Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Hello, everyone! Let’s get started.
Q. Banned and gaslit: I was a regular at this bar for most of last year, going at least once a week. I became good friends with one of the bartenders and started to develop feelings for him. Eventually, I asked him out. He said that he was seeing someone else and they were exclusive. I accepted the answer, and we continued to interact as friends at the bar. A couple of weeks later, after his shift was over, a few staff members of the bar and me and a friend all went to another bar. The bartender was there too, and basically, he invited me to his place after we kissed. We hooked up, and the following morning, he sent me a message asking me not to come to the two bars where he works until we had a conversation about the hookup. He went totally silent for a few days, and when we finally talked, he was 45 minutes late and only ended up talking to me for 10 minutes. He said he was embarrassed about the hookup. I told him there was nothing to be embarrassed about. We decided to keep being friends. I went to his bar a couple of times after, and he was totally hot and cold, sometimes being friendly and other times ignoring me for an hour, even though he had been serving me drinks. He kept doing this at his second bar, and at one point, I called him a coward while there were no other customers there and only one other employee. Since that incident, he has told the staff and managers at the bar where I was a regular that he feels uncomfortable around me and that I was yelling at him. (I didn’t yell.) He told me I was banned from that bar. I spoke to the manager, and he said I should wait a couple of weeks until tempers cool before going back. This weekend, a bartender who used to work at this bar told me he heard from multiple people that I “went psycho.”
I feel like the bartender I hooked up with is making me out to be a stereotypical “crazy” woman. I recognize I confronted him at work, but I genuinely don’t think that justifies banning me from both bars and telling people that I’m crazy or whatever. I feel like I am being gaslit. He is treating me like such a villain even though he has been inconsiderate to me this entire time. I want to speak again to the manager because I feel like I am being unfairly treated. What do you think I should do?
A: I think you should go to a different bar. You’re never going to get a satisfactory answer from this man about why he doesn’t want to go out with you and why he treated sex with you like an embarrassing secret; all you need to know is that he doesn’t respect you and is not going to treat you well, no matter what you do or say. Trying to force the manager to change their mind about letting you back in the bar in the interests of trying to convince this bartender to admit he treated you badly is not the way through this. Moreover, no manager in the world is going to rethink a ban if the customer they fear is going to be disruptive contacts them to say, “Stop banning me and let me in.” It doesn’t matter if you don’t think it was worth being banned over—the point is that you can’t demonstrate they were wrong to ban you by insisting they were wrong to ban you. I don’t think you can get water out of this well, and it will only cause you additional pain to try to contact him again and find yourself rebuffed and turned away.
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Q. Squashing the crush: I’m in love with my partner but I also have a long-standing crush on my best friend. I want to propose to my partner this summer, but I feel somehow torn about this, knowing I haven’t been able to shake six years of romantic feelings for my dear friend. I don’t think I want a romantic relationship with my friend for several reasons, and I don’t think they have any interest in me anyways. I just want to have romantic feelings for my partner and platonic feelings for my friend. How do I squash this crush?
A: I sure wish I knew what those “several reasons” are, and how much they may be influenced by your belief that your friend doesn’t feel the same way! Only you know how much this crush interferes with your daily life with your lovely partner; it may be that you’re willing to keep this one going to the bitter end, and the idea of never speaking to either of them about it is totally achievable for you. But I think we’re way past “squashing” stage. This is someone you know deeply and intimately, and you haven’t been able to get rid of these feelings after six years. I don’t think it’s a question of just walking it off or stuffing it down. You may decide that you want to talk to both your partner and your friend about this (realizing that by so doing you may risk both relationships, but you also may experience real relief and the possibility of multiple romantic relationships); you may decide you want to see a therapist to figure out what your main priorities and values are in this situation before making a decision; you may decide you want to scale back from that friendship so you can more fully commit to your partner. You may want to dump your partner, even if they’re otherwise wonderful, simply because this long-standing crush has made you realize that you want something your partner can’t give you! Whatever you decide to do first, I think the most important thing is to stop acting like these feelings are suddenly going to disappear. You can choose to scale back intimacies, you can choose to prioritize one thing over another, you can choose to have scary and vulnerable conversations, but you cannot choose what you feel.
Q. My mom can’t sit still while we bond over YouTube videos: I am living with my mom while I finish college, and we have a very close relationship. We usually spend a bit of time hanging out on the couch together every day, and I enjoy that quality time. However, she has this habit that drives me absolutely nuts.
Like most people, I enjoy watching videos on YouTube, and like most people, when I find a good video, I want to share it with others. I frequently attempt to play videos for my mom when we’re hanging out, but she gets up to do random things every few minutes. I either have to pause the video or rewind when she gets back, and some days this restlessness is so extreme that 10-minute videos can take 40-plus minutes to watch.
I’ve tried just watching on without her whenever she suddenly gets up, but she gets upset and hurt, so I don’t think she secretly hates my taste in YouTube videos. The things she gets up to do are not time-sensitive; it’s as if in the middle of a cute ferret compilation she suddenly realizes she wanted to take the kitchen towel to the laundry room and then restock the printer paper. I don’t enjoy our quality time nearly as much as I would if it weren’t constantly interrupted. Can I have a script to bring this up with her that doesn’t sound totally petulant? Also, is it not a little weird that she can’t sit still for 10 minutes?
A: I don’t think watching compilation videos of ferrets is necessarily “quality time,” and I think the reason your mom might be getting up to run errands is because she doesn’t really want to watch ferrets gambol for 10 straight minutes. Take this as a cue to ask whether she’d rather sit and talk, or take a walk, or watch an actual movie, or help clean the kitchen together, etc. This doesn’t mean she necessarily hates your taste—it just doesn’t sound like she has quite the same appetite for these videos as you do. If what you really want is quality time with her, and not just a captive audience for the videos you think are charming, then ask what she’d like to do and do that every once in a while.
Q. How to politely decline advice: It may seem strange to ask an advice columnist of all people, but how do I politely tell people to stop giving me advice? I am currently looking for a job. My career is unlike anything any of my friends and family have. They are constantly offering naïve, uninformed opinions about how to get a job in my field. Instead of being able to vent my frustrations, I find myself arguing, explaining to them why their ideas won’t work. I have repeatedly told them I don’t want any advice. Whenever I do this, they bristle, saying they are “just trying to help” and that I should be more courteous. Is there a polite way to tell people I don’t want any advice?
A: If arguing, explaining why they’re misinformed about your field, and telling them to stop hasn’t worked, I think my last best option would be saying: “Great idea! I’ll consider it.” Repeat this until the conversation becomes so repetitive and boring that they’re desperate for another topic.
Q. My boyfriend won’t hold my hand: I love my boyfriend of nearly a year very much. He’s extremely kind, awesome, and affectionate—in private. In public, he won’t hold my hand, hug me, kiss me, or even tell me he loves me. He says that it makes him anxious and he doesn’t want to boast about our togetherness. But it’s really important to me, and it makes me sad to be so distant in public. I don’t want him to do something he’s not comfortable with for my sake, but this makes me very sad. But I’m willing to live with it rather than break up if that’s all I can do. Is it?
A: You can absolutely decide to live with your boyfriend as he is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have further conversations about his dislike for even very low-key public affection, like a hug goodbye. What does his anxiety around these issues feel like for him? How would he put those feelings into words? Does he think other couples who hold hands appear “boastful,” or is it something he feels uniquely about in all relationships? I don’t think it’s necessarily the only case, but in your position I’d probably wonder at least once or twice whether he has another girlfriend somewhere and that’s why he refuses to acknowledge you as a romantic partner in public.
Of course you don’t want him to do something he’s not comfortable with; it’s clear you’re not trying to force him to develop a relationship to PDA that makes him unhappy. But asking for open-ended conversations and at least some willingness to consider hugging you in front of other people is not a demand, nor is it forceful. You also have a right to tell him how it makes you feel when he refuses categorically to ever hold your hand. Inform him what you value about nonshowy public physical intimacy, and suggest other ways he can demonstrate care and affection for you in public. Good luck!
Q. A very expensive bachelorette trip? About a year ago a friend asked me to be one of her bridesmaids. I agreed, happy to help with moral support and wedding planning logistics. Around six months ago she started talking about her vision for a bachelorette trip—a relaxing beach vacation in another country with as many of her friends as possible. I said with the time and expense required it would be unlikely that many people could go. Her “compromise” plan is a long weekend in Mexico. This will still be very expensive and most of our mutual friends have already said they can’t make it work. That means I’m planning a trip with a group of people I barely know, in a country I’m not familiar with. It doesn’t sound relaxing—it sounds stressful! The other bridesmaids all seem to be on board, but my finances are already strained this year because I’m part of two weddings and have to pay for dresses/hair/makeup for both as well as the bachelorette trip for the other wedding (which is at least more within my budget, and with a group of my friends).
Can I gracefully get out of going on this trip and still fulfill my obligations as a friend and bridesmaid? Part of my dislike of the wedding industrial complex is that it puts a price tag on friendship.
A: “That sounds like a lovely trip, and I hope you have so much fun. My budget can’t handle anything more expensive than a night out in town, so I won’t be able to join you. Be sure to send me pictures!”
Q. Parents forcing me back in the closet: I have been in a relationship for over a year with another woman, and I finally told my parents about it. My siblings are supportive, but my parents reacted in an incredibly awful way, telling me that although they love me still they won’t ever accept it (and saying a few other colorful things). They made my life such a living hell for three weeks after, pressuring me to break off the relationship. I caved and told them I did in order to stop the incessant stream of awful texts, calls,. They have forced me back in the closet. SOS. I don’t know what to do. I love my girlfriend and don’t want to lose the relationship but this has totally destroyed my (previously OK) relationship with my parents.
A: I’m so sorry. This sounds terribly distressing, and I can understand why you felt like caving was your best option after three weeks of nonstop harassment. Have you been talking to your girlfriend about this? Does she know what kind of pressure you’re under, and has she been able to offer you her support? If you feel that you need to keep it a secret from her, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to let her know just how hard this has been. Please don’t blame yourself for lying in the moment to get out of a relentless onslaught of homophobia. I don’t know if your parents might ever come around. You don’t have to worry about that right now—all you have to do is take some space. You can let your parents know you need some time before you’re ready to talk again without deciding whether that means you’ll ever have a relationship with them again.
It might also help to share this with your siblings, since you mention that they’re supportive. They might be able to help run interference and absorb some of your parents’ direct homophobia while you take time to decompress, mourn, vent, turn to your girlfriend and other friends for solace, etc. If in time you decide you want to extend this break from your parents, you can; if you decide you’re ready to have a more confrontational conversation with them and give them an ultimatum, that’s an option too. But give yourself the gift of time, and remind yourself that you can temporarily block or mute their texts and calls—you’re under no obligation to listen to repetitions of the same homophobia you’ve received for weeks now.
Q. Re: Banned and gaslit: The facts, as you laid them out, are that you had a hookup with this guy. He expressed regret and pumped the brakes on whatever relationship you had, friendly or romantic. Rather than read the signals he was sending you (“back off”) you apparently decided it would be a good idea to confront him at work. Whether you yelled or otherwise behaved in a way you consider to be out of line is irrelevant. You confronted him at work. That is crossing a pretty significant boundary. Telling his boss what happened, expressing his discomfort, and banning you were all imminently reasonable steps to take after what you did. Own what you did, leave this dude alone, and find another bar to start going to.
A: That’s an important distinction: Confronting someone at work over a personal dispute and nonemergency is really inappropriate and could have gotten him fired. It’s also a real red flag to others that you’re not going to behave reasonably and respect their boundaries! Now is a good time to reevaluate how you handle having hurt feelings.
Q. Re: Banned and gaslit: This could have been me in my early 20s through my early 30s. (I’m a slow learner.) Prudie’s answer was dead-on—the letter writer should just stay away from this guy and stay away from his bars. Even assuming that the letter writer is a reliable narrator and didn’t actually yell or get belligerent and was totally in the right here—which ignores the fact that she hooked up with the guy after learning he was in a relationship—she has absolutely nothing to gain by pushing the issue. There are other bars. There are other men.
A: I don’t want to go too deeply into all the various possibilities here, but I agree that the first sign to back off was when the bartender told the letter writer he wasn’t available or interested. It’s so much more fun to pursue people who are available and interested. Go find them!
Q. I’m wasting my spectacular looks on a mediocre man: I’m recently engaged to the most honest, thoughtful, and loving man I’ve ever met. He has supported me through many hard times, including losing my job and being assaulted. Here’s the but about him: He makes no money. He has ambitions, and he’s smart, but will likely only bring a middle-class income at best. I have an OK job and I’m self-sufficient. Now here’s the but about me: I’m really, really pretty. My whole life people have told me I could get any man I want, meaning a rich man, and are shocked that I’m engaged to my fiancé, nice though he is. I’ve never dated a rich man, but it does make me curious. So part of me thinks I’m squandering my good looks on this poor man, and the other part of me thinks that I’m so shallow that I don’t even deserve him or anyone else. Am I a fool for thinking that a poor man can make me happy, or an idiot for believing a sexist fantasy? Read what Prudie had to say.
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