My sister has never had a romantic relationship that ended well. Most recently I objected to her dating my fiancée’s brother, but she told me it was none of my business. A month before my wedding, they broke up spectacularly. I really don’t care who cheated or who got drunk with whom—I am tired of it spilling over into my life. My brother-in-law has been very quiet and personally apologized to me. My sister got drunk at my bridal shower and picked a fight with my sisters-in-law. My mother and I laid down the law; my sister sulked. She burst into tears and said that we didn’t care about her broken heart. I am ready to tear my hair out. My mom tells me to give my sister “time.” But she only dated him for three months. I have been planning my wedding for three years! We are paying for everything ourselves. My sister and brother-in-law are both in the wedding party. Can I just ban my sister for my peace of mind?
My instinct is that your brother-in-law got drunk and cheated on your sister, because you sound angry enough with your sister that if she’d done that, you’d have mentioned it as further ammunition in the case against her. That doesn’t mean your frustration with her isn’t justified, just that I wouldn’t give him too much credit for being “quiet” and privately apologizing. If you ban your sister from the wedding party, do you think she’ll still want to attend the wedding? Do you trust that if she did, she’d be able to keep herself from getting drunk and starting a fight? Would you and your fiancée consider asking your brother-in-law (who, let’s not forget, is just as responsible for the “spectacular” end of their relationship) to step back from wedding-party duties? If not, do you think you can talk to your sister about how to best prepare for your wedding day without dredging up every breakup she’s ever had and making it clear that you think she’s the common denominator in all of those bad relationships?
Whichever route you choose, it’s important to stay focused on what your sister thinks is possible for her on the big day: If she can’t be polite but distant to the groomsman who just broke her heart and you’re not willing to ask him to step back, see what she needs in order to keep from relitigating their breakup in public again. Maybe that’ll be permission to leave early or a promise not to drink or talk to his side of the family. Maybe it’ll be something else. If even with the passage of time your sister seems inclined to prioritize her admittedly short-term heartache over a peaceful wedding day, you may have to lay down the law and ask her to either commit to keeping it together or skipping the ceremony entirely.
My family is very dysfunctional and very poor. I basically had to claw my way into financial stability, and it’s made me very frugal. My boyfriend isn’t. He’s from another country originally and comes from old money, although we both make middle-class salaries. He’s very generous with his friends and family, and while I love that about him, he doesn’t really understand why I don’t treat my family the same way. I don’t speak to my parents. My father took out credit cards in my name when I was a child. My mother tried to convince me to give up my scholarship money to her in college. I have a limited relationship with my siblings and never give them cash or easy-to-pawn gifts after my sister once took the money I gave her to pay for rent and blew it at a casino instead. My boyfriend doesn’t understand why I don’t give my nephews the expensive sneakers or video games they want. He teases me for being a “miserly old aunt” and says I’m being petty and trying to punish my siblings with my success.
That hurts. I want to help my siblings, but I learned a long time ago that they’ll squander my gifts. I pay private tuition for my brother’s two girls and try to encourage my nephews in their schoolwork. My sister pawns anything expensive I get for her boys. I don’t have a safety net outside of what I’ve made for myself. My boyfriend can always fall back on his parents and grandparents. I have tried to relate my personal experience to him, and he just tells me the American dream is a mirage. How do I get through to him? Ninety percent of our relationship is perfect, except for his opinions on my family. It’s exhausting to argue about this.
—No Family Loans
I’m often a bit wary when someone writes in and says, “I’ve explained my particular circumstances to my partner numerous times, but he still doesn’t understand.” In a case like yours, the problem isn’t that you’ve been insufficiently clear. The problem is that your boyfriend has failed to extend much imagination or compassion to your situation. You’re paying private school tuition for two of your relatives, and your boyfriend’s getting on your case for not also buying big-ticket birthday presents that you know from experience will get pawned and used for gambling! If that’s his idea of miserliness, I’m a little scared to imagine what he thinks generosity looks like. If the other 90 percent of your relationship is really that good, then your best bet here is just to accept that you two will likely never see eye to eye on this issue. It’ll be easier if you don’t try to make it your job to get through to him. All he needs to do is stop giving you advice on how you deal with your family. Tell him: “I understand that we have different experiences with family and money that inform both of our perspectives. But I know my own family really well, and I’m the best judge of what financial gifts will actually help my siblings’ kids in the long run and what gifts will go straight down the drain. I don’t ask that you agree with my choices here, but it’s my family, and I need you to respect that it’s my call to make. It’s been a real waste of time and energy fighting about this, and I don’t think either of us is going to change the other’s mind anytime soon. All I’m asking is for you to stop making jokes about my miserliness or suggesting that I’m trying to punish my relatives by setting boundaries with them. Can you do that?”
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I’m a lesbian teenager living in the Deep South. I’ve been aware of my sexuality for about a year and a half, and I’ve been slowly coming out to the people I care about for the past few months. At this point, my parents, sister, therapist, and most of my friends know. I’ve always struggled with friendships because of social anxiety and bouts of depression that have left me with little energy. Most of my best friends have eventually moved away, and I’m bad at keeping in touch. My last best friend (I had a crush on her but never said anything) abandoned me and found a new BFF, although we’re still loosely connected. Because of all of this, I don’t know how to form close female friendships. My friends are all the affectionate, “you look so beautiful, I love you” platonic types. I’ve always struggled with this, even though I love the relatively rare instances where they say this stuff to me, and I’m trying. But now that my friends know I’m gay, I worry they’ll mistake it for some sort of attraction, especially since it’ll be new for me and I’m sure they’re not used to it. Right now, I’m closer to my therapist than any of my friends, and I don’t know how to get closer to my friends. I feel so alone. How can I form meaningful female friendships without my friends thinking I’m into them?
—Navigating Female Friendships After Coming Out
The good news is that most of your friends already know you’re gay, and it sounds like they still periodically offer sweet, clearly platonic expressions of affection and affirmation. My guess is that none of them think that just because you’re a lesbian, you’re secretly in love with all of them. I think that you can share your anxieties with them and they’ll be reassuring and kind, because they clearly care about you: “This might sound a little far-fetched, but one of the reasons I was nervous about coming out is because I was worried you’d stop saying ‘I love you’ or saying nice things about my outfits, selfies, hairstyles, etc., because you’d think I’d misinterpret it as flirting. I just want you to know it means a lot to me to still be able to be affectionate and expressive with all of you, and I don’t want that to change.”
Over a year ago, my husband and I got pregnant by accident. His teenage daughter was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, so we chose to end the pregnancy so we could be fully present for her. It ended up not being that simple. The chemical procedure that I could drive myself to didn’t work the way it was supposed to, and my husband had to drive me several hours to a clinic for a D and C. The night before the second procedure, something minor happened to a piece of equipment (bent metal, nothing broken), and he blew up and said he couldn’t take me. Prudie, I was so scared in that moment. I felt so alone and was already struggling with the suspicion that needing the second procedure was a bad sign. He relented and drove me the next morning. We were there all day, and I was drugged out of my skull. The only thing I really remember from the ride home is my husband yelling at me that I needed to stay awake to help him stay awake. I was too out of it to tell him that I couldn’t. I have told him how I felt, and he has told me he was scared he couldn’t stay awake, but he has not acknowledged that it hurt me.
In the year since, I’ve realized I desperately want to be pregnant again and keep the baby, but I’m not sure I want one with my husband. He has said he’d be willing to get pregnant if it matters that much to me, but I want someone who wants to be pregnant with me, not just someone who will tolerate it. Also, we got in a fight recently, and he said he never wanted a baby with me and no man ever would. I’m worried those are his true feelings and they would just come back to bite me if we did get pregnant. I then told him I didn’t want a baby with him. He got horribly hurt and said I was being unfair and not recognizing how hard he tries to make me happy and do what I want. Was I unfair or unreasonable?
Please run as far away from this man as you possibly can. He did his best to ignore you during an incredibly stressful and emotionally draining abortion, then screamed at you for being sleepy afterward because of the drugs you’d been given. If he was genuinely afraid of falling asleep behind the wheel, he should have pulled off of the road, found a safe place to park, and taken a nap or gotten a cup of coffee. Screaming at a drugged woman recovering from an abortion is not a good solution to fear. The fact that he’s trying to convince you that no one else would want to have a baby with you (the implication being that you should be grateful he stays with you, no matter how he treats you) is absolutely unconscionable. Even if he were the greatest husband in the world outside of those two incidences, I’d tell you to leave him. Just look at the bewilderingly contradictory, maddening things he’s told you during your recent fight! This man is telling you that he doesn’t really love or respect you, and you deserve so much better than this, whether you ever get pregnant again or not.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I think the odds of her causing a scene at the wedding if they’re both in the party are at like … 50/50?”
Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe discuss this letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I’m looking for advice on when and how to disclose past trauma in a romantic relationship. At 16, I was in a car accident. My injuries were severe enough that I required emergency brain surgery and used a wheelchair for several months. I maintained excellent grades after the accident and am currently working as a scientist, but I also developed anxiety, depression, and a serious eating disorder, and the mental health effects still linger 10 years later. I survived those years thanks to some amazing therapy, but my young adulthood is defined by sadness in my memory. I’ve recently started dating again and have found that matches tend to use common high school and college experiences as a way to try and connect. Should I lie and play along? Do I pretend to be “the chill girl”?
—Not Sure Whether to Share
It’s totally your call, since you’re not under any ethical obligation on a first or second date to disclose that you were once in a car accident. So the question is really just how comfortable you feel talking about it during the “getting to know you” portion of a date. Do you think the other person is likely to be respectful and let you take the lead on that conversation, or do you suspect they might be inclined to ask a lot of intrusive questions? You can certainly share the broad strokes of the accident and the fact that your high school and college years were primarily dedicated to your recovery without going into detail about your depression, anxiety, and disordered eating, if you want to keep your story accurate but also light in tone. There’s nothing wrong with revisiting that conversation a few dates later and offering more specifics about how challenging that period of your life was. If you’ve already decided you don’t feel much of a spark with someone and you’re unlikely to go on a second date with them, I don’t think there’s much harm in pretending to have played intramural sports or rushed a sorority. But if you think you might see someone again and don’t want to put yourself in the awkward position of correcting a lie, stick to vague forms of agreement: “Yeah, a lot of people at my college loved [activity],” or “I didn’t get very involved myself, but I had friends who did.”
My husband and I got married two months ago, and we received a generous cash gift from an old, very wealthy relative. We’re not ordinarily close, and she only reentered our lives when my father and his siblings reconnected with her. She knows, I think, that everyone is suddenly interested in her because she’s rich and in her 80s, but she’s happy with the newfound attention, and everyone’s being kind. I live in another country and am not involved; frankly I’m uneasy about the whole thing. She’s made all of the grandchildren gifts over the past few years, and while I’ve always been grateful and sent her thank-you notes (and Christmas gifts, flowers when I occasionally visit, etc.), that’s the extent of our relationship.
My dad has been bugging me over the phone and via text to send her a special thank-you card before everyone else’s because she gave us $5,000, and we had a fight about it. Now he’s even gotten my mom involved, and they’re divorced. The wedding was two months ago, and we’re planning on sending thank-you cards in about a month. Our apartment flooded, and right now we’re restricted to the only room that doesn’t have water damage; we’re not just delaying because we don’t feel like it. Thank-you notes haven’t been our top priority, and I don’t think it’s rude to treat her like everyone else who bought us a present. How can I get my dad to relax about this? I want him to understand that while I appreciate her generosity, being rich shouldn’t get you special treatment, and I don’t want to flatter her in the hopes of getting more gifts later on. But maybe I’m being unreasonable—as my dad sees it, I could buy a cheap thank-you card at the store, sign it, and have it in the mail in under 30 minutes. I just don’t want to! She’ll get a lovely personalized thank-you note in a few weeks. My husband is on my side, but I could use some perspective.
It’s less important whether you send the card now or in a few weeks. The real key here is letting your father know that you’ve got the thank-you notes portion of your wedding well in hand and don’t need any more input. I can understand why it feels tempting to dig in your heels and send it at the last possible second in order to signal to your dad that you’re not interested in currying her favor, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to treat her more distantly than you would otherwise just to show him up. Why don’t you and your husband start writing her personalized note in the next week or so—she can be the first to receive hers—without telling your father or mother? If either of them tries to bring the subject up again, just say, “[Husband] and I have the thank-you notes covered, thanks for asking. I don’t want to fight about this, so let’s talk about something else. What are you up to this weekend?”
For the past two years my husband, “Harry,” and I have struggled with infertility. As a teen I dealt with an STD that could have affected my ability to have children. For that reason, and because Harry said his sperm count was fine, I have always blamed myself for our inability to conceive. Last week I broke down to my wonderful mother-in-law about how difficult this experience has been. She frowned at me then said, “Harry reversed his vasectomy, then?” I was shocked, because Harry never mentioned having a vasectomy to me, but apparently he had one as a young man. When I spoke to Harry, he admitted that he hasn’t reversed the vasectomy and that he wasn’t sure he wanted kids. He thought if we tried for long enough and never conceived I’d eventually give up trying. He’s apologetic, because he never realized how much I blamed myself for our infertility. He has offered to have his vasectomy reversed or to adopt a child to make his lie up to me. My best friend thinks Harry’s a sociopath, though, and that I should divorce him for being incredibly cruel. I’m in shock and devastated and have no idea what to do.
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