Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Welcome to this week’s chat. I can’t wait to hear about what’s going on in your lives …
Q. Restaurant debate: My co-worker “Jan” and I were out to lunch at a fast-food restaurant and saw an elementary school–age boy check his blood sugar and give himself insulin at a table near ours. I was in awe of how confident and mature this young man was—he even had his mom double-check the dose! Jan disagreed with me and said they should have known better than to do this in a place where other people were eating; it was unsanitary and showed a lack of consideration for others.
I don’t think a tiny drop of blood on a testing strip is any more unhygienic than coughing, sneezing, or eating with unwashed hands, which are things people do in restaurants all the time without provoking outrage. I also didn’t like how Jan then pointed out that if the child is diabetic, he should not be eating fast food. I think that is none of our business and kind of judgmental. Who is right?
A: Who knows, Jan may have a point about this being unsanitary (maybe health professionals or diabetics reading can weigh in and let us know). But the larger issue is that she’s kind of a jerk. You saw the best in a stranger, and she not only saw the worst but decided to argue with you about it. She is absolutely judgmental, and I bet this isn’t the first time she’s tried to bring you down when you’re spending time together, or fought with you when she could have simply nodded and smiled. Keep her in the “co-worker” category and don’t make her a friend—or let her change how you think about others.
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Q. Impossible situation: My best friend has had bad relationship after bad relationship. She rushed into a relationship with a guy who used her in every way, only for her to be heartbroken two years later when he inevitably decided he didn’t want her anymore. Then she started dating a guy during the pandemic and told him she was in love with him after one month. He never said it back, and broke up with her three months later. Understandably, she was heartbroken. Now she’s been seeing this guy for a couple months who says he doesn’t want to rush anything—yet they’ve been staying together every night. She’s definitely falling fast for this guy, like she does with any guy she dates.
I want to be happy for her, but the guy she’s seeing just told her that he has cancer and has no plans to seek treatment. Of course she’s devastated, but she still wants to continue seeing him. I told her I don’t think it’s fair to her that he’s now put this pressure on her, and that ultimately this is going to end in her being hurt. I also told her that I support her no matter what decision she makes. I want to be happy for my best friend, but she has such a big heart that it hurts her a lot. What can I say to get her to see my point of view while not seeming like I’m telling her how to live her life?
A: You’ve said it once, which is actually one time more than I would normally advise giving advice to a person who hasn’t asked for it. She knows how you feel. But, frustratingly enough, there’s no rule that says she has to agree with you or live life in the way that you think makes sense. Believe me, I wish our legal system allowed for going to a judge and getting some kind of an order to keep a friend out of a relationship that seems like bad news and is probably going to hurt them. But it doesn’t.
So, do I think you’re right that this decision will lead to a lot of suffering for her? Very likely. But you have to learn to be at peace with the fact that your friend is on her own journey, and sometimes people just have to go through what they have to go through before they learn whatever lesson they need to learn. As long as she’s not being abused and is just making run-of-the-mill poor relationship choices, the best thing you can do is be there for her as a friend who reminds her of all her great qualities and treats her with the unconditional love that it sounds like she might not get from this guy who “doesn’t want to rush anything,” including taking steps to make sure he stays alive. Yes, she may end up hurt, but she won’t be the first or last person to experience that. She’ll get over it. And your only job then will be to resist saying “I told you so.”
Q. Not over it: I have a lovely girlfriend whom I am madly in love with, but I worry that she has bipolar depression and a victim complex or something similar. I cheated on her once and had a virtual affair with a catfisher, which she found out about when I was in the ICU after my stroke. It broke her heart and crushed her. Now she’s always sure I’m cheating on her, even when I’m not. I’ll do anything to make a life for us both, but she’s convinced I’ll never change, which just kills me. I will do therapy with her, be patient, do anything I can. But she stays in this pattern and keeps pushing me away. I don’t know what to do to prove to her I love her, except love her, be patient, and stay true. But that doesn’t seem to be enough. I’ve only scratched the surface of what happened. It is closer to a soap opera than real life.
A: You don’t need to give your girlfriend a mental health diagnosis to explain why this isn’t working. You cheated on her and broke her trust, and you’re seeing the results of that. I understand why you’d want her to be over it (it would certainly make things much easier on you!), but sadly, you don’t get to have everything you want after you ruin a relationship by being unfaithful. This is the girlfriend you have now: a person who is sure you’re cheating on her, for reasons that are actually pretty reasonable. You have to decide whether you want to live with this or break up.
Q. No reunion: I have been no-contact with my half sister for about a decade. Growing up, she would do things like pinch me until I cried or deliberately destroy my toys. I have no good memories of her.
When she was 21, she played a “prank” where she convinced me our mother was in the hospital after a car wreck and we had driven to see her. Instead, she drove me to the middle of nowhere and made me get out of the car. I didn’t have my cellphone or anything. She left me there. I panicked and ran after the car, but ended up falling down and broke my leg. My half sister circled back and freaked out when she saw my leg. I was screaming so loudly I attracted the attention of people nearby. They intervened and called an ambulance.
It was the final straw for my father. My half sister claimed it was just a joke gone wrong but he ended up pressing charges against her. She got some kind of probation, but it also ended my parents’ marriage. My dad got full custody of me and I didn’t see my mother for a full year. Our relationship has never fully recovered. She blames herself for what my half sister turned into, but never for what she put me through in having to deal with someone that cruel. I was a kid and my half sister was an adult.
Apparently now my half sister wants to make “amends” and finally be a “family again.” My mother keeps bringing it up in conversation. I don’t want to reunite with my half sister. As far as I am concerned, we aren’t and will never be family. I won’t put pressure on my mother to choose between us, but she won’t stop bringing it up.
A: There’s plenty of room between forcing your mother to choose between you two (which I agree would be a bad idea) and letting her repeatedly push you toward a reunion without giving her a clear, firm response. The next time she says something, simply tell her that you are not going to have a relationship with your half sister, that you would rather not hear about her, and that you don’t plan to change your mind.
You can enforce this boundary by immediately ending any conversation in which she brings up your half sister. She’ll get the message! Once that’s resolved, you might want to consider sitting down with your mom to talk about how painful your childhood was and how much you endured. I can’t promise you’ll get an apology, but it might help you to let her know how much it hurts you that she failed to protect you.
Q. Vaxxed and vexed: My new boss recently volunteered the information that he has not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Our entire company works remotely, and this fact only came to light because we are being required to submit proof of vaccination or negative test results as part of attending a national conference for our industry, and he needed me to explain to him how to obtain and submit his test results.
The thing is, over the past three months, I have spent several hours in the company of this man, including hugs upon greeting, working in closed meeting rooms, sitting next to him in restaurants, and riding in a car—all unmasked. I VERY STUPIDLY assumed that someone in a senior leadership role in a health care company, working maskless around colleagues and team members, would be vaccinated … or would AT THE VERY LEAST have the decency to say: “Hey, I have chosen not to get the vaccine. We can both mask up if you’d prefer.” (To which I would have said: “Yes, let’s. Thank you.”)
I’m having a hard time knowing what to do with my feelings about this. I’ve had some minor frustrations with this new boss, but have overall found him to be kind, respectful, and supportive of my work, so I’m pretty bummed to now feel that he’s made conscious, stupid decisions that have endangered me, my husband, my elderly parents, etc. … I’ve lost a huge amount of respect for him, and I do not want to work with him, to say nothing of working AROUND him. But he’s my boss, and my job is very important to me!
There is no one within the company with whom I can share my feelings, including HR. We do not have a documented vaccination policy, and we have no language in place regarding protocol for group meetings. I want to tell my co-workers who might also find themselves working in proximity to this guy, but clearly I have already misjudged some people’s inclinations around this issue. Do I say anything at all to my boss, or just avoid him like the [literal] plague going forward?
A: This is a good lesson about not making assumptions about who is vaccinated. Treat everyone as if they’re not unless you know them personally and really trust them or see proof! I don’t think you should confront your boss. That’s not appropriate, given your relationship, and he didn’t lie to you. You may not have HR, but you say your boss is in a senior leadership position, not the CEO, so there must be someone above him who is responsible for policies around COVID and in-person work. You and other concerned co-workers should absolutely go to this person to share your concerns about safety in the office.
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Q. Re: Restaurant debate: Diabetics need to test (and give insulin) shortly before they eat. The bathroom, with its fecal germs, is an unsanitary place in which to penetrate the skin with a finger prick or a needle.
And unlike a sneeze, the blood drop or the insulin needle is not going out into the open restaurant to infect others.
A: Not a doctor, scientist, or diabetic, but this sounds right to me. Letter writer, we have one vote for Jan being wrong.
Q. Re: Impossible situation: There is nothing you can “say to get her to see my point of view while not seeming like I’m telling her how to live her life.” Just listen quietly to her until you can’t listen any longer, and either take a break or, if necessary, tell her you are not able to listen anymore. Unsolicited advice is rarely heard. She is not your responsibility. She is your friend, and friendship should not look like a bad therapy relationship.
A: “She is your friend, and friendship should not look like a bad therapy relationship.” This is 100 percent correct and I’m going to quote you in future columns if that’s OK with you!
My fiancé is dead set on two women he was formerly in love with attending our wedding—one of whom he confessed he still had feelings for a month before he proposed. He was infatuated with them for a very long time. They both turned him down for long-term relationships, but not before using him to cheat on their significant others. He was in love with them since high school. He is now 28. He claims that they are really good friends who only want to see him happy, but they never reach out to him to hang out. Our wedding is planned for November 2020, and we got engaged in November 2018. I am against these women attending, but should I give in and let them attend my happy day, since it would make him happy?