Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Morning, all! Happy New Year—let’s chat.
Q. Long-distance love in limbo: I’m a 30 year-old woman who returned from a stint abroad last year. I lived in a remote town in a developing country and there I met a local man and fell in love. We dated and lived together for almost two years while I was in his country. I didn’t tell anyone in my immediate family about the relationship because I know they wouldn’t have approved. This man asked me to marry him about a month before I left the country and I never gave him an answer. Since I’ve been back we talk every day and I’ve visited him once. We discussed at length him coming to live with me in my country, but I can’t bring myself to do the visa paperwork, which would require us getting married. He has been saving money with the intention of coming here, but it’s not a large sum given the salary where he is from. The biggest obstacle I have in moving the relationship forward is fear of putting myself in a bad situation. He is 40 years old, only finished the ninth grade, and doesn’t speak the primary language where I live. I’m not sure he could get a job and I’m not ready to support him for the time it would take for him to pick up the language and find something in my country. I have never met anyone as loving and genuine as him, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. Should I take a huge leap of faith or end the relationship?
A: I’m a little more worried about this guy putting himself in a bad position. He’s saving up money to take a huge risk, but you’re not sure you’re actually willing to fill out the visa paperwork, haven’t told your family about him, and have offered him total radio silence on his proposal—not even “I’m not sure what my answer is. I need some time to think about it.” If you are not prepared to support him for a move that seems pretty likely to result in at least medium-term unemployment, have no intention of telling your family that you two are even dating, and aren’t able to have a conversation with him about your concerns about getting married, I think the kindest thing to do at this point is let him know you’re not prepared to commit to him, and go your separate ways.
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Q. My MIL is getting remarried on my wedding anniversary: My mother-in-law is planning her second wedding to her boyfriend. The wedding date she has told her children is my wedding anniversary to her son, which falls on a Wednesday. Yes, she and her now-fiancé both attended our wedding a few years ago. I’ve spent a month trying to rationalize why she wouldn’t ask or mention that the date is in fact also my anniversary. I’ve asked my husband to bring it up with her and he’s skittish. He thinks it’s weird but not as egregious as other selfish things she has done. He also thinks that if he tells her, she wouldn’t move it. At this point, I want to send her an email that says, If you get married on my wedding anniversary, I will never speak to you again. Which isn’t helpful. Am I blowing this out of proportion? Is there a tactful way to ask someone to move their wedding date? Or should I just keep my mouth shut?
A: I think threatening never to speak to someone again merely because they would share your wedding anniversary is worse than “unhelpful,” and you are very much in danger of blowing things out of proportion. If she were planning on getting married on your wedding day, then sure, I’d agree you had grounds to ask her to move it or consider it an act of aggression. But this strikes me as, at worst, lazily self-centered. This will not stop you from celebrating your own wedding anniversary in the future, and it means this year you and your husband will have to go out to dinner or exchange gifts the Friday two days after the actual date. My guess is that you’ve let bigger issues go in the past because of your husband’s skittishness, and it’s more important to have serious conversations with him about how you two will need to set better boundaries (even if they’re cheerful and/or unspoken—not all boundaries have to be enforced with confrontation) in the future rather than lose your composure over this. Don’t ask her to reschedule her wedding, plan a celebration of your own for a few days after or before, and pick better battles.
Q. I have to come out again? I’m polyamorous with one partner. The two of us have been together for two years. My girlfriend, “Amy,” now has a girlfriend (yay!), “Laura”, and she’s open about being poly to her family and friends. I’m, however, not out as poly to any of my friends or relatives. Amy and Laura have attended events that my friends and relatives have been present at. It feels wrong to continue calling Laura my girlfriend’s “friend.” And as I continue to date and see people, chances are good that I may soon have a new partner of my own to add to the mix. I’ve already come out two times in the past 10 years—once as bisexual, then as a trans man. I’m (maybe more than) slightly hesitant about coming out again, especially since I received a mixed reaction to coming out my first two times (including not being on speaking terms for a couple years with my mother). Yet since Amy is open and I don’t want her to hide her relationship with Laura, I feel it’s time to begin having that conversation. Where do we even begin with this?
A: Begin, I suppose, by having the conversation with Amy first. Does she even want you to come out to your family at present? Is she interested in bringing Laura to events with your family, or is she perfectly content having that relationship slightly siloed off? Do you two have mutual friends you think might be easier to come out to before you start asking whether you’re ready to talk to your parents? All you and Laura (and possibly Amy) have to do right now is talk amongst yourselves about what’s most important to you, what compromises you’re willing to make, and what timelines seem reasonable. You can talk about your fears, which are perfectly understandable, and decide how much importance you want to assign to them; having also had to come out more than once, I understand it can feel cumulatively exhausting, especially when you get a sense from your family that they’re sick of hearing updates that increasingly move you out of the “normal” category. (There are a number of ways to say “Oh, OK, thanks for letting us know” that indirectly communicate: “There’s something else to announce again? Jesus.”)
The one upside to having come out already before is that you know that you can survive “mixed” reactions and even years of estrangement. That doesn’t necessarily make coming-out conversations easier, but you know, at least, that you’ve done it before and can do it again.
Q. I need a white lie: For a variety of reasons, I’m not especially close to my spouse. He managed to wear out our marriage some years ago, and that’s led to us developing our own friend groups associated with our own interests. We are not mad at each other, but we do have a purely financial relationship and it’s not the end of the world for us.
My issue is that my interests are generally the province of guys, and many of them are genuinely interested in knowing more about my spouse due to his apparent tolerance of me “running around unsupervised.” I guess they can’t imagine a guy whose wife is independent, but whatever. I generally mention his business success and interests in other things, but I so far have not come up with a good way to say that my spouse does not share my interests and is not ever going to, and that frankly I like it that way, so please don’t bring him up again. How can I handle this? I don’t want to paint my spouse poorly, but the truth is that I really don’t want to talk about him and I certainly don’t want to deal with whatever judgment would come of telling the whole truth.
A: “I didn’t know I needed a permission slip from my husband to watch the game together! We’re doing fine, thanks.”
Q. My parents want me to “choose a team”: I am bi and I just came out to my parents. They have always been supportive of my relationships, and of gay and lesbian relationships in general, but they cannot accept the fact that I am bi. They say I will “always be lonely” and that “being bi opens the door to sneak out of a long-term relationship.” They have expressed the fact that they thought I was a lesbian and they were OK with that, but when I said I did not care if it was a “Mr. Right” or a “Ms. Right,” they freaked out on me. I am not sure what I should do. I have never seen them this upset before. I am trying to understand why they cannot accept me for who I am and why they want me to pick and date either girls or boys but not both. I have tried searching the internet for the answer but have come up empty. Please help. I am not sure what to say to them. All the coming-out articles have not prepared me for this odd situation.
A: Perhaps it might seem freeing to release yourself from the burden of trying to make sure your parents understand bisexuality? That’s not to say you should resign yourself to field presumptuous, outlandish questions for the rest of your life, or permit them to treat you disrespectfully. But bisexuality really isn’t that complicated a concept to understand, and they’re adults with resources. If your parents really want to wrap their heads around bisexuality, I have complete faith in their ability to learn. The problem is if what they really want is to constantly demean and dismiss your sexuality in the hopes that they can persuade you out of it, under the guise of “Gee, I just don’t understand” for the rest of your life. That’s worth nipping in the bud! “What a ridiculous thing to say” is an excellent response to “being bi opens the door to sneak out of a long-term relationship.” Relieve yourself of the burden of thinking it’s your job to explain bisexuality so clearly and persuasively that your parents stop being biphobic. They are being biphobic on purpose and because they want to, because they think it will shame you into, at the very least, never talking about your bisexuality again. Let them know you are not seeking input or advice about your sexual orientation and encourage them to abide by the old rule of “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Q. Vegan wine/beer dilemma: I have vegan friends who have had us over to their house for dinner before. We are in the process of setting a date to have them over to our house for dinner. We will serve a vegan meal; the only issue is the wine and beer. I recently learned at a wine tasting that most wine and beer is not vegan because it uses “fish flakes” or eggs as a clarification agent. I consider myself fairly informed about beer and wine and did not know this. I have seen these friends consume “regular” or “nonvegan” wine and beer previously. I have no idea if they just don’t know or if they are making an informed choice to consume such nonvegan products. The question: Do I just buy “regular” beer or wine, buy “vegan” beer or wine, both, or ask them if they have a preference? I would normally just ask but I don’t want to imply that they are not knowledgeable vegans.
A: “Do you have strong feelings about specifically vegan wine and beer?” is fine. I don’t think it implies they’re non-knowledgeable vegans (nor do I think it’s necessarily the height of rudeness to imply someone doesn’t already know everything about veganism). They may not have strong feelings, in which case you can proceed as you normally would. If they do, you can ask the clerk at your local liquor store or wine shop if they have any vegan-labeled products. It’s more and more common to see vegan wines sold at big-box stores and restaurants, so I don’t think you’ll have to search too far in order to find some.
Q. Fatphobia and weight loss surgery: I’m 22 and having weight loss surgery soon. I have always been fat, and experienced all the societal stigma and subsequent eating disorders that entails. I also try to be fat-positive and body-positive—when a preschooler tells me I have a big butt, I say: “Yep! Some people do.” I have delayed surgery before to get my mental health in order. When family and co-workers and friends inevitably comment on my weight loss, how do I politely tell them that my body is worth exactly the same thinner as it is fatter, and that I do not want my size mentioned in any capacity?
A: “Thanks [or Sorry, or Actually], I don’t want to talk about my body.” There are a great many people who believe that any change in someone’s appearance is an open invitation to discuss said changes. These people are wrong.
Q. Re: Long-distance love in limbo: I’d say end the relationship. While your relationship with him may have been nice, it seems like it was very context-specific for how it worked: while you were living in his country and area. Now that you’re back in your home country, you’ve very clearly identified a number of factors that would stack the deck against your relationship should he come to you (his general lack of education, not speaking the dominant language of where you live, etc.). These things will most likely put a lot of stress on your relationship and would likely lead to it ending given enough time. I’d like to say, “Take a shot and see how it works out,” but that doesn’t seem realistic.
And even apart from that, you had a solid month before you left to explore a future with him after his proposal and you never gave him an answer. I think that in itself is an answer: In your heart of hearts you ultimately see this as a fling that lasted while you were in his country, and now that you’re out of it, it’s run its course. That’s not a bad thing, it happens with a lot of relationships, but I do think you owe it to both him and yourself to be honest about that and not prolong the inevitable.
A: I think this is sensible and extremely generous toward the letter writer. It seems like as long as the relationship was isolated from her “real life” and on her terms, she was willing to act as if she thought long-term commitment was a real option, but I’m not sure she had any intention of continuing this relationship once she returned home. (It sounds like she was perfectly aware of all the dynamics that are now giving her pause back when she was still living in her boyfriend’s country but decided not to discuss them.) I hope the letter writer can be scrupulously honest with herself about her motives here and resolve to act differently in the future.
Q. Re: Vegan beer/wine dilemma: Just to clarify (this will turn out to be an unintentional pun), nonvegan beer or wine may use an ingredient called isinglass, which is a gelatin made from the swim bladders of certain species of fish (so fascinating!) to help clarify the beer or wine by causing yeast particles to drop out of the suspension. A quick Google search can help identify which beers and wines are suitable for vegans. (Many beers and wines use other plant-based ingredients for this same purpose, or use centrifuges to drop out yeast.)
A: Thanks for this! There are, I believe, a number of brands that are accidentally vegan or vegan without necessarily being advertised as such. There’s a partial list available here, although I of course encourage the letter writer to do their own research and double-check any claims if they’re really concerned about verifying that something’s totally free of animal products.
Q. The lie on my resume has been discovered: I’m in my mid-40s and have a relatively successful career. For more than 20 years I’ve exaggerated on my résumé, in particular regarding my education. I got comfortable with the lie and no one ever questioned my “degree.” A few months ago a recruiter from a prestigious company reached out to me about a position in his organization. I had multiple interviews and was getting great feedback. Then, they went quiet. I contacted everyone I spoke with and received no response. I was stunned since everyone had been so responsive when I was there. A few days ago I received an email from one of the people who interviewed me. It was just a link to an article about the importance of checking a candidate’s references. I had a scalding moment of humiliation and understood the silence. That stupid lie about my education got me. I immediately removed the lie from my résumé. Here’s my problem: My professional network is comprised of people who are connected to the organization I interviewed at. I’m terrified that this lie is going to follow me to my current position. Should I go to my employer and confess my false education history? I can’t afford to lose my job, yet I know if my company finds out on their own, that’s what will happen. I’m so ashamed and want to learn from this mistake. Read what Prudie had to say.