Dear Prudence

My Future Sister-in-Law Insists I Pay for Her Reception and Honeymoon

Prudie’s column for May 9.

A hand showing off an engagement ring, and hands holding money.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Sharon McCutcheon/Unsplash and Andrik Langfield/Unsplash.

Dear Prudence,
I make a good living and spend pretty frugally. I bought two homes by the time I was 30 (I rent one out) and drive the same car I had in college. I’ve been very lucky—and I haven’t dated since I was 19. I work like a dog. There are trade-offs. Four years ago, my stepfather had a heart attack while my stepsister was engaged. I paid for half of her wedding and her honeymoon (around $10,000). It was a gift, and I didn’t want my parents stressing out over anything more than my stepfather getting better. I am also close to my stepsister.

My half-brother is much younger than me and getting married to a girl he knew from high school. I don’t know either of them well. At a welcome brunch, his fiancée wanted to know how much I was going to give them for the wedding. My brother attempted to hush her, but this girl pushed on to tell the entire table I “owed” her a honeymoon and reception because I did the same for our sister. I was the “rich sister,” after all, and didn’t have a family of my own. She shut up after her own mother told her to be quiet, but it was an uncomfortable brunch.

Both my brother and the mother of the bride have personally apologized to me. I would be willing to let this go, but both my brother and his bride-to-be have obliquely begged for money on social media and via email. We used to talk once or twice a year, but since that brunch he has called me 10 times wanting to “catch up” (really to complain about wedding costs). I am not sure what to do. They haven’t straight-out asked me yet, but I am not giving either of them a red cent after that brunch. I will buy something on the registry, but the sister of the groom has no obligation to pay for the wedding (the bride’s family does). I know that her parents can’t afford this (my hometown is pretty poor), but I am never going to spend money on a spoiled brat who thinks I owe her a dream wedding. Should I play dumb? How should I proceed?
—Not a Fairy Godmother

A quick point of clarification: The bride’s family doesn’t have an obligation to pay for a wedding. The bride’s family customarily pays for the wedding, but this isn’t the Spencer Tracy version of The Father of the Bride, and just as often they don’t or can’t. Even if you were one of the parents of the bride, it wouldn’t be OK for someone to hound you for money like this. You’re generous to still plan to attend the wedding and pick up a gift, but if you ultimately decide it’s not worth the hassle, send your regrets and book yourself a spa day. And if you’d like to play dumb, you certainly can. You haven’t misled anyone or raised expectations that you’re obligated to squash. But I think you’ll feel less jumpy if you’ve set your brother straight: “I just wanted to clarify after the brunch that I cannot contribute to your wedding funds, so you and your fiancée can factor that into your budget.” No need to explain why or go into details about your finances. If he’s rude enough to press the issue, tell him that it’s not up for discussion and end the conversation.

It doesn’t sound like his fiancée ever apologized to you, just that her mother and your brother apologized on her behalf. My guess is that it’d be close to impossible to get an apology out of her, but I do think it’s a helpful indicator in terms of what you can expect from your relationship to them as a couple. I wouldn’t worry too much about burning bridges, since it seems like their dynamic is a sort of good cop/bad cop attempt to gouge their relatives. She makes unreasonable public demands, he apologizes for her, and then he not-so-subtly reiterates those demands in a slightly politer tone. My vote is for you to take that spa day.

Dear Prudence,
For a friend’s birthday, I decided to paint a portrait of her, her late mother, and her adult children (two girls of her own and a stepdaughter). I contacted all three children back in January to please send me a picture so I could paint them. I contacted the stepdaughter (she lives out of state) several times. I even sent her a letter with a paid-for return envelope for the picture. She told me she would get around to it but never did.

I finally gave up and did the portrait without her. I know that my friend had a difficult relationship with her stepdaughter growing up. I presented the painting to my friend at her birthday. She loved it so much that she cried. Later, her husband approached me. His daughter came down to visit, saw the portrait, and threw a fit. She screamed at her parents about how she obviously was not loved or wanted in the family. He wanted me to “fix” the portrait now to include this girl. I haven’t brought this up with my friend, but frankly I am insulted, and I think a good slap across the face might work wonders for this brat rather than indulging in this emotional manipulation. She did not want to be in the painting; she has no grounds to be upset now. It would require me to start over from scratch. How do I respond properly here?
—Picture’s Not Perfect

I don’t doubt that your friend’s stepdaughter is difficult, and I agree that she was the main architect of her own misfortune by ignoring the deadline and the prestamped envelope you sent her. But I do think that choosing not to find a workaround (say, by asking one of the girl’s siblings to supply you with a photo of her, or working off an image from social media) and instead presenting your friend with a picture of all her children except the one she’s had the hardest time connecting with put her in a slightly tricky position. I don’t say that to discount the hard work you put into this or the generosity of the project as a whole. I just hope it helps you contextualize the girl’s response and to soothe that itchy slapping hand of yours. (Slaps very rarely work wonders. Usually they just hurt.)

Given that this girl isn’t part of your family, and you did work hard to include her in the first place, all you have to say to your friend’s husband is this: “I’m really sorry you’ve been having a tough time with [stepdaughter] over this. I contacted her a few times about participating and didn’t hear back from her. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to start over such a big project, but I understand if you decide not to display the portrait in order to smooth things over. I hope you three are able to find a good way to talk this through.”

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Dear Prudence,
My daughter is 11 and trans. I admit I am not entirely OK with this (it is scary, and I worry we aren’t doing everything right), but I try to keep that to myself. It seems to be right for her, and that’s what is important. Our rule has been that she can’t do anything irreversible until she is 18, which was the same for her older brother with tattoos, so she has accepted it with good grace for now. However, we did decide to do puberty blockers, since puberty isn’t reversible either, and it would make transition easier for her later, if that’s what she pursues.

However, my sister-in-law is a doctor, and when she found out we were considering it, she listed off all these awful side effects and said that it was a terrible idea. She said if we went ahead, she’d have to consider reporting us to child protective services. My daughter was devastated and scared, and so was I. My initial reaction was to deny the blockers, since plenty of people who are trans went through puberty, but I have thought about it, and all medication has potential side effects. I am on medication for my skin that lists death as a possible complication. I take that because the benefits outweigh the small risk. I think we should go ahead, but this little voice in my head keeps saying, “She is a doctor.” Am I making a mistake?
—Doctor or Doom-monger?

Your sister-in-law may be a doctor, but she is not your daughter’s doctor, and she is not speaking from a position of well-supported medical expertise when she says, “If you consider delaying your daughter’s puberty, I’ll call CPS.” Talk to your daughter’s doctor about the side effects that most concern you. I don’t know what your sister-in-law said or how accurate her information was, so ask your doctor to double-check whatever claims she made. Ask how common these effects are, how you can keep an eye out for early warning signs, what precautions you can take, what tests and screens you should schedule, and how you can be as well-informed as possible. Puberty blockers have been approved for medical use in the United States since 1985, so you can look at studies of non-trans children who took it to treat precocious puberty. It’s also prescribed for endometriosis and prostate cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in 2018 supporting the use of puberty blockers for trans and questioning youth. It’s a thorough, comprehensive, reassuring document, and I recommend reading it all the way through.

Your sister-in-law’s threat to call CPS is also ridiculous. Taking puberty blockers as prescribed by a doctor is not an actionable offense, so all she’s going to do is waste a few minutes of an already overextended caseworker’s time. The most important threat to your daughter’s health is from her transphobic aunt who’s threatened to have her taken away from you. Please don’t let this woman anywhere near your daughter, and document any interactions you have with her. All you’re doing is delaying a decision you want your daughter to be able to make when she’s a little older under medical supervision. You’re doing nothing permanent and nothing that can’t later be changed. Your sister-in-law thinks that’s grounds to try to separate you from your child. She is not acting with your child’s best interests in mind. You are.

Dear Prudence,
For more than 10 years, I was best friends with an abusive, controlling man, “Matt.” In my early 20s, I moved to a new city to be closer to him and collaborate together. He put down my appearance and personality and denigrated any friendship I had that wasn’t with him. He also dealt with extensive, episodic bouts of depression. About eight years ago, I started gradually cutting him out of my life, a sort of slow-motion ghosting. Six years ago, I moved to another city. He sought me out before I left and tried to get me to reminisce, but I said I just didn’t feel that close to him anymore. Only after that did I really start to realize how much he’d hurt me.

Two weeks ago he sent me a Facebook message, and I didn’t respond. A week later, he sent a long, accusatory message about how I’d wronged him, how I’d deceived him by “giving up on our dream,” and how cruel I was for cutting him off, then complained he was going through a breakup and the fallout of a DUI. I told him he needed to seek comfort from someone else and that he had belittled me for years, and then I blocked him. I found out that a few days later he attempted suicide, telling his family that I had told him to “fuck off” when he reached out to me for help. A few people have called and asked for my version, and I’ve told them. I don’t even think his version is that far from the truth. I just don’t care. Did I do something unconscionable? Should I have sucked it up and shown more compassion for this person whom, frankly, I have nothing but contempt for?
—Am I Responsible?

You were extremely compassionate in your response to Matt. You just weren’t a doormat. His cruelty isn’t the result of his depression—it’s a choice he makes, and his depression is entirely irrelevant. You encouraged him to seek help and set a reasonable limit. You had no idea he was about to attempt to hurt himself and could not have guessed it. He wants to make you feel personally responsible for his well-being, for his life or death, and if he can’t successfully guilt you into doing what he wants, he wants to exert social pressure on you after the fact by blaming you. I’m glad you’ve been able to clarify things with your mutual friends. My guess is you’re not the only one who’s seen this particular side of him and that your side of events will carry the day. You did everything right, and you can wish him all the best as he gets support from a great deal of people who aren’t you.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Next year get her some cute shoes or something.”

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

Dear Prudence,
My husband is kind, treats me well, and has stood by me through many ups and downs, even moving across the country with me to be closer to my elderly father. We used to be extremely intimate, but 14 years later there is no longer any sexual chemistry. Try as I might, he does not respond and seems put off by my advances. I have absolutely no reason to doubt his fidelity; I think it is physical and have asked him to address it with a doctor. He has not done so. He seems fine with the status quo, and since he saw me through a patch of low desire, I feel I owe it to him to be patient.

Still, I can’t go on like this. I am stuck. I am comfortable living alone, so that shouldn’t be a problem. However, my identity is defined with him as my partner, and it’s hard to bear the thought of him not being around. He is my best friend, after all. I am really starting to wonder if I would be better off single. This is such a difficult decision. Do I choose stability and companionship over living a fully independent lifestyle where I am free to explore as I please? This would be a second divorce for me, and I don’t know if I can bear it. I am so confused.
—Is Life Really Too Short for This?

I don’t know how long your own “patch” of low desire lasted or how long this dry spell has been going on with your husband. But if the only conversation you’ve had with him about it has been to ask him to see his doctor, there’s plenty more for you two to discuss before you start worrying about whether it’s time to divorce. Does your husband agree that it’s a purely physical issue? Does he want to talk about why he’s lost interest in sex and whether he sees that changing in the future? Most people who suddenly shut down sexually after years of marriage aren’t going to be eager to go into detail as to why, but if you make it clear you want to know more about what he’s going through because you care about him and you’re feeling alienated and confused enough that you’re wondering whether your marriage has a future, he might be more inclined to have a conversation he’d otherwise try to avoid. You may also want to discuss the possibility of opening up your marriage, especially if you still love the stability and companionship you can provide each other while still prioritizing your sex life.

Dear Prudence,
My niece, who is single and 36, has just this year purchased a small house. She’s employed full time and is making a decent wage. I’ve noticed that she rarely visits or calls her grandmother (my mom) except near her own birthday and Christmas. Whenever she does visit, she always asks my mother for money. Once it was for $18,000 for school (my mother said no), and this last time it was for $4,000 for a new roof. This time, my mom took her to lunch, tried to give her suggestions on how to save for it, and explained she unfortunately couldn’t loan her the money. Later in the week, my brother called me, furious that my mother “offered to lend the money and then backed out.” Then he said, “It’s not like it’s a whole lot of money, or that it would be missed.”

I was appalled. My reply was, where does my niece get off asking her grandmother repeatedly for large sums of money? She’s been “loaned” money before and hasn’t paid it back. She’s employed and capable of saving money, so why is she calling her dad to complain that her grandmother isn’t giving her Christmas bonuses? And why doesn’t her dad give her a loan? He makes good money too. I realize it’s not my problem to solve, but my mom is quite upset and a tad heartbroken that her granddaughter and her son are treating her like a special go-to piggy bank. I’ve tried to comfort my mom but don’t quite know what to say to help her.
—Saving My Mom From Her Niece

I’m glad your mom has you for support. I imagine it must be pretty painful to realize your perfectly comfortable son and granddaughter only show interest in you when they think you’re about to turn a profit for them. Offering a sympathetic ear and reassurance that she didn’t do anything wrong in refusing to grant the loan should go a long way. If your brother ever tries to get you involved in their joint attempts to chisel your mother out of money, I hope you’ll cut him off before he’s finished and let him know you’re not interested in helping him further damage his relationship with her.

Classic Prudie

“Four years ago, my sweet and loving husband, the awesome father of our three children, was struck down by brain cancer and suffered brain trauma following emergency surgery. I’ve cared for him at home, dealing with the hassles of hospitals, insurance, family drama (his parents blame me for his health issues). He will never recover, and he is declining. It is like being married to a 41-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. He does not remember me, our long marriage, or our kids. I’m trying to place him in a nursing home, but there are waiting lists. About a year ago, I met a man who was genuine and kind. As the friendship grew, he began helping with my kids, even helping my husband by playing music and visiting with him. My boyfriend knows I am committed to giving my husband the care he deserves and respects that this is a package deal. Once my husband can be placed in a good facility, I will pursue divorce, while making sure he is properly cared for until he passes on. My boyfriend and I recently found out that, despite using protection, I’m pregnant. We are excited, as once I am legally able, we want to marry. My family is not happy, as in their eyes this is not appropriate, and they have been icing me out. They adored my husband and have had little chance to get to know my boyfriend, since I live in another state. How can I smooth over my relationship with my family?