Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Hey, everybody! Let’s chat.
Q. I’m the one with Irish ancestry: My husband recently told me his brothers want to go on a trip with him and his dad. I said, “Great,” thinking this is a nice bonding experience for everyone and good for his dad since his mother can’t travel due to health issues. Later, I asked if there had been any thought about where the trip might be. I felt like I had been punched in the gut to hear “Ireland.” My husband’s family is not Irish, while most of my ancestry is Irish. I have never been to Europe, much less Ireland. I cried for so many reasons: I’m jealous that he might go, hurt that he would go to a place that is meaningless to him but so important to me, frustrated that I’ve done so little in my life—I’m 36 and had kids young at 21. I don’t regret having kids young, but I thought my husband and I would be going on adventures later in life together. I also don’t want to be the only wife putting down this trip (both brothers are married) because if it wasn’t Ireland, I really wouldn’t care in the same way. I asked my husband if he could suggest another location or why it has to be Ireland, and he told me to text his brothers. I told him I’m scared to, and even though we’ve been married over 10 years, I don’t know them very well. But now I feel hurt that my husband isn’t standing up for my feelings and, worse, that maybe he just doesn’t care to.
He has said he isn’t sure if he’s going because of work and money, but that bothers me too, for some reason. I really wish I didn’t care, but I find myself truly upset over this. Should I reach out to his brothers myself?
A: Please don’t ask your brothers-in-law to cancel their vacation just because they’re visiting a country you’d like to go to first. That’s a completely inappropriate request, and you have no grounds upon which to make such a demand. All it would do is alienate you from that side of the family. I’m truly sorry that you feel frustrated about the state of your life, and I hope you give yourself time to really sift through your feelings about this, to think about what you’d like to do for yourself in the future now that your kids are getting older and closer to leaving the house. It also may be that you want to be able to plan a similar trip with your husband, and you have every right to talk to him about your own desire for travel and adventure, and to ask him to join you in saving up for something.
But you can’t ask your in-laws to avoid Ireland just because you yourself haven’t been yet. There are other ways to address your feelings besides saying “You can’t visit Dublin until I do.” And I hope you realize that, while you may very well feel a special, personal connection to Ireland because of your ancestry, it doesn’t therefore entitle you to something that visitors of non-Irish descent shouldn’t have.
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Q. Spending on my face: I am happily married to my husband I met over a decade ago, but I am very unhappy with my face, specifically the deep acne scars I have had since high school. A lot of mental energy, time, and money over the years has gone to things like heavy-duty makeup and fancy skin care. It would be a dream for me to feel confident enough to go outside without foundation on. I’ve done the research, and now I know that for my level of scarring, I need dermatologist levels of lasers or microneedling to make a real difference. This would cost probably around $2,000. My husband and I share a bank account, and I am a teacher, and his salary is more than double mine. We regularly budget for high-ticket items like vacations but would not clear it with each other to spend, say, $300 on something. We are somewhat at an impasse over the several thousand on my face. He is wildly attracted to me so truly doesn’t understand the purpose. I think he doesn’t understand how much my face bothers me, like wincing every time I look in a mirror. I think women complaining about their bodies is one of the worst things to listen to, and therefore nobody has heard me complain about how much I dislike mine. If we had separate spending accounts, I would not hesitate to just save up on my own. But 99 percent of the time I think open conversations and trust in each other to share money works really well for us. He hasn’t quite “vetoed“ spending this money, but we’ve always operated on two enthusiastic yeses to spend this much on anything. Where do we go from here?
A: As someone who’s spent (out of pocket—insurance didn’t cover it) a few thousand dollars to surgically reconstruct my chest where at least 70 percent of my motivation was “to look hot with my shirt off,” I’m pretty solidly in your corner. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think you have to dismiss your own frustrations with self-deprecating remarks like “women complaining about their bodies is the worst,” as if that happens in a social vacuum, or that having strong feelings about your skin means you’re a shallow zombie. I think striking a balance here is definitely possible! I’d start with this: “Getting my skin professionally lasered would make a huge difference for me, both in terms of the amount of time I’d spend thinking about my appearance and the amount of time I’d spend getting ready in the morning. This is something that I’ve struggled with since high school, and the idea of not having it at the forefront of my mind every day is thrilling. I get that you don’t have strong feelings either way, so I don’t want you to feel like we have to go 50-50 on this. But I’m going to start budgeting for it, and it would mean a lot if you would be open to contributing something. What do you think?” (If he comes back at you with “I’m attracted to you, and I think you look great,” you can take him at his word and tell him you genuinely appreciate the compliment, but that you weren’t contemplating getting this work done for him.)
If even after you two have a conversation, he says, “If it makes you happy, that’s fine with me, but I don’t want to contribute,” you don’t necessarily have to set up a whole separate checking account for a one-time $2,000 payment, so long as you keep track somehow of the money you’re saving. But regardless of how involved he wants to be, you can make this happen. Good luck!
Q. Ghost of friendship gone: From the first grade until my late 20s, I had a best friend, let’s call her “D.” We were inseparable. When I was 29, I ended up in an abusive relationship and had my birth control sabotaged. I ended up pregnant. I got an abortion. Long story short, she demonized me over the abortion (this was someone who had never been religious or anti-choice until she knew someone in the situation), and we had a massive falling-out. It was easily the worst time of my life. She and I stopped speaking years ago.
Well, I got an email over the weekend from D. She has reached out saying she is pregnant for the fifth time. She had told her husband (didn’t even know she got married) she didn’t want any more kids after the third, but he doesn’t seem to care what she wants. She wants an abortion and said she’s reaching out because I’m the only person she knows who’s had one and she needs help sorting out what to do.
My knee-jerk reaction is to tell her to fuck off. Surely she remembers calling me pretending to be the voice of the fetus telling me I was a murderer? Or that she abandoned me at the lowest point in my life and our entire friendship over this exact thing? I’m half-tempted to send a screenshot of the email to her husband through Facebook. Please talk me down from doing the wrong thing here. I can’t help her, but I don’t want to let this white-hot rage make me do the wrong thing either.
A: If you’re feeling even slightly tempted to send a screenshot of this email to her husband, please delete it immediately and block her email address—be sure to permanently empty your trash folder too, so you can’t ever access it again. What she did to you was awful, but her husband sounds controlling and sufficiently abusive that her life might be in danger if he learned she was contemplating an abortion. Since you’re feeling so volatile about her, I don’t recommend replying or giving her any advice; it’s too risky, and if she’s at all rude or brusque to you in subsequent conversations (which I think might be likely—she sounds like a woman in a lot of pain who doesn’t know how to keep from lashing out and hurting others), I’m worried you’ll snap and tell her husband anyway. You have every right to avoid someone who treated you with such cruelty, and there are other people besides you who know how to get an abortion—you are not the only source of information on that front. Delete the email, block her, and look after yourself.
Q. About to hit puberty: My second oldest child, “Sam,” just turned 9 about a month ago. Sam was born biologically male but started identifying as “half boy/half girl” from an early age. My wife and I have been hands-off in terms of forcing Sam to make any decision about labels, thinking when puberty starts it will be a good time to start that conversation.
His (we still use that pronoun until he wants us to use something else) older brother is at an age where he’s starting to go through the typical chemical and physical changes of puberty. The other day, his older brother told us that Sam said he was worried about his body changing because he didn’t want body hair. He was certain that girls don’t get body hair and presumed (we think) that growing body hair would force him into a gender presentation that didn’t fit with how he sees himself. You can probably understand our conundrum. While we are happy to start addressing these things now, we’re kind of unsure how to handle breaking the news to Sam that even girls get hair on their bodies, and what to do about it. Aside from the practical stuff, I have a feeling there’s something much deeper going on that Sam is not really able to put into words. How do we start that conversation?
A: I think the conversation that’s called for right now is actually very practical and straightforward, and one you should have with every 9-year-old child, regardless of identity—namely, what puberty generally entails, what kind of body hair tends to develop, what various choices people make about removing/styling their body hair, etc. I think Sam is putting these concerns into words, and you should start this conversation tomorrow by just saying that it’s time to talk about puberty, and that you’re also available to answer any follow-up questions and dispel any myths Sam may have picked up at school. There’s no special way to say “Pretty much everyone starts to grow body hair” that you need to worry about for Sam. Just talk to your kid about body hair! Starts to grow in around puberty; some people have more than others; boys as a group tend to grow more hair than girls, but that’s not always true; you can shave it or pluck it or laser it or let it alone … this is a really basic discussion about the mechanics of puberty. If you’re really worried, you can rope in your pediatrician to double-check your facts, but I think you’re qualified to talk about body hair for half an hour or so.
Q. Should I hyphenate? I’m a woman in my early 30s, and I have an unresolved problem with my fiancé. He wants me to change my last name when we get married. I don’t want to. I decided at a fairly early age that the insistence that women change their last names to their husbands’ is sexist. I also genuinely love my Italian last name. It’s indicative of my heritage, and it has a cool meaning in Italian; plus, it’s a fairly unique name in the flyover state I live in. When I told my fiancé all this, his response was “I’m asking you to hyphenate, at least.” I pointed out that no one is asking him to hyphenate, and he said he might do that. I appreciate that, but isn’t it enough that I’m marrying him? Am I being unreasonable? Please advise.
A: Wait, he wants you to go by Maidenname-Husbandname and he only might go by Maidenname-Husbandname? That’s a pretty weird compromise; in this scenario, you two might not even share a last name. What’s the “at least” doing in his request, I wonder: “Hey, will you at least pick a last name that … doesn’t match mine?” If you don’t hyphenate, you two will have different last names; if you do hyphenate, you two will … probably still have different last names. So I think it makes more sense not to hyphenate and keep things simple. The fact that he says he only “might” join you in hyphenating suggests to me that he doesn’t take that option very seriously. If it is very important to him that you two share a last name, he can take your cool, unique, Italian one as his own.
Q. Am I jaded, or is my husband naïve? My husband is in a skilled trade. He started a side business before we met. When we were just friends, I offered to collect $1,500 he was owed because he was working full time and I am not worried about offending people. The payment got collected. Fast forward six years, we’re married, and I started to help with the side business. There’s a blatant pattern of having to go after last payments even though there are written contracts with pay due dates.
It’s gotten to the point where I question what little faith I had in humanity, and he as a person of faith chalks it up to “That is just how the industry is.” I’m at a loss on how to support his business and not get so attached, but when it’s becoming normal to expect to get screwed out of $2,000 and just “whatever,” it’s taking a toll. We both grew up in poverty, and while I’m not worried about having to go through hard times, I don’t think we should endure them because he doesn’t want to ruin a “business relationship with an old friend.” I go back to “I believe your business is only as good as your ethics,” but it’s the “friend” label that worries me. Am I jaded, or is he naïve?
A: I know that, for example, freelance writers often have to deal with chasing down late payments, but even so it’s not industry standard to just assume you’re going to lose $2,000 payments. I’m struggling to think of a single field, skilled trade or otherwise, where that’s considered standard operating procedure. This is such a strange nonresponse that I’m almost curious if your husband has an unacknowledged thing for findom and might find relief in turning “losing” money into a sex game between the two of you. But assuming it’s not a sex thing, yes, your husband is behaving not just in a naïve manner (after all, he’s hardly new to the industry) but irresponsibly.
It could very well be connected to his growing-up years, when a fatalistic attitude toward money might have protected him from disappointment, when so much about money would have been outside his control as a poor child. But that attitude is less helpful to him now, and it’s worth challenging and overcoming. (I agree with you, for what it’s worth, that if his friends regularly and unceremoniously ignore multithousand-dollar professional bills, they’re not very good friends.) I hope he’s willing to have a conversation with you about where all this is coming from and how he might develop an even-only-slightly more serious response to late payments without necessarily dedicating every waking hour to tracking down his money. But if he’s totally closed off and you decide you need to back off from hearing about or helping with his side business, I think that would be fine too.
Q. Re: Spending on my face: It doesn’t sound like the letter writer has actually seen a dermatologist yet, and I’d encourage her to do that to get a realistic idea of what her options/costs actually are before having this talk with her spouse.
A: That is a great point and one I should have included at the top of my answer! Someone else wrote in to say that they sought out laser surgery and only learned after a professional consultation that the more expensive/aggressive procedures they thought they’d need were not, in fact, the best option for them. You may in fact end up needing less (or more) money to spend, although another reader wrote to say, “How much do you think you’ve had to spend on extra daily foundation over the last 20 years? It may seem more shocking as a one-time expense, but you’re already spending money on your face.”
Q. Re: Spending on my face: Get it done! I had deep chickenpox scars on my forehead from childhood until after college. I expended so much emotional energy worrying about them, but after the procedure (mine took actual surgery, as they were so deep) I never had to think about it again. It was very freeing! My husband was with me before and after and I don’t think ever really noticed them, but it was a huge emotional burden for me. Save up if you have to, but my guess is your husband doesn’t really understand the emotional/mental load it is for you. Good luck—I am sure you look great either way!
A: I think the key here will be trying to find a line between “How do I explain my internal experience to my husband so he has a sense of how emotionally significant this is to me?” and “How can I make sure my husband feels the same way about it as I do?” It’s fine, I think, if you simply do your best to walk him through how much it affects you on a regular basis and then ask him to trust/respect that you’re going to make a thoughtful, informed decision about your own face. He doesn’t have to perfectly understand your experience in order to treat you with empathy and respect, so don’t go overboard trying to make sure he understands every single detail of the situation.
Q. Update—Re: Engagement news: I just wanted to write back and let you know how things went after you answered my question a few months ago. I did end up doing things in perhaps the most explosive fashion. I avoided going to see my family for Christmas by just dodging all of my mom’s questions about it for months, which I sort of regret. Then on Christmas Eve she called me, sincerely and curiously asking what I’d be doing on Christmas Day. I told her I’d be spending it with my fiancée at home because the last two Christmases had been so difficult, and that’s why I hadn’t wanted to come home. I think Mom was a little hurt by it—which I absolutely understand. I think I could have been better about this, but she didn’t really say much about that to me. She just asked a few questions about my fiancée, and then we had a polite, pleasant conversation about other things and moved on.
Mostly, I wanted to write back to thank you for your advice. I know I didn’t really follow it that well, but it did mean a lot to have someone validate my desire to not go home for Christmas, and I thought often in the months leading up to Christmas about how I should just rip the “I’m engaged” band-aid off. I’ve been in therapy for about a month now, and we’re having a lot of conversations about my relationship to my family.
A: Thank you so much for the update. I’m really glad to hear that you were able to have a quiet holiday with your partner, and while I know it must have been difficult to feel like you were hurting your mother, it also sounds like she was able to muster up the grace to let you do so with minimal hassle. Maybe you two will be able to have a more detailed conversation about it after you’ve been in therapy for a few months, when Christmas is far away and not a looming pressure. But even if you don’t, you got what you wanted, and you were able to verbalize what has been bothering you about your family. I think that’s a win.
Q. My boyfriend wants to have sex whenever I go number two: My boyfriend and I have been together for over two years. Around 10 months ago we moved in together. Things have been pretty normal except one thing. Let me tell you first, that I grew up in a house where we did not speak of bathroom behavior. As a result, I am quite uncomfortable talking about going number two. I am as secretive as I can be when I have to do my duty. Now that “Ron” and I are living together, I have to divulge certain information on a need to know basis. More specifically, if I have diarrhea. These times I have had to explain, “You may not want to go in there for a while.” The weird thing is, 15 minutes or so after telling him such, Ron initiates sex. I find it gross and confusing. He knows how uncomfortable I feel as it is. This has happened four times so far. He denies a pattern or that it’s unusual. Am I the one being weird about this? Read what Prudie had to say.
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