Dear Prudence

Two Family Members Have Been Living With Me Rent-Free as “Guests” for 11 Years

Prudie’s column for Feb. 7.

A despondent woman in the middle of a house broken in two.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Icons8 team/Unsplash and Nathan Anderson on Unsplash.

Dear Prudence,
I love my family, and I know that times are tough. I have two family members who live in my three-bedroom home and have been doing so since 2008. I did not want to let them live here, but our mother pleaded, as they would otherwise be homeless. (My mother has since passed away.) The agreement, however, was that this would be temporary! They paid no rent and considered themselves “guests,” so no responsibilities while they were looking for new employment. That was 11 years ago. Since then I have tried to ask for help around the house and/or rent, but I am bombarded with excuses; then, they have the audacity to criticize me. They know how much I make from an online salary database, and they insist that I am rich (I manage my money well). I have room in my home. We’re family. One family member is a senior and can’t physically help with chores. The other family member actually stays with a boyfriend or friends during the week and comes home to do laundry. They make minimum wage and can’t afford rent or the cost of living. Everyone tells me to kick them out, and believe me, short of calling the police, I’ve tried that too. At this point, I’m not sure what to do.
—Family Freeloaders

The most important thing for you is to consult a lawyer and find out just what rights your family members have. Since they’ve been living with you for so long, even if they don’t pay rent, they’re likely entitled to be treated as tenants, and depending on which state you live in, you may not be able to simply turn them out tomorrow. Make sure you have all the legal information you need in order to proceed with a court-ordered eviction, give them as much time as possible to make alternative arrangements, particularly when it comes to your elderly relative. (Your lawyer may also be able to recommend resources for subsidized senior housing.) But if your goal is to get your relatives to leave, I’m afraid you’re going to have to be the one to do it, and you’re not going to be able to get what you want by having another round of the same argument you’ve been having since 2008. Even if they don’t like it, even if they get angry with you and claim you gave them no warning, even if they’ve spent absolutely no time in the past decade planning for where they’ll live after this “temporary” arrangement, you’re going to have to figure out how to legally evict them and do it all on your own. It sounds like you’ve had a long history of getting pushed around by your family members, living and dead, so I imagine it will feel daunting, but you don’t need your relatives’ permission or agreement in order to consult a lawyer. Find one today.

Dear Prudence,
My wife and I are expecting our first child in April. We’re closing on a large house on a 16-acre farm with a small apartment above the barn. When my mom heard about this, she asked to move into the apartment. She and my dad live six states away, and she considers it their “retirement plan.” She offered free child care in exchange, which we don’t need, since my wife gets it for free at her work. My dad seems ambivalent about the prospect. My parents have declared bankruptcy twice in recent years and have never had much money; none of my siblings is in a position to help. But the reason we bought this property and not a much cheaper conventional home was because we wanted to turn it into a wedding venue. We need to rent out the apartment (for much more than my parents can afford to pay) for a few years until we’re done renovating the property and can turn it into a wedding-party suite. Either way, we’re depending on that apartment to generate money until we can open the business.
So the only way my parents could move in with us is if we invited them to share the house.

We will have the space for the next few years, although neither my wife nor I are excited about being my parents’ landlords or having roommates. But we want to have more children, and there just won’t be room. I’ve thought about offering them a space in the house for a fixed number of years rent-free so they can save money (though it is unlikely either will be working) and then be prepared to find new accommodations when our family grows. Realistically, they won’t be able to save enough to support themselves through the rest of their lives in the amount of time they live with us and will just find themselves in the same position they’re in now. Once they move in, I won’t be able to kick out my parents to make room for my child. I just can’t do that. So what do I do? Say no to my parents now, as they teeter on the brink of homelessness six states away and only occasionally see their only grandchild? Invite them into our home and potentially jeopardize our dream and very substantial financial investment? I love my parents and want to support them, but there is a very real chance that doing so will crush the chance my wife and I took on our dream and business investment.
—Farm Dreams or Parents’ Retirement?

Do not let your parents move in with you! Don’t do it! I’ll say it a third time: Don’t let your parents move in with you! If you find yourself beginning to waver, please read the previous letter and imagine yourself in that letter writer’s position a decade from now. You know that letting your parents move in with you would be a short-term solution at best and that they’d have to find another place once you had more children, that you don’t believe they’d actually be able to use that time to save money or find affordable housing, and that it would likely jeopardize your own ability to pay off your (extensive) mortgage. Letting your parents live with you would not actually help them in the long run, and it would likely hurt you, so don’t do it. You say that your parents “teeter on the brink of homelessness,” and I’m not sure whether that means they’re 30 days from being foreclosed on or if they’re in another downswing after what sounds like a lifetime of financial precariousness. Encourage them to talk to a financial planner; maybe help them look up whatever local government organization deals with housing for seniors; see if there’s an amount, however small, you’d like to give them each month to help defray expenses; and help them downsize—but don’t let them move in with you.

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Dear Prudence,
I’ve been with my husband for 12 years. He found work in a different state and moved away, but I stayed behind and moved in with my mother. My husband and I worked out a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” semi-open relationship for the time we’ll be apart. I’ve had a few dates and met some cool, interesting folks. The problem is my mother. She sees me going out and having late nights and thinks the worst of me (that I’m cheating, that I’m a bad wife, etc). I don’t think my mother should be privy to the most intimate parts of my relationship with my husband, but she continues to pick fights with me and ask questions she really doesn’t want the answers to. How can I manage this situation?
—Relationship Is Too Open

I imagine that there’s no one else you could stay with for the duration of your separation from your husband (otherwise you wouldn’t have moved in with your mother in the first place), but if there’s any other option, I’d recommend moving out. If you can’t, then put her on an information diet. I assume you’re not bringing dates back to her place or letting her know you’re seeing anyone as more than a friend, but if you have been, stop. If she wants to give you a hard time for leaving the house while your husband is in another state, tell her that you and your husband are both very happy, that he doesn’t want you to become a shut-in while you’re apart, and that you’re not looking for feedback on your social life. If she asks questions—even innocuous ones—about where you’re going or who you’ll be with, just stick with: “I’m going out with some friends. I don’t want to argue about this with you again, so let’s talk again tomorrow. Have a great night.” Here’s hoping the separation is of short duration and that you never have to live with your mother again!

Dear Prudence,
I (a straight woman) met a nice guy, and he’s bisexual. In a sort of reversal of a letter you answered last week, I’m fine with this. Maybe a little too fine? I find myself wanting to know more about my boyfriend’s sexual history with men, because I truly think that’s hot, but I don’t want to fetishize him at all. I think maybe it’s none of my business, but he has shared a bit. I know if I heard of a straight man plying his bisexual girlfriend for stories, I’d think it was gross. Am I on the verge of being exploitative? Should I keep quiet, or is there a way to let him know he can share this with me?
—New Boyfriend’s Sexuality

I think it will help you to focus on your actions rather than worry about whether it’s wrong to find your boyfriend’s dating history exciting. Don’t press your boyfriend for information he doesn’t want to share, don’t treat him like an object, and don’t ask him to sexualize stories that feel personal or painful. That’s about the extent of what you need to take responsibility for. You can be honest and tell him that you’re not simply indifferent to the fact of his bisexuality, that it’s part of what makes him appealing to you, without slavering over it or acting like that’s the only thing that you like about him. He in turn will be able to let you know what he feels comfortable sharing and how he wants to be able to talk about his sexuality in your relationship. Take his cue and go from there.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Lots of couples share Sexy Stories™ from their past, and it’s not inherently fetishizing or objectifying to do so.”

Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,
My wife and I have been married for about four years. We grew up in the same religion, went to the same university, and have many things in common. But in the years since we first met, I find myself changing rapidly. I have lost all interest in participating actively in our religion. I have also decided I don’t want kids (even though we always assumed we’d have them). My wife is an incredibly patient and understanding woman. She has said nothing to indicate that she is upset with me about these sorts of things. But I can’t help but wonder: Do I owe her an obligation to stay the same person that she married? I mean, if she married me under the assumption that our lives would go on a certain trajectory, and I suddenly (and unpredictably) alter that, am I betraying my vows to her? Do I need to stay the person that I was seemingly destined to become?
—Changed Man

Unless you two offered each other highly idiosyncratic vows, my guess is that you said you would honor and cherish and love her. It would take a pretty perverse reading of the standard wedding vow to assume that meant you would never change. Moreover, the changes you describe—realizing you don’t have the desire to parent children, finding yourself no longer connected to the religion of your childhood—aren’t exactly things you can talk yourself into or out of. The good thing is that it sounds like you’ve been honest with your wife about these changes and that (so far at least) she’s been on board. But if you’re worried that she’s secretly harboring resentments, you should revisit those subjects and ask her how she feels. It may be that at some point you two separate over these changes, especially if having children and raising them in a religious environment is important to her, but if you do, that doesn’t mean it’s your fault or that you betrayed her by following your own conscience and inclinations. The worse betrayal, I think, would be having children you knew you didn’t want and feigning interest in bringing them up in the church, all while your wife believed you two to be equally invested in doing both. At the risk of sounding flippant, I used to think I was going to spend the rest of my life as a woman. There’s no version of your marriage where nothing ever changed and both of you looked and acted exactly as you did on your wedding day until you died. Life is full of change, some of which we never see coming until it’s already upon us. The best any of us can do is be honest and figure out what we want to do with those changes.

Dear Prudence,
I have a cousin who’s something of a mean girl. We’re the same age, and most of her comments to me seem competitive or jealous or both. I usually just avoid her, but recently I got engaged. She used to work for a wedding planner before she had a baby. Now she’s decided that she’s going to help me with my wedding. I’ve both politely and bluntly made excuses for why I don’t want her help, but my aunts have all decided this is great and dismiss every excuse I make. She’s already started with some nasty commentary regardless (apparently, she thinks my fiancé is ugly). Is there a way to shut this down entirely without saying, “I don’t want to deal with you because you’re obnoxious”?
—Wedding Planner–Zilla

She has called your fiancé ugly and has eaten up countless hours of your time despite your first gentle and later overt requests for her to stop. The time for politeness has ended: “I’ve told you I don’t need a wedding planner more than once, but you keep forcing your opinions on me, not to mention insulting my fiancé’s appearance. Knock it off.” Then hang up the phone, leave the room, or do whatever you have to do to cut the conversation short. Remember that just because someone shares some of your DNA doesn’t mean you have to invite her to your wedding.

Classic Prudie

“I am a young woman who recently married a very successful athlete. We both want children, but in a world where so many children are without loving homes, I can’t imagine having biological offspring when we could provide a wonderful life for children who would never otherwise have one. My husband has always been supportive of this, but recently he brought up an interesting proposition. His ex-wife, who is older than me and has never remarried, asked him to be a sperm donor. She has a successful career and would not need financial support, but I think the proposition is bizarre. He argues that they both have excellent genetics that would be “wasted” if they do not jump at what could be their only chance to have biological children. He said it is no different from donating sperm to a bank, except that he knows the mother will be able to provide well for his offspring. The two split amicably due to pressures of both of their careers. Am I being selfish to say she should find another sperm donor?