Nicole Cliffe is filling in as Dear Prudence this week.
Enjoy more from our advice columnists in our Holiday Advice From the Experts series. First up, Jamilah Lemieux weighs in on what you need to keep your sanity intact throughout the holiday season.
A close friend, “Sam,” and his girlfriend, “Emily,” are doing something truly terrible. She has a lot of student debt to pay off, so they have come up with a plan that she will date and marry someone rich, and he will pay off her student loans, and then she will break up with him to be with Sam after a few years. All the while they will be cheating on Mr. Rich together. Sam told me that he is not looking for advice. But he still wants to talk to me about this plan and how it is affecting him a lot. I do not want to talk about this. I think it is despicable to trick someone into marrying you and cheat on them. I don’t think the plan will work, and if it does work, I am not sure I want to continue being friends with this person. But he is still my friend, and I feel I should listen to his woes and try to support him because clearly something is wrong with his judgment right now.
Prudie, I just don’t want to talk about this, and I feel like soon I will explode and share my opinion on this in a nasty way. What should I do? I don’t want to throw away a close friendship of many, many years, but I do not want to know the details of this arrangement or meet the poor soul they are tricking. She is currently dating multiple people, and they said they have two prospects who are very interested in marriage!
—This Is Wrong, Right?
Ditch Sam. He’s a bad person now. I’m very sorry. You can try to have a talk with him where you do “explode and share [your] opinion on this in a nasty way.” That’s fine. He might even listen. If he doesn’t, he knows why you are not friends anymore. These people are disgusting.
My ex-husband surprised me with a really extravagant engagement ring. We married less than a year into our engagement. Eight months later we separated, and after living on opposite coasts for two years with very little contact, we divorced. No hard feelings, but it didn’t end well, and we don’t keep in touch. Fast forward several years and my current boyfriend and I are talking about marriage but are not officially engaged yet. We’re both pretty practical, so I suggested reusing my old engagement ring and wedding band. I love the set and barely got to wear it. I also don’t have any strong emotions surrounding it. It’s just a beautiful set that has been sitting in a drawer collecting dust for years. My boyfriend initially liked the idea and seemed relieved since we have a million other things on which our money would be better spent.
The problem is that our friends and my family have declared that this is “creepy” and bad luck. My mom told my sister that she thinks my boyfriend is being a “cheapo” and that it’s tacky to reuse a diamond. I feel like this is an overreaction, but now my boyfriend is beginning to feel self-conscious about all the criticism, which is unfairly being lobbed at him considering this was my idea. We’ve agreed that we definitely want to wear rings when we get married, and although we can buy something else for less, I want to wear it, and free fits our budget. I won’t say this to him in case we go another way, but I also worry that I’ll always look down at a new ring and think longingly about the eye-popping beauty going to waste in the drawer. I feel like that’s worse than reclaiming an ex’s ring. What say you? Would you feel creeped out by hearing a friend say they were recycling a bridal set?
—It’s Just a Pretty Rock
If you don’t care, and your boyfriend doesn’t care (or didn’t, before the criticism started), use the rings and refuse to engage in any discussion of them. Your friends and family won’t keep it up for the rest of their lives.
If your boyfriend is now overly creeped out, I suggest he take the rings to a jeweler and spend a small chunk of change making them his own. The engagement stone(s) can go in a new setting, and the wedding band can be engraved with your names. Wedding bands are all the same anyway.
It’s not creepy. It’s not bad juju. The only power these rings have is the emotions they create in you (which appear to be nonexistent). It’s financially smart, and you have my complete blessing to use them in their current state or remake them into something equally beautiful but unrecognizable. If you opt for the former, a simple “Are you still hung up on this? We’re kind of tired of talking about it” should do the trick.
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My sister has been divorced for a year. She has three kids with her ex. Her ex has informed her he is dating someone new and plans to introduce her to the kids after the holidays. The new girlfriend is a young, pretty Latina. My sister has not been taking the news well and has started to use ugly, racially charged words to vent about this woman.
I understand her anger but not where she is putting it. Her language makes me very uncomfortable, and I am afraid it is leaking over on the kids. My sister has already been officially chided by the courts for talking badly about her ex to the kids. He will take her to court again if this continues. I love my sister and would never have thought her capable of racism like this. I don’t know how to deal with her.
—Never Saw This Coming
I’m sorry your sister is in pain, but she needs to stop, and it sounds as though you believe she is saying these racist things in front of the kids.
I think your best tactic is to go with “This is going to put you in a bad legal position” as opposed to “These are deeply offensive statements” or “He didn’t cheat on you with this woman.” Focus on “You will lose the kids if you continue. You have already been warned.” She can get a group chat and vent there, she can get a therapist and vent there, but she cannot talk like this in front of her children. She will absolutely get into deep trouble if she continues to alienate her kids from their father, and the racial slurs will bury her. “What do you want to achieve?” is a useful question in almost any conflict, and I recommend trying it here.
My wonderful boyfriend of nearly two years is truly a gem. We met just a month after my 18-year-old brother unexpectedly died. He wasn’t afraid of my grief, took me exactly as I was, and saw me through some of the lowest points I’ve ever endured. A year into our relationship, my father unexpectedly died—again, he was a rock star. He was supportive and loving. He’s funny, charming, kind, physically attractive. I couldn’t ask for more.
Except for one thing: His family won’t allow him to leave the city we both live in for any longer than a few hours. Literally. We are in our early to mid-20s, and he’s not “allowed” to visit my hometown (a one-hour flight from the city where we live) for an overnight trip. He still lives at home (it’s an expensive city), and he can’t afford to move out just yet.
I’ve stated and reiterated that visiting home is very important to me. I’ve experienced so much loss, and my mom is chronically ill. I want him to spend time with my family and see where I grew up. He says he understands but doesn’t want to fight with his mom about this. We are allowed to stay the night together at his family home (we share a room and a bed). I’ve tried to talk to his mom about it as well, but mostly get shooed away. What do I do?
—What the Hell?
I would first offer (if even remotely possible) to get a place together or invite him to move in with you. If he can do that, this might be salvageable. Otherwise, you can tell him that when he can make choices independently from his parents, he will be able to be in an adult relationship, and you hope that time is close at hand. If he doesn’t get that message, I think you have to break up with him.
I respect and admire the support he has shown you. I promise you that other men will also, in this life, support you. He is not yet capable of independence. I do not say this because he lives with his family—that’s common enough. I say this because of the control they successfully have over his comings and goings.
I wish both of you the very, very best.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
Daniel Mallory Ortberg and Nicole Cliffe will return in December with Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
In the meantime, read more of Nicole’s wisdom at Care and Feeding, Slate’s parenting advice column.
My husband has this habit of inspecting the house when he gets home. After a quick hug hello, he walks through the house and points out anything out of place: lights being on in an unused room, my shoes in the wrong spot, dishes unwashed. He says he’s unable to relax after work until everything is tidy. He does the vast majority of all household chores, so it’s hard for me to complain about things like putting my shoes in the right spot, but it still feels really patronizing and controlling. I have worked hard to be more tidy (I was a complete slob when we first got together), and he is working to be OK with the house not being spotless, but we still bump heads about this pretty regularly. Advice?
—Taken to Account
Well, this is nonsense. That’s not appropriate behavior, and he clearly has some issues going on (as do we all). You need to sit down and use your words and say, “This cannot be the tone that gets set for our evening.” I recommend asking him what his top three “this is out of place” things are and saying you will make sure those are handled, but in return he cannot do this ridiculous Downton Abbey butler berating the lesser servants for unironed newspapers bullshit.
You can absolutely compromise here, and it sounds like you’ve already done a fair amount of un-slobbing yourself (kudos!). And I think you would be willing to, you know, turn off lights in exchange for not being treated like a child.
We lost my father to a long illness very recently. My family and I are taking it day by day and handling things well enough all considered. I am not a religious person, but my mother has leaned more into her Catholic faith for support as she works through her grief. Sometimes this takes the shape of letting me know that she knows he is in a much more wonderful place and happier than we could imagine, if I express sadness that he’s not with us all having dinner or that he would have loved to join in on something.
I don’t have a problem with her believing this, but I never know quite what to say or do when she talks like this. I have been getting away with nodding and bland agreements, but I worry that she’ll call me out or want to discuss it further (I imagine it must be pretty clear that I’m agreeing just to agree). I’m happy that my mother is happy in her faith and don’t want to get into a theological debate with her ever, and most especially not now when she needs it most. How would you navigate this?
—Please Pass the Potatoes
Honestly, I do not think you have a problem here. Nodding and bland agreement is fine. If the latter makes you uncomfortable, hug her and say you’re glad she has her faith. She is not trying to start a theological debate, and it’s not necessary to be true to yourself by saying, “Oh, me? I think he’s just in the ground.” Just let her have her coping mechanism and don’t worry that you’re messing anything up. You’re borrowing trouble here (she has not called you to delve deeper, and she has not insisted on clarity). It’s best, I think, to focus on your own grief and continue as you have begun when it comes to letting your mother find her faith a comfort.
I’m very sorry for your loss.
Two years ago, my adored 28-year-old younger brother committed suicide after murdering his estranged wife’s new boyfriend. My brother had depression and anger issues, but I will never understand the chain of events that made this act viable in his head. This has been devastating to my family. I did not know the man he murdered, but I know many of his friends. I tried to not mourn publicly, but I did not handle things well in social media. Sometimes I would mention my loss and these mutual friends were kind to me, but I still feel that I should have kept my mouth shut. I know that I had no fault in my brother’s act, but since then I have isolated myself from them in person out of shame and associated guilt. (I am working on this with a therapist and in support groups.) I would like to reconnect with these mutual friends at Christmas when I return to my hometown, but I’m scared and worry that I will cause pain. The main issue is that the victim’s brother also returns home for Christmas. My family has not reached out to the victim’s family, which has been pretty much the universal recommendation. However, it is entirely likely that I could run into the brother, which terrifies me. I would actually like to have a meeting with him to convey how sorry I am for his loss, and that we have much in common. He may even have questions I can answer. But I fear reaching out and causing pain, while I also fear an unexpected meeting in a social setting. What should I do?