Dear Prudence

Gone and Forgotten

My stepson died, and all I feel is relief.

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Dear Prudence,
My stepson died last month, and all I can feel is relief. I have watched him destroy himself for more than 15 years and do his best to do the same to my family. He lied so much I think his mouth forgot the taste of truth, and it killed a little more of his mother every time. We tried counseling, rehab, and prayer, but nothing stuck. Then he struck his younger sister when she took his keys away to keep him from driving drunk. I threw him out that night and never saw him again. My wife is devastated, her son has died, and I feel guilty about my relief. My stepdaughter has confided in me that she feels glad that he is dead, that sometimes she thinks her mother loved him more than her, and worries that makes her a bad person. I don’t know what steps to take—I think counseling, but I know nothing good can come from sharing these truths. My wife is as fragile as glass, and my stepdaughter has a scar over her eyebrow where her brother hit her. How do you move on from here?

—Relieved

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I think sharing the truth is, in itself, a good thing, even if it doesn’t immediately result in an improved emotional state. That’s not to say you should share the truth indiscriminately—I don’t think you should tell your wife that you’re relieved her son is dead—but you might find value in visiting a therapist by yourself so that you have someone you can vent your complicated feelings to without destroying them emotionally. Even if you don’t miss your stepson, you’ll need to be present and empathetic as your wife mourns the loss of her son. At best, you’ve found an outlet for dealing with feelings of release over your stepson’s death that you can’t rightly share with your wife. At the worst, you’ve wasted a few hours a week for a couple of weeks. You don’t have much to lose.

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Dear Prudence,
My mother does not believe in food issues, except deadly allergies. My sister and I are both made sub-lethally ill by fish. My mother has, on several occasions, lied about what was in something only to have my sister rush away from the table upon attempting to eat it. My mother insists that my sister is making it up. Should I keep trying to explain to my mother or encourage my sister to adopt my don’t-take-food-from-Mom strategy, which my mother insists is rude?

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—Food Issues

It’s a hell of a lot ruder to serve someone food you know she’s allergic to, especially after you’ve lied to her about what she’s eating. I don’t know why your mother thinks your sister is faking a nonfatal (but deeply unpleasant!) allergy to fish, but she’s behaving irrationally and dangerously, and you should both feel extremely free to pass up eating anything she’s prepared and be frank about why. Many allergies can get more serious with age, and it’s possible that one of these days you or your sister could experience anaphylactic shock after being served one of Mom’s “surprise” fish dinners. It’s odd and sad that this is the hill your mother has decided to die on. It’s not especially difficult to not serve someone fish; many people manage it all the time.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m gay, and I want to come out to my mother. She’s OK with gay people, and even has gay friends, as long as they’re not her child. Her exact words were: “It’s always OK when it’s somebody else’s child, but I don’t know what I would do if you were gay.” So I learned to hide my attraction to women from my mother. I’ve been with other girls, but when my mom asks about my dating experiences I tell her that I just haven’t met the right guy yet. I’ve dated two boys, and I never kissed them. I barely even wanted to hold their hands, but my mom was so excited that I continued the relationships. Eventually, I’d break up with them before it got too serious, and my mom would keep bring them up and asking why I didn’t want to date or saying that I was being too picky.

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Every once in a while, we’ll be watching TV together and a gay person will come on, and then she’ll say, “It’s OK as long as it’s somebody else’s child” again, and I’ll laugh and feel guilty. She even said that for a while she thought I was going to be gay, and she’s glad that she was wrong because she wouldn’t know what to do. We’re really, really close, and I don’t want to lose her. Do you think there’s a way I could tell her that I’m gay without having to falsify hospital documents to make it look like I was switched at birth?

—Someone Else’s Child

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I think your mother knows that she has a gay child, and the reason she keeps bringing this up is because she’s trying to prevent you from coming out to her. She’s behaving shamefully, and I’m so sorry that you’ve felt pressured to continue relationships you didn’t want to be in out of fear of losing your mother’s approval. Your mother is an adult woman living in the year 2016; I have every confidence that she will figure out “what to do” after you come out. Her attempts to keep you in the closet by making it clear that it’s OK for anyone else in the world to be gay except for you are controlling, selfish, and unkind. If your current closeness is conditional on your remaining closeted, then it is a closeness dependent on dishonesty and manipulation. I think you should come out whenever you feel ready, bearing in mind that she’s probably not going to make it easy for you. Enlist emotional support from friends or more accepting family members, find a quiet time to tell her, and make plans afterward, so you can get out of the house and relax a little bit. It may be that, in time, your mother will come to be ashamed of her behavior and try to repair her relationship with you after you come out, but you absolutely have the right to come out regardless of how she feels about it. Parents everywhere are learning their children are gay every day; it will not destroy her to join the club.

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Dear Prudence,
A long time ago, my fiancé was engaged to someone else, and his folks offered to pay for their honeymoon. That engagement ended before anything was paid for. A few years later his parents paid for most of his brother’s big, traditional wedding. We’ve been engaged for two years and will likely get married in another two, after I finish law school and we move across the country. His parents (who are both retired and very well-off) have yet to offer to pay for any aspect of our wedding, even though we’ve tried to drop subtle hints. My parents will have a hard time just coming up with the money to attend our wedding. We are having a relatively small wedding, so the costs won’t be astronomical, but we’d like to know how much we realistically need to start saving. Is it appropriate to ask the rich in-laws if they plan on contributing? Or has this ship already sailed, and we should just assume we’re paying for everything? Having never had rich people in my life before, I’m completely unsure of financial etiquette in this situation.

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—Holding the Bag

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Of course you can ask! Your fiancé should be the one to broach the subject: “I know you were willing to contribute financially when I was engaged previously, and I wanted to know if you were interested in contributing this time around. If not, I completely understand, but I wanted to ask as we start planning our budget.” You should be prepared to accept a “No” graciously, but dropping hints is no way to have this conversation.

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Dear Prudence,
During a family reunion two years ago, two of my male cousins sexually harassed (and attempted to assault) my younger brother’s then-girlfriend, “A.” The cousins got “a talking-to” but experienced no negative consequences, and many in our family blamed A for it. As a victim of assault myself, I made it clear that I never want to see either of these people again, which I have managed to do. Now I’m engaged myself and putting together a guest list for the wedding. I would love not to invite these cousins—but I am close with their sisters and my aunt and uncle, none of whom (as far as I know) are aware of the situation. My parents and my fiancé said they’d support me in whatever decision I make, but I don’t know if my stand is worth the ensuing family drama. Am I betraying myself and A if I just invite them and ignore them?

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—Welcome to the Wedding?

It’s hard to imagine the collective moral failure necessary for an entire group of people to watch two young men attempt to sexually assault a young woman during a family reunion, offer them nothing more than a verbal warning, then drop the subject entirely. They harassed and attempted to assault your brother’s girlfriend and apparently never apologized or attempted to change their ways. This is very much worth whatever drama ensues. Do not invite your cousins, and if your aunt and uncle ask, tell them exactly why. This is a line worth drawing in the sand.

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Dear Prudence,
I have been dating my boyfriend for almost a year, and I spend every weekend at his place. My apartment lease is up soon, so I asked him if he would feel comfortable moving in together. It was a big leap of faith for me, but I was fairly confident that he’d say yes. He said he’d need to think about it. And then there was no more discussion of it, even when I tried to broach the subject delicately. I didn’t want to nag him, but with my 60-day advance notice to vacate date approaching, I asked him again, point blank, and he said he’d still need to think about it. At that point, I told him that I felt two people should be excited to move in together, and based on his hesitation, I was going to start looking for my own place. Honestly, I feel really jilted and very emotionally vulnerable right now, and I’m resentful of how much money I now have to shell out to pay for a security deposit on a new place, plus moving expenses, etc., only to stay at his place every weekend for the duration of my lease term. And I think he’s rather annoyed with me for effectively making the decision for him and for pressing him about it. The question now is: How do I get over this in a loving way? Or is it a deal-breaker, and should I see the writing on the wall and move on?

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–Moving in Together

I think it was more than a little unfair of you to bring up this conversation with your boyfriend while your lease was up, thus turning what should have been a chat about your shared goals into your future into a minor crisis. You should talk about whether you want to live together as part of an ongoing conversation about compatibility, not because you forgot to plan ahead for the end of your lease. Your boyfriend had every right to ask for space to think about what he wanted, and you should have been gracious in granting it to him, not resentful. Lots of couples don’t move in together at the one-year mark, and you do not have the right to resent your boyfriend just because you have to pay your own living expenses. Spending the weekend together is not living together—not by a long shot—and I’m concerned you’re not ready to live with someone, if this is how you handle the prospect of having to look after yourself.

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Dear Prudence,
Last weekend I told my boyfriend of two years that his habit of going silent and canceling plans when he’s feeling stressed out makes me feel unimportant and insecure. I said I was trying to understand him better and wondering if there were other ways we could handle things. The conversation was poorly timed, as he’d just received scary information about his health, so we agreed to talk again when we were both calmer. A few days later he sent an email saying he needed time to focus on himself and work on his goals without worrying about disappointing me when he wants time alone. He hoped I wouldn’t be upset about putting our relationship on hiatus. I responded that I understood what he was dealing with and had hoped to be a support and part of his life, and was sorry he felt our relationship had become a burden but of course he didn’t need my permission to break up.

He struggles with anxiety and depression in general and has been caring for an ill parent who is likely to die soon. We’re both in our 50s with more than average baggage (I’m four years out of an abusive marriage and recently dealt with my own mom’s death and my teen son’s substance abuse and suicide attempts). I have deep feelings for this guy, he’s gentle and patient and funny, and we have a lot of fun (not least in bed). We’ve both suggested ending things before, either when he’s overwhelmed with everything or I’ve overreacted to small slights (like canceled plans). Usually after one of these events I extend an olive branch, we both apologize, and we move on. I really don’t want to end things, and I get that asking him for pretty much anything right now feels like too much and adds to his stress pile, but it’s hard to keep getting pushed to the sidelines. Is it possible to salvage this?

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—On the Side

There’s nothing to salvage. You’ve just been dumped. You sound like an exceptionally thoughtful and sensitive person, but the pattern you’ve described doesn’t sound heartening: He pulls away or tries to end things, you push for reconciliation, he concedes. He may be gentle and patient and funny, but he doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. It also sounds as though you do have deeper compatibility issues, since his fairly frequent desire for silence and space makes you feel shut out. I think you should spend less time worrying about what he needs—it sounds like he’s doing a fairly good job advocating for himself—and focus on what you want out of a relationship (with, you know, someone else).

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Dear Prudence,
I’ve never been very close with my father. As a child, he would constantly spank me to punish me for minor offenses, and that made me fear him. I have also always hated the way he treats my mother. I have very little contact with him as a result. I am getting married this year and have decided to walk down the aisle alone. Even if I had a close relationship with my father, I think I would still feel uncomfortable with the idea of him walking me down the aisle because I find the tradition sexist. When my sister got married last year, she had our dad walk her down the aisle. Since I told her my plans for my wedding, she has been texting me about how not having my dad walk me will break his heart and how I should consider having both parents walk me. I am so frustrated; it’s my wedding, but I also don’t want to cause a family argument. Should I just give in (it’s only 30 seconds of my life), or should I tell my sister to piss off because it’s my wedding, not hers?

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—Not Into Dad Walking Me Down the Aisle

I can’t think of a single good reason for you to let your sister dictate how you arrange your wedding ceremony. She doesn’t need to be fighting your father’s battles on his behalf. You didn’t tell her not to ask your father to walk her down the aisle just because you don’t have a good relationship with him. All you’re asking for is the same consideration. Walking down the aisle alone is a fine—even appreciatively modern—choice.

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