Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi everyone! I hope you didn’t quit your job because of a vaccine mandate and that you’re at your desk this morning, focusing on other people’s problems before you start work or on your lunch break.
Q. Model behavior: My boyfriend and I have been together 10 months. He is a model. I am not. He thinks I am terribly insecure about this fact and is constantly reassuring me by saying he loves my personality, does not want to be with a model, and that modeling is just a job he happens to have. But he hasn’t just said: “You are beautiful and hot.” He interprets anything I do—losing weight, wearing makeup—as an expression of my insecurity about his job. It is making me think he truly believes he is more attractive than me, but is with me because he can say he sees beyond looks. How should I deal with this? Is this something I have to just come to terms with? Can I actually be with someone who believes they are “dating down” in terms of looks?
A: I definitely don’t think you have to come to terms with it. But I also don’t think you can decide he believes he’s “dating down,” and you can’t be with him without investigating a little bit more. Maybe his last girlfriend was insecure and he got into the habit of making these comments. Or maybe it’s a big topic of discussion among his model buddies and he’s simply trying to get ahead of any problems. But he should stop! Sit down and talk with him, find out where these comments are coming from, and assure him that you don’t need pep talks about your looks and aren’t comparing yourself to him. If he still won’t give it up, that’s your sign to move on.
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Q. Lost at sea: My father died in a car wreck with my younger brother when I was 15. It was devastating. I inherited most of his private collection—he was an amateur historian, especially of maritime events. He taught me to fish and sail.
I am 30 now. Apparently, my father got his high school girlfriend pregnant, but her religious family hated my father and forced her to have the baby in secret. My half-sister found out she was adopted last year and has been looking for her paternal side since. Her biological mother had died years before. She used an ancestry program to match herself with my father’s cousin and get in contact with our paternal relatives. I have only had sporadic contact with that side of my family, other than my dear Aunt “Kate,” who contacted me with the news. I honestly didn’t know what to feel but I did tell Kate to give her my contact info.
My half-sister has obvious issues with the revelation about her origins, but rather than deal with them, she has tried to force a sisterly bond on me. We went from a few phone calls making small talk, to her bombarding me with daily phone calls and hundreds of texts. She started to call my dead father Dad and would go on long rambling tangents about him looking down on his “girls” from heaven, and making up stories about our pretend childhood together. I mentioned to her that my worst regret was a fight with my father before he died. I never got to make things right. My half-sister hissed at me that I can’t “compare” our losses; that at least I had our father for 15 years, so I should stop being such a martyr. I told her our father didn’t even know she existed and to stop pretending like she even knew him. She called me a bitch. I told her to have a good life and not to contact me again. I had to block her on multiple platforms.
My problem is my Aunt Kate. My half-sister figured out she could make her play messenger. It hurts because I love Kate and she sincerely wants the pair of us to have a happy reconciliation; she says my half-sister just has “a lot on her plate” but she is my sister. I don’t want to know my half sister better or have her in my life; that ship has sailed.
Now my half-sister is demanding at least half our father’s collection. She says he would have wanted her to have something of his. She doesn’t even like to swim.
Kate has told me that I need to give my half-sister at least a few items. If I am “too selfish,” she is going to rewrite her will so my half-sister gets family heirlooms like our grandmother’s pearls. This hurts because my grandmother and Kate promised me those pearls since I was young. My mother has suggested I pick out a few pieces of the collection as a peace offering. My husband has told me we could buy some old junk and pass it off as a heirloom.
I mostly am mourning my relationship with my aunt here. She was my rock when my father and brother died. Can I still keep a relationship with her now?
A: I kind of like your husband’s creative solution! But if you don’t want to go that route, I understand. So let’s think about what’s at stake here. You have a few things you really value:
1) The heirlooms you own
2) The pearls that you hope to inherit from your aunt, which you won’t get if you don’t give away some of the heirlooms to your half-sister
3) Your relationship with your aunt, which I assume will not survive if you don’t give up some of the heirlooms
Maybe you can hang onto all these things! Make one last try to attempt to get your aunt to understand where you’re coming from and why you’re so reluctant to share your dad’s collection with your sister—or to have a relationship with her at all. It’s possible that she might change her tune if she really understands how awful this woman has been to you. If that doesn’t work, you’ll have to make a tough choice and give up one of the things you want. If I were you, I’d hand over a few not-very-meaningful items to your sister. I’m sure finding a handful of heirlooms that you’d be willing to give up would be less painful than giving up your relationship with your aunt or the pearls you hope to receive from her.
Q. Double the loss: My in-law family lost their eldest son of 55 years unexpectedly. I want to express my condolences to his parents and twin brother but don’t want to exacerbate their sorrows. I am not their favorite daughter-in-law, nor have I ever been during the last 20 years. In fact, my sons (ages 9 and 18 months) and I are not treated as family. We are not invited to dinners or holidays; my children do not receive birthday phone calls or cards. Essentially my children have no grandparents; my in-laws only acknowledge my kids when their dad takes them to visit. (They live 2 miles away.)
I am always the default bad guy. This time it is because their youngest son (51) currently sits in county jail, facing 40 years in prison charged with 26 acts of violence against me. His bond is more than half a million dollars, so it is unlikely they can afford getting him out to attend the services.
I want them to know their loss weighs heavy on my heart. Their son that passed always made me and my kids feel accepted. When my middle son passed away, he was the only family member to acknowledge my loss. Would it be appropriate to send a text to my father-in-law or attend the funeral with my sons? Or should I stay silent and out of sight to mourn?
A: I worry that if you show up at the funeral and are not received warmly, or send a text and don’t receive a reply, it will only add to the sense of rejection you feel. If you truly want them to know that you acknowledge your loss and send your condolences, I think a nice card would be the right move.
Q. No conflict: I just broke up with the love of my life because he couldn’t bear the slightest whiff of conflict. Healthy grown-up relationships should be able to withstand the occasional wrinkle by talking—maybe our expectations are misaligned, maybe certain phrases poke old wounds, maybe we are just careless in a passing moment—I believe all of these can be resolved with honest dialogue and a basis of trust.
I work hard to bring out my best self and am prepared to listen to his side when I raise these topics, with full knowledge that I’m also not perfect. However, his history of traumatic relationships (think: victim of domestic violence, serial cheating, financial and emotional abuse from multiple loves over the years) has made it impossible for him to see these conversations as anything but attacks. So he responds with denial, deflection, minimizing, and gaslighting … every defensive trick in the book. Over some really trivial issues!
I ended the relationship when I just couldn’t take the rejection and suppression of hurt feelings anymore. I need to be able to talk! And he needs to shut out all hints of threatening negativity. I understand he sees me through the lens of trauma. I understand I shouldn’t take it personally. But how much of my own peace of mind do I sacrifice in the meantime? How hard do I try to convince him to trust me? He’s perfectly willing to let me go rather than agree to stop hurting my feelings. So I left.
But I’ve never felt so well-matched with any man, and now I miss him terribly and want nothing more than to keep trying. The high points were really, really high. Am I being foolish?
A: No. “He’s perfectly willing to let me go rather than agree to stop hurting my feelings” is the sentence you need to continue to repeat to yourself. It’s totally understandable that you miss him, but that will fade with time. By breaking up when you discovered a deep incompatibility instead of sticking around to change him, you made the right choice and made room for a relationship with someone who treats you well.
Q. Letter-obsessed: This is an odd thing but has plagued me for many years. I am a successful thirtysomething and I am now happy. School was a very difficult time for me and the teachers were a huge problem—they ignored bullying, undermined me, told me and others we would never amount to anything, etc. When I think about it, I feel so angry and insecure, forgetting all the positive things that happened in the 15 years since. I know a lot of the teachers probably aren’t there anymore and things may well have changed, but I am obsessed with writing a letter outlining all they did and the scars they left. I think about it often (almost every time I’m mad) and I sort of know it’s pointless, but the idea really consumes me. How do I move forward and why am I so fixated on this letter?
A: You’re fixated on the letter because you haven’t fully processed the awful way you were treated, and the letter is your opportunity to do that. Definitely write it. Make it long, detailed, and cathartic. Read it to yourself. Have a good cry. Maybe even share it with a friend or therapist who knows what you went through. And then see if you feel like you need to send it. My guess is you might not.
Q. Re: Lost at sea: You will not appease this woman. She wants equal inheritance. I would say that, given that she now has your aunt asking you to give her that, she has a plan—and that involves getting half of your father’s collection. I would be very wary of her.
A: Ugh, you might be right about this. As difficult as it will be, maybe the best plan is actually for the letter writer to hold onto her own stuff, and start to make peace with the fact that she may not see any of the heirlooms that she planned to get from her aunt. She might have to shift her focus to memories of her dad and the love they shared, and away from material things.
Recently my friend Amy made a new friend, Mary. I’ve met her a few times, and while we were polite to each other, she isn’t someone I’d care to interact with more than necessary. I don’t seek her out, nor do I invite her to social events. Mary has slowly become part of my circle of friends. She has made a few comments intimating she’s upset that she hasn’t been invited to some of our get-togethers, but she is in a very different financial bracket than the rest of us.
The restaurants and events we choose to go to are pricey. I recently hosted a dinner party for my friends and their plus ones, and Amy brought Mary. I didn’t want her at my house. We’re not friends, and I don’t enjoy her presence. I’m hosting another dinner party for the holidays, and I know Amy will bring Mary. I do not invite people I don’t want to be around to my parties. How do I politely tell Amy to stop bringing Mary?