Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I am much older than my stepsiblings and half-siblings. I also had several lucky breaks that landed me financially secure at a pretty young age (plus, no college debt). My younger stepsiblings on my mother’s side weren’t that lucky. When my stepfather died, he didn’t leave a lot behind. His ex doesn’t make a lot, and that left my two stepsiblings staring down serious loans to even go to community college. I covered the costs until they got their associate’s degrees and helped out with some living expenses. We grew up together. On my father’s side, I have my 18-year-old half-sister Molly. Her parents have spoiled her most of life. She got a brand-new car when she turned 16.
Because of the pandemic, my father lost a lot of business and his wife got laid off. There was a lot of belt tightening over the last year. Molly called me for the first time in months to ask for an “advance” on “her” money. When she graduates next May, she wants to go on her expensive gap year with her friends. (Her parents promised her, but don’t have the funds anymore.) I paid for college for my stepsiblings even after they “weren’t family anymore,” so I owed her the same, she claimed. After all, we are “actually” related. I told Molly she had a lot of nerve to even compare the situations (community college is not a trip to Bali), and I was disappointed in her lack of empathy and sheer greed. She was not going to get a single cent out of me, so it would be better if we stop the conversation and drop the subject.
Molly didn’t drop the subject. Instead she went straight to her parents crying and lying. Now both of them are pressuring me (it is the first time I can remember my father’s wife calling me in years). Molly has had it so “hard” this last year and “deserves” a trip. Why am I playing favorites? I finally told my father if Molly was so desperate to go, she should sell her car or take it out of her college fund. Or Molly could get a part-time job like every other teenager ever. My money was mine. Not Molly’s.
I fear this will damage my relationship with my father. He wasn’t much in my life as a kid but we got closer as adults. How can I handle this?
—Bailing on Bali
Dear Bailing on Bali,
You’re completely in the right. The only thing I would have told you to do differently here would have been to avoid engaging at all beyond, “Sorry, no, that’s not in my budget.” Which doesn’t mean you can’t afford it! It just means you’ve decided where your money is going to go, and there’s no “spoiled 18-year-old who wants to go on a frivolous trip” category. You don’t owe anyone more detail, and it wasn’t your job to suggest alternative ways for Molly to fund her trip, because it’s not your job to support Molly, period. If you haven’t already, make it clear that you’re not simply declining to provide an advance—you don’t plan to pay for Molly’s education at all. That’s your right, and it’s a totally reasonable choice.
As far as your concern about your relationship with your father, I think you should address it head on. “Dad, I know you were disappointed that I didn’t pay for Molly’s trip, and I’m really worried that it’s going to damage our relationship. Can we talk about it?” I have to say I’m not super hopeful about the potential for a great connection with someone who wasn’t in your life much when you were a kid and is now making unreasonable demands for your money. But if there is really something there to salvage, the best way to do that will be to be vulnerable and take the lead by letting him know what kind of relationship you’d like to have.
Over the summer, I started hooking up with “Tom.” Tom is kind of boring, but fun enough when we go out drinking. He recently moved a couple hours away for a job and he comes into town every three-to-four weeks. Because we don’t see each other regularly, we usually spend an evening together. I’ve realized I hate this. He’s just too boring if I’m sober. We’ve always hooked up after we’ve been out. The problem is, I realize our drunk sex also wasn’t that great. I’m not really sure what to do at this point. He comes in half to see me and half to see his friends. Neither of us really like dating, so this has worked out really well for us. He hangs out with his friends a lot too, but he’s coming to see me this weekend, and I just realized when we were planning that I was not at all excited about our evening alone. He wants more time, which I feel is somewhat fair, since he’s coming to see me and has to pay for a hotel room due to my roommate situation. Do you have any recommendations?
—Too Much Time
Dear Too Much Time,
It sounds like you don’t really enjoy Tom while you’re sober or while you’re drunk. You say you don’t really like dating, but what you’re dealing with now is kind of all the worst parts of dating! Why don’t you let this one go, and begin to look for someone who’s a better fit for you? I get it—it’s stressful to put yourself out there, and if you meet someone and find you have real feelings for them, that might be scary. But you deserve to actually connect with someone whose company you don’t just tolerate, but really enjoy. Right now, your mediocre connection with Tom and the time you spend with him are standing between you and that person. Kindly, gently encourage him to call off this weekend’s trip.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I was ill for years as a kid, with increasingly high doses of opioid painkillers. My mother decided to use me as her personal pharmacy, refusing to look into alternative treatment so she could get her fix. When I was cut off and in withdrawal, forcing me to find alternative treatment, I found out later that my mother had a huge stash of my meds and hid them from me, while I was in agony and ended up hospitalized.
I’ve been in therapy for years, but I cannot move past it, no matter how many sessions I’ve had. I just want to know where this pain is supposed to go. Confronting her is not an option, because she will either deny it, or turn it around on me. How can I put this behind me and get on with my life? I never want to see her again, but it’s complicated by the fact that she lives with my grandmother, and is essentially gatekeeping her. How on earth do I move forward here?
—My Junkie Mom Used Me
Dear My Junkie Mom,
What your mother did to you was terrible, and it’s no surprise that you’re having a hard time getting over it. I don’t know if you’ll ever completely put it behind you, but I hope you can get to a point where the pain is less intense. You might consider reevaluating the kind of support you’re receiving. If you’ve been seeing the same therapist for years and haven’t noticed much progress, think about trying out another person who might be a better fit or use an approach that’s more helpful to you. And because the experience of having a mother whose mistreatment of you is tied up with her addiction is so uniquely painful, I suggest looking for groups of people who have lived through similar situations. See if you can find resources specifically for adult children of people with substance use disorder. I think others who have been in your shoes will have the best advice for moving past—or learning to live with—your childhood experiences and interacting with your mom now.
I am a fairly introverted person who values close friendships with a small number of people, and I currently have a few close friends who satisfy those needs. However, I have noticed that I am usually the one getting in touch to organize a catch-up, etc. Sometimes this bothers me, and I feel like they value my friendship less than I value theirs—in my worst moments, I wonder if they like me at all (although there is no evidence to support this other than their lack of proactivity in keeping in touch).
Is it an issue that they are less invested, or is this normal? I always have a good time when we do meet up and making new friends doesn’t come easily to me, so I don’t want to lose them; but every time I go to get in touch part of me wants to wait and see if they contact me first, to “test” the relationship. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t hear from them (emotionally, it would be rough but I’d be fine—I’m just not sure the friendships would survive).
Dear Fed-Up Friend,
I believe people bring all kinds of different things to relationships, depending on their personality type, mood, health, schedule, workload, income, and probably a bunch of other factors.
With that in mind, I’d encourage you to ask yourself: Aside from scheduling hangouts, is there any other evidence of how your friends value you and your relationship? For example, is there someone who always listens deeply and remembers the details of issues you’re having with work or family? Is there someone who makes you feel accepted and boosts your confidence by being incredibly nonjudgmental? Is there someone who can be counted on to make a big deal about your birthday? Is there someone who reliably shows up if you need help moving, or a ride from the airport, or a dog sitter?
Think about it and maybe, when you zoom out, you’ll find that you’re all contributing differently to the friendship and things are actually pretty equal. In that case, you can embrace your role as the social coordinator (who’s maybe not as great in other areas) and stop keeping score.
But, if you conclude that your whole friendship boils down to going out for drinks, and that wouldn’t happen if you didn’t do the inviting, you may be on to something. That something is as much about the division of hangout-planning labor as it is about the fact that these friendships may not be as close as you think they are. Consider choosing a couple of people to focus on and reach out to them in ways that aren’t just about the logistics of getting together. As an introvert, this might not come naturally to you, but ask them how they’re doing, follow up on things they’ve talked to you about, and share a little about what’s going on in your own life. I’m hopeful that this will lead to the kind of ongoing dialogue that will take your focus off of who said “we should get together” most recently.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Even at 18, when so many of us are assholes, that kind of triangulation is really ugly.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My mom is an essential oil guru. She has a ton of college degrees in health and wellness, but she isn’t a doctor. Lately, she has been pressuring me to use essential oils, but I don’t really agree that they have much of an effect on my health. She gets really worried about COVID-19, and gives me an “inhaler” that everyone in my family puts in their nose (we wipe it first) then expects me to use it. How do I ask her to back off a little bit without offending her?
—Smothered in Oils
“Mom, I’m really happy that essential oils work for you, but I’m just not as into them. I promise you I’m doing everything possible to keep myself safe from COVID, so I’m going to pass on the inhaler. I’ll keep the peppermint oil handy in case I ever get a stress headache.”
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.
After going to pre-marriage counselling, my boyfriend admitted that he had thought he loved me, but after listening to us talk he realized that his feelings for me were not the same as most people. He enjoys my company and would miss me if I died, but wouldn’t be devastated.
I married him anyway. I thought I could fix him, but I couldn’t. Despite that, I am happy. I love him and he treats me well, we have fun all the time. I was worried he would cheat or leave me, but he says that he doesn’t think he is capable of loving anyone “like that” and that our situation is beneficial enough he can’t see any good reason to put it on the line. (He likes me, we have a lot in common, and divorce is very expensive and stressful.)
The problem we now have is—should we have children? He would like to, and is excellent with my nephews who adore him, but he is unsure if it would be fair to the child. He grew up in foster homes and says it was scary to know that you weren’t a priority in a parental figure’s life. I think that if we don’t tell the child he doesn’t love them, that they won’t even know. I didn’t! On the other hand, I will reluctantly admit I do sort of feel that he might be “fixed” by a child of his own. So that influences me (even though he would rather adopt).
Obviously, there is a lot to work out, but is there any point? Would it just be harmful to bring a child into the world whose father knows up front he will only ever like them?
I’m in a casual relationship with a guy that I don’t want to become a real relationship. He’s nice and fun, but I’m just not interested enough in him to become serious. For the most part, this works out for the both of us, except I think he might be really insecure about his body. He lost a lot of weight in the year before the pandemic and showed me before and after pictures saying he really hated how he looked before. I noticed almost no difference. He then gained the weight back during the pandemic. I think he’s become a bit self-conscious about it. Frankly, I’m not really that physically attracted to him, and I wasn’t even when he lost the weight. His body type is just not something I would find attractive even though I tend to like bigger guys.
The problem is, he keeps asking me what I like about him. I think this is coming out of his insecurity. I’ve tried to mention certain small things that I like and joke about liking a really weird thing, but I just can’t bring myself to say I’m attracted to him. He’s nice and caring and great in bed. I’m attracted to him because of those things, but physically he’s just not my type.
Lately, I feel like he’s getting frustrated with me not saying what I like about him physically. But I’m a terrible liar, I couldn’t get away with just saying I liked something that I didn’t. I don’t find him repulsive in any way, he’s just physically not my type. I want to say something along the lines of, “I wouldn’t be sleeping with you if I wasn’t attracted to you, but you constantly asking me to tell you what I like about your body is making me uncomfortable.” I’m worried that he’ll take this as a sign that I’m not attracted to him at all, but there are so many things I like about him beyond his physique. I’m worried mentioning that would be a bad idea too. Do you have any advice?
—Kindness Over Physique
The script you’ve written for yourself is perfect! That’s exactly what you should say.
But you should also be ready to deal with the consequences that you’ve anticipated—that he’ll take your statement as a sign that you’re not attracted to him (or more accurately, not attracted to him in the way he wants a partner to be). If that happens, you’ll have to live with it, and if he decides to move on as a result, that’s not the worst thing in the world. He deserves to be with someone who really likes the way he looks and can affirm him, and I’m sure you wouldn’t mind being with someone who’s actually your type. Maybe this casual thing has run its course. If you can part ways without being unkind or hurting his feelings, that will be a win.
Next month I will be going to visit my grandparents with my husband and son. We will be flying and won’t have our vehicle with us. We had planned on renting a car, but my grandparents keep saying we don’t need to. But I’m terrified of riding with them. My grandmother has been involved in several serious accidents in recent years. And the last few times I rode with my grandfather he almost drove into oncoming traffic more than once. Is there a polite way of explaining that we’d be more comfortable renting a car?