Dear Prudence


I told my friend I had feelings for her, and she told me she wasn’t interested. Years later, I’m still not over her.

A person on a laptop and an eye with a heart drawn in it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Lane Jackman on Unsplash, Thinkstock, and Andrew Neel on Unsplash.

Dear Prudence,
How do I get over a seven-year-long crush on a friend? We became friends online, and when we met in person a year later, I realized I had a crush on her (up to this point I had always assumed I was straight). A year after that, I told her about my feelings for her. She said she was flattered but not interested, and we remained friends.

I assumed my feelings for her would fade with time, but they haven’t. Over the years I’ve tried not thinking about it, restricting contact, and dating other women, and more recently I’ve tried to get to the bottom of my fixation on her through therapy. I’m scared of losing her as a friend (we are very near and dear to each other), but I realize this friendship is not built on the most honest foundation and I’m just setting myself back. I’m also deeply terrified of “getting out there” and seriously looking for someone I can love who will love me back. I find it hard to believe I can do better than unrequited infatuation or my only other previous relationship, which ended after years due to incompatibility (I’m asexual, he wasn’t). I need expert, practical advice on letting go of these feelings.
—Crash Dummy

Barbara Pym had this to say on the subject of the hopeless, inextinguishable torch: “Something that would linger on through many years—dying sometimes and then coming back again, like a twinge of rheumatism in the winter, so that you suddenly felt it in your knee when you were nearing the top of a long flight of stairs. A Great Love that was unrequited might well be like that.” A more practical goal than “letting go” of these feelings might be figuring out how to live with them and examining what you might be getting out of this situation—what it might be protecting you from or helping you avoid. We can’t beat feelings out of ourselves, generally speaking, but we don’t have to let them drive all of our decision-making. Limiting your contact with her, dating other people, and going to therapy are all good choices, even if they don’t immediately result in the cessation of your romantic feelings, and you should continue to do those things.

It sounds like you’re getting to a point where continuing this friendship seems impossible, and I don’t think you’re necessarily going to lose her forever if you’re honest about why you need to pull back for a while (possibly a long while). You don’t have to go into excessive detail about your feelings for her, but you can certainly share that you haven’t been able to move on from your crush since the last time you brought it to her attention, and it’s become too difficult for you to stay in touch right now. Since the two of you have been so close for so long, it makes sense that you’d need to have a conversation about it rather than simply pull back without speaking. It may be uncomfortable, but if she cares for you, I think she’ll be able to wish you well. You two may even be able to re-establish a friendship on different terms someday, once you’ve been able to make some progress in emotionally untangling yourself from her.

Dear Prudence,
I’m male and on friendly terms with a female co-worker who has some visual impairment. Occasionally, she might have something a little off in her attire: a large red lipstick stain on her glasses or an undone button on her blouse. Recently, she wore a shirt backward, and the tag was sticking out. I’ve given subtle heads-ups to my male co-workers for things like unzipped zippers but don’t want to be seen as policing a woman’s appearance. Then again, I would appreciate similar warnings myself, especially before meetings with clients. Is there a way to help without being overbearing?

As long as you’re bringing this to your co-worker’s attention in a professional and matter-of-fact way, I don’t think you have anything to worry about. “Oh, you’ve got a tag sticking out in the front, by the way” is well within the bounds of collegial looking-out. Since this only happens occasionally, you’re not putting yourself in the position of giving her feedback on a regular basis, and nothing you’ve described is so personal or intimate that it might make you uncomfortable to acknowledge in the workplace. Keep your tone light and move on to another topic once you’ve clued her in, and you’ll be just fine.

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Dear Prudence,
I have a very tight circle of friends. In the half-decade since we graduated, the seven of us have gotten together frequently but never all at once. One of us is the first to get married this summer, and it’s our first opportunity to all be in the same room. The idea that we wouldn’t finally be together for this wedding was at one point inconceivable. Unfortunately, our friend Carla, who works as an actor, was very recently offered a role in a show that goes up the day of the wedding. She accepted. Although the official save-the-date came out earlier this year, the bride, Keri, specifically asked the rest of us early last year to help her pick a date where we would all be available. This is going to be a small, unconventional wedding, but we were among the very few people to be invited, and Carla’s absence will be massively felt. My understanding is that Carla and Keri talked and that Keri is disappointed but not as upset as the rest of us anticipated.

By contrast, I find myself furious. I don’t envy Carla for having to have made the decision, but ultimately the one she made was hurtful. The role is a nice opportunity, but the show only runs four times before it closes. Meanwhile the rest of our collective friendship, for the rest of our lives, will always be tinged with the knowledge that Carla made this choice. She will be absent from photos and memories; stories told in her presence will reside in the shadow of “Well, you weren’t there, but … ” I feel betrayed not only on behalf of the bride but for all of us as a unit. There is the distinct sense that if she’s comfortable skipping this wedding, she’s liable to skip any party or trip we ever plan again.

I am afraid to talk to her about how I’m feeling. We live in the same place, and I don’t want to drive a wedge between us. From comments she made when she first was contacted by the show’s director (“I would NEVER begrudge Keri if she missed MY wedding for the sake of her career!”), I expect she would become self-righteous and defensive. I’m afraid if I bite my tongue for too long it might all come to a head later, during pre-wedding festivities. I also think that she just needs to know that I and at least one other of our friends are deeply upset by her decision. I don’t want to escalate the situation, especially since I seem to be angrier than Keri is. Is my anger still justified, knowing the bride’s stance? How can I talk to her earnestly—or should I at all?
—The Angriest Guest

Carla does not “need to know” how you feel about it—that suggests that Carla has committed some objectively unconscionable act and justice dictates someone tell her the truth about the consequences of her actions. You would very much like to tell her off, which is not at all the same thing as needing to know. I think the key is this sentence: The idea that we seven wouldn’t all get to be together on this day is inconceivable. I think it’s pretty conceivable that a group of seven adults don’t often manage to see one another on the same day, even if they all care for one another a great deal. Carla has not betrayed you nor sacrificed the group’s closeness, and I think you’re investing more significance in this one day—as important as a wedding can be—than is helpful. You may not agree with Carla’s priorities, but she’s not skipping this wedding for frivolous reasons, and if she (or another one of your friends) does miss the occasional ski trip in the future, that’s cause for disappointment but not this level of outrage.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I don’t for a second think all was cloudless before the wedding came up.”

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

Dear Prudence,
My best friend and I came out to each other when we were teenagers, she as gay and me as bisexual. I’m in my 20s now and have a large network of LGBTQ friends, and being bisexual has always been a key part of my “image,” as it were.

However, I don’t think I’m bi anymore. I’ve not felt attracted to women for just over a year now, not just in terms of not having dated any girls but on a conceptual level too, and it’s not a desire I see returning. I’ve started to feel really guilty for maintaining the belief to my social group that I’m also queer when I’m just not. In my case it really does feel like “just a phase,” albeit a phase of nearly a decade. I’m scared that if I “come out” as straight then people close to me will feel betrayed and deceived, and I could lose a lot of friends. But carrying on like this is making me feel like this awful imposter.
—Distressing Revelation

“Coming out” as straight would imply that there was something deceitful or fraudulent about the number of years you lived as a bisexual woman, and that’s not the case. You’re not attempting to retcon the past; you’re being as honest as you can be about how you understand yourself. Don’t frame it as “I have something terrible to tell you: I’m not bisexual, please don’t hate me, sorry for betraying the Cause.” Try this: “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I can’t see myself being attracted to or dating women in the future anymore. I’ve been nervous about sharing this with anyone, because being bisexual has been an important aspect of my identity, but I don’t think that’s going to be part of my life going forward.” You haven’t failed to do something, and you’re not any less valuable a person or a friend for being interested in dating men. Your sexual orientation isn’t a moral attribute, and your friends value you for a great deal more than that.

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I installed hidden cameras in the public areas of our house after personal items went missing. To our shock, we caught my husband’s 15-year-old niece stealing from us and from our son’s piggy bank. She was also sneaking alcohol. We have been paying her to watch our children for several months now. Her parents refused to punish her and tried to play her theft up as a youthful mistake. We told them that she was no longer welcome in our home and that we wanted her to pay back all the money we gave her. I told her she was lucky we didn’t go to the police, and my sister-in-law snapped at me not to “make threats.” This has led to a serious rift in our family.

I found out my niece is now babysitting for several other families we know. I feel it is our duty to warn our neighbors about leaving their children with our niece. Several of them have very small children, and a drunk babysitter could lead to serious consequences. My husband is worried about making things worse with his sister. I feel that there is nothing we can do on that front, short of my sister-in-law becoming a better mother. What should we do here?
—Caught on Camera

I think it’s appropriate to say something to your friends, given that your niece and her parents have both responded to this revelation with “Eh, who cares?” It doesn’t warrant calling the police—a 15-year-old stealing piggy-bank money and sneaking drinks from her aunt and uncle is wrong, certainly, and she should be punished, but it doesn’t merit police intervention—but there’s reason to believe she might continue this behavior. Tell your friends why you had to stop hiring her and encourage them to find babysitters somewhere else. If your sister gets angry about that, that’s too bad, but it’s better than letting your friends get burglarized to preserve your family image.

Dear Prudence,
I’m writing to you about a friend, “Sissy,” I’ve been close with for 10 years now, ever since college. We ended up moving to the same city and attend grad school together. I’m finally going to hand in my dissertation later this year, but Sissy has been derailed by severe depression and a borderline personality disorder, which has left her unable to work for 1½ years now. I love her dearly and have tried my very best to help her—accompanying her to appointments at the doctor’s and the unemployment agency, lending her small amounts of money when necessary—with moderate success. This is fine, if emotionally draining at times.

But something else is bothering me: About six months before her illness we started a publication project together with another colleague. Sissy has just about managed the first of many hurdles, leaving me and the other woman with hundreds of hours of work. Since we thought that Sissy would bounce back soon, we never considered taking her off the project, but now that it is completed with only little input on her part, I feel resentful about giving her credit as editor. We promised we would at the beginning. I feel I should at least list her as (third) editor because that way she will have something to show for herself when she applies for a job, rather than the gaping hole her illness is creating in her CV right now. On the other hand, I put in most of the work despite suffering through massive health problems last year, and I feel that being first editor (out of two) will give me an advantage in our competitive field. I feel both options are equally valid—if I help her, I might end up resenting her and maybe my alternative career. If I don’t, I will resent myself for being egocentric. Is there a way out?
—Publish or Perish

I can’t speak to the specifics of your field, so it may very well be true that being the first of two editors is significantly more meaningful than being the first of three. Only you can weigh the possible benefits there, but it seems to me there’s room for compromise here. (I understand that Sissy may not have been up for high-level conversations about the project sooner, but surely there must have been a moment between “I’m sure she’ll be back any minute now, no need to change the byline” and “This project is entirely finished” where you might have checked in with her about her role.) You might include a special acknowledgments for her role in initiating the project and getting it off the ground, rather than giving her credit for work she didn’t do—which wouldn’t be likely to help her in the long run, if she were expected to do something similar on the strength of your accomplishments. Either way, it will help to check in with Sissy and raise the issue with her, ask her what she’s considering, and what she thinks of your proposal.

Classic Prudie

I hate today’s wedding styles. It’s just too much skin. … The fighting continued as we looked at bridesmaid gowns. I picked one with sleeves; they wanted one with spaghetti straps. I finally offered what I thought was a reasonable compromise: I’ll buy the dress they want and have made, at my expense, short bolero jackets. I would like them to wear the jackets for their walk down the aisle and all the formal pictures. Once the reception starts, they can take them off and throw them in the trash as far as I’m concerned. They are still complaining, and I’m ready to fire them all and elope. Am I out of line?