Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I agreed to be a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding. When she first asked me, it sounded like your standard wedding plan, so I agreed. But the big day is in about a month, and the bride has changed everything so many times I can’t count. The bachelorette party has turned into a very, very, expensive bachelorette weekend. She wants us all to wear matching, expensive shoes. She decided just yesterday that she wants us all to buy and wear expensive jewelry.
It’s just gotten out of control, and I’m pushing up against my budget. I tried to tell her this right after she changed the bachelorette party and told us she was thinking about the shoes. I was hoping she’d give me an out, but she just said she’d try to make everything as cheap as possible.
I was talking to a friend online when our bridal party message popped up about the jewelry. I was typing to my friend about the jewelry when I sent a message that said “This wedding is getting out of control, I should have bowed out of the wedding a couple months ago, but now it’s too late.” I accidentally sent this to the bridal party chat. The bride has oddly not reacted. She hasn’t said whether she wants me in the wedding or not, but I have a feeling she doesn’t want to kick me out now. I feel terrible that I put this in the chat, and I don’t want to ruin her big day, but this is a huge financial issue for me. A part of me is worried she’s going to have me jump through all the hoops, pay for everything, and then decide right before the wedding that I’m not in it. Should I bow out?
Don’t despair! You are not the first person to experience major resentment around a bridesmaid situation becoming out-of-control expensive (honestly, you’re probably not even the only one in that group chat!), and you won’t be the last. It’s strange to me that we haven’t figured out a tradition that allows people who are asked to be in bridal parties to get a sense of the costs that might be involved before signing up—especially since weddings often happen at a time when most of the people included are on the youngish and brokeish side.
Since I have this platform, let me take a minute to make a suggestion on that front: Upon getting engaged, people should choose a maid of honor/best man who they know can afford the type of pre-wedding activities they have in mind, as well as all the other bells and whistles that might be required. Then, that person should contact the other good friends and say “[Bride/groom] would love for you to be in the wedding party. The costs for a wildly indulgent vacation, your wildly expensive outfit, and some wildly expensive gifts plus travel and hotel will probably come out to about [whatever the ridiculous amount is]. Let me know if you’re in. We realize this is a lot of time and money, and if it doesn’t sound like a fit for you for any reason, bride/groom completely understands and would love to see you on zoom during the party/hang out with you in the suite before the ceremony starts/ask you to do a reading during the ceremony/celebrate with you at the reception.”
But that’s not how we do it yet, so here we are. In this case, yes, I think you should bow out of the wedding. You should do this to avoid spending the money and then being kicked out later, but also, because even if the bride has no plans to eliminate you, you really can’t afford it.
First, break the awkward silence in the bridal party chat and say something like:
“Hi everyone. I’m mortified that I sent this to the chat. The truth is there is nothing wrong with these plans, but the activities are becoming too expensive for me to afford. It’s my personal issue and my fault for not anticipating the costs, and I don’t want to bring the group down while we all get ready to celebrate [bride’s name], so I’ll take the rest of the conversation directly to her. So sorry again. Please accept my apology.”
Then call the bride and tell her you simply can’t afford the shoes, the bachelorette party, or the jewelry and think it’s best if you bow out. Remember to keep the focus on your budget, not the rapidly changing and expanding plans. Going into detail will only make her feel defensive. And because you’re doing this at the last minute, you should be extra generous when it comes to things that don’t cost a ton of money. Remind her how excited you are for her, and tell her you want to be there for her on the big day. Maybe you could offer to bring breakfast to the bridal party when they’re getting ready, or act as a personal attendant (someone has to carry the makeup touch-up supplies and assist with bathroom trips if there’s a big dress), help out the wedding planner, or do airport pickup for out-of-town guests. The idea is to make sure you still support her and offer just as much time and energy as you would have as a bridesmaid, but without going broke.
If she really wants you in the photos or is worried about bridal party symmetry, she might offer to cover your costs so you can be there. And if she does, you should say yes and be the first and last person on the dance floor to show your appreciation.
I am in a racially mixed marriage (my wife is of Asian and Afro-Hispanic extraction, and I’m whiter than mayonnaise), and our daughter is the most beautiful brown person (I’m a little biased). After living our entire lives in a major metropolitan area notable for its superlative ethnic and racial diversity, we relocated to an affluent suburb on the opposite coast. This suburb is the opposite of diverse, but is in an area notable for its progressive politics. So, not that bad, if that’s where one finds oneself.
Our daughter is on one of the many local swim teams. Here’s the main issue: the swim team has a cheer they do before swim meets. This particular cheer could best be described as some kind of fake-ass Native American chant. There’s an “Indian” theme to the area, and to the club, so I guess the chant makes sense, thematically? My wife and I both had the same reaction to it the first time we heard it, namely, “wtf is this racist ooga-booga crap?”
The question is, should we say something? Honestly, my wife and I are more amused than offended— generally well-meaning white people completely unaware of a mildly racist blind spot. There are far worse things going on in the world right now. We can deal with the passive-aggressive hostility that some people would direct our way for pooping on their racist party. The people that we don’t want to deal with are the well-meaning liberals falling all over themselves trying to atone for giving offense. The thought of doing all that emotional labor to reassure these folks that they’re not bad people—it’s exhausting.
What is our responsibility here? Keep quiet or raise the issue and deal with the uncomfortable fallout?
— Racist Chant is Racist
Dear Racist Chant,
I don’t think you necessarily have a responsibility to do anything, but it sounds like you want to do something. Which is good.
To clarify your thinking about this, I suggest focusing on the “why.” Why is it that you think this chant should stop? Hopefully it’s not just that it’s an “amusing” tradition that is embarrassingly off-brand for well-meaning white people. It’s that it’s truly messed up for a bunch of non-Native American people to borrow and mangle Native American traditions in a way that perpetuates stereotypes, that the chant would potentially be hurtful and alienating for a Native American person to hear, and that you sincerely don’t want your kid to be a part of it.
Articulating this to yourself should help you to communicate it to others. There are endless resources explaining why sports teams have given up Native American mascots and chants, and you can borrow from them. Feel free to coddle the other parents by keeping it light and non-accusatory with lots of “I realize we’re all against racism and no one had bad intentions, but it feels like it might be a good time to reconsider this tradition” type language. You could also appeal to their selfish interest in protecting their children by suggesting that as the country continues to evolve, there may come a time in a decade or so when images and videos of the kids doing this chant could look even worse and be really embarrassing if they were to circulate on social media.
Hopefully the fallout won’t be too terrible, but even if it is, it will be a great lesson for your daughter, who is growing up with a lot of privilege and not much diversity. You’ll give her a real-life example of your values that’s better than any lecture — and show her that speaking up about racism is worth doing, even if it’s not well-received or leads to awkwardness. Especially because of the environment you’ve decided to raise her in, that’s something she’ll need to understand.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
My fiancé and I have been together for ten years and are overall very happy. While I would say we’re pretty similar in many ways, I believe our main difference boils down to me being a little more freewheeling and fluid and him being more solid and particular. Like, I don’t mind lateness, whereas he’s a 10-minutes-early-is-on-time kind of guy; he’s an early-riser and I’m a night owl; that sort of thing.
I’m writing because we keep on coming back to an issue: breakfast. Please bear with me, because I know this might seem minor, but it really gets to me, and it obviously gets to him too. My partner believes that eating breakfast will always, ALWAYS make a person healthier. I’m not always hungry in the morning, but prefer a coffee or juice when I wake up, with something more solid mid-morning. Granted, I used to have a habit of getting so wrapped up in work that I would forget to eat, but I’m working on it and I feel strongly that as an adult, my health is my journey to be on, and I get to decide what I do with my body and what I put into it—and when.
My partner shows his love through acts of service and will do things like pack me a lunch so I don’t forget to eat during the day. I really appreciate this. It’s a lovely thing he does. But I don’t appreciate it when he gets on my case about eating breakfast. I know it’s because he cares, but I’ve told him repeatedly “this bothers me. Please stop.” And yet it continues to come up. I’ve tried to tell him that I know my feelings come from growing up watching my mother try different diets and struggle with weight. It might come from gender too and feeling that being a woman we’re often told what to do with our bodies. What should I do?
— Leave Me Alone and Go Eat
Dear Leave Me Alone,
You’ve already told him this bothers you and he hasn’t stopped, which sucks. Give it another try, but not early in the morning as he shoves a disgusting bowl of oatmeal at you before you’ve even had a chance to look at the internet and figure out what to be mad about for the day. (How anyone can focus on food before this important work is beyond me.)
Tell him “I have something serious I need to talk to you about” and set a time. Sit down. And explain everything you’ve said here. You can list your reasons for not wanting breakfast, but you’re not negotiating here. The big takeaway should be, “I don’t want you to ask me about this anymore. I’ve already said this and you haven’t listened, so I am giving you another chance to make a change. I’m really serious when I ask you never to mention it to me again, and I am going to be extremely annoyed and hurt if you do it even one more time. It’s not just about the food, it’s about you disrespecting me.”
I’m hopeful that making an event of the conversation will help him understand that you’re serious. But if he continues to nag you, I want you to take some time to reflect on what “overall very happy” means in your relationship. Because it’s almost impossible for me to imagine that he would disregard your wishes and bully you in just one area of life. Have an honest talk with yourself about whether he’s using his “more solid and particular” personality as an excuse to treat you like an incompetent child.
Introducing Big Mood, Little Mood
Danny Lavery has a new Slate podcast! Listen and subscribe to Big Mood, Little Mood, where Lavery will be chatting with special guests, doling out advice, and talking about feelings, from the monumental to the minute. New episodes every Tuesday and Friday.
The emerging post-pandemic world has me thinking about friendships. Most of the people I hung out with in the past few years have been my partner’s friends. I think they are my friends now as well, but it does strike me as being not great that all of our socializing comes from her end. Before the pandemic, when I socialized, I was the organizer and not the invited person an overwhelming majority of the time. This has always annoyed me to varying degrees. I have tried pointing it out to people but not with much success. My partner has noted that some of my friends can be even more introverted than I am, but I recently wished a friend happy birthday and noted it has been a long time since we saw each other and the friend did not seem to pick up on the hint that it meant maybe we should hang out and catch up. One thing that I do wonder about is if people find me too intense on certain subjects. For example, multiple people have told me at various times that they appreciate how deeply I think about politics and social issues. I always wonder this comes with a not-spoken caveat of “but this is also why you are not necessarily good at parties and need to be handled in small doses.” As the pandemic slowly ends, this is something that I would like to change, but I am also now middle-aged and this has been my social life more or less since college. I am not sure how it changes.
So many people struggle with adult friendships—you’re definitely not alone here. And there are a lot of reasons (being overwhelmed, being depressed, etc.) that someone might not follow up about a hang-out, so it’s possible that none of this is personal.
But if your gut is telling you that people may not enjoy your company, you should listen. First, think about who you really enjoy being around. You won’t connect with everyone. You can’t expect to fill your need for socializing with just any old person or the friends your partner has chosen. Others who are equally passionate about politics and social issues might be your best matches.
Then, when you’ve identified the people you want to be close to, give some thought to how they can leave your presence feeling good. When you do hang out, set an intention to connect with them, instead of just saying everything you want to say. Ask them questions. Remember things they’ve told you in the past. Compliment them here and there. Show curiosity about their lives, likes and dislikes. And remember that people who worry that they’re not likeable can give off an insecure and desperate energy that makes it uncomfortable to be in their presence, so (aside from resisting the urge to deliver keynote speeches on the social issue of the day) be yourself and know that you won’t be a good fit for everyone, and that’s okay.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“That was a red flag of cluelessness!”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
Years ago, when I was 6, my father married a woman named Claire. He and my mom had joint custody of me and my siblings, meaning that for three days of the week, we were at their house. My dad was normally working, sometimes out of town, meaning we spent most of our time with Claire. She was very kind to us, cooking, cleaning, and playing with us. I considered her, if not a second mother, then a fun aunt-type. That’s why, two years into the marriage, it came as a shock when we learned Claire and my father were divorcing. She ended up letting her lawyer handle everything, quickly moving out of state once the divorce was finalized. We never saw or heard from her, and my dad refused to discuss why the divorce had happened. (To this day, he claims to have only been married to my mother, and doesn’t like talking about Claire.)
A week ago, I was going through Facebook and happened upon Claire’s page, learning she had remarried and had kids of her own. Curious, I reached out and asked about what had happened. When she finally responded, the things she told me were upsetting. It turns out, Claire had not been happily married to my dad, since he was primarily out of the house and left her to take care of us. Turns out, being a stepmom was like a chore for her, doing all those things out of obligation; she wanted her own, biological children. That was the last straw for their marriage. My dad didn’t desire more children and had even had a vasectomy he hadn’t told her about. She asked me about my siblings, but I haven’t responded yet. Honestly, I’m a little angry. All those warm, happy memories I had of Claire are now tainted by the fact that she looks back on those same ones with regret and disdain. Should I tell her I’m upset? Or should I just move on without a word? I don’t get the feeling she wants a relationship, even a perfunctory one, since it took her nearly two months to respond.
— Left Behind Stepdaughter
Dear Left Behind,
Even biological moms who love their children very much often think parenting is incredibly hard and burdensome. The fact that Claire cared for you despite the fact that it was a chore is evidence of her having treated you with love. What those years felt like to her does not need to impact what they meant to you. Your memory can still be warm and fuzzy—in addition to siblings and pretty good mom and dad, you had another adult who was kind to you and was there for you. It shouldn’t matter what that person’s interpretation of the experience is. The experience still happened.
Raising children in an unhappy marriage with a person who doesn’t want a baby with you is a legitimately tough situation! Most people would not enjoy it. Claire probably thought you would understand this now that you’re an adult, and I hope you can do that.
You won’t gain anything from reaching out again, so don’t.
Give Prudie a Hand
New this week! Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
My husband and I are at crossroads about how to confront our sons about a discovery we made while visiting their shared flat. They are stepbrothers technically—note the word “technically.” My husband and I are both widowers who met and bonded at a support group for single parents surviving after cancer.
My son was 10 when I met my husband and 12 when we married. My stepson is 9 months younger, so they are very close in age. After a somewhat rocky start (both boys were grieving and trying to adjust to a new family norm), they became the best of friends, inseparable from about age 13. They even took the same classes together in high school so they could spend more time together, and made sure to go to the same university.
My hubby and I went on to have four more kids, three girls and a boy, so our lives got pretty hectic. Because our older sons were teenagers when our house became baby crazy, I admit my husband and I probably let the older two fend for themselves a bit more than usual, especially with four young kids in the house.
They are both adults now (25 and 26), live a state over, and rent a flat together. We went to visit them once COVID restrictions had eased, and my husband accidentally walked into the second bedroom (in a two-bedroom flat) thinking it was the bathroom, and discovered it was set up as an office. My husband’s curiosity got the better of him and he snuck around, discovering one king-sized bed in the only other bedroom that contained both of their stuff.
My husband didn’t say anything in front of the kids, but told me about it when we got home the following week. He had been mulling it over and decided it best not to tell me until after our holiday was over. We haven’t told the boys, but have been distraught over it. My husband is convinced they are sleeping together, which makes me feel sick. Yes, they are stepbrothers, but have been raised together since they were 9 and 10. My husband’s mind went straight to them sleeping together, but maybe it is non-sexual codependency? Because we were so busy with the younger kids, maybe in their teenage years they just got closer and closer, maybe they weren’t handling the grief over their respective losses as we thought they were?
My husband argues that they have never brought home girlfriends, and we should have noticed the signs earlier. What signs? To me there were no signs. But if my husband is right, how do we handle this? Did it start when they were underage? Did it start when they were adults, at university? Honestly, we don’t know and it has made me feel so sick, and like such a bad mum.
Should we confront the boys about it? Or act like we have no idea what is going on and hope for the best? It is just a very close friendship they grow out of as they get older and meet women? Please give us some insight on how to handle this as I feel so lost. We have the four other kids to think about as well; I am not sure I would want them exposed to what would be an unhealthy relationship if our worries are confirmed.
— Concerned and Confused Mama Bear
UPDATE: Read the crowdsourced “We’re Prudence” answer here.
I have had to start working nights. Often 10-hour shifts. My wife and I have a six-year-old and a six-month- old. I need sleep. My wife instantly wants help as soon as I come home when my shift ends. I am bone-tired and bleary-eyed. She hates it when I fall asleep on the couch rather than doing chores or taking care of our son. I love my son but he wakes me all the time. We have argued about this for weeks. She thinks I am not pulling my weight as a father and am sleeping too long. Spending a few hours together in the evening isn’t enough since after dinner I have to get ready for work. After almost getting in an accident at work, I have started going to my mother’s to sleep instead. My wife sees this as a betrayal since she and my mother do not get along. I can’t see any other choice—I can’t sleep at home consistently, and I am the sole provider here. My wife had to quit her job when she had the baby.
How do I get my wife to understand?
If you spend 10 hours working, two hours getting ready and commuting and six hours sleeping, there are still six hours in every day. Every single one of them should be spent parenting your children. Note: I said “parenting,” not “helping.” Because you are their dad.
Yes, you will be exhausted. But I’m sure your wife is also exhausted while home with two small children and absolutely no time off, and I’m sure you knew when you decided to have kids that it wouldn’t be a restful experience. Once you demonstrate that you see the kids as a priority and know they are yours as much as they are hers, I’m confident that she’ll work with you to figure out which six-hour block (I’m saying six hours instead of eight hours because while you do need enough rest to get to drive to work safely, getting the ideal amount of sleep is not part of being a new parent for most people) works best and commit to keeping the kids from waking you up during that time. As a start, I would suggest a bedroom with the door closed instead of the couch.
“Laura” and I have been best friends since we were 10. Four years ago her husband, “James,” needed my help on a work-related matter and came over without Laura, who was busy with something else. It involved a very difficult and tedious task, and we decided to make it more tolerable by bringing out some wine. That night James and I ended up sleeping together. I always had a small, harmless crush on James but never in my wildest dreams fantasized about acting on it until that night. We both felt very guilty afterward. I even tried to cut off contact with Laura for awhile, but she kept calling me in tears asking what she’d done wrong. I feel horrible, and I am not even attracted to James anymore. We avoid each other as best as we can. I’m struggling with whether I should confess to Laura or not. I can’t get over what I did, but should I tell her?