Danny M. Lavery is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. My non-rent-paying roommate: I have a friend living with me temporarily due to losing both their job and apartment. They found another job but still need to save up to get into another apartment. I am on a strict calorie-counting diet, and they know this. Yet they continue buying soda, cookies, cupcakes, chocolates, multiple containers of ice cream, bags of chips, boxes of sugary cereal, etc.—filling up my fridge and kitchen with this stuff that presents constant temptation. It also bothers me that they’re spending twice as much on groceries as I do, when they should be saving up to get their own place and give me my space and privacy back.
Would I be within my rights as a host to say no more junk food in my home, or only one junk food item per week, or it has to be hidden among my friend’s stuff where I can’t see it? How can I keep them from taking this as a sanctimonious attack on their weight? I absolutely don’t care about their weight, except now that their eating habits are affecting me.
A: You have grounds to tell your temporary roommate how much longer you can extend your arrangement (and to make that decision with your own interests in mind as well as theirs). I don’t believe you have grounds to say, “You need to spend X amount of money on groceries as long as you live with me and no more.” While you have every right to choose whatever diet you like, and I can appreciate the difficulty of recalibrating your relationship to junk food when someone else in your house has a great deal of it to hand, I don’t think you should try to dictate what food someone else purchases or eats, whether they’re a houseguest, a roommate (temporary or otherwise), or a partner.
Offering your friend a place to stay was a generous thing to do, and I hope they’ve been helpful around the house and displayed their appreciation for your kindness, but I don’t believe that act of generosity entitles you to dictate what groceries they buy or their access to the kitchen. You may find their relationship to food a difficult one to live with, and I do have sympathy for your situation, but I don’t think the answer is to say, “Since I’m letting you live with me without paying rent, you must stop buying food for yourself that I find tempting.” You can ask if they would consider storing some of the nonperishables in their room—I hope they honor that request graciously—but you shouldn’t attempt to dictate it. Beyond that, instead of trying to manage your friend’s budget for them, just give them a clear sense of how long your arrangement is going to last and let them make their own financial or logistical decisions from there. Good luck!
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Q. Regretting a breakup: I have been dating a wonderful man for about a year and a half. In many ways, it is the best relationship I’ve ever had. He is sweet, generous, and attentive, and we have so much fun together. But he has a young daughter and we have been taking it slow. Recently, we started talking about our future and moving in together. I mentioned that my biggest fear is that I might decide someday that I want to have more kids, and that he wouldn’t. As a 37-year-old woman, I am hyperaware that time is running out to have biological children. After taking some time to think about it, he told me that he is sure that he never wants more kids, and that he hopes he and his daughter would be “enough” for me.
A few weeks ago, he casually mentioned that he scheduled a vasectomy and asked if I could give him a ride. I was so shocked and hurt that I just shut down and didn’t say anything about it at the time. Two days before his appointment, I finally let go and told him how much it hurt that he was making this decision as an individual and not discussing it as a couple, and that if he went through with the procedure, it would likely mean the end of us (for a variety of reasons). Unsurprisingly, he went through with it. In my hurt and grief, I told him I didn’t think there was any way to work through this and ended things. He apologized for hurting me but maintains that he made his decision for himself and doesn’t see how it impacts me or changes anything.
Now that I have had more time to process everything, I am still hurt but questioning the finality of my own decision. I love this man and his daughter and was so excited for our future together. I have always been uncertain about motherhood for myself, and it was my life with him that made me think I might want to experience all of the joys and chaos of pregnancy and raising a baby. So my dilemma is whether I should get back together with him and acknowledge that fantasy will never happen but our life will still be lovely, or break up and acknowledge that at my age it’s unlikely that I will meet someone new and be ready for a baby in the few remaining years I have left. Is it worth exploring a reconciliation even after the deed has been done? Or do I need to cut my losses and move on, as much as it hurts?
A: It sounds like this breakup was fairly recent, so I don’t necessarily want to counsel one choice over another just yet. Your ex gave himself time to consider both his interests and yours and made a mostly thoughtful decision (although I think he should have asked someone else to drive him to his vasectomy appointment when he informed you he’d made up his mind, given the circumstances), and I think you should give yourself time to reflect on your own decisions before asking yourself whether you want to retract any of them. Yes, it’s true that the decision to get a vasectomy was (and ought to be) his, but it’s naïve to say that it wouldn’t “change anything” between the two of you. Whenever there are decisions around children and parenting to be made between two people with divergent or even competing interests, both parties can act perfectly honorably, clearly, and lovingly … and in a way that might still change things between them permanently.
You say you’ve always been uncertain about motherhood on your own but that being with this man sharpened and solidified your desire to parent with him specifically, and that’s worth considering further. Would getting back together, knowing that there is no version of your life where you two raise another child together besides his own daughter, make you feel relatively peaceful and settled (albeit with some poignancy or pain), or do you think you might continue to feel dissatisfied about being with him but not becoming parents together with him? (I realize if you do get back together and you take a more active role in his daughter’s life that you may very well end up parenting her, so I don’t mean to dismiss that possibility when I say “becoming parents together”—it’s just that you do not currently occupy a parental role in her life.) Does anything about your experience with your ex make you more interested in the possibility of becoming a single parent? Have you discussed your dilemma with any of your friends, or written down a sketch of several possible futures to see if any options strike you as more or less desirable than the others? Give this breakup more than a few days or weeks to settle before you make another move. Whatever you decide, you may experience regret—I don’t think it’s possible to live life without one—but it’s better to be as clear-eyed and prepared as possible for whatever types of regret you’re willing to contend with before pursuing one road over another.
Q. Living with your adult children during COVID: I have a very privileged 33-year-old stepson who has moved back in with us—not a family home but our downsized retirement home. He is a well-educated venture capitalist with two postgraduate degrees. I work in the arts, interior design, and have been in the process of renovating our home (which we did choose as a fixer-upper, due to my skill set). But this stepson challenges me on everything, from the money we spend to my whole relationship with his father. Meanwhile, he pays for nothing, cooks nothing, cleans nothing, and if I complain to my husband about it, he goes down and cleans his bathroom, washes his sheets, and makes his bed! That’s not what I want—I’m afraid of having a 33-year-old man living in our home while I just hide away in my bedroom because I have little or no say over my own environment. I’m really afraid he may never leave!
A: That’s a legitimate fear. I hate to add to your list of concerns, but I think you should also be afraid of having a fifty- or sixtysomething man living in your home who expects you to cheerfully submit to on-demand hostile interrogation from his son, who reacts to your concerns over said son’s interference by running downstairs and doing his laundry! You can and should decline to enter into any more arguments with your stepson; you’re not obligated to answer intrusive questions or listen to his criticism just because you want to step into the kitchen.
But that’s only a partial solution. If your husband is committed to letting his son stay with the two of you indefinitely, contributing nothing to the household but criticism of your marriage and character (while your husband either says nothing or agrees with his son), then you might decide you’d rather leave the house yourself than hide out in your bedroom for the rest of your life.
Q. I’m in love with my best friend: My daughter’s mom left us when “Chloe” was a baby. Becoming a single parent overnight nearly broke me. My co-worker “Daisy” caught me sobbing in the break room one night and offered to make me dinner. That dinner was the first of many. I would not be the caliber of dad I am, and Chloe would not be the brave, amazing kid she is, if we hadn’t had Daisy’s support during those crucial months.
Five years later, Daisy’s my best friend. Chloe adores her. At the beginning of the pandemic, Daisy moved in with Chloe and me so we could all be in the same “pod.” It’s been almost a year, and I’m at my breaking point: I have been in love with Daisy for years, and living with her has made it really difficult not to fantasize about her being my wife and Chloe’s mom in name (since Daisy’s essentially her mom in every other sense). We’ve both dated others over the past five years, but nothing serious for me—because, well, I’m in love. I’ve never made a move because the possibility of losing her friendship is terrifying. I have also, at times, felt she’s so far out of my league that she’d never return my feelings. But there have been a few moments over the past year where the air between us felt charged and where I think we almost kissed. Chloe or something Chloe-related has always interrupted us. I don’t think I can manage another year without addressing my feelings, but I also don’t want to be a predator. And, people have jokingly said we should get married or have wondered why we aren’t a couple for ages.
A: It’s not predatory to be in love with a close friend. Of course it’s a good idea to think seriously about the potential downsides to your pod and living arrangement if you tell Daisy about your feelings and she doesn’t return them, but simply telling her you love her is not predatory. If she said no and you started harassing her, or threatened to never allow her to see Chloe again, that would be cruel. So don’t do that! (It doesn’t sound like you’re planning on doing that, and I don’t mean to imply that you would; I just want to delineate the difference between predatory behavior and dealing with a painful reality as best you can.) But if you told her how you felt, she said she didn’t share your romantic feelings, and then the two of you simply struggled to make sense of how to reorient your close relationship in light of painful and challenging developments, you would not be “preying” on Daisy. Even if you two decided you couldn’t continue living together anymore, and both of you (and Chloe) experienced sadness and a sense of loss about this change, you would not be behaving predatorily.
But without trying too hard to predict the future, it sounds like you have reason to suspect you both feel the same way! Think about how to have this conversation in a time and place that’s relatively unlikely to get interrupted by Chloe, and be sure to stress that you understand if she’s not interested in changing things. But don’t beat yourself up for wanting to name your romantic feelings after five years of intense love, commitment, and closeness. Good luck! Write back and let us know how it goes!
Q. The naked photos: A year and a half ago, I was using my husband’s computer to print something out. When I opened the photo section, I found photos of a naked woman I had previously asked him about and seen him texting on several occasions. I confronted him and he claimed the photos were two years old. We were together at that time and had been for several years. He denied ever hooking up with her and said she sent naked snapchats to every guy. However, when I asked to see conversations between them, he said there were none—but before showing me, he scrolled and held down the screen before clicking, basically the exact movements to delete a conversation on an iPhone. He then showed me his phone with zero conversations with her, when the week before, I had seen them messaging. I was heartbroken and although we’ve moved on, it still bothers me. I recently found the woman, who is married and looks to have been at least dating her now-husband at that time. Would it be wrong to anonymously send him the photos or let him know she had been sending them to other guys?
A: Forwarding someone else’s nudes as an act of retribution is not a good thing to do. It may also be illegal (in Texas, for example, and many other states), but more than that, it’s wrong. You’re entitled to be angry and hurt about your husband’s infidelity and deception, and you’re entirely free to dislike this woman. But that hurt and anger do not entitle you to use naked pictures she sent someone else in order to humiliate and punish her. Nor will it solve the ongoing problem of your husband’s dishonesty. You don’t know if she knew he was married, but he knew perfectly well that he was in a serious relationship with you when he was pursuing her. He deleted their conversations right in front of you and pretended nothing had happened, which not only further damages the trust between the two of you, but was also a serious insult to your intelligence. The reason you are still bothered despite claiming you and your husband have both “moved on” is because he is still not being fully honest with you. Trying to interfere in this other woman’s marriage will not help yours, and it will not address that lingering discomfort that’s a direct result of your husband’s behavior.
Q. Good life guilt: My ex blew up our life when he had an affair with a 19-year-old who was working at his firm for work experience. He got fired; we got a divorce. Meanwhile, my mom got a new boyfriend (my dad died when I was 10). He is a childhood friend of my mom’s—and a partner at my ex’s firm. My ex recently found out about this and called me up to accuse me of trying to ruin his life. He is convinced that I got my stepdad to give him a bad reference. I didn’t, and when I talked to my stepdad about it, he assured me that he had nothing to do with references, and that my ex got a poor one for having an inappropriate relationship with someone who worked for him and misusing his company credit card.
I just can’t shake this weird feeling of guilt. My life is 100 percent better since I broke up with my ex. I’ve got a job I love (that my ex-husband would have hated), my mom is happy, and I’ve moved into a new house and found a new boyfriend. Meanwhile the 19-year-old left him, he can’t get a job at the level he wants, and none of his old friends have kept in touch with him. I know it’s his fault, but I feel as if my good fortune has been siphoned off his previously golden life. Yet even if I accept his assertion that I owe him something, I don’t know what I COULD do. Even if I could think of a token gesture, maybe it would make me feel better?
A: I’m not sure what token gesture you could offer your ex-husband that would make you feel better, since what seems to be troubling you is that you’re doing well even though your ex-husband bears an unreasonable grudge against your happiness and believes the only reason he might ever receive a less-than-glowing professional recommendation is because you’re secretly trying to tank his prospects. There’s not a token gesture that addresses misguided resentment—a gift card wouldn’t address it, nor would loudly praising his professional conduct in front of people who might hire him someday, nor would quitting your own job, or breaking up with your own boyfriend, or … you get the idea. Your ex is unhappy and wants to blame you for his unhappiness.
You sound like a fairly compassionate person, and while it’s lovely that you don’t bear your ex much ill will, I think the only reason you want to offer him a “token” is because he’s good at making you feel guilty and overly responsible for him. You don’t have to do anything to get rid of this feeling. Just acknowledge its presence (“Part of me wants to fix my ex’s life because he’s pretty good at delivering guilt trips and I feel bad that he’s struggling”), recognize that it’s not a feeling you need to “do” anything about (“I can’t solve my ex-husband’s problems, especially not by pretending to agree that I bear any responsibility for them or affirming his delusion that I got my stepfather to give him a bad recommendation”), and keep focusing on your own life. (And maybe don’t take his call next time his number pops up!)
Q. What’s in a baby name? For as long as I can remember wanting to be a mom, I’ve loved a particular name. (Think: Madison!) When my daughter was born nine months ago, my husband and I named her that. This caused a bit of gossip, because the husband of my older sister, “Laura,” left her for a woman named Madison. The discovery was devastating for her, and I worried naming my baby Madison would be upsetting to Laura. But she knew how much I loved the name, so she gave her blessing.
After Madison was born, Laura gave her a nickname, based on the last part of her name, not the first: Sonny. My husband and I hate the nickname. It’s not as big of a deal during quarantine, but once we see Laura more often, hearing her call our daughter “Sonny” will be irksome. I want to say something to her, but I think that giving Madison the same name as Laura’s ex’s mistress makes this rough. I’m running on little sleep and pandemic stress. What should I do?
A: I think you should grant your sister the same generosity and tolerance that she’s granted you, and try to cultivate a sense of neutral detachment about the nickname. You were, I realize, entitled as parents to choose whatever name for your daughter you liked, and generally I’m of the opinion that baby names aren’t referendums on other adults who share that name, but I do think it’s a reasonable compromise that your sister find a nickname for your daughter that both acknowledges her given name and grants your sister a little distance from the powerful, painful, and recent associations she has with “Madison.” Having a special nickname with her aunt, even if you find it annoying, sounds like a sweet way for the two of them to connect, and you don’t have to call her Sonny yourself. Of course it’s difficult to cultivate neutral detachment when you’re barely getting any sleep and trying to take care of yourself and your family in a pandemic. But you don’t have to love this nickname, or adopt it as your own, or encourage your own friends or other relatives to pick it up. But it would be a kind thing to do, and since it seems like your sister has been a supportive and present aunt, I think you should try to see your way through to it.
Q. Re: My non-rent-paying roommate: I disagree. The letter writer has told the mooching friend that junk food is an issue for them. If I were lucky enough to have a generous friend who gave me, open-ended, a place to live while I got back on my feet after a job loss in a pandemic, I would be cleaning the floors daily, doing my generous friend’s laundry, doing all the (healthy) cooking, saving my money like mad in order to be able to get my own place, or at least pay rent to this friend ASAP—and I WOULD THANK MY FRIEND DAILY FOR RESCUING ME. What kind of ingrate brings large quantities of prohibited food into a situation like this? The letter writer is absolutely within their rights to set some limits. Period.
A: I can’t agree that the friend in question is “mooching”—if the letter writer invited them to move in and the friend is abiding by whatever arrangement they agreed upon when the offer was extended, then they’re accepting a friend’s generous offer, not “mooching.” While I hope the friend in question is generally a thoughtful and considerate guest/roommate, I don’t think it’s incumbent upon someone who lost a job and their apartment to clean the floors daily (!) and otherwise prostrate themselves because a friend offered them a spare room. Nor do I think that keeping hot chocolate mix or Easy Mac in the house means the friend is necessarily spending their money wantonly or neglecting to save up for an apartment of their own! It’s not clear how much the letter writer spends on groceries (and therefore what twice that amount might be), so I’m not prepared to make a universal claim about whether the friend’s spending is unreasonable or gets in the way of their ability to save up for a security deposit.
The letter writer doesn’t mention one way or another whether their friend has thanked them—I hope they have! But if they haven’t, and this living situation proves untenable, the solution is to set a deadline to end the living arrangement, not try to modify or control their friend’s diet. Nor is it clear that the letter writer has ever even asked their roommate not to bring junk food into the house (or what the letter writer considers junk food); they only say their roommate knows they (the letter writer) are on a diet. If someone you’re living with says, “I’m going on a diet,” it is not somehow rude or ungrateful to fail to adopt that diet yourself. It’s going much too far, based on the limited information we have here, to consider the roommate the problem. One can adopt a restrictive diet if one wishes; one can choose whether or not to invite a down-on-their-luck friend to move in with them; one cannot reasonably demand that others adopt one’s own diet.
Danny M. Lavery: Thanks so much, everyone! If you invite someone to live with you, but you don’t think you can live with someone who buys different groceries than yours, please do your best to communicate that caveat upfront so they can make an informed decision. See you next week!
From Care and Feeding
My fiancé was raised as a Reform Jew; I am a casual Christian. We have mutually decided not to circumcise our forthcoming son. His family is, to put it lightly, up in arms about our not hosting a bris. (“Because it’s a Jewish rite of passage!”)
Through my fiancé’s sister, we were warned of my future mother-in-law’s plan to host a “surprise” bris at our house a week after the birth! I’m ready to fly off the handle. This isn’t completely out of character for her, but it seems like a new level of crazy and violation. How do I confront her about this and, God forbid, deal with a “surprise bris” if family and a rabbi show up at our door in a few months?
Now available in your podcast player: the audiobook edition of Danny M. Lavery’s latest book, Something That May Shock and Discredit You. Get it from Slate.