Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Recently, I learned that my adult daughter was getting married within the year. I was surprised to learn this because I knew nothing of her dating anyone, let alone seriously enough that marriage was in the near future. I’ll admit my daughter and I are not as close as we could be, not since her mother and I divorced when she was a preteen and I moved out of state. Our contact was more limited after I remarried, but I still thought she would inform me of her beau. I arranged a trip to go visit her and see him in person. I was taken aback to learn her fiancé is a white man; she is black. I didn’t say anything at the time, but after I left and thought about it, I felt I should talk to her about it. While the man seemed nice enough, I felt she didn’t know what she was getting herself into.
I gave her a call and expressed my concerns, trying to make sure I wasn’t being judgmental. However, my daughter became angry and argued it wasn’t my business since I’m not a part of her life. She also said that if I didn’t agree with this, she could comment on my marrying a younger woman while forgetting about her growing up. She hung up and later sent a text telling me that I was perfectly free to skip the wedding if I felt so strongly about it. She even went as far as to say that if I had been a better example of a black man, she might not have gone for my “physical opposite.” Honestly, I largely don’t want to go to the wedding not only because I don’t approve of the relationship but her disrespectful attitude. I’m worried that if I don’t, though, it’ll solidify a strained relationship. What should I do?
— Hurt but Concerned
My advice boils down to this: Stay in your lane. And the name of the lane is: Absentee father.
A lot of people would say one of the problems here is that you care about her fiancé’s race at all. But I don’t agree. I can see a Black father who is close to his daughter reasonably saying, “Oh wow, he’s white? Just checking, how does he feel about raising Black children? Have you two talked about what you’ll do when racism inevitably rears its head in your lives? What has he said about how his relatives will treat you?” In that sense, I don’t think it’s totally inappropriate to express concern. But it’s a weird thing to do if you haven’t shown the same kind of care about other issues in your daughter’s life. I also think it’s strange that you brought it up after having a chance to meet the guy, feel out his vibes, ask him questions and get to know who he was as a whole person, not just a white person. Taking all that together, I’m not at all surprised that she’s upset by the combination of your absence in your life (which has obviously hurt her) and your misguided comments.
I have to add that I also find it off-putting that as soon as you found out there was a man in her life, you hopped on a plane, especially if you didn’t do the same when she started college, got her first job, moved into an apartment, or celebrated other milestones when she might have appreciated your presence. To suddenly perk up and engage when marriage is on the table suggests a sense of ownership rather than a true interest in her wellbeing.
The way forward is to apologize for overstepping and assure her that you would love to attend the wedding if she can forgive you. If she accepts, ask yourself if you can be comfortable with a role in her wedding that matches the role you’ve had in her life so far: Someone who’s happy for her but isn’t one of the main characters in her story and isn’t entitled to a say about how things happen. The more you can be present, supportive, and nonjudgmental and refrain from being controlling, the more likely she is to open up to a closer relationship in the future. And if there are grandkids, you can have a fresh start.
Last summer, COVID forced my stepsister and her fiancée to cancel their big beach wedding for a smaller ceremony and reception open only to immediate family and their closest friends. I went, and despite the masks and social distancing, I had a great time. They’re planning to hold a vow renewal ceremony at the original venue this October and inviting both people who had missed the cut for the first wedding and those of us who got to attend the original incarnation. They’re very nice people, and I’m sure I’d have a good time at the redux reception, but is it OK if I don’t go, considering I was there for the actual wedding?
The event is taking place two and a half hours away from me, during my last semester of grad school, and on a Sunday, which will make getting home in time for work/school a hassle. There are obviously people in my life for whom I would have no choice but to go, but even though the couple in question is very nice, we’ve never been especially close (we’re not even officially stepsiblings—our parents aren’t married to each other and didn’t get together until well after we both had left home), and I wonder if being asked to make an hours-long trek, during what may be a very busy time for me, and with only two months’ notice (I haven’t even gotten a save the date yet!) might be enough grounds for me to sit this one out. Am I being reasonable or am I being a jerk?
— Perpetual Wedding Guest
Dear Wedding Guest,
Totally reasonable. There’s no established etiquette for the whole “second real wedding after a first small pandemic wedding” thing because it’s all so new, but celebrating a marriage once is enough. I’m sure they’ll understand, and it’s even possible this is exactly what they expected but they invited people who were at the first event so they wouldn’t feel rude. Send your regrets to your stepsister and throw in an effusive social media post on the big day.
My sister is not a good person: a woman in her 40s with older children she neglects; in and out of jail, probation violations and a drug addiction; stolen things to sell for drugs (her children’s belongings, my deceased grandmother’s jewelry, my pain meds from when I had a C-section); manipulates, lies, and ignores us until she needs money. She only ever contacts me to ask me for money. Always. Never anything else. But my parents love her all the same, and let her live in an apartment my father owns even though she doesn’t pay rent on time or any of the bills, and it falls on my parents to keep it up. They always get her out of trouble no matter the cost, and I did too at one point, until I stopped letting her take advantage of me and stopped returning her phone calls.
My parents have gotten ill because they worry for her, and she has damaged her already weak immune system with drugs so much that now she’s hospitalized and she may not make it. My parents are beside themselves but … I feel indifferent. I only care about their health if she does pass. My father suffered a mild stroke from the stress at one point in time. My mother has become depressed since my sister was admitted. My mother wants me to reconcile, but I just can’t. I distanced myself from my sister a long time ago and prepared myself for the inevitable. The logical answer is if she’s going to pass, what harm is there to tell her I love her? But … I can’t even bring myself to pick up the phone to call. Do I fake it for my parents sake? And if she doesn’t pass—I don’t want to give her the impression I want her in my life again.
— Not My Sister’s Keeper
Dear Not My Sister’s Keeper,
Everything you’ve described sounds like a direct consequence of her drug addiction. Can you separate who she is from what the drugs made her do? Maybe reading up on the impact of drug abuse and the stories of people who have struggled with it might help you see that what she’s done to you is not personal and not what she would have done if she were sober.
That doesn’t mean you’d ever be obligated to put up with it, of course. But she can’t really harm you now. Picture the person she was before she ever used drugs, and if you love that person, go and tell her.
More Advice From Pay Dirt
My husband took out a personal loan of about $1,200 to buy an item that no one else is able to benefit from except himself. He already has several loans that could’ve been paid off by now, but chooses to pay the bare minimum. He makes plenty at his job and has a firm reasoning of “it’s my money, so I will spend how I please.” How can I talk some sense into him about how it’s our finances and the importance of discussing loans that affect both of us in regard of repayment?