Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Hi, everyone! Dear Prudence is coming to you from home for the foreseeable future. Hope you’re all hanging in there—let’s chat!
Q. My girlfriend hates it when I eat garlic: I’ve been with my girlfriend for three years. We love each other, but she hates the fact that I eat garlic a lot and has given me an ultimatum to not eat it when we’re together. I just can’t stop doing it, though. I was raised with it, a lot of my favorite foods have it, and I can’t stop feeling like she’s trying to police what I eat. She says eating garlic is very inconsiderate of me and argues a lot about it with me. Who’s right?
A: Trying to establish who’s “right” and who’s “wrong” here will get you nowhere. Let’s instead assume that this really does bother her and at the same time that forswearing garlic forever would be a serious burden for you. If I were in your position, I’d say something like: “I love garlic! I can’t agree to your ultimatum; while I’m happy to chew gum or brush my teeth if the smell is bothering you, dropping garlic from my diet entirely would be sad and painful. I hope this isn’t a deal breaker for you.”
But I wouldn’t waste a lot of my time arguing with her about it! If she doesn’t think she can find a way to live with it, then I wish her the best in finding someone who never eats garlic. I’m sure there are people out there who hate it too! I’m not sure I could build a life with one of those people, as charming as they might be in other respects.
That said, if anyone out there is in a garlic/no-garlic household and has any tips for compromise or success stories they want to share, I’d love to hear from you!
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Q. Should I be a good little fiancée and move to paradise? Two weeks after my partner and I got engaged, he got word that he got into a Ph.D. program in Hawaii. This was great news for him; he’d been trying unsuccessfully to get into a doctoral program for two years now. Problem was I didn’t even know he had applied to this school until he got accepted. Our family is all in New England. I felt my career was dependent on networking I continue to do in this region, and there aren’t many opportunities in my field over there. So I stayed behind, got a dream job in my field with great pay and benefits near my family. I still support him, emotionally and financially, in a long-distance relationship. But I got a lot of flak for this choice from friends and co-workers, his family and mine. It’s been heavily implied or straight up told to me that it’s my obligation to follow him as his fiancée, even if it means taking a job outside my field. And why wouldn’t I, since he’s in paradise, right? Even my boss treats me like I have one foot out the door.
But what about my dreams? A huge part of me wants to live in the same place as him, and yeah, it would be a really cool experience to live in Hawaii. But another part of me doesn’t want to feel like I’m sacrificing myself for this partnership. He has since recognized this was a huge decision to make without including me, and when he graduates we’ll be discussing where we want to live together. But in the meantime, do I stay, or do I go?
A: I’m so curious why your fiancé didn’t tell you that he was applying to a program across the country, and why he’s only now “recognized” that you might want to know, as his fiancée, he was considering a 5,000-mile move before he pulled the trigger. That’s a not inconsiderable breach of trust, and I’m curious how much you two have talked about his decision to abruptly move away from you without involving you in his decision-making process. Feeling abandoned, suspicious, hurt, and uncertain would strike me as a perfectly reasonable response to his decision, and I wonder if you’ve let yourself acknowledge your own pain here, given how much pressure you’re experiencing from everyone else in your life to cheerfully follow him.
The part that concerns me most right now is your boss acting like you’ve already given notice. Can you have a conversation with them to reestablish your professional commitments so you’re not kept off of important assignments or excluded from possible promotions because it’s already been assumed you’ll move away? If I were in your position, I’d be extremely reluctant to follow this guy anywhere. He kept this from you, moved away, and still expects you to support him financially—it sounds like you provide him a ton in terms of forgiveness, understanding, flexibility, and support. What’s he doing for you?
Q. My therapist was accused of sexual assault: I recently found out my therapist has been accused of sexual assault. I have been going to him for over four years, but what really disturbs me is that I realize I don’t trust him. Something similar happened to me and probably caused all my trust issues with everybody, and I have never been able to fully discuss it with him, and I don’t think the therapy is helping me and have been thinking about stopping or trying something new for a while. Should I ask him his side of the story? Just tell him what I told you and quit? He has never tried any hands-on healing things with me, and I wouldn’t let him now.
A: You don’t even have to tell him what you told me in order to quit, if you don’t want to. You can just send him an email telling him that your most recent session was your last and you won’t be scheduling new ones in the future. You don’t trust him, you haven’t felt comfortable being completely honest with him, you haven’t felt like therapy has helped you, and you’ve been thinking about stopping for a while now. Even without these allegations, that would be sufficient reason to stop going; given that you now have real reason to believe he’s a possible danger to his patients, don’t give quitting a second thought. Quit therapy today! That’s not advice I often get to give, so I’m glad today to have the opportunity to give you permission to do so, because it would so clearly benefit you and your mental health.
Q. Is it wrong to out a postgraduate postmortem? Recently a college friend of mine, “Drew,” passed away suddenly due to an unexpected illness. Only a couple of months ago he/they came out to friends as nonbinary on social media. I was surprised, but thrilled. Drew was a highly empathetic, supportive, and feminist person.
The post was for friends only, not public. I’m not sure how out Drew was to his/their family. Drew worked in academia and always wanted to teach. His parents, whom I have not met, just set up a scholarship fund in his name and have started asking friends for donations. They have specified that it will be for one male and one female student. I feel strongly that Drew would want this scholarship to be accessible to students who don’t identify with those genders. But would this lead to “outing” Drew to his family without his permission, and would that be wrong?
A: Yes. Don’t do it. You don’t know these people, you have no idea what their relationship with Drew was like, and there are other ways you can find on your own to support nonbinary people in academia.
Q. My best friend overwhelms me with memes: This may be the most millennial problem ever. My best friend lives across the country from me, and we primarily communicate via text and Instagram DMs. She spams me, almost compulsively, with memes all day long. It’s weirdly daunting to open my messages and see nine-plus messages from her all the time, all memes, and it isn’t fun anymore. I get that she wants to make me laugh and that’s great, but it has made our friendship so … shallow? Pointless? It truly is like a compulsion in that she has to send me every single meme she sees. I don’t know how or if I can tell her that I find it so annoying without hurting her feelings or sounding ridiculous. Any advice?!
A: If your friend’s feelings are hurt by your saying, “I love you, but getting spammed with memes throughout the day doesn’t feel like having a meaningful conversation, and I want you to scale way back,” then she needs to have her feelings hurt. It’s a reasonable and respectful thing to say, and she needs to know that you don’t enjoy this so she can knock it off. You can say it over the phone so she can hear the affection and kindness in your voice, and you can stress that you’re not asking her to stop contacting you, just that you value less frequent but more meaningful interactions. But you just have to tell her and accept that it won’t make her happy right away. It’s OK! If she’s really your best friend, you two are going to have to find a way to have the occasional loving but difficult conversation over the course of a lifetime.
Q. My dad still probably thinks I’m a hypochondriac: Two months ago I was diagnosed with adult ADHD (I’m 22). It was a huge relief. My new meds are working, and my life has already improved significantly. Before my assessment, I asked my parents to write down anything they remember from my childhood that might be applicable. My mom was helpful. My dad didn’t write anything down, but rather informed me that he’s always believed that I’m an “empathetic person who absorbs other people’s problems” and should look into “getting diagnosed with hypochondria.” His reasoning was that when I was a young child, I would often ask them if I was “special needs.” I was a queer, trans, neurodivergent, home-schooled, only-child pastor’s kid whom cis girl peers regularly tried to coach into more neurotypical, feminine behavior. That question was the only way I knew how to express my anxiety and isolation—but my dad took it to mean that I was (and still am) paranoid about myself. Looking back, I can see how this belief about me shaped (or justified) the way he often responded to me being in any kind of pain or difficulty with anger, suspicion, or denial. We have fought about his “diagnosis” of me several times since, but a talk last week indicated some progress. He accepts my ADHD diagnosis and apologized for calling me a hypochondriac. But he insisted that he and my mom “never thought there was anything wrong with me or that I was different from any other kid.” It’s an improvement. But I can’t shake the feeling that he is only placating me. I anticipate a similar situation playing out when I come out as trans—with “ROGD” or “catching trans from the internet” in the place of hypochondria. I am seeking therapy and plan to put my parents on an “information diet,” but I don’t know why I still, as an adult, feel such a strong desire to justify myself. Should I hold out hope that my dad will ever trust me about my own experiences? Is it possible to untangle my own self-image from his beliefs about me before going through all of this again when I come out?
A: I think it’s a good idea to assume that you are not going to get much more out of your father than a begrudging apology and willingness to let the subject drop. It’s understandable to want understanding and sympathy from your parents; desiring their acceptance is a powerful impulse. But I also think you could wear yourself out trying to justify or persuade him of your own experience, and if he doesn’t meet you in the middle with genuine curiosity and open-mindedness, you’ll end up exhausted and resentful. I’m so glad you’ve found a useful diagnosis and medication plan, and I think it’s best to focus your energies there for the foreseeable future. I’m glad you’re planning on seeing a therapist. Keeping a journal might be another helpful tool for identifying what you want from your father (a sense of legitimacy, a real apology for past skepticism or lack of support, etc.) and figuring out how you can provide those things for yourself, with or without his participation. I don’t know if your father will ever trust you about your own life or ever respond to any news you have to share with anything other than “Oh, you’re making things up again,” but I do believe that you can untangle your self-image from his beliefs about you; your father’s assumptions do not have to dictate how you see yourself for the rest of your life.
Q. Getting over spouse’s emotional affair: I recently discovered (via social media accounts) that my spouse was having an inappropriate emotional affair with an infrequent co-worker, which my spouse says was driven by not feeling as if I was providing what he/she needed in our marriage, based on my behavior, which I’ve admitted and declared my intent to atone for and move forward. A few days after confronting my spouse, I discovered (in the same manner) that they were still talking. After confronting my spouse again, my spouse said that he/she thought it could remain civil and platonic, but based on the conversation I saw, it crossed the line. Since then, my spouse has admitted that it was wrong and appears to be committed to working on our marriage, but after initially saying that he/she would tell the co-worker that it was ending, my spouse instead decided to ignore the co-worker (I believe by deleting the social media app—my spouse does not work with this person very frequently). My fear is that by not decisively ending the relationship, the co-worker will feel the door is still open (and maybe subconsciously my spouse feels the same). I’m absolutely committed to working on our marriage, and I believe my spouse is too, but I’m still concerned that the relationship is continuing. I have nothing to base this on other than my instinct, which may be wrong because of how recently this happened. I want to know that this relationship has ended, but I also don’t want to reopen this conversation because I want to focus on the future and make sure that my spouse sees me as that person instead. My question is after what period of time (if ever) and in which least confrontational manner is it appropriate to ask my spouse if the contact with the co-worker (and the relationship) has ended?
A: I have so many follow-up questions here, but I’ll try to confine myself to answering yours. If you and your spouse both agree that you want to prioritize your marriage, and that this particular relationship had moved beyond friendly co-workers and into something that actively damaged your marriage, then you don’t need to set up arbitrary time limits to check in and ask, “Hey, honey, did you really stop speaking to the lieutenant like you said, or are you lying to me again?” That’s not to say you should start monitoring your spouse’s phone or speaking to them in judgmental, accusatory tones, but I don’t think it’s correct to say “I have nothing to base this on other than my instinct, which may be wrong.” Your fear is based on your spouse’s very recent behavior, namely getting involved with a co-worker, hiding it from you, blaming you for the affair when you discovered it, and then deciding the best way to handle it was to suddenly ignore their colleague. I agree that the way forward here doesn’t include your spouse having to have a formal breakup conversation with their colleague—the biggest problem here is how your spouse communicates within your marriage—but it doesn’t sound like you’ve gotten much from your spouse in the way of honesty or self-awareness. You need to keep asking questions.
Q. Re: My girlfriend hates it when I eat garlic: Brushing your teeth or chewing gum won’t eliminate the musky odor of garlic (which I love also). Parsley oil, which you can get in little capsules in specialty pharmacies and online, is effective at eliminating or neutralizing the smell, including the smell that exudes from your skin, as it can travel to pores and sweat glands. But it also eliminates the wonderful taste in your mouth, so this is an extreme way of acceding to someone else and should be used sparingly for things like meetings, attending concerts, etc., so as not to interfere with the experiences of those around you in those situations. Another way of enjoying garlic without the strong smell is roasting it, which, when spread on good bread, is a delicacy in itself. That said, I avoid people who don’t like garlic.
A: This is what I found truly challenging about this question! I’m aware that garlic has a really strong odor and that it sort of wafts from the mouth and pores for a long time after eating or handling it. I also love garlic! So I can understand how someone who doesn’t would find it really difficult to bear—but I also know that forswearing garlic entirely would mean a real reduction in joy and pleasure for someone who does. I wouldn’t at all fault someone who hates garlic to want to avoid me after I’d eaten some, but I don’t think I could give it up to please someone else either.
Q. Re: Should I be a good little fiancée and move to paradise? First, absolutely do not give up your career to go to Hawaii. Just no. But I also think there may be a more harmless explanation for the fiancé. He had been trying to get into a program for years. He probably cast a wide net, and he finally got a yes. So off he went! That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have discussed it. But when I was applying, I told my family that, hell or high water, I was going wherever I was accepted.
A: Did any of those family members live with you and assume the two of you were building a shared life together where you’d make decisions about where you would live as a couple? Because those are two pretty different situations.
Q. Re: My girlfriend hates it when I eat garlic: I was in a similar situation for a long time, but with pickles. My ex loved them, and I can’t stand the smell, taste, etc. The compromise was that my ex handled all pickle-related things separate from my food (to include separate knives when cutting sandwiches with pickles, etc.) and would wash their hands or brush their teeth before initiating contact with me post-pickles. The key to making it work is my ex took my dislike seriously, and I gave my ex the room to enjoy pickles because I knew they would enforce the compromise so I never had to have direct contact.
A: I’m glad it worked out for you two, and I assume that you broke up for non-pickle-related reasons. Obviously it’s not a direct comparison because pickle smells don’t tend to linger the way garlic smells do, but I do agree that the key element here was the willingness of each party to do their best to understand the other. If OP and their girlfriend can find some sort of shared ground of “We’re both doing our best here and can try to reasonably but not perfectly accommodate one another,” it’s possible to make a mixed-garlic-appreciation relationship work. But if the fights are constant and never-ending, why keep hurting each other over something that won’t change?
Q. I caught my landlord in a compromising position with his dog: My wife and I live in a small apartment at the back of our landlords’ lot. They are a sweet, retired couple who have been very kind to us. The back door of their house faces our front door, and we walk past it when we come and go. One morning we decided to take our dog on a quick walk before leaving for work, which we don’t normally do. When we returned, as we came around the back of the landlords’ house we caught the man with his pants down, apparently having sex with his dog. He very quickly stood up, pulled up his pants, and acted as if he was just tying his shoe or something. We said good morning and quickly scooted back into our house. My wife and I both asked what the other saw and we were in agreement that him having sex with the dog is what it was. Should we just move out quietly or stay and pretend nothing happened? Do we tell his wife? Do we confront him directly? We are afraid we could get kicked out for speaking up. But I am afraid for my wife’s safety. They live with and take care of several young grandchildren and I am afraid for their safety, too. Read what Prudie had to say.
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