Dear Prudence

My Friend Won’t Stop Critiquing My Interior Decorating Choices

I don’t want him in my new home.

Man's hand in a thumb down position in front of cut outs of different furniture.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Khosrork/iStock/Getty Images Plus and jodiejohnson/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Prudence,

My friend “David” won’t stop critiquing my interior decorating choices, and it is driving me crazy.   We’ve been friends for over 10 years. Generally he is a good friend, although he can be quite selfish and “always in the right.” I am about to buy my first apartment, and I’m extremely excited about decorating and furnishing it. I’d say I have good taste and like a midcentury modern style. David has a similar apartment with a more contemporary, stark style that I think is boring (but I politely say looks nice). David is obsessed with telling me how my new flat should be. He sends me layouts with where the furniture should go and the furniture I should choose. And when I share photos of things I like, he tells me they’re wrong. No, that paint color is too dark. No, the sofa should be over there. His way is the right way and to deviate is implied to mean bad taste. For what it’s worth, my budget to buy things is higher than David’s, and my new apartment is in a building David knows well and would have liked to have lived in. I am dreading him visiting only to critique and judge my new home, which is a reflection of my personality and something I have worked so hard for. I need a script to make him stop or I don’t want him in my home.

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—Interior Nagging

You don’t need a formal script, and you definitely don’t need an ultimatum at this stage, either, at least not when it comes to interior design. It doesn’t sound like you’ve ever told David that you find his advice unwelcome, so tell him! And stop politely lying about his taste, especially when it contributes to his mistaken impression that you think his eye for design is fantastic and suits your sensibilities. “No, I like where the sofa is going,” “I think this color is perfect for me,” or “I’ve made up my mind, and I like the Eames design” are all fine responses, or you can just tell him what you told me—that he’s been giving you way too much advice about how to decorate your apartment and you want him to knock it off. I’m curious if you’ve neglected to disagree with him on other fronts, and if that has anything to do with the sudden frustration with a 10-year-old dynamic. Do you normally politely agree with David instead of giving him your honest opinion or speaking up when he does something that annoys you? Can you imagine any possible form of conflict in between “Looks great, thanks!” and “You need to stop this today or you’re never setting foot in my home again”? There are a number of steps in between the two and no reason to leap immediately from the former to the latter.

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Dear Prudence,

My mother-in-law never liked me. Her main beef was that my husband and I never wanted children. She didn’t harp on it, but eventually I learned just how much she held it against me. I tried to not let her disapproval bother me, but now that she’s passed I realize how much it did. My husband, like me, is very conflict-averse and never made it clear to her that he also did not want children. So I was the one she blamed. Am I wrong to think (belatedly) that he should have defended our joint decision, rather than allow his mother to blame me alone? I realize I need to get over this, and I do believe it was my responsibility to say something back when it might have made a difference.

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—Haunted by Disapproval

“I realize I need to get over this” can be such a stultifying way to approach a feeling, especially when one’s awareness of that feeling is brand new. Yes, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life obsessing over a relationship you can’t possibly change, but there’s no indication that you’re in any sort of danger on that front, so it’s premature to start thinking about getting over a feeling you’re only just beginning to identify and categorize. Your husband certainly should have defended your joint decision to his mother. It was wrong of him  to choose silence, to let her blame you for not having children. Acknowledging a painful reality in saying something like “I wish you had stood up for me. I also wish I had stood up for myself, but I really needed your support in front of your mother, and you didn’t offer it,” does not mean you have to repudiate your marriage or ask your husband to grovel in abject apology for the rest of his life. But if your goal is to eventually work through this together and heal to the greatest possible extent, you must start by honestly assessing the full scale of the damage. Don’t seek to minimize your pain just because you fear it’s too late to do anything about it now. It’s very rarely too late for a meaningful apology.

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The point of such a conversation now is not to convince your husband that he did an awful job sticking up for you during his mother’s life, that it’s too late to do anything meaningful about it now aside from trying to cast and deflect blame, to wallow in recrimination or a sense of powerlessness. It’s to talk honestly and lovingly about what caused you pain, what dynamics you hope to change in the future, how you two might attend to each other’s past hurts and fears, and to cultivate a shared sense of pride and avowal in your decision not to have children. All those things are possible right now.

Dear Prudence,

I work in human resources for a large company. Just before the pandemic started, we hired a vice president to oversee a division that’s very important to the organization but has a few challenges. “Deborah” has a mandate to “fix” the division. I think she’s made progress despite the pandemic, but there are still some key positions she’s struggled to fill. For one role, Deborah personally recruited an employee who quit within three months. His replacement also left and the role is currently open. Because I’m in HR, I’ve seen a lot of confidential communications about hirings and firings. One longtime employee, “John,” was asked to fill this position, in the hope that someone from within would have more success. Even though it’s a lateral move, John was offered a pay increase.

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So far he’s refused. He’s even told his boss that if he’s directed to make the switch, he’ll start looking for a new job elsewhere. Senior leaders are now questioning whether Deborah is sufficiently reforming her division because John’s opposition to the transfer is so strident. He is very blunt about not wanting to work for that division, even temporarily. I worry John’s inflexibility may hurt Deborah’s standing within the organization and maybe even eventually cause her to lose her job. I want to help Deborah and make John aware of the consequences of his inflexibility. But that means telling him things I’m supposed to keep confidential. My partner thinks it would be irresponsible for me to do that because I could be fired if my boss found out. But I don’t feel right not doing anything. What’s my obligation here?

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—Hesitant in HR

I agree with your partner. You should not share confidential information with either Deborah or John, not least because in so doing you risk losing your own job, which requires keeping confidential information confidential on a regular basis. If you’re part of these ongoing conversations with the senior leaders, the best way you can be useful to Deborah is by pushing back against the idea that John’s resistance to being forced into a new job he doesn’t want is somehow a reflection on her management skills. It may be that she’s doing a lousy job finding the right people for the jobs that need filling and managing the ones she can bring on board, or it may be that she’s been given a mandate to fix a division that’s been struggling for a long time, for a multitude of reasons, and yet hasn’t been given the full organizational support she needs to actually fix things. It may be that management has put Deborah in a mostly impossible position, and now it’s clear she can’t live up to unrealistic expectations. If you can advocate for her in these meetings, do so. But don’t share confidential information with employees, and definitely don’t tell John you think it’s incumbent upon him to take a job he doesn’t want in order to protect a vice president’s job. It’s not his fault if other higher-ups choose to blame her for his decision, and it’s not your job to tell him that.

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More Advice From Care and Feeding

I worked as a nanny last summer and fall, and I have a question that has been nagging at me. The child I nannied was 4 years old. About a week in, he tells me he has to poop—that’s all great and fine. But upon seeing my quizzical face when I told him to go ahead, he quickly tells me he needs me to wipe for him. I was pretty aghast by two things: One, 4 seems pretty old to have someone wipe for you. Obviously, kids aren’t great at wiping, but that seems like a lesson they should learn with potty training. Second, I was mortified that his parents never mentioned this to me. I’m ashamed to say I never asked them about it because I was too embarrassed, so I just went ahead and wiped for him whenever he went (not often). But it was sort of a degrading experience, especially because he was a pretty bossy kid and seemed to take some weird pleasure from it. I have a lot of experience with older kids (elementary school), so I’m not sure if I just didn’t understand that age or if this is totally bonkers. What do you think?

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