Daniel Mallory Ortberg is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Daniel Mallory Ortberg: Good morning, everyone. Let’s chat!
Q. Name-calling: My fiancé’s family continues to call me the wrong name—his ex’s name or names that start with the same letter as mine. They rarely get my name correct. We have been together for two years and see them fairly often. His sister does it the most and says she is just scattered, that my name sounds like his ex’s—it doesn’t—and that I am making it hard for her to remember by making a “big deal” out of it. I could understand slipping up a few times when I first met them, but it has become increasingly awkward, feels dismissive and rude, and makes me feel like an outsider or like they preferred his ex. I always respond with “Oh, no, it’s fine” in person, but it bothers me a lot. My fiancé has addressed it with them multiple times. After two years I don’t understand why they still can’t remember my name, and it feels intentional. How do I handle the situation when it happens again?
A: Since your fiancé’s family members don’t do this with other people, I don’t think you have to worry that there’s a legitimate memory issue here. The whole “I’d remember if you stopped correcting me” excuse reads like a real red flag to me, almost like she’s trying to rub your nose in the fact that she’s getting your name wrong on purpose. Telling you that she’d get your name right if only you stopped caring about being called the wrong name is her way of letting you know that she wants you to chase whatever carrots she chooses to dangle. It feels intentional because it is intentional, and you and your boyfriend should treat it as such. I’m glad he’s already gone to bat for you. I think you should adopt a zero-tolerance policy as a couple—a very reasonable policy in this case!—and stop scheduling new get-togethers if things don’t change. You don’t have to get drawn into any more ridiculous arguments about whether your name is hard to remember. Just say, “My name is X. I need you to use my real name,” and then decline to stick around to be insulted if they pretend that’s too hard. I’m so sorry your fiancé’s family is waging such a petty, low-level war against your self-esteem, and I hope you get to stop spending time with them soon.
Q. Anonymity obligations: I am a divorced woman in my mid-40s. For the past eight years, I have been attending a local 12-step program for sex addiction. My problem stemmed from becoming overly fond of casual hookups after my divorce and never involved anyone in my professional circle. A few weeks ago, a new person came to our meeting—a senior director at my company (several levels above me and not in my direct line of reporting, but it’s not a huge organization, so everyone is at least a bit familiar with each other). I didn’t worry about it because of the 12-step program’s tenets surrounding anonymity. However, about a week later I was fired because I was told that the organization “had come into reliable information that raised grave concerns about [my] character and conduct.” During my meeting with HR that led to my firing, I was told that the issue concerned behavior outside of work that was serious enough to require this outcome but that, no, there were no issues with my actual work performance or behavior at the office, which have both been exemplary.
I’m writing because I am not certain if I should violate the 12-step organization’s anonymity policies to report what I think happened. It would go against all the tenets of participation in the recovery program, but, well, I need my job and didn’t deserve to be fired. The director shared briefly in the meeting and indicated he was also struggling with drugs and alcohol and not yet sober. I know such issues can cause one to behave impulsively, and I assume he reported on character concerns to get me out of the picture. Any insights would be appreciated.
A: I’m so sorry that you were fired, and especially on such vague and murky grounds. And I’m glad you’re also seeking legal advice because I hope you’re able to recoup some of what you lost. But I’m not sure what you mean when you contemplate reporting what you think happened. Do you mean you’re considering going to your old organization and saying, “I’m pretty sure Executive X sent you the report that got me fired, and you should know he was at a sex addiction meeting too?” Or do you want to report him to the local members of your 12-step group? Because if it’s the former, I don’t think you can trust you’ll be taken seriously, given that you were already summarily fired because they questioned your character, and you don’t have any real evidence that this guy was the one who said something. If it’s the latter, some 12-step groups do have individual safety committees that reevaluate whether a particular member should be temporarily asked to leave for the greater good, although the third and fifth traditions usually mean that no one is ever permanently banned from a 12-step meeting. But right now I think your best bet is to consult a lawyer over how the company handled your firing. Until you know more about who reported you and what they reported, I worry that bringing this man’s name up would only put you in a more precarious position.
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Q. Re: Anonymity obligations: Sorry, I should have clarified in my original comment that when I was fired, HR stated that the director who had seen me at the meeting had indicated he observed the behavior that led to grave concerns over my character—so I do have reliable info that he is the one who reported me. I have never encountered Director otherwise outside of work and have led a quiet, low-key life since I have been in recovery, so logically he must have reported me as a result of the meeting. I did already discuss with my program sponsor, who said that the program anonymity is sacrosanct and that, despite the extreme unfairness to me, if I want to continue to participate in the program, I cannot bring up the fact that I encountered Director at the meeting and use that to rectify my employment situation.
A: Oh, wow, that’s absolutely loathsome—I’m so sorry to hear that this guy violated such a sacred and important trust, and broke your anonymity in that way. I’m not sure that I agree with your sponsor. People who break anonymity aren’t regularly barred from AA or other 12-step programs. It’s an important rule, but there’s no greater 12-step governing body that keeps track of people who break the rules and keeps them out. You have a right to your seat at that meeting by virtue of needing that 12-step program and being committed to recovery.
I’d still consult a lawyer first, but I think you have the right to try to clear your name and give meaningful context. I’m concerned that your former employer won’t care (the fact that they didn’t even give you a chance to answer the character claims at the time makes me worry they’re not inclined to be fair or even-handed in this situation), so I’d proceed with caution before giving them any more information about you. But you’re not proposing breaking this guy’s anonymity to his family or at the public level; you’re trying to protect your livelihood by answering charges he leveraged against you.
Q. Joint account: My mom and I opened a joint credit card before I started college to help me build my credit. I am now married and in my 30s, and my husband and I are trying to get our finances in order. I talked to my mom about closing the account, and she threw a fit because she doesn’t have another credit card. She claims she wouldn’t be able to find another with as low of an interest rate. She is now holding the fact that she helped me when I was a teenager against me. What should I do?
A: I’d certainly check my credit if I were you. I hope I’m wrong, but it’s possible that your mom has opened other credit cards in your name. I often hear from adults who realize their credit has been seriously damaged because their parents have opened cards and accounts in their name. Beyond that, you can let your mother know in advance when you’ll be closing it down (I’d also double-check the balance; you may not be able to close it until the balance is paid off in full) so she has enough time to apply for a new card. But you need to be prepared to close the account even if your mother is angry with you or attempts to use the fact that she “helped” you as a teenager—aren’t parents supposed to help their teenagers?—to coerce you into doing what she wants now. You’re an adult in your 30s trying to build your credit with a partner; it’s well time to close this account, and you can lovingly, graciously refuse to take responsibility for your mother’s failure to plan for this inevitable day.
Q. My roommate’s phone sucks! My roommate’s phone is terrible. She’s always missing texts and messages, but she sticks with the phone that her parents bought her years ago. I want to buy her a nicer one, but I’ve mentioned this idea in the past and she dismissed it. I make a lot more money than she does. She’s an artist; I’m a lawyer. I love her, and I don’t want to give her a gift that would make her uncomfortable, but her phone is really getting in the way. Yesterday our dog almost missed a vet appointment because she wasn’t getting my texts. The phone would be for her, but I also feel like being able to reliably contact my roommate would be a gift for me as well. We’re both in our mid-20s and have been close friends for seven or eight years. She always turns down my offers to pay for things for her, whether it’s a dinner, a weekend away, or just her day-to-day living expenses. Do I buy her the phone?
A: No—your roommate has made it clear she doesn’t want you to pay for big-ticket personal items, and I’m not entirely convinced the reason she’s always missing messages is just because of her phone. I think it’s more important to talk to her about how her unreachability/unreliability makes life difficult for you sometimes and to ask her to consider alternative ways of getting in touch with you when a shared responsibility/time-sensitive issue comes up. This isn’t the kind of problem where throwing money at it will do much good if the real root is that she sort of enjoys being hard to reach and able to decide when and if she’s going to respond to other people’s messages. To be clear, that doesn’t mean I think your roommate is a jerk or delights in making life harder for you; I’m sure she feels at least somewhat conflicted about this particular trait of hers. But the real progress is going to come from talking to her about this and making it clear that whatever she decides to do in order to change (upgrade her phone, call you more regularly than text, set up an old-fashioned paper calendar on the fridge listing all your home- and dog-related appointments and deadlines, whatever) is something she needs to participate in fully—it’s not something you can do for her.
Q. My vindictive ex just left a job I’m perfect for: I just applied for a job I really want. After I sent in my application I was asked for my salary requirements. I sent back a reply with what I know is about the standard salary for the position. I have not heard back. It’s been six days, and I am starting to grow worried. Here is the issue: The person who previously held the job is someone whom I had a prior romantic relationship with. It did not end on good terms. I wasn’t perfect, but this other person was very shitty, and I have every reason to believe if given the opportunity, they may be vindictive. They have other exes with similar stories to mine, so I know I’m not just imagining they are a petty person. I have not remained in contact with them, though I knew of their job that is now open. I don’t know if this person was fired or has left the position voluntarily, or if they are involved in the hiring process. It could be any of those options.
To make matters worse, I am miserable in my current job. I really dislike it. This job I want would literally be my dream job. The kind of thing where I would feel purpose and meaning every day, and although I am sure there would be tedium, my quality of life would improve tremendously. I am highly qualified for it, and I have the experience and passion needed for it. I should be a competitive candidate who at the very least gets an interview. It is really stressful thinking I might not even get an interview if it were up to this prior partner. Given the same opportunity to harm or limit this prior partner, I would never do so, and I would like to believe they wouldn’t either … but I honestly have no way of knowing, and they have a reputation for this kind of pettiness. Is there anything I can do? I am tempted to reach out to my ex and politely wish them well and tell them I am worried they think poorly of me and I wish to clear the air. But I worry that if they are not aware I have applied, then they could then sabotage any chances. Am I doomed to anxiety? Thank you so much!
A: I think it’s always a mistake to pin your hopes on a single job application. You’re miserable in your job, and the key is to leave as soon as you reasonably can. You can’t rely on just one opportunity. Apply to as many jobs as you can, not just the dream ones but the ones that would be merely a reasonable improvement on your current situation. There are so many reasons you might not hear back about this—especially within a mere six days!—that have nothing to do with your ex. The odds that this company is involving someone who recently quit or was fired in their subsequent job search is relatively unlikely. But even competitive candidates sometimes don’t get interviews, for reasons that have nothing to do with vindictive exes. Do not reach out to your ex. It will appear as an obviously opportunistic move and won’t really improve your chances of getting called back. Save that energy for applying to other jobs.
Q. Family vacation: My boyfriend and I live together in a desirable location where pot is legal. Our housemate smokes pot and drinks. He does smoke out on the porch, but drug paraphernalia and booze are around in the common area. He is clean, reliable, and pays rent on time. I don’t personally like pot, but my boyfriend occasionally partakes. My family is from a much more conservative part of the country. They want to visit to go skiing and stay with me for anywhere between four days and a week. They will freak if they see any pot or serious booze in my house. My housemate has been good about cleaning up his stuff before when we had parties or overnight guests. I didn’t think it would be a problem, but he put his foot down and refused to. He told me my family is ridiculous and this is his home too. My boyfriend will only back me up some of the way. He thinks it would be “fair” to let my family stay for two days, but then they need to get a hotel. He told me to explain it as being a house rule, except we don’t have one like that. We all had other friends stay over longer that our housemate didn’t care about. Only he is pitching a fit now because I asked him to clean up his act for my family. It is only a week! I need to tell my family something. Help!
A: If you’re merely asking your housemate to keep his smoking kit, etc., out of the common spaces for a week (a reasonable request even when your parents aren’t in town) and he’s refusing, then I think he’s very much in the wrong. If you’re asking him to pour his liquor down the kitchen sink because your parents object to spirits, or asking him not to smoke in the house at all for a full week because your parents might notice, I think you’re slightly overstepping your authority as a housemate. I’ll assume he’s just balking at the idea of cleaning up after himself when there are guests in the house, which does put you in a slightly tricky position because he’s got more leverage than you do, given that he probably doesn’t care if your parents see his weed and freak out, whereas you very much do.
It’s also worth having a bigger-picture conversation with your boyfriend about future family visits, how long each of you is willing to host family members at your house before asking them to spring for a hotel, what common rules you each think are reasonable, etc. But in the short term, I think settling on a four-day trip and making it clear to your housemate that you’re not asking him to be on red alert the whole trip, just to keep his setup out of the common areas, is perfectly reasonable. If he grumbles, let him grumble; if he leaves it out “accidentally,” you can put it back in his room and mentally schedule a follow-up conversation for after your family leaves. It will also help to prepare yourself for at least the possibility that sometime over the course of your life, your family members may discover that your boyfriend or some of your friends smoke weed and you don’t consider it a moral failing. If they freak out, you can deal with their concerns and have a conversation with them, but you don’t have to make yourself primarily responsible for calming them down.
Q. Morning basketball: I work from home on my schedule, so I shot hoops probably two to three times a week around 8 or 9 a.m. Sometimes middle school and high school students ask to play with me. At first I assumed they had time off for a holiday or early voting or something. But I am wondering if they’re playing hooky now. Should I ask them and say no if they’re skipping school? Or is it not my place?
A: Enjoy your basketball games and don’t worry about it! They may have block schedules that mean school starts later a few days a week, or first-period homeroom, or they may sometimes cut class to play basketball. I don’t think you’ve seen any sign of neglect or abuse that would make intervention necessary, and there’s a limit to how useful a basketball-playing near-stranger can be to a kids’ relationship to truancy.
Q. To kink or not to kink: I’m a 32-year-old gay man engaged to an absolutely wonderful guy. We’ve been together for a little over three years, and I truly can’t wait to call him my husband. We are very sexually compatible except when it comes to kink play. My interests trend to the kinkier side of the spectrum, while my fiancé is much more “traditional” in bed. My fiancé has experimented with some things that I’ve brought up, and he truly has been a good sport. But it’s obvious it’s not really for him, and that comes across during these sessions. He does his best, but at the end of the day, he’s just not into it, and it shows. When I realize he’s just being a good sport, it makes me a bit embarrassed and makes the kink play awkward. As our sex life is otherwise great, I have essentially dropped the topic of incorporating any kink activities.
A group of friends have invited me to the Folsom Street Fair next year. I have never been and would really love to go. The issue is that I don’t want to go with my fiancé. If he were into this stuff, I would love for him to go and have this new experience with me. But knowing it’s just not his thing, I feel as if I would constantly be worrying about him having fun and feeling too weird. And that would ruin the experience for me. I know when I mention this invitation to him, he will want to go because I want to go. I even imagine he’ll say he wants to experience these new things too, but based on his past experiences, I know he won’t like it. How do I talk to him about the fact that I would prefer to have this experience without him? Is that even a good idea, or am I being selfish and prioritizing my desires over his feelings? For what it’s worth, there will not be any hookups on this trip, and I’ve traveled with this group on other “traditional” road trips, so my fiancé won’t think I will cheat on him.
A: I think it’s time to talk to your fiancé about what his being a “good sport” feels like for you. Obviously you don’t want him to just put on a mask and power through something he actively dislikes, but if his good-faith effort to participate in your kink still makes it really obvious he’s totally turned off, then the most loving and supportive thing either of you can do is to say that, at the very least, it’s time for him to take a long, restorative break from participating. That’s separate from the conversation about Folsom, I think, but it’s both possible that he’s trying his best/not rolling his eyes/engaging in this play and that you feel alienated and embarrassed by his halfheartededness. Just because this doesn’t work anymore doesn’t necessarily mean either you or he is doing something wrong. But it’s important, I think, to say “I’m not asking you to try harder or learn to like this. I want to stop doing this together, because it’s difficult and painful for me.”
Since it’s still a year off, you don’t have to rush into having the Folsom conversation with your fiancé right away, although you certainly can start establishing ground rules about how/when/if you might want to engage with your kink without him. Mostly, though, I hope you know that it’s not selfish to want to stop playing together because you’re not feeling it. Don’t force yourself to push through lackluster and alienating kink encounters just because you think you ought to be grateful for your fiancé’s efforts.
Q. Re: Family vacation: Having guests of your housemate stay for a week is really a bridge too far. When I had housemates, no one could have guests for more than two nights, and that included partners, hookups, etc. Forget about the weed paraphernalia—anything more than two nights is unreasonable.
A: My personal limit would probably be closer to three or four nights, but I agree that having multiple family members stay with you and your housemates for a full week is a lot to ask, weed disagreements aside (and I’m guessing the letter writer’s house doesn’t have three spare bedrooms). Presumably the letter writer’s family would also understand if she said, “I’d love to go skiing with you, but space is limited and with our housemate we can only comfortably put people up for a weekend. If you can find a hotel room nearby for the rest of the trip, we’d love to host you for the first two nights.”
Q. Thick as a brick: I want to marry my boyfriend, but there is one issue that always holds me back. To put it bluntly, he is, well, slow. I don’t mean to sound condescending (I’m not exactly a rocket scientist either), but that is what he is. He has zero general knowledge. He thinks hamsters lay eggs, and Greece is a continent, and Beijing is a country in Greece. If I encourage him to read a book, he boasts that he’s never read a whole book in his life. He doesn’t know a lot of words that most high school graduates know. For instance, I was watching the news and remarked, “That politician always contradicts himself.” He asked me what “contradict” means. This happens several times a week, even with my average vocabulary. Although he was born here, his mom is from Chile, so at first I thought it was because Spanish is his dominant language. It turns out he doesn’t even speak Spanish, even though all of his siblings speak at a basic conversational level. He managed to graduate college without any special help, so I don’t think he has any kind of cognitive disabilities. Would this impact our marriage negatively? Read what Prudie had to say.
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