Dear Prudence

Help! My Uncle Keeps Mailing Me Gay Porn.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

An open mailing package with a DVD sticking halfway out.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by aldra/E+ via Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Danny Lavery: Ahoy-hoy, gang. Let’s solve our problems!

Q. My uncle has his gay porn sent to my house: I live in the U.S. and am from a different country. My uncle orders DVDs for me to bring back to him because they are cheaper to purchase here. At first, it was regular DVD movies (crime, suspense, romance, etc.). But lately the DVD covers have become more and more explicit. They are obviously pornographic in nature. They’re also sent under my husband’s name and have been delivered to my neighbors by accident before. In any case, I visit every couple of months and sometimes bring up to 30 DVDs back (which take up much of my luggage). My uncle and I don’t talk about his sexuality. For much of his life, he has kept it a secret. I find it a bit hard to talk about this subject with him and am not sure how to tell him to stop sending me porn and so many DVDs. Any advice?

A: “You need to stop sending me DVDs. I won’t be able to bring them on my visits anymore.” Whatever self-acceptance and sexual freedom may look like for your uncle, it does not require press-ganging a younger relative into such close and upfront involvement in his porn habits (especially when it’s only to save a few bucks and he can still acquire the exact same content in his own country). Start writing RETURN TO SENDER on any DVDs your uncle tries to mail to you, and give yourself permission to say no to things that make you uncomfortable.

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Q. Husband’s alcoholic cousin: When my husband and I married six years ago his cousin was living with him and paying nominal rent. He was recently sober (from alcohol only—pot and pills didn’t count), and after we married he moved into a condo owned by my brother-in-law. Long story short: His sobriety didn’t last and he ended up homeless. In the meantime my husband and I now have two kids under the age of 5 and we are planning on moving into a larger house. His cousin has recently become sober again and claims not to be drinking, taking pills, or smoking pot. My husband has asked that we move his cousin in with us “to give him a family life.” I am vehemently opposed and actually told him as such about a year ago when he mentioned this then as well. My husband sets no boundaries with people who live with him (I saw this firsthand while we were dating) and I am afraid his cousin will start drinking again and my husband will not kick him out. We desperately need marriage counseling, but I don’t know if it will help. He is very stubborn, especially when he thinks what he is doing is right (even if it is being an enabler of a mooch). Please help! I don’t want to live with his cousin.

A: The good, albeit difficult, news is that you do not have to live with your husband’s cousin, even if your husband does. You have every right to tell your husband you’re not going to become his cousin’s live-in caretaker and that while you would prefer to live in the same house as your husband, if he takes this step without your consent, you will move out and the two of you will have to come up with a custody agreement. Obviously you don’t want to have to do that, and I hope it doesn’t come to that. But this man’s sobriety cannot—and shouldn’t have to—rest upon a “family life.” Proximity to married people and children is not a necessary precondition for recovery. Your concern that your cousin-in-law will eventually relapse and your husband will fail to set any limits strikes me as realistic and completely legitimate. And even if he does maintain his sobriety, you have every right to insist that your husband not bring home any roommates without your consent. You can present this to your husband as a real opportunity to handle life as a team and encourage marriage counseling as a supplement, but if he bridles at your boundary and doubles down on his plan to become a live-in sober companion to his cousin, then I think your best option is to start thinking about alternative living arrangements for yourself and your young kids.

Q. Cart conundrum: For the past six months I have been dealing with a lower back injury that is slowly improving with physical therapy but still causes me a lot of pain. My issue is the grocery store. When I first injured my back I could only stand or walk for a few minutes at a time. I couldn’t make it down a single aisle of a store without having to hobble back to my car or sit in the middle of the floor for a few minutes. During that time I ordered in food mostly or asked friends to pick a few things up for me. Now I am able to make it through the store as long as I know exactly what I am getting and don’t linger. Usually by the time I make it back to my car I am in immense pain and have to lean against the car while I load groceries to keep from falling over. The closest store to me doesn’t have a place to return carts in the parking lot. You have to walk them all the way back to the building. Lately I have just been leaving it where I parked. I feel like I am breaking the social contract and I have definitely gotten disapproving stares, but I don’t know what else to do. My doctor refuses to give me a temporary disability tag because he thinks more walking will help me heal faster. I’m in my 30s and I know people who see me think I am being lazy and rude, but it’s either that or being stuck in my house again.

A: When you’re checking out at the store, ask the cashier if someone is available to help you take the groceries out to your car. Grocery store cashiers often make that offer unprompted, and there is almost always someone whose shift work involves collecting carts and helping the occasional customer who needs a hand loading bags into their car. They’ll be able to return the cart for you and make the process of getting everything in your trunk a little easier. I also hope you’re able to push back with your doctor about the theory that “more walking” is actually helping, given the level of pain you’re experiencing on a daily basis, or, maybe, find a new one if he continues to ignore your concerns. I’m concerned that he’s ignoring your obvious pain and distress because he thinks you ought to be able to “tough it out.” If you’re hurting so badly you have to sit down in the middle of the grocery store, a brisk stroll is not the appropriate diagnosis.

Q. I hate fun, and no one understands: I am scheduled to attend a “destination birthday party” for a very close friend’s milestone celebration in a few weeks. When she first began planning the trip I let her know that I most likely would not be able to make it due to financial and child care constraints. Shortly thereafter, one of her other good friends rather cruelly refused to go on the trip, and it wound up being a friendship-ending dispute. When my friend offered to cover a large portion of my travel costs, I understood the importance of my presence and agreed to go. She has always been very supportive of me and has traveled to spend many special occasions with me in the past.

As the trip approaches I am dreading it more and more. I am a single mom with full custody of two young children. I also work full time. It is exhausting. Others keep telling me that I “really need” this vacation, but the only vacation I actually want is for my kids to go with their grandparents so I could stay home and sleep and get caught up on my housework and taking care of myself. Going away on a trip feels like just another “to do” on my long list, and I will almost surely be even more tired and disorganized after returning. I do not know any of the other attendees on this trip, have no particular desire to visit this location, and am terrified about incidental costs on this trip spiraling out of control. Additionally, the task of preparing my house and children for their grandparents to come and stay with them for a long weekend so I can “get away from it all” seems completely overwhelming, with limited payoff. I am also using up precious personal time from work, which I mostly have to reserve for when my children are sick or off school for a day (God forbid I should ever get sick or have something I wanted to do), not to mention there are limited numbers of weekends I am willing to impose on my parents for free child care.

I am upset I allowed myself to be talked into this in the first place. People keep telling me I need to “let go” and “allow [myself] to enjoy this” but I honestly, truly, don’t want to go. If I tell everyone I’m sick and skip out, I will feel bad about the money my friend put into my travel costs, and feel sorry that I’m ditching her like her other jerk friend. I can’t be honest about my reasons for canceling because no one seems to understand how I feel. But if I go, I might just wind up feeling like my life is even more unmanageable. What do I do?

A: Go and have a bad time, if it’s that important to you. You are absolutely allowed to do that. But while I can relate deeply to agreeing to something when it still felt hazy and far-off in the future, then realizing you don’t want to do it at all as the date approaches, your friend would be seriously financially inconvenienced, not to mention very hurt, if you backed out now so close to the departure date. The time to seriously and thoughtfully consider the various reasons you wouldn’t want to go on this trip was back when your friend invited you; even when she offered to pay for part of your trips, you could have told her that you simply wouldn’t be able to arrange for child care and time off but that you’d love to see her for dinner when she got back. But I don’t think you allowed yourself to be “talked into” this—it’s not as if you were thoroughly honest with your friend at the time about how burned-out and resentful you feel, and she wore you down with countless arguments. She simply thought she’d addressed your only concern and that you’d be happy to come celebrate with her.

I think your best option is to consider this not a true vacation you’ve chosen to take for yourself. Free yourself from the burden of having to pretend this is exactly what you want. It is something you agreed to do because you love and want to support your friend, and because you don’t want to put her on the hook for the price of a plane ticket. In the meantime, you can make life a little easier by lowering your standards for exactly how prepared you need to get the house before your parents arrive. Let them handle things! Set a clear and manageable daily budget for incidentals during the trip, let your friend know what that budget is, and cheerfully, freely say “No” to extras if everybody wants to go rock climbing or get expensive massages or whatever else this trip entails. Then let this galvanize you into figuring out what type of vacation you’d actually like to plan for yourself in the future, and consider very carefully what things you want to say “Yes” and “No” to.

An important caveat: I’m not the boss of you, and sometimes child care–related burnout can get serious enough that it’s worth even seriously inconveniencing a good friend. If you genuinely believe that if you were to go on this trip your friendship with this woman would probably end anyways, or that you’d be absolutely incapable of finding something to enjoy about it, you can absolutely tell her. Without trying to spend too much time justifying yourself, you can let her know that things are a lot harder for you than you had even realized both emotionally and logistically, and it’s not just a matter of the costs of travel but the little daily expenses that add up. It may be that she’s purchased travel insurance, or is willing to let you pay her back slowly over time, but she probably will be hurt and frustrated that you let things get to this point before telling her what you truly felt.

Q. “Distinguished alumna” dilemma: I am a middle-aged woman with a remarkably successful career including multiple major prizes, although I did not start making serious money until the last five years. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that this year, at the peak of my net worth, my high school wants to name me its “Distinguished Alumna.” I graduated from a conservative private girls’ school. I was a dirt-loving environmentalist surrounded by debutantes and went through social hell. My academic education, however, was excellent, and paved the way for my future success. I am told that the school’s culture has changed and that I am “welcome to see the progress in the past three decades,” but I can’t help noticing that the other distinguished alumni are all wealthy donors. I feel that if money weren’t the object, they would have awarded this prize to me years ago. On the other hand, they do have a lot of minority and scholarship kids, support progressive causes such as LGBTQ rights, and seriously train women for their own careers. After running the situation past some opinionated friends, I’ve decided I could use an outside take. Should I accept this award, knowing that it comes with the unspoken expectation of a large donation?

A: The great thing about “unspoken expectations” is that you are under zero obligation to meet them. Actually, that’s true of spoken expectations too: You’re allowed to say no to propositions! Even if the school said, “Here’s an award—please give us money,” you’d be perfectly entitled to say: “Thanks for the award! No, I shan’t.” You have a great life now, so why waste time and energy worrying about your old school? You never have to go to school again. If accepting this award sounds like more trouble than it’s worth, just ignore their emails. You don’t have to take an award just because someone wants to give you one. If you’d like to accept the award because you enjoy paperweights and feeling like you’ve got one over on your childhood bullies, accept it and then start ignoring their emails. But this is not a real obligation! They can’t fire you or get you in trouble with your parents; you didn’t ask them for an award, and you only have to please yourself.

Q. Do I need to disclose my past? I am in my early 30s. When I was in my teens, my abusive and vindictive parents put me in rehab for smoking pot a few times. (My mother, who has since gotten treatment for her own issues, has admitted the rehab was because they felt it was the best way to “control” me.) Part of the program meant going to Alcoholics Anonymous. Once there, I found surrogate parents and a community that accepted me. In my early 20s, I stopped going to meetings and realized I wasn’t really an alcoholic, but I was a child in need of validation and acceptance, which the program provided me at the time. I currently drink and smoke pot occasionally but do not think I am problematic in my use. My question is, do I need to tell my fiancé about this? It was a significant period of my life, but I worry that it will make my current drinking and smoking look nefarious. I feel like I know more about AA than a typical person, and it comes up occasionally because he has close family members in the program. So far, I have kept it under wraps, but I feel like I should be able to be honest about everything with my partner, especially since we plan to spend our lives together. I also worry that one of my parents, whom I have tentatively reconciled with, will let it slip. To tell, or not to tell?

A: I do think it’s probably best to assume that your parents, who have historically abused you and treated you vindictively, may someday attempt to leverage this information against you in order to make you sound unreliable, untrustworthy, and troubled. I don’t know to what degree you’ve shared the details of your parents’ abuse to your fiancé, and you’re certainly not obliged to talk about it with him any more than you feel comfortable doing. But if you want to tell him that when you were a teenager, your parents sent you to rehab for smoking weed occasionally and your mother later told you explicitly that they did it in order to “control” you, I think it will be fairly clear that you were neither out of control nor an addict. I’m so glad that you found support and community in rehab regardless, and that you’ve been able to develop a sane, safe relationship to weed and alcohol as an adult. Your partner will, I hope, be able to see the situation clearly because it is a fairly straightforward one. If he thinks it makes you look nefarious, then he is unduly suspicious. I also hope you’re able to keep your parents at arm’s length as long as you remain uncertain about whether they’re going to try to lash out at you again.

Q. Supporting a (possibly) trans student? I am an openly bisexual, female high school teacher in an all-boys school in a large, urban school district. I have rainbows all over my classroom, and I absolutely do not accept homophobic language in my space. We have a handful of openly gay students, one of whom came out for the first time in my classroom.

One of our students has started carrying a purse and dressing in a more traditionally feminine style. I noticed other students beginning to use “she” when referring to this student and using a feminine version of their name. The comments had a homophobic tone, so I shut them down. In a private conversation with the student, they said they didn’t really mind the pronouns and name-calling, but they did feel the other comments I was concerned about were hurtful. I didn’t directly ask the student their pronouns based on the tone of conversation, but I’m using “they” to respect that the student may be questioning, and I actively avoid using pronouns when discussing the student with other adults. I told my student I would let the pronouns and name comments go but I won’t allow any other homophobic or transphobic comments to continue. The student indicated they are happy with this resolution, and we haven’t had any issues since. But I’m still wondering if there’s anything else I should be doing to support this student? I know that the way I handle this situation will affect other students who may be questioning.

A: If this student hasn’t asked you to use different pronouns, then continue using the ones you have for him in the past. You may have meant well, but calling someone “they” when you haven’t been asked to in order to flag gender-nonconforming behavior isn’t actually supportive. You can feel free to check in (casually, noninvasively) in the future to make sure your student is doing well and to offer a reminder that you’re always available to help. But making a decision on someone else’s behalf about their own pronouns just because you think they’re likely to make a change in the future is overstepping your bounds. You’re already doing a great deal to make sure your students know that you’re supportive and affirming; you can’t be so supportive that everyone you think might come out in the future does so immediately. You can safely do a little less here.

Q. Re: I hate fun, and no one understands: I’m struck by the sentence “I can’t be honest about my reasons for canceling because no one seems to understand how I feel.” That sounds like a recipe for a lot of quiet resentment because “no one will ever understand”. Talk to your friends!

A: That strikes me as important, too. I think convincing yourself that it’s not worth ever talking about your feelings with your friends because you’ve decided in advance that they’ll never understand is self-defeating. And even if people don’t perfectly understand you, partial understanding is better than nothing! Not to mention the classic “This might not make perfect sense to you, but it’s important to me, and I hope you can respect that.”

Q. Re: I hate fun, and no one understands: I strongly disagree. The letter writer is a single parent of two kids and in a not-great financial position. A destination birthday party is already a huge extravagance, and if this friend is already ending friendships with people who bow out (!!!), she is the one behaving over the top. Yes, the letter writer should have said no from the beginning, but the solution isn’t to force herself to carry through on a ridiculous expectation, but to tell her friend she is unable to attend and see if this friend can use those costs for another attendee. If your friend ends her friendship because her single mom friend can’t go away for the weekend, that’s fine.

A: More than a few of you have written in along these lines! I do think there is grounds to say: “I’m really sorry I didn’t mention this sooner. I’ve been trying to downplay my financial and logistical concerns because I feel guilty and overstretched right now. I know the timing is bad, and for that I’m truly sorry, but I’ve been giving this a lot of thought and going on this trip would be difficult for me because [list a few of the reasons you gave me in your letter]. I care about you a lot, and I want to celebrate you, but I just can’t do this right now—I’m feeling barely able to take care of myself.”

For what it’s worth, I don’t think inviting your friends on a destination birthday trip is inherently ridiculous as long as you’ve been clear and relaxed about your expectations upfront, so I don’t want to position this as a sort of “frivolous, thoughtless single friend” versus “careworn parent” debate. But while I do think the letter writer should consider whether it’s at all possible to go on this trip, if she’s absolutely certain that it would be financially and emotionally taxing, she is allowed to back out and deal with the relational fallout. Hopefully her friend will be able to discuss her own feelings and possible disappointment reasonably and with affection.

Q. Update—re: Supporting agender child (Feb. 4, 2020): Thank you for answering my question and for taking the time to help me process my own feelings, which I had sort of brushed aside. I’ve found PFLAG and downloaded some of their guides—looking forward to learning more and to listening to my kid (her preferred word, for some reason!).

A: Kid is a perfectly fine word! I hope this doesn’t seem too intrusive, and I know you’ve got plenty of advice under your belt already, but I hope you don’t say things like “for some reason” to your kid. Kids are pretty good at picking up on little digs or asides along the lines of “I find you baffling and don’t especially care to learn more about why this thing is important to you.” Perhaps it’s even true to say that kids often read that tone into something you intended fairly neutrally! I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it’s really fine if your attitude toward your kid is “for some reason”—you really don’t have to intuitively and perfectly understand everything that’s important to them in order to treat them with respect and care. Good luck!

Discuss this column with Dear Prudence on his Facebook page!

Classic Prudie

Q. A lesbian friend wants my partner to impregnate her the old-fashioned way: My partner and I, who are in a gay relationship, are close friends with a lesbian couple. “Mary” and “Jean” desperately want a baby, and after some discussion my partner decided to donate his sperm. We have no interest in being parents but are happy to be uncles. Unfortunately Mary experienced a significant illness and Jane got laid off from work, and now they are worried they can’t afford in vitro fertilization. Mary is infertile, and Jane is already 38, so waiting until their financial situation improves might not be an option. Mary and Jane have now asked whether Jane can conceive a baby with my partner the old-fashioned way. My partner and Jane used to date in their 20s so it won’t be anything new. I totally trust my partner, but this is just too much for me. Am I being too old-fashioned? Should I let this happen so my two wonderful friends can become parents without spending tens of thousands of dollars? Read what Prudie had to say.