Mallory Ortberg, 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.
Mallory Ortberg: “I’m not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare who says that it’s always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.” Friends, it’s getting to be wedding season, and today’s batch of questions reflects that. I’ll try to keep the day-of etiquette to a minimum, but there’s no way around it. The only way out is through.
Q. Pants on fire: My best friend works in a job that she is grossly overqualified for but that pays better than most entry-level positions in her field. It was meant to be temporary, but she’s been there for almost a decade now and is itching to move on. I was thrilled to hear this but alarmed at how she plans on doing it. Apparently, another friend of hers successfully faked her entire résumé and now works full-time in her dream job without anyone ever having noticed. I managed to wrangle her an interview for a job in her field—at her request—but when she heard it was entry-level (i.e. her level), she decided not to go. She seriously believes that she’ll be offered a higher-level position within a few weeks; i.e. as soon as the fake résumé is complete. I want the best for my best friend, and I don’t want to kick her while she’s down, but this makes me really uneasy. What do I do?
A: Encourage her not to fake her résumé. This strategy of “my friend claims to have gotten away with fabricating a career’s worth of experience wholesale so far, so I will too” is almost certain to fail in the long run. Point out that even the most cursory background check could result in the withdrawal of any future job offers, not to mention the ruination of her professional reputation. This isn’t just an unethical strategy, it’s one that is almost guaranteed to fail over time. Since she’s no longer going to that interview you wrangled for her, you have no obligation to say anything to the hiring managers, but you should absolutely tell her not to expect any more professional favors as long as she’s committed to her present strategy.
(By the way, it’s not “kicking someone when they’re down” to tell them they shouldn’t engage in fraud. Your friend is currently employed and making decent money—she just wants a shortcut to landing her “dream job” without having to pick up the necessary experience first. That’s nowhere near down.)
Q. Call CPS or MYOB?: I’m very much concerned about what is going on with the nice teenage boy who lives next door and what, if anything, I should do about it. I bought this place about 18 months ago and became friendly with my neighbors: a woman, “Jane,” about my age and her son, “Ron,” who is about 16. I was intrigued since Jane doesn’t seem to work but seems to have plenty of money, but I figured it was maybe alimony (since she’s been married at least three times) but ultimately none of my business. Over a month ago, Jane left Ron behind while she went on vacation in Europe. Since then, Ron has occasionally asked me for help with things like laundry and cooking. Last week, I was over there helping him figure out why the hot water heater wasn’t working, and I asked when his mom was coming back; he said he didn’t know since she was extending her vacation as she’d met “an interesting guy.”
I asked Ron if he was in touch with his father or any other relatives—he said no but everything was OK since his mom Skypes with him and puts money in his bank account. In my book this is parental abandonment but Ron seems to be going to school and though there have been parties on several weekends, nothing has gotten out of hand. I’m not even sure if this is illegal or not, so I’m torn between calling CPS and just keeping a close watch on Ron myself. I don’t see myself as a substitute mom though since I work long hours, have a busy social life, and visit my long-distance boyfriend every other weekend. I’d hate to cause trouble for a kid who seems to be behaving very responsibly but then I’d hate to admit after a major problem happens that I knew and did nothing. What to do?
A: Since no one appears to be in immediate danger, I think your neighbor Jane’s behavior falls into the unfortunate category of irresponsible and selfish, but not so serious that it merits state intervention yet. It sounds like you’ve been a real help to Ron, and that it’s not reached a level where you feel put-upon or like you’re acting as a surrogate parent. As long as you’re comfortable, I think you should continue to be available to him as a neighbor and a responsible adult, to check in with him once in a while when you’re in town to make sure he’s doing all right. If, at a later point, something comes up that makes you think Ron is in danger, you do still have the option of contacting CPS. For now, let that option stay in your back pocket.
This is not an answer I feel tremendously comfortable giving, for what it’s worth, and if he were 14 or 15 I might have a different one. It’s a tricky situation, and if nothing else I’m grateful Ron has you in his life and seems to have a great deal more responsibility than his own mother.
Q. My best friend is suicidal and two states away: I just finished my freshman year of college, and so did one of my best friends from home, “Max.” He has struggled with mental illness, self-harm, and suicidal ideation for as long as I’ve known him, and has self-diagnosed with BPD. He’s been posting a lot of incredibly worrying things on Facebook lately, about disassociating almost constantly and wanting to kill himself and most recently, a post about how he should have gone through with it last week. I don’t know what to do. His family moved two states away after graduation, and telling his parents isn’t an option. They’re part of the problem: Both are incredibly abusive. They actively belittle Max for his gender and sexual identity (he’s queer and trans) and won’t help him get help for his mental illnesses. I’m terrified he’s going to kill himself, but I don’t know how to help. He goes to a large state college where his family moved, and dorming isn’t an option because of money. What can I do? I’m really worried about him. I’ve reached out and let Max know that I’m always here for him, and that I care about him a lot, but I feel like that isn’t enough.
A: First, I’d encourage Max to learn more about his rights to confidentially access mental health services on campus; the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has a useful primer on the subject. If he’s of age, he does not need parental permission to see an on-campus counselor. The fact that his BPD is self-diagnosed is concerning and suggests that he has not been thoroughly evaluated by a medical professional. He can also seek out peer counseling at his college’s LGBT center—most state colleges have one. Both you and Max should contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for further support; there’s also the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. All Trans Lifeline operators are trans-identified and have experience with suicidality. They focus on harm reduction, peer intervention, and only contact emergency services with the caller’s explicit consent. If you see Max making a credible real-time threat to harm himself, you may also consider calling emergency services in his town. There are multiple short- and long-term options to improve Max’s health and well-being, and he’ll likely need a combination of all of them.
But the most crucial thing for you to bear in mind here is that you are not a medically effective treatment for mental illness or suicidal depression. No friend, however loving, is an adequate replacement for mental health services, for therapy, for psychiatry, for medication. You cannot be—and should not try to be—all things to him. That doesn’t mean you can’t help Max access necessary services, nor does it mean you can’t provide him with meaningful support during this incredibly painful time, but it should serve as a necessary reminder that you are not the only thing standing in between Max and total despair.
Q. Pops, I’m poly: I’m struggling with whether or not to tell my family that my wife and I are in a polyamorous relationship with another person. On one hand, it seems like a sex-life overshare for dear old dad. On the other, this is an important part of our lives, and I’m very close with my parents and siblings. For what it’s worth, they are progressive people, but may initially find this news upsetting. I feel like I’m growing more distant from my family because I can’t reveal this, but it doesn’t seem fair to put the weight of my secret on their shoulders. My wife and our partner are supportive of my decision either way.
A: How long have you and your wife been with this partner? Do you live together? Are they a part of your everyday life? Do you generally make plans for the future as a group, or are you still figuring out the long-term nature of your relationship? The answers to those questions are fairly significant in determining when (not necessarily whether) you decide to have this conversation with your immediate family.
It sounds like coming out would be a relevant disclosure about the most significant relationships in your life, not merely a nonessential sex update. That’s a worthwhile reason to come out, in my opinion, but that doesn’t mean you should do so tomorrow with no consideration for how this news may affect you and your partners. Consider what relevant details you do (and don’t!) want to share with your family. Discuss it beforehand with both your partners, and figure out if there’s anything they’re not comfortable with you sharing with your family. Choose a neutral time (not a major holiday or someone else’s birthday) to broach the subject, and come up with a quick elevator pitch for why this arrangement is so meaningful to you and why you wanted to share it with your family. That’s also a good opportunity to clear up any common misconceptions you fear they might have.
If staying closeted and hiding one of your partners from your family is making you feel isolated and withdrawn, and if you see this person as an integral part of your life and your marriage, then I think you have good cause to come out. Take your time, figure out what you do and don’t want to say, and remember that even if your family is progressive, it might take a while for them to adjust. They might ask some questions that feel more than a little cringe-inducing or uncomfortable, and you’ll need to figure out what you are and aren’t ready to discuss with them. But it’s still very much worth doing! Good luck.
Q. Guns at a wedding: We hope my brother-in-law will attend our daughter’s wedding, but we fear that he will bring his handgun. He recently commented on social media that he will “never go anywhere without my gun on my person.” The invitations were sent before this comment was made. He has said that he plans to attend the wedding. (The wedding will be out of town, both for us and for my BIL, and is being held at a city park.) Should my husband speak to him? Should we write him a letter expressing our hope that he is present, but that his gun is not welcome? His sister has offered to talk with him as she, too, does not want him to bring a gun. She visited him recently and observed that even when attending his small, rural church he carries his gun at his waist in an unsecured holster. He’s just one of those people who doesn’t want anyone touching his guns. We really don’t want the presence of a gun to spoil our daughter’s wedding!
A: It is a reasonable request to ask wedding guests not to bring guns to the ceremony. It should come from the bride- and groom-to-be, and needs no further justification than “We don’t want guns at our wedding; please don’t bring yours with you.” If your daughter would like you and your husband to back them up, you certainly should, but let them make the official request.
Q. Is honesty the best policy?: I am in a happy, healthy relationship with my boyfriend of five months. Everything is perfect except that we have very different sex drives (his high, mine low). He is always respectful if I really don’t want to, and most times I don’t mind it at all; it feels nice and it makes me happy when he is happy. However, I can tell he is sometimes disappointed that I don’t ever really really “want it.” He says he wants me to experience pleasure, and is determined to do that, but it just doesn’t work. I’m fine with this but I can tell it makes him sad. So my question is, do I start being a little less honest with him and pretend to really enjoy it/want it to make him feel better? Or do I continue to be honest as he insists and see him disappointed in himself? Since we’ve already talked about my situation to a large extent, I feel like “faking it” may be less of a lie and more of a thing you do because you care about him. I’m just not sure what to do.
A: You’re only five months into this relationship. Here’s how you’ve described your sex life: You “don’t mind it at all,” he’s sometimes disappointed, you’re happy when he’s happy, and his desire to bring you pleasure “just doesn’t work.” The most positive thing you have to say about the sex you two are having is that it “feels nice.” That’s not a ringing endorsement of your sexual compatibility, and I’m afraid if you start feigning enthusiasm you don’t really feel, you’re only going to find yourself feeling more alienated from one another. If your boyfriend starts to think you’re genuinely enjoying having sex with him more often, while in reality you’re just going along to get along, what’s going to happen six months or two years from now when pretending to have a great time feels less like a minor inconvenience and more like a total chore?
I’m more than a little concerned that you think faking enthusiasm is something you “ought” to do because you care about your boyfriend because you’ve “already talked about [your] situation to a large extent.” That suggests you think of your natural sexual preferences as an error to be corrected, or that you somehow owe your boyfriend something merely because you two have spent some time discussing your respective levels of desire. That is, in fact, something that should be completely normal and expected in all of your romantic relationships! It is a feature and not a bug.
It’s always difficult when an otherwise great relationship is affected by a significant difference in desire or libido, but the answer to that challenge is not for one of the partners to start pretending they want sex any more or less than they actually do. If you two can reach a workable compromise that reasonably satisfies you both, that’s great—but honesty about what you want is a necessary precondition. If you two can’t, it’s better to find that out now and part ways amicably rather than get yourself roped into a showy production of simulated desire that’s ultimately completely unsustainable.
Q. Re: Pants on fire: Even if the faker gets a job, she may never know when the company may decide to check up on their employees. The company that I work for decided to verify degrees on all current employees, and I found myself being asked for my college diploma or transcript after having worked there for several years. Fortunately, I did not fake that or anything else, but I would bet they caught people. I also had to produce those after an internal job transfer was approved, so you never know when your past might catch up with you if you fake things.
A: Right! Even if the friend in question does land their “dream job,” they’ve now got the sword of Damocles hanging over their head. If your friend doesn’t seem concerned about the ethics of the situation, stress that this is a decision that could come back to bite them in the ass at any point for the remainder of their career. It’s not worth it.
Q. Should I go to this wedding and end a friendship?: A friend going back several years is getting married. We have not been as close recently, and I do not care for her husband-to-be or his friends. I care about her but can’t help but feel that she is constantly creating situations where she will be disappointed by her friendships. The most recent is her telling me that, because accommodations are limited, I would need to share a room at the hotel where the wedding is with another “friend” everyone despises (including by her own admission, the bride) but that it was OK if I couldn’t make it. Is this stressed-out bride behavior, or should I use this as an opportunity to formally change the nature of our relationship?
A: It’s definitely odd, let’s go with that. The spouses-to-be might reserve a block of hotel rooms for guests to take advantage of if they like, but it’s not standard wedding etiquette for the bride to dictate their sleeping arrangements. I’m sure accommodations are scarce, but it’s hard to imagine a wedding location so remote that there is not a single other room in town you could possibly stay in. If you’d rather not bunk with someone you hate, feel enormously free to tell the bride that you’ll find your own accommodations but look forward to seeing her at the wedding. Or, since she’s taking the sort-of-extraordinary step of suggesting an invited guest withdraw their RSVP, if you’d really rather not go (and feel comfortable downgrading your friendship accordingly), go ahead and take her up on her offer, wish her the best, and start texting her dates for a lunch to “catch up after your honeymoon” that both of you will miss and reschedule for the rest of your natural lives.
Q. Re: Is honesty the best policy?: Hi—I’m the OP, I definitely have considered your exact advice. However, I should clarify when I say low sex drive, I feel as though I’m borderline asexual. I’ve never had that compatibility with anyone, and this current boyfriend is about the closest I’ve felt with anyone. This has always been an issue for me but with everything else so good (while he wishes I were able to experience pleasure, he’s certainly happy with our sex life), I don’t want to end it just for this.
A: The good news is that “breaking up right now without further discussion” is definitely not your only, best, or first option. Compatibility is dependent—to no small extent—upon honesty. It’s worth telling your boyfriend that you feel borderline asexual if only because it is good and desirable for partners to know one another’s deepest thoughts, feelings, and preferences. This is meaningful information that a good boyfriend would, I think, want to have. If there’s a meaningful compromise to be found here, it will require an honest self-disclosure to serve as a foundation for conversation. Your boyfriend is already aware you have a comparatively low sex drive, and he doesn’t seem inclined to break up with you over the issue. You find sex with him (at least) pleasant, you’re willing to have sex more often than you might personally feel inclined to in order to meet him in the middle—I don’t think you have to lie in order to get what you want out of this relationship. Trust that you two can have a frank conversation about sex without immediately splitting up.