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My granddaughter “Riley” is getting married late next year. She’s currently putting together her guest list (I heard this through the grapevine) and is not planning on inviting my childhood best friend, “Greta.” Greta has been overwhelmingly kind to Riley for over 30 years. She sends Riley checks for every birthday, takes Riley to dinner whenever she’s in town, and generally plays a grandmotherly role in Riley’s life. I hadn’t heard of any conflict between the two of them. But it appears that Riley has forgotten all of this as she builds the guest list. She and her fiancé are getting financial assistance from my son for the wedding. It seems cruel to not include Greta when it’s not even Riley’s own money! I’m thinking of putting my foot down and saying I won’t attend if Greta doesn’t attend either. Greta’s been mercifully quiet about this, but I can tell she’s heartbroken. I would be too. What’s a grandmother to do?
Threatening not to attend your granddaughter’s wedding on the strength of something you heard through the grapevine without having a single conversation with her is likely going to backfire. I understand that you love Greta and that she’s been a member of the family for decades, but you don’t know that Riley has definitively kept Greta off the guest list or whether she just forgot your friend. You don’t know how much financial assistance your son is putting in, what Riley’s total budget is, or if the couple merely wants to keep the guest list small. You also don’t know how many other people are making guest-list requests, and your granddaughter has not only her own relatives and friends to consider, but her partner’s.
Rather than approaching Riley with a demand or an ultimatum, you should frame it instead as a request: “I don’t know what your budget or guest limit looks like, and I don’t want to impose, but if you’re able to make room for her, it would mean a lot to us both if you’d invite Greta.” I hope you can try to look at this not as an act of spiteful exclusion. It would be great if Riley could invite her grandmother’s best friend to her wedding, but it may not be possible. And if she can’t, it’s not an irrevocable slap in the face. Riley and Greta can still go out to dinner, catch up on the phone, and stay in each other’s lives.
My mother texts me multiple times a day either in a private message or in a group message with my brother and his girlfriend. Most of the texts are “just checking in” or “thinking of you.” I already feel like the world’s worst daughter for complaining about this, but it feels like it’s too much. I am 28 years old, married, and have a 1-year-old. I work full time in an ER, which obviously has its own stressors. For this reason, I haven’t seen my mom since the pandemic started. I know it’s getting to her not being able to see me and my daughter, and I empathize with that. I video chat with her at least once a week, and I respond to her texts most of the time, but honestly she’s driving me crazy. We don’t have the relationship that she wishes we had. I’ve always found it hard to talk to her, and we are fundamentally polar opposites. I feel guilty for thinking this, let alone writing it out, because I know I would feel devastated if my daughter felt this way. Do I suck it up and go on with the multiple texts and group texts and realize it’s not that bad in the grand scheme of it all, or do I upset her and set boundaries?
You do not have time for this! You have a very young child and work full time in the emergency room, and you do not need to bend over backward to protect your mother’s feelings about not being able to respond to 10 texts a day. You are so far from “world’s worst daughter” territory here. Nor do you have to broach the polar-opposites subject in order to address this—even a woman who considered herself quite close to her mother might reasonably say, “I can’t text this often, and I need you to cut back right now.”
If you want the low-conflict route, set these group texts to “do not disturb” and drop a chatty, cheery little announcement before so doing: “Just wanted to let you know I’m not able to respond to this thread while work is so intense right now. Just know I’m thinking of you and can’t wait to talk on the phone next weekend. Love you!” If you want the medium-conflict route, you can have a conversation with your mother where you tell her a modified version of what you told me, leaving out the part about wanting a different kind of relationship: You know it’s been hard being apart for the past few months, especially since she misses your daughter, that you look forward to your weekly video chats and the occasional check-in, and that she needs to scale way back on the “just thinking of you” text messages. If you think you need to massage the message in order for her to absorb it, you can couch it as a real act of generosity, a quirky little favor she can do for you that might seem counterintuitive but that will help you focus. Ideally this will preempt any hurt or defensive reaction. If that still comes up, you can assure her that you know she does it out of love and concern, that this doesn’t mean you don’t ever want to talk to her, but every two or three hours is too much.
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My parents separated when I was young. My father is a narcissist and a genuinely mean person. Four years ago his drug habit got worse, and I was afraid he’d hurt me, so I spoke to my mom about it and stopped seeing him altogether. Now, after years of therapy, a pandemic that’s reshaped my values, and the fact that I’m graduating high school next week (and giving the graduation speech) has made me miss him. I know he made me miserable to the point of suicide attempts, but I can’t help but think of all the times he was funny and loving. If he died from this pandemic, I would regret it. Originally I planned to wait longer, but who knows if he’ll still be alive (I assume he is right now)? But my mom says I’m misremembering and putting him in his best light because it’s been so long. He was a criminal, drug abuser, and all-around scary guy. But I’m more confident and emotionally stable than I used to be, and I think I might be able to handle it. Should I try to get in touch with my dad? Is there a smart way to handle this that I’m not seeing?
I understand the temptation to say, “It doesn’t matter if he’s different now or not—I’m different.” He’s your father, you love him, you’re worried about him in a time of crisis, you’re about to graduate (a milestone that can elicit feelings of nostalgia and a desire to connect), and he wasn’t abusive all the time. But no abuser is abusive all of the time. The humor, affection, and charisma are all part of the cycle of abuse, because after the outburst of violence or cruelty come the abject apologies, the love-bombing campaign, the free-spirited sense of adventure, in order to keep everyone close enough for the next turn of the wheel. But your father didn’t abuse and terrify you because you weren’t sufficiently confident and emotionally stable. Confident, talented, brilliant, even-keeled people experience abuse too. Abuse isn’t something you can prevent with the cultivation of internal resources. It’s a choice that abusers make.
I don’t say any of this to downplay your love for your father, which exists in its own right, regardless of the way he chooses to hurt you or others. That’s real, and that’s yours, and you have every right to acknowledge it, as well as the pain that his abuse and your subsequent estrangement have caused you. But I think the right place to take that is to a therapist and to your friends, not to the man who repeatedly drove you to the point of suicide while he was supposed to be raising you. I don’t think you’re misremembering him when you think about the times that he was funny and loving. I think those moments were genuine, and I hope you can hold onto them with real joy. But he’s also dangerous and violent, and he does not appear to be doing any of the necessary work of changing and atoning that might someday make careful, guided reconciliation possible. I can’t tell you that you can never speak to your father again. I don’t have any sort of authority over you. But I think that while your feelings and desires are perfectly understandable, your health and safety have to be paramount.
Help! I Never Realized My Husband Was Such a Jerk to His Co-Workers.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Sarah Jones on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
My boyfriend is a heterosexual man, and I’m a cisgender woman. We’re both in our 20s. Because of quarantine, we’re in each other’s space all the time, and I noticed he had wigs and women’s clothing. I didn’t want to snoop, so I asked him what was going on. We got into a huge fight where he said I had snooped and was invading his privacy. I said I hadn’t and that he wasn’t being as sneaky as he thought he was. He said that I had betrayed his trust and called me names. I was so shocked, because I wasn’t even upset that he cross-dresses. It’s not a big deal. I just wish he didn’t have to hide it. I’m sure he was caught off guard from being discovered, and I’m guessing that because of the stigma he hoped no one would find out (something that seems impossible to me, considering we live in a one-bedroom apartment).
Since then, we have been able to talk a bit more, and he even showed me some pictures. It turns out he had been wearing my lingerie and taking pictures in it. This is the part that upset me. He yelled at me about an invasion of privacy, but he found it perfectly acceptable to go through my drawers and help himself. The whole thing has been pretty shocking overall. I want to support him and for him to be comfortable sharing if he wants to. But he now thinks that I think he is gay (I don’t) and that I’m disgusted by him (I’m not). How do I approach something like this? I want him to feel loved and safe, but I also know we need to draw boundaries together and find out what we are both comfortable with.
—Too Close for Comfort
Two of the most immediately pressing issues here are the fact that your boyfriend called you names during your last argument and that he took your clothes without asking you, despite later berating you for not respecting his privacy. Close quarters can easily blur the lines between “snooping” and “noticing.” I imagine tensions are running high already in a small apartment you can’t often leave, and you want to make allowances, but he needs to apologize for both offenses and commit to not doing either again. It’s one thing to get heated during an argument and to say something hyperbolic like “You always overreact when [thing] happens,” but name-calling is a terrible habit to fall into.
Assuming he’s able to do that and you feel ready to move forward, I think you should avoid trying to prove a negative about the things he thinks you think (you can see why it would be a bit confusing to try). Make it clear that you’re not trying to hold anything against him or make any identity claims on his behalf. He can maintain as much privacy as he likes when it comes to cross-dressing (although that may be artificially constructed privacy, given the close quarters), or he can share it with you, as he wants. If he’s able to talk about his own defensiveness or anxieties without flaring back up into name-calling and blame, so much the better. But if all he wants right now is space, then that’s fine too.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“It’s really hard to keep anything private if you’re two people sharing one bathroom, one closet, one bedroom.”
Danny Lavery and Grace Lavery discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I’ve been in a book club of 15 women for about a year now. We’ve since taken to meeting over Zoom once a month. One member, “Jada,” has had a difficult year. She’s dealt with job loss and a death in the family, not to mention the pandemic. The problem is that she’s started to dominate our meetings, such that it’s feeling more like a therapy session than a discussion group. Though we try to stay “in the text,” she manages to turn every topic into an opportunity to unload about incredibly personal things like childhood trauma, repressed sexual abuse, financial insecurity, a 20-year-old friend breakup. It’s just a lot. Another member of the club gently recommended that Jada seek therapy, but she said she “didn’t need to pay someone to listen.” I’ve found myself starting to dread our meetings. It’s a downer to hear Jada unload, and I feel simultaneously helpless, sad for her, and annoyed at her monopolization of the airtime. What’s the right next step here?
—Book Club Bore
Where hints and gentle recommendations fail, directness must succeed them: “Jada, this is getting off-topic, so we’re going to move on and get back to the book.” That’s it. You’re not telling her she can’t ever talk about serious issues like financial insecurity or childhood trauma, or that she’s not allowed to talk to friends after the book part of the book club is finished, or that she’s a messy person—just that for an hour and a half, once a month, on this particular Zoom call, you’re all committed to talking about the book. Say it cheerfully, directly, confidently, and without hesitation, not like you’re about to deliver terrible news or you’re waiting for her permission to move on.
My childhood best friend and I live in the same city, and her college friend “Kate” just moved to our city as well. I like Kate, and we have lots in common—hanging out with our mutual friend as a group of three is fun! But Kate has a disgusting habit that I absolutely cannot get past. Very frequently, Kate will hock a loogie, then spread her mucus on a nearby surface (if we’re outside) or a tissue (if we’re inside). The sound is absolutely foul. My best friend didn’t warn me about this before Kate moved, and now I can’t tell if she notices and doesn’t say anything to Kate or if she’s just genuinely gotten used to it and doesn’t notice it anymore. Prudie, I notice, and I do want to say something! This feels like a horrendously awkward conversation. Do you have a script for me? Is this even a reasonable request to make of someone I’ve only known for a few months?
This is another (familiar) situation where there is, blessedly, no script necessary—just directness. You don’t have to soft-pedal or explain why what she’s doing is rude (or, when it comes to rubbing her phlegm on the nearest surface outside, actually dangerous) or do anything but say, “Kate, please do that in private. It’s very upsetting to have to listen to.” It’s not a conversation, any more than you would have to have a conversation with someone who blew their nose directly onto a dining table. You just tell them to stop it, clean up after themselves, and wash their hands. It doesn’t matter if your friend doesn’t notice or care or has some strange fear of saying something as simple as “Stop doing that.” Just tell her to stop. You’re not being cruel or shaming her for something she can’t control (she can’t control general phlegminess, but she can excuse herself and address it in private). You’re making an eminently sensible intervention.
Anne and I have daughters enrolled in the same dance classes. We both often stay at the lessons and chat with other moms. But I’ve always gotten the impression that Anne doesn’t like me. She never returns my greetings and often turns away from the conversation when I’m talking. Last week we were both walking to our cars, so I asked, “Anne, have I done something to offend you? I hope not, because I’d really enjoy getting to know you better.” Anne turned to me and said, “I’m sorry, but I am against adoption. I believe buying children is ethically deplorable.” She got in her car and drove off. I should now explain that I am white and my husband is black, so our daughter has darker skin than me. Since she’s never met my husband, Anne assumed I adopted my daughter from Africa: I found her assumption to be DEEPLY offensive, because although my daughter is not adopted, I am. I’m pretty grossed out by Anne’s judgment, but I don’t know how to respond, or if I should even bother engaging such a narrow-minded person.
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