Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Happy Monday. It finally feels like fall where I am—which makes me realize we only have a little bit more time for regular problems before we have to make room for holiday drama! Ask away …
Q. The worried wife next door: We recently received an anonymous letter in the mail that reads as follows:
Wanted to give you a heads up as you seem to be the only other white family on our block. I am working on getting the very loud Hispanic males at [street address of the house next to ours occupied by entirely renters] out or arrested. BEWARE! They are dangerous, loud, and likely trafficking drugs. Protect your family! You have been warned.
First things first, we are far from the only white family on the street. I also know the neighbors, unless there is someone else living there; I’ve only seen an older Hispanic couple, two Black males, and a middle-aged Hispanic man and his daughter. The loudest thing about them is a pet bird, and while I occasionally smell weed smoke, it’s legal in our state and we also smoke occasionally, so I can’t pass judgment there. I highly doubt there is drug trafficking going on from that house.
My husband thinks it’s a developer trying to use us to get the house because it’s in bad shape and can likely sell for close to $2 million. I think it could be something more nefarious and want to take the letter to the cops. However, I do recognize I have a blindspot due to my privilege as a white woman. My experience with police has been very negative from past instances of assault, and I do not necessarily feel they are the solution to all my problems. I also understand these experiences are nothing compared to the experiences of people of color with police. Despite this, I do realize that if something serious happens, the police would need to be involved and this letter could be evidence.
I am blinded by my worry that something bad is going to happen and that I could make things worse for my neighbors. Or is my husband right that there is an icky but inevitably harmless—if we don’t react to it—financial motivation behind the letter?
A: I have no idea whether the person who wrote the letter is a sincere racist busybody who for whatever reason hasn’t been able to find their community on Nextdoor, or if they are an eager developer. But they did want to scare you, and it worked. I also have no idea what you mean by “something more nefarious.” I can’t imagine what the police would be able to do if you brought the note to them. Also, even if it’s true (I don’t think it is) that your neighbors are terrible people who are really up to no good, what is the threat to you? That you’ll hear them while they’re being loud? That people coming by to buy drugs will create extra traffic on the street? I can’t convince myself to get worried here. Throw the note away and relax.
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Q. Out of sight, out of mind: I grew up on the West Coast but have been living on the East Coast since I finished college. Pre-COVID, I traveled back to the West Coast often to visit family, and of course made time to see my friends who still live there.
The issue is when my West Coast friends visit the city where I live now. When I learn a friend plans to visit my city, I tell them I’d love to see them if they have time. If I get a response at all, it’s after they’ve already left, saying, “I’m sorry I couldn’t see you, my schedule was full.” This just feels unfair to me when I make time during my brief visits home to see these longtime friends. It makes me think that I feel a friendship with these people more than they feel a friendship with me.
I obviously won’t say anything to them, and it will not prevent me from enjoying seeing them when I visit my hometown again, but is it unreasonable to feel angry and forgotten? What else can I do to let them know that I’d love to see them when they’re here, and hope they might like to see me too?
A: I would never call you unreasonable for feeling angry and forgotten, but I think there might be another way of looking at this. On the surface, you’re making time for them when you visit their city, and they’re not making time for you when they visit your city. But when you take a more detailed look, are you sure these situations are always comparable? For instance, I can imagine that when your friends come to your city, they’re there for work, but when you visit your hometown, you’re there for leisure. That makes a big difference when it comes to how much time there is to socialize. When they say “My schedule was full,” they might very well be describing days full of meetings sandwiched between meals with colleagues that truly don’t include any unscheduled hours. If they do have a night free, they might really need it to decompress. Meanwhile, when you head West, you’re staying with family, on vacation, just looking for things to do!
Then there’s the issue of how practical getting together actually is. For example, being “in New York” means very little in terms of meeting up if the people you know are spread out across the boroughs and nobody who lives there wants to get on the train to come have dinner near your office and hotel in Midtown. On the other hand, at home on the West Coast, you probably have access to a car and relatively easy parking, which makes getting to a restaurant or wherever to meet up with friends a much less daunting task.
I say all that to say: Don’t take it personally! But I do think you can make it more likely that you’ll be able to spend time with your friends when they’re in your city, if you make it clear that you’re willing to go out of your way and work around their schedules. Try something like, “Next time you come to town, let me know, even if you’re too busy to get together. Or if you think you’ll have half an hour one day, I’ll come meet you for coffee at the restaurant on the first floor of your office or we can go for a 20-minute walk and catch up.”
Q. Wanting to be a team: My husband of nine years lost his job during the pandemic. This isn’t the first time he’s struggled to find a job; he’s gone without full-time work for long stretches before. This time, it’s been over a year and I was fully on-board with him not working until he was fully vaxxed. That was April 22. He’s been “looking,” but hasn’t applied for anything yet. He says nothing interests him, and that he’s just going to have to get a job he hates. Every time I bring this up (no matter how gently), it turns into an argument.
I am able to support us pretty well, but we are now in our 40s. If either of us ever want to retire, we have to be saving more now. I’ve been saving for close to 20 years and have a decent retirement fund, but I can’t do this alone. I don’t judge him, and I love him, but I think I’ve made it too easy for him not to worry about finances. He says “all I care about is money” and storms off. This is clearly not true. I don’t want a divorce. I want a partnership. I am still contributing to retirement, but at half what I was before the pandemic, and I’m having to take money from savings each month just to cover our expenses. He knows this. We’ve cut back on everything possible. We live in a small place that I purchased in my early 20s, so there is no selling and downsizing. I don’t know another way to get across to him that I need his help and actually get it. I’m not trying to make him feel badly; I’m trying to make sure we have shelter and food when we are old. It makes me feel that I’m not important. He won’t have a constructive conversation with me about making a plan. I feel like I’m drowning in worry and he feels attacked.
A: I always have to ask in these situations: Do you think he could be struggling with depression? Even if this behavior isn’t brand new, there’s the possibility that he’s been dealing with mental health issues for some time and would get a new burst of energy for life with talk therapy and/or medication.
If that’s not the issue, you’ll have to have an honest conversation with yourself about whether your desire to not be divorced is stronger than your desire to not be broke in your old age. Maybe you’ll look at the numbers and decide that you wouldn’t be that much better off single than you would be with a husband who doesn’t contribute, and you want his company. Or maybe you’ll decide that his refusal to work is a deal-breaker for you, either because it’s going to put you in a difficult place or because it’s frustrating to feel taken advantage of. This isn’t unreasonable! After all, what is marriage if it doesn’t involve someone taking your concerns about your ability to survive seriously? But the point is, if you want peace, you have to make a decision and act on it. You can either accept him the way he is and plan a life that involves you as the only breadwinner, or you can decide you can’t live this way and file for divorce. What you don’t want is to spend the rest of your life worried about money and resenting him.
Q. Vaccination station: I am getting married pretty soon. Everyone that can be vaccinated is—except for my father, who believes in conspiracy theories and refuses to get jabbed. I know that I cannot and I do not want to force anyone into getting vaccinated. However, there are people who are immunocompromised, including my fiancé and mother-in-law. I do not feel comfortable risking the health of these people simply because of his beliefs. We didn’t start our relationship until a few years ago. Am I in the wrong for not inviting him?
Q. At my wit’s end: I have a friend “George” who is gay and met a friend, “Brian,” in May/June. Brian left in August to study abroad in Rome. Before Brian left, they spent a lot of time together. They aren’t romantically involved but Brian already talked about them living together and said “I love you,” but when George said it to Brian, he added “just as friends.”
George has the tendency to be clingy and now I see he is becoming obsessed. I say this because if Brian (now in Rome) doesn’t call or text him back, it is the end of the world, George is the worst person ever, he is losing this relationship, etc. I keep reminding him that he is in Rome and busy, but that isn’t good enough. He’s constantly talking about Brian and not hanging out with his other friends.
How do I go about bringing up that George’s obsessed and clingy behavior will have him lose this relationship?
A: The next time George is acting like it’s the end of the world because Brian left him “on read,” ask if he wants your advice on the situation. If he says no, just go about your business and don’t worry about it. If he says yes, say something like, “I don’t know all the details of your relationship but I’m worried about how much time you’re spending being upset over Brian. I also know how much you like him and I think giving him a hard time about not being in touch might push him away. I would hate that for you because I know how much you care about him. As a friend, I want to offer to help keep you distracted so you can enjoy your life while he’s overseas. What do you think?”
If he’s receptive, great—you can make plans for the two of you with other friends, gently urge him not to spend the whole time staring at his phone, and try to remind him of the non-Brian things that used to bring him joy. But if he’s not, you’ll just have to watch him crash and burn. Remind yourself that, as hard as it can be for a friend to observe, sometimes people just need to go through what they need to go through. This might just be an important experience that teaches him a lesson about how not to interact with—and turn his happiness over to—his crushes.
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Q. Re: The worried wife next door: I think you misread what the writer was saying. I took it to mean she wants to talk to the cops because she thinks the people who wrote the letter might be a danger to the people living next door. Not that she believes the letter at all.
A: You’re so right, I did misread it! Thanks, and sorry about that. But I’m still not sure what the police could do in response to this note.
Q. Re: Vaccination station: Being firm here might get him vaccinated. My cousin was very firm that no vax meant no seeing her baby. Our right-wing media–brainwashed grandma actually broke down and got the vaccine because she wanted to see the baby (my dad took her). I fully believe my cousin being firm with our grandmother likely saved her life as she’s elderly and very high-risk. Stay firm, social consequences may get him vaxxed.
A: That’s encouraging. I was mostly thinking about protecting the other wedding guests, but if he ends up getting vaccinated, that would be an amazing bonus! It also just occurred to me that the wedding could encourage him to fake it. Letter writer: Watch out for fake vaccination cards!
Q. Worried about my bedroom skills: I got out of a long-term relationship a few months ago, and am starting to get back on the dating scene. Not looking for anything serious at this point, just casually dating. My problem is that my ex, during an intimate moment and in a fit of frustration, once told me that I was only “OK, not great” in bed. Obviously, this was hurtful, and it made me feel very unattractive. I nearly broke up with him over it, but we talked it through, chose to stay together, and continued having regular sex. I didn’t think about it much for the remainder of our relationship. Now that I am dating again, I can’t stop thinking about it. Am I bad in bed? Am I enthusiastic enough? Too enthusiastic? I know my ex was a jerk for not finding a more tactful way to communicate his needs, but this is seriously messing with my confidence. How can I feel like I’m a good lover? How do I get my ex’s voice out of my head?