Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Let’s chat, everyone!
Q. Changing religions: After some traumatic events, I’ve chosen to distance myself from my religion. However, my husband is very religious, and when we got married he expected us to always share a faith tradition. I don’t blame him, I did too—but after my experiences, I’ve changed.
I have no idea how to talk to him about it without it turning into him accusing me of being misleading and heading down a bad path. I also feel like no matter how I try to tell him that I totally support him continuing to be religious, and whether or not I continue to attend services, he’ll still feel like I’m insulting him and his faith. Our relationship is so great—until we discuss religion. Now I’m kind of stuck pretending I’m a believer. It feels dishonest, but I feel trapped.
A: I can understand your trepidation, but I think even painful disagreement will be an improvement over keeping silent and feeling trapped. Yes, when the two of you married you shared a religious faith, but we don’t commit ourselves to never changing for the rest of our lives based on who we were on our wedding day. You haven’t betrayed your vows by following the dictates of your own conscience, so even if your husband is personally hurt over your convictions—don’t feel like you’ve wronged him in any way by being honest with yourself and with him.
Maybe he will lob baseless accusations at you, maybe he’ll decide you’re insulting his faith no matter how supportive you remain of his religious observance, maybe he’ll surprise you and rise to the occasion, but you can’t forestall this confrontation indefinitely by forcing yourself to pretend something you no longer believe. If you don’t already have someone you can talk to about this, preferably someone who is not a member of your former religious faith, I hope you’ll seek out a secular counselor or non-religious friend who can offer support and counsel as you try to share this with your husband.
You and your husband don’t have to hammer out every single detail of the differences between your respective worldviews tomorrow—you can certainly set limits on how often and in what fashion you discuss religion—but I think you’ll feel enormous relief, even if the first conversation goes quite badly, once you’ve been honest with him. You say you don’t know how to talk to him about it, and I think you should lead with all the reasons you’ve been afraid to speak to him. Share your fears that he’d accuse you of misleading him, that you’re worried he won’t think your support of his faith is genuine, and that you don’t want this to get between the two of you. I can’t promise that everything is going to work out, but I sincerely believe that you’re doing the right thing and deserve the chance to be honest about your beliefs with your husband. Pretending sounds exhausting.
Q. Not in hot water: Is it rude to limit guests’ shower time? I have a disorder that causes excessive sweating and need to take multiple showers per day. I live in a city with a wet, cool climate, and when I travel frequent showers become even more important. My son, Dick, and his wife, Jane, live in a desert area. On my last visit they mentioned drought-related water restrictions and asked me to limit my water use. I offered to just take a quick, 15-minute rinse in the mornings and a full shower (about 30 minutes) in the evenings, but Jane said this was still too much. She claimed she understood about the two showers but asked me to keep them each under 7 minutes. This was impossible, especially due to their weird, low-water pressure. I was miserable the entire time. Can you help me explain my predicament to them?
A: I’ve been raised in drought-prone California most of my life, so the idea of a full shower lasting 30 minutes—or considering a 15-minute shower “quick”—is a bit hard to wrap my mind around. It would be one thing if your disorder made it difficult for you to clean yourself within 7 minutes, but you don’t say that the shower wasn’t effective, just that it wasn’t enjoyable. Since they’re able to concede the two showers a day, I think you’ve already reached a fairly effective compromise. That said, there’s a fairly wide range between 7 and 30 minutes—if it’s truly a challenge to get yourself clean in 7, you might frame your request like this: “It’s fairly difficult to get myself clean in under 7 minutes, but I’ll do my best to keep it under 10 minutes, and I appreciate your consideration.” If you really hate their house policy and it’s not too expensive, it might be worth considering staying in a nearby hotel during your next visit.
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Q. I lent my less successful brother money: Last year I made a modest loan to my brother. I have an MPA and earn a quite good living in the public sector. He has a bachelor’s degree but is less studious and conscientious. He works on commission as a car salesman, even now earning barely more than half what I do. He made only three payments on the loan. Our maternal grandmother died recently and left us an annuity worth roughly a quarter-million each, which we have both chosen to draw down over five years. He at first suggested that he would pay the loan off in a lump sum after receiving his first disbursement of inheritance, but from what I can tell, all he has done with it is buy a truck.
He was supposed to have paid the loan off by this month. I promised that I would keep the loan confidential and have been patient, but by now I feel as though my courtesy has been dishonestly exploited. Yet I feel I have no recourse; there is a written contract, but it is a symbolic, not legal document. I could, contrary to our original agreement, tell our parents about the loan or even try to embarrass him before his new girlfriend, but I would loathe myself for doing so and I expect that it would just poison our relationship. What am I to do, refuse to give him a Christmas present? We have always been amicable but never close, and I feel like he’s taken advantage of my generosity and offended my “sense of honor.” I just want my loan repaid and generosity vindicated, but I don’t know how to achieve that.
A: On the one hand, there’s reason to be grateful that it only took a “modest loan” to teach you about the dangers of lending money unofficially to family members. You ran a substantial risk in offering to lend your brother cash off the books, and I think it’s at least fairly likely that you won’t see that money again. You’re right, however, to dismiss out of hand the idea of running to your parents to tattle on him, or the option of trying to involve his girlfriend—neither will actually help you talk to him, and they certainly won’t get you your money back. If you did that, it would only be out of a desire to spite and humiliate him, and would likely end your relationship.
Since your brother has made at least a half-hearted attempt to repay you, there’s reason to hope, and I think you should speak to him directly. Let him know what you’d like from him. “I don’t know what your other financial obligations are, but this is the month we’d both agreed you’d finish paying back my loan to you, and you haven’t done so yet. I don’t want to have to track you down and ask for updates on my money; that’s a frustrating waste of my time and it makes me feel like you don’t care about paying me back. I want to feel like you respect me and my time, and that you don’t just see me as a creditor to avoid. What I’d like from you is a realistic time frame of when you think you’d be able to finish repaying the loan, whether it’s in a lump sum or in another series of installments, and I want you to take responsibility for communicating any changes in that schedule to me. Can we do that?”
If he rises to the occasion, that’s great. If he doesn’t—if he’s evasive, or makes a lot of promises he fails to keep—then you have every right to feel hurt and disrespected, and to tell him the ways in which he’s hurt you. But you’re both adults, and you made the decision to lend him the money, so don’t try to rope other relatives or partners into an issue between siblings.
Q. Wedding puzzle missing pieces: After three very event-heavy years together, my fiancée and I are tying the knot next month in her hometown. She’s a laid-back Californian; I come from a liberal, yet somewhat traditional, Southern family. The groom’s family is handling the rehearsal dinner (as well as the reception in the South). Fortunately, all parties like each other and friction has been minimal. The problem comes from missing pieces—namely, my father and grandfather, both of whom passed away in the last year. This leaves holes in several of the “traditional” rituals that my mother expects us to fulfill. She wants my socially awkward brother to assume these roles in our father’s place. He’s uncomfortable with it, as are my bride and me. Also attending are my best man, who lived next door and practically grew up with us, and my grandfather’s son, who is not a blood relation but who grew up with my parents. I feel like either of them would be more comfortable and do a better job. How do I convince my mother, who is operating on small-town social rules, that flexibility is OK?
A: If your mother is planning and paying for this rehearsal dinner on your behalf, then I can understand the challenge ahead of you. In that case, I think your best bet is simply to say, “I’ve asked [Best Man] to fill in for Dad as [Dad function].” If your mother presses or asks questions, you can then say, “I’ve talked about it with my brother and he wouldn’t feel comfortable doing it, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable asking him.” If she’s a real traditionalist, then pointing out that the best man traditionally assumes a lot of responsibility during a wedding should go over fairly well with her.
If she’s not responsible for paying for or planning the rehearsal dinner, and you’re simply anxious about the idea of disagreeing with her, then I think it will be helpful to worry less about convincing her and more about simply making your case as you see it, and to move ahead with your best man or grandfather’s son in the role your father might otherwise have played.
Q. Microwaving smelly food: One of my co-workers (in a different department—we exchange hellos and know each other’s names, but that’s about it) has taken to microwaving canned tuna several times a week, and it stinks up the office! Any ideas on who I should address this with (him, his manager, our admin lead, etc.)? And can you suggest a script I can use? I would ideally like it to stop, but would accept anything that avoids the smell.
A: Talk to him first, then only speak to a manager if things don’t change. I’m sure you’re not the only one who’s noticed the specific and lingering aroma of microwaved tuna fish, and your request is entirely reasonable. “Hey, you may not have noticed this, but the smell of microwaved tuna fish is really distracting and lingers in the air for a long time. Would you mind not heating it up?”
Q. Friendly mystery: I have been good friends with another woman online for close to a decade. We share a decent-size group of friends from the community where we first met, which is now closed, but because of other mutual interests she and I have always been particularly close. Now, for the first time, we live in the same area, and I’m really hoping we can meet in person soon. But this is where my problem comes in: I don’t know her name! For a year or so when we first met I thought I did, but it turns out I’d mixed her up with someone else we knew, and I never got around to clearing up the confusion. I thought it would sort itself out eventually, but that never happened! She never refers to herself by name anywhere on social media, but since I figured we’d never meet, it wasn’t really an issue. Now it’s been so long I feel awful admitting the truth to her, and I can’t think of any non-awkward way to bring it up.
A: If you’ve never referred to her by her name—or if you used to refer to her by the wrong name—then I don’t think you have to worry too much about whether she’d be offended, because it sounds like she knows you don’t know her name. Since you two have never interacted in person, there’s not quite the same sense of importance attached to knowing her name, so I think you can cop to this one with minimal embarrassment. Tell her you’re excited to meet her, that you realized you only know her handle and not her given name, and that you’ve been too embarrassed to mention it. I’m sure if the friendship is long-standing and genuine, it will be a fairly minor blip in the vein of “Aren’t friendships that start online kind of odd?” rather than a real stumbling block.
Q. Re: Not in hot water: OK, super easy solution here. The letter writer can spend as much time in the tub as they want, but only have the water running for seven to 10 of those minutes. Personally, seven minutes is a long shower. You could also consider Navy showers (get wet, turn water off, suds up, water-on-rinse, done).
A: Thanks for the more specific suggestion!
Q. Update—Re: BFF vanishing act (June 4): Shortly after my letter, the friend stopped talking to me altogether, only letting me know that she was upset with me without telling me why. The only reason for her to be upset with me that I can think of was that I expressed that I was disappointed when she cancelled on me again. It’s been extremely painful and depressing, but I have talked with my therapist and realized that I don’t deserve to be ghosted on. As per your advice, I’ve been trying to focus on other friends that I have good relationships with. The only question I still have for you is that I’ve realized I don’t know what to expect from a healthy friendship. What do you think people should give and expect in a friendship?
A: I think there are different expectations for different friendships, so there’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all set of “reasonable expectations” it’s possible to have for everyone you know, but I do think a certain degree of honesty is necessary for a friendship to survive. I’m sorry that your friend wasn’t able to explain why she was upset. It can be so difficult to figure out how to process the end, or even just a pause, of a friendship when you aren’t certain what the other person is feeling, but I think that ultimately all you can do is accept that for whatever reason, she was unwilling to be fully honest with you about her feelings and work through them together, and that you can’t be friends for the both of you.
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