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! Let’s chat.
Q. Gramma’s toys: My husband, toddler, and I visited my mother and stepfather recently. My child is potty-trained and wanted to use “Grandma’s potty.” Grandma said this was a-OK. After finishing on the toilet, my child opened the top drawer of a dresser before I could catch up to her. Why? I have no idea. But she’s a toddler and loves playing with my socks and stuff. She didn’t find Grandma’s socks. She found her very large drawer of sex toys, hardcore videos, male and female condoms, etc. To top it off, my daughter pulled out the largest dildo I’ve ever seen and asked what it was.
My mother is in her late 60s; the array in that drawer left me with many, many questions I know I’ll never ask her. Here’s my question for you, though: Is it wrong of me to request that she lock this stuff away when we visit?
A: Oh, this is sort of charming! Sort of cringe-worthy, too, obviously. I think the most important lesson here is impressing upon your daughter that she shouldn’t go through other people’s things without permission. She’s a toddler, of course, so that lesson isn’t going to take immediately, but that doesn’t mean that in the meantime you can’t keep stressing the importance of privacy. You can certainly ask your mother to lock up her drawer if you’re bringing your kid to visit, but I don’t think your daughter is going to incur any lasting damage from having once seen something she was too young to understand.
Q. Happy anniversary?: This weekend I was looking around a thrift store and found a framed wedding invitation from the 1950s for a tragic $3.99. The date on the invite indicates that the couple would have just celebrated 60 years together. It bothered me to think of someone’s family memories for sale in a sticky secondhand store, so I bought it.
After some sleuthing online, I can’t find any record of either person’s death, or of their divorce. I managed to locate their adult daughter on Facebook, and she posted a picture of her parents four years ago that gave the impression that everyone is alive, well, and happy together.
Should I send her a message and let her know about my find? I don’t want to stir up unhappy memories if there’s a good reason that this heirloom ended up at a thrift store thousands of miles away, but maybe they’d like to have it?
A: I hate to say it, but I’m afraid that most family memories do eventually end up for sale in secondhand stores, or moldering in garages, or eventually thrown away. My first guess is that this framed wedding invitation didn’t come from the family itself, but from a guest who later died (or simply wanted to streamline how many framed wedding invitations they had in their house). I think going to all the trouble of tracking down their adult daughter and scrolling through several years of her Facebook posts is a bit excessive, and given that you have no reason to think they’re anxiously searching for 60-year-old wedding invitations, you should leave well enough alone.
Q. Mustn’t love dogs: I don’t like dogs. I am kind to animals I meet and can appreciate a cute face or a good personality, but, in truth, my preferred level of interaction with dogs is pictures of dogs, which are inert and at which I may glance momentarily before passing by. My best friend of many years has a dog to which she is very attached. Although I do not understand this relationship, I am glad it brings her joy. The problem is she seems to have the expectation that I also love her dog.
After several years in strict pet-free living circumstances, I am preparing to move to a building that is pet-friendly. My friend is already making plans to bring her dog on visits. I have nothing against the dog—it brings my friend happiness and behaves fine—but I have enjoyed living pet-free, with all the cleanliness that confers. I do not want a dog in my home or on my furniture, not even for a weekend.
I don’t know how to broach this topic with my friend. When I have alluded to not being a dog person in the past, the conversations have tended to end up in one of two directions: jokes that I am a terrible monster for not loving dogs, or requests for affirmation that I feel affection for her dog. It’s as though by not loving her pet I would be rejecting her. I like the dog, but I still don’t really want to touch the dog or things that have been in its mouth. I feel petty and mean for valuing my anxiety about this over my friend’s very real bond with her animal, but I know I would not enjoy a minute of a visit with a dog in my house. How can I bring this up without sounding like I hate her dog?
A: “I don’t want you to bring your dog with you when you visit my new apartment. I’m so glad you love your dog, but I enjoy having a pet-free home. When I’ve tried to bring this up in the past, we haven’t been able to get anywhere because you’ve either joked that I’m a monster for not loving dogs, or asked me to tell you that I love yours. I’m really looking forward to having you over, but I’d like you to leave your dog at home.”
You’re not being petty or mean by requesting that your friend not bring her dog over when she visits. You’re not preventing her from spending time with her pet—they still get to live together, after all—or devaluing their bond. Frankly, she’s been overbearing by neglecting to ask if you wanted her to bring the dog.
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Q. How do I get lesbian elders to adopt me?: I just met some old school lesbian separatist back-to-the-landers, and I want them to adopt me. But I am also bad at making friends at all, much less inspiring dream-friends. They are older, live on their land in the next county, cultivate and sell native plants, quilt, and have a blog on ecofeminism. I am but a lowly, town-dwelling young person with rudimentary gardening and crafting skills.
How do I cast aside my social anxiety and befriend these Amazons?
A: You’ve already met, and have a lot of mutual interests, which is an excellent foundation for a burgeoning friendship. You can ask for advice about gardening or quilts, or express an interest in spending more time together. I’d recommend leaving off the “Adopt me” sentiment unless and until you think they’d appreciate it (some might find that charming, others a little off-putting). If you feel anxious, lead with that—”I think you two are so fantastic, and in so many ways you have the life I want. I’d love to be friends, but I’m anxious and uncertain as to how to go about it.”
Q. Re: Mustn’t love dogs: I’m a huge dog lover and well on my way to nutty dog lady status, but I’m sensitive that not everyone else loves dogs like I do. In general, I don’t bring my dog to someone else’s place unless they have a dog and I’ve already asked permission.
She should not bring her dog to your place. It’s your place, your rules, and you are well within your rights to kindly let her know well in advance that she cannot bring her dog. There is nothing wrong with that at all. If she reacts badly, that’s unfortunate, but most dog lovers I know would respect your answer. Please don’t let her bring the dog. The dog will know it’s not welcome, and it will freak you out.
A: You’ve got at least one dog-lover’s support, letter writer!
Q. Queer eye for a straight housemate?: I’m a queer woman planning to live with four female friends next year. We’re on the hunt for a fifth housemate, and an acquaintance of one of my friends has asked about the room. I’ve been told she’s nice, and also that she’s religious and observant. I’ve had some bad experiences in the past coming out to religious family and acquaintances. How do I gently flag things like the fact that I’m gay, or that we drink alcohol in the house and bring back overnight guests, without sounding like I’m jumping to conclusions about her beliefs? I don’t want to assume she’s against any of those things, but nor do I want anything to be a surprise for her or us.
A: It’s pretty customary to say things like “gay-friendly” in advertisements for roommates in order to screen people out. Give your prospective roommate a brief rundown of your living situation, but don’t flag any specific issue as one you assume she might have a problem with: “The trash gets taken out Monday nights, we’re pretty casual about overnight guests, quiet hours are between X and Y, we’re a gay-friendly house, we rotate cleaning the kitchen on a weekly basis, alcohol is fine, street sweeping is every other Wednesday.”
Q. Breakups, what are those like?: I have never broken up with anyone. My dating life (eight years or so) has been spent getting blackout drunk, doing something stupid (usually involving sex), and then being broken up with. Currently I am in therapy, and I have started to try and sort out the drinking.
I have a girlfriend, “Anita.” She’s great, but we’ve been together over a year and that’s usually my trigger to self-sabotage and make her hate me. This time I’d like to do the adult thing and just step up and break up with her before I hurt her. But how should I do that? My therapist says I should think about it before I do anything and then just be honest, but how can someone hear “I’m inevitably going to cheat on you” and not feel bad? I really care about her, I just am not in a great place to date right now. (Nor, apparently, have I been at any time in the last decade.)
A: You don’t have to break up with Anita just because the one-year mark is historically when you’ve gotten blackout drunk and made your girlfriends hate you. That said, if you just don’t want to be in a relationship right now, while you simultaneously re-examine your dating history and choices, that’s a perfectly sound reason to end things. You don’t have to try to predict the future—“I’m inevitably going to cheat on you”—in order to break up; just tell her that you’re not up for being in a relationship right now, that you’re trying to unlearn a lifetime of bad habits, and want to be alone. This will, of course, hurt her—there’s no version of this scenario where you get to do what you want without hurting anyone. But it’s a normal sort of hurt, the sort of hurt that arises from any breakup, and a hurt she’ll be able to get over.
Q. Re: How do I get lesbian elders to adopt me?: Reach out to them! I can tell you as someone who is almost all those things that I jump at the opportunity for someone to come to my farm to learn about gardening, help out in my greenhouse, or to meet my livestock. Contact them and say you would love to hang out with them and learn from them, while helping them on their farm.
A: And let us know how it goes! I think this may be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
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