Dear Prudence

Help! My Mother’s Massive Reply-All Mistake Has Caused a Family Breakdown.

The phrases “social climber,” “gold digger,” and worse were used.

Woman looks at a phone next to her is an illustrated email symbol with an exclamation point.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by nicoletaionescu/Getty Images Plus. 

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns—your first month is only $1.

Dear Prudence,

“Bertie” is my sister’s mother-in-law. She is a fabulously wealthy, three-time divorcee who is larger than life. She is loud, opinionated, and extremely generous. Since her son married my sister, Bertie has flown them, my parents, and me (plus several of my friends) on all-expenses-paid vacations for Christmas around the world. We spent two weeks in Rome last year. I love her. My mother doesn’t, and she made the mistake of detailing exactly why to my pregnant sister (it was over baby gifts) and accidentally sent it to everyone on her mailing list. Including Bertie. The phrases “social climber,” “gold digger,” and other less nice words were used. My mother apologized, but Bertie told my sister that she would not “subject” my mother to her presence anymore and that would solve everything.

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It is all very awkward, and my brother-in-law is still fuming about it (they are visiting us for the holidays because my sister can’t travel in her condition). Bertie told me that she didn’t hold my mother’s words against me, and invited me and a friend to London for spring break. She also said she would understand if I didn’t want to go. I really do, but it feels like I am betraying my mother somehow. I know going would hurt both my parents and make it look like Bertie could “buy” me (one of the reasons my mom listed about why she hates Bertie). I don’t see Bertie like that. She never had daughters, she spoils my sister more than me, and she is really trying to be better with family. My brother-in-law spent a lot of his childhood at boarding school, but he and his mother made up years ago. So help me, what should I do here?

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It’s not “betraying your mother” if you like someone she doesn’t. If you want to spend spring break with Bertie and a friend in London, go and have a fabulous time. You know, even if your mother doesn’t, that Bertie’s money is not the only reason you like traveling with her. Frankly, I think your mother forfeited the right to be hurt about anything concerning Bertie when she sent that ghastly, cruel email to everyone she knows. —Danny M. Lavery

From: “Help! My Mom Made an Epic Reply-All Blunder, and Oh What a Mess.” (Dec. 25, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

My wife has imposed a “bedtime” on me with the strangest possible punishment. Last month she decided I was spending too much time on the computer and not enough time with her. So she declared that if I am not in bed before midnight, then we don’t get to have sex. The kicker? She starts without me—and if I’m even a minute late then I’m not “allowed” to touch her as she masturbates. Her exact words were “I’m having an orgasm with or without you, so if you want to join in you need to show up on time.” On the one hand I feel like this is sexual blackmail and want to refuse her on principle. On the other, I recognize I have been ignoring her in favor of addictive computer games and I wasn’t responsive to her previous “non-blackmail” requests to join her before 2 or 3 a.m. To bed or not to bed? That is the question!

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Do you want to have sex with your wife? Then act like an adult, get off the computer, and join her in bed at the perfectly reasonable hour of midnight. Your acknowledged addiction to computer games means you aren’t a companion or sex partner to her. You can’t be much of an employee, either, if you are getting no sleep. Your wife isn’t nagging you, she’s simply taking matters into her own hands. She’s not punishing you, you’ve been punishing her by making perfectly clear her company is utterly secondary to your game addiction. Grow up and get to bed. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Help! My Wife Not Only Refuses Sex if I’m Late to Bed, She Takes Care of Herself Instead.” (April 13, 2015)

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Dear Prudence,

My wife and I have been married for about two years. When we were engaged, she was finishing law school, and she now has a full-time legal career. Unfortunately, her job is incredibly stressful, which has led to tremendous weight gain and cystic acne breakouts. I try not to say anything about her appearance, but the job has also changed her attitude and makes her snappy and impatient about every single thing. I’ve suggested that she change jobs, and I often suggest going on long walks together at night, but she complains that she doesn’t have the time. When I try to plan healthy menus for the week, she hoards candy and eats it when I’m not there. Her trash can is filled with empty wrappers every week. Is there any way I can help her cut her secret junk food habit without coming across as a jerk?

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While developing new, secretive binge-eating habits and suffering dramatic acne outbreaks are certainly signs that your wife is suffering from stress and overwork, I’m way more concerned about her drastic personality shift. It’s one thing to have a stressful job and temporarily develop some suboptimal coping strategies, but it’s quite another to completely turn into a snappy, impatient person who’s incapable of having a calm, civil conversation. You seem to have primarily noticed her weight gain, but it’s only one of several symptoms, and if you focus on it to the exclusion of the others, you’ll miss the forest for the trees.

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It’s time to have a difficult, honest conversation, in which you’ll have to balance kindness with truth. Don’t open with “You’ve turned into a candy-hoarding jerk I don’t recognize.” Tell her you’re genuinely concerned about what this job is doing to her, that you used to be able to talk to her about anything but now she’s become short, impatient, and defensive, that this isn’t a recent or short-term phenomenon, that you love her and want her to be successful professionally but not at the expense of her health or your relationship. If she’s able to agree that her current situation isn’t working for either of you, then you can discuss various short- and long-term strategies, both in terms of looking for a new job and developing better communication skills and personal habits. —D.L.

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From: “Help! My Wife’s Job Causes Her to Hoard Candy and Snap at Every Little Thing.” (Jan. 12, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

My great-aunt, with whom I am very close, is dying. She is in good hands at our local hospice and she is one of the rare people who isn’t afraid to go. I find this comforting. My problem comes with her funeral request. She doesn’t want everyone moping around and crying and wearing black. She wants to put the fun in funeral! She wants me and a few other members of the family to hand out party hats to everyone and to instruct people to wear bright clothes. During the burial she would like us to throw confetti into the open grave. After she is buried, she wants us to have a big bonfire or barbecue and celebrate her life and passing. However, certain family members find this absolutely horrifying. A few older ones have even threatened to not attend the funeral (as we affectionately call it). I basically told them it’s their loss. Is it so wrong to celebrate the end of a life this way?

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Auntie may mean well, but I can’t imagine anything that would take the jollity out of her event faster than forcing a bunch of old, sad people sitting in pews to wear party hats (please don’t throw in noise-makers to add to the enjoyment). What you need to do is keep to the spirit of what your aunt envisions, without quite following her suggestions to the letter. After all, it’s one thing to be ready to go and to know how you’d like your funeral to be. It’s another, once you’ve gone, to make many of the people who loved you feel miserable by being forced to honor your wishes. You can put the word out that if people desire, festive colors would be appropriate for this funeral. The eulogies can emphasize the joyful parts of a long life well-lived. At the cemetery, you can have a box of confetti and say that, for those who would like to, Auntie requested some be strewn in her grave. For more conventional strewers, have a backup box of flower petals. Then at the gathering afterward, you can model it somewhat on Day Two of an Irish wake. After the tears have been shed, the booze comes out, along with the stories and the laughter. But again, it won’t be sullying your aunt’s memory if the gaiety is tempered enough so that those who want to talk quietly and contemplate their loss have a place to do so without feeling like killjoys. —E.Y.

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From: “Child protective services, lively funeral, friendly exes, and résumé mistakes.” (June 2, 2011)

More from Dear Prudence

I have known a friend, Dave, since college. We always wanted to be more than friends but the timing was never right. This did not stop us from getting close, talking almost every day, calling each other best friends, or saying “I love you” after phone calls. In the five years after college we saw each other four times and had a couple of hookups, but distance still kept us from going further.

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Now, 15 years after college, we are both married with young kids and still states away from each other. We reconnected a year ago after not talking for three years. After talking extensively for about six months, we realized we made a mistake in not giving our relationship a chance during college. Neither of us has that deep connection with our spouses that we have always had with each other.

We both want to be together although we have not seen each other. He wants to see me at least once or twice a year to have an affair, but I am willing to wait until we are both available and divorced. If we both divorce right now, we would still have distance between us because we wouldn’t want to separate our kids from our spouses, who are both good parents.

We just don’t know what to do.

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