Dear Prudence

The Best Prudie Letters of 2019

What you read, shared, and commented on most, along with a few staff favorites.

A woman looking to her left, a woman whose face is half normal and half witch, a wedding ring looped through sex symbol
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by mevans/Getty Images, KAL VISUALS on Unsplash and zdravinjo/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and Getty Images Plus.

We’re looking back at our favorite letters of 2019 (so far)—questions that made us laugh, cry, or boil over with rage. Below are the best letters and answers of the year, drawn from both the live chat and the column. They represent the ones you read, shared, and commented on most, along with a few staff favorites.

Q. Plantation wedding: Part of my friend’s wedding is taking place on a former plantation in the South. Members of my family were slaves on a plantation not that many generations ago, and the thought of attending the wedding of a white couple there is making me uncomfortable. I love my friend and her fiancée, and I don’t believe there’s any actively bad intent on their part, except maybe thoughtlessness. I don’t want to cause her any pain or make it seem like I’m putting her down, but I’d prefer not to attend the event that’s taking place there. I could still attend all of the other wedding events. What are your thoughts on this? I know that weddings in these types of venues are common, so I’m sure my discomfort is too. Is there a way to bow out of the event with kindness to the couple?

A: You do not have to go—it makes perfect sense that you would not want to. And you do not have to worry about whether they have “actively bad intent,” or worry about whether or not having a wedding on a slave plantation is common. Just because something is commonplace does not make it good, or thoughtful, or loving, or sensible. It would be perfectly kind and polite to say, “I’m not comfortable attending a wedding on a slave plantation, so I won’t be able to attend.” If they feel bad in that moment, that is a good thing. Unless your friend is the most ill-informed woman in America, she’s aware that plantations existed because of and in order to perpetuate slavery. They should feel bad about their choice, and that bad feeling should produce a desire to change, to attempt to set things right, and to go forth and sin no more.

Help! My Friend Is Getting Married on a Southern Plantation. Can I Skip It? (Sept. 24)

Q. Ethical breakups: My boyfriend, “Peter,” wants to break up with me. Obviously that’s his right, I know that, but it feels like I’m actually being irresponsible by just leaving. Peter has always had an interest in the paranormal and things like that. So do I, although I prefer M.R. James to actual, real-life creepy places. Over the past six months, however, Peter has moved further left of the socially accepted idea of normal. He’s become convinced that I’m the reincarnation of an evil witch. And sure, maybe he just thinks I’m an evil witch and wants an excuse to dump me. I’d actually be relieved if that were true, to be honest. Peter really seems to believe that I’m an evil soul, though, and is quite sad over this.

I just don’t know how to navigate this breakup ethically and respectfully. He’s not violent or a risk to himself, and there are plenty of worse conspiracy theories out there. On the other hand, he also wants to end a three-year relationship because he’s realized he’s dating an evil spirit. That doesn’t seem like the decision of a healthy psyche, and this has all just happened in a relatively short space of time. He doesn’t talk to his family—he’s always said they were weirdly religious, which seems relevant now—and he’s distanced himself from his old friends so he could find ones with the same interests. Right now it feels like I’m the only person in his life with a healthy dose of skepticism, and that it would be irresponsible to just … leave for saner pastures. But he’s a grown man and he doesn’t want me around anymore (since I am apparently unconsciously feeding on his purity), so is there anything I can do? He’s obviously not inclined to take my evil-inspired advice right now.

A: There is a complicated gray area in between “totally unreasonable/baffling but part of the rich tapestry of human weirdness” and “deeply concerning, time to call a doctor,” and I’m afraid this might fall into it. Certainly I don’t think you should stay in a relationship just because you’re afraid you’re the only tether a person has left to sanity—that’s not a reasonable or healthy burden to place on yourself. If you want to try to remain even distantly connected so that you can periodically check in and potentially try to intervene if or when his delusions do strike you as more worrying, then I think that’s worth doing. But I think this romantic relationship is clearly over, and to whatever degree you’ll be able to remain in his life, it’ll be as someone who cares deeply about his well-being and wants him to maintain a strong grip on reality. I think the best thing you can do now is accept that this relationship is over.

I don’t want to say that just because he’s fallen prey to a conspiracy theory/is experiencing what sounds like delusional thinking, you are necessarily in danger, but I do hope that if he ever escalates from “You’re an evil spirit” to “You’re an evil spirit, and it’s my responsibility to get rid of evil spirits,” you’ll already be far away and well-protected. To that end, I think you should make sure that you’re not alone with him right now. I know you say he’s not violent or a risk to anyone, and I’ll take your word on that. I’m not suggesting you need to call the police or put him in a psychiatric hold—I don’t think that would do him much good. But if he ever does start offering threats, please prioritize your safety.

Help! My Boyfriend Thinks I’m the Reincarnation of an Evil Witch. (June 3)

2019’s Best Dear Prudence Uncensored

When my now-wife and I got engaged, the mother of a longtime friend enthusiastically offered to make my wedding outfit. She took my measurements a year out, I offered to pay several times, and I said thank you at every opportunity. She shipped the outfit the day before the wedding, so I never had a chance to try it on in advance. I put it on the day of my wedding and in the rush didn’t realize that it did not fit until after the ceremony. I had a very loose, deep neckline, and my nipples kept falling out. The seam at the seat also busted. My wife had to physically hold the outfit together for me during our first dance.

The outfit-maker attended the wedding and saw everything (along with my whole family). I wrote a thank-you note and offered one last time to pay. I’m a pretty relaxed person, but I’m mortified to know that several hundred of our nearest and dearest saw me half-naked in a way I absolutely did not want or plan for. My parents have mentioned it since the wedding, and while normally I feel very confident in defending choices they don’t agree with, this was not my choice! I’m also upset that my friend’s mom half-assed something so special to me in a way that gave me no way to back out. Any advice for what to say next time a family member mentions my unintentional flashing at my wedding? I’m fine defending life choices they don’t agree with but have a harder time when it’s something I don’t agree with either.

Read what Danny and Nicole had to say about this letter in Dear Prudence Uncensored, only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I came out as trans to my parents when I was a teenager. They weren’t supportive, and I was sent to see a psychologist I didn’t feel comfortable talking to. I felt so guilty about the high copays that I claimed it was “just a phase” and even managed to sort of convince myself. I’m now in my early 30s, have a great career, and am engaged to a wonderful woman, but I still experience the desire to transition. My fiancée knows I saw a therapist when I was a teenager, but she doesn’t know the details, and it’s weighing on me. In the last three years I’ve been having recurring dreams where I get to be a woman, and when I wake up, I feel so depressed I can’t even get out of bed. I just want to fall back asleep and dream again. My question is twofold: Do I owe my fiancée an explanation? Do I call off the wedding? I don’t even know where to go from here. Part of me wants to keep things as they are, looking forward to these dreams as they come up and thinking about what could have been. The other part of me wants to scream who I truly am to the world and deal with it, even if that means losing everything.

—Can I Come Out Again

Instead of asking whether you owe your fiancée an explanation or whether you should call off the wedding—which frames your thoughts and feelings about your gender as a shameful secret that you’ll have to atone for—ask yourself whether you would want your fiancée to be able to come to you if your situations were reversed. Even if you were surprised or ultimately found that your orientations weren’t compatible in the long run, I don’t think you’d be angry—you’d be grateful to know what was causing your partner deep distress and ready to offer compassion and support. You’ve already tried to downplay your desire to transition, to minimize your longings, to dismiss your identity as “just a phase” that’s not worth burdening other people with, to keep it to yourself. And while you’ve been able to build a lovely life, the anguish of feeling totally alone, like this is the one part of yourself you can never share with anyone else, has you wishing you were asleep 24 hours a day. Implicit in your letter is the fear that it’s too late—that because you didn’t transition when you were a vulnerable teenager without meaningful support you can’t now, because you’re in your 30s and have a good job and a partner and are too invested to consider transition now.

So no, I don’t think you should talk to your fiancée because you’ve violated an implicit contract never to consider transition. You should talk to her because repressing your thoughts and feelings about the possibility of transition is absolutely crushing you, and you shouldn’t spend the next 10 or 20 or 30 years psyching yourself up to make it through the day for other people and waiting until you can really live in your dreams. If your city has any support groups for trans people and people questioning their gender identity, I’d recommend stopping by for a meeting and getting a sense of how many different paths to transition there are and how many of us come to it in our 30s and 40s and 50s and later. The question of where to go from here is totally up to you. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do or don’t feel ready for. But talking to your partner, a therapist you trust, a friend or two, and other people who are contemplating transitioning is a good start.

Help! Should I Tell My Fiancée I’m Trans? (March 16)

How to Get Advice From Prudie:

Send questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion.

Call the voicemail of the Dear Prudence podcast at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,

My now-1-year-old had a number of complications and health issues and spent two months in the neonatal intensive care unit. While we were there, I met “Julie” and “Nick.” Their baby, “Gio,” was born six days after mine and had similar issues. They were both upbeat and friendly every time we spoke and seemed optimistic. I felt like we were becoming friends and kept meaning to give Julie my number so we could stay in touch. Then one morning I overheard the doctors talking about Gio, using phrases that made it clear he wasn’t going to make it. Julie and Nick continued to be cheerful, often saying how excited they were for us that our baby would be going home soon. I took this as a cue that they didn’t want to discuss their grief with me, so I left it alone. Gio died the day we took our baby home from the hospital. I never did give Julie my number. Recently, Facebook suggested Nick on “People You May Know.” It turns out we have several mutual friends. I have been considering messaging him to let him (and Julie) know that I think about them, and about Gio, often. The truth is that I think about them every single day. Is it inappropriate to reach out in this way? Will it come across as being cruel, when our babies were so similar but had such different outcomes?

—Reaching Out or Rubbing It In?

Your instinct to reach out and offer sympathy is a good one, and you should do it right away. It may be that Julie and Nick don’t have the energy to continue the acquaintance—they might indeed find it too taxing to maintain a friendship with a couple raising a baby at the same time they thought they’d be raising theirs—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything. I don’t think there’s ever anything cruel about telling someone you grieve with them, that your heart aches with theirs, and that you’re thinking of them often. I don’t imagine that Gio is ever far from their thoughts, so mentioning him isn’t going to bring up painful memories they’ve otherwise forgotten. I think it’s more common, after a profound loss like this one, for people to not say anything out of fear of saying the wrong thing, so bereaved parents often face a great silence after the immediate outpouring of support.

Send that message. You can stress that they’re under no obligation to respond and that you wish them both all the love and support imaginable. I don’t think they’ll see your message as callous because your baby survived. I think it will feel meaningful to them that you remember them, that the whole world hasn’t moved on and forgotten their grief, and that the affection that existed between you in the NICU was real and solid and long-lasting. That doesn’t mean they’ll feel up to a prolonged correspondence or that they won’t have complicated, bittersweet feelings about your happy exit from the NICU. But sending a message of support will be meaningful and kind, and you’re right to want to do it.

Help! Taylor Swift Is Straining My Marriage. (Oct. 10)

Q. A joke I made lost me all my friends: Over my freshman year I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with a group of five other people. We’ve done everything together, and since I live across the country from my family, these people have been a godsend. Two weeks ago I made a joke that was not well-received. I apologized immediately and thought my friends (all five were there) accepted my apology. The joke was told to me by my grandpa, and it’s the kind of joke that’s common where I’m from, so although I knew it was a bit out there, it never occurred to me how badly it would be taken. Basically my friends now think I’m a horrible person who actually believes the things in the joke. I really upset one friend in particular, and they all took her side.

I am devastated and humiliated. I’ve tried apologizing. I am so, so sorry for what I did. I worry I’ve done other things to upset them that they didn’t mention, but no one will answer my texts, so I can’t find out. I see my friends together, and it breaks my heart. I miss them so much. I’m struggling to finish classes because I’m depressed. I don’t know what to tell my family. I’m haunted by how quickly my friends stopped talking to me, and then I wonder if I’ve been offensive to them before. This is all fresh and raw. What do I do? How do I win back my friends?

A: I wish I knew what you had said! My instinct here, based on how you describe your friends’ response and the euphemistic language around your grandfather and the commonplace nature of the sentiments the joke attempts to legitimize, is that what you said was pretty shocking/cruel/out of line (which is why you didn’t include any details) and that the friend who was particularly hurt may have been (in)directly targeted by it. I’m glad that you apologized to your friends, but even though they may have genuinely accepted your contrition, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all going to want to return to your former closeness. An apology isn’t the same thing as winning your friends back, as much as we might wish it, and part of what’s painful about this moment is accepting that your friends want time and space apart. If you try to demand they go back to the way things were, you’ll risk alienating them forever.

I hope you do tell your family what you’re going through if you feel like they can offer you meaningful support, although I’m curious, if the rest of your family shares your grandfather’s apparently common views, how helpful they’ll actually be when it comes to meaningful reflection. If your family’s response is to dismiss your friends out of hand and reinforce whatever animating force lies behind the joke, that may in fact end up being counterproductive. While your friends aren’t available to offer you feedback, you may want to do a little soul-searching and ask whether you’ve told milder versions of that joke in the past and ask yourself how you want to act differently in the future. If your college campus has affordable counseling sessions, I’d recommend signing up for a visit so you can talk to someone confidentially about this.

Again, without more details I can’t say whether I think your friends were too hard on you or are behaving appropriately; however, you can’t have known any of them for a full year yet, and it can be easier to lose nascent friendships than ones of long standing. The real work to be done here, I think, lies in this passage: “The joke was told to me by my grandpa, and it’s the kind of joke that’s common where I’m from, so although I knew it was a bit out there, it never occurred to me how badly it would be taken. Basically my friends now think I’m a horrible person who actually believes the things in the joke.” If you didn’t want your friends to think you actually believed whatever the joke was about, why did you say it? What made you think they would assume you were saying something you didn’t mean? My guess is the reason you didn’t include the subject of the joke here is because when you actually write it down and you’re not surrounded by people who are willing to pretend “none of us really mean it, it’s just a joke,” it looks rather shabby.

I think you should continue to give your friends space. Maybe in another few weeks you can send a follow-up message about your continued reflection, your sincere regret for saying what you said, and the ways in which you’ll behave differently in the future, making sure to end with something like, “I hope we can try again sometime, because I really care about our friendship; but if you don’t want to, I’ll respect that decision and won’t ask you again.” I can’t promise you that you can get these original friends back, but I hope you can avoid repeating this situation with any other friends you want to keep in the future.

Help! I Told a Joke So Bad It Cost Me All My Friends. (May 21)

Our Favorite Dear Prudence Podcast

“The DNA Drama” Edition (Aug. 7)

This Prudie podcast exemplifies what Danny often does best: taking a crazy but now-plausible issue (finding out via a DNA kit that you might have married your first cousin) and deeply analyzing the whole situation, not just the scandalous side of it. Danny and his guest are thoughtful, sensitive, helpful, and fun—exactly how you’d want your best friends to approach your tough and embarrassing stories. —Chau Tu, Slate Plus associate editor

Listen or subscribe to all Dear Prudence Podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

My significant other died six months ago from a long-term illness. In our 25 years together, we had a 25-year-old daughter and a 21-year-old son. During that time, he had an illegitimate son who is also 21 years old, just a few months older than our son. I didn’t even meet this son until he was 15. After my significant other’s death, he began living with me and my son. About a month ago, I developed a sexual relationship with my significant other’s son. My children have now disowned me, calling the relationship disgusting, a poor decision, and inappropriate. The way I see it, other than the age gap of 25 years, we are both single, both adults, we are not related, I didn’t raise him, I didn’t even meet him until he was 15 years old, and I was never actually married to his dad, therefore I was never his actual stepmom. Do you think my children are correct in their perception of this relationship, and if so, for what reasons?

—Sexual Relationship With “Stepson”

Even if you came up with an airtight list of reasons why your children are incorrect, it wouldn’t change the way they feel. If your main goal is to get out of trouble by explaining why you two aren’t really related, you’re missing the forest for the trees. Their father died six months ago, and you’re dating his son, so even if you two just met yesterday, they’d still be hurt and upset. They’d have good reason to be. You say you met him when he was 15 as if that explains everything. All that tells me is that you met him when he was a child and have watched him grow up. No, you two aren’t related by blood, but it’s not exactly true to say that you two have no family relationship to each other: You’re the mother of his half-siblings, and you were with his father for decades. I think you should have been able to predict that this relationship would hurt and alienate your children. The fact that you appear to be surprised by this makes me worry about your judgment, especially in the wake of a recent bereavement. Are you seeing a counselor? Have you spoken to any of your friends whose judgment you trust about this new relationship? Who’s giving you good insight and feedback into your choices right now, and how can you ask for more help than you’re currently getting?

I don’t think your approach of trying to reason your children out of their feelings is going to work, and I think you should drop it. Give them time, and don’t push them to talk to you when they’re not ready. Reconsider whether this recent, short-lived, only-sexual relationship with a 21-year-old is worth alienating your children over, and spend time figuring out if there are other, more independent ways you can process your grief and establish a new kind of sex life.

Help! My Children Are Furious I’m Having Sex With Their Half-Brother. (May 16)

Q. Is my sweet aunt plotting to murder our entire family? I am a marginally successful writer, which means family members often send me material to read, usually asking how they can publish it. I never relish these requests, but I try to be polite. I now find myself in a situation that I could not have predicted. Last year, my aunt announced her intention to become a celebrated playwright. She has now written her first play, which she sent to me unsolicited along with the request/demand that I give her an “honest opinion” and pass it along to my agent. (I told her my agent does not represent work written for the stage, but my aunt is undeterred by this complication.)

Of course I procrastinated, but after several weeks of brushing off increasingly hectoring emails from my aunt, I finally forced myself to read her play. I was shocked. The play is a country-home murder mystery in which the characters are clearly based on the members of our family. These portrayals would be quite vicious by any standard, even if not for the fact that each character is murdered, one by one, in extremely gruesome fashion. I’ve always thought of my aunt as a very nice if somewhat homespun type of person. She is a former preschool teacher who volunteers at an animal shelter and collects American Girl dolls. After reading her play, it seems I may need to rethink things! To call the work dark—not to mention mean-spirited—would be an understatement. For instance, the character based on me is presented as mincing, drippingly pretentious, and effete. The character dies after masturbating with a poisoned dildo (!!!). The “twist” at the end is that the heroic and brilliant detective—a Miss Marple type whose first and last names rhyme with my aunt’s—is revealed to be the killer as well. (Her stated motive: “The world is better off without these rotten sorts!”)

On the last page of the script, my aunt attached a Post-it with the following note handwritten in what I can only hope is red ink: “Hope you have enjoyed my work of fiction! :) :) :).” As you can imagine, I am unsure of how to proceed. For one thing, I am honestly worried about my aunt’s mental state. She continues to email and text asking whether I have sent her bizarre play to my agent, when any reasonable person would know that I feel more inclined to send it to the cops. Perhaps more disturbing, my uncle (her brother) is hosting a big family reunion next month at his country home upstate. While it has been planned for quite some time, I can’t shake the feeling that we might all be walking into a deathtrap. Am I crazy to think such a thing? I can’t tell anyone else in my family about any of this because it would hurt their feelings to see their own portrayals in my aunt’s play.

A: First, the good news: I really don’t think your aunt is planning on poisoning any sex toys or using this script as a template for doing away with all of you. And I don’t think you really do, either: If you really thought their lives were in danger, you wouldn’t keep this from your relatives in order to spare their feelings. I think your aunt is the kind of homespun person who loves mystery novels and gruesome literary deaths while maximizing her coziness and security in real life, and has a very enthusiastic and only somewhat misguided bent for fiction. That she’s been so persistent about asking you for your thoughts suggests to me that she does not think you will immediately identify with the “drippingly pretentious” fop, but thinks she’s merely drawn lightly from a few real-world types in order to create a cast of evildoers and villains. All you need to do is write her back reminding her that your agent doesn’t represent playwrights and that she’ll need to do the work of finding an agent on her own. If she keeps pestering you, be firm and tell her that she needs to redirect that energy toward someone she’s not related to who can give her honest, genre-specific feedback. But this seems like a very obvious work of fiction, not an attempt to send you into an early decline.

Help! My Sweet Aunt Wrote a Play in Which I Am Killed by a Poisoned Dildo. (Aug. 27)

The Best Update From a Letter Writer

A “remarkable and unexpected” note from a stepfather who recognized himself as the subject of a letter Prudie answered in May.

Q. Update, from Ian, the stepfather: My wife, Sheila, came across your column from May 25 and immediately suspected that the letter writer who was pressured into having an abortion was our daughter Rose. Rose confirmed this. I’m “Ian,” Rose’s father. Rose’s pregnancy would always have been a disappointment, and I stand by my belief that she did not comprehend the enormity of the decision she faced. But the way I approached her confession, and the way I treated my family afterward, was unacceptable. There are not words big enough to express how terribly I behaved. I am a recovering alcoholic. Rose and her siblings did not know this until very recently. Rose’s teenage pregnancy occurred weeks after Sheila discovered my alcoholism. I was at rock bottom, full of shame and fearful of losing my family. When Rose told us she was pregnant and wanted to keep the baby, I unleashed that rage upon her. I saw her baby as both the camel that would break my back and as the perfect lightning rod for my fury. I felt so angry that I realized I was a hair trigger from violence. I told Sheila that I would divorce her if Rose had her baby. I didn’t care if Rose knew about the threat or not. I knew that I was being cruel. I felt so sick about my behavior that I couldn’t stand to be near Rose. I was still angry. Rose had an abortion, and I went to rehab.

When I returned home (Rose’s memory of that period was incorrect: She thought my absence during rehab happened before the abortion) I threw myself into being the father my children deserved. I’ve remained sober since, but I was still invested in protecting myself. I never apologized to Rose. I never explained my motivations or that my anger was cruelly misdirected. I convinced myself that if I were a good-enough father, I could fix what I’d broken.  I’m not saying that teenage pregnancy is positive or that Rose was responsible enough for a baby. I don’t think she appreciated the enormity of having a baby 17. But I handled everything in the most frightening, hateful way possible.

Shortly after you published Rose’s letter, our family had its first honest conversation in a long time. Rose was heartbroken and furious with me. She is also angry with her mother. We understand and respect this. Rose is seeking counseling, as are Sheila and I. We are exploring the possibility of family counseling after Rose’s baby is older, but that is entirely up to Rose. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for publishing Rose’s letter. I have been living so many lies, and I have caused the people I love most unforgivable pain. Seeing evidence of Rose’s suffering and her pain was what jolted me out of complacency and selfishness. I’m grateful to you for that.

A: This was remarkable and unexpected. Thank you so much for writing to me. I’m so glad to hear that Rose was able to speak honestly with you about how you hurt her, that all of you are seeing therapists, and that you’ve been able to listen to Rose’s pain, take responsibility for your own anger, and try to start making amends. I wish you all a lot of healing and a great deal of patience with one another. Thank you so much.

Q. Happy: I am a 38-year-old widow. The day my husband died was the happiest day of my life. He was a miserable, vindictive man whose greatest joy was tearing me down. He cheated on me constantly and would cheerfully recount all my inadequacies compared with his mistresses. If I left, he would “pursue me to the ends of the earth.” He never hit me, for what it is worth. At the end, I was isolated and alone; my only social outlet was my family. They all knew how horrible my marriage was, which is what makes their reaction now more hurtful.

I am going to travel. I am going to visit exotic places, drink wine, and learn a foreign language. I have enough money to be quite comfortable for the rest of my life. I would rather shoot myself than ever get married again. My family acts like I am an idiot—they have all sorts of “concerns” about my emotional state, since I not mourning adequately and pearl-clutching over my plans (I am going to Italy). They keep telling me I need to take time and get “my head on straight.” My sisters express discomfort when I say I am happy my husband died when he did or if I joke that I am surprised it was a heart attack since I never thought he’d have one. They hated him! I have an accountant and a lawyer; I am well-advised about my finances. I lost 15 years to the man. I don’t want to lose another five months because my family has a skewed sense of decorum. Please help me get through to them.

A: Don’t worry about getting through to them. Worry about making sure you’re well-packed for your trip. If your family feels uncomfortable when you make jokes about your husband’s death, I do think it’s reasonable to limit your more-off-color comments for close friends (or a therapist) who understand why gallows humor is called for in this situation. It may be one thing for them to acknowledge your marriage was an unhappy one, but they may be unable to join in making jokes about him with you. But beyond that, you don’t need them to agree with you that the time is right in order to get on that plane. If you think it will help, you can share a little bit more about how painful your marriage was, how free you feel now, and how committed you are to making the most of your life as a widow, without making any jokes or trying to relieve the tension with humor, if you think there’s something that they’re missing from the story. But you don’t have to lose another five months; you can still get on a plane even if your family thinks your behavior is shocking. You can tell them you appreciate their concern but have no interest in taking more time, that your head is on as straight as you’d like it to be, and that you’ll send them all a postcard from Milan.

Help! I’m Glad My Awful Husband Is Dead. (Aug. 19)

Dear Prudence,

After we divorced, my ex-wife kept using my last name. We’d married young and her professional reputation was built with that name, so it made sense. It is a small town, so I’m occasionally asked if we’re related, but it’s not too bad. I’m going to be married to a woman who wants to take my last name and has a fairly unusual, culturally specific first name—think “Gretel.” So she’s now going to be Mrs. Gretel [Myname]. Except my ex has, apparently, recently changed her first name to Gretel too—so they’ll both have the same first and last name. (My ex’s old first name was much more generically popular.)

Obviously, anyone can change her name to whatever she wants, but this seems weird. But what can I do? Tell my fiancée? Try to talk to my ex about it? Just agree with people that it is really weird? I could take my fiancée’s last name, but we both really like my surname, and I’m worried that if there’s something odd going on with my ex that it will just be postponing the real issue.

—Ex Stealing My New Wife’s Name

This is so odd! The closest comparison I can think of is Ron Swanson marrying two women named Tammy on Parks and Recreation (everyone dubbed them Tammy 1 and Tammy 2), but that was just a coincidence, not … whatever this is. Since this is a pretty small town, I’d be surprised if your ex had no idea she was changing her name to match your fiancée’s, but it is possible. If you and your ex-wife are on even remotely friendly terms, it’s worth asking her what prompted the change. Since she’s apparently sufficiently well-established professionally that she’s able to change her first name now, you might ask if she’d consider dropping the use of your last name. But I’d be prepared to hear “no” for an answer and to accept it graciously if you do. Even if she were doing this to somehow get back at you and your fiancée, it’s not like you’d have any way to compel her to undo it. Frankly, it puts you in a pretty good situation, because you get to look reasonable and concerned if anyone asks you about it: “Yes, Gretel and I thought it was odd when [ex] started going by Gretel too. But it is a lovely name!”

Help! My Ex-Wife Changed Her First Name to My Fiancée’s Name. (March 2)

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In the summer of 2011, my wife and I purchased a top-of-the-line Jopen vibrator. We used it a few times and were just beginning to really integrate it into our sex lives when my wife died suddenly of a heart attack. (The vibrator had nothing to do with that.) Now, more than a year later, I’ve begun to date again. I’ve met a woman with an open mind, and I’m thinking she might be interested in using the vibrator. But I’m not sure how, or whether, to suggest it. Is it creepy to offer a dead woman’s vibrator to someone else? And if so what else can I do with it? Sell it on Craigslist? It’s an expensive piece of equipment, barely used, and it should be employed (and loved) once again. All of my wife’s other major possessions found wonderful new homes with dear friends of hers. But then again, a vibrator’s got a different—well, vibe about it. Sell it, toss it, or share it?