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 get this started.
Q. Dying friend’s naughty sexting husband: I am a woman in my early 30s in an artistic freelance service job and I routinely communicate with clients via text. Early in my career, I became friends with a woman I completely adored. We spent a lot of time together before having children and our lives drifted apart, but we stayed in touch through social media. A few years ago, her husband began contacting me through texts under the ruse of a professional project but quickly turned the conversation to sexually explicit suggestions. I was extremely uncomfortable as I’ve always felt a deep friendship-type love for his wife and wanted nothing to do with his nasty suggestions. I didn’t tell her because I didn’t want to cause problems and simply laughed him off and told him I’m only available to discuss art projects. I wish I had told him to eat shit, and then forwarded the texts to his wife.
Now his wife has reached out to me requesting to spend more time together, because she has been diagnosed with an untreatable cancer and was given about a year. She and her husband are still married, and I hope to be spending more time with her. I feel I shouldn’t mention the horrible texts from her husband a few years ago but am now wracked with guilt for having not said something previously.
This is something I should keep to myself, right? Unless she brings up other misdeeds her husband has fessed up to in the meantime?
A: I think your instinct is right, unfortunately, as frustrating as it must be to contemplate being friendly to him. (I hope that her husband is being as loving and supportive as possible.) If she’s only got a year to live and she doesn’t mention any problems in her marriage, then I don’t think it would do her any good to know now. Focus on spending as much quality time with your friend as you can.
Q. The “home” or our home: My mother cares for my grandfather, who has dementia, in his home. She called me one day to update me on his progress and said that she didn’t want my brother and I to be “burdened” with her when she gets up there in age, and to just put her in a home. Today she called and said my brother told her, “Sorry mom, you are going to the home when you get old” and she went on and on about how bad homes are and how family takes care of family. She was beating around the bush but I know her—she wants to move in with me when she is no longer able to take care of herself.
The thing is, my husband and I have big plans to travel after the kids are off to college and don’t want to be tied down caring for someone. It’s not that I don’t love her, but there are many good homes out there that truly care for their residents. Anything I tell her will result in tears, and “No one loves me, I don’t have the money to afford a good home,” etc. What should I do?
A: I’d love to hear from anyone who has had this conversation—or decided not to—with their own parents. I think there’s a case to be made for being clear well in advance, but I also don’t think this is a talk you need to have with her tomorrow.
I wonder if the real opportunity right now is to check in with her and see how she’s coping with caring for her own father full time. She sounds more than a little bit overwhelmed, and while I’m not suggesting you volunteer to move in with her and split caretaking duties 50/50, it may be that you could offer her a little help. Maybe that looks like asking her if she’s able to continue caring for him at home and if she needs permission to start looking for professionals to take over. Maybe it means paying for a meal-delivery service a few days a week for the next month or two, so that she doesn’t have to spend so much time in the kitchen.
When you do eventually have the “You can’t count on us as a retirement plan” conversation, if she’s that worried about money, you might want to set up an appointment with a financial planner so she can get help saving and estimating future costs. I can’t promise you that she’ll never cry or get upset, but if you can accept that it’s a naturally emotional topic and don’t automatically treat her tears as a problem to be solved by giving in, it’ll feel a lot easier to let her cry without feeling like a monster.
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Q. Partner’s boss is a total a-hole: My partner has been with the same employer for 10 years. He is very happy at his job with his company, and because it is such a specialized field within an already-niche industry, he has been able to really show off his talents and achieve huge career success within that time frame. He feels fulfilled and I am very happy for him!
The problem, unfortunately, is his immediate supervisor and his department head. It’s very much an old boys’ club in the already-small field he works in. The supervisor and department head have cultivated an almost fraternitylike atmosphere—and that’s giving fraternities a bad name, Prudie. My partner doesn’t participate in any of these activities, but he is aware of them. I found out recently that they had Photoshopped my face onto someone in a pornographic scene and hid copies of this “artwork” inside my partner’s office when he refused to engage in a round of golf with them. They considered this to be a “prank,” but I am livid. His field has no HR person to report this to, and the department head is a family member of the most prominent person in the industry, so he’s used to getting away with these “pranks.”
I know my partner is happy with his job, but I don’t ever want to see either of those gentlemen again. Unfortunately, this field has many social events that I have attended with my partner—and my partner insists I support him by continuing to attend. There is no way to avoid either of these people if I do attend due to the exceptionally small size of the event, so my attendance will guarantee long-ish interaction with both of these gentlemen. Do I have to go? I am sick just thinking of attending the next event in three months.
A: No, you do not have to go. “I decline to support you by being friendly to the men who made homemade joke pornography of me.” It may be a good opportunity for you to get into a productive, calm argument with your partner about what kinds of support you two can and can’t expect from one another!
Q. Should I leave my therapist? I’m debating leaving my therapist. I’ve been seeing her for about six months to deal with childhood abuse and how it’s affecting my life; mild depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior. I have made some progress but I don’t feel as connected to her as I did to a previous therapist. I relocated and it took me five years to find another, which is one of the reasons I’m hesitating. The current political climate is causing me a lot of anxiety and feelings of doom. Those feelings are made worse because so many of my family members and friends support the current administration. My therapist just told me she is a Trump supporter and asked me what I think should be done about the health insurance issue. She wasn’t mean or belittling but I can’t stop thinking about it. Since then, an elderly friend has been antagonistic about the president and seems to enjoy the hatefulness of it all. To avoid arguments, I don’t discuss politics with my family. I’ve had a few days of depression to the point of hopelessness but I don’t think I can discuss it with my therapist, knowing her political views. How can I trust her when she supports such a hateful, divisive person?
A: I know it feels frightening to try to find another therapist because the last time you did so it took you five years, but I think no therapist is better than a therapist you don’t trust and who increases your general sense of hopelessness and depression. (This is a new one for me! I’m usually such a therapy recommender that I think it’s useful to discuss situations where I think letter writers are better served by leaving, even if it means going without therapy for a while.) Especially because you’re trying to process something as vulnerable and intimate as the aftereffects of childhood abuse—if your therapist shares the very views that have been alienating you within your own family, I think you’re right to want to move on. You don’t have to hash it out with her; you can just let her know that your most recent appointment was your last one, and then spend time looking for someone better suited to your needs. Good luck.
Q. Grandparenting: After nearly 16 years and four rounds of in vitro fertilization, my 46-year-old daughter and her husband were finally able to conceive. The pregnancy was uneventful and the scheduled C-section delivery went well and she had a healthy, full-term son. He is now 2 years old and is still not talking, is not very affectionate, is very affected by overstimulation, and, as it appears to me, could be on the autism spectrum. I know my daughter researches everything about child care online and before she had a child she used to mention children whom she thought might be on the “spectrum,” so I believe she may be in denial. I know early intervention is very helpful and I think she should start pursuing this, but it’s kind of the elephant in the room and I don’t want to be the one to mention it. Should I leave it alone and hope her pediatrician suggests it or risk her not keeping in contact with me because she doesn’t want to be reminded about it?
A: I’m of a few different minds here, and I’d love to hear from any readers on the spectrum if they have any suggestions or feedback. By itself, I don’t know that not talking (much? at all?) at 2 is necessarily cause for concern; being a late talker isn’t necessarily a sign something is wrong. And it seems pretty age-appropriate for a 2-year-old to not have a lot of emotional resources for dealing with overstimulation. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility.
I know that lots of “early intervention” models when it comes to kids who are potentially on the spectrum can have a lot to do with forcibly rooting out stimming/self-soothing behaviors rather than supporting the kids, so I’d be a little cautious about what sorts of interventions would be for the sake of your grandson’s happiness and comfort versus making sure he appears neuroatypical. I think if your daughter and her husband are generally loving and attentive parents, you don’t have to worry too much right now about making a case, but I’d love to hear from any readers on the spectrum if they want to share what they wish their parents had borne in mind when they were children and how they think the letter writer might best proceed.
Q. Separation anxiety: My husband is leaving quite soon to move across the country. He is framing this as a several-month separation. I don’t want to give unnecessary background information, but this isn’t all his fault and both of us have made mistakes in our relationship. That said, I have a very stressful medical procedure and test scheduled for next week (after he leaves), and I feel very hurt that he will be gone for that and for whatever comes after it (if I get bad news, which seems likely based on preliminary tests). I’ve tried to express to him that I don’t feel confident that the time apart will lead us to get back together and have a stronger relationship (as he hopes it will) and that him leaving right before this medical testing makes me feel even less confident, but he is very firm that this is what he needs.
Do you have any advice for how to better get this across? He seems to feel that the medical stuff is separate from our relationship issues and thus not relevant to the decision, and that he needs to leave so that he can have space to think. I think this space jeopardizes the potential for us to stay together, which he says he wants us to do after the separation. Is there any compromise here?
A: I’m sure you both have made your fair share of mistakes in this relationship, but if my partner moved across the country the week before I found out whether or not I had a serious illness, I’d take it as a pretty clear sign that they weren’t planning on sticking around to help me deal with my diagnosis. You don’t have to accept your husband’s framing that your relationship issues exist in a vacuum. If you don’t think you could bring yourself to trust him again should he leave before you have that doctor’s appointment, I think you should be honest with him about it. If an immediate health crisis isn’t serious enough for him to at least want to delay his move so he can be with you as you find out whether or not you’re sick, then I don’t think he’s someone you can count on for the long haul.
Q. GoFund my delusions: Would you donate to a GoFundMe when the person is asking you for money not because they don’t have health insurance, but because their health insurance doesn’t cover an experimental procedure that they’d undergo for cosmetic reasons? This person has a history of vanity and of making poor decisions, and although I want to support them in their illness, their argument for the money isn’t “this has a better survival rate” but rather “I will look better after.” The other problem is they are not listening to their doctors, which means, most likely, this will end badly (i.e., death). Part of me wants to call them out on it, but their doctors have already had this conversation with them. I am not donating any more money (I already put money toward the first round of care, part of which was spent on a vanity project that never materialized). Still, even though I have helped this friend already with money and food throughout their illness, and their idea is irrational and dangerous, I still feel guilty for not helping more. What do you think?
A: You are well within your rights not to donate to someone else’s crowdfunding request if you don’t think it’s a good use of your money. I can understand how it feels difficult to stop giving them money, given that they’re still suffering from their original illness and may still have some ongoing financial needs as they access care. But you can continue to support your friend without spending more money; bring food round or take a walk together or just sit and talk over a cup of coffee. And if you truly believe your friend is pursuing a dangerous procedure that may endanger their life against medical advice, I think you ought to, not “call them out,” but ask questions about how they’re weighing the potential risks against the potential rewards, and encourage them to proceed with caution.
Q. Re: The “home” or not home: Both of you should talk to a geriatric care manager—you to understand some of your choices and her to make sure she’s getting all the help she needs. Does she have Meals on Wheels? Would day care work for her father so she can get some time off? I think it is important to start having this conversation—not now, but slowly think about it. My mum recently moved into a great home where she has nursing care. She is actually more engaged there because she is with people. It’s a marvelous place with wonderful staff and good food. But it costs a fortune—the midrange room (this is in D.C.) is $13,500 a month. This is why families are often stepping in and running themselves ragged taking care of aging parents at home: Good care is very expensive. So it’s good for you to start thinking about what you will and won’t do to help your mom as she ages, to help her learn about her choices, and to make sure she’s preparing as best as she can.
A: This is helpful, thank you. Another reader pointed out that “this isn’t just one conversation, it’s a series of conversations the letter writer has already started.” I’d like to add that the letter writer’s brother approached this conversation awfully bluntly and insensitively, and the letter writer might not be able to count on him for much in the way of either financial or emotional help when it comes to planning out end-of-life care for anyone in the family. But just because he’s framing it as “We’re going to dump you in a home and abandon you as soon as we can” doesn’t mean that’s what moving into a retirement home has to look like.
Q. I caught my landlord in a compromising position with his dog: My wife and I live in a small apartment at the back of our landlords’ lot. They are a sweet, retired couple who have been very kind to us. The back door of their house faces our front door, and we walk past it when we come and go. One morning we decided to take our dog on a quick walk before leaving for work, which we don’t normally do. When we returned, as we came around the back of the landlords’ house we caught the man with his pants down, apparently having sex with his dog. He very quickly stood up, pulled up his pants, and acted as if he was just tying his shoe or something. We said good morning and quickly scooted back into our house. My wife and I both asked what the other saw and we were in agreement that him having sex with the dog is what it was. Should we just move out quietly or stay and pretend nothing happened? Do we tell his wife? Do we confront him directly? We are afraid we could get kicked out for speaking up. But I am afraid for my wife’s safety. They live with and take care of several young grandchildren and I am afraid for their safety, too.