Nicole Cliffe is filling in as Dear Prudence this week.
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My husband and I both are status holders on an airline and have flown first class many times on upgrades. An issue arises, however, when we fly together. It started last year when, based on check-in time, he was offered an upgrade to first class and took it, leaving me sitting in coach without even a thought. I had a pounding migraine and was very ill. I did not want the upgrade; I wanted him to sit with me. There were many times I turned first class down to sit with him.
Most recently the situation came up again. They offered first class to both of us, as we were on the same reservation, but said they only had one seat. He jumped at it, presuming he would be the one to get it, and I snapped: No, we would stay in our seats. All times except the first time we were both in business class, just not first class, and these were cross-country red-eye flights.
I have told him I was upset when he took the upgrade and presumed he would take it again, but he says I should not be mad because he would not care if I did it to him (he would). To be clear, I don’t expect him to give me the upgrade. I just want us to only take the upgrade if we both get it. Otherwise I ask them to give my upgrade to any active-duty service member or the next status holder. While I travel alone a lot, I certainly prefer on a red-eye to have him near me as I feel safer sleeping. I always sit in the middle seat next to a stranger so he can have more room.
It just makes me feel like he’s being very selfish, but he does not see it that way at all. This is domestic first class, so it’s not that great, just more room, and yes, he’s taller, but to me it’s the fact that he presumes entitlement over me and disrespects my feelings. Am I being petty?
—Trouble at 10,000 Feet
It’s always refreshing to have a complete nonproblem. You and your husband are both mildly ridiculous (he is quite rude, which is worse), and the idea that the struggle is about moving from business class to first class is just … something. Also, “This is domestic first class, so it’s not that great” is going to stay with me for a long time. I am sure the people back in steerage by the malfunctioning toilet are deeply invested in this marital squabble.
I am, however, done joshing you and here to solve your problem. I have outlined a series of scenarios:
If your husband is actually a person with sufficiently long femurs that business-class seats make him fold up: You begin booking two first-class seats at the outset and be done with this Game of Delta Thrones.
If you both get the upgrade: You both take the upgrade.
If only one of you gets the upgrade: The person who gets the upgrade takes the upgrade. Upgrades are to be taken. Who would turn down the upgrade? Conversely, who would fume because his wife gets a hot towel and a quinoa salad? If you get the upgrade and genuinely do not want it, give it to your husband, who wants it. Now you have two seats, unless the airline jams someone in there, so there’s no reason for you to be in the middle next to a stranger.
If your reservation gets the upgrade, you have to pick: It’s called rock paper scissors, and if you want to be a martyr, just give it to your husband. But he cannot grab the upgrade and run to the front without mutual discussion.
I am sorry about your migraines. I do not think your husband can really do much to help. If this is a pattern of bulldozing your wishes, think about that.
In the past three years, I lost all of my immediate family members to illness or other natural causes. Just this year, both of my parents passed within months of each other after long bouts with dementia. I was an only child. I’ve spent so much time the past couple of years pinballing between tragedies and managing multiple relatives’ care in multiple states that my once-successful professional career hit a wall and my personal relationships suffered from neglect. A lot of my friends and colleagues hadn’t seen me in so long they thought I had left town.
Several months later I’m trying to rebuild my life and am lucky enough to have a very supportive partner. One thing I haven’t figured out is how to talk about my new orphan status. I’m in my 30s, so people typically aren’t expecting to meet someone my age with absolutely no living relatives. When new acquaintances or old friends ask about my family, how do I answer without entirely derailing the conversation?
—Can We Talk About Politics or Religion Instead?
What a horrible, horrible time you have had. This does not sound like good news, but the truth is that people really do not pay nearly as much attention to you as you think they do. And it’s common for people in their 30s to have experience as caregivers for their parents, or to have lost at least one of them.
If new acquaintances ask after your family, I would say, “They passed away. It’s still quite painful, so let’s talk about something more cheerful.” If anyone pushes past that, they’re a frigging rube, and you can just look at them and say, “I’d really rather not.”
Old friends are different, especially if they knew your parents. You should not worry about derailing those conversations, and you may gain comfort from giving them a little more information. They should also respect it when you don’t want to talk about it anymore. You could even just do an email update for close friends, if that’s easier. People understand that there is no “good time” to become an orphan. Anyone who whines that you should have told them directly is being a dick.
I’m glad you have a wonderful partner who’s a source of love and support for you at this time. You have my condolences as well.
More Advice From Nicole in Care and Feeding
My son started high school this year and has become friends with “Brad.” Over winter break, Brad had a party at his house. When we drove our son to Brad’s house, I was in shock when I saw that Brad’s stepdad, “John,” is the man that caused me to leave a job I loved back in 2001. We were both managers of different departments in our company. John slid his hands up under my clothing thinking he could get away with it. He cornered me in a bathroom one night when I was working late and tried to assault me. I kneed him in the groin and hit him in the nose. I wish I had pressed charges, but I was embarrassed and thought I had done something wrong, as I was in my 20s and the youngest manager and only female manager in this company. I filed complaints against him, and we had to sit with a mediator. I was not taken seriously, and I ended up leaving.
I did not want to leave my son at Brad’s, but I also didn’t want to embarrass him. It makes me sick to think about John raising a son and the things he might be saying to him. I have begun to ask my son more questions about Brad and what kinds of things he says and does, but my son knows something is up. I simply told him that I knew John back when I worked at XYZ.
Brad is having another party and has asked my son over. Part of me says it’s not Brad’s fault that his stepdad is a creep who doesn’t understand and respect other people’s boundaries; the other part of me says I don’t want to see John on purpose ever again, and I don’t want John to approach my son and speak to him about me. Usually, I’m good at figuring out how to handle conflict, but not this one.