Dear Prudence

I Hate My Friend’s Emotional Support Dog

All he wants to do is hump legs.

woman and dog looking at each other
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Dear Prudence,

Last year my friend got an emotional support dog that I hate. My friend has chronic migraines and mental health issues and has been on disability for years. She really wants to work or volunteer regularly, but that’s not possible, so she’s often at loose ends. She said she wanted a cuddly lap dog, so I was surprised when she adopted a puppy. He doesn’t seem to even recognize my friend’s existence (or humans in general) until it’s time to hump a leg. What’s worse, I’m allergic to dogs, and while my friend tries her best to keep him away from me, he still usually ends up touching me and triggering an asthma attack. I’ve told her I don’t like being around the dog because of my allergies and asthma, but she knows that’s bullshit, because I loved her last dog and was willing to endure a minor asthma attack for him.

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Because he’s an emotional support animal, he comes with my friend everywhere, even though his constant bad behavior seems to only increase her anxiety. Things were easier pre-COVID because she was willing to put him in another room when we hung out, but since we’re only seeing each other outdoors now, she will not leave him behind. She’s tried training him, but nothing has worked. I warn others who meet the dog that he will be unpleasant. Most dog lovers doubt it, but afterward they’re unanimous: This dog sucks. I hate her dog so much that I find myself coming up with excuses not to see her, and I haven’t answered her texts in a couple of weeks. I want to be friends with her, but if it involves this dog, I’m not sure I can handle it. What should I do?

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—Dog Enemy

You do not ever have to like your friend’s dog! You may only ever manage to cultivate a relationship of grudging tolerance or mutual indifference, which is absolutely fine. And just because you were willing to white-knuckle your way through an attack in the past does not mean you’re obligated to do so indefinitely. (Not to mention the fact that many people’s allergies become more severe with each reaction.) Saying you need to limit the time spent indoors with her dog or that he needs to be leashed a few feet away from you during outdoor meetings is perfectly reasonable and entirely consistent with a loving, supportive friendship.

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Beyond that, I think you can make life a little easier on yourself by focusing on the things you have the power to change and cultivating a sense of neutrality toward the things you don’t. It’s unlikely that you will convince your friend to get rid of her dog or even to feel about him the same way you do. You also don’t have to act as if he’s your dog and warn people about him. I’d encourage you to ask your friend (in a spirit of curiosity and open-mindedness, not pointedly) how she’s doing with her dog, since you say she often seems overwhelmed and anxious and that her previous attempts at training haven’t helped. Maybe she needs help finding a trainer who can work with the dog on a more regular basis. Or perhaps you and some of her other friends could help find someone who’s willing to work pro bono or at a reduced rate, or pass the hat around your social circle to cover the cost of a few sessions. That may not be possible—money is tight for a lot of people these days—in which case just keep your distance to protect your health, and let your friend manage her dog, even if she runs into a lot of roadblocks on the way.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a single 28-year-old woman who has moved cities for my career three times over the past six years. In my previous city I had worked hard to make friends, and eventually I felt like I had a solid support network. I have been in my current city for two years and don’t seem to be doing so well here. I only really have one friend (who I know through work). My career is going well, but I am so lonely. I have gained weight and find it hard to put the effort into things like dating and trying to find a partner anymore. I am debating whether to return to my hometown, since I have a job offer there. In the long term this wouldn’t be so good for my career, but I would be close to my parents and sister. However, I don’t really have many friends there either, as most of them have moved away. I also have the option of moving back to the city I lived in two years ago. But although I still have a few close friends there, a good number of them have since moved away, too. I feel like I don’t have a home anymore and that other people my age have so many friends and partners. I’ve put my career first, but now none of my professional achievements seem worth it.

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—Lonely in Three Places

I’m sorry you’re feeling so isolated. It makes a great deal of sense that you’re yearning for more connections and torn between your options. For what it’s worth, I don’t think your decision to prioritize your career is responsible for your loneliness or late-20s existential crisis. You say that most of your friends in your previous city and your hometown have moved away, which would probably still have happened even if you’d stayed put, so I don’t think you’ve made a mistake or engineered your current unhappiness by neglecting your social life to focus on your career.

Do any of your long-distance friends (or your parents or your sister) know that you’re feeling lonely? Have you spoken to any of them about your struggles making connections in this new city? If nobody who cares about you knows just how isolated you feel, that can compound feelings of loneliness until you feel completely alienated, and I’d encourage you to say something to them. Your friends might not be able to solve this problem for you, but it’s still worth talking about it. Maybe they have friends of their own in your present city and can arrange an introduction, or maybe they’ll want to schedule a long-distance movie night or a long phone call to catch up every once in a while. You might find these changes make your city feel more livable.

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Or you might not! At which point, you might want to revisit the question of moving. So long as you don’t think of moving as the only tool available to you to address this problem, there’s nothing wrong with considering it. However, you don’t say much about what your relationship with your parents and sister is like, and unless you’re quite tightly knit, I don’t think moving back to your hometown is your best option. It doesn’t seem like there’s much about it that appeals to you. And I don’t know the details of your weight gain, but if you believe you need to put your dating or personal life on hold until you lose weight, I hope you’ll reconsider. Telling yourself that something can only resume “once I get thinner” is an excellent way to punish and isolate yourself. I’d encourage you to see a therapist (you don’t have to subscribe to every tenet of fat acceptance if you don’t want to, but I’d advise you to look for a therapist who doesn’t think a diet is the solution to loneliness and distress) if you continue to struggle with your motivation or general interest in things you used to enjoy. Your loneliness matters. Treat it gently and with great care. Give it lots of time, attention, and sunlight; don’t keep it a secret because you believe everyone else is thriving. It may sound a bit paradoxical, but you are not alone in your loneliness, and I hope you are met with a great deal of support.

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Dear Prudence,

I live with my wife and one roommate. We’re all women in our mid-30s, and both my wife and I have been home full-time since March. We’re only in contact with my wife’s girlfriend and our roommate’s family, to keep our “bubble” small. Our roommate’s annoying habits (taking hourlong showers, microwaving fish, playing the same song on her phone on repeat at full volume for several hours) were a lot to deal with, especially since we’ve all been locked down together—but a few misunderstandings have left us concerned and wanting to ask her to move out. Some of these involve safety concerns (running a space heater all the time in a very full room, not checking to see if certain cleaning products can be safely used at the same time) and some trust concerns (omitting some details about who else her family is in contact with), but neither my wife nor I feel OK about asking her to move out in the middle of a pandemic. Meanwhile, we are getting increasingly frustrated and stay cooped up in our rooms all day and night. Should we wait this out? What if we’re under lockdown for years?

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—Roommate Trouble

Conspicuously absent from your letter is the nature of your roommate’s response when you and your wife speak to her about her annoying and dangerous habits, which leads me to suspect you have not been having regular house meetings, raising safety issues in a timely fashion, or otherwise attempting to resolve these “misunderstandings” through the kind of appropriate, low-grade, garden-variety conversations necessary to get along with your roommates. To that end, I certainly cannot advise you to “wait this out,” particularly if that means “staying in our rooms and ignoring our problems.” If your roommate is playing the same song on her phone for hours, don’t just bite your lip. Tell her to put on headphones! That’s a perfectly polite, ordinary thing to say to someone. If she regularly takes hourlong showers, call a house meeting to discuss your shared utility bills and set a more reasonable time limit. If she does it again, knock on the door after 20 minutes and tell her to wrap it up. All of the issues you listed are bound to come up with almost any roommate, and there’s simply no reason not to be straightforward and unapologetic when speaking about house rules. These are solvable problems, and it’s ridiculous to contemplate kicking her out because you’re unwilling to have a few mildly tricky chats.

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The question of withholding how many people her relatives are in regular (presumably indoors and unmasked) contact with is a more serious one and merits its own conversation. Did she omit those details because she didn’t know about them at the time, or because she believed you would object and wanted to prevent you from doing so? Have you told her this makes it more difficult to trust her? Do you want to change the rules about visitors/quarantine in your home as a result? Then do so! If you three need to come up with a written agreement, that may help. Seeing everything you can agree upon written out in black and white can go a long way toward clearing up future “misunderstandings,” even though it’s not legally binding in the same way a lease is. Good luck. You can do this!

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More Advice From Care and Feeding

I am a single mom of a smart, capable 13-year-old. Out of necessity, and knowing he can handle it, I have left him at home alone frequently since he was 10—after school until I get home from work or on weekends while I run errands. Since he started middle school, he has also taken the city bus a few miles to school and walks to and from the bus stop on his own.

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The problem is his best friend’s parents and I have very different philosophies. We only live about five blocks apart and are in a safe, quiet neighborhood, yet they won’t even let their son walk to our house, and they never leave him at home alone. If this friend is at our house, I can’t leave and run errands. If the boys want to go to a movie, I can’t just drop them off and pick them up afterward. If my son is at their house and I ask them to send him home, they will respond, “Oh, well, we can walk him back.” I don’t want them to walk him back! He’s 13, and it’s five blocks!

They also seem appalled that I let my son take the city bus by himself and have commented about this in a way that makes me feel judged and irresponsible. I have already made comments about my confidence in my son: “He’s always been so level-headed,” “I trust him,” et cetera. But it makes no difference. I know it’s not my place to tell them it’s time to ease up on their kid. But how can I ask them to respect my wishes more firmly yet diplomatically?

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