Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
This question is at the intersection of family political disagreements, wedding etiquette, and apologies. Years ago, when my husband and I married, my “Uncle Bill,” his wife, and Bill’s daughters attended our wedding. They were gracious and generous, and I really appreciated the effort they took to travel to us. However, within a few years, Uncle Bill grew increasingly extreme and emotionally volatile. He alienated my mother (his sister) and other family members with racist, homophobic, and personally insulting comments. Ultimately, I (and several other family members) cut off communication with him.
When Uncle Bill’s daughter, “Jennifer,” got engaged, she kindly invited my husband and I to the wedding. We were exhausted from parenting a young toddler, on a tight budget, and honestly, we did not have the energy to be in the same room as my uncle. I purchased a nice gift from her registry to be sent with a note of congratulations and regrets. I have ADHD and am horrible with RSVPs, dates, acknowledgments, everything like that—I forgot to return the wedding RSVP card. My cousin later texted me about our RSVP, and I apologized for forgetting to reply, gave our regrets, and wished them the best. My mom attended the wedding; she and Bill were able to put their differences aside for that night, at least.
Fast forward five years to now. Mom emailed Uncle Bill asking about family mementos from their father. Apparently, she was hoping to have some specific memento to leave to my brother and I someday. Mom was not trying to stir drama, but honestly it sounds like the email would have been better as a phone call. I got dragged into this with a text message from an unknown number, out of the blue: a screenshot of Uncle Bill’s email response to my mother … but his response was 100 percent about me. He objected to Mom’s request for mementos (which is fine). He said I had severely insulted Jennifer by not returning the RSVP card, and by not getting her any gift, after all the money he had spent to attend my wedding (he included a dollar figure). He insulted my mother’s child-rearing skills based on my behavior, and insinuated that I must also be a bad mother to my own daughter. His email ripped into my mom in every possible way, below the belt, based only on MY behavior.
I don’t know what to do. I honestly thought I sent Jennifer a nice wedding present; I remember reviewing her registry and selecting an item. Maybe I forgot to check out the cart? I’m just horrible at these things … but that’s in no way an excuse, I know. Jennifer’s younger sister recently got married, but we were not invited, and now I wonder if that was the reason.
I don’t care what Uncle Bill thinks of me (though I’m still angry he insulted my mom’s and my child rearing). More so, I’m mortified if I’ve insulted his daughters so severely. After many tears, I’m ignoring Uncle Bill’s out-of-the-blue text, but I want to open a line of communication with Jennifer and her sister. What should I do? Do I send a belated wedding gift, with a mea culpa explaining that it was an oversight? Or just send a heartfelt card? I don’t know if Jennifer even shares her dad’s grudge … but I want to make some sort of gesture to let her (and her sister) know that I’m sorry and I still consider them family.
—Sheepish, but Also Angry
I’m glad you don’t care what Uncle Bill thinks of you. I don’t either. He sounds awful! Why don’t you call or text Jennifer and say something like this:
“Hi Jennifer. This is really awkward but I just learned from an email your dad sent that I had insulted you by failing to send you a wedding gift. I was mortified because I definitely thought I ordered something for you, but I’m now wondering whether I didn’t finalize the transaction. I’m sorry to bother you, but do you happen to remember? If I did mess this up, I am going to buy a replacement.”
Her response will let you know if there’s anything to Bill’s claims, and her tone should tell you whether she’s holding a grudge like he is. If you did forget the gift, please make sure to actually send it this time (a gift card is probably best at this point) and then follow up by reaching out to talk about other topics.
People in my friend group are kind of touchy, but in a good kind of way. For example, hand holding or hugging. But they never want to include me. If I try to hold someone’s hand, they pull away. What should I do?
—Tired of It
Dear Tired of It,
Pull aside one person who you really trust and ask them to tell you honestly why your efforts to touch don’t seem to be welcomed. It could be that you’re choosing the wrong moments, trying to hug people who you aren’t particularly close with, or being a little too aggressive. There could be an issue with body odor or breath. Perhaps the way you interact with some of your friends makes your hugs feel more like unwanted sexual advances than demonstrations of platonic affection. Or the rejection could be all in your head! Make sure the friend you confide in knows that you’re prepared for blunt feedback and won’t get upset with them for telling you the truth—and keep your word.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I have a 14-year-old dog, “Max.” He’s in good health at the moment fortunately, but my younger dog died recently due to cancer, so I have been coming to terms with the fact that Max won’t be around forever. Max was 4 months old when he came into my life as a gift (I know, dogs shouldn’t be gifts! He was adopted from a kill shelter at least) from my ex-husband as an anniversary present. We ended up getting divorced two years later, and I’ve since remarried. Since Max was a gift, we decided that I should keep him. My ex and I didn’t have any kids together, and I moved out of state after our divorce so we haven’t had any contact in the interim. It wasn’t a messy breakup, but he did have some hurt feelings. When Max passes away, I want to send my ex an email with some photos of Max over the years to thank him for giving me such a wonderful gift and letting him know that Max had a great life. I’ve discussed this with my current husband and he supports whatever I want to do, but I’m torn. I don’t want to stir up old emotions, but I also feel like my ex would want to know about Max.
Dear Max’s Mom,
Your ex’s feelings were hurt during the divorce, and it sounds like some part of you knows that hearing from you might be hard on him. I think he probably values his peace—and the progress he’s making toward healing from the marriage—more than pictures of his dog. He already knows that Max had a good life and that he would eventually die, so I think you can skip this. If you two are in touch in a friendly way at some point in the future (let him be the one to reach out), feel free to update him.
How can I learn to be OK with, and more accepting of, the likely future of being forever single? I am a 38-year-old gay man and have always been a romantic, wanting to find the One and get married. In the last few years I have become more of a realist and know that not everyone gets to find their someone.
I have had three great loves in my life, alongside a handful of flings, all ending in pretty spectacular disaster with lots of drama and resulting depression. My last relationship was on-and-off for a year and a half, and ended two years ago. I really thought they might last the distance, and I was deeply in love. Instead, they broke me and with hindsight I understand they were a narcissist.
I have had therapy. I am not bad-looking. I work out. I have a good job and own my apartment. Apparently, I’m good in bed. I bring my share to the table and I think I am a kind, generous, loving, monogamous boyfriend. Except: No one’s really interested. I never click or feel that spark. In bars and clubs, I rarely see anyone I’m attracted to and I feel invisible (and trust me, I’m not asexual and have had my share of online hookups). I go on dates that go nowhere. I’ve tried taking up hobbies to meet more like-minded people. Sometimes I think perhaps I must be an acquired taste and simply not most people’s type.
I’ve started thinking about a new life outside of the city in more rural areas, but then feel like that would be waving the white flag and committing to singledom and spinsterhood for the next 50 years. The chances of meeting another gay man outside of the city (let alone one with a connection) becomes far slimmer—and yet, here in the heart of the city, there’s not exactly men beating down my door either.
I strongly believe we should make a life we love for ourselves that is fulfilling, rather than wait for a knight in shining armor to magically complete us. Deep down, though, I see a very lonely and isolated future ahead. How can I make peace with a life to be lived alone?
—Not Your Type
Dear Not Your Type,
You asked how to make peace with a life lived alone, but it sounds like you really would like to be in a relationship and don’t actually want to give up on that. I would encourage you to stop thinking of your options as either searching in vain for a relationship or giving up and moving to the country. (Though it’s worth noting that far more LGBTQ people live and make families in nonurban areas than we tend to imagine, so relocating isn’t necessarily a sure ticket to isolation.) I wonder if there’s a way for you to work on being a little happier on your own, while still actively working to find a partner.
When it comes to being a little happier on your own, my best advice is to think about why you want a relationship. It’s probably so that you can feel a certain way, or so your life can take on certain qualities. Look for other ways to get to those feelings and qualities—or at least pieces of them—in the meantime, while you’re single. If you want closeness and emotional intimacy, maybe invest a little more in your relationships with good friends. If you want regular company while you’re around the house, maybe look for a roommate situation where people share meals and operate as a community. If you want the feeling of caring for and sharing your love with someone, think about a pet or opportunities to help people who are in need. I realize these things don’t replace “the One,” but they may fill this gap and make you feel less desperate by providing some version of the way you hope the One will make you feel. They may even end up adding richness to your life that will help to draw people to you.
When it comes to working on finding a partner: You’re totally correct that not everyone ends up married. That’s why it makes sense to make your life as happy as possible now, while you’re on your own. But I would guess that most people who really want to be married and who make finding love a priority do eventually get there. So don’t give up, and don’t be ashamed of needing a little help. To add some variety to your dating pool, tell your friends, family, and any colleagues you’re close to that you’re ready for love and looking to be set up on dates.
And of course, as cliché as it sounds, continue to work on yourself and your own happiness. I hate the message that you have to be fully self-actualized and in love with yourself before you can find love. You don’t! And we all know from looking around the world observing who has a partner and who doesn’t that a relationship is not a reward for being an evolved person. But I don’t think your dark view of yourself as somehow flawed is helping you here. This negativity combined with some lingering depression might be getting in the way of seeing others in their best light and potentially being attracted to them. You said you “had” therapy. Can you go back? Until things feel a little less hopeless and everyone you meet seems less unappealing? Remember that three great loves in your life is a lot! Add that to the shorter-term relationships you’ve had, and I think you’re doing much better than many people when it comes to attracting people and making connections. There’s nothing to suggest that you’re not most people’s type, or that you’re not weeks or months away from finding the One. So don’t count yourself out.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“As my inbox full of people in miserable relationships prove, a relationship is not a shortcut to joy.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I have a sticky situation. I met a guy through work and it’s been all fun and games, but now he has feelings, and I don’t know where I stand because we can’t speak the same language. It’s a lot of using a translator. But at the same time, I have a guy in my life that I loved for many years, but it’s like we won’t ever truly give each other a chance because of our past. Do I just give up on the guy I’ve loved for years and explore what could be with this summer fling, or do I try giving my all to a man I’ve loved for 10 years? I’m so confused.
—Searching for the Truth
How about giving up on both of them? Wouldn’t it be great to have feelings for the person you’re dating, communicate well with them, and not be burdened by a difficult past and mutual fear of commitment? It’s possible, but not with either of these two.
Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”
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.
I recently discovered that my boyfriend of almost two years, Adam, was stalking me for over a year before we met. For context: This is the best relationship I’ve ever had and until recently, I would have told you that Adam was perfect for me. He is thoughtful, funny, caring, and so supportive. I was violently abused growing up and all my relationships before Adam were with guys who hit me too—Adam has never been violent and encouraged me to see a therapist last year to help me through my trauma and internalized homophobia (I’m a gay man). Therapy went well, and it meant the world to me how kind and supportive Adam was throughout.
We moved in together quite recently.
It was when I was on his computer to print something that I found a file with my name in it. (I did a search for my full name to quickly find the document I had sent over to print, and this other one came up as buried within some folder of Adam’s.) The document had last been edited in 2019, before we met. I opened it, and felt like I’d stepped into a horror movie. It was full of information about me: jobs, hobbies, friends, ex-boyfriends, favorite coffee shop (the place where we officially “met” in what seemed to me like a cute coincidence). More chillingly, it contained details of my addresses and my ex-boyfriend’s address. Adam walked in on me looking at it, and I just started yelling at him, demanding to know what the hell this was. He stalled for a while, then admitted everything. He had first seen me playing piano at a jazz bar he likes (I’m a musician), but I’d blow him off when he tried to talk to me there (I had a boyfriend at the time). He said he “couldn’t get me out of his head” and ended up wanting to know more about me after seeing me there every week, so started following me. He claims it started innocently enough with standard social media “stalking” but “just sort of escalated.” He said he had never been this obsessive about anyone else, which I think I believe as I’ve met his ex and they’re on perfectly cordial terms (his ex was friendly and certainly didn’t mention anything along the lines of “by the way, he stalked me”).
I was deeply freaked out and panicked but Adam persuaded me to stay, currently sleeping in separate rooms because I feel so weird around him right now. I wanted to talk to a friend but he begged me not to, saying they wouldn’t understand and that my friends shouldn’t “get a vote in our relationship.” I know this is crazy of me but I am genuinely conflicted. I wish I’d never seen the document. I still love him more than anyone else I’ve ever known and honestly want to give him a chance, since he’s begged forgiveness and said he’ll do anything I want to prove himself trustworthy again. Is there anything he could do that would prove that? Am I being unbelievably stupid for even considering this not a deal-breaker? I feel trapped and slightly crazy right now. Please help.
—Am I Being Crazy?
My boyfriend Tom and I are both bisexual, and I am also nonbinary. We’re both out to our respective families, and it’s been a mixed bag for both of us. My parents don’t use my pronouns, but I can correct them at least. Tom’s family seems to have more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, although his dad once told him he couldn’t accept it if Tom ever came home with a man.
We’re flying out for our college commencement ceremony in just a couple weeks, and both our families will be attending (his family actually lives an hour away from our school). I’m not out to his parents, and not confident coming out will be anything but difficult, based on their past comments on gender and sexuality (not really hateful but definitely not accepting). I’ve been fine remaining closeted since we rarely see them, and they really are lovely people, but commencement has brought up this issue that I had hoped to put off for a while longer.
I’m fairly certain that coming out to his parents would change all of our relationships, and possibly not for the better. When I mentioned this to Tom, he got defensive. He really wants us to give his parents the benefit of the doubt, but it just seems so complicated. Can I ask him to speak with them before I see them? Or is that unreasonable? Does it have to be something I handle myself?
—In and Out
Dear In and Out,
It’s fair (and probably lower stress for everyone) to ask Tom to speak to his parents and let them know about your pronouns before graduation. But if he wants to tell them in person and think they’ll handle it well, I’d probably trust him. He knows them, and if he doesn’t think they’ll cause a relationship-damaging scene at the event, he’s probably right.
But this isn’t the last time the question of how to navigate the negative reaction that may or may not accompany sharing your gender identity and pronouns might come up. I think you should see this situation as a test of your compatibility with Tim. If you don’t feel he’s on the same page, or respects where you’re coming from when it comes to coming out, that should tell you a lot about whether this is a relationship that should continue after graduation.
What are appropriate boundaries related to sex and drug use, and am I crazy for mine? Last night I hung out with my boyfriend. He didn’t work that day, but I did, so I went to bed a couple of hours before him. He stayed up and smoked weed before joining me in bed. I woke up, he started making some moves, and I asked if he’d been smoking or was high. He said yes, and I said that I’d rather not have sex, then. I was sober, and something about having sex with someone who’s high seems off. He said that was silly since he was giving consent, but I think that if it had been me and I was drunk and my boyfriend had sex with me anyway, it would be highly questionable territory, and I feel like the same standard applies here. Am I being a prude?