Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
To get advice from Prudie:
• Send questions for publication to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Questions may be edited.)
• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.
• Call the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
Q. Thanks, but I don’t need a babysitter: My baby (our only child) is 11 weeks old, and I have just returned to work after maternity leave. Ever since he was a month old, my husband and mother-in-law have been looking for opportunities to have my mother-in-law babysit to give me a “break.” She has kept the baby twice—once was even overnight. I missed him terribly both times and decided that I’m just not ready yet to hand him over to a babysitter for no good reason. I don’t feel like the stereotypical frazzled new mom, and I enjoy taking care of him and having him with me. I told my husband this after my mother-in-law’s most recent offer to babysit, and his feelings were hurt because he thinks I don’t appreciate the “help.” The pressure to leave him is not helpful! I know the baby would be well cared for, so I don’t think it’s an issue of being overprotective. How can I communicate to them that I just want to spend time enjoying my child, especially now that I’m back at work, without offending everyone?
A: “I’m sure the day will come when I’m ready to take a break from baby duty and I’ll be so grateful for your help then, but right now I want to spend as much time with him as I can. Why don’t you come over for playtime next Thursday?”
Q. New(ish) boyfriend—the kid question: My boyfriend and I met via a podcast around three months ago. It was a total fluke, and I am happy we met. We get along so well, and I really like him. I’m a 25-year-old teacher, and he’s a 27-year-old software programmer. This is both of our first serious relationship. I’m white and was raised in the Midwest but lived abroad for a couple of years. He is from southern India and came here to live and work when he was 21. He has a house, a nice 401(k), and a car. I’m finishing up living with my parents while throwing money at student loans. I say all this because the other day he asked whether I see myself having kids. I answered that I hadn’t really given it an extensive amount of thought but was kind of on the fence. He really wants to get married and have kids “by the time he’s 31, at the latest.”
We both agreed we wouldn’t be compatible long term if we had different thoughts on this. I don’t know what to do. He said he would give me time to think—like around a month—but I don’t know if I can give him a clear answer within that timeframe. I just think he has more of his life together and is more anxious to start this next stage than I am. Should I set him loose to find his marriage-ready match while I mourn the loss of a good relationship, or bide my time?
A: A month isn’t very much time to decide whether or not you want to have children in the next four years before your boyfriend turns 31. You like him, but you’re not in love, and you’ve only been seeing each other for a few months. He’s extremely clear about the timeline he has in mind for getting married and having children, while you’re on the fence about the entire subject. “We both agreed we wouldn’t be compatible long term if we had different thoughts on this” is your answer. You two have different thoughts on this, and you’re not compatible long term. Uncertainty, unreadiness, or indifference is just as important to pay attention to as a firm, obvious No. Enjoy this relationship for what it was, and wish him the best.
Q. My ex wants me to help him pick out sex toys for his new gf: I broke things off with my boyfriend of 18 months because I felt like he was always pushing me into things I was uncomfortable with, whether that be connected to money, sex, or something else. I didn’t say no firmly enough because I always felt like I had to be “cool” or “chill” or measure up to his gorgeous, laissez-faire ex. I honestly felt amazing after the breakup, and I assumed he’d be happy too, since he always talked about things I couldn’t give him—but he was angry instead. We’ve maintained an acquaintanceship at his request, but barely. Recently I had a very weird experience: He texted me asking, in detail, for help picking out sex toys for his new gf. I assumed he was drunk and ignored it, but he followed up the next day.
This is weird, right? I’m torn between ignoring him and wanting to send him something snarky and passive aggressive about how I’m happily having consensual sex with someone great now, and here’s a list of the toys we enjoy together. I wasn’t angry after the breakup, but I’m angry now. Why is my life turning into a low-budget sitcom?
A: This is more than weird! I mean, yes, you’re right, it’s absolutely weird, but it’s also cruel, vindictive, embarrassingly childish, and even more embarrassingly transparent.
I almost never recommend that a letter writer send something snarky and passive aggressive to an ex, particularly an ex with a history of disregarding indirect responses. Here is the text you should send: “No, I’m not going to do that. We are not friends. I’m blocking your number.”
There is no reason on earth for you to maintain a friendship—or even a bare acquaintance—with this person. He does not care about you and never has. There is nothing you can get out of further contact with him. Think of how amazing you felt after the breakup—you’ll feel even better once you free yourself of the sense of obligation that you have to answer his texts every couple of weeks.
Q. Can I keep my brother’s dealer from contacting him again?: My younger brother recently confessed to my parents that he has been snorting heroin for a little over two years. They rushed to get him into an inpatient rehab, because he’s about to turn 26 and will lose their health insurance. By all accounts he’s doing well. They turned his phone over to me to delete his Google contact list, and I noticed he had Facebook Messenger as well. One of his friends is the person we now know got him hooked to begin with. Not that he’s to blame—that’s all on my brother—but I am concerned about what would happen if my brother were able to contact this person again. I know if I just use the app to unfriend him there’s nothing stopping them from reconnecting, and I know that deactivating his profile doesn’t erase it. I’m almost tempted to message this guy from my brother’s account, asking him to stay away. But I doubt this would fix anything, and it’s a huge boundary to overstep. Is there anything else I can do to ensure that this jagoff doesn’t jeopardize his recovery?
A: I can understand the desire to do something when you’re concerned for your brother’s recovery and well-being. And, to be honest, if you decide to delete this guy’s contact information, I don’t think it ranks especially high on the list of privacy violations. But there are a lot of heroin dealers in the world, and it’s impossible to ensure he never sees or hears one again. The only way your brother will be able to stay sober is to commit to it internally.
You say that your parents gave you your brother’s phone in order to delete his contacts on one form of social media, but that you’re concerned about extending the purge to another. Has your brother asked for help in deleting his contacts? Are you worried about ignoring his privacy concerns—which, even though he’s currently receiving treatment for his addiction, he still has a right to? Can you hold off on deleting any contacts until you’ve had a chance to speak to your brother and ask him what he’d like you to do?
If nothing else, don’t message the guy. You know, I think, that that won’t accomplish anything other than temporarily making you feel like you have some control over a chaotic situation again. Your brother is going to have to figure out a new basis for living in the world and choosing his relationships; you could delete the number of everyone he used with and he’d still be able to relapse if he decided to. Find another way to support him in his continued recovery.
Q. Ships passing in the night/day: I have been dating a wonderful man for the last year and a half. He is kind and considerate and loves me very much, and I love him. I am concerned, however, about his sleeping habits. He struggles with depression and anxiety (he does not work and receives disability as a result), and is somewhat of a night owl anyway. He often goes to bed in the wee hours of the morning and sleeps until after lunch. I usually sleep from midnight to 8 a.m. or so. I often text or call him during the day and don’t hear from him until late. I get frustrated because I feel like I never see him (we don’t live together). I worry that our relationship, which is otherwise very good, won’t survive our very different sleep schedules, especially if we do move in together, which we have begun to discuss. This is my only concern about our relationship, but it is a big one for me.
A: If your only concern about your relationship is that you “never see” your boyfriend, then you sort of … don’t have a relationship. Of course it’s a big concern for you! How can a relationship be “otherwise very good” if you two don’t regularly talk or see each other? This doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, or that you have no empathy for his daily struggle with depression, but it’s absolutely OK for you to express concerns about how rarely you two talk or see each other, and ultimately for you to decide the relationship isn’t working for you if nothing changes.
Q. Re: New(ish) boyfriend—the kid question: Set this guy loose. You have only been dating three months, and now he is only giving you a month to decide if you want kids with him in the future? That’s not a good sign. A good partner will not pressure you to make a big decision that fast, nor will he try to move the relationship along as quickly as this guy seems to be. You can find a guy out there who has all of this guy’s great qualities, minus the pressure tactics. If you agree to his timeline in order to keep dating, you will not be happy together down the road.
A: I did find that detail a little baffling and a little hilarious! “Don’t worry, you can have a full month to decide whether you want kids in the next four years.” I don’t think he’s being a jerk about this, but his proposed compromise isn’t much of a compromise at all. It’s a deadline, and in the absence of strong certainty about having children, I think the “No” should always carry the day.
Q. Heirloom: Sometime in the 1950s my grandfather bought my grandmother an unusual ruby ruby ring, which she loved. She wore it for about 30 years, then gave it to my mother, who also wore it for about 30 years before passing it down to me. I was thrilled, and I took it to an appraiser to have it insured. The appraiser had to break the news to me that the ruby was fake. I was slightly taken aback (and embarrassed), but knowing my grandfather, I figured he was in heaven laughing, so I put the ring on and figured I’d just carry that secret to my grave.
The thing about gems that are not made out of rock is that they do not last for generations, and sadly it has started to disintegrate to the point where it’s about to fall out of the setting. Honestly, if I could find an actual ruby that color that would pass, I’d buy one, and my family would be none the wiser, but I’ve had no luck. I know that my family will notice I’m not wearing it, and worse, I have a niece who I think is hoping she’s next in line. Do I have to come clean? Is there any other way?
A: You don’t have to, certainly, although if your response on learning the truth was one of wry appreciation, I think it’s likely your relatives would see the humor in the situation too. But if they notice you’ve stopped wearing it, tell them as much of the truth as you’re comfortable with: “The stone is deteriorating, and it’s in danger of falling out of the setting. I may need to have a new stone put in.” That’s all perfectly true but doesn’t go into unnecessary detail.
Q. Mystery divorce: My parents are getting divorced. They announced this several months ago and have said several vague and nasty things about each other in the time since. My siblings and I are all very upset, and we’d like to know why this is happening. The one thing my parents seem to agree on is that it’s none of our business, but their vague sniping makes it clear that one parent is somehow to blame.
As adult children, do we have a right to know more? Prior to their announcement, none of us knew anything was amiss in their relationship (I know that sounds suspect, but we’re all close with our parents and were all totally shocked). I feel like we’ve lost all agency in figuring out our relationships with our parents in this new situation if we don’t know what led to it.
A: If your parents think the divorce is none of your business, then they should keep their pointed remarks to themselves. You’ll have to give this speech twice, I’m afraid, but just swap out “Mom” for “Dad”: “I respect your privacy, and I know getting divorced is really hard, but you can’t ask us not to talk to you about this and then make vague, insinuating comments about [other parent]. I’m having a hard time processing this. I thought the two of you were happy together. That doesn’t mean you have to share the details of your marriage with me, but please bear in mind that your soon-to-be-ex is still my mother/father, and don’t make little digs at them when you’re talking to me.”
Q. Vacation: My boyfriend has been divorced for a decade. He has two grown children and one teenager. His ex is remarried, and they all go on vacation together at least twice a year. I find this completely bizarre, but apparently he and his ex have been doing this for years. He wants me to come with him. We have been dating for about six months, and I have met his kids a couple of times. My boyfriend made the comment about continuing this family tradition with the future grandkids. He gets defensive when I bring up how odd this is. He says it makes it easier on the kids and that he genuinely likes his ex and her husband so why make it difficult for no reason. I love him, but I don’t want to see his ex-wife on vacation! His ex and her husband seem nice, but I don’t want to see them socially. It is just too weird for me. How do I deal with this?
A: I don’t think it’s odd for a family to go on vacations together. Your boyfriend’s ex is very much a part of his family. They have an excellent co-parenting relationship, which is a testament to his character. If you’re not interested in joining him on these family vacations, then that’s fine, but don’t try to discourage him from continuing a tradition that means a lot to him and his children by claiming it’s “bizarre.”
You’re dating a man whose children are very important to him, whose ex-wife and mother of his children is a dear and trusted friend. If you hope you can change this about him, or try to slowly wear down the friendship between them, then I think you should look for a different boyfriend. This is a good thing, not a problem to be overcome. But if it’s “too weird” for you, then date someone who doesn’t have children or who has a frosty, distant relationship with all of his exes.
Mallory Ortberg: Forge ahead into discomfort, then let me know how it goes next week.
One more thing
You depend on Slate for sharp, distinctive coverage of the latest developments in politics and culture. Now we need to ask for your support.
Our work is more urgent than ever and is reaching more readers—but online advertising revenues don’t fully cover our costs, and we don’t have print subscribers to help keep us afloat. So we need your help. If you think Slate’s work matters, become a Slate Plus member. You’ll get exclusive members-only content and a suite of great benefits—and you’ll help secure Slate’s future.Join Slate Plus