Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Suddenly devastated after all these years: I married my high school “sweetheart.” What a disaster. He was arrogant, selfish, uncaring, and lazy, and I was miserable the entire time. I had a successful career while he drifted from job to job, getting fired from most. After seven unhappy years, I left. He remarried, had a couple of kids, and got divorced. I remarried after 15 years to a great guy whom I’m still with. But kids never happened for us, although I love children and always expected to have a bunch. I’ve settled for animals and convinced myself I was content with that. For the past 30 years, I’ve often thought and felt I’ve never had a second of regret over leaving my ex.
Until tonight. I’m still friendly with his family and so one of his daughters popped up on the “you might know”-type things on Facebook. I made the mistake of clicking. Here he is—this lazy, selfish, inconsiderate loser—with a loving family (apparently the second wife is back with him or at least they’re very friendly), while I’m trying to convince myself that cats and dogs fulfill me. It’s way too late for me to ever have the family I expected and craved. I thought I was OK with that. But to see him with something that he never had any interest in is leaving me so unhappy, and now I worry that my husband, whom I adore (and who’s much younger than me) will someday deeply regret being with me because he’s missing out on having a family. He says not, but I now recognize that trying to convince yourself that you’re OK with a disappointment is not the same as actually being OK with it.
How do I get back to accepting the unchangeable and get over resenting that smug satisfaction of his photos and his beautiful and loving daughters, knowing he’s been a loser and unable to even hold a job (mostly because of dishonesty), yet has the joy and satisfaction of the one thing I really and truly wanted in life?
A: Life is so unfair. A lot of really bad people have really great lives. Because there is no justice in the world, you can’t fix this, but you can 1) minimize your exposure to it by taking a social media break until you feel better, and 2) make the disparity feel less intense by focusing on the great things in your own life, like your seemingly very understanding husband who doesn’t care whether you can have biological children.
It’s clear that you don’t actually care about your high school boyfriend. The deeper and more painful issue is that you haven’t been able to have kids, and because you haven’t made peace with this, someone or something would have eventually triggered your sadness about it. And it doesn’t help for your husband to be OK with how things have turned out if you’re not. When it comes to “accepting the unchangeable,” I’d suggest some combination of looking into counseling to work through your feelings about it, exploring options for becoming a parent or parental figure though fostering or adopting, and looking for friends and role models who have figured out how to be happy (truly happy, not “lying to myself about how my pets are a great replacement” happy) with child-free lives.
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Q. Heartbroken gran: Our son died when his daughter “Amber” was 4. Her mother remarried and her husband adopted Amber. Despite our efforts, we weren’t able to remain in Amber’s life as more than the occasional phone call because her mother thought it was too confusing for Amber. We have other grandchildren whom we adore, but the loss of Amber has always hit us particularly hard.
Amber recently approached us for financial support for her education. Despite her father having a hefty life insurance policy, nothing was set aside for college and her parents refuse to help because they have other children to take care of.
We have been debating about selling our second home for years. My husband and I saw this was the moment—we would sell and split the money four ways as an early inheritance. Amber would get her father’s share while the rest went to our daughters.
Everything seemed fine until our daughter “Jenny” learned that a quarter of the sale was going to Amber. She exploded and demanded that her three children be given a portion of the sale. She said we were favoring Amber above the other grandchildren. We were heartbroken and told her this was as equal as we could make it: She could split her share between her children as she liked, but Amber was just inheriting what her father would be given if he was still alive. Jenny accused us of favoring a dead son over a living daughter and she wasn’t going to “expose” her children to that anymore. This was her proof of our favoritism.
We love Jenny and have helped her financially many times over the years. She and her husband make a good living now. We are baffled about where this is coming from. Our other daughters are furious at their sister and our family feels like it is falling apart. Help.
A: Can I just vent for a minute? I am so tired of—and honestly appalled by—letters involving people who feel entitled to their family members’ money. I just don’t get it. You’ve done nothing wrong, and you’ve explained your choice in a way that makes perfect sense. Tell Jenny your decision is final but if there’s really an issue with favoritism, her being treated as less-than, or feeling ignored after her brother’s death, you can talk about it, hear about how she feels, and make amends.
Q. Aunt on the side: My sister died five years ago. I’ve made a tradition of taking her twins and my brother’s daughter for a weeklong trip during the summer. At first it was just a way of getting the grief out, but it has become a sincere bonding ritual for the girls. My brother got divorced and remarried last year. It has been difficult for his daughter, especially with the addition of three new stepsiblings, including a rather demanding younger stepsister. My problem is my new sister-in-law thinks that she can force a family connection if she can force her children into every aspect of her stepdaughter’s life, including our trip. She says a niece is a niece and I can’t “discriminate” between the girls. I told her we would do something else later on with all the kids, but I wasn’t going to take on her daughter for this one; it is done in the memory of my sister and all the girls have a deep connection to her.
My sister-in-law threw a fit and my brother caved and told me his daughter wouldn’t be going then. My brother is very unhappy with me and I am beyond frustrated with him. What should I do?
A: I think you should invite the stepsister. Not just for her benefit, or to make your brother and his wife happy, but because it would be a meaningful thing to do on a trip that has evolved into a bonding experience for you and the children in your family. Offering your niece and her stepsister an opportunity to deepen their relationship fits the theme. And I don’t think you honor your late sister by putting a wedge between two sisters who are still here.
Q. Weird friendship: I can’t quite wrap my head around this one friend and our friendship. Several years ago, I found out she was hurt when I didn’t include her in something important because she considered us good friends. I had no idea, but ever since then, she rarely includes me in anything, except when she asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding (with seven other friends). But she rarely invites me out, usually has plans when I ask her out, and I just found out she didn’t invite me to an event I had talked about going to with a mutual friend.
I don’t really know what to do with this. I love going out and she is really my only friend who goes out to bars. I honestly don’t feel very close to her, was surprised she asked me to be in her wedding, and I really want her to be a friend I go out with a lot, but I don’t feel like I can talk to her about this because not only am I not close with her, I know she has a lot of other friends who keep her busy too. It really hurts when I find out she goes out without me on a regular basis, especially now that it’s summer and there are safe events outside. Do you have any advice on what to do?
A: This sounds painful and extremely confusing. To get some clarity, you should forget the scorekeeping about when she has and hasn’t acted like a close friend and ask yourself what you want now—and it sounds like that’s a person to go to the bars with. If that’s true, reach out to her and say something like this: “Hey, I miss you. And I’ve been dying to get out at night. If you ever want to meet up or have plans to go drinking with a group and there’s room for one more, let me know!” If she responds with invitations, that’s great. And if she doesn’t, focus on finding other people to party with (and obviously, never let her guilt-trip you about not being a good friend again).
Q. Stolen sherry in Seattle: My father recently passed away and our family decided to sell his small business to a mutual friend who was in his industry. The children of the mutual friend (two sons in their late teens or early 20s) came to pick up the remaining product from the premises. After they left, we noticed an item missing—a bottle of vintage alcohol. Not sure if other things were taken.
What do we do with this information? The mutual friend is extremely religious so either this may look bad on the sons or, if he believes them over us, might compromise the transition. But I am appalled that someone would do this to the family of a recently deceased and wonderful man.
A: “Hi [New business owner]. I’m so sorry but I just realized we unintentionally left a really special bottle of vintage alcohol near the products we set out for you to collect and it’s not there now, so I think it must have been packed up by mistake. Do you mind checking with your sons to see where it ended up? We can set up a time to come get it.”
Q. Re: Suddenly devastated after all these years: I always liked the saying: don’t compare your life to their highlight reel. You see what he wants you to see on social media. That is not your ex’s actual life.
A: So true. I mean, I’m sure he does in fact have children but that doesn’t mean his life is anything to be jealous of.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: We’re going to wrap up now. See you next Monday. Until then, remember to stay out of other people’s business and bank accounts and try not to assault your in-laws.
From Care and Feeding
My son is 2 years and 5 months, which I know is on the early side for this, but he grasps the general concept of the potty and is intrigued by it. He’s also the youngest in his class, and he observes slightly older kids using the potty like champs and seeks to emulate them. Perhaps most importantly, he knows, as his sister did before him, that a gummy bear awaits him if he potties successfully. Here’s where we are: Night after night after night, he sits happily on the potty for a good long while, eventually climbs down, then gets into the bath and, standing up, calmly, and with a sense of great purpose, pees in his bath. I try to anticipate this by talking him through it, but it doesn’t matter. He seems generally happy with this state of affairs. What am I doing wrong?