This week’s Dear Prudence live chat is hosted by Rebecca Onion. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Rebecca Onion: Hello to all! I’m your Prudie for the day: Slate staff writer Rebecca Onion, fresh off the Memorial Day cookout, all fueled up from Impossible burgers and special-edition Waterloo summer berry seltzers, and ready to dive in the lake. Let’s go …
Q: Am I the laundry room jerk? I’m a college student living in an off-campus apartment. My building is small (12 people), and we have shared laundry (two washers, two dryers) in the basement. My personal rule for moving laundry is that if both the washers have clothes in them, I just won’t start my load, and if the dryers are full but the load is done, I’ll check back in an hour or more, and if the clothes are still there I’ll carefully stack them on top of a dryer. I’m not an impatient person; it’s just that I don’t like my clothes sitting around wet for ages because it makes them feel less clean, and it’s coin-operated so I can’t start over (I am not a billionaire).
One of the women in my building came in while I was moving her clothes, which was super embarrassing, and she yelled at me about disrespect. I just apologized and got out of there, but what I’m trying to figure out is, who was really in the wrong? I don’t want to be disrespectful of people’s things, but I also don’t want to never complete a load of laundry in my life. I really also do not want to run into this woman in the laundry room again and know she thinks I’m a jerk. Did I really break a laundry room rule of etiquette?
A: I was like you in college: I would quite regularly take someone’s dry clothes out of a dryer and put them in the baskets we had in there after waiting a decent interval of time to make sure I was giving the clothes’ owner a chance to do it themselves. Especially in the college context, when everyone is on such different schedules and people stay up all night, it seemed like the thing to do.
I never got any friction from my dormmates about this, and I certainly didn’t care if others did it to me. But in the intervening 20 years, I have definitely heard people talk about this kind of clothes-moving in negative terms. I think there may be a wide variation in accepted practice here. The fact that I, then a committed hippie with a loose approach to hygiene and sanitation and very little care for my clothes, didn’t mind if someone moved my overalls and T-shirts is probably not proof of concept!
If you were in an actual dorm, you might have a structure to establish the rules here (dorm council, etc.). Since you’re not, you may not be able to get clarity on what’s the right thing to do in this context without canvassing the apartments door to door to suss out the consensus view. That would be democratic and community-minded of you, but also a lot of work!
I think the only choice may be the annoying one: Don’t touch the clothes of others. If there’s any way for you to do your wash at a less busy time, that may help. (You probably already thought of that, though!)
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Q. Financing frustrations: My girlfriend “Abby” and I have been together four years. Abby lost her job last year. I have been paying all expenses, including both car payments. We always let each other handle our families.
My mom sacrificed a lot to raise my brothers and me. Her car was over 20 years old, so my siblings and I got together and bought her a brand-new one. I saved and used my commission bonuses to pay the most, since my brothers don’t make a lot. We surprised her on Mother’s Day. She cried like a baby and hugged us all. She also posted it to social media, where Abby’s mom and family saw it. Abby only called her mom for the holiday and told her siblings she couldn’t contribute money to take their mom out.
Now Abby’s family is giving her serious grief over it. Rather than stand up to them, Abby is blaming me for showboating and not thinking of her mom. We had the worst fight of our relationship—I called her spineless and selfish, and she is angry at me for helping my mom. I told Abby I was paying for her car and gas and that should have been enough. She started to cry.
Abby has turned down offered employment (think retail) and has limited savings. I worked hard for months and months to save for the car. I have tried to be patient with Abby over her job search, but right now I am rethinking everything. I need some outside perspective here.
A: What are your plans for this relationship? Have you and Abby talked about marriage, a future together, kids? I ask because there seems to be a serious disconnect between what you are already providing her—you’re paying all the bills, including car payments; that’s no joke—and what she seems to expect beyond that. If you were married, she would have more of a right to know what you’re doing with your funds. But you’re not even married! It seems like she’s asking for way, way too much.
There’s another way of looking at it, which is that she may feel like she’s stagnating, and is taking her stress about that stagnation out on you. The uncomfortable feelings that unemployment produces are myriad: self-doubt, depression, worry about the future. I don’t see the fact that she turned down one job as proof that she expects you to cover everything forever. Maybe that job was awful, or maybe she just didn’t understand how strongly you feel about her getting some of her own funds back so that you can ease out of your role as sole provider.
If you can talk to her seriously about what she sees herself doing next, you should do that. It sounds like you resent having paid for so much for so long, and you need her to start working again, to take the stress off of your relationship. If that’s the case, and you haven’t made it explicit, please do.
Q. Ghosted in Seattle: Seven months ago, I started counseling to deal with trauma. These memories are personal and hard to share. My therapist was wonderful, positive, and helpful. I felt we had connected and had a good patient-therapist relationship.
About two months ago, she left her counseling practice and switched to a new one. She then reached out and we continued meeting. However, she started canceling frequently, and appointments became sporadic. After she stood me up for an appointment, I emailed her and said I felt it was best for me to end my sessions as we seemed to be struggling to meet consistently. My therapist never responded in any capacity. I felt hurt that someone who knew some of my darkest feelings essentially ghosted me. Am I overreacting?
A: I think your therapist acted unprofessionally here. Perhaps any fellow therapists reading this can set me straight, but I don’t think it was right of her to give you the impression that your relationship could continue, and then stand you up in this way. Maybe something happened at her new practice that was out of her control, and that made it hard to hold up her end of the deal, but she should have said something! Am I wrong, here?
On the other hand, that last line makes me a little worried that you might be connecting the “ghosting” with what you told her in sessions. I can’t quite tell from the way you’ve framed it, but I worry that you’re stepping beyond annoyance, and into projection—that you’re thinking she “ghosted” you BECAUSE of what you said. If that’s the case—and I know this is easier said than done—try really hard to resist connecting the two. It sounds like this is just a person who dropped the ball—a thing that therapists, like the rest of us, are capable of doing from time to time.
Q. Tired of the drama: My friend “Nancy” and I have been friends for 35-plus years. We live about three hours apart now, and normally I go to visit her for a weekend every couple of months. That all changed with the pandemic, but we still kept in touch by phone.
Recently I told her that three other women and I are planning a trip to Florida (we’re all vaccinated). These women asked me to go with them. After telling Nancy this, we got off the phone, and almost immediately I received a text from her that said, “Enjoy your trip with your new friends. Taking a break, later!” I respected her wishes, even though I feel I did nothing wrong. After about four weeks, she called me crying because I hadn’t wished her a happy Mother’s Day and that she missed me. There was more, most of it blaming me for “hurting her like she’s never been hurt before.”
I don’t know if I want to be friends with her anymore. I feel blamed for her feelings when I did nothing wrong; I’m allowed to have more than one friend! At the same time, I hesitate to throw away 35-plus years of close friendship. How do I move past this?
A: Oh, poor Nancy. It sounds like she’s got the post-vaccination blues. For some people, the pandemic was a welcome release from the curse of FOMO; now that everyone is making plans again, the feelings are rushing back, stronger than before. Add that to the fact that the entire advertising world is telling us it’s time for us luckily vaxxed Americans to get back together with friends and family. If you’re lonely, that can be a lot to take.
On the other hand, you are 100 percent allowed to go to Florida with these other women, and to not worry about Nancy’s feelings about the situation at all! Oof. She may look back at these texts and phone calls with some distance from the situation and be very embarrassed for herself.
I think your reaction to these outbursts can be charitable, if she wasn’t like this in the before times. If she wasn’t, she is probably just feeling the shock of re-\entry, and your friendship’s 35-year-old track record earns her a bit of a pass. If these recent reactions—which, I have to agree, are off-base and annoying!—are setting off warnings based on aspects of your friendship pre-COVID, that’s a different story.
Q. Re: Am I the laundry room jerk? Fifteen minutes is the most you should expect your laundry to be untouched; especially in a laundry room with only two washers and dryers, it is ridiculous for people to think they can leave their stuff in everyone’s way. It’s time to talk to management about sending a notice that goes something like this: “Please be considerate and set a timer so you can remove laundry when it is done and others can use the machines. If laundry is not removed promptly, others may put it in the baskets provided.”
A: Ha! I see from the replies here that many, many people would be moving clothes out of that dryer as soon as it sings its little “I’m done” song, or after a 15-minute grace period, tops, as this answer suggests. It’s rare that one finds that one’s college self actually got a matter of etiquette right, so I am thankful for this moment!
I like this commenter’s idea: Get the building to post something, if they are willing. Shared life requires shared rules to run smoothly, and if there are differences in expectations here, a mild assertion of authority on the part of management could go far.
Q. Too honest: Before meeting and marrying my wife, I had many different sexual partners, mostly casual. I’m her first. We are in our first year of marriage. During a conversation about our sex life, I mentioned that I had been more attracted to past partners than I am to my wife. She became visibly upset; in the days since, she has stopped initiating intimacy and has asked if I want an open marriage. I said no. I tried explaining that I am attracted to her—it’s just that the physical dimension of our relationship is less important to me than the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual connections we share. And, truth be told, I have had some sexual relationships in the past with an explosive chemistry that my wife and I lack. Did I overstep a boundary? I thought I was just being honest, but my wife is clearly hurt, and I don’t know how to reassure her without lying. Read what Prudie had to say.
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