Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I am a happily child-free woman in a major urban area. I lovingly shower gifts on my nephews and friends’ children and buy their overpriced school fundraiser gift wrap. Recently, I’ve taken distance running back up after a multi-year hiatus peppered by over-partying and other self-destructive behavior. Part and parcel of this is fundraising for various great causes, which in turns gets me entry to some prestigious marathons. While I have many people in my wider network who have donated even after seeing a lone tweet of mine, these close friends say they’re going to donate but when push comes to shove, they procrastinate and/or flake out at the last minute. The final straw that inspired me to write in was that one of these friends told me yesterday over brunch that during a certain five-borough race in a few weeks she won’t be able to step a block outside her apartment for a few minutes to cheer with a sign because she has to go with her daughter to some event (that her husband could attend instead). I feel taken for granted and unsupported and hence, I’m tempted to say no the next time I get hit up for overpriced mediocre school fundraiser crap. Is it petty of me to think this way?
— Nearing the Finish Line
Dear Finish Line,
Yes, it’s a bit petty. Totally understandable, but petty.
Maybe you would feel better if you chose to think about it differently. I suggest that you decide to donate to the kids’ fundraisers and give them gifts only if you sincerely want to, and if making them feel good (or helping them win the class competition for raising the most money or whatever) brings you joy. And do it for the kids, not the parents, without any expectation that the money or support will be directly repaid or reciprocated. If you don’t feel moved to give, don’t.
Then, as a totally separate issue, be vulnerable and let your friends and siblings know that you really need more support from them when it comes to your races. Again, not as payback for the money you’ve spent on their children, but because it means a lot to you to have the people you care about show up for you.
Will they spring into action? Not sure! I don’t know what’s going on with your friends’ bank accounts or schedules or struggles raising kids in a pandemic when it still feels like children are constantly home for COVID quarantine, and many activities are cancelled last-minute. It’s possible that they’re barely keeping their heads above water financially. Or perhaps they are not prioritizing your races because they are thinking of running as a time-consuming hobby that is a luxury that you’re lucky to engage in, rather than something that requires support. If you want them to understand how you see this situation, you have to talk to them.
Say something like: “My races are really important to me, especially after the rough few years when I gave up running, and it would mean a lot to me if the people I loved were more involved, either in terms of donations or cheering on.” It might feel awkward, but I think it will serve you better than saying no to buying birthday gifts and Girl Scout cookies and simmering in your own resentment.
I dated a man who I believed to be my soulmate for a little over a year. We started dating in December 2019, and then, you know, the pandemic happened. The pandemic put a lot of stress on us, but him dumping me seemed to come out of nowhere. A couple months after our breakup, I found out that he and his best friend’s wife are now dating. (I found out from the very distraught best friend, who is mourning the loss of both this friendship and marriage. He also revealed that his ex-wife has major anger issues, which my ex had hinted at before.) The thing is, I disliked this woman from the start. While I never believed she was romantically interested in my boyfriend, I thought she had an unhealthy attachment to him, and our personalities clashed. Turns out, she’s been in love with him for several years (during which she was married). Prudie, I can’t get this out of my head. I know this relationship began after our breakup, but I feel so misled about her. I always knew something was off, but my boyfriend told me that she and her then-husband were “good people.” It’s been months since I found out about this, and I really want to address this with my ex, since it’s weighing so heavily on me. Should I?
— He Didn’t Cheat, But…
Dear He Didn’t Cheat,
No, do not confront him. He probably did mislead you, and that sucks, but you’re broken up now. He doesn’t owe you anything, and even if he did apologize, would that change anything? Would you truly feel better? I doubt it. You can’t harangue someone into un-hurting you.
But I do think it’s great that you uncovered this information. It’s confirmation that your instincts are good and you should trust yourself when you feel that something is off, or that you’re not being told the whole truth. In the future, you don’t need to wait for proof before you say to yourself “I really don’t like the way I’m feeling in this situation, and I’m out!”
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I have been happily married for 11 years and am a 34-year-old mother of three. My mother is a narcissist who has ghosted me for a year or so at a time in the past simply due to normal disagreements. Back in 2014 she married a man, “Cott,” from her office. Fitting enough, he, too, is a narcissist. He’s rude and doesn’t communicate with me, my kids, or my husband.
Three years ago, my son turned 1, and my mother’s husband pushed his head down into a cake at a birthday party. This was after I said not to and to just let my son explore the cake in front of him. This also left a few bruises on the back of his neck, making him cry terribly. Instead of apologizing, I was ghosted for two years. These narcissists simply can’t apologize.
Here’s my dilemma. My kids do not have a relationship with Cott, only with my mother. I tell my oldest to call him whatever makes her feel comfortable. Whether she calls him Cott or grandpa is up to her, but as it stands, I call him Cott and see him only as my mother’s husband, nothing more. She insists he has the title of my stepfather and my children’s grandfather. I get it, my entire life my mother has been a single hardworking mom and now she’s married, but excuse me if I don’t want this judgmental, disrespectful man-child to be considered my “father” in any terms. Am I wrong for denouncing the idea that he’s in any way my anything?
— Not My Dad
Dear Not My Dad,
You’re not wrong at all. I’d even go a step further and say you should be clear with your children that 1) he’s not their grandfather and 2) you’re not close to him because he has not been nice to children in the past. Don’t leave it up to them to decide whether they want to give a special title to someone who would physically hurt them and refuse to apologize. As a parent, it’s your job to teach them that while you can’t control who grandma spends her time with, this is not how a loving relative behaves.
My parents both had multiple marriages. My father is on number five, while my mother learned her lesson at three. Unfortunately, it took her most of my childhood, which I spent dragged around and shoved in front of strange kids and told these were my new siblings and to “bond.” That never happened because I had already learned that none of this was real or was going to last.
“Chelsea” was my stepsister from marriage three on my mother’s side while I was in high school. I moved in permanently since my father’s latest fiancée had a gaggle of kids she wouldn’t control and expected me to babysit. Chelsea was a year younger than me and had issues. She was probably on the spectrum, but all I knew was she was intensely socially awkward and couldn’t pick up any cues at all. She would babble about her interests to anyone for hours and believe anything anyone told her. She was prime bullying material.
I never bullied her, but I certainly never tried to protect her either. I would ditch her as soon as we got off the bus and ignore her at school. As much as my mother and her husband would lecture me about looking out for Chelsea, I would ignore them and take the grounding. They got divorced the summer I graduated about a decade ago. I never saw Chelsea again or gave her much thought until now.
Recently, she sent my mother and me a long, rambling letter about her need for “closure” after all the trauma she endured, especially including us. I tossed it in the trash, while my mother ended up calling Chelsea and even going to her Zoom therapy session. Now my mother is pressuring me to join. Chelsea especially wants to understand how I could act so callously and cold towards her as a teen—because we were “sisters.” I told my mother that was stupid. We weren’t sisters. We were never sisters. We barely qualified as stepsisters considering her marriage only lasted three years. If she felt guilt that was on her. Not me. My mother keeps bringing this up, and I don’t know how to get her to drop it. Help.
— Only Child
Dear Only Child,
For you to go to therapy with Chelsea would be almost like going to therapy with a classmate you didn’t get along with in middle school. I agree that your mom’s brief marriage didn’t make her your sister, and you’re not obligated to treat her as a family member. It does sound like you were kind of a jerk to her when she was having a hard time, though. If you’re sorry about that, and it sounds like you may be, you should let her know—not as a sibling, but as a fellow human being.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Few things are more unbearable than someone trying to hold you responsible for their pain and suffering.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I am the manager of a great employee who has been in the same position for more than a decade. She has chosen not to be vaccinated. We haven’t discussed vaccination in depth, but she mentioned that she would leave if required to vaccinate. I reinforced that she has been a great employee and I would hate to see her leave, but I respect her decisions.
Last week, our employer sent out a letter requiring full vaccination soon. I will ask her to reconsider, but expect to plan for a successor. Technically, she’ll be let go for no longer meeting the requirements of the job. However, it feels like she is making the choice to leave. Our organization would normally celebrate the accomplishments of people who choose to leave. This feels like something in between. What is an appropriate send off for those sent off?
— Not Dissing the Dismissed
Dear Not Dissing,
She has done good work, so go ahead and celebrate that. What’s the harm? This pandemic is not a typical situation, and neither is her departure, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to fit the mold of “leaving on great terms for an opportunity she couldn’t refuse” or “getting called into HR, locked out of her laptop, and walked out of the building.” She’s making a bad choice, but that doesn’t take away from the contributions she’s made and the relationships she’s built. People will want to thank her and say goodbye. So go ahead and get a cake. And eat it on Zoom or in the office courtyard, because while she may have been a good employee, she’s also in a good position to spread the virus.
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 am a 56-year-old woman who is single. I have a younger man who is interested in dating me. He has stated that he is very serious about his feelings. He is a true gentleman and is in business for himself (so I am quite confident he is not after money). Many people think I am a lot younger than I am, and peers who have observed the situation often encourage me to go out with him. Here is the kicker: He is 28. I haven’t even allowed myself to truly consider going out with him until now. I don’t want to be considered a cougar or a cradle robber.
Heck, I think I am older than his mom! We do share a lot of common ground on various subjects, and if it wasn’t for the age difference I would have dated him in a heartbeat. He is aware of my hesitancy and has been working at winning me over for the past three months. I feel if we end up having a long-term relationship, he will miss out on a lot (having children the main one) and will be my caregiver as I age. He says that neither of those are a concern for him. Am I sick for even considering this?
— Age Anxiety
I started seeing my friend’s ex three years after they broke up. He and I are keeping it casual for now, but things might be getting serious. My friend started dating other guys who looked nearly identical to her ex, now she’s married to one of them and they are pregnant. Her ex and I haven’t told her we’re involved because we didn’t want to freak her out if it wasn’t going anywhere, but now that it may be, I’m worried about my friend having lingering feelings for her ex. I thought that telling her would be easier the more she was established in her marriage, but now I’m not so sure. And I know her ex still sends her happy birthday texts, but that’s pretty much the extent of their relationship. I don’t think he knows about the doppelganger husband or the pregnancy. Should I tell her? Should I tell my ex? And when?
— Doppelganger Dilemma
I’m a firm believer that you don’t get to hoard exes and keep other people from them. Especially if you’re married to someone else! You two should go ahead and tell her. It’s not your job to keep track of how much her husband resembles her ex and project how she might feel about him. Plus, if she really did still have feelings for him, and you were really close, she would have confided in you. I can’t promise she won’t be upset (after all, humans are unreasonable), but I can be at least one voice affirming that you’ve done nothing wrong.
My son is a high school freshman, and we live in a nice neighborhood near several boys his age he’s known since first grade. Last year a group of the boys decided to create a haunted trail for the young kids to visit on Halloween. My son asked if he could help, but the other boys said there were too many people involved already. My son was crushed. The other boys are all athletes; my son is not athletic or cool. I spoke to several of the mothers explaining how hurt my son was. They all told me it was a misunderstanding and the boys never meant to exclude my son. Nonetheless, his friendship with these boys ended. Now it’s Halloween again and signs have gone up inviting neighborhood kids to the haunted trail. My son saw a sign and said, “Oh, the haunted trail—where you have to be a cool kid to help with it.” This is killing me. How do I get over this?