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 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.
Q. Doggy prenup: I’m getting married next spring to an amazing guy, and I have two cocker spaniels I’ve had since before I met him. He loves them, but they’re my dogs—I pay for everything involving them and I’m the primary caretaker. I love my fiancé and I trust him more than anyone else in the world, but I want to have some sort of agreement in place that if we should ever split, the dogs would stay with me. When I was 13, my parents had a messy divorce and our three family dogs were sent to the shelter when my parents couldn’t reach a settlement. I was devastated, and the idea of that ever possibly happening to my beloved dogs makes me tear up. Would it be absurd of me to bring this up with my fiancé? I don’t see us ever splitting up and I want to spend the rest of my life with him, but worrying over this is actually keeping me up at night.
A: The one difference between your dogs and your parents’ dogs is that yours were acquired and primarily raised before your marriage, which would make them premarital assets and much easier to win custody of in the event of your divorce. But no, it’s not absurd to bring up your dogs in a prenup discussion; custody battles over pets are extremely common, as you yourself have witnessed firsthand. If you two did split at some point far down the line, after these dogs have passed on and you two acquired other dogs as a married couple, I hope you could agree that at some point, it would be better for one of you to forgo custody rather than send the dogs in question to a shelter—perhaps committing to that compromise now would ease your mind about future worst-case scenarios.
Q. Overzealous inspector: My son is in grade school and has a friend, “Derek,” who has severe allergies. Derek’s mother worked with their teacher to send home a letter to all parents about Derek’s allergies and what cannot be allowed in their classroom for Derek’s health and safety. My son recently asked if I could schedule a play date at our house with Derek and I did so. I still had the letter about Derek’s health and proceeded to throw out/put out of reach all of the items on the list of items detrimental to his health. When Derek and his mother arrived, his mother informed me that she would need to “inspect” my home before allowing Derek entrance to “make absolutely sure” it would be safe for him. I was a bit taken aback, but invited her in. This woman proceeded to ransack my pantry, fridge, bathroom medicine cabinet and even went into my bedroom and looked through our drawers and closet! When I asked her to stop, explaining that my room did not require inspection as the boys would be in my son’s room and our backyard, she got upset and insisted that her inspections are such so as to prevent her son from needing an Epi-Pen. I felt that her so-called “inspection” was over the top and a huge violation of my privacy. She continued going through my drawers, even when I asked her to stop, at which point I asked her to leave. She refused to let her son stay over for the play date and after school the next day, my son came home in tears saying that Derek told him they can no longer be friends because his mother said so. What can I do here? Should I get the teacher involved? I cannot fathom that a grown woman would be so malicious toward a child. I do not think I was out of line for asking her to stop going through my personal things.
A: If Derek’s mother feels she has to rifle through your dresser drawers in order for her son to play safely in your backyard, then she should have invited your son over to her house, where she can presumably personally ensure there are no allergens in the master bedroom. What she did may have been medically necessary (I’m not familiar enough with severe allergies to make a ruling there) but her behavior after you asked her to stop going through your things was rude and bizarre. I’m sure that raising a child with a deadly allergy is frightening, and I understand she must feel panicked and uncertain about her child’s health much of the time, but that doesn’t mean that her response to you was justified. Still, I don’t think there is any reason to get your son’s teacher involved over something that happened after school hours and off of school property. This was between your two families, and although it did not resolve to your liking, it’s not the teacher’s responsibility to adjudicate a private matter.
If any readers whose children have severe allergies want to chime in, I’d love to hear from you. Is this a customary precaution? How would you handle sending your child over to someone else’s house?
Q. Dad wants to reunite: My nontraditional father and I were once very close. He taught me how to smoke pot, drank with me when I was a teen, etc. I now wish he’d been more of a parent and less of a bad-influence friend. In 2013, his behavior changed dramatically. He’s abusing substances and began asking to borrow money. When I finally refused, he attacked me on Facebook—very strange behavior for him. We stopped speaking. The few times I’ve tried to forgive him, it doesn’t take long for the verbal abuse to reappear. Emails about how I’m “a missed abortion” and should kill myself, comments on my blog about how “everyone’s better off” when they leave my life. Obviously, something’s amiss with his brain. But now he’s emailed that he wants to “talk things out.” My instinct is no, but when he dies, will I be riddled with guilt that I didn’t give him one more chance?
A: The fact that your father said “I want to talk things out” and not “I owe you more apologies than I can count for saying hateful things about how I wished you were never born” gives me enormous pause, and makes me worry that he’s simply taking a subtler approach in order to lure you into a situation where he can continue to verbally abuse you. If you decide to talk with him, I think you should insist on having someone else with you, like a therapist or a trusted friend. Tell him that based on your past conversations where he’s wished for your death you don’t feel safe speaking to him alone. If he’s willing to meet that condition, you might be able to have a sincere interaction; if he balks or overreacts, it’s unlikely that he’s self-aware enough to listen to what you have to say or contribute meaningfully to a conversation. In that event—and sadly I think it’s likelier that he’ll blow up than agree to your terms—I don’t think you’ll regret not putting yourself in a position to be verbally abused. You might regret the direction your father’s life has taken, as it’s undeniably sad, but I don’t think there’s anything more you could do to try to reconnect with him.
Q. Facebook breakdown: I worked with “Kate” two years ago. We had no relationship outside of work but were friendly. I know she has struggled with mental illness. When I left she added me on Facebook, I accepted and I carried on with life. A few weeks ago she started posting rambling and confusing updates talking about some big project she was working on and how she was going to change the world. She also seems to be convinced that the mayor will personally meet with her to help her open a restaurant or give her a job. She has also created several groups and added me without consent and just posts more ramblings. I work in the mental health field and I think I’m witnessing a manic episode unfold, and it doesn’t seem like anyone in her life recognizes this or is helping her. If anything they seem to be encouraging her. Would I be out of line contacting her after two years of nothing to ask if she’s fine and to encourage her to get help? I’m not interested in getting more involved, but she seems to really be need some help.
A: If she were saying something that suggested she might be a danger to herself or others, it might be called for, but since you two haven’t spoken in two years and the extent of her current delusions is a belief that she will meet the mayor, I don’t think you’re very well-situated to help her address this possible manic episode. If you know anyone who still works with Kate, you might get in touch with them and share your concerns, in the hopes that someone with an ongoing relationship with her might be moved to encourage her to seek help.
That said, I don’t think you would be doing anything wrong by sending her a message; just because something isn’t likely to be effective doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. The fact that you say you’re “not interested in getting more involved,” though, makes me concerned. If you want to message her asking about her well-being, but don’t actually want to know what’s going on with her or help her address her situation, I fear your message would come across as insincere. That doesn’t mean you have to volunteer as her new therapist, but I do think that if you want to check in and express your concern, you should at least be prepared to get involved enough to read her reply, and recommend resources if she demonstrates interest.
Q. Re: Overzealous Inspector: Usually kids with allergies that severe stay home to entertain. If she was concerned about the child having to use an Epi-Pen, was she planning on teaching the host mother how to use one? Otherwise this makes no sense. The child would not have been able to use it possibly in the middle of anaphylactic shock, especially if they were very young. Besides, if you try and get the teacher involved she’ll want to rifle through her nightstand drawers as well.
Q. Re: Overzealous Inspector: I’m an adult with a life-threatening peanut allergy, and it’s absolutely absurd that this child’s mother inspected anything (especially the master bedroom). As a child if I went to someone else’s home, my parents might have reminded the adults of my allergy (if food was going to be prepared) or had a conversation—but they trusted other parents enough not to let me crawl into an off-limits bedroom and start eating things in their drawers (why would there be food products in bedroom drawers?). This woman sounds more like a snoop than a paranoid parent.
A: That’s helpful background information, thank you! It sounds like the mother in question had several options available to her before resorting to rifling through the underwear drawers, and in the future our letter writer should give her a friendly-yet-respectfully-wide berth.
Q. Accept an apology?: Four-and-a-half years ago, a guy who worked for a friend of mine asked me out to dinner. I went. It was OK. About a week later he asked me to lunch. I went. It was OK. Then I didn’t hear anything for a while but thought nothing of it. Then my BFF told me that he entered drug rehab. I thought, good for him, and then I thought nothing for 4½ years. Fast forward to last week, and I put up a short Facebook post acknowledging Yom Kippur. A few hours later, I got a private message with an apology from him about, “being an asshole.” I showed my BFF and she suggested that it might be related to the rehab program. So my questions are: Should I respond? I support anyone and everyone who seeks help for himself, but I don’t really know this guy, many years have passed, and I have no interest in speaking/getting acquainted/etc. If I acknowledge the message, what do I say? There’s nothing in the message that explicitly states that it is related to the rehab. He might not even know that I know he was in rehab. Yom Kippur etiquette aside, should a person always accept out-of-the-blue apologies like this?
A: It sounds like this person has overestimated how much his behavior affected you. You’re under no obligation to respond to someone you shared two unremarkable meals with four years ago just because he later turned out to have a drug addiction. If you want to, you certainly can say, “Thanks for getting in touch. I don’t think there’s anything for you to apologize for, since I wasn’t hurt by your behavior, but best of luck with your recovery,” but you two aren’t a part of one another’s lives, and you’re not holding the key to some traumatic past event he needs to move past. Say something blandly encouraging, or nothing; either one is fine.
Q. College crunch: My husband and I are very well-off and have no children. I have several nieces and nephews, and years ago we offered to pay for their college tuition. About five years ago, my nephew lied to his parents and us and failed out of his freshman year, wasting over $20,000. We both were furious and since then have added some conditions to our offer. We wouldn’t pay for the tuition upfront but reimburse the complete cost after the semester was over if they had a GPA of 2.5. We feel that is more than reasonable and have seen three of my nieces graduate debt-free.
My problem is my sister’s youngest girl is failing this semester at a very prestigious university and will be on academic probation next year. My sister wants us to still write the check, and I told her we would do so if my niece kept to the terms. This has greatly upset my sister and started a huge fight. She cosigned the loans that my niece took out (against advice from the rest of the family). My husband told me he refuses to have a repeat of my nephew, and if my sister wants to be so ungrateful that we can just donate the money to actual needy kids. My sister will not be destitute, but I am worried about this consuming the holidays when we get together. Is there anything you think I should do? Right now I am hardly sick of the entire affair, but my husband and I were so happy when our elder nieces graduated.
A: It sounds like the terms you set are fairly reasonable. A 2.5 GPA is hardly impossible to achieve, and the reimbursement period is over quite quickly. You have already set your new terms based on your nephew’s wash-out, and you aren’t attempting to change them again, simply asking that your niece fulfill them. If she doesn’t have a 2.5 GPA at the end of the semester, then you won’t reimburse her the cost of her loans; you’re not trying to control her life, just setting modest terms on the nature of your gift. I can’t promise that the holidays will be easy; the fact that I think you’re being quite reasonable doesn’t mean your sister won’t still be unjustifiably angry with you. But I think you should hold your ground and make it clear that you want to be helpful to your niece, but you don’t want to spend your money on her education if she’s not going to make at least a good-faith effort to pass her classes. If taking out student loans won’t financially devastate your sister, it’s not as if you are consigning them to unbearable levels of debt and poverty. Tell your sister and her daughter that your terms are modest but non-negotiable, and that you look forward to reimbursing her tuition if she’s able to maintain the 2.5.
Q. Can I date while fat?: I am 31, recently out of a 12-year relationship (and three-year marriage), and am at a loss. While I was chubby when my ex and I started dating, my weight became an issue of contention near the end of my marriage. I’d like to have kids, and would therefore like to start dating, maybe find someone to have a family with. I feel short of time given that I spent all of my 20s in a relationship that didn’t work out in that way. I am clinically obese though I’ve been told that I am attractive and carry it well. Should I wait until I lose the approximately 30 pounds that I need to lose to be at a normal weight, or can I realistically date now? I know this is a strange question and somewhat individual but while I sometimes chat with people on dating apps like Tinder or OKCupid (my pics are recent and accurate, though flattering), I tend to dodge out before making plans to meet because I am nervous about reactions to my weight.
A: Yes, you can date while fat; you can date while quite literally anything. It would be a mistake, I think, to put your romantic life on hold because you thought you did not deserve to until you were thin, or because you believed the “real you” would only appear at a certain size; there is no weight cutoff for going on dates, and just because your ex-husband had a problem with your size does not mean that others will.
Danny M. Lavery: That’s it for this week! See you back at the same place, same time.