Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Dad’s friend peed in my bathtub: I live with my aging and ailing father. He recently invited his old college roommate to visit and discuss doing some renovations on our home (his friend is a contractor). I found him to be a pleasant enough man, but grew concerned after a couple of days over a strange—and disgusting—habit I noticed.
My father’s friend seems to have been using the bathtub in the shared bathroom as a urinal to relieve himself at night. I started to suspect as much when I would think I would hear him getting up in the middle of the night and not hear the toilet flush. I was absolutely certain when I would find urine splashes in the bottom of the tub in the morning.
I spoke to his friend and asked him to please stop doing this, that there was absolutely no reason to. I then had to leave for the weekend for a work trip. I came back after he had left, and discovered not only had he continued, but that there was evidence that he was using it as more than just a urinal. I was HORRIFIED. After using a ton of bleach and power tools outfitted with scrub brushes, I have told my father his friends are not welcome until they are housebroken. He does not see the big deal. How can I get him to see my side of this?
A: The good news is you don’t really need to get him to see your side as long as you’re able to enforce the no-houseguests-who-have-shit-in-our-tub policy, and I think you can take even begrudging, eye-rolling agreement as a win. Don’t let that guy back in your house.
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Q. Sexually aggressive friend: One of my husband’s closest friends has a history of behaving inappropriately with women. We’re talking aggressive, sexualized dancing in party situations, not groping or assaulting. He’s an alcoholic and has a history of abuse. I feel bad for him, and he has been an important support for my husband over a long friendship. But here’s the thing: He did it to me too, in front of my husband, who didn’t intervene until after it had been going on for a couple of minutes, which felt like an eternity to me. My husband knows I am a sexual assault survivor, and what his friend did caused me to freeze and have a panic attack. I’ve been working through it in therapy and am feeling much better.
I’ve said I will never be in the same room as this guy again. I wish my husband would just get rid of him entirely—but he reminds me that this guy had a tough life and says he didn’t mean anything by it, it’s just something he does, and that some women respond positively to it and end up going home with him. Then he says that he’s loyal to this guy, he’s not a predator, and there is so much more to him than this. It honestly drives me crazy that he still sees this guy. I’m not in danger, but it feels like a slap in the face every time. I’m not prepared to make this a marriage-ending issue, as my husband is a wonderful guy and I love all his other friends. Is it too much to insist that he just has to drop this one person, whatever the history is?
A: It’s not too much to insist, but I hope you can find the support you need elsewhere if you do make that request and your husband declines to drop him, as I fear will be the case. I know you say you don’t want to end your marriage over this, but your husband watched this man grind on you for minutes—knowing about your own history with sexual assault—and not only did nothing, but dismissed your fear and distress with “Well, sometimes other women like it.” That’s absolutely horrifying and says a lot about your husband’s character. If another man were to put you in even more danger in front of him, what would his response be? “This guy probably doesn’t mean anything by it”? What does that phrase even mean? Is he trying to suggest that his friend accidentally wrapped himself around you? Of course he meant to do it. You say that you’re not in danger, but I do believe you’re with a man who’s made it really clear that he doesn’t care about your autonomy, physical boundaries, or safety, and who is more loyal to his buddies than he is to you—that’s closer to danger than I want you to be. I’m glad you’ll never be in a room with that guy again, but if he’s one of your husband’s closest friends, and this has been going on for years, I think the two of them have too much in common.
Q. Some people suck at arguing: Whenever my husband and I argue, I feel extreme frustration. He’s unfair if we’re having a heated discussion, and it makes it impossible to resolve anything. For example, today we were discussing his relationship with his office manager, which I think is inappropriate. I’m not saying they’re having a physical affair, but I find the way they talk to be inappropriately intimate (I overheard him talking to her this weekend, and he was talking about an acquaintance they both know, and my husband told her, “You know he likes to f*ck women hard!”). At any rate, when I talked to my husband about my concerns, he retorted, “Well, I got up this morning, went grocery shopping, and stopped to get fresh bagels on the way home! Many women would love such a husband!” I didn’t know how to respond because a) we weren’t discussing his contribution as a shopper, and b) it implies he’s always keeping score of the “nice” things he does as a husband. When I tried to steer the conversation back to the issue we were discussing, he responded by saying, “You’re making me crazy! Stop beating me up! My stomach hurts, and my eye is starting to twitch … ” It makes it pointless to bring up any issue because he will start to list the things he does that are nice and then moan about the stress I am causing him. I have no idea how to resolve anything with him when his response rarely has anything to do with the issue I’m talking about. His relationship with his office manager makes me uncomfortable, and he refuses to address it in a direct and honest way.
Last week I sent his office manager a friendly email that I thought she’d find funny, and I laughingly said to my husband, “She must wonder why I’m sending her messages!” and my husband replied, “No, she knows you’re lonely and sad.” I was upset that he described me to his office manager in such an unflattering (and untrue) way and that he has such a close relationship with her. There are other instances that make me wonder about their relationship, but the main point of my letter is … how do I get him to address my concerns without referencing his past good deeds and then claiming stomachaches? I have no idea how to get to the bottom of the issue at hand. He says things like “Women are crazy … don’t you get crazy, please please please!” and it makes me feel like just talking to him about my concerns is off-limits, or he questions my mental health. He has had affairs with his office managers in the past, he has cheated on his past wife, and numerous things about his relationship with his current office manager make me uncomfortable—why can I not discuss this with him? He has a short fuse and seems to think that because he’s overall a good husband (employed, helps grocery-shop and cook, etc.), he is exempt from criticism. Please suggest a helpful way to communicate! I am frustrated and tired of each argument turning into being about something completely different than the issue I have.
A: I really don’t want this column to always be the “leave your husband” hour. Often I think there are options besides leaving one’s husband, and whenever I think a marriage has potential, even if I personally wouldn’t want to be in it, I want to try to steer my letter writer in a useful direction. But please leave your husband. Why are you asking me for “helpful ways to communicate” with a guy who regularly cheats on you with his office managers, believes himself to be exempt from criticism because he helps make the food you both need to eat in order to survive, calls all women crazy, interrupts you when you’re trying to talk about your feelings because he picked up some bagels yesterday, refuses to be honest with you, says you’re “beating him up” when you ask him not to sexually harass his employees, calls you “lonely and sad,” and refuses to acknowledge you as a sane, reasonable person with real emotional needs?
I don’t say this to make you feel worse about yourself—I think your husband has been trying to whittle down your self-esteem and self-respect for years so he can get away with bulldozing you. But there are no “helpful tips” that will make healthy communication possible between the two of you. Your husband doesn’t like you, love you, or respect you, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to live with him for this long. You deserve better. He’s not going to change. There’s a reason “every argument” ends this way, and that’s because your husband wants them all to end this way.
Q. My neighbor is a nut who won’t let my kid play: Our son is 3 years old, and we live in a townhouse complex in Los Angeles. We are lucky to have found this place eight years ago, and lucky to keep it in the housing crisis that L.A. is experiencing. However, our next-door neighbor is totally out of it. If we so much as sneeze, she knocks on the wall. It’s been like this for years.
But now our baby wants to play and have fun, and she knocks on the door and screams at us for being loud. I recently wrote her a note explaining that she is ruining my kid’s childhood because he’s not allowed to make any noise. We’ve tried discussing it, and it ended with her apologizing, but then the next night she was back at it. I don’t really want to involve our management because being kicked out is a real fear in L.A. I think it’s time for my neighbor to move out; she has lived there for 20-plus years, and her husband died there. I don’t know what to do besides continue to write her notes asking her to stop and telling her maybe she has outgrown the place and it’s time to move somewhere where she’ll be happy. Thoughts?
A: I’m open to hearing from readers on this one, but my inclination is that the management isn’t likely to jump straightaway to evicting someone who’s been an otherwise good tenant for over 20 years. You can at least consider asking them to say something to her, I think, without worrying that they’re immediately going to throw her out just because you say she’s knocking on your door too often. Generally, though, I think it’s easier to decide to move yourself than to try to convince someone else they have to move (and I really don’t think reminding her that her husband died in that house is going to make her more likely to want to leave it). Are there any explicitly child-friendly complexes in your part of town that encourage young families and the noise levels they bring with them? I get that you don’t want to move either and that finding another place isn’t easy, but it might be worth keeping your eyes out for an opportunity in case mediation through management doesn’t work.
In the meantime, I’ll take your word for it that you’re not being inappropriately loud and that you try to keep your kid subdued when he wants to run around screaming his head off. I think your best bet is to ignore her when she knocks on the door and ask management to speak to her. But I’m open to running other suggestions if anyone has any!
Q. Should I invite my racist, transphobic aunt to my lesbian wedding? I proposed to my girlfriend of almost 10 years recently, and we are thrilled to plan our big lesbian wedding. But I am very conflicted about inviting my mom’s only sister. Though she has been kind and supportive to me and my partner over the years, her Facebook page is FILLED with vile, hateful, and misinformed posts targeting people of color, trans people, immigrants, “lib-tards,” and basically anyone else who’s not like her. Though I doubt any of this hateful rhetoric would surface during our wedding, I feel ill at the thought of having someone who so openly and virulently professes these opinions at our celebration. We are both very outspoken in support of all marginalized communities and see our wedding as a celebration of our union and shared values. Not inviting my aunt will undoubtedly infuriate her (she has a hot temper and a short fuse) and further the troubled relationship she has with my mom. I also don’t want to hurt my mom. Do you think I should just suck it up and invite her, or handle the fallout for my mom and myself that’s sure to extend far into the future?
A: Handle the fallout! You know what’s kind of great about having someone who is racist, xenophobic, transphobic, etc. be angry with you? You don’t value their judgment, so their bad opinion doesn’t carry much real weight. Her ability to make polite conversation in front of you and your partner doesn’t mitigate the fact that she clearly dedicates most of her free time to ranting about the evils of people like you. And why would you want someone at your wedding who you were only pretty sure was going to be able to restrain her internal racist monologue until she could get home and post it to Facebook? Don’t invite her, tell her why, and encourage her to reevaluate her choices. If she gets mad at you and your mother—there are some things worth fighting over, and this seems pretty straightforwardly one of those things.
Q. Boyfriend-friend drama: My boyfriend is super shy. He’s met my friends and spends time with us, but my friends can be intense and loud, which he finds overwhelming. My friends have started commenting on how little time he spends with them, which I’ve tried to explain is just his shyness, but they seem to be taking it personally and insisting he spend more time with them. They want to hang out every weekend, but he can do maybe once a month. The issue is I used to be very much engaged in the group, but over time I’ve taken a step back to deal with my own mental health issues (yes, I’m in therapy). My friends ARE overwhelming, and while I love them, I can’t spend every weekend with them either. How do I express that to them without them thinking I’m choosing him over them?
A: I don’t think you have boyfriend-friend drama—I think you sort of don’t like your friends. If your attitude toward your entire group of friends is “I can’t spend every weekend with them” (not just that you enjoy varying your weekend plans or need your alone time, but that you genuinely find the thought of seeing them more than once a month exhausting), then that’s a sign that you need to, at the very least, start broadening your social circle. If you’ve never told any of your friends even once that you find their constant interruptions/shouting/whatever other personality traits make it difficult for you to have a sustained, pleasant conversation with them, then it’s no surprise to me that you’ve felt it necessary to step back and get your emotional needs tended to elsewhere. That doesn’t mean you have to have a come-to-Jesus moment with everyone, but I do think it’s time to at least consider speaking up when something bothers you, unapologetically telling them you’re not available every weekend, and seeking out new friends whose company you enjoy a little better.
Q. Dog walker walked off with my heart: I currently work as an exec assistant. My boss brings her dog to work every day, and because of that, she has a walker come and walk the dog twice a day. I book the walks for her (via an app), and we always use the same walker. I have a total crush on the walker. The walker is so remarkably kind and funny and friendly, and seeing the walker is the highlight of my day. We have a great rapport and similar beliefs and always share laughs. He has also told me a couple of times I look pretty, and touches my shoulder not infrequently. He also went out of his way to help me do a huge favor for a friend in crisis, which was one of the kindest gestures I’ve ever observed from anyone.
He does not technically work for my company, and I do not want to cross any lines, but man, do I want to date him. He has always been incredibly respectful and has never crossed a line with me. I am hypervigilant about workplace appropriateness and sexual harassment, and I never, ever, ever want to make anyone uncomfortable, let alone more than that. Is it ever OK to date a kinda-sorta co-worker? Or should I just stop pursuing cause I have to see him twice a day (SUPER awkward if it flops)?
A: An executive assistant asking out a dog walker who periodically stops by the office does not constitute sexual harassment. You don’t have any supervisory authority over this guy, nor he over you, and you just want to ask him out on a date—you’re not following him around and dropping constant hints that he should take his shirt off. I think he’s given you enough promising signals that, even if he doesn’t want to go out, he won’t be shocked if you ask. Be polite, ask casually but be clear, and if he doesn’t go for it, smile and continue to be welcoming and easygoing whenever he visits the office.
By the way—and I’m not trying to endorse the practice across the board, just hoping to contextualize your nervousness—people date their co-workers a lot. Like, all the time. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be respectful and polite and err on the side of caution, but it’s not at all unusual.
Q. Transphobic or trans? I am transmasculine and nonbinary and have been on testosterone for almost seven months. My mom (who is not straight) says she supports me, but struggles with my pronouns and bristles when I bring up my medical transition with her or other family. When I confront her about this, she says that not only does she support me, but she doesn’t feel like a woman herself, and if hormone replacement therapy were more readily available when she was my age, she “probably would have done it too.” Obviously I empathize, but she only brings it up when I ask her to be more sensitive to my situation. How do I respond to this without downplaying her feelings/identity?
A: Being trans, or possibly trans, or hypothetically trans 30 years ago, doesn’t excuse or mitigate transphobia (or even make transphobia impossible!), so the good news is that your mother’s identity truly doesn’t matter in this case. You still get to address her present transphobia without accepting her justification that, since she thinks she would “probably” have started T as a young person if she’d known it was available, she’s therefore presently entitled to treat you disrespectfully and dismissively.
For what it’s worth, it’s not at all uncommon for people to justify their present transphobia with some version of “Why, I myself might have transitioned when I was your age.” It is, in fact, more than a bit of a cliché. The implications are 1) “Luckily I didn’t transition when I was your age, and I’m now a shining example of how great being cis is. You are young and foolish and heedless and have missed the opportunity to grow up to be like me. Young people everywhere are inclined to chase transition like a shiny bauble that will solve all their problems, but people who decline to transition are wise and adult and well-rounded”; and 2) “Your present actual transition is less important than my past hypothetical transition. By making a choice I believe I could not have pursued (even though people did transition 30 years ago), you’re throwing my own life into a bad light, and it’s your fault if I feel bad about it.” I don’t say this to dismiss the very real pain that people may experience upon coming to acknowledge just how much they wished they’d been able to pursue transition 10 or 20 or 50 years sooner. But I do mean to dismiss anyone using that past pain as an excuse to mistreat and manipulate trans people in the present. She is still capable of treating you with respect regardless of her past, and you are not asking too much of her.
Q. Re: My neighbor is a nut who won’t let my kid play: “I think it’s time for my neighbor to move out; she has lived there for 20-plus years, and her husband died there.” There is a very unkind undercurrent here. Being snippy and telling your neighbor to go ahead and move into a retirement home already isn’t going to help you. She may be an annoying neighbor, but that’s part of apartment living. My advice would be to just ignore her—but if you can’t you may have to move.
A: Oh gosh, I didn’t even realize that “go find a retirement home” was the implication in that sentence, but I agree that it was ungenerous and uncalled for. Another reader pointed out that saying someone is “ruining your kid’s childhood” is an overstatement and not a great way to de-escalate, and I completely agree. Someone else’s bad behavior can’t be used to justify overreaction or rudeness. Even if she is very annoying and unreasonable, having a crotchety neighbor is not going to ruin your kid’s experience being a kid. “If your complex has an HOA and you’re complying with the reasonable noise level/quiet hours, she’s going to have to get a grip,” another reader wrote in, and it’s at that point I think you should start roping in the management. (Otherwise she may start reporting you first.)
Q. Re: My neighbor won’t let my kid play: Did you even read the letter? “We are very lucky to have a nice home we can afford in Los Angeles and are terrified of involving management because we cannot afford any similar housing if we are evicted.” Your response: “I don’t think your plan—that I 100 percent made up in my head—of getting management to evict her will work. So you should just find a mythical child friendly, affordable apartment in a city with a massive housing shortage! Easy peasy!”
A: I did read the letter; I think the letter writer does not have the most accurate sense of scale here, as evidenced by their note claiming “you’re ruining my kid’s life.” I’m not inclined to agree that the management will immediately evict a good, long-standing tenant over a single neighborly disagreement. Nor do I believe that finding a new child-friendly complex will be an immediate, easily-achievable goal, but I think it’s a good idea to start that process now, just in case things deteriorate here, because finding a place to live in LA (as you well know!) can be very challenging. It doesn’t hurt to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Q. Re: Prudie Pod: The “Not My Best Side” Edition: Listened to the episode this a.m. about the “friend” who took a photo of the letter writer in a coma. I am a registered health information technician who works with electronic health records and protected health information daily. I would have to dispute the idea that letter writer has no legal recourse. Patient privacy is ALWAYS of prime importance. That doesn’t stop because a friend or relative violates this. HIPAA or privacy laws may have been and probably were violated here. It’s not just hospitals and doctors on the hook to respect patient privacy. This also includes other employees or others with access, and I think the letter writer has a legal basis for concern.
Where have the pictures been posted? Did the “friend” take other pictures? Did she disrobe the letter writer? This friend may have even sold these images. I think for the letter writer’s safety and peace of mind, she should consult an attorney who specializes in privacy laws. They can advise on how to stop further spread of these images and how to deal with the actions of her “friend.” I’m so sorry this happened to the letter writer. In my field this is a very serious violation of a patient who had no capacity to give consent.
A: This is really helpful, practical advice. Thank you so much for letting us know the letter writer may have more legal protection than I’d initially thought.
Danny M. Lavery: Sorry to end with “Dad’s friend peed in my bathtub,” which is a question designed for reader responses if there ever was one. But I’m sure I’ll get a chance to run a few of your thoughts about it next week—until then!
From How to Do It
Q. I suspect there’s an unhealthy reason I’m only attracted to older women I’m a cis lesbian in my mid-20s with no sexual experience. I want to get out there and try hooking up, but I feel like I’m not into women my age—or at least women who look my age. I feel crazy, but I swear, people in my age group all have baby faces. I frequently get asked if I’m a teen, so I’m absolutely included in this, but I still find people who look mature sexy in ways that I don’t if someone looks young. I appreciate that older women tend to have more stable lifestyles, which is also really attractive to me, but it’s primarily just a physical-appearance thing. I have a fair bit of trauma and baggage from my upbringing, so I’m paranoid that this is an unhealthy fixation. Am I OK to set my filter to 30-plus? Read more and see what Rich Juzwiak had to say.