Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Last spring, my wedding was canceled because COVID hit about a month before the celebration. We were devastated, but we did what we had to do. Later that summer, we decided to go ahead and sign the marriage certificate when we found out one of our friends was ordained. Since both our families would have to get on a plane, and our parents are at high risk, we decided to only invite a few friends in our “bubble” and have our immediate families FaceTime. At that time, both my parents were very supportive. My Dad even suggested we elope, since at that point in time we had no idea how long the lockdown would last. The wedding happened at our house. We said vows, the license was signed, and then we had some food. I didn’t even wear my wedding dress. Since then, my Mom has started making passive comments like “If I had been invited to your wedding …” and it’s been brought to my attention that she’s twisting the narrative to make herself look like the victim and telling people “I wasn’t even invited to my own daughter’s wedding.” I’ve talked to her about it, and explained that it was a tough situation and we didn’t invite our parents because we didn’t want them to get sick or die. She will say she totally understands, but then she’ll tell someone else in my extended family the same story. How can I get her to stop this? It’s hurtful and it is making me look bad.
— COVID Wedding
Dear COVID Wedding,
Take comfort in the fact that everyone knows weddings are intense events that bring up a lot of emotions and bring out the worst in many people, and absolutely no one else is as interested in the details of what happened here as your mother is. The truth is, she wasn’t invited to your wedding, and she’s sad about it and probably wishing you would have waited until she could be there. And that’s okay. Should she have said something at the time? Yes. But see above about weddings bringing out the worst in many people. Pandemics don’t help either. What she’s doing isn’t fair, but you’ve already talked about it, so you might just have to chalk this up to “mother of the bride acting up,” which is a thing that happens.
If you can spare the time and money (and obviously, if this sounds appealing to you, which it might not) would you consider a second ceremony or party that she could be part of?
Either way, the really great news is that she didn’t get sick or die, maybe because of your decision not to encourage her to travel to be there during a pandemic. That’s something to celebrate. You don’t owe it to her, but if you can push past your justified annoyance to focus on how happy you are that you didn’t lose her to COVID and look for ways to make sure she knows that she’s loved and an important part of your life (maybe it starts with just telling her you’re really sad that she wasn’t there! Which is true!) that might help both of you move past this.
My sister Connie has lots of good qualities, and I love her, but she’s the most gullible person in the world. If someone tells her the two of them are friends, then they’re friends! If they ask her to give them $5,000 bucks, then she does because they’re her friend and they wouldn’t lie to her. When they ghost her, she refuses to take action, because they were a good person and it’s probably just some sort of misunderstanding.
Connie isn’t impaired or anything, so it’s not like we can stop her doing this (we’re both in our 30s). The thing is that our parents expect me to stop her. Every time they see the signs they call me up and convince me that I have to stop her from making another mistake or push her to take legal action against her latest friend/boyfriend/neighbor. This has been my duty since we were kids.
I don’t want to anymore. We aren’t kids anymore, and it never works. Connie loves me but she’s way smarter than me, so she never listens when I warn her about someone. It just ends up with us fighting and one of us, or both of us, saying something cruel. And she never learns, because I think she genuinely believes all these people who’ve conned her are just temporarily sans phone for some reason.
I just don’t know where my responsibility lies. She’s a grown woman and what right do I have to argue with her about how to spend her money? On the other hand, she’s a good person and my little sister, so how can I just let people drain her dry?
— Bothered Brother
Dear Bothered Brother,
You didn’t mention Connie being homeless or destitute, so she must have a bit of a financial buffer that lets her make these poor choices. This sounds very frustrating to have to witness, but it’s the way she’s decided to live, and it’s not harming anyone. Except you! So you should check out. Let your parents know that you’re not going to be policing your sister’s choices anymore, and that they’re free to pick up that project if they want to. Say something like this:
“Hi mom and dad. I want you to know that I’m retiring from Connie duty. I’ve been trying to help her make better choices since we were kids. It hasn’t worked and it’s too much for me. I care about her and I know you do too, but luckily for all of us nothing catastrophic has happened and hopefully it won’t. She’s a smart woman, and I’m starting to think this is the lifestyle that makes her happy, so I’m going to leave her alone and focus on my own issues. Please, if you have concerns about how she’s handling her money, speak directly to her instead of to me.”
I want to ask this on behalf of my friend and myself, who find ourselves in similar situations. In the last few years we have fallen in love with our respective partners. I am engaged to my fiancée, she and her boyfriend are living together and starting to plan their family. The boyfriend and fiancée are lovely people—obviously—but can be politically problematic at times. Neither of them means ill, they are not bigots or Trumpers or really all that politically engaged to begin with.
It’s conversations like climate change, where I ask my fiancée to think hard about washing loads that aren’t all the way full or blasting the AC during the day. She doesn’t dismiss reality, she just doesn’t entirely understand why it should affect her choices. Or the BLM movement, of which we both had to coax our partners into understanding the importance. These are good people who just haven’t grappled with their privilege in the way that my friend and I try to do.
We also live in a traditionally red state, so they’re not getting signals or feedback about these blindspots from peers or coworkers—if anything, it’s easier for them to get around socially (especially for my fiancée, who is a lesbian in an industry where she sometimes has to hide it from clients). But occasionally, around our more liberal friends and family, we each have found ourselves grimacing at something our partner has said. As white, cis women ourselves, I think we have the responsibility to make them better global citizens. We both carry a good bit of guilt and anxiety about this (early on, we both nearly broke up with them for these tendencies), but I don’t know how to correct their behavior as a loving partner without it devolving into multiple arguments, leaving one person feeling unheard and frustrated at their partner’s ignorance and the other person feeling controlled and patronized.
— Dating in a Red State
I can tell you’re coming from a good place, but I seriously, intensely disagree with this part: “I think we have the responsibility to make them better global citizens” You don’t get serious with people with plans to change them. It’s not fair to them, and it doesn’t work. You and your friend should be asking yourselves, “Can we happily spend the rest of our lives with these people if they stay exactly the same?”
I think a huge part of a happy relationship is thinking the person you love makes good choices and has good values. You should admire them. And it doesn’t sound like you and your friend have a lot of regard for your partners, when it comes down to it. I think you know as well as I do that there are plenty of very socially aware and progressive people of all races in red states (plus, the internet exists!) so geography is not an excuse here.
If you can’t hold your partners in high regard, you have to just decide to start accepting them wholeheartedly. If you and your friend see yourselves as a social justice influencer in your own home, and your partners see themselves as people who need fixing in order to be accepted, everyone will end up miserable. Your partners also deserve relationships with people who think they’re smart and capable and know how to live. Or at least partners who think they are so adorable and sweet that their shortcomings don’t matter.
More Advice From Pay Dirt
My husband and I got married at the turn of the century and recently found out that we are an anomaly among our peer group because we have merged finances. We have our own retirement accounts, but all of our income otherwise goes into shared accounts. Our friends—some who married earlier than we did, some at the same time, some later—have one joint account for agreed-upon shared expenses, and then their own individual accounts for everything else. When our first couples-friends told us this, we thought they were out of the ordinary—all of our expenses are shared! We don’t get it. We started asking our other friends, and it turns out we are the outliers! We have opened a can of worms because our friends are universally appalled that we share everything and have “nothing” of our “own,” which just sounds … wrong. We vowed to share our lives. What’s with this modern financial split?