), takes the kids wherever they need to go, helps out with the bills, and can be fun to be around. But I’ve never really felt like I had a true partner in things. Now with our youngest leaving the nest soon, I’m thinking of ending things. But I’m torn and wondering if this is just a midlife crisis on my part. I feel like I’ve already invested so much into this relationship, both emotionally and financially.
All three of my children support my leaving him. But he is my best friend, and I do care for him strongly, even though I’m not sure if I “love” him. We have been to marriage counseling all though our marriage, and our most recent counselor (this summer) said she didn’t really see any point in continuing counseling because neither one of us is going to change. So now I need help deciding: Should I be the one to drastically change things, or should I keep sticking it out? I don’t seem to have a clear reason to leave, but I don’t have very good reasons to stay either.
A: I’m more than a little distressed that you have told your children about your desire to leave your husband before bringing it up with your husband. Regardless of how well you think he’s “connected” with them, you’ve put them in a terribly awkward situation where they have to keep crucial information from their father. It was poor judgment on your part, at best, to rely on your children as proxy marriage counselors. You say that you’ve always been at least “mildly unhappy” in your marriage, that your husband is a good person but that you don’t feel the two of you have a real partnership, and that you’ve thought about leaving “many times”—if you’re still worried this is a midlife crisis, reread your own letter. Not a lot of midlife crises last for 22 years.
What you’re describing—the fear that you’ve invested too much emotionally and financially into your marriage to ever be able to leave—is the sunk-cost fallacy. Continuing to half-heartedly invest your resources into a marriage you’re not convinced will ever work would be a mistake. Be brutally honest with yourself. Do you think things are likely to change? What would a happy marriage with your husband look like? What might both of you have to do differently? Why did you feel like you could tell your children that you wanted to leave their father, but you couldn’t bring up your concerns about your relationship with him? Once you’ve attempted to answer those questions, it’s time to be honest with your husband. It may be that he feels equally inert about your marriage, and the two of you will be able to part ways amicably. Whatever you do, don’t stay in this marriage physically while checking out emotionally, and don’t tell other people you’re thinking about leaving your husband while letting him think that things are mostly fine.
Q. Exile: My sister-in-law saved us. My husband lost his job just after our baby was born, and we got evicted from our apartment. His sister had converted her attached garage into a studio apartment to rent. It is actually nicer than our old place: It has newer appliances and a shower that doesn’t leak, and it’s within walking distance of stores, shops, and the bus. I am very, very grateful to her. I also can’t breathe in her house. She has three cats and several dogs, and no matter of vacuuming will get rid of the hair and dandruff. I can’t cook in her kitchen because I sneeze so hard, so I am making meals on a hot plate and in our microwave. Often I excuse myself from meals and stay in our apartment while my husband eats with his family. I can join them if we eat outside and the dogs are put away, but I still have to take allergy medication. We aren’t paying her rent, and I know the loss of the income is affecting her. She makes comments about belt-tightening to her sons when they want to buy things.
My husband got a job, but it is barely minimum wage. He says it isn’t permanent and that he still is looking, but the reality is that my baby is going to take her first steps here. My sister-in-law wants us to save our money and only asks that I go pick up her two sons from school when she works late. I can’t even stay with them watching TV because my allergies are so bad. I don’t know what to do.
A: It sounds like you are doing everything to the best of your ability. Stay in your apartment and don’t apologize for stepping into a house where you can barely breathe. Don’t let the fact that you are financially beholden to your in-laws make you feel like you have to spend time in their home if it’s physically painful for you. Continue picking up her sons from school when your sister-in-law works late, save your money, express your gratitude when appropriate, join them for the occasional outdoor dinner, and don’t risk your health.
Q. Elopement: My fiancée and I have always wanted a small wedding and have planned for an elopement out of state with only three guests. Our families are fine with this but now are requesting that we register for gifts so they can send tokens of their well wishes. While I am very appreciative of the sentiment, and their support means the world, to me it seems tacky to register for gifts when no one is really invited to the ceremony. Thoughts on how to address this? Should I just reply to inquiring minds with my gratitude but say that I don’t expect any gifts, or do I need to send a mass letter explaining the situation and that no presents are required (this would also be out of my comfort zone).
A: If you don’t want presents, don’t register for any, and respond to any requests for you to sign up for a registry with, “Thank you so much, but we don’t want anything.” If you do want presents but feel uncomfortable accepting them because you haven’t reciprocated by hosting a wedding party, split the difference: Register, and send a link only to the people who have expressed an interest in buying you presents. That way you won’t feel like you’re burdening anyone, and your relatives who are dead-set on buying you your first stand mixer, wedding or no, will get to feel useful.
Q. Help for my daughter: My daughter “Sarah” is 21. She did extremely well in high school and had her pick of colleges. She chose to attend a great college about two hours from home. Sarah, her father, and I were all happy with the choice. College didn’t go well, though. Sarah had issues with her roommate and had to move out of the dorms because her RA sided with her roommate. She struggled in classes and was under academic probation when she was accused of plagiarism. Sarah says the plagiarism was inadvertent, and I believe her. It was, however, the final straw for her, and when the college moved to academically dismiss her, she didn’t fight their decision. Our plan was that Sarah take a semester off and regroup, then begin applying to other colleges. She agreed to this course of action, but now that the time has come and gone for her to start applying, she refuses to do anything. She says that her record will follow her wherever she goes and she has no chance to get in anywhere.
I want to go to her old college and attempt to get her reinstated. I have read over its policies online, and I believe it might take Sarah back. My husband does not want me to do this and says Sarah needs to make her own decisions. For the record, Sarah does have a job as a waitress and her own apartment that she pays for. But I know she would like to get back into college. I think she would thank me in the end for appealing her dismissal once I get her back into school. Do you think that it is wrong to go against my husband and do this for Sarah?
A: It would be a mistake. Your daughter is 21 years old and ought to be learning how to handle adversity on her own; your job as her parent is to offer support, criticism, and/or advice when appropriate, not to make interventions on her behalf. I can imagine it must be distressing to watch your child respond to a crisis with a defeatist attitude, but fighting a battle she has already forfeited will not do her any good. Regardless of whether Sarah would someday thank you for your actions, the most important thing to ask yourself is this: Would my attempting to get Sarah’s old college to reinstate her help her cultivate resilience? Honesty? The ability to deal with the consequences of her actions and to acknowledge when she has done something wrong? Would it increase her self-sufficiency or improve her ability to tackle her own problems head-on? Or would it make you feel more comfortable? I’m inclined to believe your desire to wipe away the problems of Sarah’s past has more to do with your inability to acknowledge that your child might fail—or, at the least, flail—than it does with anything else. Your daughter is currently working and able to provide for herself; she is in no immediate danger. Let her forge her own path.
Q. Morning routines: I have to be at work by 8 a.m., and my husband has to be at work by 9 a.m. Since I get up about 90 minutes earlier, I agreed to get ready in the bathroom on the other side of the house so that he can grab those few last ZZZs without the blow dryer in the background.
Now, I’m hearing that I push the alarm snooze too often and should get up immediately after it goes off. He’s a much lighter sleeper than me, and I don’t always hear the stupid thing go off immediately. And yeah, I like snoozing for eight minutes before actually getting up. Frankly, now I feel like I’m accommodating every request rather than compromising. Apart from sleeping in separate beds (come on, we’re newlyweds!) what do you think would help solve this issue?
A: So far you’ve only had two requests from your new husband, and one of them was just “use the second bathroom in the morning,” so I don’t think you’ve quite yet reached (Wo)man on the Edge status. My ruling: The snooze button is a torture device that doesn’t actually result in more or better sleep, and there are few (petty) things more irritating than hearing someone else’s alarm go off every eight minutes and knowing that there’s nothing you can do about it. Consider how you’d feel if 90 minutes before you were due to get up, you heard repeated chirps from someone else’s phone and the high-pitched whine of a hair dryer from the next room, and have a heart.
Q. Atheist congratulations for religious event: I grew up Catholic in a family that considers Catholicism part of its core identity. I have since moved away from home and now consider myself an atheist but let my family believe I’m simply a lapsed Catholic to avoid unpleasantness (i.e., I sometimes go to church when home but do not take communion). Recently, an uncle of mine was ordained a priest. This was a multiyear process that he went through, and my family is very proud of him. Due to my location, I was able to avoid attending the ceremony and celebration, but feel I still ought to send a card and a gift as he did for me when I earned my degree. However, I’m having trouble with that. The cards are filled with pithy Bible verses that make me roll my eyes, and if I’m truly honest, it doesn’t sit right to send something that makes it seem like I support the church. On the other hand, he clearly feels this is what he is meant to do with his life and worked very hard to achieve his goals. Should I just grit my teeth and pick a card? What would I even say in card aside from “Congratulations”? If it matters, his gift is a gift card to a bookstore, which I feel is neutral enough.
A: Find a blank card! It’s a difficult line to walk, I think, between “Congratulations on achieving something you find meaningful and useful after years of study and hard work,” and “I’m happy for you but don’t share your religious beliefs and don’t want to pretend to in order to make you feel comfortable.” Get a blank card, tell him you love him and that you’re excited all of his hard work has paid off, and don’t feel any pressure to say more than that.