Dear Prudence

I’m Sick of Over-the-Top Grieving From People Who Hardly Knew My Dead Friend

Prudie’s column for Aug. 17.

A GIF of a woman looking sad and then annoyed.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

A few years ago, a close friend of mine, “K,” died unexpectedly. I’m in therapy, but my otherwise wonderful therapist hasn’t been able to help me deal with how often annoyance comes up during the grieving process. I can’t stand to be around some of our mutual friends, because they always make K’s death a huge thing whenever we see one another. It’s not like I want to pretend it never happened. I often speak about K fondly when her name comes up. And I know everyone deals with grief differently! But a lot of the people who bring her up in the most over-the-top way are people she didn’t especially like.

It wouldn’t bother me so much if it didn’t feel so disingenuous. When those people demand that we take a moment to talk about her, it’s hard not to want to roll my eyes. At least one other friend is also annoyed by these theatrics. Once, before we went to a party together, we agreed we’d take a drink every time one specific person brought up K in a melodramatic, self-serving way. I’d feel guilty about it, except that specific person went on to do exactly that within five minutes. I would never call into question someone’s relationship with K out loud. Maybe they really do believe that they were that close to her, but do you have any advice for dealing with these moments when they come up, apart from secret mean drinking games?

—Sixth Stage of Grief: Annoyance

It’s probably a good idea to drop the drinking game, if only because the drunker you get, the more likely you’ll be to telegraph your annoyance. But the most you can do is to limit the amount of time you spend around the worst offenders. It sounds like the people who do it most often are people you didn’t like much to begin with, so if you can arrange to only see them every once in a great while, it’ll feel much easier to steel yourself beforehand and find a way to decompress afterward. I do think you’re right not to say something—there’s no polite way to say, “Actually, K never liked you and told me how much you annoyed her all the time.” If you need to excuse yourself during some of those moments to get another round, or duck into the bathroom, or even to use the polite fiction that “talking about this is too hard; I hope you’ll excuse me,” then do it with a clear conscience. But it is one of the unfortunate realities of death that sometimes people with tenuous relationships to the deceased use the death to make themselves feel important. Those people are best avoided whenever possible.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a bisexual man. Though raised in a very religious and conservative culture, I knew I liked boys from an early age. I repressed this and never told anyone. I liked girls too (though I prefer men) and married young. I once told my wife, but she reacted badly, so I lied and took it back.
I was disappointed, but her reaction wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. I wasn’t miserable in the closet. I thought our marriage was as happy as anyone else’s. However, she unexpectedly left me for another man. I’m seeing a therapist, and I want to date again. I’m ready to try dating men as well as women. But I’m not sure that’s possible.

I’m not out to my parents yet. They don’t know that I recently lost my faith. Most of the people in my life are deeply religious, conservative, and non-LGBT-affirming. I was married to a woman, whom I loved faithfully and truly. She wasn’t a “beard.” And I’m almost 30. I’m really late to the game. I wasted years pretending to be something I’m not, and I’m afraid I missed my chance and built a life that no guy will want to join. The way I see it, I can either stay closeted and look for another woman I’m attracted to (few and far between). Or I can come out and lose the few deep relationships I still have. I’d lose most of my social circle and my family, and maybe still not find anyone. Do you have any solutions or advice?

—Dating After Divorce

It will help to think of gay and bisexual people not merely as a source of potential dates, but also as possible new friends and family. Right now, your choice is between your friends and family (who are straight and homophobic) and potential lovers (who you might not immediately form deep, long-lasting relationships with). But this downplays all you stand to gain! You may find that if you make room in your life for queer people, many of them might become dear friends who won’t withhold affection or support on the basis of your sexuality.

Give yourself permission to explore something you’ve kept very tightly locked down for years: go to gay bars, make new friends, find solidarity and support, build community, go on lousy first dates that turn into delightful acquaintances. This will also take some of the pressure off dating. You’re not asking another guy to join your life; you’re considering making yourself available to dating men for the very first time. And you can take small steps in that direction without committing yourself to an immediate and public coming-out moment.

You don’t mention where you live, but if you’re in a small town or feel concerned that you might run into some of your bigoted friends, it may help to start online. There are a number of closed Facebook groups and online support groups that you can check out from the relative privacy of your home. If you live near an LGBTQ center, so much the better—you’re not likely to see anyone you know there, and there’s an expectation of confidentiality there that you might not feel at a gay bar. Mostly, though, all you need to focus on right now is allowing yourself to go on dates, to go out and make friends, to start to find your own version of LGBTQ community, and to shelve some of the bigger questions around your friends and family for a later time.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

My husband and I send our boys to a pretty expensive summer camp. It’s a great camp! To me, it’s worth every penny, and we have been lucky to be able to afford it. At the end of every summer, the camp sends out an email with tipping guidelines—suggestions for how much you should tip your counselors and swim instructors and other camp staffers. We’ve always followed these guidelines, but this year we find ourselves in a tough financial spot (a much worse one than we were in when we originally enrolled the boys in this camp). So I’m wondering: Would we be horrible people if we just didn’t tip? On the one hand, we have already paid this camp many thousands of dollars, and it would be great not to spend more. On the other hand, the counselors themselves probably see very little of that tuition money, tipping them is the norm, the additional $500 or so in tips is not going to bankrupt us, and this is what we get for choosing a pricey camp. What do you think?