Dear Prudence

My In-Laws Have Already Named My Unborn Child

The name appeared in a relative’s obituary, of all places.

Pregnant woman next to "Hello my name is" nametags
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

My spouse and I are expecting a child in early spring. This is particularly joyous, as we struggled with infertility for many years. Unfortunately, there was a recent death in the family. My in-laws included our unborn little one in the obituary—and they also included a name. The problem is that we haven’t named our little one. This gesture, while I’m sure kindly meant, was really bizarre and surprising. The name they wrote is indeed a contender on the middle name list (although this has really soured me on the name altogether). This also rubs me the wrong way because we have been really open with the family that we are strongly considering giving the baby a name from my (non-English) first language. I doubt this was meant to strong-arm us into a name, and more a strange reaction to grief, but the entitlement still irks me.

How should I respond to this? So far the response has been none, so as to be sensitive to the loss. In the coming months, however, do I laugh it off with a “That’s one way to vote on your favorite name,” or would a direct response be more appropriate?

—No Name Yet, Really

I’m not sure you’ll need a response to the obituary. The odds that anyone in the family is going to bring it up seem low. Obituaries are, by their very nature, fairly evanescent, and although they obviously mean a great deal to the loved ones of the deceased, they’re not the sort of document that gets revisited often or that people refer to in moments of uncertainty. Since it was likely the combination of grief and a muddled game of telephone or an honest mistake, not someone’s way of trying to force your hand, that resulted in an also-ran middle-name possibility, just feel privately irked for a while and then let it go. Sending out a birth announcement with your baby’s real name will do just fine for a response. If you want to drop this name from contention because it irritates you now, that’s perfectly fine—choosing a name means dropping a lot of contenders for relatively low-grade reasons. But don’t make extra work for yourself. You’ll have plenty in front of you when the baby arrives—and congratulations!

Dear Prudence,

I have a loving partner of three years who recently bought a house. A few months after he moved in, a friend of his, “Rebecca,” asked him if she could crash in his spare bedroom while she house-hunted for her own place. While I’m not one to tell my partner what he can or cannot do, there are a few things about this arrangement that give me pause. About two years ago, our relationship was in a rocky place, and my partner told me that Rebecca expressed feelings for him. He said he’d turned her down and affirmed his commitment to our partnership. The other thing that bothers me is that Rebecca’s budget and expectations for the house she’s looking for are completely out of touch with the city we live in. The house she wants does not exist, and there is no timeline that I’m aware of, so it feels like she will be staying in his house indefinitely.

I have tried to be friendly with Rebecca and make small talk, but it has been three months since she moved in, and I’m deeply resentful of her, this situation, and truthfully my partner for allowing this situation to continue for so long. He thinks that I am trying to tell him what to do, or even being childish, but for me this represents a major breach. I feel like he’s not taking my feelings into account. He tells me that all there is to be done here is my “getting over it.” His living arrangement has altered the way and the frequency with which we spend time together, which is especially upsetting during a pandemic where we are each other’s primary source of social contact. I really wish I could just “get over it,” but I find myself growing more bitter, and it scares me. My hope is that this feeling will disappear once Rebecca moves out. How do I find a way to make peace with my partner and this situation in which we see things so differently, in the meantime?

—Permanent Roommate

Your “loving partner” just moved in with another woman—a woman you know told him she had serious feelings for him—and he’s telling you that you’re being “childish” for wanting to know when she’s going to move out. Why do you want to get over this? Why are you frightened of the fact that you have basic expectations when it comes to being treated with respect and decency? Do you really think that Rebecca’s ever going to move out? I can’t help but suspect the reason the house she’s supposedly looking for is so impossible to find is because neither Rebecca nor your boyfriend have any intention of living separately anytime soon. Whether they’re sleeping together now, or were, or will be soon, is almost beside the point. The point is that your boyfriend has moved in with a woman who told him she was in love with him the last time you two were in a rough patch, that he did so without asking how you felt about it, and that he dismisses and demeans your feelings about it. You should not try to make peace with a man who treats you so badly, and with such obvious contempt for your feelings and your intelligence. You should find someone better.

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Dear Prudence,

My house is a disaster. Not like moms who post about their “messy” houses on social media where there are just a couple of things out of place. It’s actually disgusting. I’m 26 and have serious depression that has been described as “untreatable” by my psychiatrist and the two others I have seen for second and third opinions. I’ve tried everything, including electroconvulsive therapy and experimental trials. What I’m on right now is the best option available. I have some particular issues around cleaning (my parents used it as punishment for hours). This is absolutely not an excuse, but it does explain some things. I’m not a hoarder. Most of the clutter in my house is trash that I don’t take out. I’m not attached to it or can’t throw it out—I just don’t. If I spill milk on the counter, I leave it there.

It has gotten to the point where I cry every time I have to come home. I’d like to move to a smaller apartment that would be more manageable, but to move I would have to clean everything first. I had never been able to afford to have a cleaner, until last year when I got a raise and a promotion. Now I could afford to have someone come every week, but I need to get the house to an acceptable standard before they come for the first time, and I don’t think I can do that. I’ve also seen cleaners post pictures of their clients’ homes (without permission) on social media, and I’m terrified of that. I haven’t had people over in years. My toilet only works half the time, and I can’t even have a plumber come out to fix it. I’m embarrassed, ashamed, and disgusted with myself. No one knows about this, including my therapist. Please don’t suggest asking friends or family or my therapist for help. I absolutely cannot tell anyone. On the outside I appear successful, healthy, I have money and dress well. But my house is disgusting. What do I do?

—Unbearable Home

I won’t tell you to ask your friends or therapist for help. Let’s focus just on the matter at hand: You need specialized professional help cleaning your home, and you need to be sure that the cleaners you hire will be unfazed and totally prepared to deal with biohazards. You don’t want a traditional housecleaning service from someone who’s used to dusting window sills and dealing with a few piles of laundry, in part because they won’t have the proper tools, and in part because you’ll feel too nervous about their judgment to relax. Google “housecleaners + biohazard + [name of your hometown].” As long as you live within reasonable distance of a midsized city, odds are excellent that you’ll be able to schedule an appointment. There are even national services that offer a searchable database of all the regions they serve (here are two examples). Many of these companies regularly deal with situations much more serious than yours—crime scenes, for example, or hoarding sites decades in the making. That’s not at all to minimize your very real despair, merely to offer the welcome thought that this type of cleaning service is not going to be shocked and overwhelmed by the sight or smell of your home. They’ll know exactly how to properly clean and disinfect it, because that’s the kind of work they do every day.

To that end, if the idea of making that appointment still feels too overwhelming, pretend to be calling on behalf of an imaginary roommate, relative, or live-in partner. These are professionals who will be there to do a one-time job, and if you feel more at ease acting as a representative, just lie. Once you’ve dealt with the immediate problem and feel prepared to hire a regular cleaning service, you might consider sharing some of this with your therapist. Discussing it in the past tense and deciding just how much you want to disclose might make things feel easier. But that’s a choice you can save for the future. Just take it one step at a time, and be as kind to yourself as you can.

Help! My Family Doesn’t Know They’re Triggering Me—and I Can’t Explain It to Them.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Davey Davis 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,

A friend of mine grew up in a particularly repressive, unhealthy corner of the conservative Christian bubble and is on a quest for all the knowledge she was denied. This is admirable and also pretty fun. Showing someone Futurama for the first time is deeply satisfying. My friend has fastened onto me as a sort of reference guide lately, probably because I’m a blathering know-it-all. We once stayed up until 3 in the morning while I explained how plate tectonics work. I’m happy to respond to requests for book recommendations and useful articles. But sometimes I’m a bit out of my depth. I’m only a few years older than she is, and I have no qualifications for any sort of mentorship but having been encouraged to follow my curiosity rather than crush it. I worry about being condescending without meaning to and about staying in my lane. She asked about pronouns in Twitter bios the other way (we’re both cis, and I explained to her what being cis is, and what puberty blockers are … ) and I probably acquitted myself OK? I don’t want to opt out of her learning adventure, but how do I avoid being a snot about it and know when I’m up to being useful, and when I should point her to Google?

—Friend Thinks Too Highly of Me

As long as you’re clear when you’re not sure about something, feel comfortable answering “I don’t know, so let’s look it up together” when you haven’t a clue, and periodically stress that yours is not the only or final opinion on a given subject, you can answer your friend’s questions as often as you like. Should you find yourself concerned the day after one of these explanation sessions that you forgot a perspective or sounded more sure of yourself than you were, you can always say so as a follow-up: “I think I did a fairly good job offering a basic perspective on the whole ‘pronouns in bio’ thing, but I really want to stress that not everyone agrees that it’s the most helpful approach, and you might want to do some more research on the subject on your own.”

If you find that these question-and-answer sessions are getting too long or too frequent for your liking, it’s perfectly fine to redirect her elsewhere simply because you want to talk about something else—not because you’re worried you’re acting like a know-it-all but because you want a friendship with slightly more give-and-take. Curiosity is wonderful, and it’s great that she’s trying to expand her frame of reference, but I can imagine you sometimes want to ask her questions too or have a conversation as peers, rather than always slipping into your stock-character roles of ingenue and dispenser of worldly wisdom.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“A therapist is kind of like a biohazard cleaning service: They’ve almost always ‘seen worse.’ ”
Danny Lavery and Future Tense editor Torie Bosch discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a 35-year-old woman who’s been dating my 40-year-old boyfriend for almost five years. I’ve spent anywhere between three and five nights a week at his house for most of that time. He’s never brought up the idea of me moving in with him, so I brought it up recently, because it seems like one of those things partners talk about at this stage. My boyfriend claims he is on board with the idea, and we’ve been tentatively floating some of the logistics. I always thought I wanted to move in with him, but now that we’re really talking about it, I’m actually wondering if it’s a good choice. I love him and can see us spending our lives together, but here’s the thing: I moved away from home at 16 and have lived entirely on my own since, so I really value my space and independence. I treasure the few nights a week I spend at my apartment. I’ve made it a really restful and calming space (my boyfriend is messy), and for some reason I find it easier to focus on my own creative projects there, which I am sometimes busy with after work. It doesn’t seem like an option for me to have my own space at my boyfriend’s home, even though it’s significantly larger than mine. I asked if I could turn a small, unused nook at the top of the stairs into my office so I could have a little space of my own to make the transition easier, but he only said he would “think about it.”

But moving in is a practical decision as well. I’ve found it exhausting to divide my time between two households for the past four years, something that my boyfriend doesn’t have to do, since I’m the one who’s coming and going. I also live in a really expensive city, and even though I have a small studio apartment, after rent and monthly expenses, I have little left over for myself or savings, which seems especially dumb since I only live at my place for part of the week! To further complicate things, I have a couple of chronic medical conditions, which mostly don’t bother me right now, but should they flare up unexpectedly, living with another person would be really helpful, maybe even necessary, and this really weighs on me. I do love him and I love our life—I just also love my own space. How do I know if I’m making the right decision?

—Ambivalent About Cohabitation

You’ll know you’re making the right decision once you get further clarification on how your boyfriend wants to approach this situation. You say he “claims he is on board with the idea” of cohabitation but that he’s balked at the idea of giving you a little nook to make your own, so what makes you think he’s going to be any better at sharing space and treating you warmly if you two live together? You also say that you’re always the one who’s coming and going, so I wonder if there’s a bigger dynamic at play here. Does he have a habit of compromising, of looking for ways to accommodate you where he can, of taking your needs and feelings into consideration on a regular basis? Or do you shoulder that burden? This seems pretty crucial, especially since you mention you might need help if your medical conditions flare up again. Has he ever offered to assist in such an instance? Is he normally solicitous of your health? What if you two moved in together, your medical condition flared up, and you found he was no help at all? There are some smaller, but still significant, factors to consider too. Is he willing to spend a bit more time keeping the house clean once you two live together, or does he expect you to adjust to him again? Only your boyfriend can answer these questions, and only you can decide whether you believe what he says, combined with his behavior over the past few years.

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

Dear Prudence,

I met this guy, but I didn’t know he was my friend’s ex-partner. They broke up a few months ago after he found out that she was cheating on him for many years. I met him through another friend that we went to dinner with. He told my friend that he likes me and would like to start a relationship with me. I like him as a friend. He’s a good person, a hard worker, very responsible, but if I decide to start something with him, I don’t know how his ex will react. I told him he needs to give himself some time before starting to date again. What do you think?

—Dating Deliberation

You don’t actually say whether you want to date this guy, merely that you “like him as a friend.” Usually that means the “just as a friend” part is implied. Did you say you think he needs some time because you really think he’s not over their relationship yet or because you’re not sure if you actually want to go out with him? That seems worth clarifying before you decide anything else. Let’s say you do want to go out with him. If your friend objected, would you be prepared to back off? Or would you want to go out regardless, even if her objections pained you? If it’s the former, you should probably ask her what she thinks and let her know that you’ll only accept his offer if she’s comfortable with the idea. If it’s the latter, you should probably let her know after you’ve accepted his offer, not with the intent of asking either her forgiveness or permission, but as a friendly heads-up.

Classic Prudie

I am furious with another set of parents. My 16-year-old daughter has recently told her mother and me that she is pregnant. It happened at a party that was not well-supervised, and there was alcohol involved. The boy involved and his family are owning up to their share of the responsibility, but the owners of the house are absolutely infuriating me. They need to admit their share of this burden, as it was their booze and their house party that allowed this to happen. My family is going to have a lot of expenses due to this new baby, and I don’t know how much the boy’s family can help, so it seems that the party’s host should help out, again as it was on their watch that this happened. So far, that family has ignored me when I have tried to speak with them about this. I am ready to call a lawyer to press the issue, but my wife thinks I am overreacting. What do you think?