Dear Prudence

Hitting the Bottom

My friend beat his 2-year-old with a “cloth” belt.

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Dear Prudence,
I found myself extremely upset after reading a friend’s Facebook post recently, in which he admitted to taking a belt to his 2-year-old daughter in the hopes that it’ll teach her to sleep through the night. I find this behavior completely abhorrent. At 2 years old, a child barely knows right from wrong, and if you admit to striking your daughter with an object once, who says you won’t do it again? I’ve since deleted this friend from my Facebook and told my husband (who is also his friend) that I’m refusing to socialize with him.

I have two dilemmas now as a result: The first is that my mom is urging me to report him to his local authorities for child abuse. How do I even do this, and am I obligated to? My husband doesn’t want me to because he doesn’t think the authorities will do anything about it, and this guy thinks that what he did was completely acceptable. (He and my husband talked and had to agree to disagree—he told my husband he used a cloth belt and not a leather one, and that’s why it’s OK.) My second dilemma is that this guy is the best friend of my husband’s best friend, and when gatherings are planned, this guy is always invited. I worry that if I’m forced into a social situation with this man, I’m going to tell him exactly what I think, and it won’t be pretty. I also don’t want to make it awkward for my husband and his other friend, and I don’t want to be a witch about things, but this is an absolute zero tolerance for me. How can I move forward in the same social circle if he’s still invited to everything and clearly believes he’s right with what he did?

—Horrified by Friend’s Admission

Your mother is right. This is a very clear-cut case of physical abuse, and you should contact Child Protective Services. Hitting a 2-year-old with a belt over something the child cannot control like sleeping through the night is not discipline, it’s violent and abusive. The fact that your former friend felt comfortable disclosing this behavior to Facebook suggests that he’s done it more than once and thinks it’s an appropriate way to treat a child. Here is a list of child abuse reporting numbers by state; call yours immediately and report what you saw. If it’s possible to screenshot the post—he may have his account set to public even though you are no longer friends on Facebook, or ask someone else to let you use their account—do so, and provide CPS with documentation.

As for your husband, I scarcely know where to begin. Whether the authorities effectively investigate your claim hardly matters; it is still your moral obligation to report child abuse. Striking a 2-year-old child with a belt for being unable to sleep through the night is not acceptable parenting, regardless of the material the belt is made of (all belts still have buckles), and it is hardly a matter of “agreeing to disagree.” There are plenty of parenting techniques about which it is possible for reasonable people to disagree; this is not one of them. Report this, regardless of what social consequences may come. If the rest of your friends are comfortable spending time with a man who cheerfully admits to hitting a toddler with a belt for waking up in the middle of the night, then they are not friends worth having.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I married a guy I was never crazy about (very little physical chemistry) because he was super stable, reliable, and the opposite of my father (who was a terrible family man and an abuser). Neither of us had a serious relationship experience before each other. Now most of the time I want to be single again. I look at other (hot) men and think I want to feel that way about my partner. Will I always wonder what I’m missing, or am I just experiencing grass-is-greener syndrome, which I believe happens to all married people, no matter how much passion there was in the beginning?

—Arranged Marriage

I don’t think this is a case of bog-standard “grass-is-greener” syndrome. If you’ve never been particularly attracted to your partner and are catching yourself fantasizing about strangers and wishing you were single, I think there’s a causative connection. The fact that your husband is reliable and nonabusive is great, but those are basic entry-level requirements for a good relationship, not the beginning and end of one. Whether you stay or go, I think you should be honest with your husband. Don’t be cruel with the truth—you can say your marriage lacks chemistry without laying out in excruciating detail how little you were attracted to him from Day 1—but my guess is that if you’re unhappy with your sex life, your husband can’t be ecstatic about it either. He may be shocked to find out you’re not attracted to him, or he may have married you with similar sentiments to your own. If you two are otherwise compatible, you might consider proposing an open marriage, so you both can find physical chemistry elsewhere. That’s not necessarily the perfect solution to your problem—an open marriage comes with its own risks and challenges—but it’s certainly available to you.

But here’s the real issue: You don’t mention in your letter whether you love your husband. If you don’t, in addition to not being attracted to him (especially if you don’t have children together), the right move is probably to end your marriage. There’s no guarantee you would find a more compatible long-term partner, but perhaps you’d prefer honest singledom to a marriage of convenience.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I have a good friend who has been depressed lately about getting older, being single, and feeling like he will never get married and have children. I am also single but very happy with that fact. He has not behaved inappropriately, but I am very aware that he is attracted to me, and I do not return those feelings. He knows I don’t return his feelings. I am concerned that since I do not reciprocate his feelings I risk making things worse either by offering support or by distancing myself. How do I support him through this while keeping appropriate boundaries? I am in a pretty good place emotionally right now, we have been friends for years, and this is not a problem in our friendship normally, especially when we’re in relationships with other people.

—My Depressed Friend Likes Me

I think the key to your problem is realizing that you do not have to—and in fact can not—support your friend through this. While basic emotional support is a key component of any friendship, you are the worst possible candidate to help your friend through his feelings toward his own singleness and his unrequited feelings for you. You cannot possibly help him through this; he must seek help elsewhere, either from his family, from mental health professionals, from a doctor, or from other friends he is not in love with. You will help him best by keeping appropriate boundaries, not despite them. You can be his friend without going, say, on late-night drives to starlit hilltops, or initiating serious one-on-one conversations about his romantic prospects when you know he’s feeling particularly vulnerable or lonely. You’ve already been honest with him about your own feelings, which is excellent; continue to treat him as the good friend he has always been without allowing yourself to feel guilty or burdened by his romantic feelings for you.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
The bad news: Six weeks ago, a married couple I’m close to lost their home, their business, and all their possessions to an arson fire, and their insurance won’t cover everything. The good news: I helped run a GoFundMe campaign, which attracted more than 500 donors and raised enough money enough to get them back on their feet. The part where I need advice: They feel a personal obligation to thank every one of these donors with a handwritten note. I don’t think this is necessary. They are nearing retirement age and need to be focused on rebuilding their lives; their donors are happy simply to contribute. What’s the etiquette here?

—500 Thank-You Notes

You can’t hide their pens from them forever; if your friends want to write 500 thank-you notes to the people who helped them rebuild their lives, let them. You can reassure them that it’s not in the least necessary, that their donors don’t expect personalized thank-you notes, and encourage them to focus their energy on rebuilding their home and re-establishing their business, but if they’re really determined to write 500 thank-you notes, I don’t think you have to worry too much about it.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
A friend died recently, much too young, leaving behind young children. She was a truly special person, a shining light. Upon hearing the news that she was ill, a woman in my extended social circle started posting extensively on Facebook about their friendship. I know that these two women absolutely despised each other. Each badmouthed the other extensively. My deceased friend had a beautiful spirit but was only human, and our mutual acquaintance is a terrible person. She is manipulative and nasty to the core. She has posted so many comments on friends’ Facebook pages, even people she doesn’t know, about our friend, always managing to make it about herself and how her death has affected her. She chimes in when people share memories, inserting herself in those as well. At every step, she is using the tragedy of our friend’s death to draw attention to herself. It is quite strange to watch and her behavior is making a lot of people angry. If I had control of my friend’s Facebook page I would unfriend this acquaintance and block her from making more posts, but I don’t. What is an appropriate response to this behavior?

—False Mourning

Ignore her as if ignoring her is your full-time job and you are getting paid overtime. You can’t block her from your friend’s memorial page, but you can unfriend her on your own behalf, and I think you should do so immediately. No good could come out of confronting her. All she would say is that you didn’t understand how truly close the two of them were, and I don’t think you’d ever get an honest answer out of her. Mute her on all social media platforms, keep your distance in person, and spend as little time with her as possible. Even if she weren’t using your friend’s recent death for self-aggrandizement, you already know her to be “nasty to the core.” You don’t have an obligation either to unmask or to humor her. Her behavior is so transparent, so obviously false, that she’s not fooling anyone; since you point out she’s making a lot of people angry, I don’t think you’ll be alone in removing her from your social circle. The less you have to do with this woman, the better off you’ll be.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My partner and I (we’re both women in our early 30s) eloped in August without getting engaged, so it was a surprise to everyone. I came out in dramatic fashion when I was 25 by leaving my husband of three years for a woman I had only known a month. It’s not my proudest moment, but I am glad I did it. I live out East and my parents are in the Midwest, so I told them about the elopement by phone a few days afterward. My father was out of town so I told my mother, who was pleasantly surprised and seemed genuinely happy for us. Later she told me my father was in denial about my having gotten married.

After some prodding, to my surprise, she divulged that my father doesn’t really like my partner and thinks I could do better. She pointed out that my parents have only spent time with my partner on a handful of occasions. My partner is a caring, funny, passionate person, but being from New York she keeps her guard up longer than most people and often comes across as rude. My question is this: Do I tell my partner what I’ve learned about my father’s opinion of her before we visit them for Thanksgiving? I worry that she may be offended or stress out if I tell her, but she might also want to modify her behavior to improve their relationship. I’ve also thought of attempting to subtly request that we really try to bond with my family on this trip. I’m also struggling with deciding how much I care about my father’s “approval.” His opinion that I could do better shouldn’t bother me, right?
—Dad in Denial About Elopement

I think you should stop having conversations about your father with your mother. As best I can tell from your letter, you still haven’t spoken directly with your father to tell him that you got married. He’s presumably not still out of town, so pick up the phone and call him yourself. Tell him what it was like, how you felt, what you like about your partner, and how happy you are. Ask him how he’s doing, how his trip out of town was, what’s going on with him in his life. Tell him you’re looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with him, that you’re eager for him to get to know your wife better, that you know the two of them have met infrequently but that you hope they can start to become closer.

When it comes to your partner, I don’t think you should “subtly request” that she try to bond with your family. Tell her directly. You don’t have to tell her what your mother told you, because your father’s impression of her is based on only a handful of interactions; just tell her that you really want her to try to get to know your family and for them to see how happy you two make each other. What you’re really describing, however, is an inclination to let your mother and your partner do the work that you yourself should be doing. It’s perfectly reasonable for your father to feel uncertain about your wife since he barely knows her, and while you can’t force them to love one another, it behooves you, as someone one who knows and loves them both, to do your best to facilitate a sense of friendliness and respect between them.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
Two months ago I moved 3,000 miles for what I thought would be a dream job in my field. I knew there would be challenges, and I had some doubts, but I thought I could handle them. I was wrong. Two months in and my anxiety is through the roof. I keep making numerous mistakes despite my supervisor’s trying her best to provide guidance, I’m losing sleep, and I feel completely out of place in the department. I don’t feel that I can talk to anyone about this, and I’m paranoid that if I keep screwing up, I’ll be fired. I left everything and everyone I had to come here, and I’m terrified of what will happen if I lose my job out here. What do you think I should do?

—New Job Nightmare

I think that one of anxiety’s worst tricks is convincing the anxiety-sufferer that he or she cannot possibly tell anyone about it. If other people knew I was anxious, the thinking goes, they would be unable or unwilling to help me and would in fact think less of me for knowing my struggle. I think you should take the opposite tack and instead talk to as many people as you can (within reason). You have completely upended your life to pursue this job, and a great deal is riding on it; of course you’re feeling anxious about the possibility of failure. I don’t mean to dismiss your anxiety in the least when I tell you that it’s a completely understandable result of your recent move. If you haven’t already, tell your friends and family back home that you’re scared you’re not going to succeed, not because they will be able to solve your problem, but because it is better to be known by the people we love than it is to suffer alone and in silence.

As for your supervisor, you don’t have to share every detail of your anxiety with her, but you can say that you’re nervous about your work, are eager to do your best, and feel self-conscious about the learning curve. Think of it this way: Your supervisor, and the company that employs you, wanted you for this position so much that they chose you over someone who wouldn’t have to move across the country. If you are finding your workload too challenging at this early stage, it’s better to discuss possible solutions now, rather than keeping silent and stumbling when the stakes are higher later on. They are invested in your success, not in watching you fail; if you ask for reasonable help in the form of extra training or accommodation or assistance, they will give it not begrudgingly but willingly, because your success in your new role is good for the company too.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I’m constantly cleaning up after my roommates, “Kerry” and “Dinah,” who are sisters. While Kerry is a more considerate roommate overall, she is a messy cook and leaves spilled food/dirty dishes all over the kitchen. She’ll return to clean up later, but usually it’s after I’ve cleaned up (I need to use the kitchen, too!) and she never wipes up her spills. Dinah drives me up the wall: She’s a pack rat, never puts anything away, never takes out the recycling, dirty dishes on the counters, etc. They’re both aware of how much the mess stresses me out. Kerry sometimes cleans with me during the week, but Dinah cleans irregularly and follows me around the house to talk at me while I clean. I’ve spoken to them both about wiping up spills and washing dishes (we don’t have a dishwasher), but after a year I still feel like their maid. Should I break down and hire a cleaning service?

—Resident Snow White

I’m a bit of a fatalist when it comes to getting behindward roommates to start cleaning up when they’re already entrenched in bad habits. You don’t have the same leverage with a roommate that you might with a live-in partner, and if Kerry and Dinah are both comfortable with a messy kitchen, they don’t have much incentive to change, beyond your continued goodwill. You’ve lived together for over a year, you’ve made repeated requests, and they haven’t worked. You could try to institute a chore wheel, you could make more insistent demands, you could spend a lot of your free time badgering them into carrying their own weight, but any of these will require a considerable expenditure of time and energy on your part with a low chance of success. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying; by all means, if Dinah follows you around the house while you’re cleaning, start delegating tasks (“Since you’ve got time, would you help me clean the bathroom? I’ll take the sink if you’ll scrub the shower”). But if you’ve got the money, and it would save you what sounds like a not-inconsiderable amount of stress to hire a regular cleaning service, do it, and ask Dinah and Kerry to chip in. You’re not going to live with them forever (and you might want to start looking sooner rather than later); in the meantime, give yourself a break and outsource at least some of this headache.

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