Dear Prudence

Approval Required

My boyfriend says, “Good girl!” to me, and I like it.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend loves me, is unfailingly kind, self-identifies as a feminist, and is always interested in and supportive of my academic work. Here’s the weird part: He says “good girl” to me, usually when I’ve done something to take care of myself, like put my glasses on when my eyes are tired, or get to sleep and wake up at a reasonable hour. We live together and I adore him, and honestly, I like the “good girl” thing, at least to some extent. I am an approval-craving person, by nature and even though I don’t need it, I love to be validated. I wouldn’t want him to say it in front of anyone, but I do feel guilty, because liking it makes me feel like I’m some kind of sick, weird throwback or that he is. (He doesn’t say it in bed; it’s not a sex thing.) What do you think? Is it a warning sign? Is it OK?

—The Good Girl

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I am so pleased to be the person who gets to inform you that you are not in possession of a problem! Your boyfriend playfully affirms you when you take care of yourself, and you like it! He respects and supports you in every meaningful way, so don’t worry that this is some early warning sign that he actually sees you as a child who can barely take care of yourself. He’s cheering on little victories with a slightly silly twist. It’s perfectly fair to let him know that while you enjoy this in private, you don’t want him to say it around other people who might misunderstand, but by all means, continue to enjoy this low-key bit of whimsy in private.

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Dear Prudence,
I’ve been dog sitting as a second job to pay my bills for years. Usually I stay at the client’s house for a few weeks and care for not only the animal but the home. I recently looked after the dog of a repeat client who has just moved, is newly pregnant, and was leaving town to attend her mother’s funeral. I did and thought things went fine, but now she says she had cameras on the front door and that I didn’t take her dog out enough. I couldn’t always get her elderly dog out the front door, no matter what song and dance I performed, or what treats I offered—she just refused to get up. There were no accidents, and when she wanted to go out, we did. This client has now trashed me on my professional website, saying her front-door videos proves I was negligent to her dog. This isn’t true! I love her dog and took her to the backyard when necessary if she wasn’t walking well. I have explained this and she won’t respond. How do I get through to someone like this?

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—Dog Dilemma

Since you’ve sat for her in the past without incident, and you did everything in your power to make sure the dog’s needs were met, you should do your best to bear in mind that this woman’s reaction has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her present situation. This means you are limited in your ability to get through to her, just as you can’t force an elderly dog to go on a walk if it’s tired or in pain. Your client has just lost her mother, she’s about to become a mother herself, and she’s just moved—any of these life changes would be a significant stressor alone, and their cumulative effect is likely overwhelming. If she won’t respond to your attempts to explain, then leave her alone; you won’t do yourself any good by demanding she meet or listen to you when she’s determined to exorcise some of her grief on you. Accept that you have likely lost this woman’s business, and focus on your other clients.

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If you have the ability to moderate the reviews on your website, consider taking hers down—you’re not obligated to publicize bad reviews on your own site. At the very least, post a measured response (without compromising the private details of your client’s life) outlining your policy on not pushing elderly dogs past their limits.

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Dear Prudence,
My eldest son is a 33-year-old heroin addict and has been since he was 19. It’s a horrible addiction, and at his lowest point last year he stole over $30,000 from his grandmother (my mother). Now he’s in jail facing felony charges. I’ve visited him twice, and he seems clean, which makes me happy, but my problem is that my mother wants me to help him when he gets out, and I don’t see how I can. He’s been “clean” so many times before, and he’s stolen from almost all of his family members, and I just don’t know how to trust him again. I also don’t know how long his sentence will be. He can’t stay with me; I live in a small loft with no doors and I’m very private. I let him stay once before when he was clean, but he thought I was too strict. I’m getting a lot of pressure to help him get back on his feet, and I’m being berated for not supporting him in his “time of need.” I don’t want him to be released with nowhere to go, however. I can’t afford to help him get an apartment, though my mother thinks I should. Am I a terrible parent for saying no? We live in Texas, where there are not many affordable resources.

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I’ve supported him so many times before, trying to help him get clean and assisting him financially. He’s tried rehab so many times and it never lasted. He doesn’t follow rules well. I just don’t know how much money and effort it would take to help him.

—Helpless

There is, I think, no amount of financial support you could provide your son with that would ensure his continued recovery, and your mother’s belief that what he needs from you is more money is in fact a delusion. If your son is facing felony charges in Texas, the odds that he will be released in the near future are perhaps slimmer than your mother is willing to admit, and her insistence that he will shortly need help finding an apartment is not based in reality. He may very well be in prison for a long time. While resources for people struggling with addiction may not be thick on the ground in Texas, there are a number of low-cost sober living housing centers available to him. If he is eventually paroled, he may also access addiction support services through the parole division.

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The way your mother sees it is this: There is a certain amount of money, time, and effort that your family can invest in your son that will someday put an end to his drug addiction and its resultant destructive behaviors. The reality is this: Your son cannot be made clean against his will, and you cannot make him the slightest bit better by letting him live with you, giving him money you can’t afford to spare, or granting him the opportunity to steal from you again. You can encourage and support his recovery without letting him move in with you or giving him money. If he is determined to stay clean, he can do so apart from you—having financial support from one’s mother is not a prerequisite for anyone’s sobriety—and if he’s not, nothing can make him. Do what you have to in order to stick to your convictions. See a therapist, attend Nar-Anon meetings, practice saying “I’m not going to do that, Mom” and hanging up the phone. Don’t allow anyone to make you feel guilty for taking care of yourself. You cannot stand between your son and the world forever; he is 33 years old and will have to make his life his own.

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Dear Prudence,
My partner and I have a disagreement about charitable giving. My partner says that it’s better to let money gain interest in your account and donate it all at the end of your life, whereas I say that in donating to the right causes yearly, your money “grows interest” in terms of how the recipients of your donations make use of it. It does not seem, however, that it’s easy to be confident in which approach yields a greater bounty. What say you?

—When to Give

I think if one could predict with 100 percent accuracy when the exact end of one’s life would arrive, your partner’s strategy might be a sound one. Not to mention the fact that if there are issues that are important to you in the present, waiting until you’re near-death might be too late to contribute to a difference you might be able to make now. Actual giving, however small, will always best hypothetical giving, no matter how great.

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Dear Prudence,
I am gay and have been living with my girlfriend for about five years. We have plans to get married after we both graduate, but that is a ways off. She was raised by two gay dads and is very close to her birth mom. Her family is large, liberal, and very supportive. My family is not. I am out to my mom and my sisters (my father is dead), but not my extended family. I spend a few days every couple of months with my paternal grandparents. I love them, but they’re old and racist. My younger sister stopped visiting after they made insensitive comments about Latinos (her boyfriend was from South America), and I am now the only grandchild who visits regularly. They don’t know I’m gay, and our conversations revolve around safe, neutral topics.

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My girlfriend has gotten increasingly angry with me over “catering to their bigotry.” She doesn’t want to pretend to just be my roommate if they call, hates that I drive hours to see them when other events are going on our lives (I missed her uncle’s wedding), and calls me a coward for lying to them. My grandparents are in their late 80s and not in good health. I know their affection and compassion are limited, but I still love them. I don’t want to cause them stress or have to deal with the emotional fallout. We fight about it every time I plan a trip to see my grandparents. I tell her I need her support, and she tells me I need not to be ashamed of myself or her. Is she right?

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—OK to Lie?

There’s a significant difference between choosing not to come out to your grandparents yourself versus asking your girlfriend of five years, whom you intend to marry, to re-closet herself whenever they call, not to mention the fact that you leave her at home every time you visit. You’re asking a great deal of her, and from your letter it seems clear that you want her to continue to pretend to be your “roommate” on demand, as well as cheerfully tolerate your absence from significant life events every two or three months, indefinitely. This is more than mere support. She has a right to resent that request, and to decide whether or not she can see a future based on the kind of relationship you’re asking of her.

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That’s not to say your only options at present are “cut off your grandparents immediately” or “break up with your girlfriend.” Consider, however, the possibility that you are using their poor health as an excuse to maintain the status quo—they may not live much longer, but then again one or both of them may carry on for another five to 10 years. Will you hide your engagement from them? Your marriage? Ask your other relatives to pretend they had not attended your wedding in your grandparents’ presence? You’ve been with this woman for five years and hope someday to build a life together. If it’s your intention never to come out to your grandparents, your girlfriend will have to decide whether or not that’s something she can accept. If you are willing to consider the possibility of acknowledging your relationship to them (and giving them at least the opportunity to know and accept it), consider attending couples counseling as you figure out the healthiest way to prepare yourself to have that conversation.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a 64-year-old man from Los Angeles who has been married for 38 years to a great lady. About 10 years ago, she contracted a form of cancer that rendered her disabled, and we stopped being intimate. Her life now consists of going to get treatment a few times a week and maybe going to the grocery store. She doesn’t have energy for much else, as she gets weaker every year. I will stay with her until the end.

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My wife has asked me several times to find a gal-pal or friend with benefits, and says she would be more than fine with this arrangement. For the last eight years my New Year’s resolution was to find a girlfriend to spend time with. I’ve been very slow to make progress, even though I’ve stopped wearing a wedding ring and try to chat up age-appropriate women.

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So how do I go about finding a gal-pal if I’m married? I don’t think a website geared toward cheaters is the answer (since I’ve got my wife’s OK and I’m not really looking for a friend with benefits). I was thinking of using a senior dating service like OurTime, but noticed that this and similar sites are for singles only. I really like live theater and see about 30 shows a year; my typical companion is a book. There must be lots of sixtysomething women in L.A. who would like a gentleman friend for going to plays and musicals. How do I make a connection without misrepresenting myself? Thanks for your help!

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—Looking for Companionship

As tempted as I am to put out a call for female sixtysomething readers in L.A., I’m not quite ready to turn this column into a matchmaking service. It sounds like you and your wife have two fairly divergent goals here: She wants you to find another sex partner, but what you’re looking for is a regular, mostly platonic date to take to plays. I think that puts you in a slightly improved position, as you won’t have to spend a lot of time (in the interest of getting someone into bed) explaining the specifics of your marriage to prospective theatergoing partners. You’re not violating any sort of terms-of-use agreement for OurTime (or similar service) by looking for friends to go to the theater with; plenty of people use dating apps to look for nonsexual companionship. Don’t feel like you have to restrict yourself to sites designed to help people cheat on their spouses, but do be upfront about how you’re just looking for a friend to see shows with, not a long-term girlfriend or a sex partner.

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You might also consider joining a local senior citizens’ art appreciation group—plenty of them schedule regular trips to the symphony and the theater, and you might be able to find friends there. Next time you’re at a play, consider leaving the book at home and trying to speak with some of the other theatergoers; you might find your next date there. It sounds like what you’d like most is to expand your social circle, whether it involves romance or not, which is a much easier task. Good luck.

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