Dear Prudence

My Brother Has Violent Fantasies About His Ex

I want to support him through this breakup, but the things he’s said make me ill.

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Dear Prudence,

My brother Tom’s wife, Laura, cheated on him and left him for a mutual friend. He’s been a wreck for the last four months. Last week, my husband, Al, who’s close with Tom, came to me to say that Tom had been discussing increasingly violent fantasies about hurting Laura in a group chat they’re both in with other male relatives. Al admits (and is ashamed that) he tried to laugh them off (“I should pay some guys to show Laura a bad time” or “I want to roast her over a fire!”) as jokes at first. But when it became obvious Tom wouldn’t stop, he told him that he needed help and that he wasn’t welcome around our daughters until he had gotten it. Privately, the other guys thanked Al for saying something, but they otherwise want to “stay out of it.” I’m no fan of Laura’s, but I also don’t think being cheated on gives you carte blanche to say anything. Some of Tom’s texts turned my stomach, and I agree with Al: I don’t want to be around him until he’s gotten help. Tom and Laura, who didn’t have kids, were really close with our three daughters. Tom was supposed to spend Christmas with us. He’s humiliated that I’ve seen the texts and pretty upset he might not get to see his nieces soon. He also thinks this is another way the universe is punishing him. I want to support my brother, but right now I feel like supporting him condones his behavior. Are Al and I overreacting by keeping Tom away from our daughters? I don’t think he’d ever hurt them, but what he has said about Laura makes me ill.

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—Antisocially Distanced

Both you and Al are sincerely distressed by what Tom has said, and it’s perfectly reasonable to say, “You have a right to be angry at your ex for leaving you, but there’s a limit to how much I’m willing to listen to you spin out unedited violent revenge fantasies, and at a certain point I start to worry about your judgment” to someone you love. I wonder if either you or Al have a strong sense of what “help” would look like in Tom’s case and to what extent your daughters might serve as a stand-in for yourselves. You say you don’t think he would hurt them, which is all well and good, but surely “I expect my Christmas guests not to physically harm my children” is too low a bar to serve as a baseline for your holiday expectations, so I think it’s fair to assume at least part of your decision to uninvite him had to do with your own discomfort.

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What do you two want from him before you’re prepared to spend time together? An acknowledgment that he went too far? An apology? A commitment to see a therapist? A promise to confine his remarks about his ex in the future to “I’m really angry, and I resent her happiness” instead of Wile E. Coyote–type fantasies? It doesn’t seem like you’ve had much of a follow-up with Tom yet, so you should try to speak to him yourself soon. You’ve told him you want him to get help, so a good next move might be to offer some suggestions as to how he can get it.

Help! My Mother-in-Law Wants to Refer to Me as an “Aunt” of My Own Child.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Harron Walker on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a 22-year-old autistic woman who recently got a service dog. I didn’t get my diagnosis until I was 19. She is task-trained to provide medication reminders at specific times. She also provides a great deal of emotional support when I’m dealing with depression and social anxiety, although I know that particular benefit is not considered a task by the ADA. Sometimes, we face pushback in public places, because my disability is invisible. But in those situations, I am able to advocate for myself. However, my current problem stems from a situation where my dog is not guaranteed access by law. I was invited to a small, socially distanced gathering at some friends’ home back in October. As usual, I planned to have my service dog with me, since she goes with me everywhere. But on the day of the event, one of the hosts reached out to me (in a group message with the other three hosts) to inform me that they had decided that my service dog would have to stay at home. They said it was for the “safety and comfort” of everyone involved.

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It became a long argument between myself and the three siblings who hosted this gathering. Their reasoning was that my dog might rile up their own dog (the two are siblings and enjoy opportunities to play together). I offered to keep my dog leashed throughout the entire event or to bring her kennel and leave her in a back room. I was told that neither of these were an option and that I needed to “get over it” if I was sometimes told that my service dog wasn’t welcome in a private home. After all, I’m “fine without her for a couple of hours.”

By law, I know my animal has no protection in a private space, but am I right to think that their attitude and ultimatum were both extraordinarily rude? When I tried to explain how refusing to allow my trained, hypoallergenic service dog lies somewhere between unkindness and discrimination, these friends insisted that I was simply being dramatic and that a service dog is not equivalent to medically necessary equipment like insulin or a wheelchair or glasses. I don’t know how my friendship with this family can proceed if they really believe that there are certain situations when it’s totally fine to demand my service animal stay at home, without a compelling reason. Is there a way to salvage this?

—Still Stung

Leaving COVID risks aside, I think your friends could have done more to accommodate you. They could have put their own dog in another room for a few hours, or kept both dogs leashed, or suggested you both take the dogs to the backyard at the start of the party to tire themselves out playing there. At the very least, they could have disappointed you more thoughtfully! “We’re really sorry, but there’s no way to keep our own dog calm and quiet when yours comes to visit” might still have felt dismissive, but it’s a sight better than “You’re being dramatic, and your dog isn’t insulin.” You are already aware that your service dog is neither insulin nor a wheelchair, and it was rude of your friends to act as though you were claiming equivalence.

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Since you care about these people deeply and you’ve known them for years, it’s worth revisiting the subject once things have settled down. Offer to explain a little more about how much your service dog has changed your life after your diagnosis in case some of their resistance has been rooted in ignorance. It doesn’t seem like you’ve had any behavior issues with your dog, but if you want to be additionally thorough, you can ask if they’ve ever seen your dog misbehave or act in a way that made them concerned about the safety of other animals or people. But you’re also free to say that you won’t be accepting future invitations if they don’t extend to your dog, or even to decide to limit the time you spend with people who consider her an unnecessary extravagance rather than an important component of your treatment.

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Dear Prudence,

I can’t get my co-workers, friends, and roommates to stop commenting on my body and eating habits. I have ADHD and take a stimulant medication, which I need to function at work. It suppresses my appetite during the day, so I usually have just a snack around lunchtime and eat a larger dinner and more snacks in the evening. My co-workers have noticed I don’t really eat lunch and have said multiple times that I need to eat, that I’m not eating enough, etc. I know these comments come from a place of genuine concern, but I’ve told them that my medication is an appetite suppressant and I eat more in the evenings, yet they won’t stop. Also because I have ADHD, my executive functioning skills aren’t great, and it’s often difficult for me to organize myself in the evenings; I tend to eat raw fruits and vegetables or cold pasta or rice dishes, so my roommates don’t see me cooking very often. I’ve explained multiple times that I eat enough, that I eat healthy foods, that they don’t need to worry about my eating habits, but again these comments don’t stop. I have a thin build, like my other relatives, and people often say I just need to eat more. All of this makes me feel self-conscious and embarrassed. I just want it to stop.

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—Eating Later

You should not have to disclose what medications you take in order to get your co-workers off your back! I’m so sorry you’ve been forced into that position, but don’t offer them any more medical information the next time they start to pry again. Just tell them that you’re familiar with their concerns, but that you’re not looking for suggestions on when or what to eat. Explaining yourself over and over again is a losing game and concedes unnecessary ground inasmuch as it affirms your inquisitors’ right to demand personal information based on your size. Presumably you’ve already discussed how medication has changed your eating habits with your prescribing physician or psychiatrist; as long as your doctor is satisfied, you can say as much to your housemates. More importantly, if you’ve got enough energy to get you through each day and sleep well at night, it’s just not that big a deal whether you have three equal-sized meals or a small lunch and a big dinner. Whether they’re “genuinely concerned” or simply judgmental and nosy is really beside the point. Being told “You really need to eat some nachos” by a co-worker is not a useful intervention. Tell them politely but firmly to knock it off.

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