Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Hi, all—welcome to another Dear Prudence live chat at home. I hope you’re all as safe and settled as possible, given the circumstances. Let’s try to make things a little less thorny today!
Q. Roommates during the outbreak: My roommates cannot work from home due to the COVID-19 lockdown. My husband and I have decided to cover rent ourselves since we are not out of work. Is it wrong to request help painting and cleaning this month? I typically do all the cleaning and cooking. My husband is working and in grad school. Is there a way to tactfully ask for help? Is this opportunistic?
I do not want to assume they will help, but I need it—my work is in health care, and I am exhausted. The roommates are not generally helpful with common area cleaning. I would hire help but we are spread thin and the rent gap eats up any cushions for the month. My husband has stepped up, but I really want them to volunteer.
A: I can understand why you’d like help, and particularly why you’d like them to offer to help—having a single roommate do all of the household cleaning and cooking is a pretty significant commitment even under the best of circumstances. But there’s nothing “opportunistic” about asking your housemates for help with household chores! You’re not threatening to withhold rent or kick them out of the house if they don’t clean your bedroom for them. You’re working full time and keeping the house clean for multiple people. You have every right to ask that your roommates pitch in. You may need to have more than one conversation as a group about what expectations you share, what compromises you’re all willing to accept, and how best to apportion tasks. But by all means ask! Not tentatively, as in, “Hey, could anyone help me out with painting this month?” But confidently, as in, “It’s no longer possible for me to work full time and do all of the cooking and cleaning. Here are the tasks I normally do around the house in a given week. I need someone to take over ___ and ____, and I’m happy to talk about coming up with a rotating schedule so we can all get through this together.”
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Q. Coronavirus breakup discussion: I’ve been planning on breaking up with my boyfriend since before the pandemic started. I was in the midst of writing up some words I wanted to say to him during the breakup when self-isolation commenced and businesses started to close. I want to have a long conversation with him, but how am I supposed to do so when it is unsafe to meet? I don’t want to accidentally infect him or his parents, but I also have nowhere to meet him in public. Do I just stay with him until this is all over? I’ve never broken up with someone before so I’m scared and want to do this right—sending a letter seems insensitive. Ideally, I would like to break up and easily be able to meet again to exchange items or have a follow-up conversation (if we decide to).
A: We don’t know how long this whole thing will last, and I can’t imagine that moving in with your boyfriend (and potentially his extended family) for an indefinite amount of time, all because you feel guilty about the idea of breaking up with him during a pandemic, is going to be good for any of you. The timing is terrible; the timing of a breakup is always terrible, because it’s a breakup. If it’s any consolation, I think there are going to be a lot of people with “I got dumped just as the stay-at-home orders came out” stories in the weeks and months to come—you’re not the only one in a difficult situation trying to do the best you can. I don’t think you should send a letter if you’re able to speak to him over the phone. You might want to read off whatever you’ve written down, but I think being able to “meet” him voice to voice, even if you can’t do it person to person, is the most humane option. I know you’ve never done this before and want to do it right. That’s a laudable goal, but it’s also important to be realistic. You can be as thoughtful and attentive and thorough as you possibly can, and it’s still going to be inconvenient and upsetting. That’s OK! Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good-enough here.
When it comes to returning his stuff, my guess is that you’ll probably have to mail it back to him, and vice versa. This may not be the highest thing on his (or your) list of priorities; it may be that neither of you gets all of your stuff back at once, or at all. I hope you do get it back! But be prepared for this to be one of the things that ends up slipping through the cracks in the days and weeks to come. I think a lot of things are going to slip through.
Q. My pal is a player: I am in a sports league that is also my social outlet: beers after games, birthdays, barbecues at each other’s houses, etc. I have been in it for years. The league is coed and most members are in their 20s, thought a fair chunk are in their 30s and a few are still hanging on in their 40s. For a mix of reasons (I’m older, I have a steady partner, and my views are a bit more nuanced and feminist than those of many of the guys) I am friends with and the occasional shoulder to cry on for some of the women. The issue is “Ray.” Ray is tall, cute, and one of the best players in the league. He has also slept with many of the women. I am friends with Ray. He is a great teammate, and we are distantly related. We live near each other and I often give him rides home. Some of the female players have said that I should not be friends with him since he is sleeping his way through the league. But from what I can tell, the sex is completely consensual and there is no cheating involved.
Ray is very upfront that he is not looking for a partner. And to be honest, as a teammate he is very pro-woman. (In a lot of leagues, there are jerk men who won’t pass to or include the women. He is not one of them.) The women just don’t seem to like the fact that he wants sex for two to three weeks and then dumps them. I don’t think this is any of my business. I don’t even know it is going on until after the dumping. It is not something Ray and I talk about while drinking beer or riding home. Is it a lifestyle I would choose? No. Is it wrong? Annoying, maybe, but I don’t think he is doing anything wrong. I don’t feel right saying, “Well, you slept with him even though you know his track record.” But I don’t feel like I should have to stop giving him rides home because they thought they could change him. What is the middle ground?
A: If you like Ray, and you don’t object to his dating behavior, then continue to hang out with Ray. If some of his exes don’t want to hang out with you as a result, there’s not much you can do about it. I don’t think you’re looking for “middle ground” here so much as wanting to have it both ways. If you respect and admire the way Ray treats his partners (or consider it to be honest or neutral) and want to keep giving him rides home, then you should do it. If some of his exes don’t want to spend time with you any more as a result, that strikes me as a pretty natural consequence of that choice. What you want isn’t just the freedom to say, “I’m sorry Ray broke up with you, but I don’t think he was dishonest or misleading” (which is not the same thing as “Well, you slept with him!”)—you’re looking for a way to convince these women that they should want to spend time with you even after you say that. I don’t have anything for you there!
Maybe Ray is every bit as upfront and honest as you say he is. But even if that’s the case, these women are entitled to feel hurt after getting dumped and to prefer to be friends with someone who isn’t also friends with the guy who just dumped them. And I don’t think you’re going to get anywhere by trying to remind them of how sexist the rest of the league is (“Hey, Ray’s not so bad when you take him in context! Remember how most of the opposing team members totally ignore you on the field?”). People are entitled to decide which shoulders they’d like to cry on. It’s possible that Ray may have met the bare minimum of not lying about what kind of relationship he’s interested in and only having consensual sex. That doesn’t automatically mean he’s treated his partners well or that his exes ought to then enjoy spending time with his close friends.
Q. Notice in the time of the coronavirus: I recently accepted a new job and am due to start in a few weeks. I had originally planned to give two weeks’ notice, but my friends suggested I reconsider due to the situation with COVID-19. There have been hiring freezes at other companies, and the logistics of how I will work remotely are still not 100 percent clear. My new job hasn’t given me any indication that my position is in danger, but the situation is changing rapidly. I don’t feel much loyalty to my current company, and my position is at will, but I do care about the people I work directly with and don’t want to burn bridges. Should I give the customary two weeks? Wait until the very last day to protect myself? Find some compromise in between?
A: This is tricky, especially because it sounds like you’re at least a little uncertain on the current status of your new job. Have you signed anything yet, or been given an offer in writing? Do you have a firm start date? When’s the last time you talked to your new employer about any of this? I’d check in with them and ask for clarity before giving notice at your current job. If I were you, I wouldn’t give notice until I knew for certain my offer was still good; if there’s a way to give two weeks’ notice under that restriction, that’s great, but the most important thing to do right now is to make sure you have a job before taking anyone else into consideration.
Q. Am I being a public health hazard? My husband and I both work full time, are financially comfortable, and have severe mental illnesses. Maintaining careers and keeping our mental health stable leaves no energy to maintain the house. We use a maid service, which has infinitely improved our lives. Our maid service let us know it is still going to send people over because the service is classified as essential during the pandemic. Is it ethical to have someone come over and help out? We have no reason to believe we have COVID-19, but it feels like a selfish and dangerous thing to do right now. Should we do the best thing for the community and cancel for now? Or see how we cope without the maids?
A: I think the best compromise here is to tell them to stay home and pay them anyway! It’s a marvelous opportunity to avoid doing something that feels dangerous and selfish during a time of great uncertainty, and it will help the employees of your maid service, who are often employed as contract or gig workers and don’t have the same protections as full-time employees. There’s not an ideal compromise here, since you say that under “normal” circumstances you and your husband don’t have the energy to keep the house clean, and you’re hardly operating under normal circumstances at present. But it would be better for you and your husband to come up with a sort of chore triage plan—what things are you both willing to let go of; what little things can you do to maintain some semblance of order without committing to regular, impractical deep-cleaning sessions; how can you go easy on yourself and not try to keep a perfectly ordered house in the midst of a crisis—than to say yes to an offer you would feel guilty accepting.
Q. Guest decimated toilet: Before the whole COVID-19 thing happened, I had a friend from out of town stay over for several days. When they left, I cleaned the bathroom. I discovered this person made a major mess and didn’t clean it up! I have a bowl brush next to the toilet, cleaner solution in plain sight, and disinfecting wipes under the sink. It would have taken 30 seconds to clean this up when it happened, but by the time I found it, the mess had dried. It’s been a few weeks, but I’m still upset by my friend’s inconsiderate behavior! I have avoided any communication with this friend other than a few texts. What should I do?
A: It’s true, in the grand scheme of things, that this is not the biggest problem; by the same token, it’s not that big of a deal if you want to say something to your friend about it now. (I assume you’re positive that it was your friend who did this, and that it couldn’t have been anything or anyone else.) Even assuming they’d gotten sick and felt embarrassed afterward, the courteous thing to have done would have been to alert you so you weren’t surprised by the mess. If this is really getting in the way of being able to maintain an otherwise-meaningful friendship, let them know this bothers you and give them the chance to apologize.
Q. Re: My pal is a player: The problem is not that he is a player, but that the women who are complaining are treating their soccer league as a dating service. Anyone who plays in a coed league knows that if the playing in the league matters, they have to treat it the same way they would their place of work, as in, don’t shit where you eat, or at least get to know someone well before initiating a sexual relationship.
A: I don’t have much in common with this perspective, I think, partly because I don’t agree that a nonprofessional sports league ought to be treated like a workplace and partly because I have a reflexive dislike for any approach to interpersonal relationships that assumes that anyone who feels hurt or let down is a naïve rube who forgot to read a contract before signing. That said, someone having hurt feelings doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else has to do whatever they want! (And I’m less inclined to think of these “complaining women” as the ones treating the league as if it doesn’t matter. It seems to me Mark is the one who thinks of it as a dating service.) But the letter writer is perfectly free to disagree with these women and keep giving Mark a ride home. He can even defend his decision to do so as long as he’s relatively polite and respectful about it. But he can only defend his position and then move on; it’s a waste of time and energy to try to convince these women that they should approve of him for it.
Q. Re: Notice in the time of the coronavirus: Don’t do anything right now. I have a friend who received and accepted a job offer (all in writing) before the pandemic, but her start day was occurring just as things were ramping up. The start date was put off, and then the offer was rescinded. When all is said and done, the offer may be resubmitted. But it may not be.
A: That’s awful. I’m so sorry your friend’s offer was rescinded. I hope the letter writer’s isn’t, but I do think it’s best to proceed as if it may be. These are particularly uncertain times, and even under the best of circumstances I don’t think it’s a good idea to give notice until you are absolutely certain your next job is a done deal.
Q. I plan on abandoning my husband and young daughter: Four years ago, my birth control failed. I never wanted kids and was set to have an abortion, but my husband convinced me it’d be different with our own. It’s not. I’m glad my husband bonded with our daughter, because I wish her no harm but do not love her. My unwillingness to spend time with her made me take on long hours at work, and I am being rewarded with a promotion and raise that requires a transfer to a city 1,000 miles away. I accepted as soon as it was offered. I’m now wondering how to tell my husband that this is a done deal and also that I’d prefer that he and our daughter stay behind. Any thoughts? Read what Prudie had to say.
Danny M. Lavery’s new book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You, is out now.
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