Dear Prudence

Do I Have to Invite My Mom’s New Boyfriend to My Wedding?

My dad died a year and a half ago, and I’m hesitant to include this new guy in something so significant.

Bride with older couple
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Sincerely Media/Unsplash and DGLimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m getting married in the fall and am finalizing my guest list. My father died a year and a half ago. He and my mom were married and madly in love for 40 years, so I was surprised when less than a year after his passing my mom told me that she was dating again. She’s been seeing “Joe” for about six months. While it’s tough to see my mom with someone new, Joe is a nice guy and treats my mom well, and she seems to be having fun. My fiancé and I want to keep our guest list small, and we’ve already had to make some very tough cuts. I am wondering if I should invite Joe to my wedding. I don’t have a problem with him, but I’ve only met him a handful of times, and it feels weird to include him in something so significant. I don’t know if my mom will care about having him as a plus-one, since as the mother of the bride she would be spending most of the day with me and family anyway. But not inviting him seems like it would be a snub, which is not my intention. My mom and I are very close, but I haven’t asked her about this yet because I’m worried that if she senses any hesitation on my part, she’ll bend over backward to accommodate me and won’t actually tell me how she feels. Is there a rule of etiquette here that I should follow? How should I open up this conversation with my mom?

—Mom’s Boyfriend at the Wedding

Yes, there’s a rule of etiquette here you should follow: Give your mother a plus-one to your wedding and let her bring her new boyfriend who treats her well. I know that as nice as Joe may be, it can’t be easy to mourn your father and welcome your mother’s new boyfriend at the same time. But grieving the loss of a parent and grieving the loss of a partner can look very different, and she’s not doing anything wrong by dating him. Plus, it would be very unusual for a single parent of the bride or groom not to receive a plus-one even to a very small wedding. If you want to have an open-ended, nondefensive conversation with your mother about how bittersweet and poignant the idea of celebrating a wedding without your father is, by all means do so. But have that conversation totally separate from your invitation to Joe. This isn’t a problem your mother can solve by hiding her boyfriend for the day.

Help! A Co-Worker I Barely Know Has Been Keeping a Diary About Me.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Jaya Saxena on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

Dear Prudence,

Recently, a long-distance friend accidentally outed my teenage stepchild to me. The disclosure was embedded in small talk about how our kids are doing lately. The friend thought I already knew, since my stepchild came out to the friend’s kids during a visit two years ago. Being very young teens at the time, and in the process of unfolding their own identities, the kids innocently told their parents. I now have this information about my stepchild, which they did not mean for me to know and do not know that I have.

My stepchild has struggled to stay alive for several years due to severe depression and anxiety. Also, we live in a red county of a red state, where the culture is extra unsafe for queer youth. I do not assume that the depression, anxiety, and school struggles are directly due to being closeted, but it’s surely not making things easier. At a minimum, the stress of being queer in a hostile context is putting this child at increased risk. I don’t know if they are out with their therapist or any local friends. I’d be very surprised to learn that their other parents know. I’m keeping my mouth shut. But I would do anything in my power to keep this kid safe, including relocating two households to a less risky context. Is this a case where the ethics of safety and consent may come into conflict with each other? Is there ever a case where outing someone is the least bad option? Is there any way to safely let my stepchild know what I heard?

—Know Something I Shouldn’t

This is a really difficult position to find yourself in. I’m so glad your stepchild has you in their life, because your compassion and commitment to their safety come through so strongly here. It’s hard to weigh the various possible outcomes against one another, because your stepkid might be deeply hurt to learn that they’ve been outed without their will, no matter how supportive you are. I can completely understand why you want to talk to your stepkid about this, but I don’t think it’s necessary at this point. You already know what you “need to know,” namely that your stepkid struggles with suicidal urges and depression. You can do the cheesy “I love and support LGBTQ people, and if you were ever to come out, I’d be here for you in any way that you needed” speech that all parents can give kids without making it clear that you know something. And if you want to ask your stepkid about whether they feel safe in your neighborhood, you can; you don’t need any excuse to have that conversation. I’d err on the side of keeping this information to yourself for now and creating lots of obvious, well-defined room for your stepkid to come to you with anything they need.

Dear Prudence,

I have a new co-worker who, before I left for an extended absence, gave me a big box containing bulging envelopes of gifts labeled for each month that I will be away. And she asked that I take a picture as I open each one and text her every month. Since this was all done in front of our students, I couldn’t refuse the gifts at the time. Now a month has passed, and I still don’t know what to do! I know she looks up to me as a mentor, and I thought we had a friendly, professional relationship, but this makes me uncomfortable. It feels a little stalkery. I think she meant it as a sweet and thoughtful gesture, but I feel trapped and am tempted to quit my job and completely ghost her. But that seems extreme! How do I move past this?

—Too Many Gifts

I agree that quitting your job would be an extreme response! But letting your co-worker know what you told me is a perfectly sensible response, and you should do it: “I’m sure you meant well, but I’m not comfortable receiving so many gifts from you, especially on the condition that I text you with regular updates. I’m not going to be able to do that, and I’d ask you not to buy me any gifts in the future. Thanks for understanding.” Assuming she’s an otherwise reasonable person and this is simply excessive enthusiasm from a new (possibly young and unused to the norms of the workplace) colleague, she’ll experience a little private mortification, apologize, and refrain from buying a year’s worth of gifts for a colleague she barely knows in the future. If she gets defensive or argumentative, you can let management know someone else needs to pull her aside and let her know she can’t demand her co-workers accept elaborate presents from her. The upside of being out of the office means you can do this all over email and keep a written record on the (hopefully small) chance that she becomes combative.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From How to Do It

I adore my husband of 12 years. We have two kids, a great house, and are very close. The big catch: When we met I was very inexperienced and he failed to disclose a lot of information about his own sexual history, which included a boatload of gay sex and orgies and humiliation play. He lied to me for years before finally telling me he was bi. Over the last two years, we have tried a lot of new things to make him happy: We had an open marriage, used toys on each other, watched gay porn, and talked a lot about his fantasies. He stopped talking to his extended family during this time frame and told me one night that he probably would have identified as gay rather than bi if he had a more accepting family.

He insists that he only loves me and doesn’t want to end our relationship, but he also calls me vanilla all the time and insists I find him disgusting. When I make a move, he will often flinch. He gets extremely upset if I express concern that he is going to opt out of our relationship, which I feel is a legit concern. Now he says he is just going to repress that side of himself. I don’t want him to lie to himself, or me, and I don’t care if he is bisexual. I don’t even care if he has someone on the side as long as he is super careful with protection. I love my husband and I don’t want to break up our life, but I don’t know how to move past the unhealthy sexual dynamic in our relationship. Sexually, he has made me feel like I will always be second best.
I don’t think that I should have to feel bad for enjoying heterosexual sex and not needing a lot of the extra bells and whistles, especially since I am ready and willing to play along with the things that interest him. What should I do?