Dear Prudence

Driving Me Crazy

I love my husband, but I fear for my life when he drives.

Mallory Ortberg
Mallory Ortberg

Sam Breach

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Dear Prudence,
For medical reasons, I cannot drive. Happily, my husband enjoys driving and can be counted on to get us where we need to go. I’m very fortunate; he never complains, and he’s a very skilled driver. Unfortunately, he’s not a safe driver. He always pushes the speed limit, frequently at dangerously high speeds of over 100 mph. He perceives other drivers as threats and aggressively weaves through traffic to outmaneuver them. He’s been involved in no shortage of road-rage close calls as a result, even with me in the car screaming at him, begging him, pleading with him to slow down.

More than once, I’ve genuinely feared for my life and called 911, but I hung up when he slowed down. This is the only way his anger manifests, but when it does, it is truly terrifying. He’s put my life, and the lives of other people on the road, at risk of death more times than I can count. We’ve fought so many times over this. I’ve brought it up while he’s driving, while he’s not driving, while we’re having dinner, in “we need to talk”–style conversations. I’ve cried. He’s made half-hearted promises to change but never followed through.

I love him. He’s the only man I’ve ever been with who otherwise completely “gets” me. He’s supportive of me in all my endeavors. Our physical chemistry is great. I don’t want to leave him. But I also don’t have the option of taking over the driver’s seat, and I don’t want to die in a fiery car crash. The fact that he dismisses my fears and tells me I’m overreacting when all of our friends are terrified of his driving just strikes me as a terrible disconnect. How can I make him see that the risks that he takes as a driver are unacceptable, once and for all?

—Terrified Passenger

Do not ever get in a car with your husband behind the wheel again. You have tried a number of approaches to get your husband to change his behavior, and they’ve all had the same net effect—nothing. All you can do at this point is consider your own welfare. If your husband is risking your life to such an extent that you find yourself dialing 911, and he has repeatedly demonstrated that he won’t change the way he drives, it would be dangerous and unwise to ever ride as his passenger again. Since you cannot drive yourself, making alternate arrangements may prove inconvenient and expensive, especially at first, but this is a stand worth taking. Do not allow your husband to dismiss or ridicule you into getting back into the car with him. You do not need to convince him you are being reasonable. He does not have to agree with you.

If a script would help you, try this: “I’ve called 911 repeatedly as a passenger in your car. You regularly drive over 100 miles per hour, start fights with other drivers, and drive so aggressively I’ve feared for my life. I’ve tried reasoning with you. I’ve tried pleading with you. I’ve tried everything in between, and nothing’s worked. All I can do is to refuse to get in the car with you, because I no longer trust that you will take my safety into account when you drive.” This is not a short-term strategy until he unbends and promises to change—he’s made it clear he can’t be trusted, so don’t trust him. Of course you don’t want to leave him—if you did, you would have already—but reconsider whether or not the “great” physical chemistry or the fact that he’s supportive of your “other endeavors” could ever make up for the fact that he’s likely to get you killed.

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Dear Prudence,
In February I had a manic episode and was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. During my mania I sent a colleague a romantic message (to which he sent a terse reply), followed by a couple of aggressive emails. While I was in the hospital I sent him messages apologizing for my behavior, and after I’d been out for a month, I sent him a letter. I haven’t heard from him at all.

I am torn because I don’t know how he feels. What can I do to forgive myself for my mania if he has no interest in forgiving me?

—Letting Go of Bipolar Behavior

I’m glad to hear that you’re getting the medical care and support you need. Managing a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is a difficult prospect, and you should give yourself credit for the work you’ve done to take care of yourself. That said, you say you don’t know how this colleague feels, but I think he’s made himself very clear. He replied once in a way that made it obvious he did not want to invite further conversation and has declined to answer any of your subsequent attempts at communication. He doesn’t want to talk to you, and you have to respect that. You cannot atone for excessive, unwanted demonstrations of romantic interest by offering him excessive, unwanted demonstrations of your contrition. It never feels good to remember that there is someone out there in the world who may not think well of us, but you cannot control his feelings. You have already apologized, and now the best thing you can do for him is nothing.

When these feelings crop up, remind yourself of this: “Before my diagnosis and treatment, I harmed my colleague by refusing to respect his boundaries or grant him privacy. Now that I am being treated, I can continue to make amends to him by leaving him alone. Not contacting him is the best way to take care of myself and do right by him.”

* * *

Dear Prudence,
My husband is in the process of coming out as trans. This means that I, a heretofore assumed straight male, am also coming out as bisexual. I’m so happy that this is something that my partner and I can experience together. But I am dreading coming out to my image-obsessed mother. My mom is a truth-suppression machine. As a teenager, she compelled me to live with the secret of my father’s arrest for sex crimes. When I was in college, I made the mistake of being honest with her about my atheism, which led to her attempt to manipulate and even intimidate me into hiding this as well. Truth be told, she succeeded in part. Although I told a few friends and family members, against her wishes, it was almost two years before I went public. She felt free to tell anyone she felt like talking to. But I was supposed to take these “shameful” secrets to my grave.

My mother’s family is hostile to the LGBT community, and I have little doubt that her reaction to the dual revelations that her daughter-in-law is actually her son-in-law, and yes, her son is equally happy being married to another man, will be to try to sweep everything under the rug. Our relationship is barely starting to mend as things are. I won’t be able forgive her for this again, especially since she hasn’t asked for forgiveness for the last two times she did this to me, although I told her very clearly how I had been hurt. I am desperate for any way to forestall her knee-jerk reaction, but I can’t not tell my family forever. What should I do?

—Happy With Him, Not Sure About Her

You have at least the gift of clarity going into this third round with your mother. You cannot hide or disguise your partner’s transition, and you have no interest in throwing him under the bus in order to preserve the family peace. Even though you’ve likely accurately predicted your mother’s reaction, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing the right thing first. Tell her that your partner is transitioning, that you’re staying with him (and happily, bisexually married), and that you’re available to answer any questions she may have. If she asks you to sweep this under the rug, you can tell her that simply won’t be possible. It seems that the likeliest outcome will be that your mother will react badly, and you’ll have to take a step back from your relationship with her—possibly for a short time, possibly indefinitely. As painful as the prospect seems now, it will be better to dive right in and tell the truth and let the chips fall where they may. There’s simply no alternative—you can’t possibly keep your husband’s transition from your mother, and it’s better for her to hear about it from you than from anyone else.

* * *

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Dear Prudence,
Over the past year I became friends with a colleague, “Brunhilda.” We occasionally go for drinks after work and more recently have begun doing things on weekends. She seemed fun, if a bit self-absorbed, and I sometimes found it frustrating that a one-hour project took two because she had to interject lots of discussion about her personal life while we worked. It annoyed me that she never respected my schedule (even when I was very clear about other commitments), but I mostly enjoyed her company and the work got done eventually. I took a week off this August, and when I found out Brunhilda was taking a road trip near my beach house that same week, I invited her to stay for a night. Somewhat unexpectedly, my boyfriend and I decided to get engaged the night before she arrived.

My parents live nearby and had invited the three of us over to a summer party the next day. My fiancé and I agreed we would tell them after the party because he had to leave later that evening. We pulled my parents aside in a private part of the house as things were winding down and had a really happy, emotional moment that was quickly interrupted when Brunhilda burst in and announced, verbatim, “I am going to be here now.” It should have been obvious that she was interrupting us, but she just stood staring at us. When I told her we had decided to get married, she just said, “Cool,” and seemed to expect to be included in our family embrace. She has never met my family before. Since we were not interested in group-hugging her, we disbanded and went back to party cleanup. She also stayed more than a day past our agreed upon departure without asking, and I had to force her to leave. I will definitely distance myself from her going forward, but my fiancé, parents, and I are all distressed by her intrusion into a special moment that really cannot be replicated. How can I focus on the happy minute we had together and not feel like the overriding memory we all have is of her boorishness?

—Building Up the Ramparts

There is no lasting harm done. You, your fiancé, and your parents are free to celebrate your engagement as often as you like from now until your wedding day. There is no reason to continually revisit “the happy minute” you all had together when there are (presumably) countless happy minutes in your future now that you plan on making this man a part of your family.

The real lesson here, I think, is to figure out why you have repeatedly encouraged Brunhilda’s intimacies with your family when the kindest thing you can say about her is that she seems “fun, if a bit self-absorbed.” You not only invited her to spend the night with you at your beach bungalow, but you also invited her to come along to a party at your parents’ house. Yes, her response to the news of your engagement was tone-deaf and rude, but you could (and should) have said, “This is a private family moment. Please excuse us and we’ll be back out with you in a few minutes,” rather than staring blankly at her and disbanding when she failed to get the hint. Brunhilda is, quite clearly, not the type to take a hint, and you should abandon that strategy when dealing with her.

The best thing you can do with this lingering sense of irritation is to use it to bolster yourself in future encounters with Brunhilda. Remind yourself that she is self-absorbed and bad at reading (or prone to willfully misinterpreting!) basic social cues, and do not invite her to spend the night with you or to any family functions. If she doesn’t respect your schedule even after you’ve made it clear you’re committed elsewhere, start cutting your time with her short or asking her to leave your office. Consider being blunt with Brunhilda as good practice for the sort of direct, clear communication you’ll need in order to plan a wedding with a lot of competing interests and squabbling family members. This is a practice that will serve you well for the rest of your life.

* * *

Dear Prudence,
I recently got new health insurance (a bare-bones HMO plan). I want to get the birth control arm implant, but none of the doctors in my network offer this procedure, nor will my insurance authorize me to go elsewhere to get it done. I can get the pill or an IUD for free under my insurance, but I’ve had a lot of problems with IUDs before and hate taking a pill every day and making frequent visits to the pharmacy. I want something long-term that I can “set and forget.” I could pay out of pocket for the implant at a Planned Parenthood, but it would cost $800. I could dip into my savings to make it work, but it would hurt. My long-term boyfriend makes more than twice what I do, and I know if I asked him outright to help pay for half, he’d oblige, but I don’t know if that’s a reasonable request. I know not having a baby is worth well over $400 to him, but since I could technically afford it, it feels like mooching. Should I suck it up and pay for it myself or ask him to chip in?

—Babies Ain’t Cheap, Either

Ask him to pay for half. Birth control is something that meaningfully affects both parties in this long-term relationship, and there’s no reason you should shoulder the entire cost. It’s a perfectly reasonable request, and since you already think he’ll be happy to contribute, you should make it with a clear conscience.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m a 22-year-old college dropout who has been struggling to get my life on track. Last year, after I moved across the country to a city where my cousin lives, my car broke down. My cousin offered to pay for it, since I couldn’t afford the repairs, and we worked out a repayment plan. Some months later, I ended up moving back home—during which time my car broke down again and this time couldn’t be saved. My cousin let me take a break from making payments as I bought another car. Then he won more than half a million dollars at a casino.

He knew I was still in no shape to pay off the repairs any time soon, and he said he didn’t want me to pay him money I didn’t have for a car I didn’t have. I asked him if he was sure, and he insisted I not finish paying him back. He’s one of the most rational people I know, so I know this wasn’t impulsive or about showing off. Though I hope to be able to pay him back eventually, this removal of urgency has been a huge relief for me.

The problem is that some family members who are aware of the situation think it’s horrible that I’m taking him at his word and are adamant that I should still be consistently paying him back. If I could, I would, but I’m still living paycheck to paycheck, and I’m just glad that this reprieve has allowed me to clear up a few hospital bills. Am I doing the wrong thing by waiting until I’m more secure financially to pay him back—which he isn’t even expecting me to do—or am I just making excuses?

—Payback Machine

The person you once owed money has told you that you no longer owe him money. His is the only opinion on the subject that matters, and if your other relatives are jealous of his (and your) good luck, that’s their problem. Frankly, it’s none of their business. Your cousin doesn’t need the money and has told you not to pay him back. You do need the money and should set aside whatever you can to start a savings account or buy a new car or take care of your hospital bills or whatever other financial goals you may have. Your cousin didn’t tell you to take your time paying him back. He told you to consider the debt forgiven, and I think you should.

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