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Recently, a local center focused on LGBT issues posted my dream job. I was not able to apply due to timing. My partner applied and got the job. I know she’ll be incredible at it. But I feel very envious knowing that my dream job exists and I missed out. I know this isn’t my partner’s problem and feel awful that my envy affects her. But when I hear that her work for the day involves reading up on best practices for working with LGBT communities, I wish I could be doing that instead of my job. I am trying to be more future-oriented, but that is just making me realize even more how rare this job opportunity was.
Feel envious! Experience longing! This was a rare opportunity that you’re sorry to have missed, and it’s reminding you just how much you wish your job lined up with your values, your community, and your passion. That’s worth mourning, and it’s worth feeling envious over, especially since you’re already working to channel those emotions into planning ahead for a future career change. Talk about it with your partner sometimes, while making sure you also leave room to celebrate her good fortune. Talk about it with your friends, too. I don’t mean call up everyone you know to say, “My partner just got a great new job, and I’m being eaten alive with resentment,” but something more along the lines of “Help me channel my sadness so I can really be there for my partner and get ready for a better job of my own next year.”
You seem pretty clear already that this is your problem to deal with, not something she caused, and that you’re not blaming her or begrudging her good fortune, so I’m not worried you’re going to start punishing her or withholding affection because you’ve lost sight of what’s important. But make sure your partner knows you’re doing this outreach in an attempt to cultivate multiple sources of support, so she doesn’t feel like you’re complaining about her behind her back. Your envy will only feel bigger and thornier if you treat it as an unmentionable topic or an unthinkable reaction. Acknowledge it in the right ways, and at the appropriate times, while making sure you also give your partner room to talk about her own feelings and fears, and I hope it’s only a matter of time before your envy shrinks down to a manageable size.
Help! My Ridiculously High Standards Make It Difficult for Me to Find a Worthy Man.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Amanda McLoughlin on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
My younger sister “Jae” and I have always had a strained relationship. She’s found happiness in a more carefree and nontraditional life. I’m genuinely happy for her and respect her courage in forging her own path. But she spends a lot of time criticizing me for mine, saying I’m cookie-cutter, a Stepford wife, that I sold out. Mostly I ignore those comments and try to be kind when I can. My 12-year-old daughter, “Becca,” has really bonded with Jae, and I’ve encouraged their friendship. As best I can tell, Jae doesn’t try to badmouth me to my kid. For the past three years Becca has spent two weeks each summer at Jae’s farm. She learned horseback riding, fruit picking, beginner carpentry, and all sorts of useful things I couldn’t teach her. But Becca doesn’t want to go back next summer. Last year, Jae’s shower was broken. The sensors were reversed, so turning it hot all the way resulted in freezing cold water. Becca brought this up several times with Jae and her partner, and they laughed and said she was just used to a certain “way of life.” They basically ignored her concerns until the last day of her visit, when they realized the issue and apologized.
Becca was really upset she had to take freezing showers for two weeks, but she was mostly hurt that they ignored her, and Jae took some joy in teaching Becca how “real people live.” I’m helping Becca work on speaking up for herself, but I’m still frustrated with Jae and her dismissal of Becca’s legitimate concerns seems cruel. I don’t want to put my daughter in this situation again. Becca thinks if she brings up something else with them during a future visit, they’ll ignore her again. I’m worried Jae will blame me by saying I’m badmouthing Jae’s way of life, and I’m also bummed Becca will have lost a supportive adult in her life. What can I do to mend this relationship and encourage my daughter to be close to my sister, even though I’m not?
—Mending Someone Else’s Fences
While I can appreciate your method of picking your battles and letting things go with your sister, I wonder if you can help Becca learn how to speak up for herself by modeling a slightly more robust approach yourself. If ignoring comments like “You cookie-cutter sellout” has put you in this position—one where you’re worried saying something like, “You really hurt my kid’s feelings last summer, and although she appreciated your apology, now she’s worried you’ll ignore or tease her if she has a question again” will cause Jae to turn on your 12-year-old—it might be time to stop ignoring Jae’s defects. That doesn’t mean you have to call her to account for every rude thing she’s ever said to you, but neither do you have to take preemptive responsibility just in case Jae does try to blame you.
The good news is that the stakes are relatively low here. Even if Becca feels particularly frustrated about how her aunt dismissed her concerns last summer, we’re talking about cold showers, not a matter of life-or-death. I can imagine you’re worried that Jae is prepared to repeat her old patterns with you on your daughter, which might be motivating some of your own anxiety. There’s a lot of history behind these two weeks of cold showers, but it might help to remind yourself of a few things: First, if Becca decides not to visit Jae every single summer, it’s not a referendum on their relationship. She didn’t sign up to make the same trip year after year for the rest of her life. If she just wants to skip next year, she can do so without a fight automatically breaking out. Second, you’ll probably be able to serve Becca better by offering her advice and support than if you volunteered to have this conversation solely on her behalf. Third, you do not have to make up for your own distance with Jae by encouraging Becca to be close with her, especially if Becca doesn’t want to be close with her. If Jae wants to blame you for something, frankly, given her history, she’s going to find a way to do it, no matter how you act, so free yourself from that burden. Act as fairly as you can, but don’t bend over backward to look like a monument to justice. It’s not your job to make sure Becca never gets angry with her aunt or that they never have a fight. Instead, teach your daughter how to stand up for herself, initiate difficult conversations when necessary, and speak respectfully even when you’re upset.
Because of the pandemic and our conflicting work schedules, my family has decided to celebrate Christmas next month to avoid the holiday travel season. My mom and sister have been asking me for my Christmas list. I’ve been struggling with money since well before the pandemic. I’ve now got a work-from-home job, but it’s not going very well, and I think they may let me go soon. I’ve also become much more aware of the negative effects of capitalism and consumerism, and I’m trying to be more conscientious about what I buy and how often.
I usually give my family a list of things that I want, then they usually get me about two-thirds of my list and a mixture of things I sometimes like and sometimes don’t. I know I should be grateful for whatever I get, but honestly, the junk usually just reminds me of how greedy capitalists are ravaging the planet. Is there a polite way to ask my family to only get me things on the list? Some of these things are supplies that would help me to expand my side business right before the Christmas buying season. I’m not sure if this is some emotional reaction due to the pandemic, but getting only the things on my list (which are all within our budgets) is really important to me right now.
You can stress to your mother and sister how important your list is to you, and share your anxiety over being fired and your hopes to improve your side business before Christmas, but I don’t think you should go much further than that. Saying “I don’t want anything off the list” is nearly impossible to enforce and can come off as churlish, no matter how kindly you say it. “I’ve given you a shorter list than usual this year. I hope you don’t mind. I always appreciate getting a gift that shows you’ve been thinking of me, but this Christmas is harder than most, and these are things I really need, and that should go a long way toward making next year easier” communicates your priorities pretty clearly without coming off as demanding. You can also ask your friends and family for help getting your business going, especially if you’re worried about getting fired—but you don’t have to wait to tag that request to Christmas, even Christmas-in-November. If your relatives do give you anything you can’t use, you can quietly send it off to someone else who can, even if you do find the annual donating routine frustrating. And while Christmas can feel like a representation of all your fears and concerns about consumerist excess, it’s also just a single day of the year, not the sole make-or-break event when it comes to living simply.
Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Get it from Slate.
More Advice From Care and Feeding
My husband is the kindest, sweetest man I have ever met. He’s the one who catches and releases spiders. He jumps out of the car to help strangers. My issue here is with his family, my in-laws. For lack of a better term, they do not “adult.” They are currently living in the second house that has literally rotted down around them due to lack of upkeep. There is a tremendous amount of unchecked mental and physical illness; while they’re kind and loving, they are also unable to hold jobs. They start food fights in restaurants because it doesn’t occur to them that their behavior is ridiculous. There is hoarding on a few levels, depression, you name it. My husband didn’t feel like he had a real home until we moved in together and he noticed that we suddenly lived like functioning adults, because he had never experienced it.
We are currently expecting our second baby. My husband does not want to share the news with his parents about our pregnancy for fear they will come visit. (Thankfully, we live far away from them.) He thinks about their situation and he cries. His frustration with seeing his family deteriorate, yet do nothing to get help or move forward, is very hard to watch. They have refused help every time we’ve offered, from helping put a new roof on their house or clean out the mess that the collapsed roof made. All to no avail.
Their life choices have given us so much anxiety over the last few years that I am not sure how to support him. Yes, I do hold them in contempt for a multitude of reasons, but they do deserve to know they will have another grandchild. They adore our child (even though we have strict boundaries when they do visit) and would be thrilled at this news. And we can’t hide it indefinitely … the holidays would get awkward.