Dear Prudence

Help! My Roommate Grossly Misled Me About Our Living Situation.

The toxic dynamics are beyond horrible, but I’m afraid to leave.

A woman looks exhausted/upset while sitting in a chair.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

I’ve lived with my roommate and their ailing parents for nearly two years. We all rent. The parent is verbally abusive and cruel to my roommate, who says they’ve never had a good relationship. This living situation was misrepresented to me. I was told the father was a chill older person. I was told my roommate had just left an abusive partner, but they’ve remained entangled. My mental health is deteriorating. The dynamic here brings up a lot of my own trauma. I’ve often coped with booze because the stress and histrionics is unrelenting.

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I’ve wanted to move out for months, but haven’t had the courage to say so. I’m a woman in my late 30s, and I know I should be able to leave any time I want, with due notice of course. And we are month-to-month. It’s also not financially efficient to divide my time between my place and my partner’s place. And my partner is frustrated with my inability to speak up. I’m also scared to have this conversation because of the fallout. I work with my roommate, and I worry co-workers will judge me.

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My roommate says they are grateful for me, and they don’t think anyone else would be willing to live in this situation and I’m a saint. I hate hearing this because it just seems manipulative. They’ve never ACTUALLY acknowledged how this could be hard on me. I have tried to express my feelings, but drop them because it brings my housemate down. I’ve been very encouraging of my roommate, offering to look into senior living options and therapists. I’ve counseled so many tearful breakdowns. I feel guilty for wanting to leave. I am putting them in a lurch and leaving them with an abusive person.

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How do I communicate my plans? I want to give them two months’ notice. I’m tempted to give them my deposit to tide them over because they are kind of right that no one would want to live like this. And how honest should I be about that? Do I express how bad this has been for me?

—This Wasn’t on the Lease

Dear Wasn’t on the Lease,

You are a very kind and compassionate person. I want you to think about offering just a tiny bit of the care and understanding you’re giving to your roommate to yourself. You were misled about the living situation. You are not related to them. Your housemate doesn’t care about your feelings. You don’t want to leave them in a lurch, but you’re in a lurch, right now! Why is their well-being more important than yours? Really, sit and think about it. I hope you conclude that it’s not.

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So, yes, you should move out. No, you should not let them keep your deposit. Your departure—and the need to find someone to replace you—might be the very incentive your roommate needs to find senior living options for their dad. But that’s not your problem. You don’t have to go into great detail about why you’re leaving. A simple “I’ve decided I want to live with my partner” or “I need more of my own space” is fine.

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Meanwhile, instead of looking into therapists for your roommate, you should be looking for one for yourself—someone who can work with you on the idea that you deserve to be comfortable and happy and that you don’t need to tolerate being taken advantage of. Keep seeing them even after you move out, because this isn’t the last time you’ll need to do what’s right for you instead of what’s right for someone else.

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Dear Prudence,

My husband is Jewish and fairly religious. I am not religious at all, and sit on the fence of outright atheism. He has also recently been suffering from an endocrine issue, and has not been processing melatonin properly. Consequently, he’s been having enormous trouble sleeping, and it’s been affecting him in a number of ways.

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The one that has me most immediately worried is his weekly trips to the synagogue. He drives there, about half an hour each way, and spends three to four hours on Saturdays. His reflexes aren’t so good at the moment, and he’s been cutting back on driving because of the constant fatigue. Driving to “Shul” is just about the only long trip he still takes, and I worry every time he gets behind the wheel. I wanted him to stop going, but when I suggested it, it wasn’t even a fight, it was just a flat refusal to even consider the request. He was willing to discuss alternative travel arrangements, but he won’t spend money on Saturdays for any reason, which means a cab or something is out. At one point he asked if I could drive him, but I don’t feel comfortable being his chauffeur like this, especially to an activity that I don’t quite see the point of. Most of his friends at synagogue walk there, and I don’t know how viable it is to ask someone to pick him up and drop him off.

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At this stage, I really don’t know what to do. Do you have any suggestions?

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—Worried Wife

Dear Worried Wife,

You don’t see the point of a religious person going to the synagogue? Really? I mean, I get that you’re something approaching an atheist. But you love this man and you know his religion is important to him. I don’t even know him, and I can take a wild guess and say he’s going for community, for comfort, and for a sense of peace—especially as he deals with a serious health issue. I don’t think it’s fair of you to argue that you care about him so much that you don’t want him to drive there, but not enough to do the driving (if not every Saturday, then at least once or twice a month) until his condition is under control. Either step in and help out, or let him make his own decisions—and maybe offer him a cup of coffee on the way out the door.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here.

Dear Prudence,

My husband and I have been happily married for almost 25 years. We were both married before. My ex and I share a son and two grandkids. We are always invited to the grandchildren’s birthdays, sporting events, etc. My question is this: I have always tried very hard to be friendly toward my ex and his wife, but they are always very standoffish and speak to nobody. I always feel like I want to prove to everyone that we are civil to one another so I always try … too hard, I think. They have been showing up less and less to events and when they do, they just stand off to the side with their arms crossed staring at everyone. The last time we were all together, they were very rude and rather ugly to me when I approached them. Should I quit even acknowledging them? I hate that they are still hurting my son with their behavior.

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—Need My Ex to Grow Up!

Dear Grow Up,

If they act weird and hostile every time you speak to them, you’re well within your rights to stop doing it. But I have a feeling that since you’re a normal, polite person, that might actually make you feel worse. And you don’t want to get pulled into a narrative about how “My parents are both immature and won’t talk to each other.” So I’d suggest that you say 1) “hello” and 2) “how are you?” at every event, even if it’s received coldly, and then gracefully move on to speak to someone else or play with a grandkid. That way, you’re the bigger person, and your son won’t ever have a reason to feel like you’re part of the problem.

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Dear Prudence,

I and my wife have a toddler, and my wife wants our toddler to call her close friends “aunts” and “uncles.” We both have siblings already, and I think close friends should just be called by their first names because they’re not actually family. I specifically do not want her friend Brenda to be an aunt.

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When my wife and I first got together, I admit I did not treat her the way she should have been treated. The thing she always talks about is when she wanted to take a community college course in my field to “connect” with me, and I told her that it was a silly idea because she wouldn’t understand what I do in enough depth to talk about it with me. She’s not stupid, but my field is scientific and that’s not her strength. There’s other things she brings up too, like when I didn’t intervene when our mutual friend made her uncomfortable and how I always had to be right. I went to therapy and I’m better now.

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Brenda and my wife are very close. My wife has low contact with her parents, and when my wife graduated from college, Brenda helped her adjust to the adult world. She helped her job search and was basically a mentor to her. Brenda cannot get over how I treated my wife at the beginning of our relationship, and even though my wife forgave me, Brenda never did. Every dinner with her that my wife makes me go to is full of unnecessary tension and not enjoyable at all. I know Brenda and my wife are good friends, but I don’t want her to be an aunt to my child. She hates me, and it feels like my wife isn’t taking my feelings into consideration. I told her that I didn’t want any of our friends to be “aunts” or “uncles,” especially Brenda. Am I being fair?

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—She’s Not an Aunt

Dear She’s Not an Aunt,

I don’t know if you and your partner are from different backgrounds, but it’s worth mentioning that for a lot of people, especially those from nonwhite communities, “auntie” simply means “an adult who my parents are friendly with,” not “super important person who is basically my mom’s sibling and is a major figure in my life forever and ever.” Could it possibly take things down a notch if you just thought of “auntie” as a warmer version of “Ms.”—a respectful label that distinguishes grown-up women from children?

Either way, I don’t think it’s fair to deny Brenda this label because of her issues with you. If you don’t want her in your life or your child’s life at all because she’s been cool to you (which I think would be unreasonable, for what it’s worth), that’s another issue. But for now, she’s there and she hasn’t done anything wrong except to stand up for her friend. Isn’t that the kind of person you would want your child to look up to? You’re focusing on the wrong thing here. Work on your relationship with Brenda, who’s been nothing but supportive to your wife. Ask for another chance. Continue to try not to be a jerk. This will be a much better use of your time than policing titles.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

People should probably put ‘who will our future kids get to call auntie?’ on the pre-marital counseling question list.”

Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

Do we have to give a second wedding present? The couple in question was married last year, remotely via Zoom. Back then, we sent a handwritten card with a gift, and cheerfully attended the wedding remotely. Now, invitations are going out for the in-person reception, which I know is truly intended to be the actual “wedding” that they were deprived of before—the photographer, the cake, the whole shebang. Is a second gift appropriate?

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—Not to Sound Cheap, but …

Dear Not to Sound Cheap,

Absolutely not! The rule is one gift per marriage, not one gift per wedding. Even if we go by the weird, transactional approach that your gift is somehow repayment for the cost of your meal at an in-person reception, you paid in advance. So you’re covered. If you decide you want to bring another card with a nice note, that would be a kind (but unnecessary) touch.

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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.

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Dear Prudence,

My partner and I oppose drunk driving—we just don’t do it. But my partner has a friend who we often see leaving events where he has clearly had a few but chooses to drive anyway. Every time I see this happen, I step in (I offer a ride at first and then insist—but he always insists he is good.) I don’t think it’s a choice, but a moral obligation. My partner doesn’t back me up in the moment; he knows that his friend will just escalate and drive himself home anyway. I understand that my partner has more to lose in these scenarios than I do (there are complicated politics with people who he works with also being present). I find myself losing respect for my partner and for everyone (the party hosts, the colleagues, the friends) who sees this and lets it go on. Am I overreacting here? I’m in the severe minority, but to me this isn’t a gray area—if you’re having trouble walking, you’re not in a good condition to drive. How should we handle these situations in the future? What can we do when our rides are refused, but we still want to maintain a friendship?

—A Few Too Many

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Dear Prudence,

I discovered photos of a young naked boy on my husband’s phone. I reported it to the police and an investigation was opened, including a Department of Children and Family Services case. I got an emergency order of protection, since I was sure he would see my action as a sign of betrayal and be enraged. The police couldn’t charge him with a crime, since there were no lewd acts taking place with the young boy, but made it clear that there are lots of red flags to indicate he has a problem. I am moving forward with a divorce to protect my child. I can only share the emergency order and DCFS case info, but not the cause, as he could sue me for defamation. I am struggling with how to deal with close friends and family who do NOT know the truth and are taking his side and treating me like the enemy.

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—How Do I Take the High Road?

Dear High Road,

The first question is whether you even want a relationship with people who are treating you like the enemy over a divorce. Marriages end all the time, and most adults understand that that can happen without one spouse being an irredeemable person. If they’re already choosing to take what little information they have and vilify you, I wonder if these relationships are worth saving.

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But if you decide that they are, I think it would be fair (and safe, legally) to say, “I ended the marriage after I came across some information that was disturbing to me. I’ve been told not to discuss it for legal reasons, but I hope you’ll trust that I made the best decision for myself and my child, or ask him directly, if you’re interested.”

Classic Prudie

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I have been with my girlfriend for five months. After I got a big raise at work, I decided to splurge and upgrade my TV and computer. I knew my girlfriend was raised by a single mom, “DeeDee,” and that money was tight with the two younger brothers. I offered them my 4-year-old computer and TV. At first, my girlfriend’s mom was overjoyed. We drove down and set everything up for the kids. A week later, DeeDee texted me that her boys had destroyed both the TV and the computer and that it was my job to replace them. I told her no. She left a profanity-filled voice message. When I went to talk to my girlfriend, she came down on her mom’s side. It was an “accident,” and it wasn’t like I couldn’t afford to replace them. We fought. My girlfriend started to cry and I apologized to make her stop, but I am still pissed. I am questioning my relationship with her now. I do love her, but this entire situation has put things in a different light. We are each other’s first serious relationship. What do I need to do?

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