Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, everyone! Batten the hatches; advice incoming.
Q. Wedding dress feud: I am getting married in a just a few short months. Everything has been going wonderfully, the only snag in the whole proceedings has been the wedding dress. I found a perfect dress six months ago. My fiancé’s mother found the perfect dress for me as well: her old one that she got married in. I politely told her that I appreciated the possible heirloom but had found my own dress. I figured that would be the end of it and that she would give it to one of her daughters. Apparently, that was not the end of it. She was so hurt over my choice that she told my fiancé that she wanted nothing to do with the wedding and has not helped since! Fast-forward to now, she has been calling me every single day. Thirty to 50 times a day. Begging me to wear her dress and end the feud. She says she won’t stop until I agree.
I am at my wits’ end. My fiancé is no help. He says that I should just wear the dress for the ceremony and then change into my own dress for pictures at the end. Prudie, I need help!
A: Oh, my God. This woman is calling you 30 to 50 times a day about a dress you plan on wearing once, after receiving a clear “No,” and your fiancé doesn’t think this is a problem. This is an enormous problem, not because of the dress, but because of what it suggests about the dynamic you’re going to have to deal with if you go through with the wedding and marry this man. Can you live with the kind of marriage where your husband’s response to 50 daily phone calls from his mother is “no big deal”? This is an enormous red flag, and you absolutely have to pay attention to it. If your husband-to-be isn’t willing to help you set a boundary with his mother, if he’s not willing to see a counselor with you about this, if he’s not committed to making sure his mother doesn’t dominate your marriage like she’s dominating your wedding, then please don’t marry him.
Q. Family naming issue: Is there a family etiquette to naming a child after a family member that has passed away? My grandmother died 20-odd years ago, leaving behind three children and four grandchildren. The youngest grandchild was 4 when she died, and the oldest was 10. The youngest recently had a child and decided to use our grandmother’s name (it was her middle name, but she only went by this name, not her first) as her newborn’s middle name. The oldest granddaughter (my sister) and I are upset about this. We believe that since my sister was the oldest and closest to our grandmother, she should have had the right to name her potential daughter after her. Though we were young, we were around a lot during our grandmother’s illness and final days, and our cousin and her parents were not.
Our mother thinks my sister and I are wrong, and that our cousin has just as much of a right to use the name, given that it was her grandmother’s too. But we think she completely bypassed three older grandchildren to use the name because the baby would be the oldest female great-grandchild. Are my sister and I wrong and being petty, or should our cousin have consulted with the other grandchildren about the name? (As a side note, we have had past issues with this family [my mom’s brother], so this is just another annoyance that we are experiencing.)
A: You all have the right to name your children whatever you like. If two of the cousins have the same name, everyone will still be able to figure out who’s who—I went through sixth grade with at least three Brittneys and we all managed to make it clear which one we were talking to. This is fine; you’re all fine!
Q. Dog: My fenced-in backyard backs up to a large empty field. The neighborhood kids usually play soccer and run around there. Recently, I rescued a dog with aggression issues. He is all right with me, but socializing him properly is going to take time. My new neighbors have kids who take a shortcut through my property to get to the field behind my house. They run parallel to my fence and like to tease my dog. He goes crazy barking at them and they think it is hilarious. I have caught them twice personally and scolded them. It didn’t help. Neither did going to their mother—I asked her to keep her kids off my property and away from my dog. She told me “kids play and run around.”
I have attached my dog to a tether and lead when he goes out in the backyard, but I am seriously worried these kids are going to get bitten, either by trespassing into my yard or sticking their hands through the fence. I lived here a decade and never had any problems with my neighbors before. Help.
A: I’m afraid that you would likely be legally responsible (lawyers, feel free to weigh in here) if your dog bit or hurt any of these kids on your property, even if you’ve already warned them and their parents against doing so. Your best bet is probably to reinforce your fence, put up a sign or two about your dog, and make trespassing as difficult as possible. You should also document all of this in case of a future claim.
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Q. Did I hoodwink my parents for money?: I’m in my mid-20s and last year had a pretty bad manic episode. Among other damages like losing my job, I got a DWI after I got into a car accident while driving drunk. I told my family about the manic episode and much of what happened, but not the DWI. A couple months ago, my parents gave me about $1,000 to pay medical bills. But part of why I’m so broke is because of how much I had to pay to fix my car last year. Now I’m feeling like I asked for money under false pretenses. Was I wrong to ask for money for medical bills without disclosing the car accident/DWI?
A: Your parents gave you the money for medical bills, which is what you used it for; you only say that you were broke because you had to have your car repaired, not that you spent that $1,000 on the car instead. That’s not to say there are no ethical questions about whether you should disclose the DWI to your parents, but you used the money for its intended purpose.
I think a better question is this: Do you have a good reason to share the specifics of your last manic episode with your parents? They sound supportive and reasonable, and it might be helpful for them to know more about what your manic episodes can look like, so they can better prepare to help when and if you need it. If you’re not currently receiving treatment, they may be able to help you access it; if you are, they may be better positioned to offer support in future. They will, I imagine, understand why it may have taken you a while to be able to discuss your manic episode, and be additionally grateful that you seem to be doing so much better now.
Q. Re: Family naming issue: My little brother’s middle name is also my baby cousin’s first name—and I have three cousins with the same name! We all get along fine, just tacking on last names when we get confused, and no one is bothered by the name sharing. It really isn’t going to confuse the kiddos to have a Maggie Martha and a Martha Jo. The one thing I’d say is do not hold it against the child—she didn’t choose her name and has the right to go by whatever combination she prefers (first, middle, first-middle, et cetera). Be grateful that you’re hearing your grandmother’s name and that your young cousin wanted to carry on a family name!
A: There are lots of responses to this effect—it’s great to remember that there are only so many names in the world, and that lots of families have shared connections to particular grandparents or deceased relatives, and that kids can grow up just fine with the same or similar-sounding names.
Q. Should I go for it?: I have only recently become single again. It was hard to make the break, but much harder trying to make it work. So, as the rush of relief fell over me, I enjoyed being a single, free human being. I ignored every suitor. However, I am now aware that someone I ignored initially, and accidentally, may be interested in me. I only noticed after I found myself attracted—very attracted—to him. It was in the most unusual of places. He is a doctor and I was briefly his patient. But I am so excited to bump into him again. How do I let him know that I am also interested? I am painfully aware of how sad my attempt at flirting was. It’s been a long time since I had to do that. And should I? I know there are rules involved for doctors. I don’t want to miss an opportunity with an amazing guy, but I also don’t want to embarrass myself. Being single is confusing.
A: Everything is confusing; it’s mostly fine. If you’re still this guy’s patient, then don’t hit on him. If you’re not still his patient, and you’re pretty sure he’s interested, then you can either try to engineer a casual run-in and radiate “available but not too available” vibes at him, or you can save yourself some time and angst by telling him he’s cute and you want to go out sometime. Most people are convinced their attempts at flirting are embarrassing; this is because flirting is embarrassing, and that’s fine too.
Q. Pregnant: I have been with my boyfriend for over 10 years, since I was 21. Three years ago, I had an ectopic pregnancy that nearly killed me. I had to have major surgery and survived, but I learned that any future pregnancy would likely be my last. This is common knowledge among our families. We are currently planning our wedding and have haphazard plans to adopt or not have kids at all. My sister-in-law cheerfully announced at my wedding shower that she would be buying baby clothes after the wedding. When she was told that that kind of talk wasn’t appropriate, my other sister-in-law defended her saying, “Just because I had one bad experience was no reason to deny my husband his own babies.” I shut things down to not make a scene, but the entire conversation left me upset. I have known these women for years, but I never thought they might want to see me dead rather than not have biological children with their brother. My fiancé is very close to his family; I would never want to come between them, but I can’t get those words out of my head. What should I do here?
A: Being close to one’s family is great. Being close to one’s family does not mean letting your sister say to your partner, “Hey, I know you almost died from that ectopic pregnancy, but I have some opinions about how ‘unfair’ that is to my brother,” without saying anything. Talk to your fiancé about following up with both your sisters-in-law—he needs to make it clear that they can’t shoehorn their (bad, misinformed, cruel) opinions about your ability to carry a biological child into conversation, that they need to apologize and never do it again. You’re not “coming between” your brother and his sisters by objecting when they say something brutal to you.
Q. It’s not like it’s pot: My friend and I are planning to move to another city together after we get out of school. She’s a great friend of mine and I’m super excited. Her plan is that her boyfriend, who is the year below us, will move in with us once he graduates next year. I like this idea because I do like her boyfriend—he’s charismatic, interesting, and tidy, so he seems like he’d be a good roommate. The problem is that I found out that he does cocaine (this is information directly from him; he literally offered me some), and he has given conflicting accounts of how much he actually does it. I’ve asked my friend about it, and her attitude is, “Oh yes, he does that, and I don’t. We decided not to influence each other either way.” I don’t see him quitting any time soon.
How do I tell my future roommate that I’m not OK with hard drugs in our apartment? Or should I tell her boyfriend directly before he moves in? And is it reasonable for me to draw a hard line about this?
A: Man, if there is one thing I know for sure, it’s this: If you have the opportunity not to move in with a dude who does a fair amount of cocaine right after college, you need to take that opportunity. Cocaine has a number of well-documented effects (see: “he’s charismatic and interesting”), but making someone a really good roommate isn’t one of them. It’s fine that she’s been able to strike a balance with his cocaine use in their relationship that she’s comfortable with, and it’s more than fine—it’s necessary—for you to say, “I don’t want to live with someone who uses cocaine. If that’s a deal-breaker for you, then let’s find separate apartments and stick to getting dinner together and hanging out on the weekends.”
Q. Ex-tra awkward: A few years ago, I dated “David.” We were always within the same friendship circles, but never really spoke much. In the few months we were together, we became very close, but due to a massive failure to communicate properly on both sides (as well as him going off his medication, causing hallucinations of conversations that never happened), it ended pretty messily, and there were a lot of hurt feelings for a long time. Recently, however, I’ve made peace with everything and currently hold no negativity toward David, to the point that I would gladly consider being friends with him again. According to a mutual friend, he feels the same way and wants to reconcile. The problem is, we’re both stubborn and hate confrontation.
We were both at an event this past weekend, and it was painful to watch, let alone be a part of. He pointedly avoided making eye contact with me for the first day, and after that, every time we accidentally made eye contact, I ended up breaking it almost instantly out of awkwardness. Our mutual friend is jokingly threatening to throw us in a room together until we figure things out, and I’m starting to consider it—unless you have different advice?
A: If you’re both anxious about the prospect of an in-person conversation, send him a brief text or email: “I know it was awkward the last time we saw one another, but I just want you to know that I’m glad you’re doing well and wish you the best. I’m not always sure how to broach a topic this sensitive in-person, but I want to be able to say hello and be friendly when we see each other.”
Q. Finding his passion: I am dating a wonderful man and am very much in love. We have been together for over a year and are talking of getting married in a few years (once he is done with medical residency). We both grew up very differently (me in Midwest America, and him in China for the first 10 years of his life). I did many different things as a child and consequently have many hobbies as an adult—I also love to just go outside and play soccer or check out a new park. He, however, didn’t do very much outside of schoolwork, and with residency, still can’t really do that much. I find myself longing to find something we can do together that we are both passionate about. But when I ask him about his passions, he says “sleep.” I would love for us to find something that he would enjoy doing. Most of the time, if he even has time, we just sit inside and watch TV together, but I want to do more. He knows this and is willing to go along with me, but is it too much to ask that he put some effort into finding something that he actually enjoys, not just does out of obligation to his girlfriend? Is this something I should wait for when he’s done with his residency and has more time?
A: He may have more time once he’s finished his residency. He may also just be the kind of person who, once they’re done with work for the day, wants to unwind in front of the television and go to bed early. I don’t think it’s wise to assume that he’s going to change his approach to recreation and hobbies outside of work in a few years once he becomes a full-time doctor. Make sure you spend time on your own outside interests regardless of whether he’s interested in joining you or cultivating passions of his own. If, at some point, you decide you don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t share your zest for off-the-clock adventures, then that’s a perfectly legitimate reason to end a relationship. That doesn’t mean you have to break up, of course—plenty of people are in happy relationships where one partner loves trying new things and the other is a creature of comfort—but don’t expect him to change. Figure out whether you can accept this about him, and make sure to take joy in your own interests in the meantime.
Q. Re: Dog: I don’t know what state the dog owner is in and probably am not licensed in that state, but most states have comparative negligence. If the dog owner is in such a jurisdiction, damages should be awarded based on percentages of fault. So if the dog owner repeatedly warns the kids and their parents (preferably in writing) and takes other steps (e.g., a sign), and the kids enter the property anyway and get bitten, the jury (or judge as fact-finder) should weigh those factors, apportion percentages of fault, and award damages based on those percentages. If in a contributory negligence jurisdiction (e.g., DC, MD, VA), the kids’ negligence should offset entirely any negligence of the owner. There may, however, be other laws there specifically about dog bite liability.
A: Right-ho! With the caveat that I am not a lawyer of any kind, and that this lawyer in particular may not have the most up-to-date and state-specific information, this does suggest that your best bet is to continue to take all possible precautions, documenting them all along the way.