Dear Prudence

Got to Weigh In

My boyfriend won’t stop commenting on my size.

Woman being criticized by boyfriend for weight.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
My live-in boyfriend of almost three years is amazing—when sober. When drunk (about once or twice a month), he’s belligerent, disrespectful, and hurtful. He’s been reconfiguring his life path over the past year after having had most of his goals on the back burner, one of which was getting in shape, and he’s put himself on a strict diet and workout regimen. I’ve been trying to support him but have made some mistakes, like continuing to have cheesy foods around for snacks or insisting on making birthday cakes for him and his family members. He’s been trying to get me to join him on the regimen—I follow it when we’re eating the same meal, but it’s hard to keep track, so occasionally I’ll screw up and make pasta for both of us without thinking about it.

Last night, not for the first time, he turned an innocuous comment I made into a critique of my weight. (He was drunk at the time.) He’s decided that he can’t continue losing weight unless I also lose weight. I let it pass, waited until I was calmer, initiated the conversation about how hurtful that was and how I do not want him to ever discuss my body in a critical way—and he pushed back. Hard. It turned into a huge fight. I don’t regret anything I said but I heavily regret the way I said it, even though I was just constantly reiterating that I do not want him to comment on my body or my weight and that I will continue to support him. I tried to be kind, I tried to be understanding, and two hours in, I snapped and told him that he could either break up with me or stop commenting on my weight. I love this guy with all my heart, and in the morning light I’m feeling like I overreacted, but that’s also not a boundary that I’m willing to let go of. Is that irrational of me, or am I well within bounds?
—Carry That Weight

It’s not irrational, and you didn’t overreact. If your boyfriend is belligerent, disrespectful, and hurtful once or twice a month, and got into a huge fight with you over a simple request like “Please don’t comment on my weight,” then your boyfriend is not expending one-tenth of the effort that you are in trying to be kind and understanding. If you “snapping” involves telling him that he needs to either lay off the digs about your weight and attempts to direct your diet or find another girlfriend, then your version of snapping is particularly restrained and gentle. This is a boundary you shouldn’t be willing to let go of. I can appreciate that you love him and that you don’t want to end your relationship over this, but don’t let the fact that he’s “amazing when sober” overshadow the fact that he’s claimed he can’t lose weight unless you do it first, that he got drunk and spent hours haranguing you for your size, and that he apparently hasn’t apologized even after coming to the day after. Thus far he’s demonstrated no interest in apologizing or changing his behavior, drunk or sober; I think you were right to deliver your ultimatum and owe it to yourself to follow through on it. There are a lot of amazing guys out there who won’t get wasted and mock you for your weight twice a month, and you deserve to be with one of them.

Dear Prudence,
I share a duplex and a front yard with an elderly Jesus freak. He takes any opportunity to proselytize to me, whether in person or over text. I very politely respond that I hope he is having a wonderful day and that I do not practice any religion, but the proselytizing does not stop. I find this generally annoying but easy enough to ignore. However, every Easter he has taken to putting up a tacky cardboard cross with “He is Risen!” emblazoned across the front. Normally I am OK with it, because he takes it down around late April, but this thing is still up, and I have to see it several times a day. He has simply decided that this is now a permanent fixture in the front yard. Beyond getting my own gigantic statue of Baphomet to offset this thing, is there any way to gently ask this otherwise sweet old man to please remove his Jesus junk? Should I just be the bigger person and continue to ignore these somewhat overbearing missionary tactics? I really want to keep the peace with my neighbors. But it’s my yard too, for Chrissakes!
—Cross to Bear

If he hasn’t left off the proselytizing despite your gently letting him know that you’re not religious, I doubt he’ll agree to take the cross down. But whether you decide to be the bigger person and ignore the cross or speak to your landlord (or escalate in some other fashion), it’s certainly still peaceful to make a polite request: “I know you normally take down your Easter decorations in the spring, but I’ve noticed that they’re still up and I was wondering if you were planning on taking them down soon.”

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Dear Prudence,
I was married for six years to the love of my life. I lost him to septic shock in December of 2016. I was completely devastated at the time, but through counseling and grief support, I’m doing much better. My parents, my children, and especially my sister keep asking me when I’m going to start dating again. I’ve tried saying I’m not ready, and I get “But you’re so young!” I’m 50. Honestly, I have no desire to date again. It’s been 17 months since I lost the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. How do I get through to them that I need time and will make the decision for myself? This issue is compounded by the fact that my family didn’t care for my husband, so they think if they’re over it, I should be too.
—Unready Widow

What an unlovely sentiment to convey to someone suffering from bereavement: “I was never wild about your husband, so now that he’s dead, I think you should start dating again.” I’m so sorry your family has tried to pressure you into dating when you’re not just unready but uninterested, and that they’ve gone out of their way to remind you how much they didn’t care for him while he was alive. Tell them that you’re not going to date just because someone else thinks you’re “too young” to do otherwise, that you’re not going to date because they think “enough time” has passed, that you’re not going to date to please anyone but yourself—and it wouldn’t please you. If that doesn’t stop them, consider showing them this letter, so they can get a sense of just how much their “well-meaning” comments are compounding your pain and grief. And you should certainly give yourself permission to cut future conversations short if your relatives can’t drop the subject.

Dear Prudence,
My friend Samantha lost her baby son in a tragic accident a couple years ago. She is currently expecting a baby and has one other child. In a few weeks, Samantha will be in attendance at a ladies-only milestone birthday I’m planning for a mutual friend. The group includes several other pregnant friends and moms, some of whom she knows (and who know her situation) and some of whom she doesn’t know. We don’t usually have parties like this in our group, so there isn’t much precedent.

Can I protect Samantha from well-meaning questions like “How many kids do you have?” as the moms at the party get to know one another? She has told me it’s really difficult to answer those standard questions about kids and I want her to feel comfortable. My goal here is to let people know without Samantha finding out. She’s a tough, smart woman and I don’t want her to feel embarrassed, or like I was spreading her personal information. Or should I just ask her what she prefers?
—Careful Hostess

I think it’s best to ask Samantha what she prefers, especially if you two have discussed this before. It may be that she’d prefer to have you run interference; it may be that she’d be embarrassed at the prospect of your telling a number of strangers on her behalf. The only way to know for sure what she’d like is to ask, and since you are already close enough to talk about this sort of thing, I think she’d appreciate your thoughtfulness in wanting to plan ahead.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“This is like a Russian nesting doll situation of fraught possibilities.”

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

Dear Prudence,
I have been with my husband for almost 20 years. Back in 2011 I told him that I thought he might have adult ADHD, but he’s never seriously considered the possibility. Since then he has had many moments of inattention: forgetting food on the stove, not buying what’s on a grocery list, boiling all of the water out of teapots. In the summer of 2016, he backed into my car after parking it there himself. The repairs cost $3,000. I told him he should see someone before another person gets seriously hurt.

Then he left my dog in his car and the dog suffocated. My last memory of the dog who helped our family get through a rough seven years is seeing him in rigor mortis. My husband called me in a panic. I was hysterical, but I had to keep it together because he needed me to help him figure out how to take the dog to the animal hospital.

And I cannot forgive my husband. I thought something really bad would happen, and it finally did. I warned him so many times. I warned him when he let my toddler play with a drill and he almost drilled through his femoral artery. He went to a therapist who, in his words, “didn’t think there was anything wrong with him.” I still think there is. (He just backed into my car again.) I have asked him to move out repeatedly, and he politely refuses. He says he doesn’t want to leave. Am I justified feeling exhausted by all of this? Am I wrong to just want to walk away from him?

There are a few separate issues here, I think, but the most important one, from where I’m sitting, is the fact that you’ve already tried to take steps toward separation and your husband’s response has been to “politely refuse.” If you’ve asked him to move out and can’t forgive him, then reconciliation does not appear to be your goal, and you should decide whether you’d rather move out yourself or start divorce proceedings (or both). Whether your husband is dealing with untreated ADHD or suffers from some other disorder or is simply periodically careless is beside the point. The fact that your husband seems to think the matter is closed because he got a “No, you’re just fine” from a single professional and offered a “No thanks, I’m good” to your request that he move out tells me that whatever you decide to do, passive noncooperation is all you’ll get from him.

Dear Prudence,
I am a seventysomething gay man. I have a female friend who is 20 years younger than me, whom I’ve known since she was a teenager. She has adult children she’s reasonably close with, and she doesn’t date (as far as I know). I occasionally visit her city, and we usually spend an evening together having dinner and going to the theater. Once she said I could always stay with her during my visits, but I wasn’t interested, so I always just tell her the dates I’ll be in town, the hotel I’m staying at, and what evening I have free for her. We keep in touch over Facebook and email but she also calls me a lot, almost never leaving a message, which leads me to believe she “just wants to talk.” Sometimes I pick up; sometimes I don’t. I’m not crazy about phone calls “just to talk,” from her or from anybody.

Several times she has suggested that we take a vacation together. I made excuses both times. I don’t think we would be compatible on a vacation. (I like independence; she likes constant companionship.) I know there’s supposed to be this special bond between gay men and straight women, but I’ve always thought that was a myth, or if it’s true, that I have somehow escaped it. I’m not interested in a Will & Grace relationship with her. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but there are times when I want her to back off a little, and I’m not sure how to do it. What would really solve the problem is if she found another friend close to where she lived. I introduced her to a gay male friend of mine who lives in her city, and they went to some kind of show together once. Each of them complained to me afterward about how difficult the other one was. What should I do?
—Not Your Gay Bestie

The fact that some gay men and some straight women have historically found a good deal of common ground and developed strong friendships as a result does not mean that you as a gay man are required to take vacations with any straight woman who invites you. The matter of her straightness (or age, or gender) isn’t something you need to take into account when you decide just how much time you’d like to spend with her; if you’d prefer only to get dinner a few times a year and to screen the majority of her calls, you can and should. Don’t feel responsible for setting her up with replacement friends—distracting her with another gay man isn’t going to “solve your problem” because your problem isn’t that she doesn’t have enough friends, your problem is that you haven’t sufficiently communicated what you’re willing to do with and for her. Continue to hold to your boundaries, and if she brings up the possibility of staying with her or taking a trip again, be honest: “Thanks, but I prefer a hotel” and “That’s kind of you to suggest, but I like a lot of independence when I travel and already have my own vacations planned.” You can also tell her that you generally don’t like catching up over the phone and would prefer to stay in touch over email.

Classic Prudie

“My husband, our three young children, and I recently went on a vacation with my in-laws. My mother-in-law loves her grandchildren, but she is very interfering, judgmental, and disrespectful to me and my husband. On this recent visit she brought a children’s book for our 5-year-old daughter that was missing the last two pages. The book was about a girl who visits her grandmother for the summer every year; my MIL wrote an ending with my daughter that said the girl’s parents died and she got to live with her grandmother forever. It was written like a happy ending!”