Slate is now asking those who read the most to support our journalism more directly by subscribing to Slate Plus. Learn more.
To get advice from Prudie, send questions for publication to email@example.com. (Questions may be edited.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the live discussion. Or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-DEAR (3327) to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.
My parents died when my siblings and I were very young. Their estate was divided equally into three separate trusts for our education. Anything left over after graduating would be paid out when we turned 25. I watch my siblings squander theirs by failing out of college, renting needlessly expensive apartments, and getting pregnant twice. While they’re doing all right now, neither had anything left in their trust by their 25th birthdays. I applied for multiple scholarships, lived with roommates, and worked through school. Even with my master’s degree, I still have more than half my trust left. I turned 25 recently and have been planning to buy a house. I mentioned this to my brother, who was surprised to learn I had enough money left to do so. My sister was more than surprised. She was furious and called me to rant about the “unfairness” of it all. She felt “cheated” that her baby sister might buy a house before she did, because she needed it more as a single mom!
I guess I threw fuel on the fire by reminding her that we had the same opportunities but made different choices. Somehow that turned into me looking down on her kids and hating my nephews. Since then she has roused the rest of the family against me. I “owe” her and my brother financial help, because apparently that’s what our parents would have wanted. I blocked my sister’s number after she demanded I give the rest of my trust to her kids, “the grandchildren our parents would have wanted.” I told her it was laughable to consider that our parents would be happy about their daughter getting pregnant at 20 and dropping out of school. She called me a bitch. Everything is falling apart now. I feel hunted. What do I do?
—Not a Scrooge
The only thing I think you should have done differently is getting drawn into a fight about what your late parents may or may not have wanted from each of you. You were facing considerable provocation, and on the whole I think you’ve spoken to your siblings with gracious restraint, but it’s a losing game to try to litigate the circumstances of your nephews’ conception now. In the future—if such an opportunity presents itself again—avoid those hypotheticals. Besides which, you’re all adults now, free to make choices according to your own values and judgments. I hope you don’t have to block your other relatives’ numbers over this, but stick to your guns here: You don’t owe your older siblings money just because they used their trust funds earlier and you saved yours for later. Neither of them were hitting you up for money before they knew you had any left, and it doesn’t sound like either is in danger of homelessness or destitution. Your sister just doesn’t want you to own a house before she does. That’s at best silly of her. You don’t have to argue or explain yourself when someone makes an unreasonable demand out of the blue. You just have to say no. If your brother or other relatives keep trying to have the same conversation with you, just repeat yourself politely and firmly until they either give up or you hang up the phone, whichever comes first.
Help! How Do I Stop Being So Mean?
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Michelle Dean on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
About a decade ago, I was in an abusive relationship for a year and a half. We had met online, and I was so eager to be loved I overlooked warning signs and moved across the country to live with him. Once I was far from my own family and friends, the abuse began. I appreciated the support I received from his mother and stepfather, who always came to my defense, including calling the police when he got violent. I really appreciated their presence in my life, especially because my mother died suddenly from cancer later that year. For a few years after our final breakup, I kept in touch with my ex’s mother. Over the years, our contact dwindled, and I figured we’d both moved on. I’ve since gotten married and am much happier now.
But this year (well before COVID) she started messaging me on Facebook and trying to video chat with me, to the point that I’ve just started deleting her messages unread. It’s not personal, but it brings back too many bad memories, and I’m not sure if telling her the truth would help. She has a lot of health problems, both physically and psychologically, and I don’t want to make her life harder. My ex flipped out when my now-husband and I announced our engagement. He called to tell me I wasn’t “allowed” to marry anyone because I was “his,” and his mother told him to knock it off, congratulated me, and promised to send me a card. She’ll always have a special place in my heart, but I only just got to a point where I’m comfortable knowing I’ve overcome the trauma. The nightmares have stopped. I’m worried contact will just send me back. How do I move on without hurting good people who don’t deserve to be hurt?
Try to think of this not as “moving on” versus “hurting a good person who doesn’t deserve to be hurt,” because that places too much responsibility for the expectations and feelings of others on your shoulders. Think of it instead like this: Sometimes people want something from you, and you’re prepared to give it to them. Sometimes people want something from you, and you’re not. It’s not a referendum on whether they’re good or bad. It’s a natural consequence of autonomy, and while it may not always come easily or feel great right away, it’s simply a part of life. This woman wants to talk to you a lot, and you can’t give her that. That’s not because she doesn’t deserve to have friends or because she’s personally responsible for her son’s abusiveness. It’s because you need peaceful distance from your abuser’s relatives. While I’m glad she and her husband supported you, you don’t owe anyone a debt of thanks for acknowledging that it’s wrong to abuse your partner. That’s basic human decency, not grounds for lifelong gratitude and friendship. The fact that her son screamed that you weren’t allowed to marry anyone else because you belonged to him years after you’d escaped his abuse and she responded with “Knock it off—I’m sending her a card” suggests that her approach to his violence and cruelty has real room for improvement. I don’t say any of this to diminish what her support meant to you at the time, nor to suggest she doesn’t sincerely care for you. But it was the very least that you deserved. You did, and do, deserve a great deal more from the people you count among your friends, and you can continue to think well of her while also acknowledging you cannot be close with someone who still speaks to the man who abused you.
I want you to feel enormous freedom as you figure out whether or how to tell her you’re not available to talk. That might mean simply unfriending her on Facebook, especially if you don’t feel up to having a vulnerable conversation with someone you know to be suffering. If that option doesn’t seem bearable, you can send her a brief note before unfriending her paraphrasing what you’ve told me here—that you wish her the best but can’t resume your old friendship because it reawakens painful memories. When a person contacts someone they haven’t spoken to in years and doesn’t get a response, the courteous and caring thing to do is respect their silence, even if that silence is painful or disappointing. The fact that she’s bombarding your inbox with request after request does not mean she’s entitled to more of your friendship than someone who asks only once. It’s a sign that she’s lost sight of the mutual consideration that friendship requires.
A few years ago, I attended a christening for my friend Deb’s son. I’d never been to one before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was a bit surprised by the length of the Mass beforehand, which lasted for over an hour. The christening itself came at the very end and was over relatively quickly. Now Deb’s had her second baby, and I’m invited to this christening too. I asked if she anticipated the ceremony would start at the same time as the first one, and she just told me what time the Mass started. I said I didn’t plan on attending Mass, but that I’d be there for the christening. She got really irritated and said coming to just the ceremony and luncheon would be like skipping a wedding ceremony and showing up at the reception. I don’t think that’s a great comparison, because the wedding ceremony is incorporated throughout the Mass. I wouldn’t miss anything if I skipped this religious service. I’m not sure why I’m expected to sit through a full Sunday Mass when it’s not my religion. If it matters, Deb isn’t really religious at all. Besides her wedding (which was really more for her husband—she would have happily been married by a judge) and the last christening, I’ve never known her to attend Mass in the 10 years we’ve been friends. So, am I being rude by not attending the Mass?
It’s less a question of “Is it universally rude to skip an hourlong religious ceremony before a christening and catered luncheon?” (which has several answers, many of which add up to “not really, but … ”) than it is “Will Deb be offended if I skip Mass before her kid’s christening?” To which the answer is pretty clearly yes, because she’s told you she will. In the grand scheme of things, if this 10-year friendship is otherwise solid, and you don’t have any particular objection to her lightly observed religion, I’d advise you to go for the whole thing, be bored for an hour, then have a lot of cake and praise her second child’s noble mien and regal bearing throughout the sprinkling. Getting into an argument about how much a christening does or doesn’t track with a wedding seems like a waste of your time and hers. It’s perfectly fine, and common, to sit through the service of a faith you don’t practice because you’ve been invited as a guest to celebrate an important milestone that’s important to the hosts. No one expects you to adopt that faith as your own or endorse the homily.
Now, just because this matters to her doesn’t mean you’re honor-bound to go. Your friendship doesn’t seem like it’s on the verge of a permanent rupture, and there’s nothing inconsistent with loving your friend, wanting to celebrate her baby, respecting her religion, and not wanting to sit through a full hour of Mass yourself. Plenty of people love their friends dearly but still wouldn’t attend a lengthy religious service just to please them. Instead of trying to negotiate the relative importance of the Mass, you might tell her this: “I’d love to come and celebrate the christening, but I’m not religious, and I’m not comfortable attending another service. If coming late for the christening and lunch would offend you, I won’t do it. I don’t share your faith, but I respect it, and I hope we can find a way to celebrate little Konrad von Marburg together another time.”
More Advice From Care and Feeding
My fiancé moved in with me and my parents last year. He has a 2-year-old son whom I’ve taken on as my own and plan on adopting as soon as we’re married, as the mother is no longer around and doesn’t want anything to do with him anymore. Our living situation is unique, but it works for us. We have the basement for us and my other kids, and they have the upstairs. We are saving to get our own place.
Here’s the problem. We have chosen to limit certain things when it comes to our 2-year-old. We don’t want him watching much TV at all. We DO NOT want him playing with a cellphone or a tablet, period. We do not give him a lot of candy or sugary drinks during the day as it keeps him up at night. We also don’t give him certain foods as they upset his stomach and then he is up at night crying or sick.
My parents do not listen to us at all. We come in, and he is on a phone. Or he is eating a handful of pepperoni, and we know it’s going to be a long night. Or they have him in front of the TV watching a show we despise, and we have to take him away from it, and it starts a huge two-hour tantrum. Or they sneak candy to him when we say no candy. They call us bad parents for not allowing this. We are not bad parents. We just know what’s best for him.
We are at the end of our rope with this. We are not wanting to just move out, but we can’t handle much more of this. Are we in the wrong here, or are they?
Help! I Need More Dear Prudence!
Slate Plus members get extra questions, Prudie Uncensored with Nicole Cliffe, and full-length podcast episodes every week.