This is an edited transcript of this week’s Dear Prudence live chat, guest-hosted by Rebecca Onion.
Q. Let me be mad: My husband hates when I get mad. I don’t yell, scold, use sarcasm, or insult him when I’m angry. I may frown and avoid touching him. The room feels charged and tense, so I avoid him and lay in bed or wash dishes or something. He says my bad mood is “obvious” and that “it ruins the day.” He claims he can feel me hating him, which is fair, I guess. I’m never mad for very long (an hour at most), and I always apologize for getting upset afterward, but I don’t think I’m doing anything wrong, really. I usually have good reason to be mad at him, and once I calm down, I talk out whatever the issue is with him and find a solution. It feels like a lot of the time I’m mad at him for being inconsiderate or careless about stuff, especially when I’ve told him it’s important to me.
He generally doesn’t get angry often at me or anyone. When he does, he hides it very well and doesn’t talk about it until sometimes days or weeks later. He’s a chronic weed smoker and has been high for most of our relationship, so it’s not surprising that slights roll off him. When he’s sober, he is definitely more short-tempered, mean, and sometimes insulting.
I don’t know how to get him to just let me be angry or how to get him to apologize or even acknowledge doing things wrong. Am I wrong? Should I try to develop thicker skin or something?
A: Let me get this out of the way first: Legalize it! That said, when I hear that somebody’s partner is a chronic weed smoker, and “has been high for most of our relationship,” and that this weed smoker is constantly identifying “bad vibes” in his partner, I can’t help but wonder whether said weed smoker is just, uh, paranoid. He “lets slights roll off of him,” sure, but he is also convinced that you are “mad at him” all the time? I’m just not sure he’s seeing things clearly. And when he’s sober, it’s probably his weed hangover (real talk) that’s making him short-tempered.
I feel like I know the answer to this, but is there any situation in which he might stop smoking weed for a month? I don’t feel like either of you really have a good grip on your dynamic, because of how, um, heightened his reality is.
That said, you certainly have the right to get space when you’re annoyed. I’m hoping the end of the pandemic might take some of the pressure off. We have all been in the same room (literally and figuratively) for way too long.
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Q. Home or heart: I have owned my townhouse for 10 years. I modified the downstairs to a wheelchair-accessible master suite and small kitchenette because my mother’s health was failing, and I expected her to move in with me. She didn’t survive, and I was left with essentially a studio apartment on the ground floor. I have rented out the space for years to both good and bad tenants. It is currently empty after a bad one.
My fiancé has an adult daughter with twins. She is currently unemployed, in the middle of a divorce, and hates her mother. My fiancé is putting pressure on me to let them move in. He is cash-strapped from paying for college for his two youngest, and given the insane real estate market, he couldn’t afford to put his daughter and grandchildren in a cardboard box on Skid Row.
I would do it in a heartbeat, except his daughter hates me. She is thin-skinned, high-handed, and thinks her boundaries matter over anyone else’s. She once screamed at me because I couldn’t remember if the cookies her kids ate at my friend’s were vegan or not. (She had had an “emergency” and we had to take the twins along with us.) She swears under her breath at me all the time. When her twins are out of control, she is on her phone and attacks anyone trying to rein them in.
I can deal with her in low doses, but living together seems like a recipe for disaster. My fiancé says she will be grateful and keep the kids on the first floor, but I know she will treat my home like it is hers and I am the freeloading guest. I love my fiancé and I adore his other kids and his grandchildren. I think this might break everything, but why is it on me?
A: Do not rent your space to this daughter-with-twins. I don’t quite picture the physical boundaries between the two living spaces (“essentially” a studio apartment?), nor how old the twins are, but it sounds a bit like they’re little (cookie-eating, “out of control”). If the suite doesn’t have a separate entrance, and the kids are indeed small, you are not moving in new tenants, you are moving in roommates, and maybe also signing up for a new job as a nanny. I have a 4-year-old, and if we lived downstairs from a kindly grandparent figure, my child would be up there every minute of every day! That would go double if I were stressed-out and cranky and didn’t control the situation well, which it sounds like might be the case with this mom.
I think you already know this, but it’s your fiancé who isn’t seeing reality, here. You have to be very explicit with him, going into the conversation with your mind completely made up; don’t wiggle on it (“maybe she can stay a month til she gets back on her feet”) or you will be back at square one. He is imposing on you by even putting you in this position, and I hope he can come to see that, if you are extremely honest with him and firm in your own boundaries.
Q: Copycat stepsister: My stepsister has made everything a competition with me since we were kids. If I got interested in an activity, she became obsessed with it—then there was the inevitable breakdown when I would lose interest or be better than her at it. Once I got a church solo, and she had such a big temper tantrum that the pastor made her leave the building. Our parents never did anything to stop her. As teenagers, she got worse and started to go after any guy I liked. I learned to lie and sneak around to survive the social drama she dragged everywhere. I thought college would mellow her out, but it just made her more manipulative. She started “secretly” dating one of my exes and tried to surprise me with the reveal at a family function. I smiled and gave good wishes to the happy couple. They broke up the next day.
My stepsister and I are both currently engaged and expecting (she is due two months before me). She wants to “make up for lost time” and “share” all the details about my plans for the wedding and baby. If I am vague, she pits our parents against me. I let it slip that we’re doing a gray nursery theme with elephants, and last week my stepsister posted social media pics of her doing just that. I don’t want to fight her over stuff like this, but this is tiresome. My fiancé thinks we should lie and then “change our minds”: tell my stepsister our worst wedding ideas, give her our most hated baby names, and watch the fallout. Healthy conversations don’t exist here, but it feels a little mean. What should we do here?
A: This is going to be hard, because you are so wrapped up in this family dynamic, and being in a family with this person has (as you say) shaped your very personality. But her behavior is so, so tiresome, and honestly ridiculous. This person sounds like she watches way too much reality television. Your fiancé has a great imagination, but baiting Evil Stepsister like that will just prolong this plot line. I think your only response to all of these shenanigans has to be complete nonreaction. The gray elephant nursery, the secret dating of the ex and the family reveal—it’s incredibly cheesy, but none of it really matters to you, or changes anything in your life, so you have to act like that. Let “mild amusement” be your watchword in every reaction.
The only thing that might actually matter here is the part about your relationship with your parents. You say she “pits our parents against me.” There’s very little information about them in this letter, so I don’t know whether they contributed at all to the sister vs. sister dynamic when you were little. If she is capable of doing real damage on that front—actual damage, not just the annoyance of drama—that’s a different story. It may be worth you having a serious conversation with your parents about your new approach to your relationship with your stepsister, so that they know you’re going to refuse to engage.
Q. Heartbreaker and heartbroken: My boyfriend of 2½ years, “Ruben,” recently broke up with me. I was very much in love with him, and I’m still not fully over it. The story behind our getting together is a rough one. For a few years in college, I was dating another guy, “Kris.” From the start, Kris and I were not meant to be together. Kris and Ruben were friends from middle school and were roommates in college. Since I was dating Kris, I spent a lot of time in their apartment. This meant that I saw Ruben often, and it was incredible how strong our connection was. We became good friends over the course of two years, and as soon as I realized how strongly I felt about Ruben, I left Kris. I started dating Ruben a month later. Kris was obviously very hurt by the situation, especially since he and Ruben were still roommates. I justified it at the time by telling myself that Ruben and I were meant to be together and that he was the love of my life and that it was senior year of college, so it was my last chance to start that relationship before I graduated and went down life’s journey.
But last month, Ruben broke up with me. His reasoning is still unclear to me. But once the breakup happened, I realized I have no justification anymore for how much I hurt Kris. I remember Kris crying to me and I remember his deep frustration whenever he would see Ruben and I together holding hands, etc. All those memories are coming back to me vividly now, and I have no excuse for my behavior anymore. How do I forgive myself for hurting someone who was sweet to me? Is there any hope at all for my moral worthiness?
A: Aw, my dear Heartbreaker. I think you will look back at this in a decade—maybe even in five years, maybe even in three—and have no problem at all forgiving yourself. If you will permit me saying so, this sounds like a classic “thing that happens in college.” You are all pressed up against one another, spending so much time together, relatively unencumbered, all the same age, and all feeling a lot of feelings. It’s a hothouse environment, and it’s hard to get through it without doing at least one romance-related thing that, in retrospect, feels less than honorable. (My own similar situation was not as extended or intimate as this one, but it still gives me shivers when I recall it.) You can certainly have hope for your own moral worthiness! Plenty of it.
I do want to register one thing, which is the pressure that you seem to have put on yourself to find a “love of your life” in college. I don’t know what messages you’re hearing (family? media? church?) that may have led you to think that you have to connect permanently before leaving school, but I think you can see now that this belief may have led you to do some things you regret. One way to grow from this situation might be to recognize how this sense of self-pressure around “finding someone” distorted your actions, and to resolve not to let an artificial timetable do quite so much work in your life in future.
Q. Re: Let me be mad: I can feel the tension from here! Maybe you should yell, scold, use sarcasm, or insult him instead of bottling up your emotions. It sounds like some of his behavior really does bother you. If you ever want that to change, you need to mention these things (the major ones, anyway) as they come up.
A: Ha! I don’t know if it’s ever a great idea to insult someone (they say contempt is the marriage-killer), but this respondent does have a point that the letter writer sounds like they’ve been doing a whole lot of tiptoeing, and it hasn’t really placated the pothead husband at all; instead, he feels like the letter writer is a toxic presence. If there’s a way for the letter writer to be more explicit, that’d be great—especially as I worry that my advice to get the husband to detox for a month to get some clarity will not be easy to implement!
Q. Re: Home or heart: Also carefully consider your fiancé’s boundaries with this daughter before you cohabit or marry. If he’s pressuring you about this and if he responds poorly to your refusal, you can expect a future in which you have this daughter under your marital roof.
A: An excellent point! Yes, be wary. Even if you dodge her moving in this time, she sounds like an unhappy person, with a dad who would go to great lengths to placate her. You may evade having her as a tenant, only to step back into the same dilemma five or 10 years down the line.
Rebecca Onion: Thanks to all! I have long dreamed of getting to peek inside the Prudie inbox, and it’s been everything I hoped for, and more. From now on, I’m taking other people’s clothes out of the dryer, whenever I get a chance.
From Care and Feeding
My son, who just turned 5, has a friend from his previous school, who just turned 4. She’s cute, but demanding, spoiled, and hard to have around. The mom asks me for play dates regularly, and I typically say yes, because the mom is a lovely person who would give you the shirt off her back.
This kid is obsessed with my son. When a play date ends at my house, she weeps, goes limp, kicks off her shoes, calls out to him, and has to be dragged out. When a play date ends at their house, she keens and wails and calls his name from the end of their driveway, sobbing, ready to rend her clothing, and I have to just drive away. At first I tried to make her feel better, but she’s not my kid, and the mother doesn’t seem to think there’s anything wrong with this. When it comes up, she says, “She loves A. so much! It’s like an adult kind of love!” Except they’re not adults. They’re 4 and 5. Read what Nicole Cliffe had to say.
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