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, everyone—let’s chat.
Q. Granny doesn’t want a flu shot: My son and his wife are expecting their first born, my first grandchild. We are all beyond excited. Here’s the hitch: I and my husband do not get or believe in flu shots, and have not for over a decade. I am a retired nurse practitioner, so am well-informed on the subject. The expectant mom’s mother says no one will be allowed around the baby unless they have had their flu shot. I am in a quandary. I don’t want to lie and say my husband and I have gotten one when we haven’t. But I don’t want to be left out of this little one’s life because that side of the family thinks I am being unreasonable by not caving to have a shot I do not want. By the way, both my husband and I have had all our regular vaccines. What should I do?
A: It’s great that you and your husband have had all your regular vaccines, but that has nothing to do with whether you could transmit the flu to your grandchild. That’s like hearing, “Would you like to get lunch?” and responding, “I had breakfast this morning.” It’s a good thing, to be sure, but not strictly relevant to the question at hand. You don’t say why you don’t “believe” in flu shots, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends them for everyone over the age of 6 months. I do not encourage you to lie about your vaccination status in order to get what you want, especially when that could potentially risk the baby’s health. You can’t get everything you want. If you decide that it’s very important not to get vaccinated, then you owe it to the people around you to be upfront about your vaccination status so they can make their own choices about their health.
Q. Do I have to invite my mean son?: I have three adult children: “Jerry,” “Sandra,” and “Jordan.” From a young age, Jerry had trouble sympathizing with others. He was blunt, often cruelly so. If something didn’t hurt or bother Jerry, then it was pathetic for someone else to be hurt by that thing. Empathy never seemed to make sense to him, no matter how many specialists my husband and I took him to. Sandra and Jordan don’t have a relationship with Jerry, and the last time the five of us were together as a family, Jerry was so mean to Sandra that my husband threw him out. The holidays are approaching. We’ll be hosting the festivities this year, and I know that many people won’t come if Jerry is present. What’s more, I’m exhausted thinking about how snide Jerry will be to those relatives who do visit. My husband and I have considered not inviting Jerry. That’s despicable, right? I just don’t know how to have Jerry present and to also enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas. The older I get, the less I can handle him.
A: If the last time you had your son at a family gathering, you had to throw him out for being relentlessly cruel to another member of the family, and if in the intervening time, he has neither apologized, attempted to make amends, nor demonstrated any sign that he’s interested in changing his behavior, then I think you should give yourself a break and leave him off of the invite list. It’s sad, absolutely, but it’s not despicable to acknowledge your son seems either incapable of or uninterested in treating other people with respect. If you’re worried about seeming cruel yourself, you can certainly tell him that you can’t invite him until he shows he’s committed to treating people differently. But my guess is that he won’t mind not being invited.
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Q. Daughter’s privacy: Yesterday my neighbor told me her son’s best friend wants to ask out my daughter. All three go to the same high school and are close in grade levels. We carpool, and the friend wants to ride with us one day so he can say hi to my daughter. They don’t have any classes together, and I don’t think they have met before. He has seen her around and thinks she is cute. The boy is very nice, and I think it’s very sweet. The only problem is that my daughter came out to me earlier this year. She is young and still on her journey of discovering who she is, so this information was shared with me alone. Even her father does not know. I feel it is up to her to share when she is comfortable and ready. I told the neighbor if the boy wants to ride with us, the more the merrier, but I didn’t really know what else to say. I don’t want my daughter to think I’m trying to set her up with a boy. Should I just make an excuse to get out of him riding with us? I don’t want to encourage him when I know she won’t be interested. I’m at a loss for how to handle this.
A: You don’t need to bring up your daughter’s sexuality in order to turn down this offer. It sounds like your neighbor said, “Hey, my son knows a boy who wants to join your carpool for the express purpose of asking out your daughter, whom he’s never actually met. Is that OK?” That’s weird and invasive! If he wants to talk to your daughter at school, he’s perfectly free to, but trying to get into a car with her (an enclosed space she can’t get out of if she feels uncomfortable) via her parents is absolutely unnecessary. Go back to your neighbor and say, “I’m sorry, I spoke too soon and agreed to this without really thinking about it. I’m not comfortable letting someone join our carpool with the goal of asking out my daughter. I don’t want to put her in the position of having to figure out whether she wants to date a stranger when she’s just trying to get to school. It won’t be possible for him to join us.”
Q. Been invited and don’t want to go: My husband and I have two teens and divorced in April. We are amicable for the kids’ sake, which is good, but I feel my former mother-in-law is being too amicable by continuing to invite me to family events. While I’m grateful she is willing to be friendly, I don’t want to attend my former husband’s family gatherings, for a variety of reasons that I don’t feel I should have to explain. I’ve been invited to Thanksgiving now and I don’t want to make up a reason to get out of it, or else I’ll just get invited to Christmas. I want instead to establish going forward that while I exude goodwill toward my former in-laws and appreciate theirs toward me, I am no longer part of the family in that way. How do I do this without hurting feelings?
A: That is definitely next-level “too amicable.” Your mother-in-law’s intentions are kind, of course, but I think one can safely assume that if two people get divorced, unless they say otherwise, they’re not planning on spending the holidays together. If you two are amicable enough that you’re both willing to continue running interference on each other’s behalf, you might ask your ex to mention to her that you shouldn’t be included on future holiday invite lists. If not, you can simply thank her and say, “It’s so kind of you to invite me, and I hope you know how much I love you and [father-in-law], but [ex] and I won’t be sharing holidays, so I’ve already made my own plans.” It may be impossible to get through this without at least some hurt feelings—no matter how amicable the split, you and her son are still getting divorced and changing the way you interact with each other’s families—but what you’re proposing is pretty customary, and if you can also stress how much you value her and wish her the best, I think you’ll be safe.
Q. Re: Granny doesn’t want a flu shot: Your choices aren’t Lie or cave. They are Cave or don’t see the baby. Those are your only two options. And God help you if they find out you lied. (And they will.) Because your relationship will effectively be over with your kid and grandkid.
A: Yeah, I can’t imagine a much more thorough way to damage your relationship with your kids and your new grandbaby than lying about a flu shot, especially if the baby got sick as a result. Either you can refuse to get the vaccine and then see the baby once he or she is old enough to get a vaccine of their own, or you can get the shot and see the baby right away.
Q. Spouse and the amazing technicolor stinkycoat: We have had a severe laundry crisis in our home for going on 20 years, and it has only gotten worse. My lovely spouse is a laundry nut and hates using the dryer, claiming that it shortens the lifespan of select clothing items. Granted, there are accidental casualties that occur from time to time, but not that often. Our most recent escalation is THE STINKINESS; it is palpable and ever-present. Ever since we moved to the South her clothing is not allowed to experience high heat in the dryer, which has created an unpleasant smell in her most precious items. My clothes are unaffected as I use the ultra-heat mode. Also, her sense of smell is poor and mine is quite sensitive. She denies that this phenomena exists. Said items contaminated with THE STINKINESS are worn quite frequently and have begun to impact other items. I have absconded with some items for neutral party evaluation and THE STINKINESS is clearly present and identified by all test subjects. It has begun to impact our intimacy. How do I convince her that this is a serious issue?
A: If the smell is caused by your wife’s clothes being insufficiently dried—rather than insufficiently washed in the first place—and the issue is that they emerge from the dryer slightly musty or moldy-smelling, and then are tucked away in a drawer to further deteriorate, then that’s got to be just as hard on the lifespan of her clothes as a tumble at the highest heat setting. She should hang her delicate/highly prized items to dry completely either on a clothesline or a drying rack. (And if she knows her sense of smell to be poor, she should trust your judgment in this area.)
Q. Re: Daughter’s privacy: Why not just ask your daughter what she would like you to say or do? Regardless of whether she is straight or hasn’t come out, I think it would be appropriate to ask her before speaking for her here.
A: Yes, absolutely! My read is that the letter writer can safely assume she would not want a guy she’s never met to join the carpool because he wants to go on a date with her, but certainly check in with her first.
Q. Horrible friend, or am I nuts?: My friend of 20 years lost her job and apartment and needed a place to stay. I let her, her mother, and her three kids come to stay at my home with me, my boyfriend, and our two kids. She was supposed to stay a couple months until she got herself together. For 10 months, she lived off of us, with us footing all her bills. Then she started getting Social Security, about $2,000 per month, on top of her mother’s income of about $2,000 per month. I asked her if could she help out with at least her half of the expenses. She was not happy about me asking her for money and felt she shouldn’t have to pay anything. She made me feel like a horrible person and told the kids that I hated them and didn’t want them at my house all. Am I wrong, or is she the worst friend?
A: It doesn’t seem like you need advice, exactly, so much as for someone uninvolved with this situation to confirm that your friend’s behavior has been bizarre and unwarranted. Allow me to confirm! You have behaved generously and honestly toward her. What you asked was reasonable. Her response was totally unwarranted and must feel so upsetting after 20 years of friendship (and 10 months of free rent). Telling her children that you “hate them” is totally uncalled for, and an act of cruelty and manipulation. I think it’ll be best for everyone if she moves out, now that she’s back on her feet. Can your friendship survive this blow-up? It will depend on whether she’s ever able to apologize.
Q. Re: Spouse and the amazing technicolor stinkycoat: Get old-fashioned powdered Borax. It will remove the smell. It even works on stinky bath towels!
A: Thanks for the tip!
Update—Re: It’s complicated crush: Hi, Daniel! I’m delighted to update you on your good advice from last October. The sparks you suggested I could investigate literally flew on a thunderstormy night a few weeks after you answered my letter—the eve of the same-sex marriage “yes” vote in Australia. It’s our first anniversary next week! We are revoltingly happy together. Thanks for the dose of courage.