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About six years ago, we moved into a new house after being homeless for a year due to a house fire and a long battle with our insurance. Right before we closed on our new home, my spouse’s youngest brother and wife revealed they too were living in their car after being evicted. My brother-in-law is an alcoholic with a ton of mental health and anger issues, and my sister-in-law was then a full-time student in her final semester at school. We allowed them to move in with us, because I didn’t want them sleeping in their car in a hot summer, and I didn’t want my sister-in-law to have to drop out of school due to a lack of internet.
It’s been a nightmare. We paid for my brother-in-law to go to rehab, but he’s not getting any better. His constant screaming makes everyone walk on eggshells. He says he doesn’t drink, but it’s pretty obvious he does, and he generally causes mayhem. The two of them fight almost constantly about his lack of drive to do anything but play video games. My sister-in-law did finish school and just got a great new job. They still have a backlog of bills to catch up on, so I feel wrong kicking them out now, but I cannot continue to live in my own home with my brother-in-law. Am I wrong for wanting them out? My spouse also said that if I want them out, I have to be the one to evict them. They won’t help me, as it’s “my idea.” Help!
—Covered in Eggshells
It’s a shame that your spouse won’t back you up, but if the best they can offer you is begrudging “permission” to be the bad guy, go ahead and be the bad guy. If being “the bad guy” means “I’m only willing to let my terrifying, rage-filled, unhelpful brother-in-law live with us rent-free for six years before I give him notice to vacate,” then be the bad guy with a smile. You’d have had grounds to tell them to leave five years ago! Make sure you give them notice in writing and in all accordance with state and local laws. Be clear about when their last day is and check with a lawyer if you’re worried your brother-in-law will cause a scene, try to claim squatter’s rights, or both.
I’m also amazed that your own marriage has survived this long. If the past six years have been a nightmare for you, but your spouse thinks the idea of living separately is all “your idea,” does that mean they’ve enjoyed the last six years? Does your spouse not care about your own sense of peace and well-being, about a house where no one’s screaming or demanding everyone else look after them? Once your brother- and sister-in-law are gone, maybe you’ll want to reconsider whether you want to keep living with your spouse, too. But take it one member of the family at a time.
Help! My Husband’s Been “Promising” to Quit Smoking for Eight Years.
Danny M. Lavery is joined by Diana Stegall on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.
A few months ago, my grandma died unexpectedly. My mother has been really sentimental and has wanted to talk about my dead father ever since. He did a lot for me and my siblings growing up, but he was also addicted to painkillers, wouldn’t seek help, and blew up his life. I maintained something of a relationship with him, but my youngest sister, “Annie,” just couldn’t. For some reason he was hardest on her, until my mother finally left with us. It was really difficult for Annie to even try to have a relationship with him. She finally cut him off about a year before he died.
Now my mom keeps trying to romanticize my dad’s life. I know he did good stuff, but he did bad stuff as well. My mom seems hellbent on talking about the good stuff. It was terrible right after my grandma died but has lessened. My sister lives out of town, so she doesn’t see our mom that often, and I don’t think she realizes how much our mother has been trying to get me to romanticize my father’s life. We’re driving to my sister’s for Christmas. Should I give her a heads up about what our mom’s doing? I haven’t talked to her much about our dad. On the one hand it could stress her out before we come. On the other, she could be totally fine. Or should I just hope that my mom doesn’t bring the topic up too much?
—Reheated Daddy Issues
I don’t think you have any reason to hope your mother doesn’t bring the topic up too much. It seems straightforwardly obvious that she will bring it up at least once, if not a lot, since she’s been bringing it up a lot for months.
Before you alert your sister to anything, start by clarifying your own position. You say your mother has been trying to get you to romanticize your father’s life, but you don’t say anything about how you’ve responded to her. Has your mother heard you say that you think your father caused a lot of harm? Does she know you think of him as a complicated man who profoundly hurt your younger sister? Would you be prepared to be honest with her about your memories of your father, either in a conversation that included Annie or on your own? If you intend to warn Annie about your mother’s new conversational focus but have no intention of backing Annie up should she want to share her own memories, it’s better to let her know in advance, so she doesn’t expect support that will never come. I do think you should support Annie, even if the idea scares you. But if you don’t believe that you can, at least give her the courtesy of advance notice that you’re not ready to challenge your mother.
By the way, you currently have grounds to disagree with your mother in your own right, and in accordance with your own memory of how your father treated other people, particularly Annie. That is possible to do while also respecting the fact that she’s grieving the loss of her own mother. It’s worth doing because your relationship will only suffer if it becomes dependent on the maintenance of the myth of your late father’s perfection—something you know to be a lie.
I am a plus-sized woman, and I am dating a thin woman. She has never criticized my body and often compliments my appearance, yet she sometimes uses fat-hating language to describe herself. I’m generally confident, but it makes me question how she can be attracted to me when she calls herself “enormous” and “disgusting,” but I am larger than she is. Frankly, I’ve spent most of my life reassuring thin girls that they’re thin and pretty when they call themselves fat and ugly as though they’re synonyms.
A recent photo of her wearing a shirt she’d borrowed from me made her complain about how “huge” she is. I was torn between pointing out that most of her apparent width in the photo was an empty shirt, or that the shirt is my size, so I must be “huge” too. I know it’s not productive to insert myself into someone else’s body issues, but this is distressing me. How can I frame this for myself internally so it doesn’t rattle me so much, while also explaining to her that she is objectively not large? But even if she were, or if she ever gains weight in the future, she would still be worthy of love and respect? I don’t think she suffers from a diagnosable eating disorder or anything similar—it’s just garden-variety diet culture and fishing for compliments.
For whatever it’s worth, garden-variety diet culture can rise to the level of deeply disordered thinking about bodies, size, and value. I also believe there’s room to say, “The way you talk about your body and fatness hurts me as a fat person” without also saying, “Therefore you have to feel perfect about your body in the next five minutes.” She’s entitled to have complicated and sometimes negative feelings about how she looks, but she should also be mindful of the language she uses. I’m sure you are already familiar with the common response in such a dynamic, which usually goes something like this: “I’m so sorry! I don’t mean anything about you by it. You look great. I just feel huge, which is a terrible and unacceptable thing to be … for me. But it doesn’t have anything to do with you.” But it does, of course, have something to do with you when she throws out the word huge bitterly against herself, and while you may not be the primary victim of her bouts of self-loathing, you’re still affected by the way she expresses it. You should also tell her that you don’t want to keep dealing with these episodes by reassuring her that she’s thin, partly because it reinforces the line that thin is good and fat is bad, and also because you would still find her attractive and desirable if she ever stopped being thin.
You’re not asking for the moon here or for instantaneous liberation from diet culture. She can still feel bad about herself, and discuss that sometimes with you, although I hope she takes this moment as inspiration to seek other ways to think about and describe her body. You just want her to stop using fat-hating language, for fairly obvious and straightforward reasons. She should stop, and she can, so go ahead and ask her to.
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 How to Do It
Lately, I’ve been having sex from Grindr, Scruff, et al. with five to 10 new partners each week. Sometimes, it’s a repeat, but most of the time, it’s a stranger (I live in a major city, so there’s plenty of supply). If I’m in a different neighborhood for a meeting, or an appointment, or even a drink with a friend, I open the app and actively look for someone. I take work breaks to get laid. I worry this is becoming compulsive, but the truth is I enjoy the sex and don’t think I’m hurting myself; I’m on PrEP and get tested regularly. I’m dating someone, so this isn’t an issue of loneliness or a cry for affection. Still: Is my behavior out of control? How do I know?