This is an edited transcript of this week’s Dear Prudence live chat, guest-hosted by Dan Kois.
Dan Kois: Hello, readers! I’m Dan, a writer and podcaster at Slate. Most recently I wrote for the magazine about whether Kate Winslet can play basketball—which is to say, I am well-positioned to answer life’s great mysteries.
But before I begin, big news: Slate has a new Prudie! The wonderful Jenée Desmond-Harris begins on June 1. She’s a remarkable writer and personality, and a very wise human, so boy, are we excited. Until then, though, you just got me.
Having never lived on her own, our daughter recently announced that she is moving out. That is her choice, but she is taking an odd approach. She has asked us to essentially cut her off, leaving her to sink or swim even if she later wants help. She is planning to rent a motel room near her job, but has made a point of getting a decent sleeping bag and tent in case she ends up homeless.
She made clear that she loves us and doesn’t even really want to leave, but she feels the need to spread her wings. She agreed to visit once a week for a meal, and I’m hoping that she will accept leftovers to help with food. She emphasized that we should not provide financial support or allow her to move back in, even if she later asks. This was not at all our approach to parenting, and at first it seemed horrifying to even consider. After some contemplation, however, I do now see the benefit in removing the safety net. I’m leaning more and more toward honoring her original request and standing firm against any later reneging by her, even if she becomes homeless. Her father and I even practiced for a possible future conversation where she begs for help and we refuse.
If my daughter gives up this idea soon enough, I will also, and she will be welcome to continue living here or move back in later. If she does indeed move out without first retracting this request, that may be a point of no return. I would not be punishing her, but rather embracing a new parenting philosophy which she herself introduced me to. Is this a reasonable plan? I never imagined being this kind of parent, but this is what my daughter wants, and she still has a chance to back out.
Boy, I don’t know. I commend your daughter’s initiative in this era when all we hear about is children failing, somehow, to launch. And I commend you for thinking seriously about her wishes and working your way toward an understanding and appreciation for what she’s trying to accomplish. But I think that deciding right now, today, that you will not extend a helping hand if your child’s circumstances become dire is unnecessarily cruel to yourself as a parent. Especially in a country that doesn’t actually provide much of a safety net to its citizens, and where bad fortune is frequently the difference between success and penury, forcing yourself into a position of ignoring the future pain of a person you love isn’t reasonable.
Sinking or swimming are not the only two choices for a normal human existence! And your daughter’s all-or-nothing view of being a grown-up doesn’t reflect the rich support communities that most of us depend on at different times in our lives. Your child has a right to live her life the way she wants to live it, but she doesn’t have the right to tell you how to be her parent. I suggest you encourage her independence, stay hands-off as you so prefer, but do not commit to a future in which you leave your child to the wolves. Indeed, I would, over the next year or two, try to find ways to occasionally do small things for her, even if it’s just taking her out for a meal. That way you can make clear to her that while you want her to make it on her own, you reserve a parent’s right to do kind things for her child—even before a crisis strikes.
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Two years ago I bought a farm, and with the farm came a “man on the land” who is 84 and has been a general gardener and handyman on the property for more than 30 years. Let’s call him “Zeke.” He’s obviously too old to do some of the more rigorous labor, but he putts around on the riding mower and tidies up. When I deign to disagree with how he goes about his work, he gets angry. I asked him once to not mow by the house, as it was distracting to my work-from-home husband, and he yelled a bunch and huffed off on the mower at top-speed. While this behavior is somewhat humorous when viewed through a “grumpy old man” lens, I don’t find it amusing that someone who is paid by me cannot tolerate any adjustment in his agenda. It feels gendered as well; prior to the pandemic, he was a bit grabby and asked for kisses on the cheek, for example.
In addition, a fairly valuable and large antique was left in one of my barns by a previous owner almost 12 years ago. Zeke insists that the previous owner had gifted this item to him, but will not offer any proof, and I’ve asked him multiple times to move it or I would need to charge storage, as I have other equipment I would like to keep out of the weather. Half of me wants to just give him this item, which is worth probably $15,000, because I don’t need the money and I don’t want problems, but the other half wants to fire him and tell him if he wanted this item, he had a dozen years to take it. My husband says to let him take the item and fire him, as this situation is causing me consternation. Zeke’s identity is very highly wrapped up in this farm, and this is a small, rural community and he has a large sprawling family network that I’m sure I will cross paths with. What should I do?
—Man on My Land, Get Off My Land
Friend, if you ever want to be accepted in your new community, you are as stuck with Zeke as you are stuck with the rolling hills and darling glens of your new farm. You do not want to be the rich city folk who not only bought the old Barfspringer farm but fired 84-year-old Zeke. My advice to you is to have the giant crystal bird feeder delivered to his house, let Zeke ride his lawn mower around until the day he drops dead, and steer clear of him when you can.
I’ve had a long close friendship with two couples, “Archie and Betty” and “Veronica and Reggie.” Recently, after a late night, Betty caught Veronica and Archie together. She sent Veronica home, and Archie confessed that they had been secretly hooking up about once a year for the last seven years!
Veronica has told me that she’s been secretly in love with Archie for years and just “couldn’t help herself.” Archie is ashamed of himself and seems to be sincerely trying to work it out with Betty. Betty is devastated but she’s decided to try to make it work with Archie. (Veronica and Reggie are getting divorced.)
I’ve supported Betty as much as I can, and at first I was trying to be supportive of Veronica as well, but I’m pissed. Veronica’s behavior was selfish and cowardly. Her betrayal toward someone who is supposed to be her close friend has ripped apart Betty’s life. I don’t know if Veronica’s friendship is worth keeping, and I’m struggling with the loss of my close friendship circle as well as the loss of respect and trust. Can our friendship survive this?
—Stuck in the Middle
It is hard when our close friends do things we find unforgivable, and harder still when those unforgivable actions knock other friends around like a billiard break. It’s unsurprising that your first instinct was to support Veronica; she’s been your friend for so long, and supported you through tough times, no doubt. But you’re right to be angry, and only time—and Veronica’s behavior from now on—will tell whether the friendship can be salvaged.
But there’s at least one reason to stay in touch with Veronica in the short term: Betty and Archie are trying to work things out, and Veronica’s claim that she couldn’t help herself sounds like a big warning sign that she’s not done pursuing Archie. One way you can be a friend to Betty in this difficult time is to do your best to help Veronica understand the damage she’s done, and to steer her away from doing any more. She might not be ready to hear it, but if you can be emotionally supportive while still being crystal clear as to what the right thing to do is in this scenario, you might be able to help everyone move to the next part of their lives.
That next part doesn’t, alas, include the five of you as a tightknit group. Over time, your friendship with Veronica might wither. It’s up to you whether you have any interest in seeing the equally selfish and cowardly Archie any more, even if he and Betty put things back together. (Jeez, poor Reggie.) For now, use your long history with Veronica to help her get back on the right path—and to see if there truly is a future for you two as friends.
The clinic I go to is a local hospital’s residency teaching clinic, meaning patients see first- to third-year residents for care. My doctor of the past three years has recently graduated, but I was unaware he was leaving or I would have thanked him and wished him luck at my last appointment. Would it be inappropriate to send a thank you and good luck message to one of his social media accounts, telling him what a pleasure it’s been having a doctor who takes time and actually talks with his patients? I don’t know what is next for him, so I can’t just send an email to him at his new office. I know he has social media because we both have a former college professor as a mutual friend. I don’t expect a response and won’t be sending any friend requests, but I would like to let him know that I think he will make an excellent doctor. But I also don’t want to cross a line.
—Don’t Want to Be Inappropriate
Everyone spends most of their life feeling entirely unappreciated for almost everything they do, so it is always, always, always appropriate to send someone a nice note thanking them for doing a good job. However, it is not actually that difficult to figure out where a doctor works! As soon as he is set up in a practice, he will almost certainly appear in Google search results and in insurance-related medical listings. So if you are worried that he will think it is weird to receive your good wishes via social media (he won’t), you can always wait until those Google results show up and then mail him a card.
Q. Re: Parenting switch: This request is, frankly, so bizarre that I think a mental health evaluation for the daughter, or some sort of individual and/or family therapy, might be worth consideration. Also, renting a hotel room is not a stable living situation. I agree with the advice given, but I think this family needs help before the daughter makes any moves at all.
A: Look, I am not going to say I didn’t think of Christopher McCandless when I read this question, but this smacks less of a dangerous delusion and more of a kind of immaturity that I definitely recognize from my first fumbling grasps at adulthood. I’m glad my parents and friends and teachers were there to help me then, and this letter writer’s daughter will, eventually, be glad her mom is there to help her now.
Q. Re: Don’t want to be inappropriate: Every state has a website which lists the names of all health care providers licensed in that state, along with their addresses and (if applicable) any malpractice claims against them. Just Google “[name of state] medical licensing board.”
A: Yes! You do not have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out where your doctor has gone. But also, it’s totally fine to just send him a note on Facebook.
Q. Frozen rat: I asked my husband to take our ailing rat to the veterinarian to be euthanized last Thursday. The rat was almost 2 years old and had a tumor on its mouth, but it was still a friendly animal that was so gentle. When I came home from work, he said he had “taken care of it.” It turns out he froze the rat in our deep freeze. I have been crying and grieving over this all weekend. We are barely speaking. He loves animals and didn’t think this would hurt the rat. He later apologized to me via text message. I am heartbroken. I am trying to be forgiving, but this is so awful that I don’t even feel like I can reach out to friends to discuss it. How do I get past this?