Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Welcome to the chat! I spent the weekend in Napa with a group of good friends and did nothing but relax, so I’m feeling patient and generous. Let’s see what that means for answering these questions …
Q. Vaccine vortex: My husband and I have both received our COVID vaccines, but he refuses to vaccinate our children. When I ask him why, he tells me he “has reasons,” but won’t divulge them. I have shown him countless articles and reports from the CDC saying the vaccine is safe for children, but he won’t budge. He actually told me the CDC, WHO, and AMA are all “corrupt organizations” and he won’t listen to their advisories.
I’m at my wit’s end. Cases are surging in my county. I told him I didn’t understand why my “yes” meant less than his “no,” but he doubled-down with “I’ve made my decision.” How can we get past this?
A: You have until this point been a vaccinating family, and I think what makes sense is to default to the status quo agreement. He’s the one who is seemingly being radicalized at this very moment and suddenly became anti-science, so he should be the one who has to negotiate a new set of rules. So unless he can convince you that he’s right (spoiler: he can’t), vaccinate the kids.
Yes, he’ll be mad, but there’s no room for compromise here. And the answer to your question about why your “yes” means less than his “no” is: It doesn’t. It actually means more.
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Q. Ex better have my money: My ex is not a good guy. He is manipulative, deceitful, and controlling. He also was very bad with money. Though he had, and still has, a somewhat high-profile job at a big television network, he was constantly borrowing money from me. I also paid for the majority of our meals, trips, gifts—you name it. I make a good living and have no problem paying for, or splitting things with, partners (in fact, I think it can be healthy to do so if you both have the means to do it). But his approach always bothered me. Beyond him generally mismanaging his money—for example, spending on clothes he didn’t need and going out every night—he would constantly put himself in situations he knew he couldn’t afford at the time and then guilt-trip or scare me into sending him money. He would be on a “work trip” and realize he couldn’t afford the hotel or get himself to a strange place and feel “stranded,” needing me to call him a car service. I did it because I loved him and he always promised to pay me back. I offered to help him manage his recurring payments, but he would get dismissive or throw my “privilege” in my face (my grandparents left me a little money, but I’ve held jobs since high school, work very hard, and have paid my own way my whole adult life).
Well, as you may have guessed, he did not pay me back the thousands of dollars he owes me. I sent him a PayPal charge with a nice, accompanying note, breaking down the charges and letting him know he could pay me whenever he could. This was a year ago. Meanwhile, he is boasting about all the nice things he can afford. I am buying a new apartment soon and the money could really come in handy. I know I can’t take legal action because, even though I have it in writing that he would pay me back, I did send it to him willingly. Is there anything else I can do here? Or am I out of the money with only horrible memories to show for it?
A: There’s no harm in continuing to invoice him and hoping for the best, but I think you’ll likely have to think of this as a very expensive lesson about 1) not giving money to loved ones with the expectation of getting it back, and 2) especially not giving money to people who generally mismanage their money with the expectation of getting it back.
Q. I didn’t want a divorce: My wife Evelyn came out to me last September. She also asked for a divorce, so I moved out of our home (where we lived with our two young kids) at the height of the pandemic. I was so in love with Evelyn, and I ache for my children whenever I’m not with them (which is most of the time). And because we come from conservative families and live in a conservative area, Evelyn is not ready to come out yet. So when people asked why we chose to divorce (seemingly out of nowhere), Evelyn told them it was a mutual decision.
This lie has been eating away with me. I cannot be honest with anyone in my life without outing Evelyn, which I would never do. I know it’s not what happened, but I feel manipulated and betrayed by her. Evelyn tells me that we’re now free to live happier lives, but sometimes I doubt I will ever be happy again. When I’ve expressed my pain to her, she has told me she’s not responsible for my feelings—no one is. I know she’s struggling too, she really is, but my anger towards her is exhausting. What should I do?
A: There’s a lot of room between outing Evelyn and pretending the decision was mutual. If you want to say more when someone asks, you can try something along the lines of “Evelyn wanted to end the relationship. You’d have to ask her why.” Or, “Evelyn’s feelings for me changed and she didn’t see us being together forever.” Those statements are both true and won’t make you feel that you’re being betrayed by Evelyn or betraying yourself.
Q. Emotionally drained: I found some inappropriate texts on my husband of 23 years’ phone. He says it’s just flirting from afar, but the texts from him say things like: “Still have clothes on?”; “I need a cuddle partner;” “Wish you were here;” “Don’t let the bed bugs bite 😘”; and him telling them not to call because it was too risky. The person has said things like, “You might want to lay low tomorrow and Monday.”
My husband said it is not an affair. He won’t tell me who it is or how long it’s been going on. He says he has been friends with this person for 10-15 years and he is not going to give up the friendship. He says he was just needing attention and now that I know, this is probably what he needs to make him stop.
He still keeps his phone locked and with him and I don’t know if he has stopped texting inappropriately. He is still on the defensive and doesn’t talk to me about it. He says I’m just making something out of nothing and he has not done anything more than flirting from afar.
How do you build trust after something like this? I do love my husband, I’m just not sure where his head is.
A: You can’t rebuild trust with someone who is actively eroding trust, and that’s what he’s doing by being secretive about his phone and refusing to come clean about the whole story.
Don’t fall into the trap of going back and forth about the details of this—and definitely don’t let him convince you that you have to figure out how to be OK with what’s happened. He did something that wasn’t OK under your relationship agreement, and kept it a secret. He was unfaithful; it’s not OK! Slip-ups happen but he hasn’t even apologized, so how can you forgive him?
There’s definitely room to explore the “why,” and there’s a world in which this incident could serve as inspiration to work on the issues in your relationship and his sense that he’s not getting enough attention. But you can’t do anything before there’s honesty and accountability. You need to let him know that because of what he did and how he’s responded to being caught, your relationship is in crisis, and whether it can be saved is up to him.
Q. Nails in Newark: This is such a dumb, low-stakes question but it’s been keeping me up at night. I recently decided to treat myself to a nice manicure with some somewhat complicated nail art involved. I booked an appointment at a place that came highly recommended. When I was making the appointment on the phone, they asked if I wanted an appointment with a specific person and I said no. For some reason, their website made it seem like there was one manicurist who did specialized nail art and everyone else did regular nails. After scrolling through their Instagram, it seems like there are a couple of nail artists.
I looked through the account of the artist who I was booked with and her work seems OK but not great. It also seems like she’s only been doing nail art for a few months. Some of the designs she’s already done are similar to the design I want and they don’t look good.
Part of me wants to call and see if I can switch to someone else, especially because this is going to cost a lot of money and I want it to be as close to perfect, or at least good, as possible. On the other hand, I feel like a huge bitch and the poor nail artist is obviously going to find out if I called and said her work isn’t good enough. What should I do?
A: Easy! Pick up the phone, tell the person who answers that someone (Instagram counts as “someone”) recommended one of the other artists and you’d actually like to book with them.
Q. Re: Ex better have my money: Why can’t she take him to small claims court? She has it IN WRITING that he would pay her back, so the odds are excellent that she’d win. Better yet, go on one of those arbitration court shows; you’ll get your money back and the lying ex will be exposed for the creep he is.
A: You’re very right, she could go the small claims court route if she’s up for that. I was originally thinking it was a couple of thousands of dollars and it wouldn’t be worth the time and effort especially since she seems to be very comfortable financially, but that’s not my call to make—and it might actually be closer to the $10,000 small claims court limit. So yes, try small claims court, letter writer. Judge Judy could also be fun.
Q. Re: I didn’t want a divorce: I think the letter writer also has a right to pick a couple people in his life that he can share the WHOLE truth with. He needs to work through this, and it’s unfair that he’s completely held hostage by her demands.
A: Well yes, he has a right to tell the whole world if he wants. But this isn’t about his rights. He doesn’t want to out her. Which is a good thing!
Q. I’m not being abused! My new husband and I enjoy very rough sex. Unfortunately—in spite of efforts to keep quiet—my 12-year-old daughter overheard us. I got called in for a private meeting with her teacher outside of school hours. She told me my daughter heard her stepfather slapping me and was extremely upset. I was completely taken aback, not to mention embarrassed beyond belief, and couldn’t think of anything other than mutter that I was fine and everything was fine at home. Of course, this only made the teacher believe I was trying to cover up the “abuse” and told me repeatedly she was there to help when I was ready. I know I can’t just let my daughter continue believing her mother is being abused, and I really don’t want this kind teacher to be concerned over a complete misunderstanding. However I just don’t know how to begin. Please help.