Dear Prudence

My Cousin’s New Wife Is So Unfashionable. Can I Take Her Shopping?

Prudie’s column for Aug. 8.

A woman holding a gift card and shopping bags.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
My cousin recently married a lovely girl. My whole family loves her, and she’s always been very sweet to us. She’s intelligent and kind, but the issue is her wardrobe. She’s very pretty but refuses to wear nice clothes, instead wearing baggy, boring clothes. My whole family is fashion-conscious, and I know my cousin has suggested to her several times that she buy new clothing—to no avail. He thinks she’s self-conscious about her size. Her birthday is coming up, and my sister and I would like to take her shopping as a birthday gift to buy her some nicer clothes. My cousin thinks she might not appreciate it, but he agrees that she needs new clothes. He also suggested buying her a gift card to somewhere, although that wouldn’t solve the problem of which clothes she buys with it. We’re all eager for her to dress more nicely. Do you think that taking her clothes shopping for her birthday would still be appropriate?
—Out of Step

C’mon, man. “We’re all eager for her to dress more nicely.” Is she tarnishing the family name by failing to meet dress code at the club? Worried she won’t get a voucher for Almack’s at the start of the next season? She’s not showing up shoeless at formal restaurants or wearing threadbare rags. She has a sort of boring style, and the rest of you keep hounding her husband to turn her into a fashion plate. If her husband has already suggested to her “several times” that she ought to change her wardrobe and she’s declined, offering to take her on a shopping spree will make it clear to her that this is a concerted family effort to force her to change her entire style to suit yours. While you might be able to get her to buy one or two things you all approve of out of embarrassment and a desire to get through an uncomfortable situation as quickly as possible, there’s no way you can enforce your style mandate on this grown woman for the rest of her life. Maybe she is self-conscious about her appearance. Maybe she genuinely can’t find stylish clothes in her size. Maybe she just likes a basic uniform. But this is not a real problem, and more importantly, it’s not your problem. Buy her something you know she will like that has absolutely nothing to do with clothes and redirect your collective family interest into a charitable cause.

Dear Prudence,
A few months ago, I (a 23-year-old guy) reconnected with “Will,” an old friend from high school. We fell out of touch after graduating, but five years later, we are briefly back in our hometown. I found out he liked men and asked him out for a lunch date. This was partly motivated by work I’ve done in therapy over trust issues and sexual abuse I experienced as a child; my therapist had encouraged me to go on some low-stakes “practice dates” so I could learn how to open up to people. This was one of several casual lunch dates with different people, but Will and I have both realized we have pretty intense feelings for each other. He even said he had pined after me for years.

But in a few weeks, we’re both moving to different parts of the country for grad school. We mutually ruled out long-distance. I’m moving to my dream city, but I don’t know how I can dive into the gay scene there when I’m still healing from sexual trauma and processing these newly acknowledged feelings. I find myself daydreaming that someday we’ll reconnect again and be together. But I know harping on these emotions will hold me back. I just don’t know how to let this go. Most of the guys I’ve dated in the past either mistreated me, or I didn’t really care for them. Will is the only romantic partner I’ve had who has treated my insecurities with kindness and warmth. How do I let go of these emotions and let go of Will without diminishing how much this relationship has meant to me and how much it has helped me grow?
—Long-Distance Longing

Letting go of Will and letting go of your feelings about Will are different projects, and you only have to focus on the first right now. You are experiencing a big loss—not an insurmountable or an unexpected loss, but a big one all the same, and you should give yourself time to mourn it. You can still meet new people, make friends, and develop a community in your new city come the fall without trying to force yourself to get over Will in a hurry. You can even make space for the possibility that you two might be single at the same time and in the same city someday without putting the rest of your life on hold. Once you get started in your new grad program, you’ll have plenty of work and social opportunities to hold your interest. Right now the future just looks like a big Will-less blank because it’s still in the future.

Will was a huge breakthrough for you, and that’s marvelous. In the long run I think you’ll be able to consider Will a new yardstick for how you wanted to be treated by your boyfriends, but in the meantime, give this relationship the sendoff it deserves. Let yourself be sad. Let yourself miss him. Let yourself feel uncertainty about the future, start to make new friends, experience hope and excitement and regret and tentativeness all at the same time. Go out on some more practice dates after a few months have passed and you feel more settled. Keep in light contact with Will later this year if you think the two of you can handle it, or keep your distance if that feels necessary to your ability to move on. And if at some point you and Will both realize that you’re as hung up on each other as you are right now and that you are willing to revisit the idea of dating long-distance, don’t immediately reject the idea because you’re afraid it won’t work. Let yourself be open to a number of possibilities, and you’ll get the chance to watch a number of feelings rise and fall and change.

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Dear Prudence,
My husband committed suicide four days before our daughter turned 2 in April this year. We were married for over eight years. It was unexpected, untimely, devastating, and difficult to say the very least. I still love him, miss him, and speak about him often. Recently, I met someone very nice who supports me discussing my husband when I want to, who thinks I’m pretty, intelligent, fun, and all of the typical bubbly things you admire about someone romantically. I feel like if my family and friends knew I was dating someone, they would be upset or question why I’m dating again so quickly. But it’s nice to feel appreciated and pretty right now. It’s nice to get roses. It’s nice to feel something other than severe grief. What do you think? Is it too soon to be dating? Should I slow down?
—Dating Again

I’m so glad that you’ve met someone who treats you well and encourages you to talk about your husband. How lovely to be getting roses and feeling excitement and butterflies again!

I hope very much that your friends and family don’t try to stomp on your small joys after a season of such profound grief and pain. You certainly don’t have to tell them if you’re not ready. It’s still new, and you’re entitled to have a personal life that remains personal. If you’re not already seeing a grief counselor, it might be helpful to schedule a few appointments so you can share your anxieties about your family’s expectations of how a widow “ought” to mourn before you have that conversation. But anyone who tries to tell you that you have to turn down dates or romance because your husband committed suicide is confusing self-punishment with grief, and they’re wrong. You get to mourn (and enjoy life) however you see fit. I hope you have many more wonderful dates in your future and a lot of love and support from everyone else in your life.

Dear Prudence,
I work in account support in the research and development department of a company that gets government contracts. I write budgets, check that funding rules are satisfied, and submit funding reports for several scientists. The work requires being responsible, paying attention to details, and knowing some basic office software, but it’s really easy for me, and between deadlines, there is a lot of boring downtime. It doesn’t pay well, so I was glad to get the job right out of college, but I wasn’t planning to stay long. Well, something happened last month: Several other support ladies went to a wedding, leaving the department understaffed, and there was an unexpected funding opportunity. Suddenly I was the only one supporting several times as many people as usual. I worked over the weekend, and everything got done at a better level and with a greater efficiency than usual, and I loved it.

Now all the scientists are saying they wish they were assigned to me, not to the other assistants who are sloppy and unwilling to work outside of restrictive office hours. I want to go to the management with a proposal that they replace three or four people with me and give me double the salary. I would get an excellent long-term job, the scientists would be much happier, and the company would save money (both on salary and on training, since there is huge turnover due to low pay). But I feel terrible basically suggesting that the other ladies should be fired, even though they are clearly underperforming (I have seen them shop online on company time, make major budget mistakes, and fail to follow up on important emails, and the scientists and the managers know all of this). Should I put forward my idea?
—Work Ethics Dilemma

You are mistaken if you think walking into a meeting with management and saying that you want them to fire your co-workers and double your salary based on the strength of a single weekend (not to mention your habit of monitoring your colleagues’ computer use) will end well for you. At best, you would be laughed at. At worst, you would be fired immediately. The whole point of “restrictive office hours” is so everyone can go home and live the rest of their lives off the clock. Do you think management would appreciate hearing that they’ve overestimated this department’s staffing needs by three or four positions from someone who it sounds like has spent less than a year on the job (not to mention that you seem to think management has been negligent in supervising everyone except for you)? How would you sleep knowing you put several fellow workers in a position where they’d have to struggle to support themselves just because you sometimes get bored in between projects? And even if you did manage to get your co-workers fired, how long would you even plan on staying in your new position?

Focus on your own work. If the scientists you work with praise your efficiency or responsiveness, thank them and bring it up with your manager the next time you have a performance review. If your colleagues make mistakes or fall behind on their own deadlines, allow their managers to raise the issue with them. (Also, you should not refer to your colleagues as “support ladies”—that’s unnecessarily condescending. Just call them by their job titles or “my co-workers” if you want to be informal.) You say that management is already aware that some of them have made significant errors, so don’t worry that you need to start monitoring them—that’s what management is for. I promise you that your plan would not demonstrate initiative or ambition. It would be an obvious overstepping and come across as petty, callous, and a sign of bad judgment. Do not put this proposal forward. If you have extra time on your hands, ask your supervisor for more work or start polishing your résumé and looking for a more challenging job elsewhere.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“This is something Pete Campbell would try to do and then get yelled at for 45 minutes by Roger.”

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

Dear Prudence,
My older sibling accepted a job offer abroad and stopped paying a student loan our father co-signed. As a result, our dad has been using his retirement funds to pay it off. Our dad worked with his lawyer to rewrite his will. It divides his estate in half, but every loan payment my dad makes is then subtracted from my sibling’s half of the estate and added to my half. Depending on when our father dies, it could leave me with the majority of the estate. Our dad has decided not to inform my sibling of the new will to keep the peace while he is alive. In the event of his death, I get to inform my sibling of the will, which will totally kill our relationship. How can I encourage my dad to tell my sibling about the will while he’s still alive?
—Sliding-Scale Will

If your dad was subtracting the money from his will because he needed to spend it on the loan, that would be one thing, but it sounds like he’s also going out of his way to increase your share as a passive-aggressive dig. I don’t know if your father has ever asked your sibling to start paying their student loan again, but you should encourage him to have (or revisit) that conversation. You might also encourage him not to give you the extra money but to donate it to a charitable cause he supports, so at least he’s not propping you up as the “good kid” at your sibling’s expense. You can also tell your father, if he decides not to say anything, that you’re not comfortable keeping this secret from your sibling now that you’ve been informed of his plan. I can’t promise your sibling will respond graciously—they may very well want to shoot the messenger—but if your primary concern is to maintain that relationship, that’s probably the best way to go about it.

Of course, there’s always the option to share your extra portion of the estate with your sibling after your father dies. The money will be yours to do with as you like, and if you’d rather keep things equitable than let yourself be used as a tool for posthumous, passive-aggressive punishment, you’ll be free to do so.

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I both had twins from our first marriages. I was pregnant with our son when his sister was murdered, leaving her newborn son alone in the world. We ended up adopting his nephew and raising him as our own. The boys are 4½ now. We currently have moved to another state and for the first time have to deal with the stares and questions our little family gets. Some of them are borderline intrusive, like asking if we used IVF or were trying for some world record. We struggle with how to deal with these inquires without peeling back the entirety of our painful history (he lost his first wife to cancer, my ex hasn’t been seen in six years, the murder, etc.). We used to live where we had family in the area, and everyone knew our story. We didn’t have to trot it out to strangers in the grocery store. Can you help us?
—Family Scanning

For questions about IVF: “No, why would you ask that?” Then, if your interlocutor doesn’t immediately back off and apologize, answer each subsequent justification with “Why would you ask that?” until they stop asking. For questions about “world records” or any other general pointed comments about the size of your family: “We have six children. How many do you think we should have, and which ones do you suggest we get rid of?” You do not need to be polite to strangers who feel compelled to comment on how many kids you have. (Six isn’t even that big a number! Who are these people?) You also have my full permission to meet any stares or uninvited questions with anything from cold silence to “My, what a personal question! Don’t you feel embarrassed having asked it?”

Classic Prudie

“I had a professor last semester who I am really, literally in love with. She’s married with a kid and I think straight, so it’s not something I would ever even attempt to act on. I’m fairly sure she knows I have a crush on her—it’s not subtle—and my guess would be that she finds it flattering. She just offered to be my adviser, and I was obviously ecstatic and said yes. The problem is, I have a couple of tattoos related to her. One is a small word in her handwriting, which is really cute, distinctive handwriting, that I got sort of in the spirit of unrequited love, and because it was a positive affirmation she’d written on some of my work, and having her say something like that about something I wrote just meant a crazy amount to me. The other is a line from some of her published writing; I’d sent an artist friend of mine a list of poems and articles and essays and other things that meant a lot to me, including some of this professor’s work, and asked her to turn it into a tattoo, which she did. My question is: Do I need to make sure to keep them covered whenever I know I’m going to be seeing her? (They’re on my foot and ankle, so not super difficult to hide.) Will she be creeped out and hate me if she sees them?