Dear Prudence

Blue Period

When should I tell my new boyfriend about my depression?

A young couple in love, watched over by the woman in the couple, looking depressed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
I’ve been seeing a new guy for the past month, and while I may not be head over heels just yet, I can see it lasting a while. My question is, when should I bring up my depression? My last relationship lasted almost three years, but ultimately he ended it because he couldn’t handle me at my lowest—which obviously didn’t help. I’d hate to waste that much time on someone again, so I’d rather know if he’s going to duck out the second life doesn’t feel so peachy to me. And if you think it’s OK to bring it up, how should I phrase it?
—When to Bring Up Mental Health?

I think it’s more than OK to bring up your depression, and to explain that your lows can get pretty low. That said, you can’t extract a promise from someone that he won’t end your relationship, or even that he’ll never end your relationship for a depression-related cause. Nor should you seek to extract such a promise; that’s a recipe for resentment. Of course it’s painful to go through a breakup, especially while one is struggling with a low point in a depressive cycle, but that doesn’t mean those three years were wasted either.

Tell this new guy right now about your experience with depression. If you two keep seeing each another, let him know a little further down the line if there’s anything in particular he can do that’s helpful when you’re going through a rough time, whether that’s checking in more frequently or giving you space. Don’t frame your depression as something you need to apologize for, or attempt to forestall any possibility of his someday ending your relationship; just present this as a part of your life that he gets to learn more about as he continues to get to know you.

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I are in our late 30s and live across the country from my family. I moved away for many reasons, chief among them that I was tired of being a caretaker for my young siblings, who both have developmental disabilities. My young sister is largely self-sufficient, but my brother requires a substantial amount of care. My parents have always seemed to assume that I would take on responsibility for my siblings once they were no long able to do so. I have never agreed to this and have told them on many occasions that I don’t think it’s a good idea.

My father is retiring later this year, and now he and my mother are talking about moving to my city so my brother and sister will have time to “settle in.” I have told them I am not comfortable with this plan and that it doesn’t make sense to move them to my city because I will not be a caretaker. They don’t seem to listen or care! My mother says that when the time comes she knows I’ll “do the right thing” and “step up to the plate.” I feel like my whole childhood of having my needs forgotten because of my siblings is coming back to haunt me! I was so burned out on taking care of my siblings growing up that I moved across the country and decided never to have children of my own. Short of moving to a new city and not telling my family where it is, how can I stop this from happening?
—No Caretaker

“Mom and Dad, I’ve been clear with you for years about the fact that I’m not going to take over as caregiver after you’re gone. That’s not up for debate. You’ve wasted a lot of time and energy that should have been spent making arrangements for the future refusing to listen to me. That’s not my fault, and it’s not my problem. I’m not going to discuss this with you any further; if you tell me I’m going to change my mind again, I’m going to hang up the phone, because I can’t keep having this conversation over and over. Maintaining this delusion is only going to hurt you and my siblings in the long run.”

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Dear Prudence,
I am in my 60s and work in a field that still isn’t known for being welcoming to women. When I started out 40 years ago, I dealt with harassment, sexism, handsy bosses, and comments like “Women don’t belong in this field and they never will.” I persisted and managed to make a pretty good career for myself. But I spent those early years angry, frustrated, and thinking, “If I were a guy, this wouldn’t be so damn hard.”

Well, a lot of those old guys are dying now, and I’m starting to get emails from colleagues wanting to celebrate their long, distinguished careers. Usually I ignore them. But sometimes, especially if I worked with the guy in the early part of my career, I’m asked to “say a few words.” The only words I could offer would be, “He couldn’t pass a woman in the hall without trying to cop a feel, and he consistently refused to recommend promotion for a woman because she didn’t ‘belong’ here.” I know that graceful silence is better, but I want to say, “I used to put his name on the punching bag in my basement!” My industry is getting better, and we women all knew we just had to wait out those old guys. Any advice on how to respond to the eulogy requests?
—Dying Old Guard

I assume you’re not being asked to deliver eulogies at these men’s actual funerals so much as offer a few pleasant memories about them. Since you don’t have any, simply reply, “I’m not able to do that, but thanks for checking in.” I understand the impulse to ignore those emails, and I’m sympathetic to it. The request is a little presumptuous, and it’s not strictly work-related, but it’s also not uncommon, and I think it’s better to reply with a quick “No” that doesn’t invite further conversation than to say nothing.

The punching bag sounds like a solid outlet. It might also help to talk through some of your feelings of relief that your industry is changing, resentment over the harassment you experienced earlier in your career, and the current changing of the guard with some of the other women who work in your industry. That’s a better outlet than directing your anger at colleagues assembling a memorial tribute, and it might take some of the internal pressure off when you’re asked to publicly praise men who spent years undermining you and your female colleagues.

Dear Prudence,
I started dating for the first time in years a few months ago, and I’ve met some great people I really like. But I’m not sure what to do when people ask me what I do for fun. All my dates seem to have boundless time and energy and do so many amazing things, like queer activism, volunteering, making art, graduate school, travel, and feats of athleticism I can’t even imagine. I know not everyone does this, but my nonwork life seems small by comparison. I spend time with the people I love, I run a peer support group, I love cooking. I don’t watch much TV or movies, so I’m out of the pop culture loop. Most of my free time goes into managing my health problems, physical, neurological, and mental. I’m very functional. I’m good at my job, I take care of myself, and I’m a supportive family member and friend. So how do I talk about what I do in my free time without sounding like an alien? (I can’t even answer when someone asks what music I like!) And how can I feel more confident that I’m worth going on a date with, even though I don’t climb a mountain every morning and then do yoga at the peak?
—No Fun

You sound like a fantastic person with a rich, full personal life, and part of the mutual scamming inherent in online dating is the exciting hobbies arms-race buildup. (If it helps, know that you’re not alone; the most recent time I had an online dating profile the first line read, “I like you already but please don’t make me go hiking.”) You cook, you volunteer, and you spend time with friends—that is a well-balanced adult personal life, and nothing to sneeze at.
It’s true that people can sometimes get a little frantic if someone’s answer to “What kind of music do you listen to?” is “I sort of don’t.” (It’s fine! Not everyone needs to have the same level of interest in music!) But I have a sneaking suspicion that at least some of the people you’re going on dates with are a little exhausted putting the most exciting, high-energy aspects of their personality on constant display and might be relieved to hear someone give them permission to relax for a minute.

More Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Embarrassing Subordinate.

Dying to Catch Up: I’m worried about a long-lost friend. How can I reach out?

Help Not Wanted: Prudie counsels a letter writer who’s embarrassed to use government-sponsored insurance.

Dear Prudence,
I am in my late 20s and my mother has remarried, to a man with three grown children. I met them at the wedding and spent all of 15 minutes in their presence. They seemed pleasant. My mother has a bizarre fixation on the idea that we all are going to be the Brady Bunch. She says things like “Your new sister is traveling soon” and “Remember, your new brother’s birthday is coming up.” She refuses to see me one on one anymore—everything has to include her husband’s children. My father remarried years ago and adopted my stepmother’s sons. They and my half-sister are my siblings—we grew up together, went to school together, fought over a shared bathroom together. I don’t know why my mother is pushing this but when I try to distance myself, she gets angry and defensive. How do I get her chill out?
—Not My Siblings

Your mother isn’t raising these children and you didn’t share an upbringing with them, so it’s understandable that your connection to them doesn’t feel especially strong. It’d be one thing for her to refer to them as your stepsiblings, but the fact that she’s pushing for you to develop an immediate, personal sibling bond—and even refusing to spend time with you one on one—is worth pushing back on. Since she’s gotten defensive in the past, I think it’s best to raise the issue in a spirit of gentle curiosity.

You might say, “Mom, I know it’s been really important to you that I get to know your new stepchildren. I enjoyed meeting them, and they seem great. But it’s also felt like you’re anxious for us to develop a deep family bond very quickly, and I’m not ready for that. I also miss feeling like we can spend time together one on one, because it seems like you’re no longer available for that. Can we talk a little bit about what’s making you anxious? I’m excited for you, and I love that you’re so close to your husband’s children, but I want to be able to develop a relationship with them at my own pace.”

Dear Prudence,
Recently I had someone out to my house to check on the electric meter. I was home alone with my toddler (I’m also eight months’ pregnant), so I told my husband I wanted to call him while the service guy was in the house, just as a precaution. He agreed. The meter man arrived and I called my husband, who told me to message him when the guy left, which I’d told him would probably be in the next five minutes. A few minutes later I sent an instant message letting my husband know he’d gone. I got no response for half an hour.

My husband explained that after we’d talked, he went to the break room to get coffee with some co-workers and didn’t see my message until he got back. (He’d assumed I would text.) I hadn’t realized he would leave his desk, and I’m pretty mad that he didn’t check in with me after not seeing a text within a few minutes. I know this isn’t a huge deal, but I’m having a hard time getting over the fact that he didn’t care about me and our babies more in this situation. I’m not a worry wart, but I figured alerting someone that we were alone in the house with a stranger was a reasonable action to take, and the fact that my husband couldn’t comply with such a simple request is weighing on me. He sincerely apologized when he got home that night, and I was able to tell him how I felt, but it didn’t help ease my mind. Can you give me some perspective on this? How do I get past my hurt?
—Stranger Danger

Even resolute non-worry-warts can have moments of slightly irrational anxiety. It’s not unreasonable that your husband assumed you would text him, or that a meter check might take up to half an hour for nondangerous reasons. That he didn’t feel the same anxiety about the presence of a meter man doesn’t mean your husband doesn’t care about you or your children. You are, of course, already aware of this, but that doesn’t mean you have to dismiss your own residual frustration immediately. The point isn’t that you expected your husband to share your heightened anxiety about the visit but that you wanted him to take your anxiety seriously and not to assume everything was fine once he failed to hear from you within the time frame you initially estimated. Tell your husband that this misunderstanding is still weighing on your mind, that you appreciated his apology but it would help you if in the future you both made sure you were in agreement about what to do if one of you hasn’t checked in by a certain time.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

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Mallory Ortberg

Mallory Ortberg, Slate’s Dear Prudence, is co-founder of the Toast and the author of Texts From Jane Eyre.