Dear Prudence

I’m Terrified of My New Neighbor

He screams threats and obscenities every time I walk my dogs past his house.

Woman walking dog with dogs barking at her.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Eva Blanco/iStock/Getty Images Plus andIngram Publishing/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

I recently bought a house in a gorgeous rural area at the end of a street with no outlet. I have two dogs that I walk twice a day down my road and back. My yard isn’t fenced, so they need the walk, and I can only go in one direction without trespassing. I have exchanged friendly greetings with all of my neighbors while I am out. The neighbor at the entrance end of the street has four dogs that are chained outside 24/7, which is technically legal in our area. They bark constantly. The largest has gotten off his lead twice and attacked me and my dogs. Thankfully no one has been injured, but the owner screamed at me both times for “being where I don’t belong” and “causing chaos.” I was on a public road, and my dogs are quiet and well-behaved on walks. The second time, this man followed behind me up the street with his snarling dog almost all the way back to my house, screaming threats and obscenities (many of them sexual in nature) the whole way. I called the police, who referred me to animal control. The animal control officer told me that the man didn’t seem like a troublemaker and I should make nice for the sake of neighborhood peace. I no longer feel comfortable walking my dogs without my boyfriend present. This neighbor has since tried to make friends with my boyfriend. I have a strong suspicion that he is doing so in order to isolate me.

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He hasn’t done anything since except stare at me, because I haven’t been alone near his house again, but the situation isn’t tenable. What can I do? I can’t afford to move or install a fence, the police are disinclined to help, and the stubborn part of me balks at giving him what he wants because he exhibited the worst behavior. I am worried that my boyfriend will lose patience with the uneasy truce and try to confront the man or grow resentful of me. I just don’t know what to do.

—No Fences Make Bad Neighbors

Your first priority should be for your own safety, then the safety of your dogs. Other considerations must come later. Your neighbor’s behavior is despicable, violent, and dangerous, your attempts to alert both the police and animal control were met with sexist dismissals; your boyfriend should be deeply concerned about your safety, and I hope that he takes this man’s sexual harassment and violent intimidation seriously and neither attempts to confront him nor blames you for your own sexual harassment. If you can’t trust that your boyfriend will deliver, maybe it’s time to call a friend to step in and take walks with you and run interference.

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I understand not wanting to give your neighbor “what he wants,” but keeping a safe distance is in your own self-interest, at least until you can figure out a long-term strategy. If you can’t afford to fully fence your yard, you could try a paneled exercise pen for your dogs. They’re comparatively inexpensive. Are there any other nearby neighborhoods or trails you could walk your dogs? Driving somewhere else is a hassle, but it’s one option to get your dogs exercise and keep you safe. If you can get someone else to walk with you, stopping short of this neighbor’s house at the end of the block might make these necessary walks safer. Continue to cultivate those friendly greeting relationships with your other neighbors, too—make sure they see you on your walks and that they know your name, and try to suss out whether any of them might provide reliable backup if he tries to threaten you again. It might also be worthwhile to consult a lawyer and call your city or county’s non-emergency line for referrals to other resources or to ask questions about your rights of redress. This man is a menace, and you should take his threats seriously. I hope your boyfriend does too.

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Help! My Girlfriend Doesn’t Respect Our Safe Word During Sex.

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Dear Prudence,

One of my parents is in hospice care and not doing well. It’s just me and my one sibling who’s much younger than me and was always spoiled. I have always been the one to offer more support to my parents, while they have always bailed my sibling out and provided for them. My sibling now has a career making twice what I make, and my parents are still providing them with cars and houses and contributing to their monthly expenses. My sibling has tried to treat me like their personal assistant, which I refuse to be. I try to offer emotional support and do basic things like help them move, but if ever I refuse to give them money or do exactly what they want, they cause drama. My sibling recently found out that our parents gave me a few hundred dollars. This led to a barrage of calls and texts where they put down my education, my looks, and my weight. I finally sent a snide response. My sibling then proceeded to share that response with our parents and extended family as “proof” that I was toxic. It was snide, not threatening or dangerous. I called them out for being selfish, self-centered, and jealous. My sibling requested that we have no further contact. I agreed.

Now one of our parents is near death. My sibling called them and said how much they wanted to be here but wasn’t comfortable because of the “way I am toward them.” Our parent brought this up to me and requested that I leave to make my sibling more comfortable and said my being there makes my parent feel as if “I am just waiting for them to die.” It is family knowledge that when our parent dies, my sibling will receive their life insurance and their child will inherit anything else. I have never asked for anything, nor do I expect anything. I am feeling very hurt and resentful over being pushed out in these final days, and I don’t know how to handle it. I realize that our parent is not going to change. I just can’t help but be upset, which is now affecting my health. Any pointers on letting go of this resentment toward my dying parent? Am I misplacing my feelings toward my sibling?

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—Pushed Aside

This may not be the answer you were expecting, but I think you should hang onto your resentment toward your dying parent. I don’t mean that glibly, either! I also don’t mean that you should nurse every slight or that you should erupt in anger in the hospital room. But based on the dynamic you’ve described here, your feelings toward your sibling are entirely well-placed. If your parent told you that simply seeing you in their hospital room makes it feel as if you’re waiting for them to die, I’m not at all surprised that you’re hurt. The fact that your parent is gravely ill and you don’t necessarily have the time to discuss your feelings about your lifelong relationship only adds to that pain.

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The best advice I have for you is simply to affirm what you already know—that you’re in a very difficult position, that being hurt is a reasonable response to hearing something hurtful, and that there are serious external limits on what you can say or work through with your relatives, both because of hospice care and because they have a history of ignoring and dismissing you. Look for emotional support elsewhere, as much of it as you can, because you need multiple outlets for dealing with your fears, disappointments, frustrations, and memories of a painful past. Do your best to avoid further contact with your sibling, even indirect contact like hearing messages transmitted through another relative, for your own peace of mind. Be supportive of your dying parent when you can, and when you can’t, take a walk, or take a nap, or call a friend, or otherwise distance yourself. You can make sure you don’t allow your resentment to drive your actions without letting go of it entirely. But this resentment has a vital purpose: To remind you that this is not how you deserve to be treated and that it is not how you wish to treat others. It’s the healthy anger that is the logical result of broken trust and disrespect, and you don’t have to be ashamed of it or try to get rid of it.

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Dear Prudence,

My partner works in the medical field and has been vaccinated for COVID. For the past year, he’s been the one driving the COVID caution in our home. I skipped my family’s Thanksgiving, have bowed out of all friend gatherings (outside or otherwise), and stopped going to the gym—and it’s been this way since March, regardless of our state’s fairly strict COVID guidelines, per my partner’s recommendation and pressure. The guidelines are now loosening as COVID cases decrease. My partner continues to guilt me when I mention wanting to meet up with a friend or drive an hour away to see my brother. Things have devolved to the point of weekly fighting over COVID guidelines. I’m resentful that I won’t get the vaccine for at least five more months (I am low-risk, so I’m at the back of the line), which my partner interprets as lack of respect for his front-line health work. I’m sick of fighting over this and resenting my partner for controlling me. It’s caused a real rift in our relationship. How can we reach a compromise that makes both of us happy—or at least able to get through a week without fighting over this?

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—Restriction Resentment

This is part of the challenge of using subjective language like “strict” about public health protocols, I fear! You’re not personally to blame for inconsistent or incomplete state regulations, nor do I fault you for wanting to see your friends and relatives nearly a year into the pandemic. However, your question is difficult to answer without more context on the specifics of the situations and what you’ve discussed with your partner. When you tell your partner that you want to meet up with a friend or your brother, what are the conditions of that meeting? Are you proposing an outdoor meeting? Will others be present? Will you both be masked or unmasked? How many people does that friend regularly come into unmasked contact with, and have you two had conversations about your relative risk levels?

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These are reasonable questions for you and your partner to discuss, but it’s also reasonable for you to feel frustrated by them, simply because this last year has not been a reasonable one for anybody. One recurring argument among countless couples, roommates, families, and friend groups this past year has been a mismatch of COVID comfort levels and expectations, and as a general rule, the default should be toward the most cautious person. However, if your partner is trying to control your every movement, making you feel guilty for experiencing loneliness, or treating every possible masked outdoor walk with a friend like you’re planning a rave in your basement, that’s cause for concern, too.

If building in an automatic “negotiation conversation” about potential future visits doesn’t help, and you’re feeling punished or ostracized by your partner’s response, I’d encourage you to call in a couples counselor, and maybe ask a few friends for support and guidance, so you don’t feel like you’re alone in trying to navigate this conflict. It’s one thing to honestly disagree about risk management best practices and express frustration, but that doesn’t mean your partner is justified in trying to control or guilt you at every turn. Good luck—I hope you can both be patient with yourselves and each other.

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More Advice From How to Do It

I am an almost 30-year-old straight woman who’s never had sex. No P-in-V, no oral, not even heavy petting. I have kissed two guys, neither of which were great experiences. (My first kiss was five years ago, and he went from zero to tongue-down-throat.) Because of some life messiness, I also haven’t dated much. All of this is to say, I am super inexperienced in all aspects of relationships. Now that I’m in a more stable life place, I’m trying to get into dating, but my inexperience keeps tripping me up. I’m not even comfortable making out with a guy on the second date, but on the past few dates I’ve been on, these guys have gone for it and I’ve just frozen up. I get way too in my own head wondering if I’m awful at kissing, and does everyone hook up on the second date, and oh God now I have to tell him about how I’m a virgin and he’ll judge me? On the second date, I don’t even know if I want to have sex with the guy yet. It generally takes me a while to build up attraction to someone. So he thinks I don’t like him or I’m frigid, and I figure it’s not fair to string him along and break it off.

A lot of advice I see is to just be upfront about who you are and what you’re looking for, but whenever I go out with someone from a dating app, no one wants to move more slowly. So I’m not sure if I need to suck it up and do things that make me uncomfortable, or if I need to disclose my lack of history upfront and hope they don’t think I’m crazy or laugh at me. What should I do?

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