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.
Danny M. Lavery: Certain days are marked by disorientation, days where we ask: “What place is this? What region, what quarter of the world? Where am I? Beneath the sun’s rising or beneath the wheeling course of the frozen Bear?” Days where we think: I should have taken a left in Albuquerque. Let’s get oriented.
Q. White lying to mom: My mother and I exhibit very similar symptoms of anxiety. We fidget constantly, have a hard time starting projects, overthink, and have days where doing anything productive feels impossible. After all kinds of medication, I am so happy to say that I have found CBD oil to be a very effective treatment option. It is giving me a new lease on life. I want to share this discovery with my mother to see if it can help her anxiety! However, she is a conservative Christian. Plus, I am already thought of as sort of a wild child. I’m afraid she’ll dismiss CBD oil without giving it a chance. Would it be terrible of me to fail to mention the words “cannabis” or “hemp” when I tell her about my new treatment? Just long enough for her to try it. It will save her a crisis of faith and CBD doesn’t induce a high or have serious side effects. What’s a white lie when you’re fighting decades of mental unwellness?
A: Oh, this is an easy one! Giving someone drugs without their knowledge or consent is not a “white lie”; it is a straight-up violation of their physical autonomy. Whether or not you find relief from your anxiety from CBD oil has no bearing on whether you should secretly give drugs to your mother. Do not surreptitiously give another human being prescription drugs, alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance, no matter how much you yourself enjoy using it and no matter how minimal you consider the side effects to be. This is not your choice to make. Encourage her to seek medical attention, limit your time together if you need space, and focus on your own treatment. Your mother has the right to dismiss medical marijuana in any form; you have the right to disagree with her and use it as much as you see fit. You do not have the right to drug your mother. That seems like a sentence that should not have to be stated—“don’t drug your mother” ought to be common sense—but I’ll say it anyway: Don’t drug your mother. Don’t drug anyone!
Q. Boyfriend secretly bought a gun: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about two and a half years now. We’ve been living together for over a year and recently went shopping for engagement rings together. He is a wonderful, kind, smart, funny man, and I love him deeply and am excited to spend the rest of my life with him. Last night, through one of our mutual friends, I discovered that he had purchased a gun last month and never told me about it. I’m not wild about guns, and in a previous conversation that I had brushed off as a “what if” sort of thing, I had mentioned that were he to ever purchase a gun, I’d rather he not keep it in our home, since research pretty clearly states that he would be more likely to injure me or himself with it than any potential intruders. When I confronted him about this, he reported that he hadn’t told me because he wasn’t keeping it at the house.
I am feeling hugely betrayed about this. Like I said, I am not wild about guns, but I am mostly angry that he felt the need to hide this purchase from me. He had to take a test, pass a background check, apply for purchase, and then find somewhere to keep this gun (at our mutual friend’s home, apparently), and it either never occurred to him to tell me, or he deliberately kept it a secret from me (the second option here is clearly more concerning). How do I convey these feelings to him, and more importantly, how do we move forward? I am feeling like we need to put our potential engagement on the back burner until we can process why he withheld information about purchasing a lethal weapon from me, but also wonder if this is an overreaction. Help!
A: It’s fair for two reasonable adults to differ on the subject of gun ownership, but it’s more than a little ridiculous to think that your boyfriend feels more comfortable purchasing and storing a firearm than he does admitting he bought one to his girlfriend. Let’s dismiss entirely the possibility that it never occurred to him to tell you about this purchase, given that he already knows your feelings on the subject, and his “I didn’t have to tell you because I’m storing it at Jakery’s house” evasion is patently silly. This isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but it is an opportunity to have a serious conversation about honesty and conflict. Tell him you’d rather have an honest disagreement of opinion that’s based on good faith, even if it’s sometimes uncomfortable, rather than not know about significant life choices like your boyfriend becoming a gun owner, and that if you two are going to build a life together, he can’t make a habit of hiding points of conflict from you. If his response is lukewarm, or he continues to hew to his “I didn’t have to tell you anything because the gun’s not in the house” party line, you are absolutely within your rights to say, “Then we need to put a hold on moving forward with this engagement until we can agree on how to communicate and what sort of information we both have the right to know.”
Q. Exposing a verbally abusive ex-boss: For several months, I’ve been working part time at a small business, just a few hours a week. I love the community and my co-workers, but the owner is a verbally abusive monster. I’ve decided to quit—an easy decision, because I don’t need the money. However, I have deep friendships with the remaining employees who do depend on their part-time and full-time jobs, and I hate that they are still at his mercy. I’ve thought of contacting the Better Business Bureau but worry that will just intensify the owner’s wrath. Is there any action I can take to create a better work environment for my friends? Also, what are my obligations to the clients, many of whom I’m very close with and who will certainly ask why I’m leaving? I want to tell them the truth, as I’m done tacitly legitimizing the owner’s behavior but worry that doing so will come back to bite the remaining employees. Also, this job has no impact on my full-time job and career, so I’ll never need the owner for a recommendation.
A: The Better Business Bureau doesn’t handle employee/employer disputes, so if, as it sounds in your letter, your former company’s owner restricted his abuse to the people who worked for him and put on a friendly face for clients, the BBB isn’t going to be much help. If your former clients ask why you left, tell them that you loved your work and your colleagues but were looking for a more supportive boss who could communicate effectively. They’ll get what you’re saying without you having to go into great detail about his shortcomings. You can help your friends update their résumés and pass on relevant job leads, you can offer a sympathetic ear once in a while when they need to vent, you can encourage them to bring up their concerns to a board of directors if there is one, but if there’s no one he has to answer to as company owner, the best thing your friends can do is find new jobs as quickly as possible.
Q. Is fear standing in my way?: I am happily married to a wonderful man. Almost a year ago we decided that I would leave my job and help him run his practice. I would run the operations and this would give me the flexibility to go back to school. I previously worked at a small real estate firm for a great group of people. It was not a prestigious position, but I was great at what I did, felt appreciated and loved my co-workers. While my husband works as an independent contractor, he is still under the regulations of a larger cooperation. His boss was completely in support of this move and agreed to get me sponsored so I could be licensed in the new position. Not long after I left, my husband’s boss left the firm, along with all the promises we were given. They have yet to replace his boss, and no one we talk to thinks my working as a subordinate to my husband will be approved. Learning about our predicament and knowing I have a relationship with a real estate office, an acquaintance of my husband suggested I join his mortgage team in sales. I have never been interested in sales and am not comfortable taking on this task, but my husband is pressuring me to pursue the opportunity. I really think I will fail and know they offered me the position based on my relationship with the real estate office and friendship with my husband.
I am anxious just thinking about the new job and hate trying to sell to my friends at my former office. It feels dishonest to me, especially because they all believe I left to go back to school and help my husband. My husband believes fear of failing is not a reason to turn down the position and I’m being unreasonable. I applied for other jobs, but everything I apply to he thinks is beneath me. He recently bought me a very expensive SUV and told me I need to trade it in if I don’t start working or if I decide to go back to school full time. I feel so much guilt for not contributing to our finances and can understand his resentment. I really don’t know how to talk to him about my fears without feeling foolish. Am I being selfish and unnecessarily fearful? This has really caused a rift in our otherwise happy marriage.
A: I feel enormously confident that going to work for your husband’s team in a position you feel ill-suited for, pressured to accept, and anxious about is not going to result in a happier marriage. You agreed to take time off from your own career to help him as an operations manager; that doesn’t mean you would make a good salesman (or a good HR director, or whatever other fill-in-the-blank job opening they’ve got). You’re not a Lego component that can be neatly slotted into whatever hole needs to be filled.
In terms of what you should do, I think you ought to take your husband up on his eminently reasonable suggestion to trade in your fancy SUV for something less flashy (which I suspect was less a suggestion and more of a guilt-trip tactic on his part) and go ahead and take one of those jobs he thinks are “beneath you,” or else go back to school, so you can start contributing to the household on your own terms.
When it comes to how you should talk to your husband about it, you should bear in mind that there’s nothing foolish about being aware of your own skill set, or being realistic about what types of work you’re suited for and what types you’re not. Make it clear that you are not demurring out of false modesty or lack of initiative but out of a genuine understanding of your own abilities and experience. Tell him that you’re anxious to contribute financially, that you’re entirely certain you would not do well in sales, and that his company would lose the opportunity to hire an effective, successful sales representative if you were forced into the position.
Q. What’s in a (last) name?: My fiancé and I are getting married this summer. We are a little older (late 30s and mid-40s). I am shocked at how many people assume that I am going to change my last name, especially female friends in their 30s and 40s! I am very liberal, live in a very liberal part of the country, and for various reasons, will be keeping my name (family name and my dad died 10 years ago, professional reasons, and because it’s my name). I understand some people choose to change their name, but I have known since a young age that I would not change my name. Every inch of my feminist body aches when these assumptions are made. How do I respond to this assumption, in the moment and proactively? What is the right response to someone who says, “Next time I see you, you’ll be Mr. and Mrs. XYZ”?
A: Keep it straightforward: “I’m keeping my name, so we’ll be Mr. Flimshaw and Ms/Mrs. Screentime.” If anyone has follow-up questions or seems mildly interested, you can share a bit more about why keeping your name is important to you; otherwise you’ll have successfully challenged an often-unconscious assumption by a simple statement of fact.
Q. Re: White lying to mom: She’s not asking if she can mickey her mom, she’s asking if it’s OK to tiptoe around certain phrases when she tells mom about it. BIG difference. I still wouldn’t dance around it, but I would phrase it with the studies around older people and chemo relief, heavy on the science (including using the scientific names).
A: I don’t think it is OK to tiptoe around it. It’s a fair point that calling CBD oil “non-specific anxiety relief” isn’t the same as spiking a drink, although it feels like dangerous logic to want to obfuscate the nature of any sort of therapeutic treatment, especially if the LW is trying to encourage their mother to try said treatment. If the LW says, “Mom, this vague oil helps me with my anxiety, would you consider trying it?” without offering her full information about what’s in it, then that’s deceptive and unacceptable. I think it’s OK to be honest about what the LW finds helpful about it—“it’s a cannabinoid found in marijuana but not the same thing as marijuana, it doesn’t get me high, it’s helped me immensely”—but it’s crossing a real line to not call something what it is. If the LW’s mother wants to have an irrational response to medical marijuana, then she’s allowed to. The LW should make their case to the best of their ability, and let their mother make her own choices; they should by no means try to “trick” her into considering it, no matter how good their intentions.
Q. Future roommate has a lying problem: My friends and I are first years in college and have been looking forward to living together next year for months now. However, my friend “Sophie” and I have noticed that another friend, “Christina,” has developed a bit of a lying problem. It started with some embellishment to her stories and has snowballed to her flat-out lying about just about everything, from fabricating mundane details about her life to making up nonexistent medical issues. This might have been simply annoying, but as we are currently planning on sharing an apartment next year—which will include sharing the costs of cleaning supplies, grocery bills, etc.—it is instead concerning, and Sophie and I would really like to bring it up with her before housing is finalized. Our question is, how do we do it tactfully and productively, without making Christina feel attacked or possibly losing her friendship?
A: You cannot have a conversation with someone questioning their integrity without running at least the possibility that you will lose her friendship, so do yourself a favor and acknowledge to yourself that if you have this conversation, she may lash out and stop speaking to you. The alternative is pretend you don’t know she has a habit of being dishonest, sign a lease with her, and run into possibly significant financial trouble because she can’t keep up her end of the agreement. Between the two, I think you’re better off having the conversation and expressing your concerns both about what it might mean for a future living situation and for her current well-being. Tell her you care for her but that you’re concerned about living together because you’ve noticed she has begun fabricating medical issues and other details about her life, and you want to know if she’s doing all right. You can be tactful and kind as you say this, but you can’t soft-pedal the point of the conversation, which is that she’s started lying regularly. If she seems receptive or willing to be honest about what’s behind this sudden change in behavior, then you have the opportunity to help your friend. If, as I suspect, she responds defensively, then you will have saved yourself a great deal of trouble by having this conversation before you sign a lease together.