Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Trust fail: I have a longtime friend who has a daughter with another longtime friend. For the past two years, these friends have presented themselves to me and my wife as a family, and we have been frequently social with them.
It came out in the last few weeks that this couple have not been living together for nearly two years and did not tell us. We’d been trying to schedule events with them as if they were one family unit and now we find out that they haven’t been for a very long time. When confronted with this deception, the response I received said something along the lines of “Sorry, I thought I could fix something. I couldn’t.”
Now, we understand that a couple’s personal business is their own; our problem is that they lied by omission for two years! Had they said something at the time, I don’t think it would have been a problem, but knowing that they’ve essentially just lied to our faces for two years is having an effect on the friendship. I can only ask what else they’re lying to us about.
A: Come on, you don’t really think lying about this one thing (that was obviously very stressful and difficult for them) means they might be lying about other things just for fun, do you? I understand it hurts to be out of the loop, but they didn’t cause you any harm and this was, in fact, their business. They’re your friends, so you should feel free to tell them how hard it is to learn that you were left in the dark, but don’t make this a bigger deal than it is—especially while they’re still in the midst of a big life transition and could probably use your support.
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Q. Living in post-truth hell: My partner is vax-hesitant and we can’t stop arguing about it. It’s tearing us apart. If COVID even comes up for any reason, we end up in an argument because she questions everything related to COVID and can’t resist jumping on any statement that supports the status quo. I worry that the more we argue, the further towards anti-vax quackery she moves. We both want to stop but it just keeps happening.
She is pregnant, and I respect her hesitancy for that reason, but also, we live with a couple of public school students and I worry about her increased risk. She’s generally intelligent and science-minded, and I’m at a loss how to navigate this moment in time without shredding our relationship. Help!
A: I assume you have already shared with your partner that the vaccine is recommended for people who are pregnant, and that being pregnant means she’s at higher risk for severe COVID. Also, if she does get it, she could risk preterm birth or other scary pregnancy outcomes. This is all from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and I’m sure her doctor would give the same advice.
But I’ve lived in this country for the past two years and I get it—people like your partner see conspiracy theorist podcast hosts and Facebook groups as more authoritative than traditional medical experts, so there’s not much use in citing scientific sources. I think your best bet here is to listen to and, to the best of your ability, pretend to validate her concerns. Don’t make her feel stupid and try not to get angry with her. Just be calm and consistent in your messaging: “I’m really worried about you and our baby. Can you do this for me?” Illustrate your concerns with stories of pregnant women and babies who have died from the virus. Then listen to her. Then repeat your fears again.
In the meantime, work on reducing her exposure to the virus. The good news is that she does seem to believe COVID is a real thing and not, for example, a government conspiracy designed to get microchips into all of us. So encourage her to wear a mask, avoid gatherings and dining inside, and basically stay away from people. That means you volunteer to do all the errands and grocery shopping and go out of your way to keep her entertained without increasing her risk. And refuse to travel for the holidays.
It’s not fair that you’re in this position or that even after your partner gives birth, you’ll face your next battle: making sure your children receive all the standard vaccinations. I completely understand that you don’t want this battle to ruin your relationship, but remember that you also don’t want to ruin the health of your children, so they will have to come first.
Q. Guilt-ridden: My father and I live in different states; my mother and siblings have since passed away. My goal is to retire in 10 years where I’ve built a life near longtime friends. Dad is 88 years old and still able to live at home, and he wants to stay there until he passes. Financially, I’m not in a situation to hire people or pay for a nursing home. Dad has a home care insurance policy and lives on a fixed income. The guilt I feel is terrible. I feel I should move home now that my dad needs me.
If I move home, I could be there for one year or 10 years—who knows! I dislike the town but love my dad. My thoughts run to my mom and the disappointment she would have if I didn’t take care of Dad daily. I have encouraged him to move here but got a resounding no. I then read that for a senior to leave friends late in life is bad, so I don’t want him to go through that. He does need help now but doesn’t want to admit it. I even said I’d come out for a few months and help him with the transition and move tasks.
At 65, I feel I’m throwing away how I wanted the end of my years to be so that my dad’s own last years will be nice. I won’t have my friends, especially those who have committed to supporting me at the end of my life if I move. Once I move out there, I’ll probably not be able to afford to leave again. Where is the line of responsibility a person must take for themselves versus their family? I’m childless with no nieces or nephews. All the solutions I’ve heard involve money, which I don’t have. Do you have some advice for someone with my specific financial and singular background to meet my responsibilities to my father without throwing away the life I had hoped to have in my senior years?
A: This is a really difficult situation. But what makes it easier is that you don’t want to move and your father hasn’t asked you to move. And he knows he has an open invitation to live closer to you. I think you should stay where you are and reiterate to him frequently (even weekly) that your offer to come and help him pack up and make his way to your state is still good. When it comes to health, things can change quickly—it might take a slight setback for him to realize he’d like to be closer to you. Or he could lose a couple of good friends over the next year and feel less attached to his hometown. For now, rest assured that you’re being a good child and offering support while allowing him to make his own choices—and that’s all you can do.
Q. Sincerely second thoughts: I recently broke up with my boyfriend in a sort of ultimatum fashion and now I’m having doubts. When we met, he was a mess—a month into his marriage, he decided he didn’t actually want to be married. We started dating and he told me she would agree to get a divorce. Fast forward a few months later, she shows up to our job demanding he come back home. She didn’t know we were dating (and co-workers), so I sort of felt ashamed. We talked about it later on and he apologized for putting me in that situation and swore he wanted nothing more than for it to be over, but she went back on their original deal and was refusing to get a divorce. A few more months go by and she’s finally in agreement on the divorce but he’s on his way to boot camp and you can’t be in the middle of divorce proceedings, so he doesn’t actually get the ball rolling until he’s back. Or at least that’s what he told me.
Now it’s been almost three years since they’ve tied the knot and no divorce in sight. Whenever I would bring it up, it was like a sore spot and fights would ensue. Recently I checked the court’s website to see if they had at least filed—negative. When I brought this up, what should have been a calm conversation turned into me breaking up with him right on the spot because I felt like he was never going to get a divorce. I told him he could come find me once he filed the paperwork. But I genuinely love him and I don’t know what to do. Did I cross the line by saying it’s all or nothing? Or was I finally sticking up for myself by setting a boundary?
A: You were finally sticking up for yourself by setting a boundary. Try not speaking to him, not checking on him on social media, and not looking up his legal records for a year. Yes, a full year! Tell yourself you can revisit your feelings after that point. I guarantee you will have moved on and won’t want to.
Q. Re: Living in post-truth hell: Where is her OB-GYN in this? Are you going to her doctor with her? Can you let the doctor know of your concerns so she can do what she can to address them with your wife and possibly have something new or persuasive to say?
A: This is a good idea. Because of COVID, some doctors aren’t allowing partners to participate in visits in person. But if he can get in there—either in person or via FaceTime—and press the issue, he definitely should!
Q. Re: Guilt-ridden: They can contact their dad’s local Area Agency on Aging and see if they can get him some additional help like shopping, cleaning, rides to doctors, or see if he’s eligible for more help. He may want to stay at home but that’s not likely. They can help her prepare for the possibility of a nursing home as well.
A: Yes, it sounds like he has some help available already, but the more, the better.
Q. Re: Living in post-truth hell: Just today, the Washington Post had a story about a thirtysomething couple in California who both died of COVID. She was pregnant and they were able to deliver the baby via C-section from the intubated mom before she died. They had four other young kids at home.
It was heart-wrenching to read. Get vaxxed.
A: I’m sure the letter writer’s wife has a million reasons that this story is fake news or doesn’t apply to her, but I agree that it was heart-wrenching and I can only imagine how hard it is for her husband to worry that something similar might happen to her.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: On that depressing note, we’ll wrap things up. Thanks as always for reading and participating. See you here next week!
From How to Do It
My husband and I just celebrated our second anniversary. He also just tested positive for gonorrhea and informed me of this after secretly getting his results and treatment yesterday. He has received his injection and antibiotic, and I will be getting tested this afternoon. Prior to our wedding, we were together off and on for two years. During one of our Ross-and-Rachel-on-a-break times, I contracted chlamydia and advised him to get tested. He did and tested negative for STDs. At the time, I was under the impression that STD testing would test for all STDs, but now I am wondering if he would have just been tested for chlamydia? The other question would be is it possible to almost three years ago to test negative for gonorrhea and then develop symptoms and test positive three years later? I would also be curious if it is possible to contract this STD without having sex with an infected person, because we have not had relations in quite a few months, so I don’t think it came from me.