Dear Prudence

My Best Friend Stopped Talking to Me, and I Don’t Know Why

I’m trying to be understanding, but I feel really lonely.

Woman holding phone and looking sad
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Dear Prudence,

My best friend of several years, M, has barely spoken to me since stay-at-home restrictions came down. We’re currently in our shared hometown. I’ve texted and called several times over the past eight weeks and have only gotten brief responses, if any. I know everyone is overwhelmed and stressed right now, but I feel really sad. I like to connect with friends regularly, and M knows that radio silence hurts me. I’m trying to be understanding, but I feel really lonely. Is it selfish of me to ask M to give a little more attention to our friendship right now? I’m not sure how to balance my hurt feelings with the fact that there’s also a pandemic upending regular life. For context, M is financially comfortable, working from home, and has no ill family members. What, if anything, can I say?

—What Can I Ask For?

I’m sorry you’re feeling shut out and hurt by M’s sudden retreat. I’m reluctant to try to assign motivation behind M’s actions on the strength of their not having ill family members or still having a job. There are so many other problems that M may be facing as a result of this pandemic, not to mention the fact that a lot of people find keeping up with everyone over text and video chat to be more exhausting than restorative. Your hurt feelings aren’t necessarily a mark on M’s character or yours. They simply exist, neither something for you to be ashamed of, nor for M to feel personally responsible for.

I certainly don’t think it’s selfish of you to tell M that you miss them or that you’d love to have more of their attention, but I do think you should be prepared to receive a complicated or unpromising answer. You can check in in a way that foregrounds your concern about their unusual monosyllabism, because you don’t yet know if there’s something particularly serious underlying this recent absence. If the conversation proceeds from there, you can address the fact that you’ve felt hurt and lonely a little later. It may just be that M feels withdrawn, anxious, and frightened and hasn’t had the energy to reach out. I hope, in that case, you can balance patience and understanding for both M and for yourself, and that the two of you are able to find ways to periodically connect in ways that are manageable for you both. I’m sure M’s affection and constancy are undimmed, and that they’re going through a rough time in ways they don’t always know how to explain.

Help! I Never Realized My Husband Was Such a Jerk to His Co-Workers.

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Dear Prudence,

I’m part of a pretty diverse group of friends. Some of us are closer than others, but we usually hang out as a group (before the pandemic, anyhow). Last year, one of the members, “Casey,” came out as trans. We weren’t super close, but we were friendly. A number of the group’s members are trans, including my best friend, “Matthew,” a trans man. Matthew offered to talk to Casey if they had any questions. Matthew later told me Casey claims to have no dysphoria, doesn’t want to change their name, has no plans to pursue medical transition, and is going to continue wearing women’s clothing and makeup. That would be fine, if a bit odd, but Casey insists on male pronouns from everyone now—and loudly berates any strangers who innocently misgender them.

Back when we could still get together in-person, Casey would frequently lecture store clerks, waiters, and bartenders for accidentally calling them the wrong pronouns, while Casey was wearing a revealing dress, high heels, and a thick layer of makeup. Everyone in the group, trans and cis, feel super uncomfortable around Casey and don’t want to include them anymore. Casey was pretty high-maintenance already, and this kind of feels like an attention-getting stunt. Is it wrong to cut someone out of a group because they’re trans?

—Friend Dilemma

You’re not contemplating cutting Casey out of a group because he’s trans. You don’t like Casey. You think you have to justify your dislike of him with some structural reason like “his attention-getting co-option of transition is illegitimate” because you’re worried “I just don’t like him” isn’t sufficient. It is! You find Casey rude, overbearing, dismissive at best and hostile at worst toward service workers, and generally unpleasant to be around. You don’t have a single good word to say about him. Why on earth would you keep pretending to be friends with him?

You don’t have to make a collective decision to shun him as a united front. In fact, I think you shouldn’t. (It sounds like as a group you’ve all been doing too much talking about Casey and not enough talking to Casey.) If you don’t want to call him, don’t call him. If you don’t want to invite him to dinner, don’t invite him. If he behaves rudely and you want to say something about it, tell him he’s being a jerk and to knock it off. But you don’t have to base your rejection on the idea that he’s somehow using trans people to justify your dislike.

One other thought: I get that Casey’s relationship to transition doesn’t make much sense to you. But you’re not a stranger accidentally misgendering him. You know he uses male pronouns but decline to use them in your letter to me. Offering up “they/them” as if it’s some sort of compromise isn’t doing anyone any good. It’s not like ordering Coke and hearing “We don’t have Coke. Is Pepsi OK?” Trying to get into the business of deciding whether someone’s earned the right to change their pronouns is a losing game. It’s better to extend everyone the right to determine their own pronouns rather than set yourself up as the judge of whether they’ve earned them.

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Dear Prudence,

I live with five housemates, all in our 30s and 40s, in a fairly large home. “Kara” is the newest addition to the house, having moved in right before the pandemic. We weren’t thrilled about her, but we received no other applicants. Pre-pandemic, my housemates and I had a detente in the kitchen—since it’s small and there are so many of us, we tended to limit our cooking to once or twice a week, taking care not to cook anything too smelly or messy. Kara has upended our house culture. She cooks three elaborate meals per day, often cooking late at night after we’ve all gone to sleep. These meals are both smelly and messy. There is often strange odors (fishy?) and grease everywhere after she cooks. The layer of grime has coated all of our kitchen appliances. I now hate using the kitchen. Legally, I know Kara is allowed to cook as much as she wants—she’s paying rent! But is it fair to ask her to tone it down? This wouldn’t be an issue except we’re all working from home, so we’re constantly subjected to the malodorous smells. She sometimes throws open windows to vent, but it’s 100 degrees out in the heat of the day and the house heats up, which only accentuates the smells.

—Cooking Up Drama

The fact that you weren’t thrilled about having Kara as a roommate, plus your mention of her legal entitlement to use the kitchen, makes me wonder if you’re anticipating that she’s going to blow up at a straightforward request to clean up after herself after she cooks. You don’t seem to have raised the issue with her, choosing instead to silently fume every time she cooks. It’s also not clear if anyone clued her in to the unspoken house rule of only cooking twice a week or sticking to plain, unseasoned food, so it’s hardly fair to expect her to abide by it if no one told her.

Talk to her—either by yourself or as a group—about your pre-pandemic cooking guidelines and how that kept the peace in a small shared space. You can also discuss options for mitigating heat and smells if she’s cooking when it’s warm and how she can make sure she’s thoroughly scrubbing away grease and oil splatter after her meal. It’s also fair to ask her to try to avoid cooking big meals after everyone else is asleep. I hope that will push her to clean up properly after herself, as well as help you find her kitchen use a little easier to adjust to. Treat her like a reasonable person who needs to be more conscientious about sharing a kitchen with five other people—not as a volcano that’s about to explode.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Care and Feeding

A few months ago, a mysterious package arrived in the mail addressed to my daughter, who had just turned 4. Inside was a roll of nickels and a note calling her by a special name she made up for herself that I’d only repeated to a few people. It was signed from “a secret friend.” I didn’t recognize the handwriting, but after some detective work I tracked it to my mother’s husband of a few years, a man I always found slightly creepy but ultimately harmless. My two sons had birthdays in the months before their sister and neither received anything from this man.

When I told my mom I found this strange and was uncomfortable with it, she became defensive and treated me as though I was making a big deal out of nothing. My father sexually harassed me my whole life right in front of her (forced massages and touching, “accidentally” walking in on me changing) and she treated me the same way then, like I was being ridiculous. I left home as soon as I could but always worried for the safety of my youngest sister, whom he ended up molesting. Our mom has never taken any responsibility for what happened.

My mom and I had been slowly trying to build a relationship even though we live across the country, with weekly calls and frequent texts and pictures of the kids. But now I’ve nearly completely cut off contact. I feel so confused that she would not see her new husband’s behavior as the red flag I see it as. As has happened often with her, I feel unsure of what is real and what’s not. Sometimes I think maybe I am being unreasonable and creating a problem where there is none. After all, nothing has actually happened except a gift being given. This man is not my father and is not responsible for his behavior. I am more bothered by her lack of concern with what seems like textbook grooming behavior than I am with the gift itself. Am I being unreasonable?