Dear Prudence

My Sister Called Off Her Wedding and Is Furious I’m Going on Her Honeymoon

I bought her the trip to Hawaii. Why shouldn’t I go instead?

A tiki drink.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by MelanieMaya/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,
I wouldn’t have been able to go to my half sister’s wedding due to a work conflict. I wanted to show my support, so I bought her an expensive Hawaiian honeymoon package. Only a month before the wedding, the lovebirds broke up due to rampant cheating on both sides. This has caused our father a lot of embarrassment and cost a pretty penny. I managed to transfer the vacation package back to myself and made plans to go with a friend. It is nonrefundable, and my boss would be happier I don’t take off Christmas.

Only now my half sister is freaking out she can’t go to Hawaii. She deserves it after “all the stress” she has been under. I reminded her that you can’t take a honeymoon if you aren’t married. My stepmother called this “insensitive.” I made the mistake of saying I would have been happy to take my half sister with me if she’d been the only one who got cheated on, but she needed time to reflect and maybe see a therapist more than she needed a suntan. My stepmother is now twice as angry at me. I know I am the easier target, but for crying out loud, my half sister was sleeping with two other men during her engagement, including her fiancé’s brother! What should I do here?
—Who Gets the Honeymoon?

I think insensitive was probably the right word for your stepmother to use—surely you didn’t think you were being tactful in that moment. Someone else’s bad behavior (and I stand in agreement that sleeping with your fiancé’s brother a month before your wedding is quite bad) does not give you license to speak flippantly and demeaningly about her. I think you would have been perfectly right, after offering your sympathy and waiting a week or two for the furor from the announcement to die down, to let your sister know that you were rescheduling the trip and would be taking it yourself later this year. Had she objected or said she needed a trip after all the stress, you could have said, “I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you two, but I bought you a wedding present and wouldn’t have paid for a regular vacation. I hope you can find something relaxing to do on your own.”

That said, my only objection is to how you framed your decision to your sister and her mother, not the decision itself. I agree it’s bad form to call off your wedding because of mutual, messy infidelity and then act surprised when you don’t get to keep your wedding gifts. In the interest of keeping the peace, you can apologize to your stepmother for speaking intemperately but nothing else: “I’m sorry I spoke so harshly. I know things have been difficult for you and [sister]. But I haven’t changed my mind about the trip, and I stand by my decision. Let’s not argue about it again. I know we both have a lot on our minds right now, and I think it’ll be better for us both if we drop the subject and talk about something else.”

Dear Prudence,
I am 40 now. Ten years ago, my husband and I ended our four-year marriage. We had been straddling the fence on the subject of having children, but eventually ended up on different sides. It was mutual, if mournful. He remarried and had a son, but the marriage was rocky. His wife and son died in a car accident, and it’s possible that she had committed a murder-suicide. I reconnected with my ex over the tragedy. I would talk to him every night, and I flew down to attend the funerals. He called me his lifeline.

A year ago, he moved back home. We have been cautiously seeing each other. I love him and never really stopped. When I told my sister I was seeing my ex again, she quipped that it looked like I “got everything [I] wanted.” It felt like being tossed into an ice bath. I barked that I would never want a child to die so I could have a relationship. I don’t want kids, but I was never happy about this tragedy. She apologized and told me she was kidding. Her words struck a nerve in me, though. I feel guilty, but I know that is ridiculous. I can’t get rid of these feelings. What do I do?
—Complicated Reunion

First and most importantly, I’m so sorry that your sister said that to you—what an awful, gratuitously vicious thing to say. Her defense that she was just “kidding” doesn’t hold water. Please feel free to tell her that while you appreciate her apology, her words have stayed with you and you’re going to need more time before you’re ready to trust her and start telling her anything important about your personal life again—and then give yourself that time.

Have you ever seen a grief counselor about any of this? I imagine it might not have struck you as especially urgent, since the tragedy wasn’t immediately and initially yours, but you’ve been dealing with some pretty intense, indirect trauma for well over a year now, and it’s clear that you’re struggling with a lot of survivor’s guilt. You and I both know that you didn’t wish for any of this to happen, that you’re not getting “everything you wanted” because you never wanted your ex-husband to suffer the pain of losing a wife and a child. I don’t know if you’ll ever “get rid” of the complicated feelings that arise from joy (reuniting with the man you never stopped loving) mingled with pain (knowing that he lost a child he will never stop missing and a wife who may have killed their son), but I want you to be able to have someone patient and professionally trained whom you can process those feelings with.

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Dear Prudence,
I’m renting a room for a few months in a college town while I look for an apartment to rent by myself. I just moved here to start a new job. My housemates are mostly students (I don’t mind—I’m a very recent grad!), and lately there’s been a lot of low-level messiness: dishes in the sink, food left out overnight, laundry piling up. I really don’t care, and I’m happy to just keep to myself and pitch in if something is an issue because that’s what adults do. The big problem is my upstairs housemates. Their dad is also the landlord, and they live here rent-free. They call their mother over weekly to clean our house, and she has taken it upon herself to be our dishes tsar! She knocks on everyone’s door when she visits and group-texts the whole house when she thinks things are too messy. I know both my housemates are in college, but honestly they are old enough to deal with this kind of stuff themselves. Also, their mom being here all the time feels like a total invasion of privacy.

I have talked to them about it, but they do not seem to understand that it’s awkward to come home from work, relaxing with a beer, and then see their mom walk in unannounced and start texting the whole house over a few dishes! This is not a permanent housing arrangement for me, but what can I do while I’m here to get her out of my hair?
—Overbearing House Mom

Tread lightly, pick your battles, and focus on finding an apartment of your own as quickly as you can. This is a short-term arrangement, your roommates clearly don’t mind this setup as long as it means someone else is doing their dishes and paying their rent (nice work if you can get it!), and you have very little in the way of leverage here. Find other places to be on the one afternoon a week your roommate’s mother shows up, even if that “other place” is just out for a walk. Set that group chat to “Do Not Disturb,” and check it at your leisure. And feel privately grateful that you’re not trapped at the same level of arrested development as your housemates. Since you’ll be out of there in a few months, you might also find it’s just easier to periodically do a sinkful of dishes that aren’t all yours in order to minimize the number of conversations you have with this highly entangled family. But if you’re the only one in the house who’s bothered by this arrangement and you’ll be out of there shortly, it’d be a waste of your time to try to persuade the others to change a situation they’re all happy with.

Dear Prudence,
I recently broke up with my partner after two years. We loved each other but mutually decided to part ways to work through some independent emotional baggage. Since then, I’ve realized the relationship had just run its course and I’d spent months subconsciously seeking a “valid” reason to end it. Being single feels like such a relief, and while I miss him, I know it’s for the best. In the past few months, I’ve also become closer friends with “Chris,” whom I feel instinctively comfortable with and understood by. My ex had been slightly threatened by this friendship when we were together, but I have no romantic feelings for Chris and reassured him of this.

The thing is that I fell into bed with Chris the day after my breakup, and we had some seriously great sex. I know that would break my ex’s heart to discover, and I feel guilty that I don’t feel more guilty about it. Since then Chris and I have successfully carried on as friends—until we had an intense makeout session. I still don’t have romantic feelings for him and am fairly certain that’s mutual, but we have such great physical chemistry. Prudie, do you think it’s possible to carry on a healthy friends-with-benefits situation with Chris? I feel mentally and emotionally prepared for that exact type of arrangement but know that everything about my situation indicates that I shouldn’t be. What do I do?
—Can I Really Pull Off Friends With Benefits?

I’m not sure there is anything about your situation that indicates you’re not prepared for a friends-with-benefits arrangement. You like Chris, Chris likes you, you’re having a great time, you’re pretty sure you’re both on the same page—everything about this says “full steam ahead,” as far as I’m concerned. Yes, your ex-boyfriend probably would be sad about it if he knew, but he’s your ex-boyfriend. He doesn’t get a say when it comes to the people you date or sleep with now. It would be very strange if you arranged your personal life now to please an ex you’re not currently speaking to. You may feel guilty for not being sad longer after your breakup, but you are allowed to have sex with other people the minute after you break up with someone. Just because it would hurt your ex doesn’t mean that it’s the wrong thing to do—it just means you were ready to move on before he was.

My only advice to you would be to have a check-in conversation with Chris to make sure you both know what the other is thinking: “I’m having a great time being friends with benefits. Are you? [Pause for response.] Let’s come up with a few ground rules so we can make sure we’re both on the same page. I want to make sure we both know what we can ask and expect of each other while we’re hooking up.”

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“If you’re lucky, it’s a brief phase of your life, but it almost always sucks.”

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

Dear Prudence,
My sister has struggled with miscarriages for years. I thought she and her husband were taking a break from trying to conceive. I am currently pregnant with a baby girl. We decided on “Ava” as a name, and I confided this in my mother. She later told my sister, who sent me an email telling me I can’t use that name. It was the name she gave the daughter she miscarried earlier this year. I didn’t know she’d had another miscarriage. My husband suggested we just change the name to “Eva” as a compromise to spare my sister’s feelings and keep the only name we can agree on. But my sister is still upset. She called the name a “sick joke” and told me I was making her relive her loss. I don’t know what to do here. Apologizing seems pointless, and we are not going to change the name again. I don’t want to hurt my sister, but I can’t seem not to.
—Renaming Baby?

Normally I’m against the idea of calling “dibs” on baby names. It’s perfectly fine for babies, even in the same family, to share names. Almost no one has a wholly unique name, and more often than not the desire to tell other people what to name their kids is petty. But your sister’s been through something terrible and painful that she’s had to deal with mostly alone, and I wonder if there’s any way you and your husband can see your way toward trying to find another name for your baby. That’s not to say I think you should adopt a policy of cringing apology toward your pregnancy or that you should try to downplay your joy in order to acknowledge her grief for the rest of your life. You had no idea when you chose the name Ava that your sister had recently lost an Ava of her own, but in the long run, it would be a small offering to give her, and you would still have so much that was all your own. She’s not asking you to rename your child because she’s worried they’ll get confused at family dinners. She’s asking because she can’t imagine having to hear the name of the baby she lost spoken so often, and so intimately, by the rest of her family. Going back to the frustrating process of choosing a baby name and finding something else would be kind and generous.

For what it’s worth, I don’t know that I agree if apologizing is pointless here. I don’t think you should apologize for not knowing about the name Ava, but I think there is great meaning, and love, and solace, in telling your sister that you are sorry, deeply sorry, for her most recent grief, that her loss matters to you, and that you mourn with her. Even if you ultimately decide to keep Eva or Ava as your baby’s name, sending her that message would be meaningful and important.

Dear Prudence,
I recently joined an amateur singing group. We perform at nursing homes around the city, and I generally enjoy the group. However, there is one woman in our section who is tone-deaf. Seriously! She sings loudly but never on pitch. She may sometimes sing the melody when we are singing harmony. Mostly she just sings the same low monotone. I have tried to sing with her and help her out, but it does her no good and only drives me crazy! Our choir director is aware and has tried to work with her, but it has not been effective. This woman loves our group. I know it would break her heart if I or anyone told her point-blank that she can’t carry a tune, so I know that would not be the right thing to do. But nobody wants to sit next to her because she makes it difficult to learn new pieces and sing the ones we know. Is there a solution? I have friends who know they are tone-deaf and accept it with good humor and have developed other talents instead.
—Tone-Deaf Choir Member

I think that an amateur local choir that performs at nursing homes is an excellent place for a tone-deaf singer to have fun and sing with low stakes and that she is perfectly suited for your group. It’s not like you’re all highly trained vassals scheduled to sing before the pope next week with the knowledge that he may attack your imperial city should you fail to please him. You’re a bunch of locals who sing to cheer up the elderly! It’s very much the thought that counts here. You don’t have to sit next to her when you’re learning a new song if she makes it hard for you to hear the melody, and you and your choir director can (kindly, politely) ask her to turn down the volume when she gets really excited and starts bellowing. Nor do you have to pretend that she is singing with the melody when she isn’t. But you don’t go to karaoke or join a local repertory group that visits nursing homes in order to dazzle the world with your range. I think she’s in just the right place. You can all find polite and honest ways to make her feel welcome and to ask her to keep it down.

Classic Prudie

I have been happily married for 22 years, and we have two children. Almost every day (barring sickness and/or camping trips) I have risen, showered, shaved my legs, and spent nearly an hour putting on makeup and fixing my hair. I’m tired of it, so I recently stopped doing it on Sundays. Mind you, I don’t look like a total slob, I just put on moisturizer, put my hair up in a pony tail and wear track suits or other casual clothing. I still think I look better than half the women I encounter out and about in public, but my husband is having a fit about my grooming-free Sundays. He is worried that this is the beginning of a “downward spiral” for me into a messy, slobby woman with permanent razor stubble. He points out that he still showers every day (true—and it takes him 15 minutes from start to finish) and that, while he doesn’t shave on weekends, I’ve told him that his stubble is sexy (it is) but he finds nothing sexy about my new look. I have no intention of stopping doing all of the stuff I’ve usually done the other six days a week. I’m just tired of wasting all that time on it when we historically do nothing more than a little yard work or possibly a trip to the grocery store. I think he’s being ridiculous, and his nagging about it is really getting on my nerves. He says it’s not fair of me to change things in the middle of the game like this. I say it’s not fair of him to expect me to tart myself all up every single day. Who is right here?