Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Hi, everyone! Today’s live chat comes to you, once again, from my living room. Let’s chat!
Q. Dating an anti-vaxxer: I recently met a woman who is smart, funny, engaging, and a lot of fun. However, after about two months of dating, I discovered that she’s an anti-vaxxer and I’m having a hard time dealing with that information. On the one hand, the information doesn’t personally affect me in a way that I can use to justify no longer seeing her (i.e., I’m not immunocompromised and I don’t have kids myself). On the other hand, this information is the equivalent of finding out that she believes in biblical creationism or is a Scientologist, and is perhaps even more harmful because it is directly contributing to the diminishment of herd immunity. Frankly, it’s a massive turnoff, but it also strikes me as a somewhat bizarre reason to stop seeing someone in my circumstances. What do you think?
A: I’m not sure why you think you can only break up with someone if their actively dangerous beliefs don’t immediately threaten you! First, and most importantly, you can break up with someone for any reason, even a frivolous or trivial one. You can break up with someone for no reason at all! Deciding you can’t pursue a more serious relationship with someone whose ideology actively undermines public health doesn’t strike me as “bizarre” in the least. And while you may not be immunocompromised at present, that’s no guarantee that you might not become so in the future; moreover, you don’t have to be personally at risk to care about the health of other people. There’s nothing weird or unreasonable about wanting someone you date to share your basic values, especially when it comes to public health.
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Q. Wife is withholding sex unless I have a vasectomy: My wife and I have been married for 10 years, and we have two wonderful daughters. My wife has no interest in having any more children (she developed complications with both pregnancies), and she also has no interest in using any form of hormonal/nonhormonal/implant birth control. And although we use condoms regularly, she has recently said this was not enough and that the only way for her to be sure she won’t get pregnant again is if I have a vasectomy. Until I go through with it, she has declined having any form of sex. Now, I know that a vasectomy is a relatively simple procedure that is done routinely, but I am having a very hard time getting around the idea of going through with a permanent surgery for the purpose of becoming sterile. I don’t necessarily want to have any more kids, but I would prefer to use nonsurgical forms of contraception (including condoms, calendar/rhythm method, etc). When I discuss it with my wife, though, it almost feels like she is using the vasectomy as a measure of my commitment to her and our marriage. Any thoughts or recommendations?
A: You can encourage your wife to talk more in-depth about the ways she feels like this vasectomy reflects your commitment to her and your marriage; for your part, you can revisit the “very hard time” you’re having about what a vasectomy does. (For the record, it is possible to have vasectomies reversed. That’s not to say that can’t come with possible complications, but it’s less permanent than other procedures.) You say your wife has no interest in having more children and that you don’t “necessarily” want any more either, so it sounds to me like there’s some investigative work to be done on your end. If part of you does want more kids or at least wants to discuss the possibility of having more, then it’s important to be straightforward about it—not necessarily because you’re going to change your wife’s mind, but because it’s better than bottling it up and trying to avoid the issue. You don’t say much about the “complications” your wife experienced during pregnancy, and I wonder if now’s a good time to reflect on the physical and emotional toll those difficult pregnancies might have taken on her. I imagine she’s also had to weigh various difficult, sometimes-permanent changes to her own body as a result of your reproductive choices, so it’s not as if she’s bringing up a vasectomy lightly or without any empathy. Ask her questions; listen with an open mind; consider ways you can deal with your own emotions around the prospect of a vasectomy. Whether or not you decide to get one is, of course, a decision only you can make, but there is a real opportunity here to learn more about your wife’s needs, desires, frustrations, fears, anxieties, etc., and to share your own with her, before making said decision.
Q. Birthday disappointment: My wife and I have two children who live with us and an extended family we call “the framily.” My daughter turns 13 at the beginning of April and has typically the last of seven late winter and early spring birthday parties for “the framily.” We had scheduled her party for the first weekend in April; we’d attended one of the other seven kids’ birthday parties a week ago. Now that my daughter’s party is upcoming, everyone has canceled. I know they are not canceling out of anything but safety for their families, but I am angry at all of them for disappointing my child. How do I tell my daughter that we have to cancel her party (after canceling a long-anticipated spring break trip, a musical theater production, and softball season) and my anger at the other parents for disappointing my child?
A: It’s a very good and compassionate thing that your friends and family are not planning on going to a birthday party next week. This is a necessary disappointment for you and your daughter to face, and it will be a timely opportunity for you to teach her about the importance of cheerfulness and resilience in times of crisis. That doesn’t mean pretending not to experience disappointment when it comes, but it does mean attempting to bear disappointment with good spirits, putting things in perspective, and, when all else fails to cheer, thinking of ways to help others who may be experiencing something much worse than a postponed birthday party. There will be time enough to celebrate birthdays in person again.
Q. In a psychiatric hospital: One of my friends has recently been hospitalized after a breakdown. He is an addict who has anxiety. He is also very manipulative and abusive toward some of his friends, and gaslighting is something he excels at. I feel for him and love him, and I think he needs help, but he is refusing to contact his family and adamant that we, his friends, will get him through this. I feel like his family should know, especially because we’re all quite young (19 or 20) and feel at a loss. I also don’t want us to endure any more abuse when he has his moments, considering two of us struggle with depression. This apparently happened before so I wouldn’t be disclosing his mental state for the first time. However, he explicitly said he doesn’t want them to know. Is it wrong to “out” his situation to his family?
A: Yes, it’s wrong to reveal your friend’s sensitive medical information to his parents; he’s a legal adult and entitled to privacy. Moreover, you know for a fact that he wants to keep this private from them, since he’s told you—just because he may have been hospitalized in the past, or his parents have some earlier knowledge of his struggles, doesn’t mean he’s no longer entitled to said privacy. If he ever seeks longer-term treatment for addiction or whatever other mental health issues he may have, it will have to be out of his own volition.
It’s also wrong, however, for him to manipulate and abuse you. You may care for him and even understand some of the reasons he acts as he does, but that doesn’t change the fact he’s unwilling to treat you with love and respect while simultaneously demanding that you “get him through” this particular crisis. That’s not a demand you need to acquiesce to. You’re not obligated to suffer through abuse and manipulation simply because the person abusing you is in pain.
You’re in a very difficult, painful situation, and I think your impulse to contact your friend’s parents stems partly from a desire for a “real adult” (since you say you’re all mostly fresh out of your parents’ houses) to fix your friend’s suffering and to override his decision to mistreat the rest of you. It’s a very understandable impulse, and I can imagine feeling the same way in your position. But rather than trying to make that decision on your friend’s behalf, I think you should focus on making the decision only you can make: namely, what sort of treatment you can reasonably, safely, and lovingly expect from your friends, without which they don’t qualify for your friendship.
Q. Should I pay my housekeeper to stay home? These are some difficult times. I am a stay-at-home mom and my husband is currently working from home. We were lucky enough to have some help around the house. We have a nice couple come every other week; they have been working with us for two years. We also have gardeners we hired two weeks ago. I am planning to tell my housecleaners to stay home, safe and healthy, and I will still pay them. My first question is, will this be indefinite? I don’t want them to take unnecessary risks, and this is their living, but how long should we plan for this arrangement? Should I give them two months’ lump pay and ask them to let me know when they feel comfortable coming back? (We aren’t sick at this time, just respecting the social distancing.) Or should I take it a few weeks at a time and see how things change? Should we pay them as long as people are asked not to work? That could be months. My second question is regarding the gardeners. They are very nice and I would like to keep paying them, too. I have less history with them but want to keep supporting them. What is reasonable?
A: If you can afford to keep paying your gardeners, please do. When it comes to your housekeepers, I don’t think you should ask them to tell you when they feel “comfortable” coming back because it’s not a matter of personal comfort but of public health when workers are asked to stay home by medical experts and/or local government. And don’t forget the internal pressure they may feel as relatively unprotected contract workers to show up to work even when it’s risky because they want to please their employers. They might very well say, “OK, we feel comfortable working,” when it’s not safe to do so out of fear that your generosity will be exhausted. I don’t know how long you should plan to keep this arrangement up. You and your husband should do as much research as you can, plan out a budget, and determine just how long you can afford it before you make these offers so you don’t overpromise and underdeliver. However long you can afford to continue paying, I think you ought to do so, and be as clear as you can about just how long that will be.
Q. Friend sent me explicit video: Yesterday a friend of mine from high school (I’m 24 now but we’ve kept loosely in touch) sent me a joke video. He texted me, “Look how bad the line at the grocery store is right now,” with a video, and when you hit play it was actually a nude close-up of a person farting. It made me super uncomfortable! He is a gay man and I am a straight woman, and we have talked openly and lightly about our sex lives with each other in the past, so I think he thought I would probably think it was a silly joke. But it grossed me out and it felt like crossing a line in some way I can’t quite put my finger on. We don’t talk often and at first I thought maybe he’d been hacked, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case. Am I overreacting? Or am I appropriately reacting? And even then, should I say something?
A: You are allowed to dislike gross-out videos! And you are allowed to say to a friend that you don’t like it when they send you gross-out videos and they need to stop. It’s not overreacting to dislike something, and it’s not overreacting to tell someone else what you dislike so they don’t bring it to your attention again! I agree it’s likely your friend thought it was a silly joke, but that doesn’t put you under any sort of obligation to feel the same way. You’re not telling him, “Hey, you’re obviously a sex pest and a monster for thinking this is funny.” You’re telling him: “I don’t like this kind of joke. Don’t send me this sort of thing again.” The “thing you can’t put your finger on” is whether you’re allowed to dislike surprise nude gross-out videos just because your friend is gay and it wasn’t sent to titillate or arouse you. But you are allowed to dislike them, even if you’ve previously had pleasant, enjoyable conversations about your sex lives before. Tell him you didn’t like it, and not to do it again; all he then has to do is apologize and not do it again.
Q. New baby, new name, new problems: I have a child from a prior relationship (someone I didn’t marry). My daughter has my last name, and I have joint custody with my ex. I got engaged, and I always thought I’d take my husband’s name, but because of the custody issue, I’m afraid to lose mine, because my ex will definitely demand that I change her name if I take the new one. My fiancé doesn’t really like the idea of a hyphenated name, but I’m OK with it. My daughter isn’t old enough to give input. What should I do?
A: “Doesn’t really like” isn’t the same thing as “will oppose to his dying breath”; it sounds like the easiest and most straightforward solution is for your fiancé to process his mild irritation, join you in hyphenating your last names, and then go on to enjoy married life with you.
Q. Re: Dating an anti-vaxxer: That is a far less frivolous reason than mine, when I broke up with someone because they breathed too loud. I knew I couldn’t handle that the rest of my life. Managing differing beliefs is a good enough reason to leave.
A: I do hear regularly from people who seem convinced they are not allowed to break up with someone they’ve only known a few short months unless they can convince a jury of 12 impartial strangers that their reasons for doing so are sufficiently fair and justified. This idea does nobody any good! That’s not to say I encourage treating people as if they were disposable, but my goodness, you can end any relationship, especially one that’s in relatively early stages where no one is especially invested in a future together, for any reason that seems meaningful to you! That’s what dating is for!
Q. Update—Re: Mom’s boyfriend at the wedding (March 7, 2020): Thanks for your advice about whether I should invite my mom’s new boyfriend, “Joe,” to my wedding. I think part of my ambivalence came from the fact that my mom is adamant that she never wants to remarry and she and Joe are just having fun. She even feels weird calling him her “boyfriend,” so we jokingly refer to him as her “gentleman companion.” When I was having to cut longtime friends from the guest list, it felt odd to include someone I barely knew. But your advice helped me realize that I was thinking about this in terms of whether I would want Joe there, not whether my mom would want Joe there. Once I looked at it from another perspective, it became very clear that I should include him. I called my mom and told her that Joe was more than welcome at the wedding if she wanted to bring him. She was very happy and told me how excited she was to have someone to dance with at the reception. So however complicated my feelings are about the situation, it’s totally worth it to see my mom happy.
A: I’m so glad you were able to reframe this question in a way that made the decision simpler and that your mother got the chance to invite Joe. I imagine you may have to postpone the wedding, but whenever it does take place, I hope your mother has someone delightful to dance with.
Q. My family carries concealed guns around my 2-year-old son: My mom, her husband, and some of my siblings have started carrying concealed weapons recently. I have a young child and want to make sure none of our family has guns anywhere near him. My mother told me that their guns would be locked up during Christmas. When I saw her a few days later her husband admitted he was carrying a gun while he held my 2-year-old. Now I’m worried about what Christmas will be like with them. How do I address this concern with my mom without alienating her and my other gun-carrying siblings? Before we travel the long distance home for the holidays I need to make sure there will not be guns around my son (or any of the kids). My sense is that she does not want to stand up to her husband on this. I really hate having to utilize the phrase “they are otherwise wonderful human beings,” but they are otherwise wonderful human beings whom I love dearly, so I really want to find a peaceful way to deal with this from a distance before Christmas. Read what Prudie had to say.
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