Dear Prudence

Help Not Wanted

Prudie counsels a letter writer who’s embarrassed to use government-sponsored insurance.

Woman getting her blood pressure checked.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat. 

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Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, comrades! Let’s begin the work.

Q. Ashamed of going on Medicare: I have an autoimmune disease that causes me to suffer from brain fog and terrible fatigue. This makes it very tough for me to work a full-time job or even a part-time job outside the home. I am in my early 50s, own my car and house, don’t have any debt, earned a fair amount for my retirement, and have a pretty nice life.

But since I have not worked since March of last year, I can’t afford to buy health insurance and did not have income to qualify for assistance. Buying insurance outside of the Affordable Care Act would have eaten too much of my life savings. So I applied for Medicare.

My issue is that I am so embarrassed that I have to use the program. I feel doctors will judge me for being on Medicare. I don’t want to tell my friends or (upper-middle-class) family, and don’t want to ask for their support. I do qualify for food stamps and other assistance, but I am making the decision not to accept the other assistance.

I am questioning why I am so embarrassed because I strongly believe we should have national health care and if anyone needs it, they should have it—just not me! (I have applied for Social Security disability, but I have a different view that it is acceptable because I am sick.) What do you think?

A: I can understand your embarrassment, given common attitudes toward work, value, and who should receive health care in this country, but I don’t share it. Your taxes have likely contributed to FICA throughout your career, which means you’ve contributed to Medicare, and are now receiving some of the services you’ve helped to fund. You certainly don’t have to discuss the details of your health care plans with anyone you don’t wish to, and I hope your experience with doctors on Medicare will be positive and respectful.

I think that sick people should receive treatment regardless of their income. I think access to health care should not depend upon an individual’s ability to work. I think you qualify and applied for Medicare, so you should receive Medicare. That’s about it from me!

Q. Married a long time but want to divorce: This may sound crazy, but I do not know how to get a divorce. I have been married for 40 years, our daughters are grown and out of the house, and we’ve been living as roommates for 10 years. We get along well as friends but not as a married couple. I feel desperate for something better, even if it is being happily alone.

I have consulted divorce lawyers on my own, gotten advice, and we’re finally at a point of retirement with Social Security and Medicare all figured out. My spouse knows I want out—I’ve never wavered on this—and yet is unwilling to make a move.

How does one do this? Sell a house, file for divorce, and move on?

A: That sounds about right to me! If your spouse isn’t going to file for divorce, then you should file yourself, preferably with the help of one of those divorce lawyers you’ve consulted. It would be tiresome, I’d imagine, to deal with a spouse who agrees that a divorce is best but then does nothing to help facilitate it—but that’s probably one of the reasons you want to divorce them in the first place. It’s probably best to assume that you’re not going to get a lot of help from your soon-to-be-ex in making the process run easier or faster, so assume you’ll have to take each step by yourself and without support. But file right now! Move out as soon as you find a reasonable alternative. Put the house on the market as soon as you’re able. Enjoy the next part of your life.

Q. Vacation without Dad?: My husband has a variety of mental health issues that make it difficult for him to enjoy being around crowds of people, being in a car/train/airplane for more than a couple of hours, sleeping in strange beds, et cetera. Even though he is getting treatment, our family vacations the last two summers have been a living hell for all of us. His depression kept him in the hotel while we went to a museum and his anxiety kept him in the car while we went to a theme park. I planned the trip to not have to drive more than three hours at a time, but he didn’t like the routes I planned and then got angry when his routes took twice as long.

Our kids have started talking about ideas for this summer’s vacation. Their No. 1 idea starts with a cross-country plane trip and ends with four nights on a train home. When I mentioned that their father probably wouldn’t enjoy that trip, one of the kids said, “Can we just leave Dad at home?” My husband said he’d be happier staying at home—he might do a backpacking trip with a friend or get some gardening projects done—but I feel guilty about planning such an awesome trip without him. And after three years of therapy and medications, shouldn’t he be better enough to handle a trip?

A: When it comes to your last question: No, not necessarily. Mental illness can be treated with therapy and medication, not solved. It’s wonderful that your husband has been receiving steady treatment, and it may be that at some point you two decide there’s something worth changing about his regimen, but therapy and medication are not a guarantee that someone will function according to an arbitrary standard like “enjoying Disneyland” in three years.

If your husband says he’d prefer to skip the long vacation this year, and the kids sound happy too, then I don’t think there’s anything wrong with your proposed solution. You’re not talking about excluding him from a majority of family activities; you’re acknowledging that a certain type of trip just isn’t enjoyable for him.

That said, be sure to check in with your husband and make sure he’s genuinely comfortable at the prospect of taking separate vacations this year. You might consider future trips, at least short ones, that don’t require big crowds or plane travel.

Q: Re: Ashamed of going on Medicare: I went through this too when my kid was born. I was working retail, but there was no way my insurance with them would cover everything. I felt so ashamed to be one of “those” moms.

But you know what? It helped me get to a better place. You paid into the system too before you got sick. You’re just pulling your investment. And then, when or if you get better, you can pay back into it or pay back in other ways. It’s nothing shameful to pull on your own account, right?

A: I’m so glad that you were able to get the help you needed to take care of your family. Thanks for sharing this.

Q. Fiancé is jealous of my promotion: I just got a rather large promotion at work that I’ve been working toward for a long time. At first my fiancé gave me a half-hearted congrats and insisted he was happy for me. But over the course of a few days, he became depressed, angry, and starting taking jabs at me for no reason. I finally asked what the issue was and he admitted that he was jealous of my promotion.

He has a great job, and while I will make fairly more money than he does, I always have made more money. His job has predictable hours and much better benefits. When he was promoted a while back I was genuinely happy for him—I saw it as our success, not just his. He sees this as a competition that he has lost.

It hurts a lot because I want him to be happy for me. I don’t gloat or shove it in his face, but I think I’m entitled to celebrate a bit. All of my friends are overjoyed, even one who just got laid off with no job in sight. Am I wrong to feel hurt? How can’t he see this is good for both of us?

A: You are not wrong to feel hurt that your boyfriend is upset that you have been promoted—not just upset, but sulking to such a childish degree that he was unable even to fake a realistic “Congratulations” when he first heard the news. Moreover, he didn’t come out and admit what was troubling him, nor did he seek to rid himself of such dishonorable, uncharitable sentiments. He threw pointed little backhanded remarks your way until you had to ask him what was bothering him. That’s petty, cowardly, unsupportive, myopic, and mediocre.

A partner who cannot enjoy your own success is not much of a partner. This is a pretty significant issue of character, and not something that I think you should rush to find excuses for or paper over. You say you’ve been working toward this for a long time—does that mean this entire time he’s been hoping you wouldn’t get it? What if something else good happens to you someday? Is your relationship dependent upon his always outperforming you, and if so, what does that say about how much he values you as a partner and an equal?

This is a significant problem, and your fiancé needs to snap out of it, apologize, and find some more effective ways to manage his own feelings of inadequacy and jealousy. If he can’t meet that basic requirement of partnership—the ability to take joy in the good fortune of someone you love—then he’s not a good marriage bet.

Q. Re: Married a long time but want to divorce: Unless you feel like you’re in danger, definitely consult a lawyer before you move out. I was warned when I was getting a divorce that it could be harder for me to make a claim to the real estate if I was the one who left. Not sure if that’s true in all cases, but it pays to be careful.

A: Thanks for this! Certainly it pays to think ahead about how moving out first might be viewed by the courts in your divorce proceedings when it comes to splitting assets; check with a lawyer first.

Q. Stay for the kids: I have been married to “Steve” since his daughters were 8 and 6; they are teens now. Their biological mother is a flighty, vain pillhead who uses the girls as photo props. My husband raised the girls alone with a string of indifferent nannies and housekeepers until I came along. I love the girls and they love me. In every way but legally, I am their parent. (The youngest told me she wants me to formally adopt her when she turns 18).

Steve has cheated on me repeatedly over our marriage. We have been to counseling twice and nothing changes. I want to leave if not for the girls. Steve will cut them off from me if I leave; he can be very vindictive when he wants to be. It will be five years before the youngest is 18. I don’t know how to endure this. Can you help me?

A: This sounds like an extremely painful situation. Can you see yourself establishing a different sort of relationship with Steve for the remaining five years before the girls are old enough for you to see them without their father? Could you, for example, consider him a difficult roommate and co-parent, rather than a romantic partner, or does the prospect of trying to renegotiate your marriage on new terms seem impossible?

You say he can be vindictive (not to mention indifferent toward his own children), so it may simply be impossible, but since you don’t have a legal right to custody or visitation if you leave him, it may be worth considering first. I don’t know how bad the inside of your marriage is; if you can see your way through another few years, clear on your ultimate goal of leaving once the girls are older, then that might be the next best option for you. I’ll throw in a plug for individual therapy, too, because it sounds like right now you feel like the only responsible parent available to these girls, and you don’t have much of a reliable partner in your husband, and you deserve some emotional support in this decision.

Q: Re: Ashamed of going on Medicare: I can understand where you are coming from. Our society’s “bootstraps” mentality is both pervasive and perverse, even among people who otherwise see the moral wisdom of a strong and robust welfare state. At times I’ve had to accept various forms of help, both state-sanctioned and from family. While I can’t promise that the shame is ever going to dissipate entirely, it does help to remind yourself, as often as necessary, that you need assistance not because you’re lazy or looking for a handout, but because there are circumstances beyond your control that prevent you from being fully self-sufficient in some matters.

A: People who need help deserve help; people who need health care deserve health care! Do your best to treat yourself as you would treat someone else in your position. That may require a lot of reminders and reframing of the situation, but it’s worth doing.

Q. Re: Fiancé is jealous of my promotion: Your dude sounds exhausting. I married a guy like this and he had a more “prestigious job,” but he was so threatened by the mere prospect that my salary might approach his that he blew up our marriage (among other things). I even put off getting a salary increase (based on classes taken) to assuage his stupid ego.

Don’t be like me—leave now, and go out and make money. He owes you a massive apology and probably therapy for himself to sort out these feelings (that’s not on you!). If he’s not willing to do both, you’re better off not having to deal with his temper tantrums for the rest of your life. And congrats on your salary increase! You are awesome, and this is something you should be proud of!

A: It’s one thing for a partner to experience periodic insecurity, resentment, and/or jealousy. That can happen in even the best of people, and as long one can be honest and self-aware, it can sometimes even strengthen the relationship. But someone who is this upset at their partner’s success, who refuses to admit their obvious discomfort, and who can’t get it together long enough to realize that by sapping the joy from this good news, they are implicitly telling their partner, “I can only love and support you as long as I’m always doing better than you are”—that’s not normal, and that’s not a good sign.

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