Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi friends! I hope you had a restful weekend and are ready to help me solve people’s problems. Let’s get started …
Q. Sleepless in a loft: My lovely purchase after my divorce was a beautiful loft condo in the heart of a very desirable city. It is open concept, so the only enclosed room is the bathroom. I have two pull-out sofas and love company for a limited time.
My sister, Jenny, has told me she is hurt that she and her husband haven’t been invited while a distant relative (a lovely girl who made me breakfast in bed) has been invited twice. Jenny and her husband snore. Like chainsaws or trains colliding. At our parents’ house, you can hear them on any level of a three-story house with white-noise machines and ear plugs. They know this. He finds it funny. Neither will seek help.
I need sleep. My options are to either vacate my condo for a hotel and lie about a boyfriend to my sister to spare her feelings or offer to pay for a hotel and get the awkward conversation about the snoring. In the past, this hasn’t gone over well. I love my sister but at my age, two sleepless nights will have me standing over them with either cold water or a pillow. What should I do?
A: You sound like such a kind and open person. If I had a place with no privacy, I would be having exactly zero overnight guests.
Your sister, on the other hand, is extremely rude. What gets me is that you’ve raised this issue with her and she doesn’t care, which suggests that she doesn’t care about your comfort—so you really don’t need to worry about sparing her feelings. You would be well within your rights to tell her you love her but you need your sleep and you just can’t have her and her chainsaw of a husband over any more. End of story.
But I’m getting the feeling from your note that your dynamic with her is complicated and that you have a history of letting her push you around a little. So if you aren’t ready to set a firm boundary—and I get it, it’s easier said than done—I have another idea: I was just listening to this productivity podcast, and in an episode about nighttime routines and sleep, a guest recommended these anti-snoring pillows that apparently work really well. (Not sponsored or anything, I promise! I really just happened to learn about them.) They’re not cheap, but you could buy them for the guest bed. But in the long run, I think standing up for yourself here would be a step in the right direction.
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Q. Losing my (girlfriend’s) religion: My girlfriend and I have been together for almost three years. We have been in love since the day we met and are looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together. That is, until a few days ago. My parents come from different religious backgrounds (Christian and Muslim) and have put much effort into accepting the other’s beliefs in order to avoid religion from coming between them. Due to this, I was brought up to be open to any religion should I choose it. I decided not to be religious myself, although I do understand and appreciate the value and ethics gained from following a particular religion.
My girlfriend, however, comes from a very religious Christian family and has strongly held beliefs as a result. We are generally both very accepting of each other’s views and I particularly try to encourage my girlfriend to keep up her Christian practices, as her family lives on a different continent.
We recently opened the topic about one day having kids, and she raised the question of how we would approach parenting should one of our children come out as gay. My immediate response was that sexual preference is not for parents to decide and our child’s sexuality should be embraced, whatever it may be. This caused a massive fight, as my girlfriend truly believes that being homosexual is wrong and this message needs to be taught to our kids. She is now distraught and has decided our only option is to break up. We seem to be at a complete impasse, but I don’t know what I can do other than shake her and explain that her religious beliefs on homosexually are ridiculous!
My girlfriend is truly one of the most caring and loving people you could ever come across, but she refuses to change her stance on this one particular subject. How can I navigate this situation without her feeling like her religion is being attacked?
A: It’s one thing to respect someone’s religious beliefs, and it’s another thing entirely to respect someone’s religion-inspired bigotry. I don’t think it’s a good idea to have kids with someone who has already told you she plans to mistreat them if they’re gay and teach them to be hateful if they’re not. I also don’t think this is going to be limited to “one particular subject.” I’m sure if you push, you might see that using the Bible as an excuse for backward, intolerant views is a theme for her.
In any case, a person who would not accept a gay child cannot possibly be “one of the most caring and loving people you could ever come across.” It’s good you found out before engagement, marriage, and kids. Leave her and find someone who, regardless of their religious affiliation, is actually kind.
Q. Parent of pattering feet: My parents own a fourth-floor condo in a neighboring city to where I live. When I bring my 3- and 5-year-olds over to visit their grandparents, the downstairs neighbors get mad that my kids run around. They will pound or bang on the ceiling, complain to my parents, and most recently came upstairs and scolded them in front of the kids, making them feel bad at their grandparents’ house. We were there from about 4 to 7, not late at night, and this is not a daily or even weekly occurrence. When this happened I responded that we were getting ready to leave, but I really don’t feel the need to apologize for my kids having fun at their grandparents’ for a few hours. Trying to keep them quiet would be futile; they have barely played with their grandparents in the past year and are so excited we can be together again now. What would be an appropriate response the next time a confrontation occurs?
A: One of my earliest memories is of visiting my aunt’s condo and being told I couldn’t fling myself off the couch repeatedly because there were downstairs neighbors. I had never given a second’s thought to what they might be hearing when I stuck my landings. Because I was a child, and children don’t think about these things. But adults do! And in this situation, you’re the adult. Even though your kids are young, I’m sure they know—or will soon have to know—that there are places where they can run around and be loud and other places where they can’t. What happens at bedtime? At story time at the library? During morning circle at preschool? Certainly they’ve heard of indoor voices and outdoor voices by now, right?
The neighbors sound really mean, but don’t let that lead you to pretend it’s impossible for your kids to treat the condo as a quiet place. Use it for the low-key portions of the visit—cuddling, coloring, reading books, and eating—and then take the whole family outside for activities that make more noise. And talk with your kids about why you’re doing it that way. Of course they won’t be perfect (and if the neighbors start banging on the ceiling over one little run down the hallway on the way out, ignore them), but it might be a good, age-appropriate lesson in how to be considerate.
Q. Already over it: I’m in my ninth month of pregnancy. I’m 36 and have been married about three years. I’ve had a traumatic pregnancy, to put it mildly. I have hyperemesis gravidarum, so I’ve been violently ill for nine straight months. Large uterine fibroids resulted in extreme pain, crazy acid reflux, and horrible migraines—I’ve had all of it all day every day for nine months. I’m in and out of the hospital and have not been able to do anything for myself. As my due date approaches, a lot of family members are making plans for me and the baby—deciding what kind of schedule I should be on, who wants to be at the hospital, when people want to come over, when I should go back to church with the baby, etc. I honestly just want to spend the first three months recovering and getting a chance to love on my baby and finally feel like a human again. I don’t want to offend mine or my hubby’s family, but I need time. Am I wrong if I say no to visits and returning to church before I’m ready? Am I being a selfish first-time mom?
A: You are not being selfish. You’re making yourself a priority at one of the most vulnerable moments in your life. Your family members are excited about the baby, understandably, but they’ll have to adjust. It would be great if your spouse could be in charge of sending out the message and dealing with any backlash but if not, here’s a script for you:
“Hi family! Thank you so much for being so excited about the new baby. We feel so lucky that s/he is going to be surrounded by so much love and such a supportive community. I wanted to check in about my plans for after the birth. Most of you know that I’ve been violently ill every day for my entire pregnancy and it has been really, really hard on me physically and emotionally. So even though I can’t wait for the moment when we can all be together in person, I’ve decided that for at least a few months, or until I’m feeling like myself again, we’re not going to be having company or attending church in person. We’ll send out tons of pictures and will be happy to FaceTime. I know the best thing for the baby is a healthy, happy, rested mom, and if you could remind me of that when we talk, it would be really helpful. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to make plans to get together. I love you all, and thanks so much for understanding.”
Q. Friend breakup: I broke up with my best friend, “Tara,” eight years ago. We both loved books, dogs, a witty sense of humor, and an unspoken kinship. She was even the maid of honor at my wedding. At the height of our friendship, I spent years being there for her during the demise of her marriage. When her husband left her, I went with her to court multiple times, listened to her for hours on a weekly basis, and was simply always there for her—and happy to do so.
A couple years ago, I was in a bike crash that left me seriously injured. During this time, I started really intensive physical therapy and shared my journey on Instagram. I’d detailed it all and found a community of people online who shared what I was going through. Around this time, I noticed that Tara wouldn’t invite me out. I’d hear from her less and less. I eventually realized she had stopped following me on Instagram. Thinking it was some error, I asked her why, and she told me “Your content really shifted to fitness and rehab, and I just prefer the IRL you over the Instagram you.” When I called her to get a better picture, she told me she thought I was phony for posting photos of myself in sports bras and shorts, showing off my abs and that people were asking her if I had an eating disorder. All of this, she said, was really hard for her because she had recently gained weight and didn’t need pressure to look a certain way. She accused me of seeking validation from strangers, that I needed therapy, and that talking to me was hard because she had to walk on eggshells.
When we had our friendship-ending fight over this, I realized that Tara was never going to be fully honest or transparent with me. I found this latest behavior to be extremely hurtful, lacking compassion, and selfish, and I didn’t want to be subjected to it anymore, so I ended it, wishing her the best as we both parted ways to heal.
Did I make the right move?
A: Yes. Tara doesn’t like you very much. Whether it’s real dislike or jealousy-inspired dislike doesn’t matter. And she’s given you plenty of reasons not to like her either. Mourn the good parts of your relationship with her and move on.
Q. Re: Sleepless in a loft: Those anti-snoring pillows might work, but with two people who are so inconsiderate, the letter-writer really needs to stand her ground. And if she’s paying for a hotel, what are they griping about? It’s still a free stay for them.
A: She would be well within her rights to stand her ground. But sibling dynamics are weird, and people get mad about things that don’t make any sense. I don’t get the impression that the letter-writer is the kind of person who’s ready to be really tough, even if that may be what she “should” do, so I offered something that felt like a fit for her personality and the relationship.
Q. Re: Losing my (girlfriend’s) religion: The kid-raising dealbreaker here is not different views on religion—your parents demonstrated admirably how it can be done, and your girlfriend presumably knows this already. It’s your girlfriend’s stated plan to emotionally abuse her children if they do not conform to the standards she sets for them: in this case, heterosexuality and probably also always being active members of her particular religion, instead of the freedom your parents granted you. She’s right, at least, in recognizing that the only option here is for the two of you to break up. I get that it hurts and you love this person, but you cannot raise children together. Rip off the Band-Aid so you both can move on with your lives.
Q. Re: Already over it: Do not feel bad, and do not feel as though you owe anyone an explanation. I would assume everyone is looking forward to helping you, but they might not understand exactly what you’ve been through. As someone who also suffered from an extreme case of hyperemesis (and literally every symptom you listed—it was horrible), I know exactly where you’re coming from. Have your husband ready to tell everyone “No, thank you, we will be in touch when ready for guests/church outings,” etc. Do not force yourself to throw a smile on and get back out there. Enjoy your time with the baby, as a new family and not vomiting every five minutes.
A: Yes, I really hope the non-vomiting member of the couple can shoulder some of the burden here.
Q. Re: Already over it: They are massively overstepping and need to back off. If you didn’t grow the tomato or assist the tomato grower day to day, you don’t get a say in the harvest.
A: I am going to remember this line and recycle it in future responses if that’s OK.
I want to include my best friend “James” in my wedding party as a bridesman. But my fiancé, “Mike,” doesn’t want me to have a bridesman, only bridesmaids. He says it “isn’t traditional.” But Prudie, Mike and I aren’t traditional, either! Mike has never had a problem with James before, and I don’t think it’s a matter of jealousy, because James is gay and will soon be married to his partner. I’ve told Mike I’d have no objection if he wanted a groomswoman, but he says he doesn’t want one and therefore I shouldn’t have a bridesman, either. But I would feel horrible if I couldn’t have James as my bridesman, especially since I was James’ best woman at his commitment ceremony a couple of years ago and will be his best woman at his wedding later this year. Should I push Mike to let me ask James to be my bridesman, or is Mike right? He says we should ask James to be an usher instead, but I feel like that doesn’t do justice to the place James has in my life.