Dear Prudence

My Family Won’t Stop Mooching Off Me

I’d like to buy my parents’ vacation cabin, but I know my siblings will want free vacations.

Cabin in the mountains
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence,

I am the oldest of five and the only one with a good job. I’m married, and my husband has a successful career too. While we are a close-knit family, this financial disparity has created resentments on all sides. My siblings have variously struggled to find careers. They are all self-sufficient but live paycheck to paycheck and are open about their financial struggles. This translates into an expectation that I pay far more than my share of group costs and that I pick up the tab for dinners. I don’t mind treating my family sometimes, but I hate the expectation. I hate the dinner-table “joking” that since I have a savings account, I can pay the dinner tab. I even buy my kids’ birthday presents on behalf of their aunts and uncles but never get the promised reimbursement.

I am now considering buying our parents’ vacation cabin to give my parents liquid funds and allow my parents a few more summers up there. I also want my kids to experience the joy of the mountains I had. But I am filled with dread knowing I’ll be bombarded with requests to use it (for free) for weekends with friends, etc. I had planned to rent the cabin out most weeks to recoup some of the costs. I sometimes want to scream: “While you spent your 20s flitting from job to job, taking months off to travel, and buying luxury goods, I was eating ramen in grad school and socking away every dime to pay down debt! We made different choices! I love you all, but it is not my job to pay your tab or provide you with free vacations. You’re adults!” I need to figure out how to draw boundaries without ruining these relationships. Am I being a miser?

—Siblings’ Bank

Your main goal here should be to never yell at your siblings about ramen. That wouldn’t help anyone’s emotional or financial situation in the least. Your first step should be to stop buying your kids presents on your siblings’ behalf! Tell them your kids will be happy with whatever their aunts and uncles can afford, even if that’s just a heartfelt card and an offer to take them to the movies sometime. Your kids have two wealthy parents and I’m sure plenty of gifts. They don’t need you bankrolling the gifts other people buy them, too. And if your siblings want to arrange for a get-together but you don’t want to pick up the tab at a restaurant, why not suggest a potluck at somebody’s house? You have every right to decline to pay for dinner, as long as you’re polite and proactive about it.

As for the cabin, if you want to give your parents money, then give your parents money. If you want to buy a rental property, buy one that isn’t currently owned by a relative and treat it as a purely financial enterprise. Or if you’re absolutely set on buying the cabin, set aside a few weeks for family use, and be clear about boundaries up front. Wanting to establish greater financial independence from the rest of your family and buying your parents’ vacation home strike me as mutually exclusive goals, but you likely need to decide whether the cabin or ending these conversations is more important to you.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 25-year-old black woman, and all my life I’ve been teased for being thin. Now that I’m a little older, I’ve finally been able to put on a few pounds and am no longer a size zero. I’m very happy with the way I look, but I’m still insecure about my size and constantly compare myself to other women.

I recently got a new job, and everyone here is very kind. However, a lot of my co-workers, even my boss, will make comments like “You eat so much but don’t gain a pound” or “You must be cold all the time because you have no fat.” I know that they aren’t meaning to insult me, so I always awkwardly smile. But I die inside every time I hear a comment like that. I know that a lot of people assume that being called skinny is a compliment, and maybe I sound ungrateful in the grand scheme of things. But I can’t help how I feel. Is there a way I can communicate that comments regarding my body make me uncomfortable or is this a personal problem I should take up with a therapist?

—Skinny’s Not a Compliment

You can do both. This is a problem that affects you personally, yes, but it’s not merely a personal problem if your co-workers and boss are making unwelcome comments about your size when you’re just trying to do your job. You have every right to tell them to stop. “Please don’t make comments about my body, thanks” is a polite and professional response that should remind your colleagues there’s no work-related reason to discuss how much you eat or speculate whether you have enough body fat to keep from getting cold, ever.

Seeing a therapist might also prove useful. You say that you’ve had complicated feelings about your body and have struggled with comparing yourself to others for most of your life. That’s a pretty long time to deal with something on your own, and your body is something you have to live in every day. I don’t think you ought to see a therapist because you hope to fix your discomfort when co-workers and strangers judge your body—discomfort is a perfectly appropriate response to such a situation—but because you deserve the opportunity to process these feelings with a sympathetic professional and develop new coping strategies.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have been together for 12 years, and we have a very loving relationship. I knew before we got married that he suffers from an anxiety disorder. Medication seemed to help. Then about four years ago, it started getting quite severe. Around this same time, he started drinking way more than usual. I would come home from work, and he’d already be falling-down drunk. A year ago, I asked him to go to couples counseling with me. We went for six months, and I’m confident that I made myself really clear about how his drinking affects me.

During that time, there was one night when I woke up and he was asleep next to me and our pillows were covered in blood—he’d fallen down in the night and cut his head open, then just gotten into bed. Since then, we’ve both been in individual therapy, and he’s made an effort to drink less. But he still drinks sometimes, and there have been a handful of occasions where he’s gotten drunk enough that his behavior upset me. He’s had his anxiety medication adjusted, which has helped some. But it’s also now clear that he is also depressed. He’s taken to telling me nearly every day that he is “bad,” that he’s a “failure,” and that he “doesn’t deserve” to do things he used to enjoy (including having sex with me).

He goes to therapy every week, but I’m not sure it’s helping. I tried going to Al-Anon, but I haven’t found a meeting that really works for me. I feel like I’ve been doing all the right things—encouraging him to seek help, getting therapy for myself as well, etc. And we still love each other a lot. I don’t want to get a divorce. But am I enabling him by staying with him? I should note that my own feelings about his drinking and his mental health are mixed up with the fact that I was raised by an alcoholic father who suffered from depression. I sometimes am not sure if I’m upset with him or with myself for ending up in a marriage that’s practically a cliché for adult children of alcoholics.

—Alcohol and Anxiety

I think it’s crucial to reframe the question “Am I enabling him by staying with him?” Your letter is so shot-through with concern for your husband, for his physical safety, for his depression and emotional stability, for his future—and almost nothing about you and your well-being. Your husband’s drinking makes you alarmed and distressed, he ignores your concerns, he dismisses you in and out of therapy, he says deeply upsetting things that hurt you, and he neglects you physically. Your note about your childhood makes it sound like you’re blaming yourself and downplaying the seriousness of your own pain, as if you think it’s unfair of you to be hurt now by your husband’s drinking because your father’s drinking hurt you in the past. I believe your husband is in real pain, and I have real sympathy for him. But the way he treats you sounds terrible, and I think you should be asking yourself, “Is staying with him hurting me?”

Do you generally feel healthy, safe, and respected in your home? Do you feel like your husband is a present, emotionally aware partner who tries to meet some of your needs? Do you feel like he’s able to take responsibility for his own life or that (either by action or inaction) he’s made you feel responsible for it? Is this the kind of marriage you envisioned for yourself 12 years ago?

You can love your husband, wish the best for him, hope that he gets into really effective treatment for his alcoholism and anxiety, all without signing up for a lifetime of being married to him. I know you say you don’t want to get a divorce, and you don’t have to decide right now whether you’re going to file. But you’re allowed to contemplate separation. You’re allowed to consider what kind of home life you want to have. You’re allowed to prioritize your own needs. Just because your husband is in pain doesn’t mean he’s entitled to something you aren’t.

Help! I’m a Feminist. Is It Bad That I Want Cosmetic Surgery?

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

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Dear Prudence,

A few months into my current yearlong lease (with a roommate), my boyfriend of two years and I agreed to move in together once it was up. He has always lived with his parents, while I moved away from home four years ago. We’re both in our early 20s. There is now a month left until I have to move out, and I appear to be doing most of the work in finding us a place! He has just recently left a stressful job and gotten a new one, where he works in the evening. He tells me that he has been contacting estate agents during the day, but I’m the one that’s booked all of the viewings so far. I’ve attended viewings alone after work, but he won’t go to anything unless it’s on his days off. The deadline is stressing me out, and when I talk to him about this, he tells me to calm down and that “we’ll sort it.” Prudie, I can’t crash on his mother’s couch if we don’t find a place in time (she doesn’t allow us to share a bed when I stay). When I’ve asked him if he still wants to move in with me, he’s said yes, and he gets excited about the viewings we do go to. How do I stop myself from freaking out and resenting his carefree attitude?

—I’ve Got to Live Somewhere

Recognizing that various “shelter-in-place” edicts might mean nobody’s moving anywhere next month, is there any way for you to speak to your roommate and landlord about remaining on your current lease, even if you move to a month-to-month agreement? It’s great that your boyfriend is excited when you look at new apartments together, but if you’re feeling this disconnected and ignored about a decision as big as moving in together (especially in the middle of some pretty volatile times), waiting a little longer couldn’t possibly hurt. I don’t mean you should do so punitively, and it doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to be concerned! It makes sense that he can only attend viewings on his days off, especially if he just started a new job where he works evening hours. And I think you two will be able to sort through this if you give yourselves a bit more time to plan, if you can express your bigger concerns about your ability to strike a compromise as a couple, if he has the chance to explain his own concerns and motivations, and if this 30-day deadline gets a reprieve.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I know that’s an expression I could expect to hear on Succession.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

A close friend runs a small nonprofit, from which I have benefited greatly over the years. I support her and the organization, but as my life has changed (got married, had a kid), I’ve been less directly involved. Still, when she had a fundraising campaign recently, I de facto brought in one of the biggest donors (a relative who is only interested because of my involvement), almost doubled my own donation from last year, and spent time I didn’t really have giving her feedback on the marketing materials for the campaign and writing PR copy (things I do professionally, but did for her free of charge).

During the campaign, I received a message from her regarding a donor from last year’s campaign that basically said, “Hey, this is your friend, right? She gave X amount of money last year, and it would make such an impact if she would do it again.” I feel so incredibly put off by this message, and just didn’t respond. I know my friend had good intentions, and I want to give her feedback so that she understands why this wasn’t OK. But I can’t exactly put my finger on how to explain what was so uncomfortable about the message. Can you help me with a script to let her know that yes, I love and support what she does, but this was crossing a line?

—Friendly Fundraising

I’m not so sure that she was crossing a line! You’ve offered this nonprofit a great deal of volunteer work and financial support in the past, you’ve previously brought in donors, and you’ve never explicitly expressed an interest in scaling back your fundraising efforts. Rather than saying to your friend, “This was an inappropriate request,” I think you need to say, “You’ll have to ask her directly—I’m not sure what her donation budget is,” and then have a separate conversation about your plans to cut back on your volunteer work. I suspect the reason you felt uncomfortable is not because your friend committed a heinous breach of etiquette, but because she has no idea you’re not interested in doing more fundraising. The discomfort is calling from inside the house. Once you tell her of your plans, if she continues to badger you for help, you have every right to get annoyed and tell her to back off. But you have to tell her your plans before you can expect her to abide by them.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 37-year-old single woman. For the last five years, my mother has been badgering me to attend the annual family vacation. She makes comments all year round in an attempt to make me feel bad for not going (she’s the queen of guilt trips). My parents, my younger brother, and my older brother (with his wife and their four kids) all go on vacation together. I just don’t find these trips fun or relaxing. My brother and his wife always have a big blow-out fight, and my mom has zero boundaries with people. I end up coming back more stressed out than when I left.

For the last five years I have been going on vacations with friends, and we have a blast. I’ve told my mom that I like spending time with my friends. I only live 30 minutes away and see them quite often throughout the year, but my mom just won’t let this go. Do I have to go on family vacations, or should I be doing what I want? I love my mother, but the thought of spending a week with her gives me anxiety because I know she’ll spend the week telling me what I should be doing with my life, and all the things she thinks I’m doing wrong, and why aren’t I married because she wants more grandkids, etc.

—Done With Family Trips

Continue to not go on family vacations, continue to enjoy the friend vacations, and minimize the amount of time you spend listening to your mother. Trying to argue with someone who routinely employs guilt-trips and emotional manipulation as a rhetorical strategy is often an exercise in pointlessness. While you can’t force your mother to stop bringing this issue up, you can become so cheerful, so bland, so non-responsive when she tries to start a fight that she has to give up in frustration. When she says, “I can’t believe we have to go on another vacation without you this year. It’s just awful,” you can reply, “I’m sorry to hear that! I hope you have a wonderful time.” If she doesn’t give up in frustration, you can end the visit! Why stick around to be constantly berated for not getting married and wanting to have fun with your friends? Just because she’s your mother doesn’t mean she’s entitled to say such unkind, unhelpful, intrusive things to you whenever she likes. She can either spend time with you when you are available and keep her jabs about vacations and marriage and how you live your life to herself, or she can spend no time with you. Whatever choice she makes, you can always decide not to stick around to be prodded and criticized.

Classic Prudie

I gave birth to a beautiful baby who is now 7 months old. A bizarre rumor went around that I actually had twins, and I adopted out the disabled child and kept the healthy baby. This is not true, as I would have definitely noticed another baby coming out of me. At first I laughed it off but after months of evil glares, outright rudeness, and weird questions, it’s no longer funny. I don’t know how to prove the nonexistence of this “other baby” and some people seem intent to believe what they want to believe. My husband is outraged and has even considered legal recourse, although we can’t trace the rumor-starter. How can I clear my name, short of posting my entire medical file on social media?