Dear Prudence

The Guy I’m Dating Is Friends With Someone Who Once Told Me to Kill Myself

Prudie’s column for Feb. 23.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Rawpixel/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

The newest addition to the Dear Prudence lineup, the mini-column, is moving to Saturday for a spell.

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Dear Prudence,
In eighth grade, one of my bullies sent me a message on social media telling me to kill myself. That boy is good friends with a guy I’m now dating. We’re not exclusive yet, but we’re getting there, and the closer we get, the more anxious I get. I don’t know how to talk about it with him, but I don’t want to throw this great guy out with the bully bathwater. After junior high, we were sent to a much larger high school (which is where the guy I’m seeing now met my bully), and none of our paths crossed anymore, so the bullying totally stopped. We’re in our late 20s now.

Admittedly, I was a weird kid, bookish and easy to bully. I’m fine with the two of them being friends now, but I don’t want to hang out with my former bully myself. I get along well with Great Guy’s other friends, and Bully lives in a different town, so I haven’t had to see him yet. When Great Guy asked me if I knew Bully, I just said his name sounded familiar. The thought of telling Great Guy about it is scarier than the idea of telling him about my physically abusive/alcoholic dad and emotionally abusive ex—I’ve had therapy to deal with those, and Great Guy seems empathetic. Now that I’ve sat down to write to you, I realize I’m also worried about Bully telling Great Guy about the day I locked myself in a bathroom stall and cried, or telling him one of the rumors about me, or essentially bullying me again. If Great Guy and I become exclusive, is this something I’ll need to address? How? If I shouldn’t, how do I get over it?
—Small-Town Problems

It might be helpful to think of this not as something you “need” to address but something that you get to address, because you deserve to ask for support and to talk about things that cause you fear and anxiety with someone you’re considering dating seriously. More than anything, I don’t think you should use language like “get over it,” because if you tell this “great guy” about what his buddy did to you and he responds dismissively, then you’ve just learned something pretty important about his character, and you should pay attention to it. No matter how weird or bookish you were, it doesn’t mean it was OK for someone to bully you or tell you to kill yourself. I don’t mean to sound condescending, because I think you know that on some level, but you do not have to bend over backward to extend compassion or context to your childhood tormentors. Maybe your former bully has truly changed, but you can wish him well and hope for his continued redemption without ever wanting to be in the same room as him again. I think you should mention this to the guy you’re seeing right now. You can make it clear that you don’t know what the bully is like as an adult and that you’re not asking this guy to relitigate the past on your behalf or to end their friendship, but you don’t want to spend time with the bully if he ever comes to town. I don’t want you worrying about the prospect of being thrown together with him because you think it’s “too soon” to talk to your (almost) boyfriend about it. If he is truly the empathetic guy he seems to be, he’ll listen and do whatever he can to make things more comfortable for you.

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Dear Prudence,
My college daughter has shared an off-campus, four-bedroom apartment for two years with five other girls (we’re all middle-class). My daughter and a roommate each have a single room; the other two bedrooms contain two girls each. Each roommate pays a proportion of the rent based on the size of her room, or a portion thereof. As their current lease draws to an end, all girls have stated that they want to stay together and each have a single room—i.e., move to a six-bedroom apartment with a higher overall rent and higher rent per roommate. Five of the girls hold part-time jobs; one girl, “Britney,” does not. My daughter asked if we can afford the increased rent if she contributes a portion of her wages from her minimum-wage job. We can, although we’re not fully comfortable (we have two younger school-aged children with expenses).

Britney’s father says that the increased rent is out of their family’s comfort zone. One of the other roommates has proposed to keep Britney’s share of the rent the same and each of the five other girls pay an extra $50 per month over the year lease. My daughter does not support the idea, nor do we as her parents who pay the bulk of her college expenses. Now relations are awkward among the roommates because my daughter has openly disagreed with the proposal. I prefer the girls work it out without the parents jumping into the conversation. I have privately suggested to my daughter that they could stay together and Britney brings in a seventh roommate to share her room, the girls split up into two less expensive apartments, they search for a less expensive six-bedroom apartment, or they abandon the wish for every girl to have her own room. (I bit my tongue and did not suggest that Britney find a part-time job like the other roommates.)

I really want to know what the other parents think, but don’t know them well enough to reach out. Am I being realistic and reasonable or cheap and uncharitable? Is my view of personal budgeting misaligned with the current climate?
—College Roommates

This is a fantastic opportunity to encourage your daughter to try to solve some more of her own problems and for you to take a step back as she gets closer to adulthood and total independence. You seem to be involved in this process at every single level, and while I’m not suggesting you tell your daughter not to call you again until she’s figured everything out, I think you could easily stand to be about 80 percent less involved here. This is an ideal “first adult problem” for your daughter to figure out on her own—the stakes are relatively low, nobody is likely to end up homeless or destitute, and it’s going to set a foundation for dealing with roommates and sharing household expenses, something she’s probably going to have to do for the rest of her adult life.

While you may be able to spare additional money for your daughter’s new housing, saying “Well, I guess we have the money in the bank” shouldn’t be your only criterion for deciding whether to write her a check. Presumably your goal is that she becomes more and more financially independent throughout her college years. With that in mind, tell her that you’ll offer the same support with her rent that you always have so that if she and the other girls decide to move out or split up or spend more, she’ll have to figure out what she can afford and what her options realistically are. Then let the girls hash it out among themselves. They may quarrel about it, and they may nurse some hurt feelings, and they may even split up and live in smaller groups—all of which are totally acceptable, reasonable outcomes. If you’re used to refereeing most of your daughter’s problems, the next time she calls asking for your advice, try saying “I’m not sure. What do you think you should do?” and see what solutions she’s able to come up with on her own. You don’t need to get in touch with her roommates’ parents, and you definitely don’t need to start sending her more money. Let her figure this one out, and enjoy the free time you’d otherwise spend worrying about whether Britney is being fair.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.