Dear Prudence

My Neighbor Texts Me Daily Scripture Passages

I’m agnostic, and I find the messages preachy.

A woman looks annoyed at her phone.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
My neighbor sends me religious texts every day, usually a passage from Scripture and a “daily blessing.” I’m agnostic, so I try to keep an open mind, but I sometimes find it annoying and certainly preachy. Should I block her number and risk missing important messages, ask her to stop and risk offending her, or try something else?
—Daily Texts

You’re within your rights to say, “I appreciate that you’re thinking of me, but I’d prefer you didn’t text me Bible verses. Can you please take me off this list?” There’s nothing offensive or rude about that request. I’m also not sure what important messages you’re likely to get from this neighbor. It doesn’t sound like you’ve ever gotten an important one from her before! There’s always your other neighbors, the news, social media, or your landlord (or real estate agent) if you need to know something urgent about the latest news on your block. You also have the option of applying the “Do Not Disturb” function to this woman’s texts. It’s gentler than an out-and-out block, and it’s pretty straightforward to set up on most smartphones (Google “do not disturb + individual contact + [your brand of smartphone]” if you don’t know how). Then whenever you feel like scrolling through her messages, just in case something important has come up, you can go back and check them at your leisure.

Dear Prudence,
I’m coming up blank for a script I need to deal with the family I married into. They like to take family photos at funerals. I most definitely do not. I consider it out of place, and the fact that I look hideous in black and get swollen and blotchy after crying doesn’t help. Whenever they’ve started telling me to get up and smile with various cousins, I always have demurred and stay sitting. This has not gone over well. At the last funeral, the designated family photographer tried more than once to snap me, and I told him no directly. So he started taking candids. I told him to delete them immediately and that he did not have my permission to take or publish my photos. A cousin who thinks she’s the family’s head genealogist overheard and came over to tell him to ignore me and keep the photos anyway.

As far as I’m concerned, that was the final straw. I haven’t been to any family functions since. If necessary, both my husband and I are prepared to shut them out of our lives. Since I’ve been told by more than one of his relatives that I’m not “real family,” it’s no great loss. But is there a way I could have gotten my point across more diplomatically? The fact that my wishes got railroaded so thoroughly leaves me at a loss. What’s worse, I have a stalker whose interest gets piqued by any pictures he finds of me on the internet. Considering that my in-laws don’t seem especially interested in my boundaries, I don’t feel comfortable sharing that information with them. Do you have any advice?
—No Photos, Please

Sometimes if an entire group of people behaves unreasonably in response to a simple request, it can feel instinctive to question one’s own sanity—“Surely if they’re all this dismissive of me, I must be doing something wrong.” But in this case it just means that your husband’s entire family behaves unreasonably. And not just at funerals! There is no circumstance imaginable in which it’s appropriate to say, “Since you’re not related to us by blood, you’re not real family.” That is a gratuitously cruel statement to make and at least as serious an offense as taking photos of you against your will after you’ve been weeping at a funeral. You were polite, clear, and reasonable, and I don’t think you could have worded your request in a way that your in-laws would have respected it. The problem wasn’t how you framed it but that you wanted to set your own limits despite not having earned it by being a “real” blood member of the family. Keep your distance from them with a clear conscience.

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Dear Prudence,
I recently moved in with a roommate I met through mutual friends. We attend different graduate programs at the same university. Things have generally been fine. I have a chronic autoimmune disease that requires me to inject myself with medication every two weeks. My roommate has a severe needle phobia. This isn’t usually a problem because I get up around 5:30 a.m. every day, and I’ll take my medication out of the fridge and do my injection before my roommate is awake. I usually do this in the kitchen, as that’s where we keep the first aid supplies and sharps container. The other day my roommate came out of her room while I was injecting my medication. I was surprised and didn’t say anything before she saw the needle. I figured she would turn around and go back in her room until I was done, but instead she yelled, “Oh, my God!” and ran to the toilet, holding her hands over her mouth. She is now angry at me and says that I should never have had the needle out anywhere except for my room, regardless of whether she was awake or in the house at all. I do have sympathy for those who have a needle phobia—it took me a while to get used to injecting myself. But this is something that I have to do to stay alive! I’m going to do it in my room from now on, but I’m hurt that my roommate would react with so much disgust to something that barely impacts her and affects my life quite a lot. Am I justified in thinking that this is an overreaction? Should I bring this up with her at all?
—Roommate’s Needle Phobia

Your roommate’s immediate response was certainly intense, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she was still groggy, surprised, and had relatively little control over her reaction in the moment. But I don’t think that means you’re obligated to accept the terms of her anger now, days after the inciting incident. You had good reason to assume she would still be asleep at 5:30, since she always had been before. You had a reasonable expectation of privacy in that moment. Once the initial phobic response had passed and she’d had time to collect herself, all she had to do was ask you politely if you’d consider injecting in your room from then on. There was no reason for her to blame you for her discomfort or act as if you behaved carelessly in order for her to ask you to change your routine.

Without taking on more responsibility than you need to, and without matching her anger with your own, I think the most appropriate response is this: “I’m not trying to make light of your phobia, and I will start injecting in my room instead of common areas. But what happened the other day was an accident, and it’s not reasonable for you to continue to hold an unexpected change in your routine over my head. I’d like to move on. Can we do that?”

Dear Prudence,
I’m dating a beautiful, caring woman whom I had felt madly in love with, and we’ve been together for nearly six months. We’ve said “I love you,” but I’ve been clear about taking it slow. A few weeks ago, I met an acquaintance of my girlfriend (they’re not close friends) and was absolutely smitten with her out of the blue. We only talked for several minutes, and I firmly put her out of my mind, but that only lasted so long. I looked her up on Facebook and discovered that we had the same college major and are both avid runners. When we first spoke, I felt that sparks were flying beneath the surface, though I stayed very formal the entire time. Since then I haven’t felt as attracted to my current girlfriend, and I’ve been wishing I was single so I could ask out this other woman. Am I leading my girlfriend on by continuing to stay with her, even though I’m thinking about this other woman? Is it absurd to consider ending this previously solid relationship for the hope that, once I’m single, I’ll be able to ask out this other woman and see where things go?
—Feeling Torn

That little aside about “being clear about taking it slow” is not going to cut the mustard, my friend, and you must know that on some level. If you dump her in order to ask out one of her friends (even if they’re “not close”), she’s not going to say, “Well, he was clear about wanting to take it slow, so this makes sense.” If you want to break up with your girlfriend on the strength of a five-minute conversation and a quick Facebook scan, you are certainly free to do so, but I do not think it is likely that her friend is going to look at your track record and think, “Wow, this guy would make a great boyfriend.” I’d give it a week or two before making any decisions. You were, until very recently, “madly in love” with a “beautiful, caring” woman. Why not try to re-focus on some of the qualities that made you fall for her? If you find yourself totally unenamored with her, and your best attempts to recapture that spark go awry, then it might be best to let her find someone else with more durable affections. But I wouldn’t go into too much detail about how much you’re dying to go out with one of her friends. Of course, if you simply can’t resist, you can go for it. But be prepared for at least the possibility that you’ll lose both this new crush and your ex-girlfriend. And even then, I really don’t think you should do it! Your girlfriend sounds lovely, and I think you should take her out for a nice dinner this weekend.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“ ‘We both like running and had the same major’ is not the love connection you seem to think it is.”

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

Dear Prudence,
We were recently informed by a neighbor that two frequently unsupervised neighborhood siblings (who often engage in annoying but not malicious behavior) stole squash from our garden last summer. She reports they were looking around, grabbed them, and ran, which makes me think they knew it was wrong. We know the family isn’t hurting for food, and we’d be happy to share our harvest with them if they would ask, but we would like to address this. We don’t really know their parents, but we do know where they live. What would be the best way to approach this?
—Neighborhood Kids Stealing Produce

The best way to approach the news that several months ago some kids stole a few pieces of squash is to carry on with your day. You didn’t even notice the squash was missing until your other neighbor said something! They didn’t tear up your plants by the roots or damage the garden. They just swiped a few vegetables, which is a mostly charming, Tom Sawyer–ish sort of thing for children to do. You are not hurting for squash right now. I’m not much of a gardener myself, but the one thing I know about gardens is that squash grows like weeds, and most gardeners have trouble getting rid of it. Next summer, if you’d really be happy to share your harvest, knock on those neighbors’ door and offer them a basket of zucchini. If these kids ever actually damage your garden or cause trouble, of course you can (politely) tell them to go home and then ask their parents to make sure they stay out of your yard. But if the worst thing these kids have ever done to you is swipe a couple of squashes last July, you’re doing just fine.

Dear Prudence,
Sometimes my digestive system makes some pretty loud sounds, especially in the afternoon after I’ve eaten lunch. It only happens once or twice a month, so I don’t want to habitually take an antacid. What’s a good thing to say if I’m in a meeting and my stomach makes an internal digestion noise that kind of sounds like a fart (but isn’t)?
—Accidentally Speaking Up in Meetings

Nothing! The politest thing to say after a fart at work (or a sound that sounds like a fart but isn’t) is nothing, so your co-workers can pretend they didn’t hear or smell anything. It might feel uncomfortable and unnatural in the moment—especially because with family or friends, the most polite thing to say might be “I’m sorry, excuse me”—but sometimes professional behavior feels a little unnatural. Since this only happens once or twice a month, I don’t think you have to worry about explaining anything to your colleagues. This falls within the category of expected ways bodies slightly misbehave at work. Say nothing, unless it starts happening frequently enough that you decide to say something to your doctor.

Classic Prudie

I’ve been dating a loving man named “Andy” for nearly three years, and we recently moved in together. We both had marriages that ended badly, and we feel truly compatible. The only problem is that I have a pretty big secret, and I don’t know how to tell him, or if I even should. In 2002, I underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost over 100 pounds. I felt like some people were judgmental about the surgery, and the most judgmental were those who’d lost a large amount of weight through more traditional means. On my first date with Andy, he told me that he had been heavy his whole life and had recently lost 75 pounds. I had just met this man, so I wasn’t about to tell him my secret. Fast forward three years, and now I’m tormented that I haven’t told him. On numerous occasions, I’ve almost blurted it out, but I always stop myself. Now I wouldn’t know how to explain to him why I didn’t tell him. I worry that a family member or close friend will say something in his presence, assuming that he knows. I’m worried he might be hurt that I didn’t trust that he loved me enough that I felt I could tell him. Or he might be disgusted. Of course, he might just say, “I’ve always wondered why you eat several small meals during the day and can’t seem to hold much. So what should we watch on TV?” Is this something he even needs to know? What should I do?