Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Fake diamond: My friend “Bea” recently got engaged to a nice man who got her a honker of an engagement ring. She fell recently, and when her hand hit a lamppost on the way down, the diamond broke. Although I know diamonds can be damaged, the darn thing shattered like a car window. Because of this, a few of her friends, myself included, now think it was fake. He’s since got her a larger replacement “diamond.” One of our friends thinks we should say something to Bea—I’m of the mind to leave it well enough alone. Maybe she knows and decided on that over a smaller stone? The value of diamonds is a product of aggressive marketing anyway. And Bea has a history of treating all facets of dating like a competition—whose man is the most attractive? Most successful? Has the best marathon sex?—so it’s possible he felt what was within his means would not satisfy her, but that seems a little ridiculous. My friend says telling Bea would save her humiliation down the road or prevent her from going into a marriage with the wool over her eyes. It’s not like he’s cheating—it’s just jewelry. Do we really have to?
A: Please do not say anything to Bea! It’s weird and condescending and totally inappropriate to assume that she was hoodwinked into thinking she’s got a “real” diamond and didn’t realize that diamonds are harder than lampposts. You are totally right to flinch at the prospect of sitting your friend down and saying: “Sweetie, I’m so sorry to have to tell you this, but your man is a fraud—he couldn’t even get you a real diamond. Don’t marry him.” Maybe she’s been telling everyone it’s a diamond because she’s self-conscious; surely a little vanity can be forgiven in a good friend. Maybe she hasn’t told anyone it’s a diamond at all because she’s perfectly aware of the properties of cubic zirconia! But Bea hasn’t expressed any concerns, and her ring isn’t hurting anyone. Obviously it wasn’t a real diamond. But so what? It’s a nice, big, shiny ring. Tell whatever friends of yours who think this is a good idea that it’s better to leave it well enough alone and focus on their own jewelry.
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Q. Boyfriend thinks I’m Cruella de Vil: My boyfriend, “Dave,” moved in with me almost a year ago. Our relationship is mostly good, but we have argued frequently about his dog. The dog is old and blind and has health problems that contribute to frequent accidents, but Dave also never really housebroke him and failed to mention this before moving in with me. I’ve tried my best to be patient because I know it’s not the dog’s fault. But I’ve offered several compromises, and although Dave agrees in the moment that we will crate the dog when nobody is watching him, keep a diaper on him while he’s in the house, check his backside before he comes in from the yard, etc., Dave never follows through. We work opposite shifts and I always end up coming home to puddles of urine soaking into my wood floors or feces smudged into my rugs and linens. The dog has also peed in our bed.
The house is beginning to take on a smell. I’m a clean freak and cannot stand it. I’ve built the dog a tarp-lined enclosure in my unfinished basement, and I have delivered an ultimatum that the dog must stay in it when I’m not home and if Dave is not comfortable with this he and his dog can get their own place until the dog dies. I don’t think this is unreasonable since Dave has repeatedly neglected to honor the rules we’ve mutually set and it’s my property that’s getting damaged. Dave thinks I am acting like Cruella de Vil to his poor, elderly dog, and thinks doubling our household expenses over this is ridiculous. Our dog-loving friends are rushing to his defense. I love dogs too but I won’t live in filth. Am I being cruel? Please help me gain some perspective here.
A: The problem here isn’t the dog, who’s an old, sick animal doing its best to live comfortably. The problem is that your boyfriend was dishonest about the dog’s needs before you two moved in together and isn’t taking sufficient care of the dog now. That doesn’t mean Dave is an abusive or neglectful pet owner; I’m sure he loves his dog, but he’s clearly not living up to his responsibilities as an owner if every day the dog is being left caked in urine or feces. Putting the dog in an enclosed space all day isn’t the answer. I don’t think an old, sick dog like that should be left alone and indoors for so long without care and attention. But I do think you’re right to say that this living situation is not currently livable, and that as the dog owner it needs to be Dave who comes up with a workable solution (that isn’t just “I don’t care if my dog is incontinent in our bed”).
I do wonder if you have other short-term options, because moving out and finding a lease (especially when it doesn’t sound like Dave’s dog has much longer to live) is going to be extremely difficult. Is Dave open to hiring a dogsitter for the next few months to make sure the dog is kept clean and looked-after while you two are at work? If he knows the alternative is moving out, he might be more motivated to do right by the dog. I also wonder if Dave has spoken yet with his vet about end-of-life care and figured out how they’ll determine when the time is right for euthanasia. It’s better to have those conversations sooner rather than later, and it sounds like he’s already put it off for too long. Good luck. Dave’s inability to acknowledge reality is bad for your relationship, and just as crucially, it’s bad for his dog. He’s being cruel in his own way, and it needs to stop.
Q. We clearly said no: My spouse and I don’t get out much. We secured a babysitter for last night and were so excited to reconnect. We had it planned for weeks. My mom asked to get together and we kindly explained that we had a date and would be happy to hang out another night. My mom was really persistent—she wanted to “show off our house” to a friend whom I don’t know well. We kept saying no very firmly and directly. The babysitter, who is another family member, told me my mom reached out to them and also asked to come over, without us knowing, while we were gone. They firmly said no also. I couldn’t fully enjoy the date. I felt like the situation was really bizarre.
When we got home, the babysitter sat us down and told us that my mom and her friend showed up anyway. The babysitter noticed that the friend was intoxicated or high and felt really uncomfortable and didn’t let them in the house. I confirmed it all with my security cameras. My mom kept trying to get my kids to come outside to meet the friend, but my kids were scared and hid. My mom and her friend walked back to their cars, criticizing my garden as they went. My mom is also telling people that she helped pay for our house, which isn’t true. We saved up and have written every check ourselves. She did get us a $100 gift card as a housewarming gift, but that’s it. She’s also claimed credit for paying for our wedding and college. I think others are uncomfortable with her sharing this because they’ve come and told us about it. I feel violated and uncomfortable with this incident, especially with how it’s made my kids and babysitter feel. I feel like we were very clear about our boundaries and she crossed them anyways. What should I do?
A: Is this sort of thing out of character for your mother? You don’t say much about what she’s normally like, if she has a history of showing up drunk or with a drunk friend, acting belligerently, or spreading rumors. If this is totally unlike her, give yourself a few days to settle and then let her know you’re concerned about her and want to know what’s going on. Maybe she’s started drinking more herself; maybe it’s a medical issue; maybe something in particular has been upsetting her. There might be a chance to learn more and figure out if there’s something you can offer your help with. Even if something is the matter, you’re still entitled to say, “Mom, it really upset me that you did this after we said ‘No’ six times,” or “It’s put us in a really embarrassing position to have to clarify with people that you didn’t help to buy our house or pay for our wedding.” (You can also tell those friends who have brought this to you: “I’m so sorry. Thanks for letting us know. I’m not sure why she’s making those claims, but I’ll speak to her about it.”)
If this is sort of a typical move for her, then it might make sense to warn babysitters in advance about the possibility that she might try to call or ring the doorbell (and pay them more accordingly, or make sure they’re not scared teenagers), screen your mom’s calls if she repeatedly pesters you after you’ve said no, and find other ways to cut down on her attempts to badger you. I’m so sorry she showed up in such a distressing fashion, but the good news is that you and your husband and your sitter did all the right things.
Q. Sisterly lie: My sister is very prickly about money, especially regarding the fact I make a lot more and she is a stay-at-home mom. I want to help, but my sister will say no because you can’t have your “baby sister” paying for things. I have stuffed twenties into coat pockets just so she can have some pizza money. My sister and my brother-in-law are not destitute or bad with money, but they have three kids on a single salary. It makes me feel bad to be able to go overseas twice a year while my sister and her husband weren’t even able to make their honeymoon happen. I have college funds for all the kids and always try to treat them if I visit or ask my sister for help on a “project” and pay her back with a spa trip. My sister regrets the loss of her nice family pictures. The laptop that had them was lost and the hard copies didn’t survive the move. I would love to pay a professional to give her some. She will not accept them directly from me; I have thought of lying and saying I won an appointment at a silent auction, but I can’t use it right now. My sister will accept practicality, not “charity.” I have gone so far as to ask a photographer if he will go with the lie if I pay him more. He said he would. I know my sister would accept the lie but hate the truth. I just want to help! I want her to be happy! I want her to have nice things and most of this is piddly to me—she would open a vein if I needed blood with a bread knife, but she will not let me treat her to dinner. Should I do this?
A: I feel like I don’t often get to give this answer, so it’s kind of a nice change to be able to say: Yes, I think this situation calls for a well-meaning white lie. If you think your sister is likely to buy it without asking too many follow-up questions (or even if you think she’ll consider it an acceptable, polite, face-saving fiction but never admit it), then by all means, announce your weirdly good luck in winning a professional photography session. If you’ve already found a professional photographer willing to go along with your story, so much the better. Everyone wins! In the long run, of course, you’ll want to carefully balance your desire to help against her sensitivity and pride, but it sounds like you both love and respect each other, so I have a lot of faith in your ability to walk that line. (Maybe she’d accept something like a college fund started in her kids’ names someday!)
Q. Pronoun usage: I attended a sensitivity training that recommended introducing yourself with your pronouns, and using “they” until you have confirmed one’s preferred pronouns. This has been very impractical in the environment I work in—I have a lot of older, more traditional clients, and I end up explaining myself more often than I hear back, “I use he/him pronouns—nice to meet you too.” When I refer to someone who has not provided pronouns by “they,” it’s met with confusion. I tried just using the person’s name every time instead of any pronoun at all, but I ended up saying “Bethany” so many times that it felt awkward.
I thought it would be OK to go back to my old ways and assume gender, but shortly after I did, I misgendered a colleague who told me they preferred “they” when I said “she.” I am struggling to get this right and would greatly appreciate some guidance in how to be sensitive to everyone’s needs while still being practical and not offending anyone. Is it OK to assume someone’s pronouns until corrected? Is it OK to call someone “they” until they confirm otherwise? Is it OK not to introduce myself using my pronouns all the time? I hope this question doesn’t come off as offensive. I am trying but struggling.
A: I think you’re doing just fine! You didn’t know your colleague preferred “they” until they told you; it doesn’t sound like they were at all upset or offended. They just wanted to update you on their pronouns, and once you found out, you switched. I do agree that it’s better not to “they” everyone unless and until they tell you otherwise, so I think abandoning that policy, well-meaning as it may have been, was the right move. There is no perfect strategy when it comes to pronouns, I fear, that can perfectly anticipate and meet everyone’s needs (especially when lots of people’s needs, when it comes to pronouns, can be totally at odds with one another’s). You certainly do not have to offer your own pronouns every time you meet someone new—I don’t do it myself.
The present system is far from perfect, which is something you’re already well aware of and not personally responsible for. Assuming people’s gender or pronouns based on their appearance/on convention/what other pronouns you hear people use isn’t ideal, but I don’t think the best solution is to start “they”-ing everyone, especially when lots of people very specifically don’t wish to be they’d. Rather than thinking of it as “assuming someone’s pronouns until corrected,” I think it’s perhaps better to say that you’re open to making the switch if someone decides to share something with you. You seem very eager to treat people kindly and with respect, which will serve you well, and I think you can ease up on yourself a bit.
Q. Should I cancel our wedding? Or have two? My partner and I are getting married this summer. His mother was going to conduct the ceremony. However, due to her having a very minor criminal record, related to a protest against climate change, there is a small possibility she will not be able to attend the wedding. (She lives overseas—we won’t know for sure until she gets on a plane!)
We’ve sent out save-the-dates, booked a tent, done all the things you’d normally do. Some of our guests have already booked flights to be there. But if my future MIL can’t come, should we cancel the wedding? If it helps, we were planning to go to her country of residence immediately afterward, where she wanted to have an additional party for family unable to attend the real thing. This is a huge wrench and I feel very torn.
A: This is a question to take to your partner, I think! I don’t think it’s a matter of strict and formal etiquette, or that there’s only one right answer here. If I were in your position, and I’d already put down deposits and knew my guests were starting to buy tickets, I’d likely keep the wedding as is, while having a conversation with my partner and future mother-in-law about alternative ways to include her if it turns out she can’t board a plane—like having her video-conference in or planning a special celebration during your next visit.
Q. Re: Fake diamond: You could shatter one with a hammer, or indeed a lamppost. Maybe it’s fake or maybe it isn’t, but this isn’t proof either way.
A: The jewelry drama continues! Someone else said that “lower-quality diamonds—this may have been one because it was so large—can shatter (I feel like I’m on an episode of Dynasty and I love it)”; another reader said, “While diamonds are certainly durable, it’s not unheard of for them to shatter either under the right circumstances.” So who knows! Maybe she had a real, enormous diamond all along … and now she has an even huger one. Good for Bea!
Q. Re: Boyfriend thinks I’m Cruella de Vil: The letter writer said they work opposite shifts. That means that if they’re coming home to urine and feces, then either Dave already isn’t cleaning it up when he is home or it’s happening during their swap-over commute because Dave won’t crate the poor dog for that brief time, so a dogsitter isn’t going to help. This is a Dave problem and not a dog problem—he needs to get better at cleaning on his watch, or the letter writer is right that he needs to move out.
A: That certainly would make the dogsitter’s job more difficult, to have to be on call for two different shifts. Another reader mentioned that their own vet usually asks pet owners contemplating euthanasia to think of three things their pet loves the most, and that when the pet is no longer able to enjoy them (or is down to one), then it might be time to say goodbye. That’s not to say that the only option is euthanasia tomorrow, but it’s really worth taking stock of this animal’s quality of life. If Dave is avoiding making sure that his dog is clean and happy and looked-after on a daily basis, I wonder if he’s prepared to have that conversation with his vet.
There are accidents and then there are accidents; I know the letter writer is a self-described neat freak and it’s possible for an animal to be occasionally incontinent while still generally enjoying life, so I’m by no means suggesting that it’s time to put Fido down because they’ve ruined a couch. But it’s definitely worth taking quality of life seriously. And if the letter writer feels all talked-out with Dave, talking about a temporary or medium-term physical separation might be necessary.
Q. Re: Should I cancel our wedding? Or have two? Whatever you do, make sure you have another person available to perform the ceremony.
A: Oh, absolutely. Get a backup who will be present and ready to go as soon as you learn whether your MIL has been cleared to fly.
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks, everyone. See you all next week!
From How to Do It
Q. A woman says I “assaulted” her after totally normal dating behavior: Recently, I went on a date with a woman I met on a dating app. It was pretty normal—we saw an exhibit and had a couple drinks. As we were leaving, I leaned to kiss her. She pulled away and was visibly distressed. I apologized and said I misread the situation, and she quickly made an excuse to leave. It was embarrassing and a little deflating, but it happens. I figured that was that. I didn’t hear from her for a few days, when she suddenly texted me a long and detailed message saying, among other things, that I had nearly assaulted her and it was never OK to go in for a kiss without asking first. She requested a phone conversation to talk through what happened, and I agreed. It was fine; she basically repeated what she had texted and I apologized and told her that I meant no disrespect. She said I should look hard at my understanding of consent. I was tempted to tell her she was being over the top, but she was upset so I rode it out. Am I right to think she was being over the top? We were not drunk, and I was not aggressive—I literally leaned in to kiss her, she pulled away, and that was it. It’s fine if she wants men to ask her before they kiss her, but I do not think that is standard practice. Is it? Read what Stoya and Rich Juzwiak had to say.
Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.
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