Dear Prudence

Tight Quarters

I’m a 30-year-old woman, and my parents expect me to share a bed with my brother.

Adult siblings on either side of an image of a hotel bed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
My parents like to plan (and pay for) big family vacations each year. These trips include me (a 30-year-old woman) and my brother, with whom I’m not especially close. This is nice, since I’m just out of grad school and can’t afford such trips myself. But my parents consistently book one bed for me and my brother to share, sometimes with all four of us in one hotel room in order to save money. This much togetherness, especially having to share a bed with my (tall) brother, causes me a lot of discomfort and anxiety (even though there is no history of abuse to justify such a reaction). For the past few trips I’ve been lucky that there was a couch I could sleep on in the room. Am I right to think it is unusual for my parents to expect adult siblings to share a bed? Since I am not paying for any of it, do I have any grounds to raise this issue? Another family trip to visit an elderly relative is approaching, and I am dreading this situation. Should I just accept that discomfort is sometimes simply unavoidable? Try to get out of any future trips until I find a job and can book a room for myself? Dig into my savings in order to book a separate room and preserve my peace of mind?
—Discomfited

You don’t need a “history of abuse” to explain why you feel both physically and emotionally uncomfortable sharing a bed with a grown brother you don’t know very well. All of the options you’ve laid out seem perfectly reasonable, and there’s nothing wrong with raising this issue despite not paying for the rooms yourself. Whether it’s “usual” for adult siblings to share a bed while traveling isn’t really the point; the point is whether it’s reasonable for you not to like it and to make alternate arrangements. (Good news: It is reasonable for you not to like it!) Tell your parents that you appreciate their generosity but that you can’t get a good night’s sleep sharing a bed with your grown brother, so for future trips, unless they’re able to book you separate rooms, you’ll have to pass and hear about it afterward. It doesn’t really address your parents’ odd practice or the issue of having sufficient space for four people, but in the meantime, most hotels will send up a rollaway cot free of charge if you need a place to sleep without having to fight for blankets with your brother on the next trip.

Dear Prudence,
I have been friends with “Jon” for four years. He’s a great guy but not my type. Four months ago Jon got drunk, confessed his undying love for me, and tried to kiss me. I gently rejected him and got someone else to sober him up. The next day, Jon apologized. I told him I valued our friendship and since then, our things have gone back to normal—but several of our mutual friends are pressuring me to give Jon a chance. They ignore my refusals and try to sell me on him. One got very angry when I started dating someone new and accused me of stringing Jon along. I was honest with Jon, and I have tried to be kind (I don’t complain to him about my love life or anything). I have asked Jon several times if we are OK, and he said yes, but all this interference from our friends has left me with doubts. Jon and I have plans to go to France this summer with another friend, and I have spent a lot of money on nonrefundable tickets. Should I ignore all this or press Jon for more details?
—Pining

I don’t think it’s Jon you need to speak to right now. It’s possible that he’s been pretending to be fine while secretly complaining to your friends, but that’s not at all certain, and the people whose behavior is bothering you right now are your mutual friends—so tell them to knock it off. “I’ve been very clear with Jon from the start that I care about him as a friend and I’m not interested in him romantically. I’m not stringing him along, but I’m also tired of your attempts to convince me I ought to want to be with him. I don’t know why you think it would be a good start to a romantic relationship for one party to have to be repeatedly talked into it. I certainly don’t. You need to stop.” If that does it, great! You have months for everyone to shake this off and move on, and hopefully you can all enjoy your trip together. If things don’t improve, or if you learn that Jon has in fact been complaining about your rejection to mutual friends, then you should either skip the trip or go to France by yourself—it’s a big country, and there’s lots to see there besides people who want to guilt you into a relationship against your judgment and inclination.

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Dear Prudence,
I have two brothers and a sister. Michael and Daniel and I have the same mother but different fathers. My sister Michelle and I share a father. Daniel and I grew up in the same household, but Michael and Michelle were raised by their father and mother, respectively, elsewhere in the country. Daniel and I are close, and when he got a tattoo honoring our deceased mother, I knew I wanted that tattoo as well. Michael is also going to get the tattoo. I love the very personal and beautiful design and am excited to share this with my brothers.

The problem is my sister. After she heard about the tattoo, she then proposed that she, Daniel, and I get matching sibling tattoos as well. (Daniel and Michelle have a sibling relationship; the same cannot be said for Michael and Michelle.) I am not close with my sister—to me she is more like a cousin I see once a year. So far, I have dodged her questions regarding tattoo design and dates, but I’m worried about a direct confrontation. I don’t want the tattoo, but I also don’t want to hurt my sister’s feelings and risk permanent damage to our already-thin relationship.
—Sister of All Trades, Master of None

This is tricky. I’m afraid the things you want—to have a “special sibling tattoo” with your brothers but not your sister, for your sister not to want something special commemorating her relationship with you, not to have to say any of this directly to her, and to keep her at arm’s length without hurting her feelings—may not be perfectly compatible with one another. That doesn’t mean you have to get a tattoo you don’t want, of course, but having gotten one with the rest of your siblings and not her does send a pretty clear message, which she appears to have noticed. You can stress the fact that the tattoo you shared with your brothers honored your deceased mother and offer some alternate event or activity to honor your family relationship with her, but she may feel hurt or rejected regardless of how you phrase things, and I think you should be prepared for that.

Dear Prudence,
I had a very close friend in high school, “Patrick,” who I lost touch with after graduation. Sometime during grad school (still in the days of landlines), I was overjoyed to receive a call from him. He was visiting my city, and we made plans to get together. After I hung up, my female roommate, who was always making lewd remarks about my male friends and trying to hit on them, asked if he was cute. I didn’t want my roommate to treat Patrick like her latest conquest, so I replied, “He has a lot of acne, or at least he did when I last saw him. And I think he’s gay.” These things were true. I hoped that mentioning the acne would make him less appealing to my roommate and that my genuine belief that he was gay would make him unavailable. I picked up the phone to make another call and heard no dial tone. I hadn’t placed the phone properly in the cradle and there was a good chance that Patrick had heard every word.

I was horrified. He did not call the next day, which seemed proof enough. But a few days later, he called to apologize, saying that something had come up and he hadn’t been able to meet me. “Are you mad at me?” I asked, hoping he would confront me. Instead, he replied, “No, why would I be mad at you?” I couldn’t bring myself to apologize, then or later, because if he hadn’t heard, I’d be forced to tell him what I said. Instead, I let the friendship lapse out of guilt and accepted its loss as the price of my being a jerk. He also never contacted me again until recently, when I received a friend request from him on social media. We have exchanged basic catching-up messages, and it’s stirred up these feelings of guilt and loss again. He meant so much to me, and I ruined it. Maybe his contacting me is his unspoken forgiveness! Or maybe he thinks he’s the one who ruined it by flaking out on me that day! Or maybe he assumes we just naturally lost touch. I’m all for owning up to my mistake, but I don’t want to create unnecessary pain. Should I confess?
—Still Hung Up

I’m so sorry that you’ve been carrying around this huge weight for so many years. Whether or not Patrick heard you in the first place, the fact that he’s gotten in touch with you now and wants to reconnect makes it obvious that he misses you and wants you in his life. I don’t think you ruined your friendship with him so much as you felt like you weren’t worthy of forgiveness, and I don’t think that’s the case. You sound like a sensitive, thoughtful person who loves your friend very much. You could, of course, ask Patrick at some point why he thinks the two of you lost touch, and talk about how much you regret not remaining as close as you once were, but I don’t know that performing a postmortem on your youthful estrangement is going to give you the peace and closure you’re longing for, especially if he didn’t hear you all those years ago. What’s true is this: You care deeply for Patrick, you two are speaking again, and you haven’t done anything unforgivable. One offhand comment in an attempt to forestall your friend treating Patrick like a piece of meat 15 or 20 years ago isn’t the sum total of your feelings for Patrick. The love and the friendship there are real, and you two can continue to reconnect without you feeling like you’re carrying around a guilty secret.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“That’s your Dickens character name!”

Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,
Straight cis woman here. I’ve been married to my husband for almost three years, and we’ve been together for eight. Over the weekend, he passed out drunk in our bed with his phone in his hand, open to an anonymous messaging app. He was on some trans- and gay-themed chat rooms under a fake name, where people were scheduling hookups and sending dick pics. He had also received some messages from guys, to which he didn’t appear to have responded. I confronted him about this, and he says that he’s bisexual. He says he’s long had feelings about men but hasn’t ever acted on them or told anyone before me. He says he downloaded the app a few months ago and views it as a form of pornography, that he wanted to just look at the boards anonymously, and that he has no intention to cheat or to be with a man.

We’ve been struggling lately, and his anger and lack of motivation are a factor—I have taken on the “nagging mom/wife” role, which I don’t relish. He says he’s sorry, he will never do this again, he will stop drinking, yada yada. I’m wondering if I can go on living my life with someone who may someday say he’s leaving me for a man (or just cheat on me). He’s 39 and I’m 34, and we were trying to have kids. Is he just repressing being gay? Can he be bisexual and not act on it? I am ashamed that our marriage might not even make it three years, terrified at the thought of figuring out what to do with our house and our lives, and worried I’m missing my shot at a family. When I say there were no clues before this, I mean it. I’m also so broken. What to do?
—What’s Going On

There’s a lot going on here. I think you don’t need to accept your husband’s misdirection at face value. You said, “I’m concerned and upset that you passed out drunk in our bed using an app to receive sexy messages from other people,” and he said, “I’m bisexual,” as if that were a direct response. The anxiety on your part about his bisexuality and what it might mean for your marriage is keeping you from the more serious problems that you listed, any one of which is cause for serious concern: You feel like his mother, you have to nag him, you’re worried about his drinking, you’re not sure you believe his story about using hookup apps as pornography and believe he is entertaining the idea of cheating on you, you’re contemplating ignoring the very serious problems in your marriage because you’re worried about what other people might think, you’re worried that if you don’t have children with this man right now you might lose your chance to do so at all, even though you don’t sound excited at the prospect of having a child together, given the current state of your marriage.

As I said, that’s a lot. Some of your other concerns are more easily addressed, like, “Can my husband be bisexual or must I think of him as a partially repressed gay man?”—the answer to which is, Yes, your husband can be bisexual. Or “Can my husband be bisexual and not cheat on me?,” the answer to which is also yes! The real question is, “Is my husband being honest about his intentions, and has he behaved in ways that make me feel confident and secure in his fidelity?,” the answer to which is quite obviously no. Couples counseling seems like an obvious choice here, and if your husband is reluctant to go, you should go without him. You should also have a conversation about his drinking that goes beyond simply, “I’m going to stop, nothing to see here, this was a total one-off and an aberration and it’s going to be easy for me to start drinking responsibly.” You should also not make any plans to have a child together right now. Whatever happens next for the two of you is going to require numerous sober conversations, honesty, and trust—which you don’t have right now. Whether your husband will be able to provide you with those things still remains to be seen. If he doesn’t, or can’t, then you’ll have to make decisions in your own interests, even if you’re afraid of embarrassment or of having to start over.

Dear Prudence,
My husband has recently told me it bothers him I don’t have hobbies. He thinks I just watch stupid shows like Real Housewives (my guilty pleasure!) while he focuses on musical pursuits. I had to cut back on working out due to injury, plus I am pregnant, so my energy has been a lot lower. In my first trimester, reading was taxing and I couldn’t even handle watching The Crown. I feel like I’m being judged when I need stupid things to watch to relax. It isn’t like I’m lazy. I clean more that he does, I run our household, and I have a successful career. I also don’t understand how his video games are more mentally stimulating that my Bravo favorites. Is there a right answer for this? How should I handle this?
—Husband Has Issues With Lack of Hobbies

Your husband does not have a real problem, unless you are playing shows he hates at full volume for hours on end in the living room (which it doesn’t sound like you’re doing). You are pregnant. You are currently making a brand new human body out of your body, which would be draining on just about anyone, and wanting to watch something mindless while you deal with the discomfort that comes with pregnancy (not to mention running the household and managing your career) is perfectly understandable. It would be one thing if your husband was saying, “We never have date nights anymore, I feel like you prefer the television to me, I want to bowl/hike/dance/whatever together at least once a month, can you compromise with me?” But if he’s merely saying, “You should play video games to relax, like me, rather than watch television to relax” as if there were some sort of meaningful or ethical distinction between the two, then you should invite him not to worry about how you unwind at the end of a long day.

Vintage Dear Prudence

“When my friend became pregnant she asked me if she could buy my kids’ old cot. She knows the cot holds a lot of sentimental value for me, as my late grandfather made it. Unfortunately her baby boy died, and she is planning to burn everything he used due to religious beliefs. I recently went to her place and saw the cot pushed out into the garage along with everything else she is planning to burn. I held my tongue, but I really want my old cot back. Is it callous if I contact her and ask about the cot while she is mourning?