Dear Prudence

My Boyfriend Smokes Pot All Day, Every Day

Prudie’s column for Aug. 30.

A collection of joints.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Thinkstock.

Dear Prudence,
I am in love with my boyfriend. He is communicative and loving. He is willing to put in the work to make me happy and make our relationship a success. He is a good person. The issue is that he smokes marijuana and consumes edibles every day, from sunup to sundown. Marijuana gives me panic attacks, so I never participate.

He has a history of childhood trauma and has a medical marijuana card (it’s legal in our state) to help him with PTSD. He is extremely sensitive and defensive about his use. Apparently, it was a big issue between him and his ex. While I’m not a doctor, I suspect his usage goes well beyond what is medically necessary or advised to deal with PTSD. It is starting to bother me that I haven’t spent much time with him sober—do I even know the “real” him? I’ve started to feel resentful and hurt by all this. Is it in my right to talk to him about this? How do I approach it? We’ve been dating for just four months.
—Stoner’s Girlfriend

The question here for you to answer, especially at this relatively early stage in a relationship, is whether you want to be in a long-term relationship with a heavy marijuana user, regardless of whether or not you think your boyfriend’s use is justified or sufficiently medically supervised. If you can’t see a way toward accepting it, and he’s made it clear that he’s not interested in cutting back (and that it’s contributed to the end of at least one other relationship), then this may simply be a sign that you two aren’t suited for each other, even though you care very much for each other. That doesn’t mean you two ought to break up tomorrow without having another conversation on the subject, but it’s something you need to consider before things get more serious between you. Is he talking to a therapist or a doctor about this treatment? Does he get high in a way that sometimes makes meaningful conversation difficult or impossible, or is he relatively consistent and aware throughout the day? Does he get defensive because you’ve asked him to stop, or does he get defensive at the mere prospect of a conversation about his use? This doesn’t necessarily have to be a referendum on his choices—it may just be that what works for him doesn’t work for you. But if you can’t find a way to talk about it with one another, and you’re already resentful and burned-out a mere four months into this relationship, it may be a sign that you two aren’t compatible in the long run.

Dear Prudence,
My husband, who grew up Catholic, was abused by his parish priest as a child. Recent revelations and the Pope’s visit to Ireland have opened a lot of wounds, and he’s been extremely on edge, reacting strongly to any mention of the subject and posting aggressive comments on social media. A lot of my family are devout, which has resulted in some unfortunate interactions. I really want to be supportive and I completely understand his feelings, but at the same time I want to keep the peace and don’t want to be in the middle. He also often goes too far—for example, accusing anybody who supports the church of being a rapist. How do I resolve this situation? I don’t want him to feel I don’t support him, even if it is true at times.
—Angry at the Church

Anyone who has read the recent Pennsylvania grand jury report on the scale of the church’s cover-up of sexual abuse must surely sympathize with your husband’s deep grief and fury. Your husband has suffered firsthand the effects of child sexual abuse by a trusted member of the priesthood, and seeing how widespread the abuse has been must be profoundly destabilizing, painful, and overwhelming. That he has sometimes lashed out and made broader claims about anyone who remains in the church that facilitated his abuse is, at the very least, understandable, even if it’s not something that you want to encourage. I think that your desire to “keep the peace” in this situation may be misguided. You can, and should, want your husband to be able to talk about the abuse he’s suffered in ways that prove most helpful and therapeutic to him, with a counselor, or as a part of a peer support group for others who have been abused at the hands of the Catholic Church. And of course you don’t want him to declare that members of your family who had nothing to do with the massive cover-up of child predation are predators themselves. But if your goal is to make sure that everyone around you continues to feel comfortable in the absence of a meaningful institutional response, then I think you should reconsider. Your goal should be to talk to your husband about his anger, to help him find meaningful and useful outlets for it, and sometimes to grant him space not to be perfectly collected and tidy when he talks about the great sin the church committed against him and other children like him—not to quickly find resolution, which, sadly, is not yours to grant.

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Dear Prudence,
I live on the opposite coast from my family, and over the past three years, I’ve gotten more active and lost a significant (but not drastic) amount of weight. Going home feels like time travel—my mother tries to force-feed me, and everyone else whispers that I secretly had surgery to get thin! I was bingeing and purging before the age of 10 because of my family’s attitudes. Visiting them made me throw up in the bathroom after eating “enough.” I don’t want this to happen again. How do I tell my parents that? All their texts are, “We need to see you again,” and “When are you visiting again?” Why does my family care what I eat?

If visits to your family are so stressful that it becomes difficult to cope without reverting to bingeing and purging cycles, then I think you’re right to stay away. I can imagine that it may not feel possible to go into detail about the effect their attitudes toward food have had on you. If you can’t trust them with that information out of fear that they’ll use it against you, attempt to pry into your eating habits, or try to make you feel guilty about your struggles with an eating disorder, then don’t offer it to them. But you can make it clear just how painful and long-standing this habit of theirs is, and that it’s affecting your ability to spend time with them. “I’d like to be able to visit, but it can’t be under the same terms that characterized my last visit. Your attempts to dictate my meals, whispering about whether I’ve had surgery, and asking invasive questions about what I’m eating are deeply painful and a real source of stress when I spend time with you. If I were to visit again, it would be on the understanding that you’ll eat what you like, let me eat what I like, and refrain from commenting on my appearance or my meals. If you can’t, in order to safeguard my physical and mental health, I’ll have to leave.”

Dear Prudence,
Our 19-year-old son is home for a break before beginning his sophomore year of college. His vaping device fell out of his pocket while we were watching TV. All of his money comes from us. He had a “normal” freshman year, with perhaps a bit too much entertainment at the beginning, and grades that started out badly and improved through the year. I’ve discussed the dangers of e-cigarettes with him. Since I essentially paid for this stupid device, can I take it away from him? I know that won’t do any good—he can just buy another. So what do I do now?
—Smoking Scholar

You’re in that challenging parenting phase where your son is legally an adult, still financially dependent, and moving further away from your supervision with each passing day. For some of those decisions, you may be able to offer direct input, especially if you’re paying for his education; other times you’re going to have to pick your battles. When it comes to this particular device, I think your instincts are good—he’s no longer a child living permanently under your roof, and he’s likely going to make a number of decisions that you wouldn’t approve of as he goes through college. You’ve talked to him about the dangers of smoking and smoking “alternatives,” you can set whatever rules you like about smoking or vaping in your house while he’s staying with you, and beyond that, you should let him make his own mistakes. While you’re on the subject, you may also want to set some financial goals with your son that involve tapering off some of the money you provide him for nonessentials. Do you still want to pay for his entertainment budget, in addition to education and housing, for the rest of his college career? Do you want to prepare him for a gradual reduction in financial support, not to punish him for smoking, but because he’s at an age where he needs to start thinking about how to go from being totally financially dependent on you to developing some independence? You can’t dictate what he does, but you can certainly set limits about what you are and aren’t willing to pay for.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I couldn’t live with a wake-and-baker but the approach of this letter bugged me.”

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

Dear Prudence,
I bought my condo years ago, before property prices went sky high. It is a two-bedroom with easy access to public transportation and excellent schools; I get to work in 15 minutes. My girlfriend and I are talking marriage but stalling over where we’ll live. She lives an hour and a half away with her parents and two daughters, ages 12 and 9. She works in the city but insists we sell my condo and buy a big house in the suburbs. Her girls “need” a yard, separate bedrooms, and “space to grow.” She constantly complains about her commute, her parents’ interference, and the cost of her car, and I don’t understand how it makes sense to sell my condo to buy a McMansion that I will never see in daylight. Neither of us wants more children, and it doesn’t seem like the end of the world to make two sisters share a room. (I grew up sharing a bedroom with my three brothers and liked it fine.) If she worked far away, I could see the sense of finding a halfway point, but her daughters will be grown and gone in less than a decade, and neither of us works in the suburbs. We keep circling back to this, even after having done premarital counseling.
—Suburbs vs. City

It may help to think of this less in terms of finding the sense in your girlfriend’s position and more as thinking of your two positions as morally and logically neutral differences of opinion. She would prefer to live in the suburbs for a number of reasons, and you would prefer to live in the city for other reasons; you prioritize convenience, ease of travel, and a fond memory of your own childhood bedroom sharing, while she prioritizes outdoor space and separate bedrooms. Are there options you two can consider together besides moving into your condo as-is or choosing a massive house hours from the city? Are there neighborhoods where you might be able to afford an extra bedroom but that aren’t so far from your jobs that you’d have to spend an hour each way on the freeway every day? Neither one of you is going to get exactly what you want (the nature of compromise!), but if you two can approach this in a spirit of problem solving while paying as much attention as you can to each other’s desires, you might find a solution faster than if you both stick doggedly to your initial points and try to argue the other one round into agreeing.

Dear Prudence,
My son left my wife and me during high school to live with his mother, while his sisters stayed with us. My ex was an alcoholic who sobered up enough to pass court inspection. She let my son have overnight visits with his girlfriend, among other indulgences. There was no court order to pay for college, but I have done so for my oldest daughter. My son is another story. He got into a state university and failed out. My terms were that he come home—his mother’s or mine—and pass community college before I paid another dime or paid back his existing loans. He and his mother took me to court and lost. It burned a lot of bridges. My son, after months of silence, has told me he has enrolled again in higher education—but he has not apologized. I don’t know how to take this. My wife is unhappy but supportive. My daughters are not on speaking terms with their mother because of her alcoholism. This is my only son. How do I respond?
—College Funding

You have a chance here, I think, to take some small steps toward reconciliation in a family dynamic that has often been characterized by sudden breaks and bridge burning. If your son is taking steps toward finishing school without relying on you for further financial assistance (since it doesn’t sound like he’s expecting you to pay for this go-round), then that’s a move in the right direction. Set your expectations low—maybe you’ll have a brief conversation about what major he intends to pursue, or what he’s looking forward to about starting school again.
You can express your (emotional, not financial) support for his attempt to try again without trying to reopen fairly recent wounds. There’s a great deal about your son’s mother in this letter, and I think if you and your son are going to establish any sort of meaningful adult relationship, it will prove helpful to you not to try to work out any of your feelings about her behavior as a parent with him now. If you want to talk with him eventually about how going to court hurt you, take your time, consult a counselor, and think about what you’d like to say to him. In the meantime, since he’s taken a small step toward you, take a small step toward him.

Classic Prudie

“About six weeks ago my husband and I received an anonymous email that said we should check out what our daughter-in-law was posting on an internet forum we’d never heard of.
We were given a link and her username. We were shocked to discover she was spending vast amounts of work time posting to this forum about us and our son. We have been generous financially and otherwise to them and their children, but according to her posts she resents us and thinks we are ‘interfering.’ Worse is how she talks online about our son. He is very helpful around the house and she acknowledges he gets the kids ready for day care most mornings, plays with them after work, then works in the evening at home to advance his career. Despite this, she gripes about him and details the ways he annoys her. Perhaps the very worst is finding out she has a rather unsavory past, including phone-sex work, drug addiction, and embezzlement. Do we say anything to our son about what we’ve discovered?”