Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Danny Lavery: Afternoon, everyone! Let’s settle some hash.
Q. Standing out in orange: Overall I would consider myself a very easygoing person for someone who is soon to be married, especially given the uncertainty of planning through a pandemic. But today, one of my sisters decided to dye her hair orange. And by orange, I mean badly done, fake, and garish orange. I asked her what made her choose the color (her natural dark hair is so beautiful, and she’s never colored it before). She said she wanted to make sure she stood out in photos, given that she and my two other sisters are wearing matching dresses. (She picked the dress!)
In my heart of hearts, I know I should probably let this go, and I truly do want everyone to feel good about how they look on the big day, but the dye job is so bad. The wedding is next month and all I can think about is how our family photos from the day are going to have my twin sister looking like Carrot Top. I trust your judgement and if you tell me I’m overreacting, I’ll try to let it go. I haven’t addressed it any further with my sister yet. What do I say?
A: I don’t think you’re overreacting, in the sense that your only reaction so far has been to privately think “God, her hair looks terrible” without trying to wrest your sister’s right to hair autonomy away from her. But there’s nothing you can do, and nothing you should try to do. Your sister will have orange hair in your wedding photos (unless she dyes it another color or shaves her head before the ceremony), and life will go on. She will stand out a little bit at your wedding, which will be fine, and will not get in the way of your ability to marry your partner. If someone else loves a haircut that you think looks terrible, there’s not much to be done except to remind yourself that life is, after all, a very rich tapestry, and the point of wedding photos is to record the presence of everyone you love celebrating together, not to establish a uniform aesthetic among the wedding party. “Letting this go” doesn’t mean forcing yourself to like your sister’s new hair color. It just means you don’t waste any time and energy trying to take over her hair decisions just because you’re getting married.
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Q. It matters to me: After a health scare during the pandemic, my girlfriend and I eloped. Three weeks later, my wife sat me down and explained that she was asexual. Apparently she’d been scared to tell me before the wedding, but now she felt secure enough to come out. She doesn’t want to have sex anymore unless we’re going to try for children. I am frustrated that she knowingly kept this a secret until now and am not sure what I want to do. I love her, but my vision of our life did include a sexual element. I understand that over time life happens and sex stops, but I also think prioritizing sex can include a lot of possible alternatives to “traditional” sex, and I want to be able to do that.
I haven’t made a concrete decision yet, but it is getting to me that my wife insults me for caring about sex. The worst of it comes from her online “friends,” but she relays it to me without dispute, so I guess she agrees. I’ve been compared to an animal for not being able to control my needs, called soulless because I can only experience a physical connection, and just generally ripped apart for maybe not being OK with this. I honestly think that, with some compromise on both parts, my wife and I could maybe come up with a relationship dynamic that worked for both of us. But I am not comfortable with the rhetoric she’s using against me right now and it is pushing me toward leaving.
Honestly, at this point my only hesitation is that my wife has never been mean or unkind before. I wonder if she’s just gotten carried away with her new understanding of herself and being part of a like-minded community (the specific friend group she’s in, not the asexual community at large). Should I give her a chance to mellow out of the extremes she seems to have adopted (which would result in it being more difficult legally to extract ourselves tidily, but not unbearably), or just assume that this mean side of her was something she just felt safe to bring out once we got married?
A: The way your wife has handled your sexual differences is one thing (and I can certainly understand why this newfound cruelty is at the front of your mind right now), but the question of your long-term sexual compatibility strikes me as at least of equal importance. You say with some compromises you think you two could develop a sustainable long-term relationship, but I’m not sure if by “compromise” you mean something like “discuss the possibility of sex with other people” or “stop calling me an animal for enjoying sex.”
How has your wife responded when you’ve asked her to stop? Or when you tell her that you’re reconsidering your marriage on the basis of how she treats you? Have you shared this with any of your friends—are you getting support for yourself from someone who isn’t your wife? And if so, what do they think? If your wife stopped saying these things, would you feel adequately listened to and cared for, or would you worry that she still felt the same way and was merely editing herself?
Whatever you decide to do next, whether that’s file for divorce right away or try couples’ counseling first, don’t make assumptions or hope that waiting will produce a change that only difficult conversations can bring about. Tell your wife that her comments have been cruel and dehumanizing, and that they need to stop for you two to even consider discussing what type of marriage you can imagine for yourselves in the future; take it very seriously if they don’t.
Q. Should I rat out my neighbor’s day care? Like many other families, we’ve moved from the city to the suburbs during the pandemic to have more space for ourselves. One of our new neighbors is running an unlicensed day care, as has become very obvious over the past few months. I can deal with the inconveniences that come with it, like double-parked cars and blocked sidewalks during drop-off or pickup times, and I’m very sympathetic to the needs of working parents with no place to put their kids in these times. However, it’s noticeable that neither the neighbor nor any of the parents are wearing masks. It’s a constant barrage of maskless parents and kids entering and leaving the house. Our county still isn’t out of the woods and is seeing increasing cases.
What’s my responsibility here? I’ve held my breath so far, but I can’t stop feeling that this operation endangers the community at large, and I’m tempted to involve the authorities. However, I also feel like I shouldn’t make this my business because it helps out a bunch of parents during difficult times, and it looks like vaccinations are going to make a real difference in the pandemic, regardless of how irresponsibly some people behave.
A: The salient question here is “Would involving the authorities likely make these children and their parents safer?” If the answer is not a straightforward “Yes,” then you should consider your other options, like introducing yourself to your neighbor and talking to her directly about getting her guests/visitors/clients to wear masks. You might even offer to put out a box of masks for parents and their kids to draw from, which would be a much easier and low-conflict way to address the problem than calling the cops.
Q. I’m accidentally the other woman: Last summer, I realized I was interested in an internet friend. We began talking and flirting for hours every day, and eventually he moved it into explicit conversation and exchanging photos. This went on for about six months and I really fell for him, but I recently found out he’s been in a relationship for about three years. I’ve cut off contact with him, but I’m struggling to get him out of my mind or figure out if/how I should tell his girlfriend. What’s the responsibility for an (accidental) other woman?
A: I’m really not sure! You don’t know this woman or the nature of their relationship, although given that this erstwhile friend withheld information about their relationship from you, it’s likely she didn’t know much about your sexting either. If you’re mostly considering saying something to her because you’re struggling to get him out of your thoughts and hope that disclosing will bring you peace of mind, I don’t think it’s very likely to bring you much in the way of closure. But if you find a way to get in touch with her (and you feel prepared for the possibility that she won’t respond, will be angry with you, or otherwise lash out at you), you certainly can say something. If you do, I think you should keep your disclosure brief, don’t volunteer a lot of unsolicited details that might cause her unnecessary pain, and reassure her that she’s under no obligation to respond—something that gestures toward a sense of “I realize this is an awkward conversation, and I don’t want to make assumptions,” and that lets her know you’re not going to be peppering her with questions or expectations.
My basic sense in a situation like yours is something like this: You’re not responsible for this guy’s bad behavior, and just because you learned he was lying to you doesn’t suddenly create an obligation on your part to clean up his mess. But if you think that you’d like to know in her position (given, again, that there are some variables there that you can’t predict), and you think you can say something to her without bringing a lot of your own (perfectly reasonable, but not appropriate in context) resentment towards this guy, you’re certainly free to do so.
Q. Left out of mom’s night: The weather is warming up, and the vaccine rollout has been going well. Thus, I decided to plan a mom’s night out with a few moms from my son’s school. This is my son’s first year at the school and we’re new to this community, having joined during this strange time. I was really looking forward to getting to know these women more.
However, when I was talking about my excitement with my neighbor—the mom I am closest with and known for years—she made a comment that really bothered me. She said she was surprised I was going and not my husband. Her reasoning is that my husband is the one who most often walks our son to school with a group of other moms. As the primary source of income in our house, I work more hours than my husband, and he shoulders a bit more of the parental workload. The balance works well for our family, but I already am self-conscious about whether I am doing enough as a mother. To hear a neighbor say, in different words, that I am not one of the moms really hurt, especially considering I am the one who planned the night out. I am not sure how to move past it and become excited about the evening. Should I talk to her about it and risk everyone’s excitement, or just figure out my own issues and self-doubt and get over it?
A: It’s entirely possible that this woman did mean that comment as something of a dig, but I think it’s also possible that she was just acknowledging your husband’s (welcome) presence as one of the parents who are involved in your kids’ lives at school. “Yeah, [Husband’s] great, but I really want to get to know the other parents myself, especially since my schedule doesn’t always coincide with drop-off” is a perfectly friendly and informative answer, and stresses your interest in getting involved with this group without getting overly defensive. You might also in the future want to open up such nights to include both moms and dads, since there may be other families at your kids’ school who split such duties in nontraditional ways.
If you want to acknowledge this during the night out but without coming across as having a chip on your shoulder, I think you could say something to the group like, “I’m really looking forward to spending more time with you when I can; thanks for coming out tonight, especially since we haven’t gotten to talk much yet.”
Q. My son’s estranged father: Earlier this week, I was notified via email that my ex-husband died suddenly and was already buried in his home country overseas. We have an 18-year-old son with whom he has had no contact for more than 10 years. When my son was young, my ex was a spotty, inconsistent presence due to alcoholism and travel. I am now remarried and my current husband suffers from depression and anger issues that he takes meds for and gets counseling. He has occasional episodes. He and my son get along for the most part but when they fight, it can be very ugly. Then my son will say he misses his “real dad.” He went to counseling briefly earlier this year but said it wasn’t for him.
I am sick with regret that I didn’t make more of an effort to have my son connect with his father. When his father did contact me—rarely—it was to ask for money. It is too late for my son to reconnect with his father. I am afraid this news will be devastating to him and serve no purpose. My husband thinks I need to tell him ASAP. I am torn. I just don’t think that my son can handle this. He has had a rough senior year of high school with COVID and I am worried about sending him to college with this burden.
A: I can understand why the idea of breaking this news to your son during such a volatile, challenging time feels fraught, but there’s simply never going to be a “good time” for him to learn that his father has died, and the more you put it off, the greater the chances are that you’ll damage your relationship with your son when he realizes how long you’ve kept the information from him. You’re not sharing this information with him because you think it will be good for him or certain to serve a greater purpose. It’s just bad news. Maybe someday he will arrive at a different understanding of his relationship with his father, or find some sort of peace in how he thinks about his own life, but you won’t be able to make that happen for him. That’s simply work your son will have to do himself. Tell him right now, and give him the chance to have his own reaction to his father’s death; he’s entitled to that much.
Where you do have real ability to intervene is with your current husband’s “anger issues” that lead to “episodes” where his fights with your son become “very ugly.” You don’t say much about just what that ugliness looks like, but if your husband has been abusing or endangering your son’s wellbeing, it may be time to reconsider whether it’s safe for your son to continue living with him. I can’t speak more to that possibility without further details, but I think that’s the area with the greatest possibility for you to take action, rather than trying to keep this bad news from your son.
Q. How can I educate my husband on revenge porn? While discussing a recent scandal about a lawmaker, my husband and I began talking about the wrongness of sharing naked photos of previous partners. My husband said that it’s just not professional behavior to be doing with colleagues but completely missed the boat about why sharing naked photos of people without their permission is criminal, period.
To say that I was stunned would be an understatement. I do think that being male and white has something to do with why he was completely befuddled about why revenge porn should be a crime. I can usually talk to my husband about a lot of things and he is pretty open and willing to listen, but in this case all I could do was stare at him in horror and more than a little bit of anger. I don’t know where to begin.
A: Saying “I don’t really know where to begin” is often a pretty solid beginning. “I want to go back to our conversation about revenge porn from the other day. I was really surprised and angry that the only problem you seemed to have with it had to do with ‘professional’ behavior, so I wasn’t really able to put words to my feelings at the time. I know that usually you’re a really open-minded person and I’ve always appreciated what a good listener you are, so I hope you’ll hear me out. It’s not just bad professional behavior, but a violation of trust and a personal betrayal to share naked images of someone without their consent. That seems pretty straightforward and obvious to me, and I’ve felt angry these last few days wondering whether we share the same values on this subject. I want to know more about what you’re thinking so I can gauge just how much we disagree and what kind of a fight we’re going to have about it.”
Q. Re: Standing out in orange: Black-and-white versions of wedding photos provide a timeless fix to any number of wedding day color clashes, until it’s the right time to look back on the orange hair with fondness and a little laughter.
A: I think it’s fine to include some black-and-white photos, as long as you don’t entirely switch from color photos to all black-and-white simply because you don’t want to see her orange hair. It’s just orange hair! You will be fine.
Q. Re: Should I rat out my neighbor’s day care? Please reconsider the answer to the illegally run day care, if not for COVID reasons. Day cares that are run under the radar are often not performing any of the other requirements that keep kids protected, like background checks, safety training for employees, appropriate safety measures in the building, and appropriate kid-to-adult ratios. Kids in illegally run day cares with lack of oversight are at considerably higher risk than kids in registered day care. This is about more than just COVID and some irritating parking struggles.
A: I feel pretty conflicted about this one! I’m glad to run this, though, because I do agree these are important additional considerations—I just don’t know enough about this particular arrangement to have a final ruling, and I worry about what other options may or may not be available to these kids and their families. But it is worth keeping in mind that there may be other, much more important, concerns beyond just the parking.
Q. Inheritance and responsibility: My mother is a lifelong substance abuser, and is now close to dying. Her parents left her a lot of money, including sizable funds for my brother and me, and she has been living off the investment income from this money for decades. My father divorced her decades ago, and my brother cut all ties with the family when he turned 18, leaving me the only family or friend my mother has. I know both she and my father were cruel to my brother, but I feel that it is now his turn to take care of her. However, I don’t think he deserves to inherit anything since I am the one who loyally stayed with our mother, to the cost of friends, jobs, and fiancées. Should I hire a lawyer and have both my mother’s and my grandparents’ wills revised to reflect and account for everything I’ve had to sacrifice, then sue my brother to force him to be a man, own up to his responsibility, and do his part to take care of my mother in her last years? Read what Prudie had to say.
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