Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Cake Tug-of-War

Every week, Danny M. Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the cake tug-of-war.

Nicole Cliffe: The social compact is breaking all around us!!

A of all she took the whole cake which is BONKERS and b of all you cannot actually tell someone to take a smaller slice of cake

But then she did push the LW’s roommate over to intervene in the cake slicing

I wish I had been at this very exciting party!

And then the cake HITS THE GROUND

whatever the opposite of physical distancing is, this is it

Daniel Lavery: My only question for the LW is: “Was it worth it?”

Nicole Cliffe: I mean if she HAD “chilled” I think likely things would have gone better

Daniel Lavery: “Is your current strategy paying off? Are you getting what you want? Are you having a good time?”

the LW both under- and overreacted in the worst possible combination of reactions

the important things were 1. Emily was drunk and ignoring her kid so that other people had to make sure he wasn’t running out into a busy street and 2. Your brother brought strangers to a supposedly “socially distant” party that was intended to be relatively low-risk in the middle of a pandemic

the unimportant part was that she took some cake

the LW underreacted to 1 and 2 and then went absolutely nuclear over number 3

Nicole Cliffe: I’m Canadian so I just am primed to let things happen around me without doing anything until a whole cake is taken and therefore I do understand that

Although I also would have not chased down the cake

I would have simply found a chair and stared into the middle distance and pondered the unimaginable

What I do think is that this woman’s relationship with your brother is unlikely for them to end up in matching bathtubs on a hill in an erectile dysfunction ad

Daniel Lavery: okay I definitely don’t recommend THAT as a strategy

Nicole Cliffe: so I would not bother to fight her existence to the death

and instead focus on “don’t bring random people to my private pandemic parties going forward”

Daniel Lavery: yeah, your best options were to either say at the outset “I’m sorry, but you can’t come in; we haven’t prepared for this many people in the house and I can’t accommodate this safely”

which may have felt difficult to say, but you really do have to develop contingency plans in a pandemic where you’re trying to reduce the risk of transmission

or once she got drunk and the kid started running off, asked them to leave

Nicole Cliffe: that seems right

Daniel Lavery: and if your brother says “just chill” then you have to hold the line and insist

it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, to be sure! I wouldn’t want to do it either

Nicole Cliffe: i’m just…in shock

Daniel Lavery: but transferring all that frustration to the cake just made things worse

Nicole Cliffe: things went badly slowly and then all at once

Daniel Lavery: also, you cannot use her bad behavior to keep justifying your own deathlike relentless on getting a replacement cake

you’re never going to get a cake replacement

your brother is never going to venmo you that 50 bucks

Nicole Cliffe: once you’re arm wrestling a person for a cake in front of a child, things have gone off course very demonstrably

Daniel Lavery: you can either accept it and let it go or fight with him about the cake from now until the hereafter

Nicole Cliffe: Oh absolutely not

Daniel Lavery: and I say that as someone who really enjoys a good birthday cake

Nicole Cliffe: I know you do! Your wedding cake was the best I have ever had.

Daniel Lavery: Emily and your brother behaved objectively badly, but it doesn’t mean you weren’t out of line either

Nicole Cliffe: It’s a real Sliding Doors situation, I can see moments where things could have been resolved but I think that once you let them in it was going to be a race to the bottom

and the LW could not possibly have known that

Daniel Lavery: right

but you need to decide to let it go

and that doesn’t mean “let Emily do whatever she wants,” to be clear

you can absolutely say “I’m not having her over again”

and hold firm there

Nicole Cliffe: I think that is the path I would choose

Daniel Lavery: but you’ve asked for an apology and a replacement, they’ve said no, and you just have to let that one go, rather than going back to the well of “everyone in our family is appalled by what happened”

Nicole Cliffe: but I would not expect to be repaid bc it’s not happening and I would not be like I SHALL NEVER FORGIVE HER bc that’s histrionic and pointless

Daniel Lavery: don’t call up your uncle and demand a second exhibition of shock and outrage on your behalf

Nicole Cliffe: you can just maintain the boundary of your hearth

yeah none of that is going to help things

this is not a theological schism

Daniel Lavery: Emily sucks, your brother is not going to break up with her on your behalf, you can keep your distance from her but stop trying to get a cake out of her

Nicole Cliffe: it also was paid for by the roommate who is not demanding fifty dollars

Daniel Lavery: and your brother and his girlfriend didn’t “ruin your birthday,” they acted badly on your birthday

that’s an important distinction

Nicole Cliffe: or the LW would have mentioned that

I am going to disagree this time!

Daniel Lavery: you can still go watch a fun movie or make a box Funfetti cake with your boyfriend

Nicole Cliffe: I do think they ruined her birthday.

And I generally do not believe in the ruination of holidays

but this is a ruined birthday, in my book

It’s okay, you get one every year

Daniel Lavery: also they’re fake!

Nicole Cliffe: You just don’t need to ruin your year over it

Daniel Lavery: call today your birthday

light a candle

celebrate right now

Nicole Cliffe: I support this

I am actually like “could the arrival of a Babadook have made this situation worse” and I think the answer is yes so I acknowledge that things did not descend into quite the level of outer darkness

and hitting the reset w your roommate and a friend is an excellent idea

Daniel Lavery: in future conflicts, save your energy for important interventions like “child safety” or “COVID transmission risk” and don’t transfer your frustration into “cake slice size”

“your kid can’t have a big slice of cake” is the wrong hill to die on

you had several better hills to make a stand on

Nicole Cliffe: it absolutely is, it was a bad turning point

Danny I am just PROCESSING

all of the things that happened

and not in a sitcom

Daniel Lavery: this is relatively besides the point but I never really understand what people mean when they say something is “too rich”

Nicole Cliffe: IT’S BULLSHIT


“IT’S VERY GOOD, step back”

my father makes this fettuccine Alfredo once every ten years bc “it’s too rich”

what does that even mean

who is the arbiter

if we ate it once a year would we develop gout?

I can neither imagine pushing past the cake-slicing person and insisting on cutting my own piece NOR can I imagine telling a guest, however uninvited, that they have taken too much cake when they have taken a SINGLE SLICE

Daniel Lavery: yes, it’s incredibly rude to shoulder past someone who’s slicing up a birthday cake to grab the biggest slice

but the answer to that isn’t to say, “put it back and take this little piece, your son will keel over if he eats the Forbidden Slice” either

at any rate, I think we’ve learned all we can from this birthday-party autopsy

all of you, go forth and sin no more

Nicole Cliffe: yes please

also jeez I hope that kid has some positive role models

Daniel Lavery: I do too