Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My husband (M, 49) is vehemently against me (F, 38) getting the COVID vaccine. He believes all the conspiracies—that if the vaccine doesn’t kill me right away, then I will die in the next two years along with everyone else who’s been vaccinated. He also believes that the vaccinated are “shedding” something dangerous from their bodies that can infect people around them. We have four young children (ages 4 to 8), and he believes that I would be a danger to them if I got vaccinated. The only reason I haven’t done so already is because I can’t stand the thought of him telling our children that I will die soon or that they are in danger from just being near me. He’s told me that he “doesn’t know what he’ll do” if I get vaccinated and has refused to elaborate. I’m a stay-at-home mom with no income of my own and no other family. I just don’t see leaving him as an option. What do you do when getting the shot means your children will be told to prepare for your death?
—Protecting My Kids
Dear Protecting My Kids,
As long as you think you can do it without the risk of violence or other serious retribution from your husband, get vaccinated. He doesn’t have to know. I also think you should start to consider leaving this relationship with an irrational man who is making subtle threats and likely putting your children at risk in all kinds of ways—do you really want his kind of thinking influencing them more than it already has? But whether you decide to stay or go, you’ll want to be alive, and the shot is a good way to make sure that’s the case.
Like many this time of year, I am leaving for university. I’ve been looking forward to this a lot, but my parents have been very anxious about the move. We are first-gen immigrants, so when we moved here I took up a lot of the menial tasks (managing bills, making appointments, attending parent-teacher meetings for my siblings, and the like). So I’m a lot more independent than other people my age. First, I thought their anxiety was about how I’d struggle on my own. Which I felt was unfounded, and they’d be fine once they see me manage my move well. But lately it seems like it’s more about how I’d become too independent and not come back. I live close by so I’ll be visiting them regularly, but I truly don’t know what other assurance I can offer them, especially since we aren’t the type to openly talk to each other.
—In Over My Head
Dear Over My Head,
Congratulations on the start of a new chapter! I’m going to suggest that you do something that I think will help you with this situation as well as others that come up as you get older: Make it your project to change your family to one in which people do openly talk to each other. Take the lead by opening up communication. I know it will probably feel super awkward if that’s not the way you’re raised, and of course you want to respect the fact that your parents’ way of approaching things may reflect their culture. But this is a great topic to use as practice for clear, loving communication. I can’t imagine they’ll be too offended by hearing that you really do want to be there for them. Why don’t you sit them down—or if that feels too weird, write a letter—and say something like this:
“Hi Mom and Dad. I can’t believe I’m leaving for college soon. I know we don’t talk a lot about our feelings, but I want you to know how much I appreciate the way you raised me and how much I’m going to miss you. I also want to tell you that I plan to call and visit a lot, and I want us to stay as close as we are. If you are worried that I’ll be too independent and won’t come back, don’t be! Please tell me if there’s anything you want me to know or if you have any questions for me. I love you and will always be here for you.”
This kind of communication might feel one-sided at first, if it’s not what you’re used to, but I think part of being an adult is starting to take a little more ownership over how things happen in your family, instead of just dealing with whatever your parents’ style is. And honestly, I think they’ll appreciate it.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I’m infertile and am only able to conceive through IVF. While the process to discover this was long and loss-filled, once we figured it out, I was unbelievably lucky that I gave birth to my child in 2018 after one cycle of IVF. I was also lucky in that I have a family member who is beyond generous, supporting us for the first cycle and saying (without any pressure) they would support any future IVF treatments if we desired. We tried again this past year but I wasn’t successful, losing two early chemical pregnancies after transfer (one just two weeks ago). Before and immediately after that second cycle I had told myself because of my age (I’m now 41) that I didn’t want to do another one: the possibility of success (about 20 percent now for me in any cycle) just doesn’t seem likely enough to outweigh the mental and physical weight of the hormonal and emotional ups and downs that define IVF and (if we’re lucky) the first trimester. I’m beyond happy with our family trio and a big part of me feels that we should be “one and done” for so many great reasons that would benefit all of us. In fact, I know if my family member had said “here’s 20 grand, do whatever you want with it,” I wouldn’t even think to spend it on IVF (my mind goes to family experiences and house updates we could do).
My husband feels a lot more settled into the idea of being one and done, but says he would absolutely support going through another cycle, but it’s really my decision because my body weathers all the treatment. I find myself thinking about doing a third IVF cycle A LOT—it’s become an intrusive thought in my daily life. I thought I would feel empowered with my decision to say when my “fertility journey” ended (and that it ended with a child!), but instead I feel so ambivalent: Am I afraid of some inconvenience now for the possibility of the immeasurable gift of a child? Am I getting so caught up in what I thought my family would look like that I’m not able to be totally present? If I did another cycle and it was a failure, what would that do to my mental health? Would I know when to stop if I continued to fail?
Prudie, I know that you can’t make this decision for me, but how do people make decisions like this? And how do they look back on it years later: Is it about figuring out which action (or lack thereof) I think I would regret less? Or the one that makes me happiest now? Is it about the story I want to tell about myself later or the person I want to see in the mirror today?
Dear Ambivalent IVFer,
Sometimes having options really does make things harder. If your generous relative didn’t exist—or didn’t have any more money to offer—you’d be totally fine with your little family. But you know that. You know that if you didn’t have access to this hypothetical 20K, you’d be satisfied with your one child. You know that you’re happy. You know that your husband is happy. You know that if you really, really wanted another kid, you would have gone down this road a few years ago, not now, at a time when your chances of success are so low.
Would another round of IVF be worth a shot if you wanted it more than anything in the world? Absolutely. Is it worth it if you don’t actually want it but just think maybe you should want it or will want it in the future? Probably not. When I first read your letter, part of me thought, “Well, what’s a month or so out of your life, a few hormones, a handful of doctor’s visits, and a relatively low-key egg retrieval procedure? All for free! Might be worth a try, just to put your mind at ease.”
But I was struck by the fact that you asked these questions: “If I did another cycle and it was a failure, what would that do to my mental health? Would I know when to stop if I continued to fail?” Honestly, I wouldn’t have even thought of these things and the fact that you did is worth paying attention to. Listen to yourself! You know that you like your life now, and you know that a failed cycle could represent a start of a life you don’t like—one in which your mental health deteriorates and you feel out of control. I say leave well enough alone and enjoy the kid you have.
I’ve been dating a lovely man for about five months, and in most ways, I feel like we’re a great fit. He’s fun, kind, affectionate, and communication is easy. He volunteers in the community and has a job that makes a difference. For context, we’re both white, middle-aged, straight, and upper-middle class.
Here’s the hang-up: I am embedded in a lovely community and extended family full of diversity of many types—race, ethnicity, language, national origin, class, and sexual orientation.
Additionally, my child from my previous marriage is biracial. And due to my family and my work, I’ve done a lot to understand my many forms of privilege, recognize and see the ways the world offers unequal opportunity, and grapple with how I personally show up and my own implicit biases. I’m on a journey, and I have a lot left to learn, but that journey matters to me.
He’s not on that journey. He’s not opposed to it, and he has said he’s willing to learn. But, we keep stumbling into conversations where I realize just how much he lives in an unexamined white male privilege bubble. It shows up at times like when we’re talking about being a parent during the pandemic (he pushed back on the idea that women might have had it harder than men overall because he knows some good dads who are really involved); immigration (before he’s OK with someone being undocumented, he wants to know their story—in essence be a judge of their right to be here); or race (he’s aware racism exists but doesn’t see much difference between raising a white child and a child of color in our country).
Even as I type these comments, I realize how much these things clash with what I believe and have personally experienced. And they make me nervous about how he might show up for my child. And yet, I can’t decide: Is this a good guy who is at the very beginning of a journey, and I’m the first one to nudge him onto the road, OR is this a guy who is stuck in his current mindset and it’s just too far from what matters to me for me to be OK with it. How do I know?
—On Different Roads?
Dear Different Roads,
I firmly believe that you shouldn’t pursue a relationship with someone hoping they’ll change. I would give you this advice if you were dating someone who refused to wash dishes or had a bad habit of interrupting you, or was irresponsible with money, and I’ll give it to you about the guy you’re dealing with now. Are you OK with him if he never turns into a person you’re proud of and respect and enjoy talking to about serious topics? Will you be OK if this “journey” is a very slow one, and he’s always 19 steps behind people who took responsibility a long time ago to consider the experiences of people who don’t look like him? Will you be OK with him questioning your child’s experiences with racism or making hurtful comments to her because he’s “still learning”? There are plenty of white men who have managed to find compassion for women and people of color—and who actually use their privilege to stand up for others. There are plenty of white men who don’t have to be spoken to like they’re in kindergarten and dragged along on the road to what in 2021 should be considered basic decency. Find one of them!
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“But people who want two kids know! Like, right away!”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
About two years ago, I had an argument with my sister that resulted in me ending contact with her. We had never been particularly close, and on the occasion that we did see each other she would rarely show interest in me. I heard all about her relationship, her work life, and her friends—and I was happy to—but she would never ask me anything about myself, and if I offered some news about my own life she would be scrolling through her phone by the time I finished my sentence. When I moved house she offered to help me, and then canceled on the day despite knowing that she couldn’t make it a week earlier. She asked me to cancel an important business trip I had booked for months (I was speaking at a conference) after she scheduled her baby shower for the same weekend, and then didn’t speak to me at the shower. When I said it wouldn’t be a good idea to visit our elderly mother during the height of the pandemic, before vaccines and masks were widely adopted, she blasted me with abusive texts (that’s when I cut contact). Prudie, I could go on—but that’s basically our history as adults, me wondering if I had done something to make her be cruel to me and coming up empty handed every time.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it, and a lot of time speaking with a therapist about it, and have realized that I’d be happy to never have a relationship with her again. I can’t imagine it would be a huge loss to her, and it’s not a huge loss to me either. So that much I’m comfortable with. But I’m struggling to communicate my choice to our family, who seems to either think that we’ve had a sisterly spat and we’ll reunite soon, or believe that as the older sister I should take the “high road” and automatically forgive her so I can be a good influence. Prudie, we’re not young girls having a tiff—we’re both in our mid-30s. I’ll be seeing family at Christmas for the first time since the pandemic, and am dreading facing the questions from them about whether we’ve made up and when I plan on forgiving her. The relationship is over, as far as I’m concerned: How can I make them understand that?
Dear Sister Sister,
This isn’t really your family’s business, but something like “As you know, we’ve never been particularly close and we don’t talk much these days” should cover it. If they continue to push, let them know that you appreciate the fact that they care about you but you don’t want to talk about it anymore.
Give Prudie a Hand
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
My husband and I are close with another couple, “June” and “Mike.” The husbands were friendly first through a shared hobby, but not social outside of that. A few years ago, June and I got to talking pretty intensely and became BFFs. The four of us now socialize often. We happily have lots of shared interests, travel well together, and have a great circle of mutual friends.
The problem: Recently, on two occasions, it seemed as if Mike was looking at me a bit too much. Not creepy, but kind of puppy dog-ish. I thought it might have been my imagination, as he’s never been inappropriate, handsy, or anything like that. However, at a recent (all-vaxxed) outdoor event, it happened again and a third person noticed it. This person hasn’t said anything since, but at the time did a sort of double take, then gave me a pointed look with raised eyebrows. I just pretended I didn’t notice at first, but now at least one person has noticed. June and Mike have a solid marriage, but I know that partners in the best of marriages can have thoughts of others. I just don’t want to be the object! How should I handle this? Help!
I’m a young white woman who recently moved to a predominantly white, wealthy neighborhood. I also have a disability. The area is beautiful, but not very walkable, and my disability prevents me from driving. I’ve been fortunate to find some ladies through church and volunteer groups who are willing to shuttle me around (grocery shopping, medical appointments, trips to the bank).
The problem is that these older, well-meaning white ladies make some truly insensitive blunders when discussing race. Most recent was the one who described her son’s Black friends as “ghetto,” but it’s happened from several sources now, and I’m starting to doubt my ability to find an innocent party. (They also make ableist comments, but I feel more justified ignoring those.)
I’m confident calling out racism from friends and strangers. I can feel the words jump to my throat when I hear these things, but I hesitate. If I offend these women—if they’re uncomfortable spending time with me—I lose my access to food and medical care.
I’m so torn. I know what is right, and I’m questioning my ability to do it. I hate that the people I “blend in” with are the ones spreading ignorance, and that I’m now dependent on them for my well-being. I’m sure I’ll find good people here eventually, but in the meantime, how can I challenge the status quo without risking my basic needs? Or do I need to accept the risk, and do it anyway?
—Willing and Disabled
Dear Willing and Disabled,
It seems like you’re thinking about this as a binary: Either accept rides and nod and cosign racism or be stranded at home without your needs met as a punishment for speaking out. But I think there’s probably some middle ground. Give yourself permission to do what you need to do to get food and medical care for now, but also start to think more creatively about how things might change for you.
For example, if you’d moved to this neighborhood and no one had volunteered to drive you around, how would you be making sure your needs were met? I don’t know what your income is, but if it’s low, there may be resources available to you, perhaps through Medicare. If it’s high, you might consider interviewing and paying someone to take you on errands.
Also start to explore how you might push back on these comments in ways that aren’t alienating. Maybe think of it less as “calling out” and more as helping people who are out of touch by educating them. “Anne, remember when you called your son’s Black friends ghetto? I don’t know if you’re aware but that word can be really off-putting and these days people think it has racist connotations. I know you’re a polite woman who cares about others so I wanted to let you know to make sure you don’t unintentionally offend someone or give the wrong impression.” I have a hard time imagining that her response would be “Get out of the car right now.”
What can I do to get my husband to stop using the family flatware on the dog’s food? Our dog eats food that has to be heated in the microwave and sometimes chopped up. I have begged my husband to use plastic utensils, but he still uses the same utensils with which our family eats. It makes me nauseous. The thought of using a knife that was used on dog food makes me want to throw up. For what it’s worth, commercials that show cat food being stirred and plopped also make me feel sick. I have always had what can be described as a weak stomach. I have talked to him about this repeatedly, but he is apparently ignoring this simple request. When asked about it, he says it’s no big deal and that the family silverware is more convenient. How can I get him to understand that he’s making me sick?