Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Daughter on drugs: My daughter is very bright. She constantly tests in the top 10th percentile on standardized tests and was reading at an adult level by age 9. However, she is lazy. Her grades were constantly mediocre because she just didn’t do her homework. I tried to encourage, punish, and inspire her, but nothing seemed to motivate her to just do her homework! She left for college last year, and once again, her grades, while not bad, were well below her capability. She was in danger of losing an academic scholarship that has a very strict GPA requirement, and I told her I would not pay her full tuition if she lost it. So what did she do? She got some quack doctor to diagnose her with ADHD and give her an Adderall prescription. I am beyond livid. Why can’t she just do her work?
When I tried to discuss this with her, she blew up at me. She claims that I put undue pressure on her by never considering the possibility that she might have a learning disability. But she doesn’t! I’ve seen her sit down and read a large book from cover to cover in one sitting. She can play video games for hours. She clearly does not have an attention problem, she’s taking the easy way out by taking dangerous drugs. My husband is no help. He claims that since she brought home straight A’s last semester, we should let it slide. But I don’t want to encourage this behavior. How can I get through to her?
A: This reads like a parody of an unreasonable parent unwittingly describing a workable solution! I’m not sure what kind of behavior you don’t want to encourage in your daughter—an increased sense of independence? Getting straight A’s? Finding a doctor who listens to her and a medication that helps her effectively manage her time and energy? Telling you long-overdue truths? Having ADHD doesn’t mean a person is incapable of reading a book or playing video games for hours, and a doctor who prescribes Adderall for a patient with ADHD is not automatically a quack. You’ve spent years trying to punish and manipulate your daughter into performing according to your exact specifications, and it doesn’t sound like that’s worked. Why don’t you take a year or two off, if only for the novelty? She’s an adult now, and she’s going to spend the rest of her life making decisions in her own best interest, whether you like them or not.
Q. My boyfriend’s move: About six months ago, my best guy friend of three years and I started becoming more than friends. Long story short, we’ve been exclusive and dating ever since. Last month, he found out he was offered his dream job in Seattle. We live in Chicago. Knowing long-distance is hard, we’ve had some very serious talks about what we are and where this is headed. He mentioned me looking for jobs in Seattle, and I agreed that that’s something I’m open to. We wouldn’t live together, but being in the same place would make dating easier. The issue is that right before he moved last week he was very emotional and told me that he loved me, but he wasn’t sure if he was in love with me yet. And also that typically when he’s gotten into a relationship with someone, it’s been through that wild and crazy feeling of lust or infatuation, and it’s different with me because we’ve been friends for so long. He’s never dated a friend before and still wants to pursue this, but he mentioned telling all his friends about his hesitancies. I’m scared to move out and be vulnerable with someone if he/we aren’t all in. I also realize that I love him and I’m not sure if I’m in love with him—it’s only been six months.
Where do I go from here? Is he actually telling me he only likes me as a friend and our relationship was just safe and convenient? Does he not feel attracted to me like he was to all the other girls he met that weren’t his friend first? Is there still a chance for us to build a solid relationship like we have an amazing friendship?
A: I … don’t know? I’m not always quite sure what people mean when they try to make a distinction between “loving” someone and being “in love with someone,” especially when it’s not immediately followed by a breakup. Looking at your letter, it doesn’t sound like you feel halfway about this guy. Yes, it’s only been six months, but you’ve also been quite close for years. You only mention not being sure if you’re “in love with him” after he shared with you that he’s been freaking out, and you don’t offer any reservations of your own about him. It seems like the uncertainty is mostly coming from him, and your primary anxiety is that you’re about to make a cross-country move for someone who’s of two minds about your relationship.
I can appreciate the difference between getting involved with a longtime friend versus starting to date a near-stranger, but I’m not sure why that means he can’t feel lust or infatuation toward you. I’m also concerned that he’s apparently told “all his friends” about this before telling you. Does he have a habit of saying to his friends, “Yeah, I love her and all, but I’m not as attracted to her as I was to [insert ex-girlfriend here]?” That would give me serious pause, and I think you’re right to want to hold off on moving until you two have been able to clarify some things. If you’re not sure if he’s attracted to you, ask him for clarity. If he’s evasive or gives you a non-answer, then the answer is no, and you should proceed accordingly. If you don’t like the idea of him discussing serious relationship reservations with all his friends before bringing them up with you, tell him you feel hurt by it. If you don’t want to move without at least some assurance that this is what he wants too, then tell him, “I’m getting some mixed signals from you. Before, when we’ve talked about your move, it’s been with the understanding that we want to seriously consider the level of commitment in our relationship, and we’ve talked about the possibility of my coming to join you, without necessarily moving in together. Then a week before you left, you say you’re not sure if you’re in love with me and suggest that you’re not as attracted to me as to some of your previous partners because we were friends first. I don’t want to move unless it’s something we both feel pretty excited about. What’s on your mind?”
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Q. New roommate is always around: I’ve lived with a very close friend for seven years, and this spring she decided to get her own place. I was supportive but pretty bummed because I can’t afford our amazing place on my own and would have to find a new roommate. I decided that if I had to live with someone besides my good friend, I was going to be very particular about who I shared space with. (In addition to a new roommate, I also changed professions in a pretty drastic way around the same time, from artistic to corporate.) My ads on roommate finder apps were very specific: I wanted a person who was rarely home, very busy with work, and had an active social life outside of the apartment. I even went so far as to say, “I’d like to live here as if I live alone and am not looking for a new friend.” I interviewed the woman who is now my roommate, “Kate,” and she said she had three jobs and was rarely home. Boom! Done. Fast forward two months. She is almost always home aside from her 9-to-5 job. She is now down to two jobs. (Because of a poor working environment in the third, she quit.) She constantly asks about my personal life and doesn’t seem to take the hint when I politely decline invitations out. I recognize that I can’t just ask her to get another job, but how else can I kindly but firmly remind her that the expectations that I set forth initially are not being met? The continued stress of acclimating to a new work situation and a new living situation is making me incredibly anxious and resentful.
A: There’s a limit to what you can reasonably ask from a roommate, I think, and “live here, but don’t really live here” is probably over that limit. That doesn’t mean you have to have long conversations with her about your feelings, but if she pays rent, she does have a right to stay in your apartment after work. The next time she asks about your personal life, you can certainly say, “I don’t want to discuss that,” or “Please don’t ask me about my personal life,” or simply, “Sorry, I’ve got to take this call/make dinner/go to my room/[insert task here], and I don’t want to talk.” The next time she invites you out, say, “I’m really not interested in socializing outside of the house. Please don’t feel like you have to keep offering invitations.” If it’s still not working, then when her lease is up, you can let Kate know you won’t be renewing your agreement. But if she simply wants to come home after clocking out at 5, then she’s well within her rights to do so.
Q. I ache for my grandkids: My daughter “Caley” died unexpectedly two years ago. For the first nine months after her death, my husband and I practically lived with our son-in-law “Steve.” We helped him with our two grandkids, who were 7 and 4 when their mom died. Nine and a half months after Caley’s death, Steve confessed to my husband and me that he’d fallen in love with “Vera,” Caley’s cousin (my sister’s daughter). My husband and I were shocked and tried very hard to be happy. Caley would’ve wanted Steve to find a loving partner, and Vera adores our grandkids. Steve and Vera married quickly, and since then my husband and I have been slowly shut out of our grandkids’ lives. We call and email Steve to ask if we can take our grandkids out to brunch, and we’re told no, they have all these activities. When we ask if we can have the dates for these sports games and dance recitals, we don’t hear back from Steve and Vera until after the dates have passed. Recently my sister posted about how excited she was to attend her first grandparents’ day at my granddaughter’s school. At this point we’re not sure whether Caley’s memory is being erased. I’m angry and bitter towards my sister, and I hate how this envy is eating me alive. I don’t want to start a legal battle for visitation rights because I’m scared my grandkids would get hurt, but my husband is getting there. What do I do with this pain?
A: This is absolutely devastating, although I can understand why you feel reluctant about the idea of trying to establish legal visitation because of the potential cost to your grandchildren. Have you and your husband tried to have a conversation with both Steve and Vera about this gradual change? If you think it’s possible, I think a reasonable next step would be to get together (or talk on the phone if they’re impossible to pin down for a meeting over coffee, or an email as a last resort) and talk about the big picture: “Over the last year, we’ve had a hard time establishing time with the kids, and it seems like they’ve gotten busier and busier. We miss them so much and would love to spend any time with them possible. Since they have a lot of recitals and rehearsals, we’d love to join you rather than try to add another activity to their calendar. Can we do that?” In the meantime, can you also talk to your sister? My guess is that she’ll be a little territorial herself if she’s been posting about attending grandparents’ day at their school, but hopefully if you can share with her your own grief at feeling shut out and ask for her help and support, she can try to intervene on your behalf as well. I’m so sorry that your son-in-law is trying to deal with his grief by removing all reminders of his first marriage—even the people—from his life. I hope he comes to his senses soon.
Q. Four-year-old’s pacifier: I recently started fostering a 4-year-old with a traumatic background. He uses a pacifier and is only slightly more verbal than my 2-year-old. Although he is much taller than the 2-year-old, people have asked me if they are twins. What, if anything, can I say or do when strangers comment on his delayed behavior? I know he can comprehend more than he can communicate, and I hate not standing up for him, but I also don’t want to engage in a conversation that implies that I condone adults behaving like jerks or share any information as to why he acts the way he does. I would like to have a few go-to snarky or passive-aggressive answers that are Prudence-approved and get them to shut up. Any ideas?
A: If someone asks you if they’re twins, you can just say, “No.” If someone makes a comment on his “delayed behavior,” you can simply say, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my child’s development.”
Q. Re: Daughter on drugs: Wow. As an adult female who has struggled with focus issues my entire life and subsequently developed terrible anxiety because of those issues, I can say that I see myself in your daughter. I too am able to read entire books in one sitting, but that type of hyperfocus, on hobbies that help you “escape,” is actually indicative of ADHD. Women with ADHD are usually not diagnosed until adulthood because of the lack of studies done on that particular population, and the shame that accompanies the symptoms doesn’t make it easier for women to seek treatment. My advice is to be open-minded and supportive of your daughter and to do research on ADHD in adult females.
A: Thank you so much for sharing your experience, and for the reminder that hyperfocus on books and video games isn’t a sign that a person “can’t” have ADHD. I hope the letter writer is able to read this with an open mind.
Q. Wedding woes: I’ve been with my partner for six years, and we’ve discussed marriage from time to time. He’s always said he definitely wants to marry me … at some point. This summer I brought up seriously how I’d like to marry him right now, mostly because I want the world to know our commitment to each other, and I want to change my name because being family to him is part of my identity, and I want the legal benefits. He said he didn’t think the time was right. I said I understood, but it hurt me to know that the person I wanted to marry didn’t want to marry me. He said he didn’t understand why I was upset because he does want to marry me … when the time is right. It’s unclear what would make the time right. Now, because of insurance changes at his work, he would stand to save thousands of dollars if he could come on to my insurance, but marriage still isn’t on the table. He’s a really indecisive person, but this is frustrating me! I don’t think it’s something to break up over, because it’s not marriage that I’m after, it’s marrying him. Am I missing something? How can I come to accept this state of affairs?
A: I agree that it’s not necessarily something to break up over today, but I don’t agree that your goal should be to come to accept this state of affairs wholesale. If part of your boyfriend’s vague, inchoate reluctance to get married stems from an underlying desire to keep his options open, or because he doesn’t actually feel as strongly about you as you do about him, then that is information worth having and should inform whatever decisions you make about this relationship. You’ve enumerated your reasons for wanting to get married—to publicize your commitment, to codify your family relationship to each other, to obtain legal benefits, to bring him onto your insurance and save money. Moreover, it sounds like marriage is emotionally resonant for you and would be a deeply meaningful and personal act. He’s said he “doesn’t think the time is right” and has offered no further clarification about what time would be right. It’d be one thing if he had a deeply held opposition to the institution of marriage, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case. One of you is sharing their thoughts, feelings, desires, and anxieties, and one of you isn’t. The next conversation needs to be about what he’s really thinking and feeling. What does timing have to do with marriage, in your boyfriend’s mind? Under what circumstances would he like to be married? What makes him anxious about marriage? What, if anything, is he avoiding saying because he’s afraid of rocking the boat? It’s the non-answers, as much as the not wanting to get married despite knowing it’s important to you, that should concern you and encourage you to revisit this topic—and not to take “I don’t know, the timing just doesn’t feel right” as a satisfactory answer.
Q. Contacting an ex: It’s been three years since I broke up with my ex. After the breakup, I specifically asked for this person to not contact me for a while, and they followed my wishes. I was thinking about my ex recently and wanted to send a brief note of support, something like “Hi, I thought about you today, and I just want to say that I hope you’re doing well.” A friend told me I should send it because there’s so much negativity in the world. I was looking for a way to send a message through social media but couldn’t find a profile. Then I found that my ex, who had previously identified as male, had profiles under a female first name. Now, I’m not sure what to do. Should I send a message, and if so, what should I say? Or should I stay away and mind my own business (what I specifically asked for after our breakup, wishes that my ex has respected)?
A: If what you asked from your ex after your breakup was “please don’t contact me for a while,” then deciding to send a friendly note yourself three years later is in no way a violation of that request. It sounds like you needed some time to move on, you took it, and now you’re ready, if not to become best friends, at least to wish each other well and possibly have a friendly catch-up session. The question of whether your ex has transitioned adds a slightly more complex note, but only slightly. If you still have any mutual friends, you can politely inquire before sending a message; if you don’t, you can simply write, “Sorry if I’ve got the wrong person, but I think we dated a few years back and I just wanted to say hello and that I hope you’re doing well. If you’d ever like to catch up, you can reach me at [email address/phone number/wherever]. Thanks!”
Q. Re: New roommate is always around: Ha! If you want to live alone, get a place you can afford.
A: Yeah, I’m sure we would all love to find a roommate who cheerfully and regularly pays rent and then graciously ceases to exist whenever we’re home, but that person does not exist, and it is not reasonable to ask other people to try to perform that sort of disappearing act on a daily basis.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! See you next week.
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My husband and I have been married for six years and together for 10. He was a creative director with a good income when we got engaged but once we got married we decided he would work on finishing his movie script. He hasn’t worked since and the script has little chance of ever making money. I was diagnosed with infertility five years ago and we have not had success with treatment or private adoption. I have my master’s degree and a good job. But with one income, and living in a high cost area, we are always struggling and can’t even afford health insurance. I love my husband, he understands me and encourages me to be creative, fun, inspired, and authentic. I married him because he is fearless in his artistry and living with him makes me feel as if everything is ahead of us. However, I have considered leaving him for all the obvious reasons: his having no real work ethic and my feeling used. Recently things were terrible at work because of a merger, and I was coming home crying. To my shock my husband suggested he put the script away, we move out of state to be near his family where the cost of living is lower, he find a job, and we could adopt. I was thrilled! We started looking, and I have been offered a good job with fewer hours, great benefits, but significantly less pay. He hasn’t found anything although he’s not looking hard. Then things calmed down at my current job and I may have an opportunity for exciting advancement. I have to accept or deny the job offer very soon and I don’t know what to do.
And find even more letters in the Dear Prudie archive.