Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Dream wedding blues: My daughter was getting married to a man who is, for lack of a better word, a cheapskate. Per tradition, we were footing the bill for the wedding and reception at a nice hotel near our home and a nice honeymoon to a coastal resort in California. However, as the COVID-19 crisis worsened, my son-in-law insisted they “take advantage of” the crisis to score airfare, a wedding venue, and a honeymoon in Italy since it was “a buyer’s market” there and would cost the same as what we were paying now. Despite my repeated warning this could easily backfire if the crisis worsens, things get shut down, or—God forbid—we end up with the disease too, he insisted and bullied our daughter into going along with his plan. I went ahead and canceled the existing reservations here in the U.S. for the “Italian COVID-19 dream wedding,” but made sure everything was insured.
Well, surprise, surprise, the venue closed indefinitely for COVID-19, and Italy was under travel bans. In the interim, our original venue had been booked, and the honeymoon resort was sold out. My daughter and son-in-law were forced to improvise, and we did a nice, though much less elaborate, much less expensive wedding, under a gazebo at a local park with a modest reception in our own home catered by a family friend. We gave a not insignificant cash gift, as we had always planned to do, and footed the bill for a few nights at a luxury hotel in a nearby city to make up for the original honeymoon. We thought things were fine until son-in-law learned I had covered my bases and had received a full refund. He insists we should have given the refund to him in addition to the cash gift we gave. He has now forced my daughter to join him in cutting off contact from us until we “do our duty as parents of the bride.”
Is he right? Should we have given them the money we were planning to spend? My wife is inclined to just cough up the money to keep the peace with Cheapo, but it was a big chunk of our savings, money we may need even more if we end up out of work because of the coronavirus.
A: Do not give this guy money. Offering to pay for someone’s wedding is a generous gift, not an opportunity to say, “Actually, I’ll just take the cash equivalent.” The fact that he’s using increased anxiety and uncertainty over a pandemic to try to chisel extra money out of you is pretty galling! I’m so sorry that your daughter is going along with his outrageous demands. It sounds like he would find a way to wield your relationship like a weapon in order to get money out of you regardless, so I don’t think sending them cash would really “keep the peace.” Let your daughter know that you love her and that you’d be happy to speak with her whenever she’s ready. But don’t give him the money.
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Q. The nursing dilemma: I recently had a baby, and unfortunately I didn’t make enough milk to be able to nurse. I was upset, but not completely devastated. Bottles will be easier, especially after I return to working full time when my maternity leave is up. My husband will be able to take turns with feedings instead of just me being a milk factory, and if I want to have a glass of wine at a grown-up dinner, I can! My problem lies with a lot of people who seem to expect me to be devastated by this news. I mean, in a heap on the ground sobbing into my cupped hands begging God to help me understand devastated. And I am just … not? I have noticed that people tend to give me side glances now, not only when I pop the bottle out but when they ask me (some strangers, some family) why I am not nursing. When I say, “Oh, you know, just couldn’t make milk, so formula baby,” they say they are so sorry and did I try this, this, and this? So I guess my question is twofold: Should I pretend to be more upset than I am, and if not, what can I say to people to get them to ease up on the “breast is best” speeches?
A: No, you should not start flagellating yourself for the benefit of rude strangers. How creepy that so many people in your life expect you to throw yourself inconsolably to the floor because your baby drinks formula. You have my permission to say anything you like to these people (short of, you know, name-calling and “I wish you were dead,” that sort of thing). “I’m not looking for advice, thanks,” is fine, as is “Why do you ask?” when someone asks why you aren’t nursing. (“Why are you so curious about my breasts?” is also good—I’ve used it myself, although not under quite the same circumstance.)
Q. Can I stop living with my girlfriend and still date her? I am a polyamorous lesbian in relationships with two women (who are not dating each other). “Sarah” and I have been dating for 10 years, since we were teenagers. “Alice” and I have been dating for a little over one year. Currently, we are all living together. The problem is that Sarah and I have been having relationship issues for the last couple of years. Alice finds this hard to be around, as she finds herself wanting to defend me during these fights but (rightly) chooses not to insert herself. Most of these fights center in some way on our vastly different standards of living. Sarah largely does not help with housework unless asked, and only sometimes if then. Her room is a total mess, with clutter covering every surface, and it gives me anxiety attacks to be in there, which has cut down on our ability to spend time together. She relies on me heavily to remind her to do things (housework, but also things like doctor’s appointments and social plans) and to pick up her slack with household tasks. I’m drowning under the weight of these expectations, but when I try to address it, she says this is because I have much higher standards than she does. I really don’t have very high standards—I don’t want a dusty house, huge swaths of clutter, or piles of dishes.
I love Sarah, and I have made up my mind not to break up with her. There is still so much else I love about her and about being with her. I just don’t think we can live together anymore. Alice and I cohabitate very well, and Sarah has another partner I think she would cohabitate with better. (And that partner is on board with the possibility. They have also been together for a year.) What should I do? Sarah and I have lived together for five years, own a cat together, and have been together our entire adult lives. I love her so much, and I worry that making this change deprioritizes our relationship and is the first step to losing her. Is this the right decision?
A: I can’t promise you that you and Sarah will never break up. It may be, in fact, that breaking up is ultimately the best possible thing for you and Sarah, and she will someday consider herself better off out of this relationship. But it seems abundantly clear that you and Sarah would be better off not living together. The constant fighting, the inability to compromise on shared chores, the wildly different expectations when it comes to cleanliness, the fact that the weight of the responsibility you’re taking for Sarah makes you feel like you’re “drowning” … this sounds miserable. I realize in the short term the possibility of quarantine might not make moving out immediately workable, but you should absolutely start talking to Sarah (and later Alice) about your plans to move out. Whatever consequences arise from that decision (like, for example, Sarah getting angry or hurt) don’t mean that it was the wrong decision. But your current situation isn’t tenable either.
Q. Oblivious lesbian: I am a lesbian college freshman with a long-distance girlfriend. I was recently asked out by “Wilhelm” from my swing dance class. Last night he walked me back to my dorm and said he’d “noticed me noticing him.” I stammered out, “I’m gay.” He was very nice about it and still wants to be friends. My friends say that I didn’t do anything and “straight men are dumb.” I’m not blaming myself, but I do realize that there were things I was oblivious to. We sometimes wore accidentally matching clothes to dance, so he asked for my number to coordinate our outfits on swing days. I thought this was funny because I dress androgynously. I did mention my girlfriend to him, but maybe he thought I meant friend. He was physically affectionate, noticed things about me, and complimented me, and we liked to joke around and tease each other. I noticed him sometimes looking at me across the room. Looking back, it was plainly flirting. I followed his lead, always smiling and saying hi, which he interpreted as interest.
I’m now rethinking the interactions I’ve had with my straight male pals and wondering if they sounded flirtatious. How do I avoid this? Should I try to insert more mentions of my Girlfriend™ into conversations with the other men at swing? Also, what do I do when I see Wilhelm? I love swing, and I genuinely like him. How do adults handle this?
A: Adults handle crossed wires and unshared romantic expectations in all sorts of ways (many quite ungraciously; see the archives of this column for reference). There are a number of actions/tones/requests/responses that can plausibly and reasonably slot into either “This person wants to be my friend” or “This person wants to date me.” Sometimes those categories are not mutually exclusive! Sometimes a person’s position is “I certainly hope we become better friends, and if the mood feels right and we both want the same thing, I’d be interested in hooking up, but I’m not necessarily going to push for it.” It’s not always a bright, automatic either-or. Being physically affectionate, noticing things, exchanging compliments, going out dancing together, and sharing jokes can all be elements of flirting, yes, but they can also be elements of friendship. You don’t have to stop being friendly to someone you like just because they might develop a crush on you. You weren’t “oblivious”—you were making a friend.
Both you and Wilhelm behaved like reasonable people. He thought your interest in him might have been romantic and made a respectful overture; you told him you were gay and he dropped it. Well done to the both of you! The next time you see him, be friendly but don’t crowd him, and let him take a little space if he doesn’t approach you. But you don’t have to drastically modify your own approach to friendship because he asked you out.
That said, you absolutely can go out of your way to mention your girlfriend-who’s-not-a-gal-pal if you’ll feel more comfortable being friendly with people once they know you’re in a relationship. The point, though, is that you should only do so if it will make you feel more relaxed, not because you owe details about your romantic availability to every guy you meet who might develop a crush on you. Part of being an adult means you ask out people you think are cute and might be into you; part of asking someone out means being prepared to take no for an answer.
Q. Girlfriend/best friend drama: I am a 28-year-old woman scheduled to marry another woman later this year. I also have a best friend, “Kasidy.” Kasidy and I were a couple for 11 years (we came out to each other on the same day and started dating immediately after that) before deciding to just be friends. This new dynamic took some work to adjust to, but these days we’re indistinguishable from any close female friends, with all the casual intimacy that that entails. For a timeline, I met my fiancée two years ago, which was about two years after Kasidy and I broke up.
In general, my fiancée understands that Kasidy and I have a special connection. But recently we had an argument I’m not sure how to solve. We were tasting menus for the wedding last weekend. I said that I didn’t want the menu to include tomatoes because Kasidy is mildly allergic. I don’t want my best friend to have to worry about picking and choosing safe dishes on my wedding day—she should be able to eat anything she wants. My fiancée, who is from a culture where tomato-based sauces are extremely common, said that this is unreasonable and that as long as Kasidy can eat one of the meal options, there’s no reason to restrict the menu. I was very offended by this exchange and told Kasidy about it (she was more amused than anything and didn’t care about the tomatoes as much as I did). But the fact that I told Kasidy about this upset my fiancée even more. She said she worries a lot about what Kasidy thinks of her, and it harms our relationship when I tell Kasidy about our fights.
I feel like my closest friendship is under attack. If this is how my fiancée feels, I’m prepared to call off the wedding. But is there anything I can do to save the situation before it comes to that?
A: I do not agree that your closest friendship is under attack! What’s more, your “closest friend” also doesn’t seem to think that your closest friendship is under attack. You say yourself that Kasidy doesn’t mind and isn’t nearly as concerned about her “mild” allergy as you are, and that your fiancée is generally understanding of your relationship with Kasidy and was willing to make sure there was something Kasidy could eat during the dinner reception. To which your response has been: “Well, I’m prepared to call off the wedding.” Do you notice how none of the escalation has come from either your fiancée (whom, interestingly, you don’t name) or from Kasidy, but from you? Does it strike you as significant that you appear to be looking for reasons to call your wedding off when neither your partner nor your best friend has asked you to? This may be an excellent time to reconsider whether or not you’re actually interested in marrying this woman, but not because she’s intolerant of your friendship with Kasidy.
Q. Boogie nights: I recently got laid off from my job. It was the best thing to happen to me. I went from an extremely demanding academic career to an extremely demanding professional career. My career was intense, and it took me getting laid off to realize that my “introversion” was actually just exhaustion. I’ve made new friends, started getting out more, and have started doing things I never had time for. Luckily, I was really good with my money and saved up everything I need to live for a year, maybe more. The problem is my fiancé. We dated for five years before getting engaged. I absolutely love him, but he is a true-blue introvert. I’ve tried to get him to go out to do things with me, but he only seems to come out once a month, if I’m lucky. I’ve mentioned taking a few dream trips I never had time to take, and he gave every excuse in the book to avoid going on them, even when I offered to pay. I’ve always wanted to travel, but he’s never been interested. I feel like I’m finally living the life I was meant to. I love my fiancé, but I’m worried I’m a different person now. I’m even more worried that I’m going to revert back to my old introverted self once I get a job, but I’m not looking for one right now. I love enjoying life. How do I figure out if my fiancé and I are actually compatible? How do I figure out if this is just some quarter-life crisis? I don’t want to leave my best friend, but I’m not sure we’re compatible anymore. What should I do?
A: You can start by exploring your options and talking honestly to your fiancé about your concerns. Have you considered taking vacations with friends or traveling by yourself? I know that’s not for everyone, but plenty of couples happily vacation separately, and it strikes me as the most obvious first solution to your problem. As for the question of whether you two are compatible—the only way to figure that out is to talk to each other. I don’t mean to suggest you should open the conversation with “I think I’m a different person now, and we don’t make sense together anymore.” But telling him you’ve experienced a lot of joy and relief as a result of being laid off and that you love making time to socialize in ways you never enjoyed before (and assumed was an innate part of your personality) and asking what kind of lifestyle he envisions for your future together is a totally achievable goal, and one that doesn’t automatically assume you two are destined to break up. You may as a result of these conversations realize you two want totally incompatible things and break up anyway. But you may also learn there’s more room for compromise than you’d feared!
For whatever it’s worth, I don’t think losing an exhausting, punishing job and then finally enjoying spending time with friends sounds much like a “quarter-life crisis.” Or, rather, I think the “crisis” was that you had an exhausting, punishing job. I hope whatever jobs you get in the future don’t look very much like that one.
Q. Nosey boss: I work alongside my sister at a family business where my mom is the owner. During the course of our working here, we have noticed that our mom will smell random, unnoticeable, but unpleasant smells, to the point that we have some weird rules that she’s placed in the office. Recently, the new rule is that when she is here at the office, we are not allowed to poop in the restroom! We use air fresheners regardless, but she’s mentioned to my sister that she can smell when we poop and that we must refrain for the hours she’s in. No one else smells it—and it’s a big office. Is it reasonable to ask us to wait (up to six hours) to relieve ourselves? Is this normal office etiquette?
A: Oh, Lord. No, your mother (or your boss, or both, as the case may be) does not have any standing to dictate when or how you poop. If you want to familiarize yourself with the legal protections available to you, there’s a page on OSHA’s website you might find helpful. Your mother’s behavior is outrageous. I don’t know if she’s normally such an intrusive, hyper-controlling boss/parent or if this is weirdly out of character for her. But you have every right not to answer her when she asks whether you’ve pooped today. (And you might want to start looking for a new job if this is in character for her.)
Q. Re: Oblivious lesbian: The important question to ask yourself is if you are comfortable with the way that “Wilhelm” behaves with you. If not, start drawing some kind but firm boundaries with him. If you believe your own behavior encourages or enables things that you don’t like (like if you go along with it because you don’t want to upset him), that is when you should start changing your behavior and drawing some boundaries, but not because it’s somehow a crime to flirt with someone you don’t want to date.
A: That’s the most important part, I agree! The letter writer says she doesn’t blame herself, which is great, but I still noticed a tendency toward assuming she’s somehow responsible for managing men’s expectations, which I think is a burden she can release herself from. There is often a kind of flirtation in the “are we going to be friends” stage—that’s fine! It’s not a commitment to have sex or go out with someone! If he starts acting resentful or entitled or tries to push a boundary, he’s not a good friend, and you should cut him loose; if he handles the rejection gracefully and is able to be a nonstressful, platonic friend, that’s great (and also, frankly, is kind of a bare minimum for how a person should handle low-level romantic rejection).
Q. Re: Boogie nights: Do not blow your savings on travel instead of looking for another job! It sounds like you definitely need more work-life balance, but going from one extreme to the other isn’t a healthy answer.
A: I mean, I imagine most if not all of the letter writer’s travel plans are now, at the very least, postponed, so it’s something of a moot point. But while I agree it’s a good idea to hold some of their savings in reserve, in general (like when there isn’t a pandemic going on) I think it’s OK to prioritize travel once in a while.
Q. Re: The nursing dilemma: That was me. I was a little upset, but not horribly, and was relieved that my husband could do the middle-of-the-night feedings. (By the way, my 18-year-old is healthy as a horse and always has been. When other kids got sick, he didn’t, or was sick only briefly.) Please try to shut down those comments quickly—it’s nobody’s business why you can’t nurse or what you’ve tried. And please don’t fake being sad about it. That’s also nobody’s business. Something like “Thanks. I have followed our doctor’s advice, and this is what works for us” and repeat as necessary. Carolyn Hax might also recommend a blank stare, held longer than is generally comfortable, as something that is effective for strangers or particularly persistent or annoying friends, family, or acquaintances.
A: Bless Carolyn Hax for that one! Another reader said, “I think this would be a perfect time to be more antagonistic,” and someone else wrote in to recommend not explaining why you’re not breastfeeding to anyone who asks, that it concedes too much to their perceived “right” to ask you intrusive questions about how you feed your child. I think that’s an excellent point.
Danny M. Lavery: Stay safe, everyone! See you next week.
From How to Do It
Q. My husband hasn’t touched me in six years: About a year and a half after we married, sex just stopped. He was never really the aggressor in the relationship, and I was OK with that. But then it stopped altogether. At first, we talked about it. He went to the doctor, reluctantly. The doctor tested his testosterone and said it was normal. Still nothing. I’ve tried everything you can possibly think of: dates, sexy lingerie, space, time, not pressuring. You name it; I’ve done it. The thing is, there is no intimacy at all in our relationship. We don’t touch, literally. We don’t cuddle. He kisses me once goodbye and once hello when he leaves or comes home. I believe porn was an issue at first; I found some on his phone, and I know he was “taking care” of himself. We instilled a rule of no electronics in the bathroom, but I am sure he is still using his phone in there when I am not home. I’ve pleaded to go to counseling, but he refuses. I went to counseling for about a year by myself, and it did nothing but reaffirm my feelings. I told him I feel like we are roommates; he said that was silly. I told him I was thinking about moving into our spare room, and he asked me not to. He is very prideful and worries a lot about what other people think. Everything else in our life is wonderful: kids, grandkids, our home, where we live. I love it. But this is something that just has me so torn. Some days I think I can live without it. But most days I am so lost. Read more and see what Rich Juzwiak had to say.
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