About six months ago, I moved in with my fiancé. Then he started talking a lot about getting a dog. I did not want a dog. They bark all hours of the day and whine to get taken out in the morning. You have to plan so much of your schedule around them, and I just didn’t want that as a newly cohabitating couple. I also have major sleep issues that can exacerbate existing health problems. My fiancé finally wore me down with the promise that he would take care of everything and the dog wouldn’t bother me.
The dog is bothering me. I don’t have to do much of the work, but the dog keeps waking me up. I’ve asked my fiancé multiple times about a bark collar; my fiancé is worried about it hurting the dog. The dog whines at our bedroom door to wake me up well before my alarm. I’ve talked to my fiancé about putting him in a crate on the other side of the house, and again, he’s worried about the dog. This is starting to affect my health and my fiancé thinks it’s just an adjustment period. Everything just seems to be falling on deaf ears. I’m now not only worried about whether I can live with a dog but whether I want to stay with my fiancé. I didn’t realize how much he loved dogs until we got one. I like dogs but don’t want them as pets. I’m worried my fiancé might be one of those people who needs a pet to be happy. I love absolutely everything about him but this one thing. I’m starting to wonder if this is a deal-breaker. Am I overreacting? What should I do?
—Doggy Day Care
“I agreed to get a dog only on the condition that you would take care of everything; you also promised that the dog ‘wouldn’t bother me.’ Looking back, I think we were both naïve to believe that was possible, but there’s not much we can do about that now. The dog is bothering me, it’s happening a lot, and it’s not getting any better. I know you love the dog and I want the dog to be happy—I’m not saying any of this to be cruel or to spoil your fun. But I think you were already pretty familiar with the fact that I have trouble getting enough sleep and that not sleeping enough has a serious, negative effect on my health issues. I’ve suggested getting a crate or a bark collar, and those seem like nonstarters for you. We need to talk about this now because I’m starting to wonder if this is going to be a deal-breaker for us. Having now lived with a dog, I can say definitively that they do bother me, and if this is an adjustment period, I haven’t seen any successful adjustments that would make this living situation possible for me. Can you see yourself living without a dog? I know we love each other, but I’d rather have a difficult conversation now than drive each other crazy every night for the rest of our lives.”
You’re not overreacting, by the way; wanting to get enough sleep at night so that your health doesn’t suffer is a perfectly reasonable desire. And while I have sympathy for dog lovers, I think it’s irresponsible and slightly selfish to bring a dog into a living environment you know isn’t likely to work out on the strength of wishful thinking and a promise that “you won’t even notice this incredibly needy creature living just underfoot.” I’m sure your fiancé is a wonderful guy, and I don’t mean to suggest he’s a wastrel, but owning a dog means more than just gushing sentimentalism—you have to be responsible, practical, and respectful toward the other people living with you. If he thinks he needs to always own dogs in order to be happy, then it’s by no means an overreaction to say you don’t think you two are going to be able to live together anytime soon.
My husband and I have two children under 4 years old. We live in a city where child care is difficult to find and expensive. Most of my salary goes toward day care. My in-laws live an hour away. They are both retired and refuse to help out—their grandchildren rank about fifth on their priorities behind their dogs, “volunteer” work, and weekly card games. Just having them pick up our son from preschool every day would be a lifesaver. Traffic is horrible and the school has a $20 fine for every 15 minutes you are late. I have begged my husband to get his parents on board, but the conversation was fruitless. He asked his father and got told while they would be available in an emergency, we need to “figure out” our own lives. We choose to live in the city instead of down the street and they aren’t going to drive every day. I find their selfishness appalling, and I find it hard now to make small talk about trivialities like their garden or their church charity. Is there anything I can do here? I have lost all drive to make sure my children interact with their grandparents. Why bother if they won’t? My husband says the situation will get better when the kids get older. I am just so tired.
I’m truly sorry that you’re tired and that child care is both expensive and difficult to secure in your city. Those are real, material problems, and I wish you and your husband the best in figuring out what changes you need to make in order to make your lives more bearable. I hope you find resources that are genuinely useful. But your in-laws have every right to conduct their own lives as they see fit and not to offer you free child care simply because it would be convenient to you. You seem to think of them as cars left to idle in a parking lot, as untapped resources, rather than people with autonomy and free will who have already raised children and lived long lives, who want to enjoy their retirement instead of picking your preschooler up every single day. They are not being selfish in placing their grandchildren “fifth” on the list, and I hope they enjoy their dogs, volunteer work, card games, and free time immensely. Please do not misdirect your anger and frustration at your in-laws to such an extent that you’re unable to exchange pleasantries with them. They’re not doing this to hurt you; they have their own lives because they have their own lives. You’ve got to find a way to let this go, because otherwise you will take every minute your in-laws choose to keep for themselves as a personal attack and will begin to treat them as the architects of all your problems.
That said, if the responsibility of “making sure” the kids get ferried over to their grandparents’ house (and fed/clothed/minded before, during, and after) is falling entirely on you and your husband’s not helping out, please do feel free to let him take the lead on taking the kids to see his parents.
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My husband has been restoring a classic car with his nephew since he was 12. They had a very special bond and when he died last year at 17, it was like losing our own child. After the funeral, my husband couldn’t even go into the garage. For months, the car lay finished under the tarp. Someone suggested that we sell the car and make a donation in our nephew’s name. The idea of some good coming out of this senseless loss gave my husband and me a sense of peace.
The problem came when I mentioned this to my other sister-in-law. She thought the money should go to her two girls instead. My sister-in-law and her husband both have good jobs, college funds left by my late in-laws, and my husband and I have another one set up for both the girls. I told her I found her suggestion tasteless and money-grubbing, and that she should drop the subject. The look she gave me makes me doubt she heard me. I haven’t told my husband because I know it will hurt him. I am worried that if my sister-in-law ignores me, it will spark a permanent family rift. She’s never gotten along with her sister (my nephew’s mother) even in the best of times. The anniversary of the death is coming up. My husband wanted to involve his sister and her husband in which charity the money should be donated to or if they would want to create a scholarship at his school. I feel like I am sitting on a bomb.
It’s time to hurt your husband, I’m afraid. If you don’t feel confident that your sister-in-law will realize the tastelessness of her request, especially if you think she’ll say this in front of your nephew’s grieving parents, then you need to give him advance warning so he can plan ahead. If your sister-in-law chooses to ignore your warning and asks either your husband or, worse yet, your nephew’s parents, for the money, then that’s on her, not on you. Even if it hurts him to hear from you, imagine how much more upset your husband might be getting directly pumped for cash by his own sister as he tries to honor their nephew’s memory. While you can’t act in a way that will guarantee she never makes an ass of herself or hurts her family members, the best way to minimize the possibility of such an outcome is to tell your husband now so he can make an informed decision before he sells the car or writes a check.
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Danny M. Lavery is joined by Molly Woodstock on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
I work in construction. A few years ago when I was a recent hire, a person in a senior position tried to get me fired. They complained to the project manager about me, left all their work to me, and then publicly humiliated me when I made a mistake. They would also disappear for hours in the middle of the workday and hide my possessions under the guise of “tidying up.” The project manager got rid of them after a few months. Four years later, I’m still with the same company and this person now frequently visits my office as they are working nearby with a different company. How do I keep my cool around them? I don’t think they know I know they tried to get me fired, but I don’t want them thinking they can get away with being chummy. I also don’t want to stoop to their level!
—Not Fired, Just Fired Up
Be only as polite and professional as you have to be without exciting comment, and then go back to your own work. Presumably this person remembers embarrassing you in front of your colleagues; even if they don’t know you know about their more underhanded attempts to get you fired, they’re aware you don’t have fond memories of them. If you don’t have to interact with them for work—that is to say, if whatever errand brings them into your office doesn’t require an answer or a signature from you—then don’t interact with them beyond a greeting if necessary. It sounds like they may be trying to butter you up in particular either because they have a guilty conscience or because they’re hoping you can help their career in some way now (that’s at least part of the read I get from the being chummy bit). It’s not “stooping to their level” to ignore non-work-related distractions from non-co-workers when you’re at work.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
Dear Prudence Uncensored will return next week.
I’ve been going to my gym for a little over a year now; I like it because it’s convenient, affordable, and offers a lot of community programs. I typically take whatever class is available at the time I stop by because I need the class format to keep me motivated, and that’s worked for me until about a few months ago, when an instructor I can’t stand started taking over most of the usual classes. She switches between positive/negative/condescending reinforcement with stunning rapidity and yells for most of the class—things like “Sweat is your fat crying” and “Think of all the food you’ll get to eat later! Crab legs, pizza, chocolate…”
I don’t know if I’m being oversensitive here. I know this is common talk in the fitness world, but I find it insulting as a fat woman and I thought this particular gym would be a more comfortable space than the name-brand fitness options. Also, being reminded of pizza in the middle of a high-intensity workout makes my stomach churn. Should I talk to her about it directly? She says she’s open to feedback, but she also says things like, “If you don’t hate me by the end of this class, then I’m not doing my job.” Write an anonymous letter to the gym? Start going to a gym farther away with different instructors?
“I’m open to feedback” rings a bit hollow when it’s preceded by things like “I want you to hate me” and “Imagine your fat crying,” doesn’t it? If you’re feeling up to it, I’d recommend speaking to her directly: “I’d appreciate it if you’d stop telling us our fat is crying or to imagine eating junk food in the middle of a workout because we’ve ‘earned’ it; I’m working out to stay active, not to lose weight or hear comments about my body.” But given her track record, you may want to go straight to management first if you’re worried she’ll get defensive and say something like, “You need me to yell at you about your body fat.” I imagine you are not the only gymgoer who would feel sufficiently motivated if she stopped describing phantom medieval banquets or trying to make their body fat cry. There’s still plenty of things she can say! Describe the next movement, suggest a possible adjustment, offer encouragement that doesn’t rely on promises that you’ll hate her later, etc. But I don’t think writing an anonymous letter would be more effective than simply asking to talk to whoever supervises the class instructor roster and explaining your problem. In the meantime, maybe you can look for a gym buddy who’s willing to hit the free weights section or join you doing laps in the pool so you get the same sense of accountability a class would provide without the attendant yelling and smorgasbord fantasies.
I (a 45-year-old single mom) am dating an incredible man. We are both divorced (me amicably, him after a brutal court battle that wiped out his inheritance). For a number of reasons, but primarily due to his understandable disillusionment with the idea of marriage, we have decided that although we are deeply committed to each other we will not be getting married.
I am fine with this arrangement and look forward to spending my life with him. That said, I’m wondering if there is a way to signal to the rest of the world that we are no longer auditioning each other. Would it be weird/misleading/overcompensating to wear a band on my left hand? My friends say my desire to do this means I’m secretly resentful that we’re not getting married, but I’m honestly not. I just want to somehow commemorate our decision to be “committed but not married” forever. Your thoughts?
—Not Getting Married
I think it’s perfectly fine for a couple to wear rings or any other sort of commemorative jewelry they like. But I do think it’s odd that you’ve apparently discussed this idea with your friends but not your partner. What does he think of the idea? If he likes it, then your friends’ opinions don’t really matter. My concern, though, is that you’re contemplating wearing a ring on your own and without exactly mentioning why to him—hence the concern your friends brought up, that you’re “secretly” resentful. If that’s not the case, and you just like the idea of rings, by all means go ahead and pick out a pair that look nice together. Embrace whatever forms of acknowledging your commitment to each other feel right to you! Perhaps at some point you’ll talk about the possibility of his formally adopting your child/ren—that would be a strong sign that you’re no longer “auditioning each other” that has nothing to do with marriage. But the person you should be discussing this with is your boyfriend.
“I am starting a promising relationship with an awesome woman, but there’s a problem: She has a Chihuahua with such severe separation anxiety that (she says) they must be together 24/7. She has a large purse and takes the dog everywhere, including places it clearly is not allowed, e.g., food stores, restaurants, movies, and the Kennedy Center. I know some people are nuts about their pets, but this seems extreme. There does not seem to be room for compromise and I know if she had to choose between me and the dog, she’d choose the dog. Is there any hope for this relationship or should I just move on?”
Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.
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