Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, everyone! Let’s chat.
Q. About to explode!: I have never liked my husband’s brother and his wife—they are toxic together. I keep my distance while remaining polite at family functions. Years ago, they asked my husband and me to be godparents to their child. We accepted. Over the years, we have developed a wonderful relationship with this child, in spite of my feelings toward his parents.
My problem is that I was recently told, in a roundabout way, that my sister-in-law cleared out the savings account we created for our godson to pay off her credit card debt, which she managed to rack back up again in a few months. I am so hurt and angry that I want to explode. My husband feels that what’s done is done, but I can’t move past my anger and the disappointment I feel for my godson. How do I address this with the parents without possibly ruining my relationship with this child in the process?
A: I’m not sure. If you were told in a roundabout way, I’m wondering if you have the full story directly from the source. I also don’t know if some of this debt was incurred as part of the regular cost of raising a child (clothing, transportation, school fees, household management, etc.), or if it was entirely unrelated. If your sister-in-law used the savings account to cover her gambling habits, that would feel quite different than if she used it to pay off more mundane expenses.
Either way, I think both you and your husband are right. The money is gone, and in the future if you ever want to make sure that money you’ve earmarked for your godson stays in his hands only, you should set up the sort of account that even his parents can’t touch. But that doesn’t mean you can’t feel frustrated and angry over your sister-in-law’s choice, or that you have to stay totally silent, only that it will help to stay realistic about what you can and can’t change.
I think the wisest course of action, that’s likeliest to result in getting what you want—money for your godson—and to avoid a big blowout with people you’ve called “toxic,” is simply to tell your in-laws that you’re setting up an account for your godson in trust so that you can help provide for his future. If the “roundabout” way you heard about her using the money was from her rather than the family grapevine, then I think you have grounds to go back and be more direct—but even then I don’t think you’re likely to get the outcome you want.
Q. Dueling disabilities: My co-worker is going to start bringing a service dog to work (not an emotional support animal). The problem is that I am highly allergic to dogs, or anything with fur. If I spend more than a couple of hours with a dog, or where one is continually, I can’t breathe right. I stopped going to my aunt’s house over this. Now I’m going to be trapped 8-plus hours with one every day. It’s only a matter of time before this lands me in the hospital or worse. But I don’t think allergies are a recognized or protected disability of the kind that affects people who need a service dog. Do I have to give up a job I love?
A: The Americans With Disabilities Act does include protection for allergies and asthma, and you are entitled to reasonable accommodation from your employer. That may include working in a separate part of the office or working from home. You can learn more at the ADA website, and you should speak to your employer about your condition so they can take steps toward accommodating you both. It may still be that you’re not able to arrive at a perfect solution, but before quitting, try to find out what your employer can do in the meantime.
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Q. Mourning: I loved my husband, who died last month after going through a yearlong illness that wasted him away to nothing. We were married 30 years. I am empty and tired, and my house smells of antiseptic no matter what flowers I bring in or candles I burn. I am going on a cruise in July. My children are greatly upset with me over this. I have been accused of being hard-hearted and not respecting their father enough. My children saw their father once or twice at the beginning of this illness and came back right before the end. I can’t blame them—they live far away and have busy lives of their own—but I can’t deal with their accusations right now.
How do I speak with them about this? Every conversation I start off in my head comes across as scolding them for not being there during their father’s illness. I don’t want that, but I want to tell them I was mourning long before we buried my husband.
A: I am so, so sorry that your children are behaving so selfishly and cruelly. Please give yourself total freedom to disregard their baseless accusations, especially given the way they kept their distance as your husband was dying. You may not need to blame them for not being able to visit more often, but you can certainly blame them for expecting you to shut yourself away and grieve alone in your empty home, forgoing a change of scenery and chance to relax after nursing your husband through a yearlong illness. Tell them that this is not something you are taking advice on, that if they can’t refrain from commenting on your trip then you will speak when you get back, when you hope they will be able to behave with more compassion and understanding. (And I hope you have an absolutely wonderful time. You deserve it.)
Q. Worried about overstepping boundaries with friend’s kid: Recently my friend’s teenage child came out to me as queer and pursuing relationships with girls. Being bisexual myself, I tried to offer her encouragement and asked her questions about how she was getting along with her mother and family, who are anti-LGBTQ. I shared with her a little bit about my own struggles being queer with conservative family members. She already had my phone number, so I told her to text me if she ever wanted to talk.
I am worried that her mother might find out about our conversation and get mad at me or her daughter. I know she knows a little about her daughter’s sexuality and has tried to dissuade her from it. I want her daughter to hear that it is OK to be who you are, and to know someone that accepts her, but I also feel uncomfortable having these conversations behind her mother’s back. I am worried I might even endanger her daughter’s well-being by encouraging her to be open. They are a lovely family for the most part, and I know what it’s like to have Christian relatives whom you love but who you can’t share all of your life with.
Is it right for me to insert myself in this situation? I am going to back off and let her daughter come to me if she ever needs support, but even then, I don’t know what I can say to her that wouldn’t sound to her mother like I am pushing her daughter toward “sin.”
A: If all you’ve said to this girl is, “Hey, I’m bisexual myself, and I know how hard it is to have homophobic relatives, so let me know if you ever want to talk,” then I think you’re on perfectly solid ground. You’re not inserting yourself into a private family situation, and just because you know this girl’s mother to be homophobic does not mean you have an obligation to be cold and distant. Letting the girl know that she can lead the conversation if she ever wants to talk to you was the right move, given your respective ages and the fact that she’s currently relatively safe. You’re not going behind her mother’s back. You’re letting a teenager know that there’s at least one adult in her life who won’t judge or dismiss her on the basis of her sexuality.
Q. Naïve or overly suspicious?: I’m in a long-distance, open relationship with “Virginia.” Our boundaries allow us to have sex with other people, but not to date or get emotionally involved. A few weeks ago, Virginia slept with her close friend “Hazel.” This made me uncomfortable, because they are very close. We talked about it and Virginia reassured me that it was a one-off thing. I felt better, and we moved on. I’ve started to get jealous of their relationship, often finding myself triggered by their flirtatious banter on social media. Virginia insists that she loves me but also says she’s tired of affirming me. I asked if she thought she will develop feelings for Hazel, and she said she “doesn’t know what will happen in the future.” I want to trust Virginia, but sometimes I think I’m being played. How do I move past this?
A: I’m not sure you should move past this! The agreement you and Virginia have was predicated on not sleeping with people you were emotionally involved with—a near-impossible thing to achieve perfectly, but I digress—which fairly clearly precludes sleeping with very close friends. She also apparently told you after the fact, which means that you didn’t have the opportunity to ask any questions or voice concerns. And now she’s said she’s not sure if she’s going to develop more romantic feelings for her friend in the future. I think it’s very likely that Virginia’s relationship with Hazel—whether they sleep together again or not—will continue to contain a romantic element. If you’re still interested in staying with Virginia given this unique exception to your rule, then I think the wisest course of action is to mute Hazel on social media so you don’t have to watch their interactions. If this feels like a deal-breaker, whether they’re still sleeping together or not, then I think you should seriously consider whether this relationship is still working for you.
Q. Dog sitter vs. celebration: Two longtime friends got married last year while I was in graduate school. I traveled a significant distance, in the middle of my exam period and a difficult pregnancy, to be at their legal ceremony. Several months later, now the single parent of a newborn, I traveled again to be a bridesmaid in their wedding celebration. I am never planning to marry, but I am having a celebration of the start of my family. I told them when I set the date, many months in advance, how important it is to me. They just told me they are not coming because it’s too difficult to find a dog sitter. (They live in a large city with an abundance of pet sitters, and they make a lot of money).
I’m incredibly hurt, and I am torn about whether to talk to them about it. A conversation in which I explain that I thought we were more important to each other than they apparently do sounds kind of humiliating, but we have many close mutual friends and it would be conspicuous if I just friend-ghosted them, which is the most emotionally appealing solution. What do I do?
A: I think it’s worth having a follow-up conversation, although I can understand your reluctance, given how vulnerable you feel about the prospect of feeling like your friendship is one-sided. You don’t have to lead with some of the more embarrassing feelings you’re experiencing right now. Try this: “I wanted to talk with you again about the date of my celebration. Is there something going on with your dog that I don’t understand? It’s really important to me, and it would mean a great deal if you could be there, and I know there are a number of pet-sitting services you can afford in your city. I’m not clear on why it would be impossible to hire someone to look after your dog for a few days. We’ve been good friends for a long time, and I want you to know how much this means to me.”
Q. Closeted father: I believe my 62-year-old father is gay. He and my mother were married for over 30 years before she passed away from cancer in 2014. He was devoted to her until her last breath, and he has mourned significantly since she passed. He looks to me as his IT support, so I have often cleaned his computer of malware and updated his security settings, etc. Since before my mother passed, as well as after, I have seen cookies and malware related to gay porn websites. He knows that I love him no matter what. I have defended LGBTQ rights since I was a 16-year-old rainbow-wearing girl. How do I let him know that I know, and that it doesn’t change anything for me, or—I’d hope—the majority of our family? I just want him to be happy, and I don’t want him to feel like he has no one to confide in.
A: I think, given the nature of what you’ve seen, you should not mention the porn he’s accessed on his computer. He likely knows that you support gay people, if you’ve been this vocal an ally from such a young age, and may have a variety of reasons for not mentioning it to you. (He may like gay porn but not be interested in pursuing relationships with men.) Continue to be the loving and supportive daughter to him you’ve always been, help him clear his browsing history, and leave it at that.
Q. Re: Dueling disabilities: JAN outlines different accommodations employers can make for employees who are allergic to service animals. (Some of the accommodations are for the employee with service dog, others are for employee with allergies.)
A: Thank you so much for this! Another commenter suggested looking through some of the relevant tags on the Ask a Manager archives, since Alison has tackled similar questions and has some more in-depth advice about how to go about getting accommodations.
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