My mom died four years ago at the age of 80. My dad was devastated. About two years ago, Dad met a woman who’d also lost a partner and they started dating. They’ve made each other very happy, and my siblings and I have all been glad to see him doing well. We don’t know “Molly” very well, but she seems lovely. Dad sold the family home six months ago and moved in with her. He also revised his will. He’s 88, and Molly is 83. She has two kids, owns her home, and lives comfortably. Dad shared that he’s leaving one-third of his $200,000 estate to Molly, with the remaining two-thirds to be divided between us three children. I suggested that dividing the estate evenly into four would perhaps be easier; he listened and said he’d think about it.
It’s an awkward topic, and I don’t want to be greedy, but I feel that his three kids should get an even share with her. I’m not sure if I should bring this up at an appropriate moment or get over it. My brother has had cancer in the last 18 months, my sister has worked incredibly hard to get to a good place after being a single mom for a long time, and I’m in the same boat. The reality is that a good portion of what Dad leaves Molly will go to her children. I’ve been feeling very hurt and undervalued since Dad told me this. What are your thoughts?
—Trying Not to Be Greedy
I think you already have brought the topic up at an appropriate moment, and your father has said he would think about it, so there’s nothing more for you to do here, at least when it comes to making your interests known. In general, it is helpful to think of a parent’s will as a potential gift, rather than a financial measure of their love for you. If you or any of your siblings feel that there’s some sort of support, financial or otherwise, that you’d like from your father, then each of you should ask for it now, while he’s alive, without pinning those wishes to whatever inheritance you may or may not receive.
I’m a queer woman in her mid-30s married to a guy, and for as long as I can remember, I’ve been, to varying degrees, gender dysphoric. I’ve gone from being a kid who refused to be called a girl to an adult who has learned to role-play femininity but still very rarely feels it. I grew up with a mother who believed that displays of femininity (and emotions in general) were signs of weakness and should be crushed—crying over emotional things was met with derision; crushes were dismissed as “stupid hormones”; acting “like a girl” was an insult. However, I now work in a male-dominated industry and am often the only woman in a room, meaning I spend a lot of time being a feminist voice raised against a sea of middle-aged men. My issue is that I often don’t know how much of what feels like gender dysphoria—being uncomfortable in my female skin, compulsively wearing painfully tight sports bras to flatten my breasts, weightlifting to give myself a more powerful physique, etc.—is actually dysphoria, and how much is just internalized misogyny. Am I uncomfortable feeling like a woman because that’s how I’m wired? Or am I uncomfortable because society has done such a good job from day one of convincing me that female is the worst thing a human can be? How do you even sort that out?
—Gender Dysphoria, or Just Hating My Gender?
The good news is also the bad news, I suppose, which is that it’s never possible to make decisions or even observations about oneself in a vacuum, and anyone who makes a judgment call about their gender (whether they decide to transition or not) does so in a society with plenty of messaging about said gender. At the risk of sounding trite, there are a number of different ways to be a woman, and femininity is not a prerequisite. Being a feminist in a male-dominated industry does not mean you must cling to a cis identity in order to support “the team”; all women experience sexism and misogyny in some form, whether individual or institutional, at some point in their lives, and yet most women do not transition.
It may be worth spending some time in therapy untangling the various damaging messages about your body, your emotions, and your behavior that your mother passed on to you as a child. You may very well be experiencing both the effects of damaging sexist messages from society and your family and dysphoria/a desire to transition/feelings about your gender, and you would likely benefit from paying careful attention to these feelings with a (trans-competent) therapist if you have the time and money, by yourself and with some trusted friends if you don’t. If there are trans-specific support groups in your area, try attending a few and seeing if anyone else’s experience or choices feel compelling to you. The almost-but-not-quite articulated fear in your letter, I think, is this: Don’t most women experience profound gender dysphoria because of sexism? Shouldn’t I dismiss my own (powerful, persistent) feelings about my gender because of said sexism? Wouldn’t I be letting down women as a group if I call this dysphoria? To that I would say: Dysphoria is not simply internalized misogyny turned up to 11. Having experienced sexism does not preclude you from being trans. Being a cis woman and being a feminist are not the same thing.
As you pay attention to your desires, your impulses, your fears, your beliefs, remember that there are an incredible number of options available to you, although many of them may feel daunting. You can have any relationship to your own body, to your own breasts and physique, that you wish; you can explore what it might feel like if someone else referred to you as something other than “woman”; you can change your mind; you can try something new and decide it’s not right for you; you can consult a doctor and discuss your medical options; you can take all the time in the world and direct your own path to transition. If transition is not in the cards for you and you simply arrive at a different understanding of your own relationship to the word woman, that’s a good and worthy outcome, too.
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My boyfriend hates verbal affection, but I need it. When I’ve asked him about it before, he’s said that I should read more into his actions and that it doesn’t make sense that I would need the words since he acts like he loves me (and he does). We see each other all the time, he’s always willing to make time to see me, and he still encourages me to be better when I’m at my worst. But when it comes to “I love you,” either I say it first or I won’t hear it from him––and sometimes he’ll still say “thanks” or “hmm” or some vague compliment in response (we’ve been dating for 11 months now). It’s at the point where I want to not say “I love you” for a week just to prove to him that he won’t say it at all! It makes me feel like he doesn’t really love me; if he did, it would be no problem to say so. Is it fair for me to ask him to say it without being prompted?
—Those Three Little Words
It is absolutely fair to ask the person you’re in a relationship with to occasionally say “I love you.” Sure, different people have different relationships to various forms of affection, but I’m not sure “hating verbal affection” is simply one valid choice among many when it comes to expressing love. You say that he acts like he loves you, but the only description you provide is that he sees you a lot, that he makes time to see you (is that not the same thing?), and that he encourages you to “do better” when you’re at your worst (which kind of sounds like he just criticizes you). Saying “hmm” when your girlfriend says “I love you” is not an idiosyncratic-yet-still-loving approach to expressing love and support. It’s lazy and uncaring. If you’re catching yourself playing games in order to “prove” a point so that he’ll have to start saying he loves you, that suggests to me that you believe you have to prove a case before you can ask him for what you want—that it’s not enough to say you want to hear “I love you” in return, because when you say that, his response is “Well, I don’t think you should.” You’re not asking for something especially difficult from him, and if he’s this begrudging about giving you something requiring very little energy on his part, I think it might be time to move on.
My office has an alternating holiday schedule (everyone has to work at least one major one). For the past three years, I have worked Thanksgiving and Christmas, since my family lives overseas, and got New Year’s off. Now that I am engaged, I want to see my fiancée’s family for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I requested one off but received both. My supervisor explained that since I had never had Thanksgiving or Christmas off, the computer system gave me first priority. I was excited and willing to trade with someone, but the response of my co-workers has left a nasty taste in my mouth. Several complained about me “gaming” the system and called it “unfair.” One straight-up demanded that I give up Christmas to her because she has kids. I am almost at the point of staying in and spending the holiday watching movies with my fiancée and our dog out of spite. How do I respond?
You should take both holidays and enjoy them. See if you can enjoy cuddling and watching movies on the couch with your fiancée and dog without spite, because it sounds like a lovely idea even if your co-workers weren’t being unreasonable about your time off. You’ve earned this round of Thanksgiving and Christmas by dint of working through them both three years in a row, and you do not deserve a holiday any less because you don’t have children. The problem is with your office’s restrictive holiday policy, not with you, and you should set a limit with your co-workers’ attempts to get you to apologize for taking a few days off. Enjoy your time off, and shut down any further attempts to prolong this conversation with “I’m looking forward to taking my first Thanksgiving vacation in three years. Let’s talk about something else.”
Dear Prudence Uncensored
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I just found out my mother has been telling her family about our private conversations and my most sensitive secrets. It took me decades to get the courage to tell her about the abuse I experienced while in foster care until I was 11. From ages 6 to 9, I was sometimes put in diapers as punishment even though I had no issues with incontinence. I was kept in them all day while everyone laughed and called me a baby. The shame made me keep it a secret all these years. I finally got the courage to tell my mother what happened, and she told her brothers and sisters. Now they chuckle and make sly remarks whenever they see me. I’m so devastated and ashamed I often cry. Though I no longer confide in my mother, I can’t take this secret back. What can I do to stop the humiliating teasing from my relatives?
—Mother Embarrassed Me
I can’t imagine the shock and horror you must have felt upon realizing that not only had your mother revealed the details of your childhood abuse to her siblings, but that it had become a joke between them. That’s breathtakingly cruel. If their own consciences haven’t stopped them from teasing you about the trauma you suffered as an abused child, simply telling them to stop because it hurts you may go unheard. But it’s still worth saying something: to your mother, that she never had your permission to share the nature of your abuse with her siblings, and that she’s violated your trust, hurt you deeply, damaged your relationship, and owes you an apology. To her siblings, “I never shared this information with you because it’s painful and intimate. I don’t know why you think it’s funny that I was abused as a child or why you would mock me about it now. If you are willing to apologize and stop immediately, we can talk about what it would look like to try to repair our relationship. If not, I cannot be in a relationship of any kind with you.” Asking people not to use your own trauma against you in service of a bad joke is a very low bar; if they cannot clear it, you need to protect yourself and keep them out of your life.
My fiancé and I are in the process of wedding planning, and everything is going smoothly except for one thing: My mother insists on inviting people I barely know who have never met my fiancé. We want to have a small, intimate wedding, but it’s ballooning with demands from my mother to invite people I have little or no feelings for. So far, I’ve accommodated most of her demands, but I need to draw the line somewhere. Conversations on her respecting our decision have led to nothing but screaming matches. When I ask her to respect my decision or try to shut down the conversation, she calls me a bridezilla. I feel like she’s planning her own wedding and I have no say over it. Any suggestions on how to get her to respect our decision and our budget?
—Not My Wedding
It sounds like you and your fiancé are paying for the wedding yourselves, given that you’re trying to get her to respect your budget, which puts you in a relatively solid position, inasmuch as she can’t use money as a tool to manipulate you. The other piece of good news is that ultimately the people responsible for having invitations printed up and sent out are you and your fiancé, so she can yell all she wants, but the final headcount will come from a list you provide the printer, not whatever your mother tries to shout at you. So the question isn’t “How do I make sure that I control the guest list, and not my mother?” The question is “How do I limit the amount of time I spend listening to my mother’s unreasonable tirades while I try to plan a wedding?”
I don’t think you’re going to get her to respect any of your decisions right now, because it sounds like she’s digging her heels into the most unreasonable positions possible, but you can decline to participate in screaming matches, recognize that when she’s calling you a bridezilla she is in fact talking about herself, and refuse to be embarrassed when she says, “But I already told Eugenia that she’d be getting an invitation. What am I going to say when she doesn’t?” The next time you tell her no—about anything—and she starts to throw a fit, don’t get drawn into an argument or try to persuade her that your point of view is a good one. She is currently lost to her better self. Just say, “Mom, I’m not going to argue about this with you. This is the decision that works for us and our budget. I’m going to hang up now.” Then hang up, and after the initial panic clears, enjoy the silence that comes with not engaging a person who’s determined to be unreasonable.
“I went this weekend to get boudoir photos taken of me for my husband to enjoy on Valentine’s Day. I’m overweight, so I hoped that these pictures would paint me in a different light and give something dressed-up and sexy for my husband. I hate my photos. I am appalled by the positions I was in, and every single photo seemed to show off how fat I am. My makeup was professionally done, but it looks garish. I can’t stop crying about it. My husband loves me, and I think he might either enjoy the pictures or pretend he does, but I really don’t want them to see the light of day. Should I get him another gift? Bite the bullet and get one photo touched up for him to see? Go into my closet and die?”
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