Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Between the ongoing pandemic and the situations in Haiti and Afghanistan, the news from around the world feels especially sad and painful right now. It almost feels wrong to talk about much lighter interpersonal problems. But the schedule is the schedule, so here we are. And I’ll throw out a blanket piece of advice: We should all remember how good we have it and keep things in perspective. Anyway, let’s get started!
Q. Not a shame nun: I’m trying to support my friend, “Jane,” as she and her husband “Jim” navigate marriage counseling. It’s challenging and heartbreaking to watch—on the surface, they have one of those picture-perfect marriages and both seem to love each other deeply. Still, there’s a history of infidelity and now they’re committed to “finding their truths” and determining if they want to move forward as a couple.
I find that commendable, but recently Jane told me how the next steps she and Jim are taking are to have Jim tell their children and the other members of our circle of friends about Jim’s infidelities—a step that I don’t understand and makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. It’s clear this is her idea, while Jim seems to feel obligated to go along with whatever she insists on because he has so much guilt about being unfaithful. It’s something she’s decided she needs to move forward, but I have a hard time seeing what it will accomplish other than humiliating Jim, while also fundamentally altering his relationship with their children and his peers. If Jim wants to reach out for support from his friends, that’s one thing, and I can understand needing to tell their kids if they do decide to get divorced, or even if they stay together. But to insist he tell them now seems like it will only introduce uncertainty into their lives and make things incredibly awkward for us as their friends. I believe I’m the only one in our group Jane has confided in about Jim’s cheating, and I can’t imagine how confusing and uncomfortable it will be for everyone else to find this out. I’m flabbergasted she’d want to put her friends in such a position—much less her children.
I want to support my friend. I can’t imagine what she’s going through, and don’t want to invalidate how she’s feeling. I know Jim has hurt her deeply, and I would understand if she chooses to leave the marriage. At the same time, I can’t seem to see this choice as anything but cruel. Is there something I’m missing that would be a more reasonable move that would help their marriage? Right now, I feel like if I say nothing, I’m condoning her choice to hurt people I care about and that she’ll regret it in the long run. I know it’s probably best if I say nothing, but how do I continue to support her while also making it clear I have no interest in hearing Jim’s confession?
A: If Jane wrote to me, I’d tell her I don’t think the forced walk through the gantlet sounds like a great plan. It strikes me as a desperate attempt to control a painful situation, and I agree with you that it will likely lead to another set of problems. But she didn’t ask me. And she didn’t ask you either, so unless she does, you should keep quiet.
If Jim approaches you with a confession, you can say something like “I support whatever you and Jane decide to do, but I’m not comfortable hearing these details.” Continue to check in with Jane with a focus on her feelings and well-being, while avoiding the topic of her misguided tactics for repairing her marriage.
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Q. Holiday road: We want to take our five adult kids on a family vacation. We are a blended family and my husband and I miss family vacations with our kids. Some kids are in college, some work abroad, some work locally. How do I approach them and plan for a trip? If we invite them on a trip—what reasonably should we be responsible for outside of room and board, or do we pay for everything since we invited them?
We had originally planned in 2019 to go on a cruise this November and well, the pandemic changed that. The cruise option seemed perfect since it included food, drinks, room, and destinations. Now I don’t know what other inclusive options there should be.
A: If you can afford it, pay for the whole thing. I say this because I know enough about family dynamics to suspect that while a vacation with siblings, stepsiblings, brothers- and sisters-in-law, parents, and (I assume) a bunch of kids can be nice, it’s not most adults’ idea of a fun, relaxing time. Making it free will sweeten the deal and get more of them to agree to come, which I’m sure is what you want. If paying for everyone feels like too much, make an arrangement that’s clear and simple and doesn’t involve any surprise costs or haggling. For example, “If all of you get yourselves here and pitch in $200 for groceries, we’ll cover the accommodations and everything else.”
Q. Feeling misunderstood: I recently went to a charity event with my boyfriend of two years and I can’t help but feel he was flirting with another woman. I’ve tried to tell myself that maybe I’m overreacting and he was simply being friendly, as he suggested when I made my feelings clearly known, but my gut is telling me otherwise.
I’ve been cheated on in the past, so I’m now going back and forth between possible trust issues from prior relationships and trusting my intuition. I know I’m hurt and that I felt uncomfortable with their interaction, and he didn’t apologize or try to be understanding about how I felt. He instead poked fun at me for being “jealous” and totally brushed me off, changing the subject. I’m angry and hurt, and I don’t know how to go about this.
A: I’m less concerned about flirting than I am about his dismissiveness and cruelty in the face of your hurt feelings. What counts as “flirting” is subjective, and couples vary wildly when it comes to their level of tolerance for it. The problem here is that you were upset and he didn’t care and made fun of you. That’s not a recipe for a healthy relationship.
But I know you won’t break up with him over this one incident. You’ve invested a lot of time in this relationship, plus you don’t trust your own gut feeling (although you should—way too many women question themselves and their judgment because people have hurt them in the past). So what I’ll suggest is that you put a note in his file: pay attention to the way dating him makes you feel at this moment, and at other good and bad moments in the future. And in a few months, or six months, or a year, conduct a performance review (just in your head, of course). Review all the evidence and all your notes about what he did, just like an employer would. Is he a team player? Does he pull his weight in the relationship? Is he making progress? If the theme that comes up as you look at the review period is that you were angry and hurt a lot, there’s no need to find concrete evidence that he’s cheating—you need to really question whether he’s a good fit or if he needs to be let go.
Q. Confused casual dater: A few months ago, I started casually dating “Tod.” We had met each other a few times before through his best friend. Tod moved away from my town a couple years ago, but still comes back for work. We both had bad breakups last year and decided a casual monogamous relationship would be best for right now. In the back of my mind, I had a feeling Tod was wavering about the casual part. He’s a serial monogamous person and I am not. For the last month, he’s started talking about doing things I don’t consider casual, like traveling together and me going to his sister’s wedding.
It’s now very clear that he has strong feelings for me. I just don’t want anything more with him. He’s fun and a good guy, but he’s just not the kind of person I would have a real relationship with. He thinks we’re great together, I don’t. He’s not very intellectually stimulating and he’s far more romantic than I am. I want to make it clear that this relationship will only ever be casual, but I don’t want to hurt his feelings. I honestly don’t see this relationship going much further either, although I could be wrong about that. I know I need to talk to him about this, but I’m worried about hurting his feelings or that he will just agree to our original relationship agreement and then keep trying to push me into something I’m not ready for. I’m also really worried about the fallout with my friend. Do you have any advice on how I can do this without hurting anybody’s feelings?
A: I asked around about this one because I wasn’t sure what “casual monogamous” meant, and the answers I got hinted at what might be the source of the tension here. Some people think a casual monogamous relationship is a permanent thing (like friends with benefits without any “benefits” from other friends) that’s never intended to progress. Some see it as a stop on the way to a more serious relationship (you’re not serious yet but you’re taking other people out of the equation while you figure out if you want to be). It seems that Tod’s in the latter group; he knows you started as casually monogamous but assumes it’s time to move on to the next step.
But labels aside, you know this person likes you much more than you like him. That’s never going to feel great. You should lovingly split up by explaining you’re not feeling the kind of connection that makes you want to continue. I can’t guarantee that he won’t be a little hurt, but make it a point not to insult him, his intellect, or the kind of person he is, and he should be OK. Then you can both find partners you really enjoy and are enthusiastic about (regardless of the relationship label) who want the same things you do.
Q. Out of compassion for the unvaccinated: I am a pharmacist for a grocery chain and often fill in to help out local stores. Recently I found out one of the stores I fill in at has two pharmacists who have NOT received the COVID-19 vaccination and they do not wear masks. Their reasoning is besides the point, as our company requires unvaccinated employees to wear masks. I like these pharmacists but their conspiracy theory–minded views are putting patients in danger. There’s no way I can confront them, because it’ll just turn into an argument about politics and conspiracies. I considered saying something to the pharmacy supervisor for the area, but I’m not sure how to handle this.
A: Please report this. Your compassion or lack thereof is not the issue. You should do the right thing by protecting your patients. Tell your supervisor, or the supervisor for the area, or corporate—whatever makes the most sense. But definitely tell someone.
Q. Re: Not a shame nun: Could you ask Jane what their counselor has said about this? It could even give you a jumping-off point to mention how she sees this affecting the kids? I think putting out a few feelers like that is warranted. You don’t have to go further. It might even give you some better insight into their plans to tell the kids.
A: Hmm, I’m not really a fan of asking people what they discussed in therapy. And I also think “What did your counselor say about that?” is pretty clearly code for “I think you’re messing up here.” But maybe the letter writer could gently inquire about how Jane hopes to feel when the confessions are complete.
Q. Re: Holiday road: Having a family trip is a great gesture, but not everyone enjoys the same things or can spend the time or money. Don’t judge them or question their decision if they can’t join you. Give everyone plenty of time to plan. Don’t guilt them into going on a trip that they can’t afford, either financially or in terms of time off from work. Pay for what you can afford. Don’t ask them to pay for anything that is not discussed in advance of purchasing nonrefundable tickets.
A: Good advice. If everything related to money isn’t super clear and simple, what is supposed to be a generous offer by the letter writer and a fun family experience could actually be a Dear Prudence question waiting to happen.
Q. My husband’s ex won’t leave: When I met my husband 10 years ago, he had been divorced for two years. “Lindy” turned into a party girl after their divorce. Never around for the kids and very flaky. We have custody of their two children. Lindy was out of the picture for years, but she reemerged and texted my husband. She says she’s changed her focus in life and is getting herself together. She told my husband that she’s moving to Australia to start a new job and new healthy life.
A few weeks later, I come home from work and find Lindy in my house having a glass of wine. My husband took me aside and told me that Lindy will be staying in our guest room for three weeks. He said her lease was up and this arrangement is temporary, and it will help her to save money until she leaves for Australia. I was upset that he didn’t consult me on it, but I let it go. It’s now three months later and Lindy’s “job” keeps getting pushed back.