Dear Prudence

Help! Our Stepchildren Dated and Had a Nasty Breakup.

Now my daughter refuses to come to family gatherings.

A woman has her arms folded as she looked in on a family gathering in a house.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

I remarried three years ago. We both have college-age children. My daughter Annie got involved with my stepson Jaime. My husband and I were deeply uncomfortable with this relationship, but were soundly told it was none of our business and they were adults. The relationship ended up going south in a spectacular display where Annie drunkenly accused Jaime of flirting with a mutual friend at a family party. Jaime broke up with her on the spot.

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I had hoped the bruised egos would heal, but Annie is holding a grudge nearly two years later. She refuses to visit if Jaime is here even for the holidays. The problem is Jaime has moved in after a car wreck and probably will be living with my husband and me for the near future.
Annie thinks that the solution is for me and her sisters to visit her in the tiny house she rents with her friends. I told Annie that is not a long-term solution and can she just manage to be polite to Jaime for the few times she sees him?

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Annie told me I was being unfair, and I should be in her corner first and foremost. I told Annie I loved her but she was acting childish. Her romantic shenanigans should not dictate the rest of the family nor my marriage. Annie has been distant and uncommunicative since. Jaime has apologized to me personally, and my husband thinks Annie is being a brat. Her sisters think so as well, and this is why I was against the relationship in the first place! How do I deal with my daughter?

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—Mom at the Crossroads

Dear Mom,

It’s never a good idea to date your stepsibling, but that ship has sailed. I agree that this is her fault (and Jaime’s), but I still feel sorry for her. She’s not the first person to make a bad romantic decision, and breakups and betrayals are really hard. I think you should go visit her at her place, at least this once. And I’m not even just saying that because of this disaster. You’re her mom, you just got into this new relationship relatively recently (and your husband doesn’t sound like he’s particularly warm to her), so she could probably use some time with just you and her sisters and not these men who have only recently popped up in her life. No, it’s not a long-term solution, but heartbreak isn’t a long-term thing. She’ll move on and get over Jamie before long. Until she does, offer her some extra kindness.

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Dear Prudence,

I am one of five bridesmaids in a fall wedding. We all love the bride, who has a loopy sense of humor. And she may regret it, because she has picked out a hideous dress. We’re talking abstract, costume-like, is-that-even-an-outfit that easily matches Pinterest boards on “worst wedding gowns.” The groom doesn’t know about this and it’s not part of a theme. The bride has always been self-conscious about her looks and tells deprecating jokes about her ostensible ugliness. She’s a perfectly normal size 12 and the groom adores her. It feels like self-hating sabotage that will ruin the wedding. The maid of honor is scared of broaching this subject, but if we all do it together, does that feel like a gang-up? What should we do?

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—The Bride Wore, Um …

Dear the Bride Wore,

She apparently saw herself in the mirror when she tried this dress on and loved it. If she wanted your feedback, she would have invited you and the other bridesmaids to the fitting and asked for your opinion—or at least sent you a picture for an up or down vote. She’s known for her loopy sense of humor and her fiancé adores her (and will continue to even if he hates the dress) so I see no problem here. I totally understand your desire to look out for her, since she’s insecure and you see this as a choice that will make her look worse. But the important thing is that she feels good. And it sounds like she does, so that’s something to celebrate. For perspective, keep in mind we all just survived a pandemic—when it comes to bad things that could have happened this year, looking wacky in a wedding dress is not anywhere near the top of the list.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here, or call the Dear Prudence podcast voicemail at 401-371-3327 to hear your question answered on a future episode of the show.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a young writer, and I’ve begun to submit some of my short stories for online publications. I’ve noticed that several publications encourage members of the LGBTQ+ community to submit to them, some even waiving submission fees and restrictions to those who openly identify their sexuality in their cover letters. Here’s the thing: I’m bi but have only recently begun to feel comfortable with this label. I’ve also only been in heterosexual relationships and don’t feel that my queerness amasses much real estate in my identity. My question is, should I identify myself as a queer writer to these magazines? Something about claiming fee waivers or bypassing restrictions makes me uncomfortable, since I know that others have been far more marginalized for their sexualities than I have. That said, I also don’t know if my hesitation is rooted in some deeply internalized biphobia I still need to work through. What do you think I should do?

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—Shy Bi Writer

Dear Shy Bi Writer,

My first reaction was to tell you to think about the intention of these policies, which is likely 1) increase the inclusion of queer voices or 2) give a leg up to queer people who have struggled or been discriminated against. I was going to tell you that since this is all so brand new and uncertain to you, maybe you don’t fit into either category and should leave the opportunities to those whose queerness does amass a lot of real estate in their identities and has shaped their experiences and their writing.

But I ran this by a few bi people for a gut check and they changed my mind. I realized I’d actually bought into a little of your internalized biphobia. Everyone I spoke to emphasized to me that there aren’t rules about who gets to be really bisexual, and one person even said, “From the moment you realize you’re into someone of the same gender and start to worry about what to do about it, you’re queer.” Which feels right to me. So, my answer is now: These opportunities are for people who are queer. You are queer. Even if that’s new. Even if it feels unfamiliar. The opportunities are for you! And by the way, if they really wanted to screen for people who were extremely active in the queer community, or who had been locked out of writing opportunities because of their queerness, they would have asked about that. So, tell your truth and enjoy the fee waivers.

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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.

Dear Prudence,

Suddenly my hubbie is using slurs constantly and without shame as he rails against the groups that he feels threaten “society,” which seems to mean himself and other straight white men. He rants almost daily about needing to reinstitute lynching and his desire to violently murder various groups of people (ethnic groups, gender identities, the homeless, etc.). If I disagree with him, he flies off the handle. He often accuses me of being brainwashed or a “liberal sheep who will repeat anything the leftist media tells me to” when I try to moderate some of the more alarming things he says. Just six months ago, we were the family who had BLM and Pride flags prominently displayed outside our home, marched in the George Floyd protests, identified as feminists, etc.! I feel like my husband was abducted by aliens and replaced with an evil clone.

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I want to believe that this is just misplaced frustration, and he does have a point that he has been victimized before at work for being an outspoken cis white man … but now he sees attacks everywhere. How can I help him come back to himself? I miss my loving, caring man who believed in equality and safety for everyone! For a long time now, I’ve been making excuses that he just needs to vent, and he doesn’t really mean the things he says. But I cannot live in a home where serious slurs against Black, gay, and trans people, and other bigoted attacks pepper daily conversations. It makes my blood boil and makes me think constantly how if I met him today I would NEVER even speak to him, let alone date/marry such a bigoted individual. What should I do?

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—Husband Switched

Dear Husband Switched,

This goes beyond the conservative-liberal relationships that are the subject of corny profiles every election season. Yes, his views are unattractive or reflect poorly on his character. But it’s more than that. The way he’s speaking to you about your beliefs is disrespectful, and the murder fantasies are way beyond the pale and really scary.

You should separate. You’d be well within your rights to simply divorce someone who goes around using racial slurs (or does anything that you wouldn’t have signed up for in a spouse!), but because you feel this is all so unlike him and are in shock, you might need a bit of a transition period. While living separately, maybe you can do some couple’s counseling together and nudge him toward mental health support, just on the off chance that his anger and violent fantasies are signs of some larger issue that could possibly be treated. I doubt it—I honestly don’t know if you’d ever be able to look at him in the same way even if he did go back to his old self—but it’s hard to end a marriage, and I’m sure you want to feel like you tried everything.

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But the most important thing, for your happiness and maybe even for your physical safety, is to move out or ask him to leave immediately. You said it yourself: You can’t live in this home.

P.S. Has he really been victimized at work for being an outspoken cis white man, or was he so inappropriate at work that it canceled out the benefits he previously enjoyed as a cis white man? Just something to think about.

Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Who goes from marching in BLM protests to talking about lynching overnight?”

Jenée Desmond-Harris, Lauren Williams, and Akoto Ofori-Atta discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

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I survived a horrible thing, and as a result have some pretty severe PTSD. I have a service dog that accompanies me, and we have been partnered for about six years. I’m able to go to work, the grocery store, etc., and he has made a huge difference in my life. I’ve also done a lot of therapy as well. Recently I made the decision to start dating again. What I survived is easy to find if you know my full name and where I used to live. I’m using an online dating app, which feels safe, and I am careful about where I meet people, etc. So far, it seems to be going well. Except for the fact that I have the dog with me. I’m not sure how to introduce that fact, and have gotten various responses, most of which seem to be, “see ya.” He’s in my pictures on the app, and I say he goes everywhere with me. If I say I survived something, the conversation becomes about that, and I am trying not to let that define me. I really could use some help navigating this! I’m able to talk about what happened, but it’s not first date material.

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—Love Me and My Dog

Dear Love Me,

I fully believe there is someone out there who will love you and your dog—and in fact love you even a little more because of your dog (both its cuteness and what it represents about what you’ve overcome).

When you’re planning a date, you can say something like, “By the way I’m going to bring my service dog, who I have because of my anxiety. Just wanted to give you a heads up.” That will weed out people who are uncomfortable with the idea and save you some time. If anyone presses you for details, you can simply say something like “I experienced a traumatic event. It’s a long story and not really a first date conversation, but if we go out again/in a few weeks/if we decide to think about pursuing a relationship, I’ll be happy to share more.”

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Dear Prudence,

As our male friend group has rounded 30, we’ve had the good fortune of none of the fellas dropping off, but a threat looms. Nick is marrying Mandy, and she wants nothing to do with us. She’s averse to group hangouts. She RSVP’d, then no-showed my wedding. The pandemic widened the gap; only about 30 percent of the group is invited to their wedding, and Nick is leaving out two guys for whom he was a groomsman. From what we can tell, the small wedding was her idea because she doesn’t have close friends of her own. Nick has rarely stood up for himself in relationships past, and when he finally does, it’s abrupt and leads to a breakup. We think this is headed that way, but no one’s brought it to his attention because he’s a grown-up. Yet these wedding snubs feel like the end of the friendship. Do we say something? What do we say?

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—Worried for Our Boy

Dear Worried,

“A threat looms”? I love the passion you have for your friend group, I really do. But this is a bit dramatic. Here’s how I see it: Nick is marrying someone who is not very social and planned a small wedding. He’s still your friend. He’s not being mistreated or abused. His wife hasn’t banned him from hanging out with you and the guys. The wedding is one day. Everything is fine.

I wrote this in a recent response, but I want to reiterate that socializing can sometimes change as you get older. And the sooner you broaden your definition of real, meaningful friendship beyond “a bunch of the same people regularly hanging out in a group having fun, drinking, and yelling ‘woo,’ ” the happier you’ll be.

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I promise, there’s a lot on the other side of the 20s friendship that can actually lead to even deeper connections. It’s not a downgrade; it’s just different. Friendship might start to look like being there for people when their babies are born. Playing the role of an uncle. Showing up when their parents get sick. Attending the funeral. Celebrating professional accomplishments. Navigating divorces. Going on vacations. Visiting for weekends. Grabbing a quick drink. Sure, there will be group gatherings and big, fun wedding receptions. But for now, bring some flexibility to the way you think about “the fellas,” and look for opportunities for closeness in this new stage of life, rather than hanging on for dear life to the way your group has always operated.

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Going forward, I think you should focus on your relationship with Nick—starting with supporting him in celebrating this moment in a way that’s right for him—rather than stressing yourself out keeping tabs on the health of the friend group as a whole. Yes, things are changing, and over the next decade, bonding might start to look different. But that’s not a bad thing, and it’s definitely not a “threat” at all.

Classic Prudie

I write about social issues for a blog aimed at young women. Unsurprisingly, this subject matter sometimes sparks heated debates in the comments on my posts. Here’s the problem: My mom, who has a hard time understanding the concept of “boundaries,” has gotten an account on the site and has started showing up in the comments, usually arguing with people who disagree with me. The worst part is, she does this under a username that identifies her AS MY MOTHER. Do you have any advice?

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