Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: Blood Is Thicker Than Dye

This week, Danny M. Lavery and Lauren O’Neal discuss a Prudie letter: Blood Is Thicker Than Dye.

Danny M. Lavery: Lauren! You’re a hair expert, as far as I’m concerned – do you have any thoughts about this dynamic? To me it reads something like, “If you’re going to change your hairstyle according to some guy who doesn’t return your romantic feelings, then you definitely owe me, your sibling, a hair decision of equal or greater value”

Lauren O’Neal: hahaha, as a sister, I have definitely given unsolicited hair advice (my brother considers it a moral affront to pay for a haircut), but I do not feel entitled to direct my siblings’ hair decisions?

Or…all of their life decisions?

Danny M. Lavery: yeah I had a hard time getting a handle on what the letter writer wants, exactly

Do you want your sister to stop having a crush on this guy? To start taking your advice on how to style her hair?

“My sister fights – rudely – with anyone who gives her even a little advice, even her loved ones. Now, she’s willing to make choices based on what this man says” just doesn’t really strike me as a problem

I mean, it might be frustrating if your sister gets really rude when she disregards your advice

but then the answer to that problem is to stop giving her advice

she clearly doesn’t want it!

Lauren O’Neal: I also would probably fight “rudely” if my sister wanted to tell me how to look and who to like!

Danny M. Lavery: and I just think it’s perfectly reasonable for someone not to take their siblings’ opinions into account when dressing/styling themselves, while still wanting to consider the tastes and preferences of someone they’re romantically interested in

she’s not trying to attract your attention! she’s trying to attract his

if she were, like, radically overhauling her entire life, or going on crash diets, or doing something dangerous to get his attention, that would be different

but she just wants to dye her hair

Lauren O’Neal: And she *already* dyes her hair a different color!

She’s not even, like, “changing who she truly is,” or whatever.

Danny M. Lavery: right

If she’d asked *you* to dye her hair for her and you were annoyed, you’d be perfectly justified in saying no

you don’t have to help her dye her hair or anything like that

but she didn’t ask you, it’s no skin off your nose, she’s not doing anything unsafe, she just has a crush on someone who only sees her as a friend (or co-parishioner, or whatever)

Lauren O’Neal: The letter writer says the sister “has not even mentioned having a crush on anyone,” and I wonder if part of that is keeping details from family members who she knows will judge her and try to control her.

Danny M. Lavery: which again….I hate to say “that’s normal” because I’m not especially invested in establishing normalcy as the highest good, but it happens! it happens all the time!

you know how many times in high school I changed the way I walked from class to class based on my crushes’ various class schedules?

Lauren O’Neal: that was my extracurricular sport in high school

Danny M. Lavery: or how many times I’ve exaggerated my interest in something because someone I thought was cute was interested in it?

Lauren O’Neal: I pretended to like Primus!

Danny M. Lavery: I started smoking Camel Crushes because the girl I liked smoked Camel Crushes and then I came to love Camel Crushes

smoking is not good for you, obviously, but I was already smoking at the time so it was just a question of switching brands

Really my only advice here is stop giving your sister advice

Lauren O’Neal: Trust me when I say I know what it’s like to be frustrated when your sibling doesn’t take your advice. But you have to choose your battles.

Hair dye is not the hill to die on.

Danny M. Lavery: I also know what it’s like to be frustrated when a sibling doesn’t take your advice!

Lauren O’Neal: 🙃🙃🙃🙃

Danny M. Lavery: sorry I know that’s such a conversation-ender

but yes, you have to have a sense of scale

back in college I was friendly with two people who were very close friends with one another, and my read of the situation was that one of them had a big crush on the other, and the other didn’t reciprocate

and at one point one of them was making something for the other, and I (completely unsolicitedly) said something really snide about whether they were going to keep making their friend gifts if their friend turned them down romantically

and they just looked at me and said “Fuck you,” and they were absolutely right to say that to me

It was so out of line, completely unnecessary and cruel, I had no business putting my oar in, and I was just making a series of guesses about their respective feelings/motives/interests

Lauren O’Neal: And if you’re truly worried about your sister and her relationship with this guy, you don’t want to her to go “Fuck you” and stop talking to you about it over hair dye.

Danny M. Lavery: yes! It’s also important to examine your own ‘concern’

in my case I’m sure I would have tried to justify what I said with “Oh no, this will *help*, with my witty observation I’m going to help them realize they’re wasting their time and they’ll go do something immediately healthier and more productive”

it was not helpful! people need to be able to make their own decisions about dating and crushes, even if you personally happen to think they’re misguided or wasting their time

Lauren O’Neal: I’ve definitely thought, “Someday, my sibling will realize I was right all along!” which, like, even if they do, who cares. Haranguing them about it doesn’t help the situation.

Danny M. Lavery: if *you* know this guy doesn’t like her back in the same way, I feel quite confident that your sister also knows this, which means dying her hair after they had a quarrel falls under the category of “non-life-ruining-type mistakes any adult is allowed to make”

Barbara Pym made a brilliant career out of ruefully examining her own unreciprocated crushes! This kind of experience can be meaningful and important and carry with it certain pleasures and consolations that your sister has every right to want to explore

you can’t protect her from getting her feelings hurt

and I think she’ll only experience further interference as contempt and judgment, no matter how much you think you’re trying to help

Lauren O’Neal: And are you really trying to help, or do you just want your sibling to acknowledge you’re right?

Danny M. Lavery: I really regret what I said to my friend in college – I’m glad I got to apologize and that I don’t say that kind of thing now – but it was really unhelpful and really unkind

yeah, the undercurrent I got from this is something like “this kind of behavior is probably *why* she hasn’t dated since high school and she’s only setting herself up for more rejection, why won’t she listen to me and move on to more available options”

Lauren O’Neal: And even if that’s correct (which, I don’t 100% trust the letter writer’s assessment of the situation, but let’s say it’s right), just practice privately rolling your eyes and telling yourself, “Okay, well I guess she’s gonna do what she wants.”

Perhaps it can be a learning experience for both siblings. One can learn to let go of judgment and control, the other can learn if she looks good as a blonde.

Danny M. Lavery: yep! this one just falls under the remit of “things adults are entitled to do because everyone gets to make their own mistakes”

write back if she tries to poison a dog for him or steals your identity to loan him money

then I will give you permission to stick your oar in

Lauren O’Neal: Or switches to Camel Crushes.

Danny M. Lavery: adults are allowed to smoke cigarettes!

I’m (usually) relieved and grateful that this time quitting has been going so well for so long

but if anyone tried to force me to stop before I was ready I would have resented it immensely

Lauren O’Neal: Definitely!

Danny M. Lavery: let me have my mistakes (within reason)! they’re part of me!

and, of course, as always take this with a big grain of salt, because I am very estranged from both of my siblings

so just bear in mind that’s my track record

Lauren O’Neal: I am very close with both my siblings, and I think stepping back and letting them do their own thing is one of the most difficult but necessary lessons I’ve personally had to learn. I acknowledge it’s hard, but keep your frustration to yourself and prepare to be there for your sister if this would-be romance ends up hurting her in a real way.

Danny M. Lavery: I think that’s it! Backing off is probably the best way you can demonstrate love and support here

let her make her own choices, stop offering advice when you know she doesn’t want it, and find other things to talk about

you can’t control whether she is “pushed towards him,” only whether you “push her away”

so don’t push her away by doing things you know she doesn’t like

that’s it, that’s all I’ve got

Lauren O’Neal: That’s all that needs to be said!

Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit YouGet it from Slate