Dear Prudence

Barking Mad

My mom is obsessed with her dogs. My fiancée is allergic to them. I’m stuck in the middle.

Photo illustration: An older woman smiling with a dog next to an image of a young girl holding a tissue to her nose.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
My mother is retired and found a purpose in fostering rescue dogs. Unfortunately, my fiancée and her young daughter are both profoundly allergic. My mother gets offended because she can’t bring her “puppers” over to visit me and we will not come over and stay with her. Last Christmas we had to drive 200 miles to stay in an uncomfortable motel room and go out to an expensive restaurant so we could see her. My mother complains she doesn’t see me and calls my fiancée a “dog hater.” This is fraying my relationship with my mother. She is irrational about these dogs: They are pets, not people, and certainly not as important as her soon-to-be grandchild! My mother refuses to get a dog-sitter and thinks my fiancée and her daughter should just take some allergy pills. This situation is only going to get worse when I marry my wife and adopt this little girl. How do I get through to her?
—Canine Complications

The good news, at least, is that you have been able to keep your fiancée and stepdaughter safe by keeping the dogs out of your home—you’re doing well so far. “Mom, I know these rescue dogs mean a lot to you, and I’m happy for you and proud of the work you’ve done to help them. My fiancée and her daughter don’t have the kind of allergies that can be treated by over-the-counter pills. It’s not safe for them to spend time around dogs. It has nothing to do with their feelings for dogs, and it’s not something they have any control over. I’m not asking you to like this situation, but it’s not ever going to be possible for them to spend time in the same house as the dogs, so I hope you can find a way to reconcile yourself to it. I would hate for you to miss out on time with your new granddaughter. What I need from you is to stop trying to make them feel guilty for having severe allergies and suggest they just get over it or take pills that don’t work. They’re not physically capable of compromising on this issue, so whenever you revisit the topic, it’s unproductive and unkind. I don’t think that’s how you want to treat them, so I’m asking you to stop. I hope you do.”

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I strongly doubt such a time will come but hope is indeed the thing with feathers.”

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

Dear Prudence,
I’m a permanent college student. I have talked to a dozen school advisers, career center staff, a career coach, a life coach. No one gives me advice other than to follow my heart. At this point, I need better advice. I graduated college in 2011. I majored in communication, thinking I wanted to go into radio broadcasting or writing, but once I completed an internship I realized I disliked radio and decided not to pursue it. I have been a supermarket supervisor for a decade, which has barely supported me financially. My managers have been trying to get me to become a manager for years—they make great money, and I’m on the verge of just going for it, but I’m positive I would get burnt out after a few months. (These managers live at the store and deal with a lot of BS that I find to be unbearable.)

I have tried getting into an X-ray tech program (denied), gotten into a baking/culinary program (I accepted but couldn’t commit), tried being a travel agent (didn’t like sitting at a desk on the phone all day), worked in bakery production (too boring), finished three-quarters of a master’s-level teaching program (got bored and quit), and finished half of another program for secondary ed (couldn’t pass the state math exam). I just completed a one-year dental assisting program and got hired, but I hated it and quit after a week because they really misrepresented the job they hired me for. I just found a job at a specialty dental office and am going to give it a shot, but I am expecting the same outcome.

My biggest issues are: I like having control and supervising, I am not a huge people person (although I can fake it), and I get bored fast. I have a lot of student-loan and credit-card debt. My boyfriend and I want to get married and buy a house, but he doesn’t trust that I can keep a job. I can’t blame him. I have no problem getting hired because I interview well, but I end up disliking everything I try. My dream would be to have the means to travel and to have my own cafe serving vegan food. That makes me think I need to go to culinary school—but why commit myself to another project I may not stick with? What is my next move? I can’t keep doing this.

I can see why “follow your heart” has not been useful advice to you in this particular instance! It has generally resulted in following your immediate impulses, and as a result you’re deeply in debt, lack meaningful and consistent job experience, and in a crisis rely on what you’re familiar with—abandoning the task at hand and trying something else. Certainly the coaches you’ve consulted with aren’t helpful: Anyone who hears “I’m in debt, I can’t go on the way I’ve done in the past, I can’t commit to a job and it’s holding me back both professionally and in my personal relationships” and responds, “Well, just follow your heart” is not listening to you. That doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up or treat it as an issue of character, but it seems worth attending to seriously. I’m curious whether you’ve ever spoken to a doctor or psychologist about the possibility of ADHD, especially if this is something you’ve struggled with for much of your life. It may be worth doing some research there to see if there’s a form of support you need that you’re not getting.

But that may not be your situation, and I don’t want to suggest that job- and school-hopping is always diagnosable! I think that you should take the possibility of further higher education or opening your own business off the table. That’s expensive and risky under the best of circumstances, and your circumstances at present are not optimal. I think you should stay at your current job since it enables you to pay your own bills, not attempt to start anything new, and focus on seeking help from medical/mental health professionals with expertise in helping patients with executive function difficulties. What you need right now is not to commit to any new ventures, but to address the issue that’s prevented you from enjoying your life and moving forward.

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Dear Prudence,
My boyfriend of four years has been going through a rough time recently. He quit his job a few weeks ago (he’d hated it for a while now) and claimed he wanted to use the time to “get himself back together.” He now stays up till 3 a.m. playing video games, eating fast food, and ordering gaming technology online. Before quitting his job, he went to one counseling session and hated the therapist, so he never went back. I’ve watched numerous couples who got together after us get engaged and married in the time we’ve been together; he says he wants to marry me, but there’s no ring in sight, and it’s depressing and stressful to come home to a grown-up baby. I’m getting fed up. He has one potential job lead and has been working on his résumé but there aren’t any other signs of progress. How can I give him a kick in the pants to get his life back on track?
—Endless Childhood

The only person one can reliably give an effective kick in the pants to is oneself. It’s important to separate for the time being the issue of your boyfriend’s unemployment and time management and the issue of your desire for commitment. If what you want is to be engaged to someone with a clear vision for the future and the ability to take active steps toward the things they want, then I think you should make that clear to your boyfriend—he’s not the only person with the power to get engaged in your relationship. If he seems content to keep your relationship exactly as it is, without any deeper commitment or planning for the future, then you two may not want the same things, and you should tell him that this is important enough to you that it would be worth ending your relationship over if you’re not on the same page. If that motivates him to do something different, that’s great. But I don’t think you would ultimately be happy with marriage to a man who had to be kicked in the pants in order to get there.

Dear Prudence,
I do front-line work in the criminal justice system. About a year and a half ago I was sexually assaulted. What followed was severe PTSD, nightmares, and a lot of drinking to cope. My job had a lot to do with the severity of my symptoms. I had already scheduled a year’s leave to travel, so I stuck around until it came up. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t magically fix everything. I made a lot of bad financial decisions and ended up incurring about $10,000 in debt, but I eventually settled overseas, stabilized, and started to heal. My finances are still very tight. Now my leave is coming to an end and I don’t know what to do. My job back home provides great income and benefits (including mental health treatment) but will be horrifically triggering, and I will need to stay for at least six months to make the cost of returning worth it. My lifestyle here is amazing, but there are not a lot of opportunities to get back on my feet financially. I feel like I have to choose between being ruined financially and being ruined psychologically. Do I go? Do I stay?

The best thing to do with your remaining leave, I think, is to search out alternative work back home so that you don’t feel like your only options are to return to a job that constantly re-traumatizes you or ruin your financial stability overseas. It doesn’t sound like staying where you are is really tenable, so I think you should start planning your return, if only because it’s easier to access support from friends and family if you’re in the same country. Getting deeper into debt will be challenging if you’re also trying to maintain your mental health and sense of well-being, but going home does not also mean you have to go back to your old job—especially if you know that even sticking it out for another six months would be, in your own words, “horrific.” Tell your friends and family about your fears, and ask for help looking for work and developing a financial plan that will ease your return to the country if you don’t also return to your old job. Even a temporary position in a field you don’t necessarily want to stay in for very long, as long as it’s relatively calm, will be an improvement over putting yourself back in the trenches of the criminal justice system.

Dear Prudence,
I broke up with my ex-girlfriend in February because she took financial advantage of me and treated me in a manner I found fetishistic and cruel because I’m autistic. Since the breakup she’s messaged me repeatedly about cheating on her current partner and disrespecting his gender identity, as well as making Rain Man jokes about me.

I had crashed her car in January. Luckily no one was hurt and I paid all bills in full, arranged for the car to be towed and repaired, coordinated with the DMV, and consulted a lawyer. But her car wasn’t insured at the time, and she’s been given a misdemeanor for allowing her car to be driven without insurance. I think she may be in further trouble for failing to appear in court.

A few days ago she started bombarding me with texts, calls, and Facebook messages demanding help with her legal troubles. I don’t want to, in part because she’s been committing insurance fraud and that’s almost certainly going to come up during her trial. However, she’s suggested that she’s going to try to blame me to get out of trouble. I don’t think she has anything on me, but if she wanted to pull me into court by, for instance, accusing me of stealing her car, I would still have to show up. Cross-country plane tickets are expensive, and I don’t want to waste vacation days to show up to court for her nonsense. So far my plan has been to be polite but detached. Am I on the right path? Is there anything I can do besides sit back and wait? Do I have a moral and ethical obligation to at least inform her about what I know, even though I find her behavior repugnant?
—Misdemeaning Ex

I think you consult the lawyer you hired at the time of the accident and get specific advice about what your legal obligations are and what you should (or more importantly, shouldn’t) say. There is no reason for you to continue to talk with your ex given that you don’t sound interested in maintaining a friendship with her (I wouldn’t either), and have already discharged your responsibilities by having her car repaired. If you are summoned to appear in court, my guess is that you’ll simply have to suck it up and go, but that’s getting several steps ahead of yourself. I’m not sure what relevant information you have that she doesn’t about her own situation, but as long as you’ve been clear and honest about your role in the accident as well as given her all the necessary information about her car’s repair, then you certainly don’t owe her more than that. Continue to be polite but detached, don’t feel the need to do anything just because she offers (likely empty) threats, and talk to your lawyer so you can protect yourself.

Dear Prudence,
My partner and I recently moved cross-country to attend a Ph.D. program in a city where I knew very few people. We each had a very active social life in our previous city but were still happy to make the move because of how much better the job market is here. It’s been almost a year and I find I’m still having trouble connecting with people inside and outside of my school. We have a few friends, most of whom we knew prior to moving, but it’s been an uphill battle to find people we like and can hang out with on a regular basis. How do we find our footing here, and how do we make some more lasting friendships?
—How to Make Adult Friends?

I think the best (and easiest) way to make more friends is to take advantage of your current pool of friends! Tell the people you’re already close with that you’re still trying to find your footing and that you’d love to meet some of their friends, if they’re ever planning a night out or hosting a party or have anyone they think you might like to be introduced to. There’s the usual, more general advice, too—get out more, attend local meetups or hobby groups, find other people who share your non-work interests and cultivate relationships there, take the initiative to invite more people out to coffee even if you’re not sure whether they’re long-term friend material—but in the long run, you’re likelier to meet people you like through the people you know and like already. It will take time, so patience is key here, but the fact that you’ve already found a few friends you both like in your first year is an excellent sign. People love to feel useful and like their social recommendations carry weight; I imagine most of the people you know will feel flattered if you say, “Hey, I’d love to meet more of your friends—I’m still trying to develop a wider social circle here, and I bet you know a lot of great people.”

Classic Prudie

“I don’t think the problem is that your wife is a lesbian, although she might be, I suppose. Anyone might be; we’re all subject to Schrödinger’s lesbian.”