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 the pre-Thanksgiving edition of the Prudie live chat. Let me know what’s on your mind as you prepare to celebrate with your family, fight with your family, avoid your family, or just (hopefully) enjoy a day off.
Q. Dealbreaker: My husband and I (both early 30s) have been married for a couple years. My family has a history of substance abuse issues and accordingly, I decided many years ago—well before I met my husband—to live a fully sober life (no alcohol, smoking, or any other drugs except necessary prescriptions). When I met my husband, I let him know lifelong sobriety was important to me and that anyone who wanted to have a serious relationship with me needed to commit to the same. He agreed.
Well, a few weeks ago he went to visit some college friends for the weekend, and when he came home, he admitted he took a weed edible. When I asked him why, he said just because it sounded like a fun (and legal) thing to try. I thanked him for his honesty, but asked for at least a temporary separation. I feel betrayed—he married me knowing that any recreational drug use, even if legal, was a dealbreaker. But I am trying to decide whether to give marriage counseling a try, or just proceed with a divorce. I do love him very much—he is sweet, loving, attentive, responsible, and has a great career—but he also did the ONE thing that I had said upfront I could not forgive. And yes, I know that you and other readers may think I am being way too uptight and unreasonable, but I have lost several family members to addiction and can just not have any drug use whatsoever in my life, no matter how innocuous it seems.
A: You know your family’s history better than I do, but I have a hard time imagining you’ve lost any relatives to an edibles addiction. Would it help here to distinguish between substances that are illegal or are known to lead to deadly overdoses, and those that are not, and give your husband a little more flexibility with the latter category? I think that might make this feel a little less intense to you.
That said, your husband did make a promise to you and he did break it, so you’d be within your rights to be upset and yes, even to divorce. But do you honestly want that? Would it make you happier? You created this strict sobriety rule to protect yourself from losing someone you love. It just doesn’t feel like it makes sense to enforce it in a way that leads to the exact outcome you were hoping to avoid. So I think counseling would be a great idea—to make sure your husband understands how much his decision eroded your trust, to explore whether there are alternative standards you could use for the role of drugs in your life, and to possibly find other ways you could manage the trauma of seeing loved ones deal with addiction. For example, would it make sense to say you’ll never put up with someone who develops an addiction, or who uses drugs in your presence, or whose behavior changes for the worse when they’re under the influence? Maybe “I cannot be married to someone whose behavior is negatively affected by drug use” is a more reasonable standard than “I cannot tolerate any drug use whatsoever in my life, whether or not I’m even there when it takes place.”
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Q. Not a reality show: My husband and I got married a year ago after one year of dating. It was a special milestone and a very real commitment, but the main reason for doing it so fast was because of his undocumented status and our worries about some ICE crackdowns in our area.
As we come out of the pandemic, all the acquaintances I meet with want to know my love story and how on earth a cautious person like me ended up doing something so reckless. It doesn’t help that I had a very public breakup shortly before my husband and I got together, so everyone knows it was a fast wedding. I know I can’t tell them the truth, but I’m a terrible liar and saying “none of your business” just doesn’t feel like my style. I am happy and proud of my marriage, but fudging my way through these conversations makes me so uncomfortable. More than one person has seemed to assume that he pressured me into it or that he is my sugar daddy, which makes me so upset! How can I handle these conversations?
A: Would you feel comfortable saying something like this? “We’re very much in love and were going to get married eventually anyway, but moving the date up was the practical choice because the changes to his immigration status brought us both a lot of peace of mind.” Or do you not want to mention his immigration issues at all? If that’s the case, you could simply say, “I know it’s unlike me to move so quickly but we were in love and we just couldn’t wait.”
In general, you’ll be miserable if you let yourself get upset over what people might or might not be thinking about you and your relationship. Keep in mind that some of them would judge you if you were single, if you were cautious and had a long engagement, if you married someone who was your sugar daddy, if you seemed desperate to get married and pressured your husband … or for just about any other set of facts. That’s just life, so you may as well be honest about your choices and decide that anyone who doesn’t like them doesn’t matter. Everyone—yes, everyone—gets judged and talked about in one way or another. If you’re happy in your relationship, you’re doing better than a lot of people, and I would hate for you to miss out on enjoying this time by worrying about what’s in their heads.
Q. Steamed sis: I’m 26 (female), my brother is 20. We’re the only two siblings. Thanksgiving is coming up, and I will be required to spend time with him for only two days, but I honestly don’t want to be around him, speak to him, or have anything to do with him, period. We have never had a particularly smooth relationship, partly because we are polar opposites (e.g., I’m an introvert; he’s an extrovert). We do not share common interests besides a television show and maybe a musical artist or two. Our parents raised us differently growing up—something I deal with in therapy, and I don’t resent him for that, seeing as he is the child and not the parent—and I think this is why he, to be blunt, sucks as a person. Even when we were children, he said my interests and tastes were “stupid.” I would be required to entertain him—my parents insisted that was all he wanted, and then he’d leave me alone, but he never did. He frequently called me a “loser” and even a “shrew.” If I didn’t do what he wanted—listen, Prudie, sometimes it would be just switching to the classic rock radio station—he would say things like, “This is why you don’t have any friends,” “This is why no one likes you,” and “This is why you don’t have a boyfriend.” I struggled with very severe depression and was bullied; he knew how to push my buttons. But whenever I tried to stand up for myself, I would be told to watch my tone.
Fast-forward to the pandemic, and for several reasons, we both moved in with our parents. My brother went out every day to socialize with friends. He wouldn’t be dissuaded; he insisted he was outdoors and distanced, and if he went inside, he was wearing a mask. Well, the inevitable happened, and we all caught COVID from him. He never apologized. He makes a point of disparaging me for still living at home with our parents and “wasting their money.” (I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder this summer. With medication now, I’m hoping to actually function as an adult.) The final straw, though? He has an emotionally and physically abusive significant other. When my brother had planned to come and visit me for my birthday a few weeks ago, he changed his mind and ditched me to reconcile again with his lousy partner.
My parents think I’m overreacting and that I’m being too harsh on him. I don’t think so. I think I have to put up with him for Thanksgiving, that much is clear, but how do I get my parents to realize that my brother is an asshole to me and I won’t put up with it anymore?
A: I think you’re thinking about this all wrong. Instead of “I think I have to put up with him for Thanksgiving, how to I get my parents to realize that my brother is an asshole to me,” why not “It’s not my job to convince my parents that my brother is an asshole to me, and I don’t have to put up with him for Thanksgiving”? I guarantee that putting your energy toward having the relationships you want (and the holiday you want) will feel better than trying to change other people’s minds or behaviors. If you really do want to be around your family, your long-term goal should be to get to a place where you can spend time with them without being upset about the past and endlessly disappointed in their failures to change, improve, or make the choices you would like them to make. That represents a big shift, and I don’t think it will happen by the upcoming holiday, but it’s worth starting to think about and work on.
Q. Having cake and eating it too: I’m a thirtysomething, cishet, ethically non-monogamous woman. I have been seeing one of my partners for more than a year, and he is the chef at a local restaurant. We are friends but don’t chat much outside our liaisons, and see each other perhaps once a month.
I recently started seeing someone new, and it turns out that he is a manager at the restaurant my other partner works at. I may end up seeing this new second partner more often than the first, and he’s already enthusiastically invited me to come dine when he’s working (as has the chef). I don’t intend to tell them about each other.
They both know I’m non-monogamous and are OK with it, since I do it smartly and safely. However, this feels kinda weird. And the restaurant industry, being as incestuous and full of drama as it is, feels like a particularly sticky place to do what I’m doing. Should I disclose to them that I’m also getting along with their colleague?
A: I would think one of the big perks of being ethically non-monogamous would be that you could be honest and open about whoever you may be dating. You should do that, and let your two partners decide what to do with the information. This is what they signed up for when they started dating you and if it feels sticky or weird to either of them, they can choose to end things with you. So yes, disclose and don’t feel bad!
Q. Re: Dealbreaker: Having an edible is more like drinking a cup of coffee or tea than drinking a beer. I think what this really calls for is a bigger conversation around addiction and demonization of drugs, which is a nebulous category to start with a long history of racism, etc., tied in. You should both think deeply about it and then really get at the root of the issue in counseling.
A: I’ve always thought the argument was that an edible was more similar to a glass of wine or beer than, say, meth. But either way—whether the effects are as mild as a cup of tea or a bit stronger—I agree that the letter writer will feel better if she can do a little bit of work to unpack and examine her feelings about drug use and see if there’s anything she can reconsider while still honoring her negative experiences.
Q. Re: Not a reality show: Um, is getting married after a year of dating really that unusual? Ask them bewilderedly what the proper length of courtship in polite society is.
A: Great point, and great idea for a response. This timeline is totally normal.
Q. Re: Steamed sis: Do a Friendsgiving, sleep late, see a movie, do anything but spend time with your family. Your brother is a selfish jerk and your parents obviously favor him over you. Spend time with people who care about you and value your feelings.
A: I guarantee this plan will lead to a better and happier day.
Thanksgiving has always been a huge source of stress for my mother, and I don’t have one memory of her actually enjoying it. Since my brother and sister-in-law moved, my house is the only one feasible to hold everyone (five siblings, spouses, and all the kids). I told everyone I would be catering the meal, but they would be welcome to make a dessert or side dish.
Reactions were mixed. My mother says, “It will not be the same,” but it is my house so I should do as I see fit. The loudest naysayer has been my youngest sister. She told me I was “ruining the holidays.” The woman burns water and hasn’t helped with a holiday meal since she was in high school. I told my sister I didn’t care about her opinion, and she was welcome to either take over hosting duties or not come. She is sulking, and my mother is upset. The entire point was to make the holiday easier, and that isn’t happening. Please advise.