Dear Prudence

Heart on Fire

My friend’s baby died, and now she wants to burn the cot she borrowed.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
When my friend became pregnant she asked me if she could buy my kids’ old cot. I told her she could borrow it but made it clear I wanted it returned when she was finished. She knows the cot holds a lot of sentimental value for me, as my late grandfather made it. Unfortunately her baby boy died unexpectedly, and she is planning to burn everything he used due to religious beliefs. I recently went to her place and saw the cot pushed out into the garage along with everything else she is planning to burn. It wasn’t the time to say anything, so I held my tongue, but I really want my old cot back. I would be devastated if she burns this. Is it callous if I contact her and ask about the cot while she is mourning?

—Don’t Let It Burn

While I’m sympathetic to your position—it’s a beloved family heirloom that you’d hate to lose—I simply cannot think of a single way you can ask for it back that would not add to your friend’s grief. Her son slept in that cot, and now he has died; the burning of the belongings of the dead is a sacred ritual in many traditions, including among the Romani people, and an act that likely holds great meaning for her as she mourns her child. She is not keeping the cot out of forgetfulness or selfishness. It is a wrench for you to lose something your late grandfather made and which holds such value for you, but lending objects to others always carries an element of risk, and this is one unexpected result that has changed the circumstances. You must realize that this cot now holds a great deal of sentimental value to your friend as well. On balance I believe her claim is stronger, and I think as hard as it might be you should let it go and find as many ways as possible to be helpful to her during what is surely the worst time of her life.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend and I live together and have been dating for three years. During our first year of dating, he had a weeklong affair with his ex-girlfriend. I learned about this affair two years into our relationship because he still felt guilty about it. I decided to accept that this was a one-time mistake and that I still loved him very much. This issue is that maybe three nights a week I wake up to him groaning her name and grinding into me. It makes me ill when it happens and tremendously distressed. I understand that everyone has sex dreams and that he doesn’t have control over it, but it happens all the time, and if he just didn’t say her name it wouldn’t bother me so much—or if it wasn’t the person that he had cheated on me with. I guess this isn’t even a question. It’s just something that I wish wasn’t happening. On his part, I’ve brought it up a couple of times when he found me crying in the middle of the night, and he seems genuinely surprised that he is having these dreams and truly apologetic.

—Literally Nauseated

Just to be clear, most people do not have sex dreams about past lovers so vivid that they wake their partners three nights a week by calling out their exes’ names and trying to hump their partners’ legs. That’s about as far from normal sleep behavior as I can imagine, and you don’t have to convince yourself that this is something every couple goes through, because it isn’t. What you’ve described sounds unbelievably distressing, and I don’t think you should have to put up with it. Make it clear to him how much this upsets you, how regularly it’s happening, and how imperative it is that he go to the doctor immediately to find out if he suffers from any sleep disorders. Your boyfriend may not know what he’s doing while he’s doing it, but you cannot possibly move on from the past if every other night you’re jolted out of your sleep because your partner is calling out the name of the woman he cheated on you with. This is an emergency situation that affects your ability to sleep as well as your emotional security; it’s not something for you to just “get over.” It is time for you to tell him to make a choice: to acknowledge your pain and seek some kind of treatment or behavioral therapy to end the night humps, or to sleep apart for the remainder of your relationship, as short as that may be.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
Is it strange to semi-merge finances with a partner before marriage? My boyfriend and I are moving in together soon, and we also want to start saving so that in three to five years we could buy a house together. Is a joint account for the purpose of household bills and savings premature at this stage?

—Too Soon to Merge

There is no one-size-fits-all answer about sharing finances with your partner, except perhaps to tread carefully and check in often. I get the impression from your short letter, however, that you and your partner are on the same page, so it’s not outlandish to consider opening a joint bank account now—provided you maintain your separate accounts as well. Bear in mind, though, that married couples have certain legal protections when it comes to dividing assets in the event of a divorce; if you and your boyfriend were to break up before purchasing a house, you risk losing everything you saved together. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, but it does mean you should have plenty of conversations about your different financial habits and goals, as well as how you’d want to handle your mutual assets in case things don’t work out romantically. You might split the difference, at least in the beginning, by using a joint account to pay for bills and establish shared principles, while keep savings separate; later, if that goes well, you can start saving for a house together.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I finally came out as a lesbian last year. It took me a long time to put together—I’m 30—but I was raised in a strict Muslim home and not the most supportive environment. Now everything is great, except for my closest friend, Sandy. She bristles when I call myself a lesbian. She thinks I should call myself bisexual, since I once told her a story of a friend who identified as a lesbian for years and was surprised when she eventually fell in love with a man. They’re now married. I said if that happened to me it would be weird, but I guess possible. (To be clear, I don’t think this will happen to me.) Sandy also makes “jokes” about how I “must be the man” in my relationships. She has referred to me as a “baby gay” to other gay friends, which just feels weird, and she has given a lot of advice about how I shouldn’t come out to my mom (dad isn’t around)—I think because she thinks I’ll change my mind about being gay.

She’s a great person, and it’s really unexpected that she’s so weird about this. I’ve even wondered if she’s starting to think she isn’t straight and is kind of projecting. Anyway, how can I get her to stop with these strange remarks and off-putting advice? If she says something rude, I’ll ask her to stop in the moment, but the remarks and advice continue.

—Doesn’t Believe I’m a Lesbian

I don’t know if Sandy is having a sexual crisis of her own or not, but I do know that she is being an unmitigated disaster of a friend. She thinks that you should call yourself bisexual because someone else once fell in love with a man? That’s like pre-emptively calling yourself a mother because other people sometimes have children. One doesn’t follow the other. Be direct: “I’ve noticed you’ve been making a lot of pointed comments about my sexuality after I came out. I’m not sure why you’re doing this. This is so out of character for you that I’ve really been at a loss. Do you have a problem with my being gay? If not, why do you keep saying these things?” Then see how she responds. You may be close, but you won’t be close forever if she won’t accept who you are.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My mom refuses to go to counseling over our relationship. My dad encourages it, my husband thinks it’s necessary, and I’ve pleaded with her. Holidays are tortuous because of the way she speaks to me—primarily when others are not around—and she’s also used it on friends and family who find excuses to no longer come around. Her infamous “sneak attacks” are unusually cruel and have been that way since I was a teenager. These comments used to be about my weight, acne, and a very minor jaw deformity I was born with, and now that I’m older it’s about how my daughter looks or why my husband would ever cheat on me (usually because of how I look) or our career choices. My husband doesn’t think we should do Christmas (even though it’s the heart and soul of my family) unless she agrees to go to counseling. She said she will never go and that she will not be “held hostage” by the holidays. I feel so torn. My dad and sister would be particularly crushed if we didn’t come. Should I give my mom a deadline about counseling for future holidays? Am I wrong to insist upon it? In the past I have tried to always find a “buddy” in the house who will stay with me and avoid activities with just my mom, but she can say things while walking and it only takes her seconds. And these comments haunt me for years.

—Cruel and Unusual

Please do not try to get your mother to go to counseling with you. Please do not try to spend the holidays with your mother. Please do not spend another minute trying to convince yourself that if you simply tried harder your mother would stop abusing you. That’s exactly what she’s doing, by the way: She’s not sharp-tongued, she’s not impulsive, she’s not misguided. She’s emotionally and verbally abusive. She has been for years. Other people avoid her because of it. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and she has demonstrated absolutely zero interest in changing her behavior or trying to make amends for the pain she has caused you. Your mother is not being “held hostage” by the holidays. She holds you hostage every year, and it is bewilderingly cruel that she would claim you are doing to her what she has habitually done to you. I’m glad your husband is arguing for your best interests. He’s right: You don’t need to go. Your father and sister will survive if you do not spend Christmas with them this year. They may be sad about it, but they will be absolutely fine. Please go see a counselor alone, because you will need a great deal of help and support in separating yourself from this abusive woman.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My roommate has multiple sexual partners, and every night one of them stays at our house. It’s the same people each week, and I have met them all, so it’s not like strangers are sleeping over, but it’s starting to feel like I have an extra roommate with a different name every few days. This isn’t a typical “my roommate’s boyfriend sleeps over every night and should pay rent” scenario. How do I tell my roommate I am uncomfortable having someone stay over every night without sounding like I am judging her poly lifestyle? I don’t care at all that she dates multiple people. I just don’t want to have an extra roommate every single night.

—Seven Days a Week

Luckily, this problem has very little to do with your roommate being poly and everything to do with your differing expectations on overnight guests. It’s entirely fair to tell her that when you moved in together, you assumed it would mostly just be the two of you, since you’re the only ones on the lease. Add that having a guest every night of the week—even guests you like—makes it feel like there are more roommates than you signed on for, and that you want to find a compromise about overnight visits that works for both of you. If she’s amenable, great! She can spend more nights at her partners’ houses if need be, and you get a few nights to yourself; if not, you can stay friendly and start looking for another living arrangement that’s more suited to your personality.

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