Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Millionaires give $30 as wedding gifts: My husband’s brother brought his five adult children to our daughter’s wedding. Although we are regular working people, he has a net worth of well over $50 million, and his adult kids each have $2 million. The wedding was an evening event with a sit-down meal and dancing. The next day, when my daughter and her husband opened their gifts, most of the cards they received contained a check or new bills from the bank. They were touched by some of the amounts they received, even from relatives who are not well-off. They considered trying to return the money in some cases, but that seems rude.
Then came the card from the five millionaire adult kids and their dates and spouses (10 people in total). It was a single card among all of them. It was stuffed with used bills—10s and 20s totaling a completely random amount ($290). It looked like they passed the hat and gave the money from their pockets.
We were taken aback by the lack of care and the amount, which barely covered two plates. It was by far the smallest gift per person. Obviously, the bride and groom can be nothing but grateful, but the gift felt like a slap in the face. My daughter is wondering if she did something wrong, or if they were expecting hot dogs and soft drinks (at a country club!). Is it possible that a bunch of rich 25- to 40-year-olds have no idea how much a wedding costs? My son wants to message one of the cousins and tell them they were out of line and that they should have at least tried to cover the cost of having them attend the wedding. It was a lovely event and they seemed to be very happy for the couple, but I think their gift was so stingy it was rude, especially from people who will never have to worry about money. What would you say to them?
A: I would send a polite thank-you note for the gift (to whatever millionaire seemed most responsible for getting the card signed), privately thank my stars that most of the people in my life are not so boorish, and enjoy my honeymoon, and that’s what I think your daughter should do. You, luckily, do not have to do anything, although you do get to (and should!) feel superior to a group of millionaires.
Q. Oversharing mom: I was recently diagnosed with mild anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and dyslexia. I haven’t told anyone about it and have been trying not to make it obvious. I have a 504 education plan at my high school but avoid answering questions about it. My mom knows about this and that I haven’t told anyone, as I’ve told her I’m worried some of the accommodations are too obvious. I know a lot of people have 504s, but I’m not comfortable sharing yet. I don’t want my interactions with friends to change.
I recently learned my mom has been talking to people about my diagnosis. She told my grandma, our neighbors, and some of her friends. She insists the people she’s telling aren’t in my circles so it’s OK, because I’m a difficult child to parent and she needs to talk to people. I don’t think she realizes that her calling me difficult hurts me. I don’t want people to look at me differently or know that I’m struggling in school. It just feels like my business that other people don’t need to know and isn’t her right to tell them.
When I first realized she was talking to people about me, I was pissed and told her it wasn’t her information to share. How do I tell her I feel uncomfortable with her distributing this information in a way she will understand?
A: I’m sorry your mother is putting you in this position to begin with! For her to tell you that you’re a “difficult child” and that’s why she has to talk with your neighbors about your education plan is unnecessarily burdensome. This is obviously made more difficult by the fact that you still live with her and rely on her insurance; it’s not like you can keep basic information from her until she demonstrates she knows how to keep things confidential, although I think this may be a tactic you’ll need to employ in the future once you move out.
It’s one thing for her to seek out confidential support with other parents and quite another to mention your diagnosis to lots of people. You might try to speak to that: “I get that you want to talk to other people about parenting, and you have every right to. But telling me that I’m a ‘difficult child’ makes me feel like you only see me as a problem, and that I don’t have a right to privacy or to decide who knows about my diagnosis. Since a number of your friends and relatives now know, you have a number of people to talk to about this. Can we agree that you don’t need to share it with anyone else? It’s important to me.”
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Q. My ultimatum is stop telling people about my ultimatums! None of my girlfriend’s friends or family have ever seemed to like me much. That’s obviously not ideal, but I don’t think I’m a terrible person and I’ve tried to be polite to them, so I’ve just ignored it mostly.
It turns out that the reason that they don’t like me is that my girlfriend has told them all I’m a controlling bully who won’t ever let her do anything. I mean, obviously we disagree sometimes and sometimes seriously, but I’ve rarely given her ultimatums—only twice, in fact. Once was when I put my foot down about us adopting her brother’s dog, since I have asthma and am allergic to dogs. The other was when I said her friend, who was an active addict, couldn’t stay in the house since she had previously stolen from us and almost gotten me fired when she stole my laptop with confidential files on it.
That’s it. However, she blames me for lots of things that she’s done or doesn’t want to do, or just because it sounds dramatic, I guess. She was going to move to Phoenix for a job, but it fell through. Her friends think it’s because I wouldn’t let her move. This all came out in a big fight with her brother, who accused me of controlling her life.
I feel like we should break up, but my girlfriend says that they were just white lies to spare people’s feelings and her pride, and that I shouldn’t mind. She doesn’t want to clear the air with her friends because then they’ll know she lied. I know she can’t make me not break up, but until this happened I thought we were really in love. Am I being too impetuous here?
A: It’s not impetuous to want to break up with someone who lies about your character, especially when those lies have been significant and frequent enough to make her family and friends think you’re a controlling monster. The fact that your girlfriend is suggesting you two stay together while she maintains the fiction that you’re responsible for every time she says no to someone else is pretty horrifying. Instead of telling her friends “I didn’t get the Phoenix job, and I’m disappointed,” she pretended that you forbid her to leave the state—what else is she willing to say about you? This woman has profoundly abused your trust, doesn’t care about your emotional or social well-being, and shows no interest in trying to change. The woman you thought you were in love with doesn’t exist, because your girlfriend is a habitual liar who’s been trashing your reputation for months at least. Worse, she claims that you shouldn’t mind! Get out now.
Q. Re: Millionaires give $30 as wedding gifts: Daniel, you dropped the ball with “privately thank my stars that most of the people in my life are not so boorish.” Well, yes, of course, the bride and groom need to send a thank-you letter to the uncle and family that gave them $290 as a wedding gift. So much for “It’s the gift that counts.” His finances aren’t any of their concern, but maybe that family isn’t as well-off as the bride’s family thinks.
A. Oh, I think there are multiple layers of boorishness here, and there’s plenty to go around! Yes, of course the cluster of millionaires should get a thank-you note for their collective gift, without question. Nor do I think the letter writer should consider it a “slap in the face” that their daughter received money at her wedding, even if it wasn’t as much money as the letter writer thought she should have received; in general, I think it will make the letter writer happy to refrain from trying to guess how much everyone can afford to give. I also think it’s a little slapdash to shove what was obviously just in everyone’s wallets at the time into a card the day of the wedding! There are worse things than being a little slapdash, but it’s not the highest good either. It sounds like you and I are offering nearly the same advice—namely that the bride and groom write a thank-you note and the letter writer do nothing.
Q. Overbearing mother won’t let go! I am a first-year out-of-state college student. I am fortunate to come from a family that can afford to pay for my education entirely (my parents are divorced, and my mom and dad split the cost of tuition, room, and board after scholarships). My mom insists that I call her every evening and justifies this demand by reminding me she’s paying for my school. Objectively, I could make time for daily calls: They’re never more than five minutes. But simply put, I don’t want to call her every day. Sometimes I forget! And I want to transition to a life in which I don’t need to share every detail of my daily existence with my mom. But she continues to insist and won’t settle for the compromises I propose (e.g., once-a-week calls and daily texts). She is also not sympathetic to the argument that this behavior is a little unusual for parents of kids my age (I call my dad once every two weeks, and we have a great relationship). Am I in the wrong here? What should I do?
A: I’m in such a compromise-happy mood this morning! If you think there is a real chance your mother would withdraw financial support over this, then I think it’s worth making time for a daily five-minute call, since they don’t seem to be in-depth or overly personal conversations. But if you suspect, as I do, that this is a mostly empty threat, then I think you can say, “Mom, I can’t do that, but I have some time on Friday, and I’ll call you then.” You can try once or twice to explain that you have a busy schedule and that part of the point of college is about establishing personal independence, but don’t get in a habit of trying to argue or justify the very reasonable position of not wanting to call her every single day. Better to stick with “I can’t do that” or “That won’t work for me,” followed by something that will. Then go about your day and don’t call her. If she bombards you with texts trying to get you on the phone, send a single reply and then temporarily mute notifications from her number.
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Q. Surprise! I’m not included in my sister’s wedding: My sister is recently engaged and is the type of bride who posts absolutely everything about her wedding planning on social media. I’m about a decade older than her and we have different moms, so we didn’t really grow up together and are not particularly close, although we’ve always had a generally good relationship, and as the older sister, I’ve tried to keep up with her life and check in with her regularly (she reciprocates about half as much).
But I found out that she had gotten engaged when our younger sister, the maid of honor, posted about it on social media, and I just found out that I wasn’t asked to be a bridesmaid when she posted a picture of the monogrammed gifts she sent her bridesmaids and my initials weren’t on any of them. I’m really hurt. I know we’re not that close, but I would have thought that, because we’re sisters, she would have asked me to stand up in her wedding, especially since she stood up in my wedding a few years ago and went around telling our other siblings that she would have been pissed had I not asked her. The kicker: She wants my son to be the ring bearer and to walk down the aisle with her fiancé’s cousin, the flower girl (he’ll only be 16 months old at the time of the wedding, so, uh, not likely)—but I found this out not from her, but from our brother.
I know some brides can have tunnel vision and I’m sure I had my moments, but not including my sister in one of the most important days of my life was never a possibility for me. How can I tell her how blindsided and hurt I am by her behavior in a way that doesn’t come across as my forcing myself on her wedding or causing any more tension? Really, I would have been fine with not standing up and maybe just helping my son walk down the aisle had she just said something to me. At this point I’m questioning whether I should even attend, let alone let my son participate.
A: You say you two aren’t close and that she has a history of putting in about half the energy you do into your relationship, so I’m not sure what you might stand to gain by saying anything to her. If it were me, I’d try to find a way to accept that she wasn’t especially interested in becoming much closer, appreciate the money I’d save by not being in a wedding party, and try to have fun as a guest. That’s still being included! If you weren’t invited at all, that would be different, but your sister clearly seems to want you there. Your son has not actually been asked to serve as a ring bearer, so I think you should wait to cross that bridge until you come to it. It may be that your sister thinks of it not as a snub of you, but a way to include your family in her wedding that, while short of asking you to serve as bridesmaid, still highlights your special relationship to her.
None of this is to say that you don’t have any reason to feel hurt or left out. That’s a totally understandable reaction! But I think the key here is that you say you would have been fine not standing up with her if she’d said something to you. It seems like you both enjoy a pleasant, if not terribly close, relationship, and that you don’t really want to be a bridesmaid so much as you want your role as her sister to be acknowledged in some way. But it doesn’t sound like your sister is trying to hurt your feelings. If you decide you have to talk to her about it in the hopes of clearing the air, I think you can tell her that you’re excited for her and you want to be involved, that you were sad not to be included in the bridal party, and that (while you’re not asking her to change it) you’d like to spend more time together or find other ways to establish a closer relationship.
Q: DIY husband troubles: My husband has taken up carpentry as a hobby. He clearly enjoys it and he works hard at it, but he’s still learning and he doesn’t have the tools or the budget one would need to craft really good, quality furniture.
The problem is now every time I see something I like in a store or online, he says, “I can make that,” and seems opposed to buying new furniture to replace our broken hand-me-downs. For Christmas he built me a coffee table and matching end tables, and although I can see that he tried to make them in a style that I would like, they just don’t work for me at all. Of course I said I loved them because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings, but we’ve only had them for a month and I’m already so tired of looking at them. I recommended doing something to them as a “finishing touch,” and he shut me down because he didn’t like the idea.
I really don’t want a house full of cheap furniture built by my husband. I just want to be able to buy a piece or two that speaks to my design aesthetic. I also don’t want to discourage him from doing something that he genuinely enjoys. What do I do? I really don’t want to hurt his feelings.
A: If your husband is capable of being discouraged out of a hobby he genuinely enjoys just because you don’t want to fill your entire house with his first-year products, then he is too easily discouraged and ought to cultivate resilience. You can be supportive without hiring him as your full-time interior decorator, and it is not unnecessarily cruel to say, “I really want one or two pieces of furniture made by a professional.”
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Thanks, everyone! Millionaires, please feel free to slightly rudely slip me some cash anytime.
My boyfriend and I have been together for five months, and we’re both 36. He treats me well, is caring, and I enjoy his companionship. The dilemma … our sex life is sparse. It’s been over a month since we’ve been physical. I brought this up and told him I wanted to get to the bottom of it. He told me that he is not physically attracted to me and never was. He had hoped that how well I treat him and how strong our connection is would help overcome this, but it hasn’t. I was understandably hurt by this. Last night he came over, apologized for how much he hurt me, and cried for two hours. He wants to stay together, and I asked him for time to think about what is best for me. It is worth staying with someone who treats you really well but isn’t attracted to you?
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