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, all. Let’s chat!
Q. Upstaged at my wedding: Last Saturday was my wedding and it was everything I could have wished for, until the reception. One of my co-workers, “Kim,” started saying I was pregnant because I wasn’t drinking. I kept telling Kim I just don’t drink, something everyone knows. She even teases me about it every week when everyone at the office goes to happy hour at a local pub. I asked her to stop, but she didn’t. By the end of the night, I had guests coming up to congratulate me and my confused husband on our upcoming baby. They were asking when the due date was and what the gender was, and telling me that they had thought I looked pregnant but hadn’t wanted to say anything. Over the course of the night, this rumor had transformed into common knowledge that I was pregnant, no matter how much I tried to deflect it away. My immediate family wanted to know why they were finding out from strangers that I was pregnant.
The thing is, I am pregnant. I found out Friday, the day before my wedding. I hadn’t even had a chance to tell my husband, but I’m less than five weeks along. I honestly thought I was having pre-wedding jitters on Friday, so I took the test just to calm down, which didn’t really work out well.
I feel like my wedding became all about my pregnancy. It turned what was supposed to be a happy memory into something I just feel angry and frustrated about, like something was taken from me. I know I’m being ridiculous, but I’m so upset about this. I do realize it isn’t the end of the world, but it was my own personal information to share when, and how, I wanted to. I didn’t want my wedding to be about my pregnancy. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with Kim when I get back. For the past six years, I’ve worked for a small office of seven people, and now everyone at work thinks I’m pregnant. I am so mad at Kim I don’t know how I can work with her. Do I have to just suck it up and act like everything is fine? Can I tell my co-workers I’m not doing anything outside of work if Kim comes? Am I overreacting? My husband says I’m not, but I’m fairly sure he’s supposed to say that.
A: I’m so sorry this happened at your wedding, and I’m especially sorry you had to be the one to deal with it. I wish a member of your bridal party could have run interference for you on this one and explained that it was a joke gone awry so you didn’t have to explain yourself again and again. The fact that you work in a small office and aren’t sure how you’ll face Kim without blowing up at her feels like a pretty pressing issue. It’s a tough needle to thread, since you do have to remain at least distantly professional with her in the interest of making sure work goes smoothly. I think it’s possible for you to say to her, “I wish you hadn’t kept joking about my pregnancy at my wedding. It was very difficult to have to explain over and over to my friends and relatives that I hadn’t kept an announcement from them. Please don’t tell people I’m pregnant anymore,” and then keep your distance from her unless you have to talk about work. It’s OK to feel frustrated and angry, and you don’t have to berate yourself into letting this go by telling yourself you’re overreacting or being ridiculous. I hope that with time you can also remember the things you were able to enjoy about your wedding, but it makes sense that you’re angry now. When it comes to everyone else in your life—presumably your husband first and then the rest of your friends and family—I think they’ll understand whenever you do tell them that the rumormongering at the wedding had nothing to do with your actual pregnancy, that a co-worker got carried away with a bad joke, and that you hadn’t told her something you withheld from them. You can even share your frustration with Kim in this announcement, or at least with your close friends so they have a sense of what you’ve been going through and how they might best support and sympathize with you now. I hope she feels thoroughly chastened and never pulls a stunt like this again.
Q. The woman who wasn’t there: This past 9/11, a friend posted that she could “see the towers fall” and “smell the burning bodies” in 2001. Someone in the comments expressed surprise, saying they didn’t realize she’d been in NYC at that time and expressing condolences. The friend clarified that she had been in Long Island, 30 miles away. I get (perhaps irrationally) upset when people make tragedies in which they were not personally affected about them—it’s just gross. I find myself avoiding talking to this friend because I feel like I might just blurt, “You could not smell burning bodies.” Is there a way to broach this subject that isn’t completely accusatory, or do I need to unclench and accept it as harmless?
A: I suppose this partly depends on how close you are to this friend and what history the two of you have when it comes to conflict resolution or having difficult conversations. If it’s someone you don’t see often, or you only have pretty surface-level conversations when you do see each other, I think the fact that someone else already requested clarification about where she actually was that day means you don’t have to intervene more strenuously. She’s already been called out on the specifics of her claim, and I think it would be fairly obvious to anyone who read that thread that she was playing something up for dramatic effect, not necessarily maliciously, but certainly not accurately. If you are close, and you’ve given yourself a little time to breathe so you feel like you can ask her about it non-accusatorially, then you are certainly allowed to initiate difficult conversations with this friend. I’d probably frame it as “I was surprised to see you claim X” and ask what she was thinking in that moment, or what it felt like when someone else asked her to clarify where she’d been that day. She may be defensive, and it may be an uncomfortable conversation, but if you’re coming from a place of affection and a commitment to finding other ways to ask for attention or care without exaggerating your proximity to someone else’s tragedy, then I think there’s potential for growth and connection here.
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Q. Found a brother on AncestryDNA: I recently did an AncestryDNA test. In my results, I found out that I have a brother. He was adopted. His mother was 14 years old at the time of his birth, while our father was 26. My grandmother is livid with me. She’s told me that I’m wrong for even contacting him. Prudie, when I contacted him, I assumed he was simply a close relative. My “father” is saying he isn’t the father. He’s staying they must’ve gotten the age or DNA wrong, etc. My grandmother won’t speak to me. Did I really cross some boundary I don’t know about? Am I wrong? Am I wrong for telling my grandmother I did nothing wrong? She’s always used her power, as our matriarch, and I’ve dealt with it out of respect, but her telling me that this man isn’t family to us and that I won’t be family if I pursue a relationship makes me have no respect for her whatsoever. Please help. I’m lost and feeling guilty either way I turn.
A: I’m so sorry about all of this. It’s true that these tests aren’t infallible, but given what you’ve learned (and your family’s subsequent reaction), I think you have pretty strong evidence that your father committed, at the very least, statutory rape. Your concern that you’ve “crossed some boundary” because your grandmother and father have reacted so strongly is misplaced. They’re lashing out because what you’ve learned is shocking and upsetting, and it changes your understanding of your father’s character. They want to blame the messenger. Whatever guilt lies in this situation isn’t yours to carry.
Q. Etiquette for the terminally ill: A dear friend of my mother’s was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago. She has recently let her friends know that she doesn’t have much time left and has chosen to seek palliative treatment only. This is so heartbreaking for everyone involved, obviously. I live far away and likely won’t be able to see her again. I am struggling with what to do here. The only thing I can think of is to write her a letter telling her how wonderful I think she is, what a joyful presence she has been in our lives, and how I have come to think of her as a dear family member. I guess I think of what I want to say as being a type of love letter, although I suppose that since I have never written one of those to her (aside from thank-you cards), I’m sure the “goodbye” is implied. Can you help?
A: This is a lovely idea, and I think you don’t need too much guidance from me. Tell her how much you love her and how wonderful you think she is—if you can think of a specific example or two, feel free to go into detail about what a great friend she’s been to you—that you’re thinking of her, that you love and miss her, that you’re grieved to hear about her diagnosis, that you hope she’s being surrounded by people who love and care for her right now, and that you wish you could be one of them. I think it will mean a great deal to her, and you’ll feel good for having written it.
Q. I’m worried I’m bothering my neighbor with my loud sex guests: I’m recently single after a seven-year relationship, and so I am meeting women here and there. It’s a new lifestyle for me, casually dating and “hooking up.” It’s not the way I’ve ever lived my life in the past. I’m finding that I’m meeting some women who are particularly loud, and I’m starting to feel really embarrassed about it. I live downstairs from a neighbor whom I consider my friend. I know from experience we are capable of hearing a bit through these thin walls. This is especially pronounced during the quiet hours of 2 a.m. My upstairs neighbor is a woman and that makes me feel especially embarrassed. I’m not sure why, but if it were a guy I would feel less concerned. Not sure how to unpack that. Maybe I’m worried about being judged on the basis of any random person I’m sleeping with. I’ve never really had much casual sex before in my life, and maybe I don’t want everyone to be aware of it. With that said, how should I handle this? Should I not worry? I have told some of my guests to be a bit more discreet. Generally they respond with “No” and then increase the volume.
A: If nothing else, I hope someone who responds to “Let’s try to keep it down—I know my neighbors have thin walls and I don’t want to wake them up” with “No” doesn’t get a second date with you. They’re definitely letting you know they don’t have a lot of respect for other people’s boundaries. But generally, if none of your neighbors have complained, I don’t think you have to worry too much about this. It may be that they’re sleeping through it! Or they may just realize this is something that can happen when you live in an apartment complex, and that it’s part of city life. If it’s really bothering you, I think the best time to say something is when you first bring a date home, before you two start hooking up (“By the way, I have really thin walls and don’t want to wake the neighbors”) so you’re not asking someone to quiet down after they’ve started sounding off. But if your neighbors aren’t complaining, enjoy the casual sex!
Q. Grief-stricken and angry party planner: My brother died suddenly and unexpectedly a few weeks ago. My mom and I are planning a celebration of life for him, but I’m getting upset and angry at all the unsolicited suggestions, comments, and advice we are being given on all aspects of this event. I have some people suggesting that I invite people he barely knew to people whom he downright hated “so they can pay their respects.” I am also in disagreement about the alcohol consumption (two complimentary drinks and a cash bar vs. someone donating alcohol so everyone can drink for free, which, we all know how that can go). My mom and I don’t want this to be drunken mess, as I do know that some of his friends and acquaintances are heavy drinkers and sloppy drunks. This whole turn of events makes me even more angry, as my brother struggled with alcoholism for many years. At this point, I just want to tell everyone where to go and cancel it all. Am I being too selfish? Should I be more understanding that his friends want to say goodbye on their own terms?
A: If his friends want to say goodbye on their own terms—and if those terms require having more than three drinks in an evening—they are welcome to organize a pub crawl; you are not being overly stringent by declining to accept a “donation” of alcohol so you can babysit a bunch of drunk people while you try to mourn and celebrate your brother’s life. Please feel extremely free to stop responding to anyone who tries to “help” by telling you how to arrange his memorial: “I’m extremely busy right now and not looking for advice on how to plan this. Please stop.” You are not being selfish. You are in the middle of grieving and you are charged with the very difficult task of event planning as you grieve.
Q. Re: Upstaged at my wedding: Prudie’s response fails to acknowledge something I think is pretty pertinent in the situation: “One of my co-workers, Kim, started saying I was pregnant because I wasn’t drinking. I kept telling Kim I just don’t drink, something everyone knows. She even teases me about it every week when everyone at the office goes to happy hour at a local pub.”
For the record, I am personally a recovering drug addict who has been clean for almost two decades, so I am maybe overly sensitive to this kind of attitude on the part of Kim. But I find the whole situation that much more infuriating because she was making a bad joke about something that had been addressed apparently multiple times before. Inviting someone to your wedding is at least tacit acknowledgment that a working relationship is not just a professional one. I think it is appropriate to address this with Kim when you do get to talk to her about the incident, discussing it as a violation of boundaries, trust, and their friendship. I think addressing the idea that the poor taste of the joke involved a personal choice that has been addressed previously, and apparently multiple times, makes the statement that much more forceful and less likely to be brushed aside by the power of Kim’s cavalier attitude.
A: That’s a great point. It definitely seemed like Kim had a problem with the fact that the letter writer doesn’t drink, and I wonder whether Kim had been drinking herself at this point. And it does compound the seriousness of Kim’s behavior, because it removes the plausible deniability factor, or the possibility that she really thought it was a joke between the two of them. But I do think that the letter writer’s options when it comes to talking to Kim are somewhat constrained by the fact that they work together in a small office. That doesn’t mean she has to swallow the insult or pretend it didn’t hurt her, but I think that treating Kim as a difficult co-worker (rather than a former friend) going forward once they have that conversation is going to be the letter writer’s best option.
Q. Update—Re: My husband’s ex won’t leave: I was the letter writer whose husband let his ex-wife, “Lindy,” move into our home without telling me. Soon after I wrote to you, things in the house became even more tense. Lindy had a junkman haul my furniture away while I was at work. When I came home, there were new living room and dining room sets! The very last straw came when Lindy and my husband made family plans without me: a weekend away with the kids to visit “family.” (I guess I’m not family!) I finally stopped being a doormat. With all my financial ducks in a row, and with the help of friends, I moved out and started my new life. I am in the process of divorcing him. But here’s the best part: They are no longer together! On one of our divorce-discussing phone calls, my ex told me that Lindy left him for an “old friend” who came to town and with whom she shares a “deep spiritual connection.” He says they plan on opening a “bead store.” Now my ex is begging me to come back, saying he made a terrible mistake. No, thanks. I’ll keep my dignity, and he can keep the furniture. Thanks to you and your readers for the wake-up call.
A: I am so happy to hear that you’re out of that house and no longer feel beholden to your ex. I hope your friends provide you with all the support in the world and that the divorce moves ahead as smoothly as possible. Thank you for keeping us updated!
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Q. My sweet, awkward son has been accused of stalking: Last summer, my 14-year-old son Andy went to the same summer camp as his classmate Jenny. He claims they “dated” while at camp and that she “ghosted” him as soon as they came home. I wrote it off as a popular girl dumping a sweet but socially awkward boy due to peer pressure. Recently, Jenny’s parents contacted me claiming that Andy has been stalking Jenny. Unbeknownst to me, Andy sent Jenny thousands of texts and emails; he also called her a lot. Jenny never responded or told him to stop. At school she ignored him. Jenny claims she and Andy never had a relationship. Her parents have wanted to meet with the principal of their school (and possibly with the police) so that we can discuss how to protect Jenny from Andy’s “stalking.” I’m a single mom, and Jenny’s parents are wealthy. How should I advocate for my son? Read what Prudie had to say.