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 voice mail 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: Good morning, everyone! Let’s chat.
Q. That’s not what I had in mind: I come from the Houston area and have been heartbroken about the damage and scenes from Harvey. I decided to donate $250 and asked my girlfriend if she would match it. She agreed, and then when I asked if she had given to the Red Cross or someone else, I learned that she donated to the Humane Society. I know she’s absolutely nuts about animals, especially our own dogs, but to give to animals when people are in trouble seems heartless to me. She’s much more politically active than I am, and I finally asked if she did that to avoid the possibility of giving money to someone who voted for Trump, and she admitted that was one of the reasons. I think that’s awful, and we’ve been fighting about it ever since. She thinks as a gay woman I should see her side, but I just can’t. There are good people everywhere, and she went out of her way to avoid helping. We’ve been fighting about this ever since. Who is right?
A: It took me a few times to parse this letter, because at first I thought your girlfriend was somehow concerned that someone in the Red Cross might have voted for Trump, but it sounds like she is actually reluctant to support human flood victims on the off chance that they may have voted for him, which is nonsensical and unconscionable. “As a society, we should help victims of natural disasters” is a complete sentence that does not require additional clauses, addenda, or stipulations. This is worth fighting with your girlfriend about, and you should strongly oppose her bizarre moral calculus.
There are numerous ways to support the Red Cross’ relief efforts: You can text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a one-time $10 donation, visit redcross.org, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. The Center for International Disaster Information recommends donating cash over supplies in the wake of a national disaster because it comes with “no transportation costs, shipping delays, or customs fees. It also enables relief organizations to spend more time providing aid by spending less time managing goods.” You can also donate to local food banks, shelters, and other organizations; there’s a longer list here.
Q. Parents helped sibling buy condo: My brother’s seven years younger. He quit high school, could never keep a job, and stole from them until he was in his 20s. I got top grades in university and went to grad school. My parents helped him buy a condo about 10 years ago—and told me they couldn’t afford to also help me get into one but would someday (I was busy then paying off student loans). Since then, prices here have more than tripled, and I can’t afford to get into the market, but his condo is nearly paid off. My parents have since retired and say all their money is locked in investments.
I can’t get over it. It really shouldn’t bother me—but it does, pretty much every day. I feel like a whiny, spoiled brat. How do I get over this?
A: At the risk of sounding like a total cliché, I think this is about more than just the condo. One of the sadder themes of this column is how often parental favoritism has painful repercussions for their children their whole lives long. However you decide to deal with this emotional sticking point—whether that be therapy, limiting your contact with your parents, or whatever else—I think the most important thing to bear in mind is that your parents are unlikely to change and that they have long favored your brother over you, and that hurts. It’s a simple, painful truth, and it’s not one that’s easy to come to terms with. Whatever your financial future looks like, it’s going to be one that comes without assistance from them. That’s a loss, to be sure, but you’ve also got things your brother doesn’t and never will. You’re self-sufficient, and you’ve built a life that doesn’t require frequent bailouts from your parents.
Q. Dutiful but dull: I don’t want to feel this way, but I think that my relationship with my girlfriend is failing. We don’t seem to enjoy each other’s company anymore, she resents my long hours at work, and I resent her lack of interest in getting out to do stuff when we have free time together.
The problem is that she has done so much for me. She came out to her family for me (this year her mom called on her birthday—three years that took), we moved to this city because I got a job, and she supported me when I had a small cancer thing (it was fine! I’m fine! She was great!). Now I feel like I can’t be the one to start breakup proceedings. What sort of terrible human being breaks up with someone who has done all that for them?
A: Your girlfriend came out to her family for herself. You may have acted as a fulcrum in that decision, but the person who directly benefited from that particular coming-out was your girlfriend. It was not an act of charity directed at you; it was a necessary part of her own individuation. There is no need for you to consider that a reason you are now not permitted to end your relationship with her.
We stay in relationships because we love our significant others and want to be with them—not because we look back at a laundry list of credits and debits and decide we owe them more than they owe us. The fact that your girlfriend has been supportive while you were sick or that the two of you decided as a couple to move together does not mean you have to stay together forever. Breaking up is not a referendum on whether she has been a good girlfriend to you.
That doesn’t mean you should dump her tomorrow, either. If you haven’t even talked about the fact that you two are starting to resent each other, then what needs to come first is a frank conversation about what’s not working, and that will never happen as long as you feel like you’re not “allowed” to be honest about your feelings with her. The worst possible thing you could do is continue to stay silent while internally pulling away and checking out of this relationship in the hopes that your girlfriend ends things for you. That will only increase your feelings of guilt and cause her unnecessary pain and bewilderment. You need to have this conversation with her—you owe it to her, and to yourself, and to do anything less out of a misplaced sense of guilt would be a serious mistake. You’re not a terrible person. You’re in a bad relationship. Whether you two can improve things or decide to ultimately part ways, it’s only going to come about if you’re honest with her and yourself.
Q. Missing the party: About a month ago I received a text message about an upcoming bachelor party for a close friend. Due to my own forgetfulness and being quite busy with grad school and work, I forgot all about it and didn’t reply. I completely forgot about it until the day before the event, when the groom told me that something was planned for him the next day, but he didn’t know what. I contacted the person planning the event to see if it was too late for me to attend and sadly discovered that it was.
I know that I am to blame for not responding to the event, but I’m feeling a little annoyed at the planner. One text? That was all I got. Doesn’t a bachelor party require a little bit of effort on the organizer’s part to coordinate with friends (a group email, or at least a second text to remind the person)? In addition, my partner is equally good friends with the groom and didn’t get a message at all (only a mention in my first text). Now both of us are missing a very good friend’s bachelor party because of one missed text. Does this land squarely on my shoulders? I’m feeling angry, but maybe I am just mad at myself for forgetting.
A: I think you are mostly just mad at yourself for forgetting! It’s very rare in life that we are 100 percent wrong while someone else is 100 percent right, but don’t let the fact that there are always imperfect scores to be doled out on all sides obscure the pertinent fact, which is that you failed to respond to the initial invitation. It would have been great if the organizer had followed up with a reminder, but the primary breakdown in communication originated with you, and no subsequent rudeness on anyone else’s part can change that fact. You missed out on something you wanted to attend because you didn’t prioritize it. I can certainly sympathize! That’s happened to me. Let the sting of missing out propel you to change the way you respond to future invitations.
Q. Move: My husband wants to take a job across the country. We have moved so much that I just don’t want to move again. We have four kids who are happy here. I know that in a year or two he will just want to move again. My kids haven’t even been to one school for more than a year. What should I do?
A: Can you tell us a little more about why your husband has moved you and your family so often? Is it the nature of his career, or does he seem to suffer from frequent wanderlust? Is there anything wrong with the job he has now? Are you financially stable where you’re living? It certainly sounds like, absent a very pressing reason to move again, you and your children would all benefit greatly from staying put for at least a few years. Can you talk to your husband about the many reasons you might have for staying?
Q. Re: That’s not what I had in mind: For the woman who’s upset about her girlfriend donating to the Humane Society instead of helping people, keep in mind that they are the ones rescuing and housing pets that are not allowed in emergency shelters, which is a huge help to pet owners—many of whom consider pets as family members. There are plenty of organizations that help people in need; don’t begrudge those that help beloved animals that might otherwise be left to starve or drown.
A: Oh, it’s absolutely laudable to help animals as well as people during a time of crisis. The fact that the letter writer’s girlfriend supported the Humane Society certainly isn’t a problem, but I imagine the letter writer picked up on a certain reluctance or discomfort in talking about helping humans, which is why she asked the question in the first place. It’s a pretty serious sticking point to disagree about whether one has an obligation to help victims of a natural disaster (if one is in a position to do so) based on their ideology or possible past behavior.
Q. Bull in a china cupboard: Recently, while visiting my friend “Nancy,” I was chatting with her while she put away dishes from the dishwasher. At one point I noticed that she’d left a cupboard door open, so I helpfully closed it. She then turned around with her arms full of plates, for some reason expected the cabinet door to be open, and clumsily dropped some of the dishes. I honestly thought she was done in that cupboard and helped her clean up the mess. I also suggested that next time she put things away one or two pieces at a time so that she could keep the doors neatly shut in between. Nancy never complained to me but must have told our friend “Paul” because he told me that I owed Nancy an apology and should offer to pay for her broken dishware. I admit that open cabinets and drawers are a pet peeve of mine, but I find it ridiculous that I should apologize or pay for attempting to be helpful. Do I owe Nancy anything here?
A: I don’t know that I have a formal, official ruling here—you were trying to be helpful, but closing a cabinet door while someone else is in the middle of unloading the dishwasher is not practically helpful. You say that “for some reason” Nancy expected the cabinet door to be open when she turned around with an armful of dishes; the reason is that she left the cabinet door open mere moments ago—she had a very good reason for expecting it to stay open!
Why don’t you speak directly to Nancy about this, if you’re unsure of what she wants? Maybe she told Paul herself that she’s angry with you and wants an apology, or maybe she merely mentioned what happened to Paul and he decided you owed her repayment. The only way to find out what Nancy thinks is to ask her directly—although I don’t recommend (for obvious reasons) that you start with, “Nancy, I find it ridiculous that I should have to apologize to you. Do you want me to apologize?”
For what it’s worth, apologizing doesn’t mean you have to don a hairshirt and take full responsibility for what happened. It was an accident, and just because you’re sorry that you (however indirectly) contributed to the dropped dishes, it does not also follow that you think you were being wholly rude or irresponsible. If you don’t want to offer to pay for new dishes, then don’t make the offer, although it would be a kind gesture between friends.
The one thing I would advise you to reconsider is what you did after Nancy dropped the dishes. You don’t describe apologizing in a general sense (“Oh, how awful! I’m so sorry.”) or helping her to clean up, just that you offered her unsolicited advice about how to put her own dishes away. If you like closing and reopening cabinets repeatedly while you unload your own dishwasher, that’s your affair, but others don’t, and there’s certainly no one right way to put away dishes. Next time you’re visiting a friend who’s doing chores, if you want to be useful to her, ask her if there’s anything you can do to help—don’t decide you know what she should be doing better and make the decision for her.
Q. Re: Missing the party: The “invitation” to the bachelor party was a single text? That’s hardly an invitation. When you’re not glued to your phone 24/7, texts are ridiculously easy to miss or forget about, especially if you have a lot on your plate (like grad school). The organizer should have called, made a Facebook invite, or sent out an email or paper invitations. Forgetfulness on the letter writer’s part, but bad event-planning on the organizer’s part.
A: It’s possible the organizer did send out an email or Facebook invite to everyone who responded to the initial text, and it’s possible the organizer was more than a little slapdash about getting everyone together. The point, I think, is that while it might feel easier to focus on what the organizer could or should have done differently, (say it with me) the only person’s behavior the letter writer can change is his or her own.