Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good morning! Let’s get this *gestures vaguely in the direction of a problem* sorted out.
Q. Playing parental hooky: Our family recently moved cities. My kids used to attend a local private school where I became very involved, giving both time and money. I felt it was worthwhile because the contributions helped this school in its commitment to making it accessible to students at all income levels through ample scholarships and tuition assistance. The school my kids now attend is very expensive and filled only with kids from well-to-do families. Yet, they are still very persistent about soliciting volunteers and contributions. They have a thing for pharaonic building projects. I don’t have interest in participating. I feel like in this case, I’m buying a product for my kids, and that’s that. My wife says that we should participate like we did before. I have said she’s free to do if she likes, but I won’t. Where do you come down on this? (The local public school, which we had hoped to use, was “full,” so our kids would have been bused across town.)
A: I have, I would say, a considerable bias toward public education and think there’s enormous value in attending a school that serves the community, not just children whose parents can afford a “very expensive” tuition bill and the time to help build “pharaonic” monuments. My take is this: Send your kids to the public school across town, and let them experience your city’s public transportation system.
Q. Co-worker lunch issues: At my job, I get a half-hour lunch break, and I usually eat it with one of my co-worker friends, “Ann.” In the past, it’s usually just been me and Ann eating together by ourselves. I like to use this lunch break to catch up on a mobile game I like to play. The game relaxes me and soothes my anxiety, and it’s my only chance to indulge during the work day. Ann does not seem to like this and usually tries to talk to me while I’m playing. I’ll reply sometimes, but I usually prefer to wait until I’m done to have any conversation, which Ann seems to resent. Recently, Ann has started inviting other co-workers to eat with us and talks to them, which I find annoying: These people aren’t my friends, and I wouldn’t have invited them. How do I talk to Ann about this?
A: If you’re ignoring Ann to play a game on your phone for most of lunch, then you have no grounds to complain when Ann invites others to join you so she has someone to talk to. It sounds like what you’d like is to play your game in silence during lunch, which is a perfectly reasonable way to rest and recharge before going back to work. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted and do so, then join the others if you’d like to spend a few minutes in friendly conversation. But you can’t call “dibs” on Ann so you can talk to her one-on-one only at your convenience. She’s a person with interests and preferences of her own, not another game you can put on pause.
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Q. Stop talking to me: My fiancé and I just moved in together after a long-distance relationship of two years. We are living in my very small one-bedroom condo with his cats for the next year while we save up and look for our own place. Overall the routine has been working out OK. However, his job has now allowed him to telework two days a week, and he is driving me nuts. I have an in-home gym and work out for an hour before I get ready for work. When he is home, he hovers over me and talks a lot. If I ask him to please allow me peace, he leaves but then just shouts at me from across the room. He does not get it. He works out in the gym in our complex, and I am thinking of following him there and doing the same thing he does to me so he can understand how nuts it makes a person. Shutting doors does not help—the condo is too small, and he will just open the door and come in. What can I do?
A: “When I tell you I want some peace and quiet, I mean it. I don’t mean I want you to shout at me across the room, or for you to wait five minutes and then open a door I’ve closed so you can interrupt me again. I’ve been very clear about this, but you haven’t listened, and that makes me think we’re not suited to live together. If you can’t get a handle on this, I’m going to look for a place on my own, because I don’t want to live with you if you have this much trouble respecting boundaries and giving me personal space.”
Q. The homing beacon in my chest: I’ve been struggling with a desire to move, but desire finally morphed into an overwhelming urge to leave my high-pressure, tech-centric suburb about 10 months ago. We have a great life here—friends, a home, stable and fulfilling jobs, and a great school for our kids. My husband and kids are content, but my spouse is willing to pick up and go if I say we must. If we did this, we’d be moving closer to my loving, but ultimately toxic, family. I’ve spent years developing strong boundaries, and I know they would test them. We would also be nearer to most of my lifelong friends in a more rural area of the state where our big-city home sale would go a long way toward long-term financial stability. The flip side is we’d also never be able to afford to come back if it turned out badly. I’m not laboring under the delusion that life would be amazing in a new locale. We would still have our day-to-day struggles, our personalities aren’t going to change, and wherever you go, there you are. When I look at the pros and cons list we’ve made over and over again, I can see that the benefits lean toward staying put. So why do I want to cry every time I think about settling and staying here? And why can’t I let it go?
A: I think you want to cry because you’ve only given yourself two options—move near your old friends and family, or stay in your high-pressure tech exurb—and you’ve just crossed off the only one that involved any change. You say your jobs are both stable and fulfilling, but if you consider your life there to be high-pressure, is there anything you’d like to reconsider? Cutting back some of your hours at work, moving into a smaller place, taking a job in a different field, fewer extracurriculars for the kids if they’re overscheduled? Also, I certainly think “I cry at the prospect of staying here in the long-term” ought to be added to the con side of the list and given serious weight. If you and your spouse are more interested in long-term financial stability, are there other places you might move to that are equally cheap but that won’t put you within spitting distance of a damaging set of family members? I think you should explore more options than the only two you’ve given yourselves, and take your own desires and emotional responses as seriously as you do the logistical issues.
Q. Re: Stop talking to me: I see that it’s her condo, so she can ask the fiancé to keep it down. She should not have to move out because he can’t observe some boundaries!
A: Oh, sorry, yes, that should be reversed—the “getting a new place” part should fall on him.
Q. Returning the dog: My boyfriend recently decided that he wanted to adopt a dog. I objected to this because his schedule isn’t really appropriate for dog ownership, and I am in the veterinary field so I had a heavy suspicion I might end up being the dog’s actual owner. I also already have a dog-unfriendly dog. Despite this, he went ahead and adopted a dog. Lo and behold, two weeks into dog ownership I am already primary caretaker and my boyfriend regrets his decision. He doesn’t drive, so he wanted me to drive him back to the shelter to return the dog. I told him that I was already somewhat attached to the dog but that I couldn’t stop him, so all I asked was that he had someone else drive him to the shelter. He became very upset when I asked this, saying I was pressuring him to keep the dog and that he didn’t want to inconvenience a friend by asking them to drive him back to the shelter. The conversation ended with me in tears. We still have the dog. How do I readdress this with him? Am I being unreasonable?
A: As a vet, I’m sure you know how important it is to seriously take into account one’s own needs, abilities, and resources before bringing a pet home to avoid situations like this one, where the dog in question is being ill-served by a would-be owner who acts before thinking. It’s also worrying that he considers asking a friend for a ride an “inconvenience,” but is apparently perfectly happy to inconvenience you—first, in making you the de facto caretaker, then by demanding a ride from you or no one. It sounds like between your boyfriend’s unwillingness to take daily responsibility for this animal and your own dog’s anti-social nature, that you cannot offer the new dog a good home, so the best thing for everyone concerned is to return the dog to the shelter as soon as possible. That doesn’t mean you have to give your boyfriend a ride. The whole problem here is that your boyfriend wants to make choices and then leave the consequences to you. It’s up to him to do right by this animal, and it’s up to you to consider whether this reveals a larger issue of character in your boyfriend.
Q. Moving: I recently bought a large truck and my boyfriend fixed it up for me. We used it once to move my parents out of their house and into a smaller place. Now my older sisters, who have college-age kids, keep pestering me to let them “borrow” my truck and say I “owe” it as an aunt to help out. None of the kids live in town, and most go to school halfway across the state. When I told my sisters I couldn’t take off days from work just to help them move, one demanded I give her the keys instead! I told her I wasn’t comfortable with anyone but me driving my truck. Now they keep grousing about it and I am sick of it. There is a more than 15-year age gap between us, and I am not as close to them as I am our parents. I figured when I took a job closer to everyone I could bridge that gap, but not like this! What do I do here?
A: “I don’t loan my truck, and that’s not going to change, so stop bringing it up.” There is no one aunt, one free weekend using a truck policy, and you have every right to end a conversation or leave the room if someone tries to revive that argument. There are a number of truck-rental companies in most towns; I’d wager yours at least has a U-Haul center. Offer that as a suggestion, and then if they can’t let it go, climb in your truck and drive off in the direction of the nearest horizon, and the promise of freedom.
Q. Ending an online relationship: How do you suggest I end what has been a primarily online affair? I am a bi man in my 40s. I am in an open, sexless relationship to a man 20 years my senior. Three years ago, I began chatting with a woman my age. Mostly, we exchange email that exemplifies a kinky power dynamic. We also set up bimonthly “phone dates.” The first year of this affair, we met up for two vacations. Our chemistry was electric. The second year, I was dealing with sick parents and did not have the money or emotional bandwidth to meet up. This year? I think the bloom is off the rose. I adore this lady, but I am no longer enamored at the thought of arranging and paying for a week’s vacation. I am not sure I want to be with her 24/7 for a week, either. Ghosting is not an option. Your thoughts?
A: If you’re still interested in carrying on your email exchange and phone dates, but just don’t want to arrange what sounds like a mostly working, all-expenses-paid-for-her vacation, then I think you can say so over email, since that’s the primary mode of communication for the two of you. If, however, you say you “adore” this lady in the way you talk about how great someone is right before you break up with them, if you think she’s terrific but you just think this particular relationship has run its course, then I think a phone call is in order, since the two of you have known each other for three years. Beyond that, there’s no particular online-only rule that needs to govern how you break up with her.
Q. Re: Playing parental hooky” Prudie, it seems unhelpful to tell the letter writer to throw away whatever money he or she has spent on private school, and to bus their kids across town to attend public school. Depending on how old these kids are, and what kind of public transportation system their city has, that might not even be a practical option. Maybe you should stick to responding to the question she actually asked.
A: I do generally try to respond to the question the letter writer asks, unless I believe they are asking the wrong question. In this case, if someone’s problem is “My kids’ private school wants, in addition to tuition, the help of parents to build pharaonic complexes,” my answer is going to be, “Send your children to public school.”
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