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, chatters! Let’s sort things out.
Q. The second shift in 2019? When I’m 23? My boyfriend and I live together and we’re incredibly happy. We’re in our early 20s and live in New York with two full-time jobs and side hustles. We’re both equally ambitious and serious about our future, both professionally and as a couple.
I typically beat him home from work, and while I admit I tend to be the neater roommate and more inclined in the kitchen, we have fallen in the habit of me taking over the cleaning and cooking. My boyfriend vocalizes that he’s appreciative of everything I do but groans and drags his feet when I ask him to help out too. We’ve had the conversation multiple times, both light-heartedly and seriously. It does take a toll on me. I enjoy both activities of cooking and cleaning (being a neat freak and vegan home chef will do that to you), but I can’t help but think this might be a red flag down the road. If I’m 23 and already dutifully showing up for the second shift as we build our life together, what will happen when we’re 43 (hopefully with kids) and still in this pattern?
A: It’s a red flag now! I think given current trajectories, you can expect that, short of a very serious rearrangement in your boyfriend’s priorities, if you are still with him at 43 and have kids, you will be responsible for just as much cooking and cleaning, plus the majority of the child care, and he will be writing in to me asking why you don’t have as much time for him as you used to. “My boyfriend vocalizes that he’s appreciative of everything I do” is the lowest of low bars—he’s got a professional-grade cleaning service and a vegan home chef working for him. The fact that he says “thank you” while refusing to do the dishes is not a point in his favor. I understand that you two are happy and in your early 20s, but I think the way someone treats division of labor and chores in the home is such an important indicator of their character.
Q. How do I manage my extended family? I recently moved back in with my parents. Both my parents are old and my mom is not able to move about, so they needed someone to take care of her and help run the household. My dad helps as much as he can. My siblings understand the situation, but they are not able to uproot their families and move. However, when they were over for the holidays, it was a huge relief.
The issue is the extended family. They organize family get-togethers and make plans where they stay over. In either of the situations, they don’t help clean up, do their beds, assist in meal preparation, or let us know what their plans are. Even if they do bring the food, I have to warm it up, serve it, do all the dishes, and divide the leftovers among everyone. No one volunteers to help, and when they do, they leave a bigger mess. I have mentioned this to my parents, so they are aware of it. What makes me upset is that I never get to hang out with anyone, I do not look forward to anyone’s visit, and I get so upset that I am unable to put up a happy appearance.
Now my uncle has planned another get-together at our place. My parents knew about it, but no one mentioned it to me until I heard about it in passing. This is not the first time this has happened. I moved with the best of intentions, but this is bringing out the worst in me. All I want to do is to scream into a pillow. What do I do to make the best of this situation? I just cannot leave my mom and dad when they need me the most.
A: Do these relatives have a key to your parents’ house? If they do, ask for it back and/or change the locks. If they don’t, you have a bit more freedom to act as a gatekeeper. I don’t know if your parents enjoy these get-togethers. If they’re not especially wild about them, when someone mentions that they’re planning on hosting a party at your house, tell them you’re no longer available for hosting, but that you’ll be happy to meet them at a restaurant or one of their houses.
If your parents do enjoy them, and aren’t able to get out much, you may not want to bar the door, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a cater-waiter either. You say you’re ready to scream into a pillow, but before you do that, just say something! If you do want to host the occasional party for your parents’ sake, you can still set a limit (say, no more than one a month), and let everyone know that you’re not available to heat or serve the food. Just don’t do it! If they are hungry enough, I promise you they will feed themselves, and you’re not abandoning any hosting duties because you didn’t arrange the party. After the meal is finished, you can cheerfully announce that the dishwasher is in the kitchen and you appreciate their leaving the place as clean as they found it.
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Q. My boyfriend came out to me as bisexual: I’ve been seeing this great guy for more than six months. He’s smart, caring, and attractive. He is the kind of man I want to marry someday.
When things started getting serious between us, he came out to me as bisexual. We had a long conversation in which he told me he’s had several long-term relationships with other men. I ended up questioning his fidelity with me. He explained to me being bisexual doesn’t make him less faithful than straight people. He told me I was being hypocritical because I’ve broken up with guys in the past who were insecure that I had more sexual partners than them.
In the end, I told him I could never be in a serious relationship with a bisexual man. I know I’m clearly in the wrong here and I would be letting a great guy slip away, but I just can’t get over being with a man who has also been in intimate relationships with other men. Is there a way I can overcome this feeling?
A: You’ve already told your boyfriend that you could never be in a serious relationship with a bisexual man. While I do hope that over the course of your life you’re able to find better ways to deal with your own fears, insecurities, and internalized stereotypes about bisexual men, I don’t think you’re going to be able to come back from making that declaration in this particular relationship. I think your boyfriend deserves better than a relationship where, after six months of getting to know him, his partner feels put off and like she needs to overcome his bisexuality. And I hope you find a very straight man you like a whole bunch!
Q. Re: The second shift in 2019? When I’m 23? Hire out the housework. My partner had similar complaints about me, but frankly, I would rather work and play. And by making a few sacrifices, we hired out the things we didn’t have time to do—we got a bimonthly housekeeper, a service for vegan dinners, and send out some laundry. It was life-changing, and after we had kids, we adjusted. Let’s face it: The last few generations are the first where couples both worked out of the household and were expected to cook and maintain the house. I’m glad he loved me enough to see past it, because we have a great (albeit, somewhat cluttered) life.
A: I’m glad this works for the two of you, and that you can afford it! And I certainly don’t want to suggest that anyone who’s not a professional-level home chef or deeply committed housecleaner ought to be summarily dumped. But I’m wary of the fact that this boyfriend not only doesn’t do any of the housework himself, he balks when asked and hasn’t volunteered to pay for someone else to do it. That tells me the underlying problem isn’t going to be solved by shifting the work onto somebody else (assuming these two in their early 20s can afford to send out their laundry, have a cleaning crew come in regularly, and pay for meal service), because the underlying problem is that he considers the work of making meals and keeping the house clean to be the letter writer’s job.
Q. Timeshare trouble: I took a new job last year, and unlike my old job, it requires periodic road trips. My husband’s work (which provides most of our income) is fairly demanding and requires him to start work at 5 a.m. That makes it difficult for him to handle our kids by himself when I am traveling (I usually handle things in the morning, getting them to school; my husband usually deals with the afternoons and evenings).
My in-laws have very generously agreed to fly out and visit when I have to travel. That’s all great. The problem is my parents. They now constantly complain that “the other grandparents” get more time with the kids. They are, of course, welcome to visit if they like. But they don’t, mostly because they don’t want to leave their dog (the dog can’t fly). Also, they are not particularly helpful with the kids (which doesn’t prevent a visit for a visit’s sake, obviously!). They expect that we should all fly out to see them to balance things out. But that seems very unreasonable because we don’t have the flexibility with respect to work and school to do it. My parents, on the other hand, are retired. How can I get through to them that this is not about favoring one set of grandparents, but rather a question of dealing with a challenging child care situation?
A: Your parents: “It’s awful! It’s unfair! It’s a grandparently crime that we never see you and the kids.”
You: “That’s too bad! You know you’re welcome to come visit any time.”
Your parents: “We can’t visit! The dog can’t fly. You should come see us!”
You: “I’m afraid [Husband] can’t get the time off work, and I’m sure you remember how difficult it is to fly with children. But if you ever find a dog sitter you like, we’d all love to see you.”
If they’re inclined to just go endless rounds on listing reasons why they can’t fly, don’t start arguing. Just repeat that you’d love to see them, and if they don’t drop the subject after that, find an excuse to get off the phone and go. The less conversational purchase you give them on the subject, the better—even if they don’t drop it right away, at least you’ll spend less time on the phone listening to them complain.
Q. So much of a good thing: A couple years ago I moved abroad, leaving many beloved friends behind. I’m building a happy life here and doing my best to stay in contact with people back home. This is a first for me, because previously when I left a stage in life—high school, college, new job—I’ve dropped everyone cold turkey due to stress and mental health. But I’m in a better position now and I love these people, so I’m putting in the effort.
However, now I feel like I don’t have enough hours in the day! I want to keep up with a few of my dearest friends and family from home and a couple online friends who have supported me through thick and thin, but I also want to meet new friends here and strengthen those friendships through local hobbies. I don’t know how to do it! All of these people bring me joy and brighten my lunch hour, but I’m bad at multitasking and I feel like a bad friend for only replying to Facebook messages once every few weeks. How do people do this?
A: Often they only speak to their friends once every few weeks! I’d welcome hearing from anyone who’s moved far away from their primary social circle and has tips for managing long-distance friendships on top of having a life in their new country. I think it makes sense to prioritize the people and activities you can see and participate in regularly, while also setting aside an hour or two a week to talk to your closest friends from home and getting to Facebook messages when time permits. It sounds like you’re doing quite a lot, so I think you should cut yourself some slack and remember that lots of (healthy, wonderful, robust) friendships don’t involve talking every day, especially when you’re separated by half a world.
Q. Re: How do I manage my extended family? There’s an old rule of etiquette: If you plan an event, you host it at your place, not someone else’s. And if you absolutely have to have it at someone else’s place, you get that person’s permission first. Remind your extended family of this old rule.
A: Yes! I get the vibe that this letter writer feels like since these family members have made a habit of using Mom and Dad’s place for hosting events, it feels like they’re not really allowed to say anything about it—maybe (especially?) because they’ve moved in to “help out” and isn’t technically a homeowner. But the letter writer has a real stake in this and I think should have a voice in planning events, since they’re the only one living there who’s tasked with setup and tear-down.
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Q: Our best friends’ kids suck: My husband and I have been together for five years, married for a few months. Our best friends are another couple with a 6- and a 3-year-old. We’re very close with this couple, and we love spending time with them. The problem is their kids. When my husband and I first started dating, their oldest was less than a year old, which made it easier to make plans and socialize with them almost every weekend. As the kids have gotten older and they’ve added a second, spending time with them has turned into something I’ve come to dread. Their kids are completely incapable of playing by themselves and are constantly seeking attention. Their parents do nothing to discourage this behavior. This constant attention continues until bedtime, which we are encouraged to help with and sometimes can take two hours. Then their parents fall asleep on the sofa and we shrug and go home. When they do come to us, the kids are really destructive with our things and pick on our pets. Again, the parents do nothing to stop this and have several times playfully called me uptight or told me to chill out when I try and step in.
These are our best friends and we really used to enjoy spending time with them. My husband feels the same way. Everything we’ve suggested—coming over after bedtime, getting a sitter and going out, spending time together individually while the other watches the kids—has been shot down by them. Is this friendship over until the kids are much older? Are we just being idiot nonparents and not getting that this is how friendships are after kids? We don’t have this problem with our other friends with kids.
A: I don’t think you’re being idiots. I do think you’ve discovered the natural limit in terms of what you can say to your friends about it—you’ve asked them to focus less on their kids and they’ve told you to butt out, and you ought to respect that. To a certain degree I think it’s inevitable that a 3-year-old needs pretty constant parental supervision, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable for your best friends to want you to occasionally hang out with the kids and read a few books at bedtime. But it’s also normal, understandable, and desirable to want to get together sans kids once in a while, and I think it’s a shame that they always turn down your requests to have some adults-only time. Figure out how often you’re willing to play with the kids while talking to your friends—maybe that’s once a month, maybe it’s a little less often— and stick to that until the kids get older and you can get their parents back off the couch.
Q. Re: So much of a good thing: “I feel like a bad friend for only replying to Facebook messages once every few weeks. How do people do this?” They don’t. You are putting way too much pressure on yourself that only will get worse as people get married, have kids, change careers, et cetera. It’s perfectly natural for people to lose touch, or at best see each other way less often. My friends are scattered around the globe and in every stage of raising families as you can imagine. I’m lucky if I can see some of them once every two years, and maybe chat on text or on Facebook every other month or so. My point: You’re already doing enough and if you want to slack off a bit, that’s cool too. If the friendships are meant to be, they’ll survive a few months of just commenting on one another’s posts.
A. I agree—the letter writer is trying to balance a ton of things all at once, and I feel like most people understand that friendships go through different seasons, especially when jobs/travel/relationships/kids/health issues get in the way. None of the letter writer’s friends seem to be complaining about feeling left out, so I think a lot of this pressure is internal.
From Care and Feeding
Q. Can we give our 17-year-old a bedtime? I feel like sometime soon (maybe now) that my teens are almost adults and should make their own bedtime choices. My husband thinks they should still have a bedtime of 10:30.