Dear Prudence

My Partner Thinks I’m a Monster for Getting My Building’s Maintenance Workers Fired

All I did was speak up about an issue that affected me.

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Dear Prudence,

I live in a huge apartment complex with about 500 tenants. I happen to live on the back side of the complex, with a window facing the dumpster in the alleyway. Many of the maintenance workers hang out in that alley when they’re not working. I’ve been working from home for six months now, meaning I spend way more time overhearing their conversations than I used to. They probably spend three to four hours a day just shooting the breeze. They laugh loudly, speak at a way higher volume than necessary, and tell an endless number of sexist jokes in Spanish (I speak Spanish fluently so I can understand every word). I hate having to listen to sexist vitriol for literally hours every day. I’ve tried headphones and a white noise machine but neither block out the sound.

I finally gave up and emailed management. Three of the guys were fired. They have been replaced with workers who spend significantly less time joking and hanging out in the back alley. I view this as a win: I don’t have to be subjected to this for hours every day, and the guys learned a valuable lesson about not going on sexist rants at work. My partner, on the other hand, is angry at me. They say I should’ve just talked to the men myself (which seems naïve, considering they clearly hate women) or, in my email to the complex, asked for the men not to be fired. I disagree. All I did was speak up about an issue that affected me—it’s not my responsibility how the complex chooses to handle it. My partner is basically saying I’m a monster for getting blue-collar workers fired. We cannot seem to move past this issue. Did I do the right thing? What can I do now to get my partner and I past this difference of opinion?

—Not Sorry They’re Gone

I’m not sure getting past this disagreement is the most important objective here. You two feel quite strongly about a serious difference in priorities, values, and objectives, and I don’t think you should rush to gloss over those differences in order to keep the peace. Your concern about being ignored or demeaned had you approached these men telling sexist jokes strikes me as legitimate, although I also take your partner’s point that you likely had more options in between wearing headphones and emailing their employer. To that end, I can’t agree that you had nothing to do with how the complex chose to handle your complaint. You’re not directly responsible for management’s decision to fire them, and your partner’s belief that ending your email with something like, “Hey, don’t fire these guys” seems comically naïve, but you cannot deny that your email and their firing are linked.

But I can’t simply make a ruling over whether you did the “right” thing. You don’t seem to regret what you did, so don’t pretend you do in order to placate your partner, nor should you pretend you’re not relieved they got fired by acting as if you had nothing to do with their getting fired in the first place. You did have something to do with it! Your partner seems to disagree with a choice you made, not with the type of person that you are, and that’s worth discussing more. Continue to have a conversation with your partner, with a couples counselor if you think that’s useful, as honestly and as carefully as you can, neither minimizing nor exaggerating each other’s position in order to score points, with an eye toward envisioning a possible future together. Good luck.

Dear Prudence,

Anna” was my best friend for years until she started trying to get pregnant and couldn’t. I tried to be supportive, but when I had my baby, Anna couldn’t deal with it. She pulled away during my pregnancy and stopped talking to me altogether. It hurt a lot, especially because we used to talk nearly every day. Everyone kept telling me to give Anna time, but she never responded to any of my occasional attempts to reconnect. Birthday cards, texts, and even Facebook messages went unanswered. I mourned and moved on.

My daughter is 4 now, and I am pregnant again. Recently Anna has tried to reconnect. I didn’t know how to respond, but Anna then persuaded my mother to pressure me to “open up.” Apparently Anna kept talking about how much she missed me and her “niece.” Anna has never met my daughter. Once I would have happily given my right arm for Anna to be my child’s “auntie” and for them to have a relationship. Now, I’m angry that Anna feels she has a right to that term. I don’t want to open my heart up to a repeat of the past. No one knows I am pregnant again. I hope she finds happiness in her life, but I don’t need her in mine. Do I owe Anna a conversation? A goodbye? Or should I just not respond to her overtures?

—Not an Auntie

It’s less a question of what you owe Anna and more a question of which response would be the most effective and feel most meaningful to you. You can certainly just ignore her last attempt to reconnect, tell your mother not to pass any more messages along, and focus on your own life without feeling guilty or as if you’ve failed to give Anna a chance. But telling her what you’ve told me—that while you wish her well, you’re hurt and angry she’d refer to your daughter as her “niece” when she spent the last four years pointedly ignoring her existence and your attempts to reconcile, and you no longer want to resume your former friendship—may be both the quickest way to shut this down and the closest approximation of closure you’re likely to get. Again, you’re under no obligation to say this to her—just because she’s decided she wants to talk to you four years after breaking your heart doesn’t mean she’s entitled to a response. But I think it will feel powerful to say something to her, just once, now that you’ve finally got her ear, about how badly her rejection hurt you and that the kindest, most friendliest thing she can do for you now is to move on.

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Dear Prudence,

I recently moved in with my boyfriend after a year and a half of dating. He is a writer and currently unemployed as he struggles to find a job during the pandemic. I’m working from home at the same job I’ve had for three years. We both go to bed rather late (1–2 a.m. or sometimes later for me), but usually he falls asleep before I do and sleeps in later too. (Most of my life I’ve been fine on six hours of sleep.) Our problem has to do with my alarm clock: I have to be up for work in the morning, so I usually set an alarm for 9:15 a.m. that can ring several times until I finally wake up 30 minutes later. It’s a relatively soft tune at a moderate volume, and I turn it off immediately once it starts, so we’re talking about four to five moments of soft music for a few second intervals.

The other day he got angry with me and said that I am messing with his “biological clock” by forcing him to hear the alarm several times every morning. If this were at 7, I would agree and get up as quickly as possible to avoid waking him. But we’re talking about 9:30! I don’t see a reason why a person should sleep longer than seven to eight hours a night, even if they are unemployed. He usually gets up at 11:30 a.m. I’m privileged to work two jobs from home, and I’m still completing my university studies, and I’m honestly exhausted from everything. I hate waking up to the first ring of the clock, to feel like I have to jump out of bed, and I think it’s extremely reasonable to get up at 10, even if you don’t “have” to do so.

—Clock Battle

It’s one thing to say that eight hours of sleep is sufficient for most people or that your boyfriend’s ongoing unemployment and habit of sleeping in are starting to frustrate you (that much seems pretty clear). But I can’t agree it’s “extremely reasonable” to expect your partner to cheerfully put up with a full half hour of alarms every morning. No matter how soothing the tune, and no matter how moderate the volume, it’s maddening to try to fall back asleep every five minutes when you’re interrupted by someone else’s alarm first at 9:15, then again at 9:20, then again at 9:25, then again at 9:30, then again at 9:35. It’s not a question of “waking up at 10,” as you put it, but a question of being woken up over and over again because your partner finds turning off the same alarm five times in a row somehow relaxing.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to be frustrated about what sounds like two incompatible schedules! If you’re working two jobs and attending school even just part time, I don’t wonder that you’re exhausted, and it makes sense you’d want your boyfriend to do what he can to help make things easier for you. But just because you’re overworked doesn’t mean your boyfriend has no right to object to your alarm schedule. If you need him to commit to doing more around the house, have that conversation with him. If you think he’s not trying hard enough to find work, or you’re worried that you’re going to end up supporting him in the long run when that’s not what you want, have that conversation with him. But hitting the snooze button multiple times is no substitute for an honest conversation about the division of labor in your household. (It actually doesn’t even help you feel more rested! It’s a pernicious delusion that’s secretly making you feel more tired.) It will do you a world of good to stop the habit.

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.

Subscribe to the Dear Prudence Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Dear Prudence,

My roommate and I have lived together for a year. Sometimes we act more like a couple than roommates, and I have feelings for him. He has made some comments that have given me pause: joking that we are like an old married couple or showing me a friend’s engagement ring and saying he would never get me one but if he did it would be “beautiful.” He has also come to visit my parents in my hometown and invited them over for dinner several times. But we’ve never talked about it, and I don’t have any hard evidence. I haven’t said anything because I’ve been scared to mess up our living situation or make him uncomfortable if he doesn’t feel the same way. We share a lot of friends, and I don’t have anywhere else I could easily move to right now, so there’s plenty at stake.

I spent some time away from him over the last few weeks and went on a few dates, hoping the feelings would subside a little, but they have not. I feel if I do not say something soon, I will regret it, because he is starting to grow a little distant. I am also working through this with a therapist who thinks I should talk to him, but I wanted to get your opinion. Is it ever worth it to tell someone your feelings if they might not be reciprocated and could mess up a good living situation? When should rationality outweigh feelings?

—Reveal or No Reveal?

I don’t see any reason to automatically consider rationality and feelings as oppositional. It is rational, I believe, to take one’s own feelings seriously, and it’s important to ground one’s feelings in reason and in careful thought. It may not be possible to live happily and indefinitely with someone you’ve fallen in love with, but neither does that mean you have to say something abruptly and move out tomorrow if you hear anything other than “Yes, I feel the same way, here’s a beautiful engagement ring I’ve been saving for just this conversation.”

Given that your roommate is already growing distant, and you’re already feeling the pangs of regret, I think it’s likely that this “good living situation” will eventually become strained and uncomfortable even if you never say a word. The romantic tension is still present, even if you never acknowledge it. Your options are not “Say nothing and live in perfect happiness” or “Speak up and risk it all.” They’re “Live with someone you’re in love with, where both of you speculate about romance without clarity” or “Live with someone you’re in love with where you have an honest conversation about your feelings.” You’re already uncomfortable! There is no version of this relationship where everyone is 100 percent comfortable all of the time.

Don’t fear a “no” as the worst possible thing that could happen to you, something that must be avoided at any costs, something that would inevitably and permanently sour your friendship and make living together unbearable. Living in fear of rejection is often much worse than rejection itself. If he says “No,” be friendly and cheerful about the whole thing, take a little time to grieve or feel embarrassed (or both) in private, and keep going. It’s a lot easy to get over someone when you know for certain they don’t want to date you. Trying to get over someone you secretly hope might confess their love for you out of the blue is a lot harder, and a lot more painful.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“I think one round of snooze-button hitting is the maximum limit, and even then I think you need to change your life.”

Danny Lavery and Slate senior editor Jeffrey Bloomer discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

My husband is a wonderful man and father but not the most motivated provider. Almost a decade ago, when our son was an infant and my husband had lost (another) job, he asked his parents for work at their family-run business. His parents and another relative all worked there at the time, and he’d worked there himself when we first started dating. His mother was reluctant at first and insisted the job would be temporary. It’s a pretty toxic work environment. Six years ago I went back to school, and my husband and I made a deal: After I graduated, he’d look for a new job or go back to school to retrain for another career, improve his mental health, and have a more reliable income. It’s been six years, and he’s still at his parents’ company. He makes very little money, has no insurance, and they berate him regularly. He’s also enabled to be late as often as he pleases. While he is a valuable employee and his parents have credited him with saving the business, he isn’t treated as if he’s valuable.

His relationship with his parents has always been unhealthy. This past year he has had severe depression over his mother’s recently exposed alcoholism and his father’s narcissism. It has put a strain on our marriage. He’s recently started therapy and has been making some great strides. He has my full support to quit and find something he loves, including going to trade school or college, while I continue to work full-time. However, he has no desire to do so and he expects me to be supportive when he comes home each evening with another account of the awful things that happen at work. I feel like I simply can’t remain supportive when he has every opportunity to leave yet continues to stay. I am ready to make it an ultimatum. The excuses keep coming. I don’t know if I can stay if this is forever.

—Husband Won’t Quit

If you’re ready to make an ultimatum, don’t feel like you can stay in your marriage if things don’t change, and are tired of listening to the same excuses after six years, you have my full support in giving your husband an ultimatum. It sounds like that’s what you want to do! I don’t know if you realized this, but you don’t actually ask me a question—you just tell me what you’re ready for. I think you’re ready for it, too.

It’s wonderful that your husband is making great strides in therapy. I’m truly sorry that he’s only now coming to terms with his mother’s alcoholism and the various painful dynamics within his family. But one can have sympathy for your husband’s struggles without agreeing to put up with another six (or 12 or 24) years of broken promises. And you certainly don’t have to keep being supportive if he comes home ready to talk your ear off about another lousy day at work when you’ve already offered more than once to help him through a career change! Whether you’re really ready to offer an ultimatum today or need a little more time to think it over, there’s no reason you can’t say, “You know how I feel about this job and how much I’m willing to do to help if and when you’re ready to leave. But we both know your parents make bad bosses, that they don’t appreciate you, and that they don’t pay you enough. For six years now, you’ve said over and over that you’re going to quit and go back to school. I’ll support you when you do. But I can’t hear any more stories about something we both know is never going to change until you quit.”

Dear Prudence,

My mother and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. Even when I am not particularly “triggered” by her presence, spending time with her feels forced and distressing, and we have very little in common. She tends to be oblivious to cues, but even so I have a hard time believing she doesn’t pick up on the awkwardness. She redirects any and all “negative talk” and smiles forcefully, to the point where it just looks like a grimace. Keeping my boundaries has been easier since we live in different states. But now she has declared that she plans to visit me (for several days) for my upcoming birthday. I don’t think she knows anyone else in my city, so this would mean almost a week of one-on-one interaction. She plans to book a hotel, at least. But I feel certain this visit would be incredibly emotionally draining. I don’t feel quite ready to start “unpacking the baggage” with her yet. I also have reservations about potential COVID-19 spread, as she’ll be coming from a state with little to no restrictions in place (she has been posting about restaurant outings and such). But I know she loves me, and I care for her enough that I don’t want to hurt her feelings, so in many ways I feel obligated to play host. I can’t think of an honest way out that wouldn’t deeply upset her. Do I need to armor up and grit my teeth on my birthday week, or can I get out of this?

—Unwanted Guest

You’re quite right to have COVID-related reservations about a trip of this length, duration, and scope, and you can certainly use that as cover if you think it’ll help push back against your mother’s grand plans for a birthday road trip. But you don’t need that as cover in order to say no, either.

Let’s assume that your mother is a generally kind person who means well and doesn’t want to hurt your feelings any more than you want to hurt hers. Why, then, is it acceptable for you to feel distressed, forced, artificial, and unable to speak honestly in almost all of your interactions with her, yet the idea of hurting her feelings by saying, “Sorry, an impromptu seven-day visit in the middle of a pandemic won’t work for my birthday this year” is impossible to contemplate? It’s appropriate to say no to such a declaration without having to admit, “By the way, you make my skin crawl, and I feel less love for you than guilt, pity, or obligation.” You don’t have to “unpack the baggage” of your tumultuous relationship in order to say that won’t be possible this year.

Classic Prudie

My best friend since college died suddenly. Prior to her death we had talked about my getting custody of her children in the event of such an occurrence. She was a single mother by choice and fortunately could afford to do it. I have been with her from Day 1 and have watched her babies grow up and consider them to be as much mine as hers. She had been estranged from her family for many years so there was never any question as to who would care for them if she was unable. Some months before the accident I became engaged but now that there are kids in the picture he has put the brakes on the engagement. He always seemed to like children, and had expressed interest in having a family, but now he is saying that he isn’t sure he wants the responsibility of taking on a pair of grieving 5-year-olds. I am naturally very hurt but agreed that if he doesn’t feel he can commit to being a father then we cannot be married. How do I explain to people who are expecting me to be getting married in the next nine months that it is no longer happening without going into all the details of our life?