Danny is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Not British: My girlfriend took a deep dive into British-themed TV—The Crown, Downton Abbey, Fleabag, Bridgerton—over the course of the pandemic. She has adopted an affected accent that sounds vaguely British in both vocabulary and her inflection. Her vowels sound strange, and she phrases all her questions in a very “British” way. I know I shouldn’t mind, but Prudie—it drives me crazy! She’s not British in any way and it feels like she’s trying too hard to be someone she’s not. It reminds me of the kids in middle school who adopted accents in misguided bids for attention. I’ve tried to bring it up with lighthearted jokes, but she’s not getting the hint. Am I crossing the line or being too controlling if I ask her to tone down the accent?
A: You are being too self-conscious about this! I get that everyone’s been trying to keep their sanity together through whatever means they can during the pandemic, so I don’t see any reason to fault your girlfriend for half-adopting a new accent to entertain herself after binge-watching a ton of British TV. But there’s no reason you should say, “I know I shouldn’t mind it,” either. You don’t have to make a joke about it, or hint that she should try to tone it down. Just tell her that the new accent is driving you nuts and ask her to keep it down. If she wants to go full Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins every once in a while because she’s bored and stuck at home with cabin fever all the time and needs a pressure release, I’d encourage you to let her, but it should be for a relatively brief window of time and you should both be able to acknowledge when it stops and starts—not a constant stream of being “slightly chuffed” or trying to sneak a cheeky Nando’s in at every opportunity.
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Q. Bedtime: My husband and I have three kids, ages 7, 4, and 2. Growing up, my parents were very strict about bedtimes and nap times. Being a night owl, I strongly resisted this. I never napped during the day and often actually fell asleep very late. My husband grew up similarly. To avoid a repeat of this, we decided to kind of abandon the nap time/bedtime thing and let our kids just sleep when they’re tired. If they want to nap during the day, they can (although they almost never do unless they’re sick). At 9:30–10 p.m. we “put them to bed,” but they’re allowed to stay up and read or play quietly until they fall asleep (they all have their own rooms, so one kid isn’t keeping another up). This way we get to actually see the kids at night, and have time to ourselves (or to sleep!) in the morning. Their friends all go to bed at 7 p.m. so we have two-plus hours of screen-free family time in the evening. They get 9–11 hours of sleep a night and don’t seem tired, unfocused, or cranky during the day.
Obviously if there were attention or school issues, we’d regroup, but this plan seems to be working for us. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people in our lives have very strong opinions about this. I’ve even had relatives call me a bad parent for not forcing them to take naps (how can you force someone to fall asleep?). People say our kids will never be able to hold down a job or be self-disciplined without a bedtime. To me, our kids have their whole adult lives to sleep and wake on someone else’s schedule and I just want them to learn to listen to their bodies and be able to get quality sleep. Am I crazy for not really giving them a strict bedtime?
A: Your kids are getting 9–11 hours of sleep a night and are happy and active during the day. I don’t see the problem! Or rather, I do see a problem, but it has to do with a lot of people trying to shove their oars in when your canoe is skimming along just fine. Talk to your kids’ pediatrician to get a sense if there’s anything you should be on the lookout for (especially with your 2-year-old), but you seem to have a pretty good handle on things here. I’m really not sure where the idea comes from that a 7-year-old who rarely naps unless she’s sick is going to be unemployable in the future, but it’s so ridiculous I don’t think you have to worry about it. (“I owe all my success in life to a strict nap time schedule.”)
Q. Aging on social media: I’m a woman in my 40s and my older sister has recently discovered Instagram filters. The past three or four posts she’s made, she has used some sort of filter on her face that evens and brightens her face. She’s also showing off her boobs in posts about her earrings. Honestly, she looks ridiculous. I really want to tell her that these posts are not flattering and seem desperate in a weird way. Am I overstepping my bounds? Clearly, posting these doctored photos makes her happy, but they are not fooling anyone. Should I leave her be or say something? I’m torn.
A: Yes, you’re overstepping your bounds. If you’re annoyed by your sister’s Instagram posts, don’t look at them. But using filters—on a mere three or four posts!—for fun, for self-expression, for creative exercises in vanity and frivolity, is not a “weird indicator of desperation” any more than getting dressed up or buying a new makeup kit is.
I’m not quite sure where the idea of “fooling people” enters into the equation, but my guess is that it has a lot to do with judgment and disapproval of silliness. If you don’t think these posts are flattering, why on earth should she care? And why on earth should she stop doing something that’s fun for her and harms no one just because her sister thinks it’s tacky? Heaven forfend that she should acknowledge she has breasts when she shows off her new earrings—especially since, as the “aging on social media” title implies, part of your objection is apparently rooted in the fact that your sister wants to acknowledge she has breasts in her 40s, when you would apparently prefer she cover the shame of her decrepit, wizened appearance. Go find something else to do.
Q. Asking for your money back? Near the beginning of 2020, my friend “Geoff” was out of work, going through foreclosure on his house, and suffering from depression. He was forced to sell his car. He asked to borrow small amounts of money several times between unemployment checks for things like food. I said yes without hesitation and with an open-ended time frame for paying it back. The total didn’t impact my bottom line, but it was more than $500. Since then, Geoff has gotten a job and has even received a small promotion. He has revealed to friends (including me) that he was able to buy a car, gifts for team members at work, and a number of other things. Without reservation, I am elated for Geoff!
My question is this: What’s a polite way to bring up the subject of paying back the borrowed money that won’t make Geoff feel guilty or pressured? I’m assuming he’s just forgotten about it. I don’t need the money right now, and I’m happy he’s working on getting himself into a better place. Maybe I shouldn’t even bring it up at all for the time being?
A: It is always polite to ask someone about money they owe you! Of course there are varying degrees of sensitivity one can employ, and making an out-of-the-blue demand of a friend when you know they don’t have the money isn’t likely to be successful, but simply asking to talk about a loan with the person you loaned money to is a reasonable, appropriate, polite thing to do. Tell him exactly what you told me, without apology or embarrassment: “Geoff, I’m so glad that you’ve found work and are back on your feet again. What do you think is a realistic time frame for paying back my loan? I’m not in a rush, and I know you may have other bills you need to tackle first. Think about what you can easily afford and let me know what you think is a reasonable repayment schedule, and I’ll let you know if that works for me too. My main goal is to be able to talk about this without embarrassment and to not feel like I have to nag you or offer unwelcome reminders. I’m really glad I was able to help out, and I just ask that you keep me updated if that schedule needs to change. What do you think?”
Q. I’m sexually attracted to a co-worker: I recently realized I was feeling attracted to this guy I work with. The problem is that I am currently in a relationship. I’ve been with my boyfriend for five years and it’s great. We are best friends, our sex life is great, and we have a great time. I can’t imagine not being with him. But every time I come to work and work with this guy, I turn into a nervous wreck. I can’t stop thinking about him, and I have these fantasies about him. But at the same time, I would never try to pursue it if something ever did happen. I’m pretty sure he is in a relationship as well. Is it normal to feel this way? I feel like I’m betraying my boyfriend. I get upset thinking about the idea of cheating on him. How do I stop feeling this way? Do I talk to my boyfriend about it?
A: The question of whether, or how, to talk to a long-term partner about crushes and fantasies is an open-ended one, at least to my mind. You don’t say that you’ve tried to engineer situations where you and your co-worker will have to spend time along together, that you’ve inappropriately shared details about your boyfriend with him, or that you’re otherwise engaging in something secretive or hurtful. In fact, the thought of cheating on your boyfriend causes you distress and you’re clear on how much you want to be with him. So I don’t think the source of your distress comes from shameful behavior, but a sense of whether it’s possible to love someone/remain committed to monogamy/have a fulfilling sex life while also experiencing a powerful crush that leaves you occasionally weak in the knees. I believe that it is! I don’t think it’s an automatic indicator that your sex life is secretly unfulfilling, that you’re starting to fall out of love with your boyfriend, that you have to break up, or even that you have to reconsider your (implicit) commitment to sexual exclusivity.
If you and your boyfriend have never discussed current or potential crushes over your five-year relationship, I wouldn’t recommend bringing everything up in great detail right away. But you might find that broaching the topic, even only in part, goes a long way toward making you feel better. You’re not a terrible person for having a crush, or feeling rocked by its intensity; you’re also not uniquely alone in this experience and you didn’t invite it through some secret disloyalty to your partner in your heart of hearts.
Q. Gifting dilemma: Back when my now-husband and I were dating, I adopted a “your family, your responsibility” policy when it came to buying gifts for his family. This has led to a lot less stress for me and a much happier husband who does not feel like he is being nagged every holiday.
Fast forward to this year, when the adult children in his family decided on a no-gift Christmas. The day after, my father-in-law called to reprimand his children for not bringing a gift for their mother. Now I feel guilty for not forcing the issue (and because I would not show up to my parents’ home without a gift for Christmas—I enjoy it!). So my question is, should I have adopted this policy, or should I make sure I feel comfortable with our gifting approach for my husband’s family?
A: It sounds like your father-in-law reprimanded your husband, not you, so let your husband feel guilty (or not guilty, as the case may be). Your father-in-law’s problem doesn’t seem to be with your long-standing policy of letting your husband handle his own gift giving, but with your husband’s recent decision, in concert with his siblings, to not get gifts at all. I don’t know if your husband and his siblings discussed this policy with their parents beforehand or not. It’s one thing to collectively agree on a policy, but if they didn’t talk to their mother in advance, I do think that’s rude. But that’s really not something you should be worrying about! If your husband’s mother is upset with him, he can hash it out with her, and decide in the future that even if he doesn’t want to buy Christmas gifts for everyone, he’ll still bring a card or a small hostess gift for his mother on the holiday, since he knows it’s important to her. But you haven’t done anything wrong, and shouldn’t feel guilty on your husband’s behalf.
Q. The boss’s daughter: My friend just asked me to weigh in on something she is considering. A female farmhand on her family’s farm just went through a terrible breakup. She has the guy’s name tattooed on her body. My friend wants to offer to pay for the tattoo to be removed. I am against this because 1. my friend doesn’t know this woman intimately (something she admits); 2. tattoos are very personal; 3. this woman hasn’t said she wants it removed; 4. my friend is living on her parents’ farm and living off the allowance her family gives her. I don’t think she even researched how much a tattoo removal costs. Now my friend is mad at me because I’m not supporting her supporting another woman.
I need a sanity check. Am I the ass for saying she shouldn’t have the tattoo removed from a stranger, let alone her father’s employee?
A: I don’t think it makes you an ass, although if you’ve already made your opinion clear and your friend still disagrees, I think you should let it go, if only because there’s no way for you to control what your friend does. She did ask you for your opinion, so it’s not as if you butted in to announce your perspective, but sometimes people ask their friends for opinions when what they really want is reassurance or unanimity. You’ve said your piece, you’ve given your reasons, and now your friend will make her own decision. If she makes a mistake, it’ll be her mistake, and I think the best way out of this with minimal fallout is to say something to that effect: “You know what I think about this, so I won’t belabor the point; I know you just want to help and that your heart is in the right place. I certainly hope you can find ways to be there for her after her breakup, so even if we disagree on the details, I think we’re on the same page about whether she deserves support.”
Q. Ungrateful over clothing: I’ve been married to my husband for 20 years, and my mother-in-law is truly great. Except, for the past 10 years or so, she has given me clothes for my birthday, holidays, etc. This started out really well—the clothes fit, are my style, and are of good quality. But I just don’t need that many shirts! I don’t have room for them all! I’m also starting to feel ungrateful, because in some ways it feels like she’s just phoning it in and not putting much thought into my gifts. There are so many worse mother-in-law problems to have, but this has been bugging me for a year now. I know I should just continue to thank her, and then give away whatever doesn’t fit in my closet, right? Or is there any way to say, “I love you, but stop buying me clothes”?
A: I think there’s a way to say so! Some families have very cheerful, open relationships to talking about future gifts, while others don’t, but even if your family’s not in the habit of sending one another gift lists in advance of a birthday or holiday, you’ve known this woman for 20 years and have a good relationship. She’s clearly put a lot of thought into her gifts for you and cares about getting you things that fit, that suit you, and that you’ll use! Now that the latest round of holidays are over, it’s the ideal time to have a casual conversation about the future. Just tell her that you love the shirts and are maxed out for the future, because you only have so much room in your closet (make sure to let her know when you’re wearing something she got you so she knows you appreciate it). If she’s receptive, you might mention other things you would like as a jumping-off point, but you don’t have to; some people love getting gift inspiration ideas, while others feel like they’re being told what to choose in advance, so you can gauge her reaction before saying anything else. But there’s nothing rude or ungrateful about saying you need a break from clothing after a decade.
Q. Update: Same name: After I listened to your response and fantastic script re: my same-sex/same-name partner, I introduced my partner on a family holiday Zoom using the “I’ll make this easy with just one name” script. After a full minute of silence, things played out even better than I imagined: My 85-year-old grandma proceeded to yell into her computer that I “didn’t need to make anything easy for anybody since the easiest thing in the world is to keep your mouth shut when you have nothing nice to say.” She then proceeded to remind the family that we have multiple aunts, uncles, and cousins who share first names, and that her last two (of 14) children have the same middle name. Thank you for your advice and reassurance—they made it possible to introduce one amazing woman to another!
A: This is one of the most delightful updates I’ve gotten to a letter. Thank you so much! It was my brilliant guest Diana Stegall’s idea, I think, and I’ll be sure to let her know her suggestion went over so well. I love that your grandmother came to your aid in the moment, and that she was able to remind everyone that common names are not a uniquely “weird” thing about gayness that needs to be pointed up and mocked at every turn. Congratulations!
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks for the help, everyone. Remember, I have exactly zero children, so if I’m way off about the nap thing and just committed the sleep equivalent of feeding honey to a newborn, mea culpa.
From Care and Feeding
Q. Who gets up? My husband and I are expecting our first child this summer, and we’re stuck on one specific debate. We can’t decide on an appropriate schedule for who should get up in the middle of the night with the newborn! My husband is firmly in the camp of splitting things 50/50—either trading off who gets up or planning that he takes the early mornings while I get up in the late night (he’s an early riser, and I’m a night owl).
This sounded pretty reasonable to me at first, but I can’t help but worry that I’m going to end up taking on the lion’s share here either way. While I don’t have a ton of pride wrapped up in its success, I would like to try breastfeeding, which makes me think that I’ll likely be getting up with the baby pretty much every time regardless. I’m also a light sleeper, so I can’t imagine that I’ll be sleeping through a crying baby. As a result, I proposed that we both get up every time. We’ll be getting used to a huge change in those early weeks, and it’ll be nice to have an extra pair of hands. When I bring it up, my husband looks at me like I have three heads! Am I being unreasonable? Read what Nicole Cliffe had to say.