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My good friend “Elaine” can’t have children of her own. To compensate, she dotes on her friends’ children, especially my daughter “Alexandra.” Our other friends think Elaine is amazing—she’ll happily babysit, brings back gifts when she travels for work, invites us to go to children’s plays with her—but her actions have always seemed desperate to me. Recently, Elaine greeted us at a party and asked if she could hold Alexandra. I joked, “I don’t know. I’m worried you’ll run off with her.” Elaine was embarrassed, at least, and left the party with her husband shortly afterward.
Now I’m not sure what to do. Sometimes, it seems like I made a casual comment that Elaine took too seriously. Other times, I think the comment spoke to an underlying fear I have that Elaine’s interest in other people’s children is dangerous. The one thing I can’t force myself to do is feel that badly. I am worried, however, that Elaine will tell our friends what I said. None of them think she’s weird, and when I’ve tried to talk about it with them, they’ve hinted that I’m being unkind. What do I say the next time I see Elaine?
Apologize to her. The behavior you’ve described here—happily babysitting, bringing gifts for her friends’ children, asking to hold babies—is perfectly socially appropriate, and your “underlying fear”—that Elaine’s affection for children is inherently dangerous because you think it means she’s trying to kidnap them—is absolutely unjustified and unwarranted. Your discomfort with her sadness is clear and palpable in this letter, and I don’t think your comment was “casual” at all, or that Elaine took it too seriously. You clearly resent her for wanting something she doesn’t have, for reminding you that life is sometimes chaotic and desires often go unfulfilled.
Your friends have hinted that you are being unkind because you have been unkind. If you don’t want to spend time with Elaine because the simple fact of her desire makes you feel guilty about your own life, that’s not on Elaine, and it’s incumbent on you to take responsibility for your feelings and actions. You threw the most painful reality of Elaine’s life—that she wants children, doesn’t have any, and dotes on her friends’ children to fill that void—into her face, in front of all of your friends and your daughter at a party. You humiliated her because she asked to hold your baby. You owe her a sincere apology. Whether or not she accepts it is outside of your control, but you owe it to her nevertheless. —Danny M. Lavery
From: “Help! Sometimes I Worry That My Infertile Friend Wants to Kidnap My Baby.” (July 3, 2018)*
Recently one of my favorite cousins died unexpectedly. My girlfriend and I went to lunch with him and his partner about a week prior to his death, and it was her first time meeting them. Her birthday is coming up, and we’ve planned a small party. In an effort to reach out to my cousin’s grieving partner, I invited him to the party without consulting my girlfriend. Now she wants me to disinvite him and tell him the truth about why. She says she doesn’t want his grief to ruin her happy day. I take full responsibility for being insensitive in not asking her permission first, but how in the world can I disinvite him without hurting her feelings?
Sure, you should have talked to your girlfriend before expanding the guest list, but given your girlfriend’s churlish reaction, I think the question should be not how you disinvite your cousin’s partner, but how you disinvite your girlfriend. If the partner is up for socializing, what a nice gesture it was to give him an opportunity to get out of the house. If he’s not up for making merry with people he doesn’t know, he will decline. You’re right, there is no way to disinvite him. Your girlfriend wants you to not only rescind the offer but to explain that his tear-streaked face would be a bummer at her happy event. She has given you an opportunity not only to celebrate another year of her life, but to contemplate her character. —Emily Yoffe
From: “Help! My Girlfriend Wants to Disinvite a Grieving Guest From Her Birthday Party.” (May 18, 2015)
It’s hard for me to make good friends that last. A few years ago, I made a good friend at work. We could talk to each other about everything. Our kids got on really well too, which was an added bonus. There was just one issue: My husband hated her from the get-go. At first he gave shallow reasons like she’s too tall or she just looks untrustworthy. Later, if we ever got in an argument, he’d jump at the chance to put her down more. Eventually he forbade me from seeing her unless our kids were present. I still would hang out with her alone as adults here and there; I’d just not tell him. I never told her my husband did not want me seeing her. Eventually, she found out and was furious. The next day, my husband looked her email up on the school contact list and sent a hate-filled email to her. He never told me and acted completely normal. She forwarded it to me and said we couldn’t be friends or even speak anymore. I apologized to her, acknowledging I put her in a terrible situation, but to no avail. I get it, she shouldn’t have to deal with that. I was devastated, work is completely awkward and miserable, I really miss my friend, and my daughter misses her friends. My husband feels victorious and has been extra nice lately. I’m having a difficult time feeling OK around my husband. I confronted him about the email, but he responded that he probably went a little too far but was not sorry for doing it because he got me back. This is somewhat creepy to me. I see a therapist, but he refuses to go, saying they are all against him and our marriage. How is it possible to rebuild trust and a healthy relationship where there has been so much dysfunction and mistrust for so long?
You can’t rebuild trust with someone against his will, and your husband has demonstrated no interest in behaving in a trustworthy matter. You say it’s hard for you to make good friends that last, and I’m worried this is not the first time your husband has gone out of his way to keep you from developing relationships with anyone who isn’t him. Your husband is controlling, creepy, abusive, and cruel. He didn’t go a “little too far”—he tried to keep you, an adult woman, from having friends, sent abusive messages to your friend at her work email, and refused to apologize for doing so. In fact he congratulates himself on “getting you back,” as if your having friends was somehow a threat to your marriage. It is not only not possible, it is not desirable to rebuild a relationship with this man. You and your children are better off without him. —D.L.
From: “Help! My Husband Sabotaged My Best Friendship in Order to “Get Me Back.” (April 25, 2017)
I have been married for four years, and my new last name has an apostrophe. Like O’Malley. My husband is on red alert for a battle every time we have to provide our last name. And now, four years into it, I can kind of understand where he’s coming from. There are many variations of our last name out there. I pick my battles and am not offended when I have to offer up variations of my name until my account is located. My husband, on the other hand, simply refuses to do business with anyone who can’t spell the name correctly and he wants me to do the same. In reality, it would mean we couldn’t bank or have insurance, etc. He is really offended by my attitude and wants me to be as angry as he is about the bother of it all. How can I deal with both his attitude and the very real battle of so many businesses that can’t/won’t spell our name properly?
O’Dear. I suppose battling your way through life over an apostrophe is one way to go. Maybe Game of Thrones could take up the apostrophe wars next season. I have a last name that requires spelling out and is constantly misspelled and misheard. That’s life. Going off the grid because people have trouble with your last name seems rather self-defeating. The Fighting Irish may be the Notre Dame athletic nickname, but it’s not a commandment for how to get through the day. You can lead by example and just keep showing him that you get nowhere if you expect service people to have memorized a directory of Gaelic surnames, and that he’s making things harder for everyone by not being understanding and patient. —E.Y.
From: “Help! My Husband Rails Against People Who Misspell Our Last Name.” (June 2, 2015)
More From Dear Prudence
Grandma is very, very religious and has taken it upon herself to attempt to convert our new 2-month-old son. Every “conversation” with the infant includes God and every present is Christian-themed, from Christian picture frames to religious children’s books. Obviously the child still doesn’t grasp any of this.
The rub is my spouse and I aren’t religious, and agreed to raise our child in our (lack) of beliefs. We aren’t bothered by exposure, which can be great for learning, but this proselytizing isn’t OK. How do we get Grandma to stop, especially when the Christmas season is bound to kick this into overdrive? I am not optimistic that she will listen if we ask politely, and I would prefer to stop it before little Einstein is old enough to understand.
Correction, Sept. 27, 2021: This column misstated the date when a Dear Prudence letter on infertility was published. It was published on July 3, 2018, not Sept. 23, 2021.