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Our house has thin walls. My brother-in-law and his girlfriend spent the holidays with us in our guest room, which is right next to our 4-year-old’s room. When they had sex, it sounded like a bunch of howler monkeys. Our daughter woke up and got scared because she thought someone was in pain. I came out into the hallway and could hear the thudding from the bed echoing. We let our daughter sleep with us that night. My husband “talked” to his brother. I assumed everything was taken care of, since there were pink cheeks and no eye contact the next day.
The next night, my husband was asleep downstairs when my daughter came into our room crying, saying the girlfriend was “screaming.” I was furious. I could hear the noise 3 feet away from their door. I slammed a fist on the door and told them to shut up or I would make them leave the house right now. They cut their visit short and never apologized. Our daughter had a few nightmares afterward, and I don’t want a repeat. My brother-in-law and his girlfriend need a place to stay over the summer. I told my husband that if they stay, they stay in separate rooms—the girlfriend can sleep on the sofa. Otherwise, I don’t want them in my house. My husband talked to his brother, and I got labelled as “controlling.” I don’t think any reasonable house guest would act like this, especially the second time. What do we say here?
I agree that your brother-in-law and his girlfriend should not stay with you over the summer, conditions being what they are. It would be an unpleasant and uncomfortable situation for everyone involved, and they’d be better off finding someone else to put them up. Nor do I think offering a conditional spot where one of them takes the guest room and the other one takes the couch would feel especially hospitable or welcoming, either for them or for you. Between their other relatives and broader circles of friends, they’ll be able to find something, and it doesn’t sound like you and your husband are their only options short of homelessness. And you have the right, as a host, to ask your guests to keep the noise down after your kids have gone to bed, whether that noise be from watching a movie, having sex, getting into a heated conversation, or anything else.
But I also wonder if you missed an opportunity to de-escalate the situation. You say that your daughter came into your room crying, after which you pounded on your guests’ door and told them to shut up or leave, which I can only imagine added to your child’s distress. That’s not to say that you should have simply cheerfully accepted the noise. But it might be worth examining your reaction and whether a better move would have been to reassure your daughter that no one was in pain or hurting, offer an age-appropriate contextualization along the lines of “Sometimes adults who live together make noise,” and tell her you’ll go ask them to keep it down. Then you could have knocked on the door, told them they’d woken your daughter up and that they needed to be quiet, and saved the chastising for the morning when your daughter wasn’t around. There’s still an opportunity for you to have that conversation with your daughter, to assure her both that she did the right thing in coming to find you if she was scared and to let her know that no one was in any danger. What your brother-in-law and his girlfriend did was rude and self-centered, but it wasn’t permanently traumatizing, and it’s important to distinguish between the two.
I’ve been struggling with my mental health during this pandemic, and in a moment I regret, I snapped at a coworker who kept pushing me for details about my personal life during a Zoom meeting. I said something to the effect of, “Honestly, ‘Tabitha,’ I’m not great, and neither is anyone else. Can we please move on?” I don’t know what came over me (Tabitha and I were friendly colleagues before this), and things have been painfully awkward ever since. We see each other in Zoom meetings during the day but don’t have any one-on-ones, and without the benefit of proximity, I can’t casually drop by her desk and smooth things over. Email feels formal. Scheduling a meeting just between the two of us to discuss our feelings somehow seems both overly aggressive and overly sensitive. We’re both adults, so why am I finding it so difficult to fix this situation? How does one handle difficult conversations when distance is a must?
You’ve already identified why you’re finding it so difficult to address what would otherwise be a relatively straightforward situation: You can’t speak to her casually, in person, in such a way that she can register your tone of voice or body language. This is exactly the sort of apology that can be offered, read as sincere, and accepted in a five-minute face-to-face conversation. It is, as you say, more stilted and awkward to conduct remotely. But a brief apology email feels like the best way to go here, and you’re right in thinking that a one-on-one meeting is overkill for a momentary overreaction during a time of great upheaval.
Tell her you’re sorry you snapped at her, that you were feeling overwhelmed and stressed-out at that moment for reasons that had nothing to do with her, and that you wish you’d responded differently. You can also acknowledge the awkwardness of having to do this in writing and say, “Writing an email is more formal than I’d like, and I wish I could just stop by your desk and apologize in person. Interacting with everyone remotely has been hard on me, and I really appreciate our working relationship.” This will go a long way toward dispelling any awkwardness. My guess is that she’s remained distant because she doesn’t want to upset you, and once she realizes you’re not carrying a grudge over that moment, you two will be able to get back to a warmer relationship. We could all do with a little additional leeway and understanding these days.
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As a child, I was raised in a pretty straitlaced, “white picket fence” type of family. My aunt “Carolyn” married into the family and became a mentor of sorts to me. She lived a far more liberal lifestyle, and I admired her carefree willingness to build her own life. We were fairly close when I was a teenager. As I’ve grown up, though, I’ve come to feel hurt when she speaks negatively about my family and upbringing. Yes, there were drawbacks, but we also had a lot of love and stability. She has started criticizing my choices—comments like, “You got into business school? I thought I’d been able to talk you out of that!” I think she means it as a joke, but there’s an undercurrent of tension. I know she disagrees with the way my parents raised me, and she believes they stunted my free-spirited personality.
At this point, I’m over it. I know she would have made different choices, but she’s not my mom, and I don’t enjoy spending time with someone who doesn’t respect my parents. I’ve tried to bring this up, but she claims I’ve been “brainwashed” into not questioning my upbringing. I haven’t! I just respect and love my parents for who they are, and I don’t feel the need to criticize 20-year-old choices. Who’s right? Is it possible to grow out of a mentor? How can I get my aunt to stop doing this if she actually wants a relationship with me?
—Aunt With an Agenda
It’s certainly possible to grow out of a mentorship, especially if that mentorship began when you were a child, where you weren’t in a position to screen, approve, or reject authority figures on your own behalf. Now that you’re an adult, it’s perfectly reasonable to develop a different kind of relationship with your older relatives.
And one of the problems with responding to someone who thinks you don’t really have a mind of your own is that, no matter how much you protest at that characterization, they take it as further evidence that you’re parroting someone else’s way of thinking. But that doesn’t leave you without recourse: “Aunt Carolyn, I love you so much. I know we disagree about a lot of things, but I also think we have a lot of values and priorities in common. If you don’t like my choice to go to business school, that’s fine, but it’s my choice to do so, not anyone else’s. Every time you insist I was ‘brainwashed’ into it, you make conversation between us more difficult, because I don’t know how to talk to someone who doesn’t think I’m capable of making my own decisions. I hope you’ll stop this, because I do enjoy talking to you—but I’m not a child, and I don’t appreciate being treated as one, any more than you do.” When it comes to picking apart how your parents acted 20 years ago, I think a simple rebuff is all that’s called for: “If you want to talk to my parents about what they did in 1998, you can talk to them about it, but I’m not available for that conversation.” I hope she comes around and that the two of you can find fruitful, mutually respective ways to disagree—as well as opportunities to talk about things you both enjoy.
Help! The Manager of My Coworking Space Is Having Sex in the Backroom.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Jasmine Sanders on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
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I’ve been dating this gentleman for about two years now, and our sex life is beyond satisfying, at least for me. For years I’ve heard plenty of anecdotes from friends about how their boyfriends enjoy prostate play. I asked my boyfriend about it one night, and his mood changed pretty quickly. He made it clear he was not up for anal play, even though he admitted some of his friends liked it, too.
A few months later I plucked up the courage to ask him if he’d like to try to “figure it out” together. This time, he said he’d tried it twice (by himself) before, that it hadn’t resulted in any pleasure, and that he felt angry and disgusted with himself afterward. The thing is that he does acknowledge that it’s a highly sensitive erogenous zone for most men, but when I asked if he’d like to research further together, he was apathetic and noncommittal. I just don’t want him to miss out on something he could really enjoy if he’d just agree to a little bit of help. Is there any chance for me to loosen my boyfriend up from being so “uptight” about this?
—Ready to Explore
No. Your only options here are either to take your boyfriend at his word or try to pressure him—which is the opposite of loosening him up. I’m sorry he felt angry with himself for trying a new way to masturbate, and I hope he can let go of his disgust with himself for being curious about anal play. I don’t think that’s a burden he needs to keep carrying around. But he’s given it a try, and he’s not interested, and he’s been pretty clear on that front. That means you have to let “no” mean “no” here, by which I mean don’t look for loopholes when the closest thing to interest you’ve seen from him is “apathetic and noncommittal.” Don’t try to frame this as something where you know him better than he knows himself, that if only he would let you make this decision for him, he’d realized he loved it and wanted to do it all the time. Even if you disagree with his reasons for saying no, they’re still his reasons, and that’s good enough to take him at his word. This is something you asked him for and he’s said no, so let it go before you venture into the dangerous territory of trying to wear him down until he gives you what you want.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“If these people moved in with you for the summer I truly think you would feel murderous rage by, like, Day 3.”
Danny Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I am a single mom quarantined with my two college kids and their significant others for two months now. I’ve been working from home by day and cooking and cleaning by night so the kids can focus on their studies. While they at first offered to help around the house, I encouraged them to enjoy this rare time in their lives to just focus on themselves and not worry about anything else. As Mother’s Day approached, I told the kids to not worry about venturing out and to just not get me anything. So they didn’t. Not even a card. I don’t need anything, but I have always given my parents and grandparents at least cards with loving messages. In fact, I had my kids write in Mother’s Day cards this year that I mailed to their grandmother, but when Mother’s Day arrived in our home, they acted as if they had completely forgotten. After getting one hug, I was immediately asked to cook breakfast. I did. After I cleaned up the kitchen, I spent the rest of the day in my room watching TV alone. While I realize I created this situation myself, my birthday is approaching, and I don’t know what to do. While I am sure mine is a problem older than time, is there any way I can nudge my grown children, who really do love me, to at least buy or make me a card on special occasions, or watch a movie with me or something, without making them feel terrible? Or should I just let it go and find a hobby?
—Skipping Mother’s Day
Happy belated Mother’s Day! I realize that doesn’t carry quite the same weight as it does from your children, but Happy Mother’s Day all the same. I do think there’s room for change and growth here. It was one thing to tell your kids, “Hey, just focus on your studies, don’t worry about the chores” at the outset of stay-at-home orders, but given that you’re heading into your third month together (and summer, when they’re presumably not studying as much as they did during the spring semester), it’s time to revisit that policy. There are four of them and only one of you—they’ll still have lots of time to relax and enjoy themselves, and you’d have a lot more breathing room. You can have a house meeting on the matter, and let everyone trade duties or come up with a chore rotation, but it’s a perfectly reasonable expectation that they all chip in when it comes to washing dishes, vacuuming, taking out the trash, cleaning the bathroom, and so on.
Now, when it comes to the sort of low-key acknowledgement that makes birthdays and Mother’s Day feel meaningful to you, I think that’s a separate conversation to be had only with your two children—and not one that’s going to necessarily make them feel terrible. You can acknowledge the role your request played in how that day went, making it clear you weren’t trying to trap them into making you feel overlooked, but that you simply realized you did want more than nothing. Tell them: “I realized that going through Mother’s Day without an acknowledgement was sad in a way I hadn’t anticipated. I don’t want you venturing out to buy me a present while we’re following stay-at-home orders, but a heartfelt, handwritten card would mean a lot to me, and that’s what I’d like for my birthday this year, along with plans to spend the evening together watching a movie and catching up.” There is so much room for you to state your needs and ask for reasonable things that’s neither “making your children feel terrible” nor “getting over it and getting a hobby.” It sounds like you’ve been very hard on yourself and felt like it’s incumbent upon you, as their mother, to not have any needs or ask for any help. I hope you can go easier on yourself and that your kids can step up to help make things a little easier for you, too.
My partner and I are two cisgender, straight meteorologists getting married to each other. Is having rainbow color schemes and rainbows appropriating a symbol of the gay community? Should I stick to clouds, rain drops, and thunderbolts?
Why not all of them? Certainly there’s a longstanding association between rainbows and gay people, but it’s not as if there’s a trademark that you’d be in danger of violating. Nor could decorating your wedding with rainbows somehow harm or confuse gay people. I’m not familiar with any attempts to restrict the use of rainbows exclusively for LGBT events. Perhaps not every single gay, lesbian, bi, and trans person will think your color scheme is in good taste, but I don’t think that’s a bar you have to clear. If you like rainbows, go with rainbows. It sounds cute.
I’m a man in his mid-40s who has been happily married for 10 years. I particularly enjoy my wife’s dry, some would say sarcastic, sense of humor. Her wit not only attracted me to her as a partner, but it was one of the things that got me through a difficult time in my career, enabling me to see the humor in absurd and uncomfortable situations. About 18 months ago my wife’s mother passed away suddenly and my wife began seeing a counselor. After a few appointments, the counselor prescribed an antidepressant medication, Paxil, and my wife’s has been taking it ever since. As a result, my wife’s personality has changed. Not dramatically, but enough so that she has become a glass-half-full, constantly cheerful type of person. I have no idea if this is common or perhaps if she was always depressed and her dark humor existed for her to deal with it. I’m glad she’s happy now but I thought we were happy before and frankly, I miss my old wife! The new rainbows-and-sunshine person I’m living with gives me a headache and I find myself less attracted to her. I feel like a jerk and don’t know what to do.