Dear Prudence

Help! Should I Major in a Field I Know Is Evil?

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

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Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. Ads: I’m a junior in college, and I’ve been thinking about changing my major. I currently major in a research field but took a few advertising classes as electives. I discovered that, while I’m not all that crazy about research, I really enjoy advertising. But I also find the whole field to be abhorrent. I would enjoy my career more and make more money if I majored in advertising. But I’d be making the world a worse place. I talked to the advertising adviser about it and she gave me a few platitudes about the benefits of advertising, but they seem weak in comparison with the drawbacks. On the other hand, I like it, and I’m really good at it. My professors have all encouraged me to pursue that field. I like the intensity and the pace, and the feeling of brainstorming good ideas. I find it intellectually stimulating, even though I think it provides little real value. I could see myself working for an advertising firm. (I wouldn’t be interested in working for a nonprofit.) Should I change my major?

A: I think it’s a little premature to say “I would enjoy my career more” if you went into advertising, given that you haven’t yet begun your career and have no basis of comparison. I don’t say that dismissively or to suggest you can’t change your major on the strength of what courses you prefer, just that there’s a lot of process-of-elimination-style learning about what you do and don’t want to do in your future. Surely between “research” and “advertising” there are a number of options you haven’t yet explored, and it may be that there are different types of research you prefer to others as well. I’m not surprised the advertising adviser encouraged you to continue, but if the person whose job it is to “advertise advertising” didn’t convince you, that’s got to be a sign you should consider your other options (much like your finding the entire field abhorrent). There are a number of fast-paced jobs that require brainstorming outside of advertising (readers with suggestions, please feel free to chime in), and just because you majored in something doesn’t mean you have to stick with it for the rest of your life. But by all means, major in something you believe provides real value—otherwise, what’s the point?

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Q. COVID wedding: My brother-in-law is getting married this coming December. My husband is supposed to be the best man, and my daughter a flower girl. We were both hoping that my brother-in-law would do the prudent thing and reschedule the festivities. Unfortunately, he has chosen to charge ahead, with little concern for participants or guests. We have been taking this pandemic very seriously, especially since I was pregnant for much of it and now have a newborn. Our kids aren’t returning to day care, and we are continuing to socially distance. We have made the decision that our children and I won’t be attending the wedding. My husband was told he needed to decide within a week and then pressured by both his brother and parents until he agreed. This has caused some friction at home, and now, come December, we are planning for my husband to have to be away from his family for a two-week quarantine to make sure he doesn’t bring anything home. This will obviously be longer if he does contract the virus, and the worst-case scenario is that he catches the virus and ends up hospitalized. To say I’m upset by this entire situation is an understatement. My husband feels pulled in two different directions and hopes that sizable events are not allowed indoors in December. I think he should tell them point-blank that he won’t be attending or participating in the events leading up to the wedding. Am I being too stringent here? What is the appropriate way to handle this situation?

A: I think your husband’s hope that outside circumstances will intervene and make a challenging family conversation unnecessary is a pipe dream. But I’m also concerned that whatever agreement the two of you might come up with will fall apart when he tries to tell his relatives, since they’ve previously pressured him into saying “Yes” to something against his better judgment. I wonder if it might help for the two of you to schedule a phone call with your doctor to discuss the risks and how to properly quarantine if your husband does attend the wedding. At best, it might give your husband a stronger sense of resistance if he’s acting under medical advice, and at worst, you’ll at least have a safety plan in place for his eventual return. But I don’t think you’re being too stringent. Your husband is proposing that you act as a single parent for at least two weeks this winter because he’s afraid of saying no to his relatives, which is both understandable (lots of people live in fear of saying no to their relatives) and deeply frustrating.

Q. Waiting: About a month ago a friend of mine died. (I am 46; she was 41.) My assumption is that it was an accidental overdose, but I don’t know that for sure. I had communicated with her days before her death, and nothing seemed out of sorts. I had asked if she was interested in a job opening at my company, and she had said no and that she was happy with her current job. She had been in my orbit my entire life, our parents went to college together, she went to preschool with my brother, and, as young adults, we had worked together. I know she had a difficult relationship with her immediate family. Her mother died several years ago. But she was an aunt to her sister’s children and as far as I know had reconciled with her father. She died almost a month ago, but there has been no service, no memorial, not even an obituary. I have done some investigation on my own and I know her father and sister had her body cremated and took her ashes home. (They, like me, are nonobservant Jews, but I still found the cremation odd.)

As a peripheral friend, I don’t want to overstep my bounds. As a father of two young children myself, I cannot imagine what her family is going through. But—and I am asking you if I am being too selfish—I am getting frustrated and mad: There is no service, there is no memorial, there is no celebration, and she deserves something. There have been a couple of announcements on social media, asking to give the family time, saying they are not ready to deal with this. Is there a point when I, as not the closest friend but someone who cares about her, someone who shares friendships with other people who care about her, should announce a service on my own? Can I plan or hold something? I’ve tried to reach out to acquaintances closer to her family, but there is a general consensus that the family isn’t able to do anything. I am brokenhearted for them, I want to respect the time and space they need, but as her friend, I want to make sure there is a recognition of her life. I don’t know what to do.

A: If you want to plan a virtual get-together with some of her other friends to commemorate her life, I think you have grounds to do so, although I don’t think you should bill it as an “official” service, and you certainly shouldn’t “announce” it in an attempt to goad her relatives into holding a service of their own. Even just talking to some of her other friends about her, discussing what you loved and admired about her and what you’ll miss, might go a long way. You can celebrate her in so many ways outside of a formal memorial; you shouldn’t let the absence of such a memorial hold you back now. Mostly, though, I’d advise you not to pressure her relatives. You don’t know what else they might be going through between the pandemic and pandemic-related layoffs, food insecurity, etc., and shouldn’t presume they’re delaying out of indifference.

Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit YouGet it from Slate

Q. Blowing me off: My best friend and I live across the country. We’ve been friends since we were toddlers. She visits one or two times per year and we text almost every day. But when she gets here, it’s impossible to see her. I know she wants to see her family and other friends, but a lot of times she goes home without having seen me at all. We come up with tentative plans and she’ll say “I’ll let you know,” and then she texts me and says she can’t make it. She sees other friends while she’s here, so I think the problem is just me. I would say she just didn’t want to be friends anymore, but she’s always texting me and initiating conversation. I’m nervous to bring this up with her because I don’t want it to seem like a big deal. On top of that, when we do spend time together, we end up always doing the same thing. I’ve suggested other things that I know she’d like, and she always says it sounds awesome and then backs out. She’s always been fearless and headstrong, I’m the shy one who likes to stay in my comfort zone, so I’m not really sure where this is coming from. What do I do?

A: “I’d love to see you when you get here. I’ve really missed getting to catch up during your last few visits, so I hope you’ll let me know if I’ve done or said something to upset you. Is everything OK?” Either she’ll let you know that something’s been bothering her, in which case you two can hash it out, or she’ll demur, in which case you can say “Why don’t you tell me a time and place that’s convenient for you, and I’ll make it work?” rather than come up with plans you know she’s likely to cancel at the last minute. Acknowledging that you miss your friend isn’t making something “a big deal” unnecessarily—besides most people don’t get what they want in their personal relationships by acting maximally nonchalant and pretending they don’t want anything all of the time. Which is not to give you a hard time for feeling shy or worrying about offending your friend, merely a reminder that having feelings or desires or preferences is not a shocking, insurmountable quality unique to you, but something totally ordinary, commonplace, and conducive to friendship.

Q. How can you get over someone you’re hopelessly in love with? About nine years ago I fell in love with a woman I met while traveling. It was one of the most poignant and emotional times of both our lives and we formed a bond through that experience that is beyond words. We both acknowledge and agree on that. We are part of each other. But she’s straight (I’m also a woman) and lives on the other side of the planet. She doesn’t share my romantic feelings (I would pick up my entire life and be on the next flight out if she said she were even considering a possible future together) and I can’t get myself to move on. I’ve been with other people over the years, but there inevitably comes a day where I wake up, look over at them, and wish with all my heart that I was waking up with her instead. I’ve asked myself every conceivable question about why I’m still so fixated on this and I’m still coming up empty. It’s been nine years, and it’s tearing me apart. How can I turn this romantic love—deep, soul-crushing, and immovable as it is—into something else?

A: The two things that seem the most immediately relevant are whether you’re still talking to this woman and whether the people you’ve been dating in the meantime are women as well—if you two are still in contact, it will only make it harder to try to move on, and if you’ve mostly been dating men, I wonder if it would help to give dating other women a try. Obviously you can’t replicate an experience like meeting someone unexpectedly while traveling and developing a once-in-a-lifetime connection bolstered by whimsy, unfamiliarity, and serendipity. And I can’t promise you that if you leave her strictly in the past, stop checking in with her, and start asking out other women that within two years, you’ll be finally and permanently over her, able to call her memory to mind with nothing stronger than a faint, poignant smile. But it does seem like living your life as if you might someday need to drop everything so you can rush to her side is not actually working—it hasn’t motivated her to reassess her sexuality, and it hasn’t made you feel happy, peaceful, or free. What might it feel like to live as if you wouldn’t get on a plane for her at the drop of a hat, given that she’s dropped exactly no hats in almost a decade? That doesn’t mean you have to suddenly resent or dislike her for not returning your feelings, but I wonder if part of you has hoped that constant, ongoing romantic availability was necessary to keep even that .001 percent chance alive. It seems pretty clear that your availability is not the problem and, in fact, she does not want to be with you. What might taking that seriously look like? What might you do differently if you said, “As wonderful as this woman may be, I don’t want to be in a romantic relationship with someone who spent nearly 10 years totally indifferent to my romantic attentions”?

Q. Food woes: For about a year since I graduated with my Ph.D., I’ve had some trouble finding a job. I’ve applied to many, but a lot of jobs just won’t take a risk hiring a Ph.D. unless a Ph.D. is required. I couldn’t even find tutoring jobs. On top of that, I also had health issues, so working full time was out of the question. I’ve finally gotten my health under enough control to possibly work full time and also was finally was offered a job. The pay, however, is terrible. I’m debating applying for SNAP. When my health problems started, I lost my job and moved in with my mother. She owes me money from several years ago when she divorced my father and he stopped paying some bills that legally became her responsibility. That’s no longer a problem, and my mother has recently gotten back on her feet financially. She started paying for my credit card bills when I went through my savings. I now no longer have any credit. It will be about a month before I get paid, and I’m not sure I can make it that long. I could possibly ask my mom to give me money on top of the credit card payments, but after six months she started complaining every so often that she thought I would be moved out and financially solid by then. I have a feeling she will start saying this more often if I ask her for more money, even if it were just for a couple months. I absolutely believe in the importance of SNAP and have no moral qualms about anybody who uses them, but I really don’t want to take resources away from people who have absolutely no other options. Should I suck it up and ask my mom, or just apply for SNAP?

A: I think it’s a mistake to think of SNAP as something you can “take away” from someone else—it’s not as if someone else is going to apply five minutes after you and then hear: “We’d love to give you a card, but [the letter writer] just took the last one. Better luck next month!” SNAP is a federal entitlement program, which means that as long as you meet the eligibility requirements, you’ll get benefits. There’s no need to worry about qualms here. Apply for the program and use whatever you’re entitled to. In the meantime you can also look into local food banks or other federal and state services. Take care of yourself, and good luck with your new job!

Q. Kiss from a rose: I am a bisexual woman in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man, and we are very happy. One of my best friends, “Rose,” is a bisexual woman whom I’ve known for about two years and who currently has a lovely girlfriend of her own. On a night out recently, while very drunk, Rose said she’d like to kiss me and asked, “Would that be a bad idea?” I gently but firmly rebuffed her, but I was flabbergasted—I love her as a friend but definitely don’t see her that way, and I’d assumed she felt the same. However, we have bonded over our shared sexual orientation and similar experiences in the past, and I do feel very close to her, so I suppose it’s not entirely out of the blue.

After she said this and I said no, we breezed past it and enjoyed the rest of the night as normal. What I’m struggling with now is whether to say anything to my partner. I am not attracted to Rose and have no conflicts about my feelings, but is it a lie of omission not to mention that she tried to kiss me? My sense is she’s now embarrassed about a drunken faux pas and would like to forget the whole thing, so I won’t bring it up with her unless she asks, but do I have a moral obligation to bring it up with him? They are also close friends and I don’t want to damage their relationship (or indeed any of ours) over a few impulsive, drunken words.

Additionally: Do I have a responsibility to try to spend less time with Rose now? I don’t want to confuse her if she’s trying to work through feelings for me. But then again, is it egotistical of me to assume she has deep feelings in the first place? Maybe it was just an offhand comment; it’s possible she’s even forgotten by now. Help, please!

A: She mentioned that she wanted to kiss you, took your “No, definitely not” in stride, and didn’t bring it up again. You don’t have any sort of “responsibility” to Rose here; it’s simply a question of what works for you. And you’re not morally obligated to tell your partner. If you decide that you’d like to, you can discuss it without making it out to be something “flabbergasting” or horrifying. I also don’t think you have to worry about “confusing” Rose, who seems perfectly capable of interpreting a straightforward rejection. If you want to hang out again, do so; if you want to reiterate sober what you told her drunk, you can, but it’s possible to do so with a light touch and without assuming she brought up kissing because she’s deeply in love with you.

Q. Re: Ads: Just keep in mind that when you are taking a class, you are free to express yourself your own way for assignments. When you are working, advertising is subject to teams and committees and consensus. You will have no power over the outcome of your ideas. They will be entirely to please the client, the boss, etc. There is a lot less creative freedom in the field—or, maybe I should say, creative autonomy—than there is in a class. How would you feel about your idea becoming a Frankenstein’s monster of many people’s input? If you are OK with that, then go for it.

A: I agree this is an important distinction, although probably the biggest difference is not between “taking classes in advertising” versus “working in advertising” but between “taking classes in anything” versus “starting at an entry-level job.” It’s not just in advertising where you might encounter a dramatic shift in priorities, scheduling, affect, and flexibility, but in almost any workplace.

Q. Re: Waiting: My brother died 10 days ago and due to COVID we are not going to have an official service or reception. Although word has spread through various means, we still have to write an obituary and plan to celebrate his life when it is safer to do so. We are also heartbroken. I hope the letter writer has some compassion for the family as well as some patience.

A: I agree that that’s the crux here. If any part of the letter writer wants to hold a gathering to remember her—even a small, informal one—in order to “shame” the family or rub their noses in something, I think they should drop the idea. But if they want to speak to a few mutual friends about what they loved about her, they don’t need to host a memorial in order to do so!

Q. Re: Ads: I have worked in the digital advertising field for close to two decades and love and hate it for the same reasons as the letter writer—with a much stronger emphasis on hate due to the fact that it went against a lot of my ethics. (For what it’s worth, I was forced into the field.) It ended up draining me and I resent having spent all that time and energy in it, and I quit last year. Food for thought: That being said, there could be a middle ground between “I don’t want to work for nonprofits” and “big corporations suck.” My old agency did a lot of work for the city, including some beautiful, powerful PSAs, awareness campaigns about illnesses and public health, etc. Maybe the letter writer could look into agencies that do some “good” work?

A: Thanks for this. I’ve heard from a few others who worked in public service campaigns, including a copywriter, and of them feel like they were able to make a meaningful difference and valued their work. Something to consider!

Q. Re: Waiting: As an estate planning attorney, I am seeing an increasing number of people who explicitly don’t want a service of any kind. The friend has no idea what instructions his friend left, what she had said to her family, etc. It is entirely possible this is proceeding according to the decedent’s wishes. He has zero idea what their friend actually wanted. He’s setting himself up as the arbiter of what the friend would have wanted or “deserved.” That’s only going to hurt the family more.

Honestly, this is all about the letter writer’s hurt and loss. That’s understandable. But it has to be acknowledged. He’s proceeding from a place of loss and pain and helplessness and trying to process that through this one aspect of grieving. Once the letter writer realizes it, he can do something to process grief and honor his friend in a way that isn’t overstepping. Nothing public. Nothing large. Nothing that would look like a substitute to what the family might do. Also, we are in an era of COVID; even people who clearly wanted large wakes are not getting them. Finally, I have some clients who are Jewish who want to be cremated. It’s not as rare as the letter writer might think. (It’s possible the cremation was also according to her friend’s instructions.)

A: Thank you so much for this necessary and helpful reorientation; I hope the letter writer is able to recognize parts of their motivation here and can nondefensively let some of their desires go.

Q. Re: Ads: How about health or public service communications? Requires similar skills but is more useful, and a research background might help.

A: Thanks for this! Another reader pointed out that not all advertising deals with individual consumer products and the letter writer might be interested in working with green-energy organizations, hospitals, or nonconsumer services. It’s worth considering if the type of organization affects how the letter writer feels about the practice of advertising generally, if it does at all.

Danny M. Lavery: Thanks so much for your help, everyone. See you next week!

If you missed Part 1 of this week’s chat, click here to read it.

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From Care and Feeding

Q. My anxiety disorder has me convinced my son isn’t actually mine: I’ve suffered from anxiety my whole life, and with the help of my wonderful wife and a lot of therapy, it’s more under control now than it’s been in the past. I’m also prone to intrusive thoughts, and unfortunately these two issues have coalesced into constant worrying and obsessing over whether my 10-month-old baby is actually my biological child. Of course, I have no reason to think he isn’t. My wife has never given me any suspicion of being unfaithful, and he was a planned and much-wanted child. I can’t sleep, it’s all I think about, and I’ve been too embarrassed to tell my therapist. I’m worrying that it’s going to hurt my relationship with my beautiful baby, and I don’t know what to do. Can I ask my wife to take a paternity test, or will that ruin everything? Read what Nicole Cliffe had to say.