Dear Prudence

I Want to Take My Ex to Court for Adopting a Dog With the Same Name as Our Kid

Prudie’s column for Oct. 3.

A girl sitting cross-legged next to a dog.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

My ex remarried within a year of our divorce to a woman eight years younger. His new wife whelped out three babies within three years and likes to think she is an authority on my child, “Katy.” I tried to keep the peace since my ex and I share custody, but his wife keeps putting her nose into things. She will try to speak for my daughter: “Katy wants to go to the birthday party next door. Can she stay later?” “Katy told me she would like to go ice skating this weekend. Would it be OK if I bought her skates?” She texts me these inane questions all the time. Her excuse is that she doesn’t want to “overstep” and that my ex is often hard to reach at work, so it is simpler to just check in with me. I keep biting my tongue because I really can’t compete with cute little half-sisters, a private pool, and the gift-giving. My daughter loves going over to her dad’s.

Except now the woman is trying to replace my daughter with a dog. The wife’s brother got a dog named Katie and decided he couldn’t keep it. She took all the kids over to play with the dog and then told them Katie was going to be theirs. My daughter excitedly told me all this, and all I could do was ask if they were going to rename the dog. My daughter told me Katie was her name, and I corrected her: Katy was her name. I called my ex to tell him they needed to rename the dog. He told me the dog was trained to respond to Katie and didn’t see what the big deal was. I told him that his wife bringing a dog into the house with the same name as his daughter was disrespectful. He told me this wasn’t something I had a say in. I texted his wife, and she responded with “I respect you, but I stand with my husband here, and Katy was happy when she played with Katie.” I am steaming here, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t afford to go to court or counseling again. Help.

—Dog With Daughter’s Name

When you refer to a human woman giving birth as “whelp[ing] out three babies,” you have lost perspective. While I’m sure that you love your daughter very much, and I don’t want to come down too hard on you, I’m not surprised that she loves going over to her father’s house. Your tooth-grinding misery, resentment, and hostility toward others absolutely radiated off your letter. I’d want to take a break from living with you, too. The texts you describe coming from your ex-husband’s new wife sound pretty innocuous. My guess is that she asks your permission about a lot of low-level things like buying skates because you have a history of flying off the handle when she does anything on Katy’s behalf without getting your approval first.

Your ex-husband and his wife didn’t name the dog Katie on purpose to disrespect your daughter. They didn’t even name the dog! Your daughter is not confused or upset, because she’s aware that Katy is a pretty common name, and she’s not the only Katy in the world. Dogs sometimes have people’s names! I’m guessing it’s probably pretty easy based on context clues to understand which Katy/Katie someone means when they use that name.

Both your ex and his wife have been extraordinarily polite with you, and I wish you could take a step back to see how hard everyone in your life seems to be working to try to manage your constantly simmering rage. You cannot go to court to demand your ex-husband rename a dog. Please drop the subject right away. I’d suggest you apologize for making such a big deal out of this, but I’m not sure that you’re able to offer anyone a meaningful, heartfelt apology just yet. If you can’t afford counseling right now, please save up for one who specializes in anger management. In the meantime, look for a support group (either in-person or online) for women struggling with rage. Even a cheap workbook or self-help book about anger management would be a worthwhile stopgap.

And it’s so, so important that you seek help for this because it’s only going to poison your relationship with your daughter in the long run if you insist on looking for slights and disrespect where none are intended. You’re not competing with cute little kids and a swimming pool when it comes to your ex’s house. You’re competing with peace, patience, gentle speech, reasonable expectations, and a lack of tension. That doesn’t mean that your ex-husband is a saint or that you’ve never experienced suffering or been mistreated in your life. I’m not suggesting you try to emulate him in every way. But you’re carrying a much bigger burden than you need to. It will feel so good to start putting some of it down. More than just feel good, it will be good, for yourself, for your daughter, and for everyone else in your life.

Dear Prudence,

Recently, when I searched for my therapist’s website, one of the first Google results for her name was a public comment she made about some newly proposed legislation in my state to ban conversion therapy. She is opposed to the ban. I read her argument, and it was calm (rather than some of the more obviously and intensely bigoted statements). But she is still OK with parents trying to convert their gay, bi, and trans children.

I grew up in a very religious environment, and I watched beloved friends go through conversion therapy as a teenager, and it was awful. I’m also bisexual and worried how I could trust a therapist who feels this way with my own sexual orientation. I’m so torn. I really like her. I already knew she was religious, and it hadn’t really been an issue before. It took me a year to actually talk about my trauma in therapy, and I can’t picture myself starting over with someone else. I reached out to her (she’s currently on family leave), and she says that her comments have nothing to do with our therapeutic relationship. She wants to meet to talk about it when she gets back. A friend also wondered aloud if I am self-sabotaging the progress I’ve made by taking this to heart. But I can’t forget what I read, and I kind of feel like it would be a betrayal to my teen self and LGBT kids everywhere to keep going. Am I self-sabotaging or protecting myself if I don’t go back? Would I be stupid to keep going?

—Anxious Patient

You’ve been put in a difficult situation because of your therapist’s comments, and whichever decision you make, I don’t think you’re either stupid or self-sabotaging. I don’t agree with her claim that her public defense of anti-LGBT legislation has nothing to do with your relationship. Those comments were a matter of public record, and now you know something about her that you can’t unknow, something that directly affected many of your queer friends as a child and that’s relevant to your sexual orientation now. It’s not self-sabotaging to second-guess the degree of trust and safety you felt with someone you now know thinks parents ought to be able to send LGBT children to conversion therapy. And the fact that her bigotry is calm rather than frothing isn’t exculpatory. When you add to that her insistence that you shouldn’t care about her public support of conversion therapy, I find her even-tempered dismissal of your concerns rather chilling.

I think there’s value in disagreeing with a therapist, especially if you tend to be conflict-avoidant, but I’m thinking more along the lines of disagreeing about how to talk to your boss about something that’s been bothering you or whether you’re afraid of commitment—not whether it would have been better for your parents to have “fixed” your sexuality as a teenager. The idea of starting over with a new therapist may feel daunting, but that might have happened anyway. You or your therapist might have moved, or your insurance might have changed, and you’d have had to find someone else regardless. You may find that, having broken the ice with your first therapist, it doesn’t take a full year before you’re ready to discuss heavy topics with the next one. Having to spend extra time getting comfortable with someone is frustrating, but it’s more important to have a therapist you know you can trust to respect your history, your sexuality, and queer people in general.

I think you should start looking for someone new right away. As for her idea of meeting to discuss what she said, I’m not sure what exactly you stand to gain from it. She’s gone on record in support of conversion therapy, and she’s already told you that she doesn’t think you should care about it. There’s not much for the two of you to discuss: You’re bisexual, and she’s homophobic. That’s not a recipe for a healthy, supportive therapist-patient relationship, and you deserve much better.

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Dear Prudence,

I have a co-worker who prefers to go by her nickname instead of her given one. She is very insistent about it and gets annoyed if people don’t comply. The problem is that it’s pretty unprofessional and a little demeaning. Think “Dumplin’.” There are quite a few people in our office who refuse to use the nickname, including the manager. In almost any other circumstance I would just use whichever name someone preferred and think nothing of it, but it makes me deeply uncomfortable to call a grown woman Dumplin’, especially one who’s older than me and a colleague. I have had my own issues in this industry with people calling me “sweetheart” and “darling,” which is probably connected. Is it wrong for me to call her by her given name at work? If so, how do I get around my own discomfort when using her nickname?

—A Bridge Too Far

I think if your manager refuses to call her “Dumplin’,” you’re in good company, not to mention safe territory if—let’s call her Mona—tries to push back when you call her by her first name. Wanting everyone to call you something like “Honeycakes” is not a reasonable request to make of your colleagues! It’s perfectly acceptable to ask employees to save their food-related nicknames for after work, especially if you’re in an industry where young women tend to get nicknamed to death as it is. Go ahead and call her Mona, and let your manager deal with it if Mona tries to escalate this.

Dear Prudence,

I recently ended a yearlong relationship. We parted amicably, though I don’t see us becoming friends anytime soon. He lived at my place, and when he moved out I decided to take the opportunity to move to a new apartment. While packing, I removed the waterproof cover that my ex had put on the mattress to protect against his profuse night sweats. To my surprise, dismay, and disgust, I discovered that the cover hadn’t been sufficient, and my mattress was covered with sweat stains on the top and mold on the bottom because the sweat had soaked all the way through. Is it reasonable to ask my ex to help pay to replace my mattress? It was nearly brand-new when he moved in, and now it’s ruined. I don’t want to be rude or petty, and I know his sweating problem is not his fault. But it’s not mine either, and I really can’t afford to replace the mattress on my own. What is the right thing to do here?

—Sweaty Bedding

Don’t ask him for the money. Mattress mold is an unpleasant discovery to have to make before a big move, and you truly have my sympathy for dealing with this unexpected headache, but it’s a side effect of living in an unpredictable world where entropy and chaos reign. Your ex-boyfriend took reasonable precautions to guard against his night sweats. Beyond that, it was your responsibility as the mattress owner to make sure it stayed clean. Yes, mattresses are expensive, but they’re also cheaper than ever before and advertised aggressively by the 50 new mattress startups all trying to choke one another out of the market. Look for the cheapest one you can find right now, and save up for a better one a little further down the line. (Also, you should probably start rotating your mattresses every six months to extend its lifespan, with the added bonus of being able to detect early signs of mold.) There’s no two ways about it: You’re in a frustrating situation, and I definitely sympathize. If you’d made this discovery while you two were together, I’d have advised you to split the cost with him, but since you found out after he moved out—and it’s an unfortunate truth that it’s harder to persuade an ex to split domestic expenses than someone who still wants to sleep in the same bed every night—I just don’t think there’s much to do here besides swallow the cost and move on.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Renaming a dog requires a lot of dark magic, and you want to save that for emergencies.”

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

Dear Prudence,

My partner and I have decided to get married after four years together. Their family is lovely, if a touch impersonal. My family and I have a strained relationship. They kicked me out when I came out, and while we’ve maintained a relationship for the sake of my younger siblings, I don’t want my parents at my wedding. My partner feels the same way, as they aren’t especially close with their parents. Our plan is for their brother and sister-in-law to stand in as our witnesses.

While I know this is the wedding I want, I’m unsure how to break the news to the rest of our families. I have a few aunts and grandparents who supported me when I came out and who I maintain close relationships with. How do I tell them about my elopement without hurting any feelings or leaving people feeling alienated?

—Eloping Politely

I assume you’re already planning on getting married first and telling everyone afterward, but I think it’s worth advising you to send out announcements (or make announcement-style phone calls) rather than try to let everyone know in advance. There’s a reason “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission” is such a classic, and if you deliver the news as though it were good news rather than admitting you’d done something you were ashamed of, most of your relatives should follow your lead and offer you their congratulations. You might consider telling some of your extended family a slightly more honest version of why you eloped, that you didn’t want to invite anyone to celebrate your marriage who had made it clear they didn’t approve of your sexual orientation, but if you think any of them might spread that on to your parents, you’d better keep that part to yourself.

There are so many amazing reasons to elope, so you don’t need to go overboard in trying to justify yourself: “We’ve seen so many of our friends get really overwhelmed and spend so much more money than they’d ever intended to on really stressful, complicated ceremonies, and we were so excited to just run out and get it done.” If you want to invite some of your aunts and grandparents over to have dinner at your house some night soon to celebrate, that might go a long way toward making them feel included. But if anyone tries to make a big fuss, at least you’ll have already eloped, so you can’t exactly go back and undo it to make them feel better: “I’m so sorry to hear that! Please don’t take it personally. This was something we wanted to do privately, and it doesn’t mean we don’t love all of you.”

Dear Prudence,

I have a medical condition where I have major symptoms if I have low blood sugar. I can’t leave my desk every time this happens, so I keep a small bag of candy in my drawer so I can eat between calls (I have permission from HR to do this). My co-workers are lazy thieves. They don’t want to go downstairs to the vending machine—they just rip through my desk when my back is turned. A bag used to last me two weeks, but now I am lucky if it lasts two days. No matter if I get up for 30 seconds, someone will be trying to get candy. I told all of my co-workers to stay out of my desk, but we are not allowed to lock them. In fact, I think they see it as a fun game.

I caught two and made enough of a stink to bring our supervisor to the floor. All he said was for us to stop wasting time and told me if I was bringing candy to work, I should bring enough for everyone. This isn’t kindergarten! I don’t know what to do. I do not want to escalate to HR because even if I win (and I will), my supervisor carries grudges and will make my life miserable. I need this job. I need the health insurance, and it took me 13 months to find this one. I can’t lose it.

—Candy Thieves

It’s ridiculous and awful that things have come to this point, especially since you need this job for health insurance and your co-workers are going out of their way to make it harder for you to keep your blood sugar levels stable. Since your co-workers are all in on this, your supervisor is potentially out to get you, and HR sounds hands-off, I think you should just start keeping the candy on your person, rather than in a drawer where others can get to it. Keep a few pieces in each pocket, and then keep the bulk of your stash outside in your car if you drive to work. I’d go a step further and unwrap the candy in the bathroom or when no one is nearby so none of your co-workers have any idea where you’re keeping your stash now or if you’re even eating any throughout the day. If worse comes to worse, start wearing a candy necklace under your collar and biting off a few beads every couple of hours. If your co-workers ask where the candy drawer went, tell them airily, “Oh, I stopped doing that,” and make another phone call.

Classic Prudie

My ex-daughter-in-law has full custody of my 18-month-old granddaughter, “Kimmy.” We always had a strained relationship, even more so after the bitter divorce she and my son went through, but I was able to get her to agree to let me visit my grandchild once a month. Last month I took her out to a park and fed her a nutritious lunch and snacks. When “Irene” found out I had fed Kimmy meat and cheese, she chided me for not respecting her decision to not feed Kimmy animal products. I am convinced that depriving my grandbaby of nutritious meat and dairy (except for her mother’s milk) is abusive, and I called the authorities. Now Irene won’t let me see Kimmy anymore, but the authorities haven’t done anything either, as far as I know. I’m so sad and angry. And worried for my sweet little Kimmy! What can I do to make sure she gets well-fed and taken care of?