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 live chat. What’s on your mind today? Anxiety about the upcoming holidays? Lingering COVID debates? Other people being wrong? Let’s talk about it!
Q. His grief is freaking me out: My beloved sister-in-law (my husband’s sister) recently passed away unexpectedly. My daughter was quite close to her and I considered her a dear friend. I have been in touch with her husband and am very uncomfortable with some of the things he is saying over the phone. He mentioned that when he first met me, he would have pursued me if he hadn’t been with my sister-in-law. (I am not, nor have I ever been, interested.) I know this is tough on him, but I can’t be the person to take her place with the daily phone calls, the insistence that my daughter and I stay at his two-bedroom house for the funeral (I’d rather be at a hotel with my own bathroom), and am just plain getting the willies from some of the things he is saying.
I understand he is grieving, but how do I react here? As of today, I’ve stopped responding to his texts to call him. I’m sad for his loss, but one has to go through those difficult times of grief regardless. Do I sound heartless? I am getting creeped out. The funeral is some weeks away. I want to honor my sister-in-law, but this is bloody weird.
A: I’m really sorry for your loss and I admire your compassion for your sister-in-law’s husband. But it’s not your job to put up with any inappropriate behavior from him or to put yourself in an uncomfortable situation. You can put an end to this without any guilt. Some lines you might use include “This isn’t a conversation I want to have”; “I’m uncomfortable hearing that and I’m going to get off the phone now”; “That comment really crosses a line. I want to be there for you but not if you’re going to say things that creep me out”; “I don’t return your feelings, and I’m focused on the funeral right now”; “We’ve decided to stay at a hotel because we need our own space but we’ll see you at the funeral”; and “No, that’s my final decision but we’ll see you at the funeral.”
Think of it this way: By keeping your distance and making it clear that his advances aren’t welcome, you’re not being a jerk, but rather doing something to benefit everyone involved: You’re standing up for yourself and refusing to let him stress you out while you should be focused on mourning and helping your daughter through this time. You’re honoring your sister-in-law’s memory by respecting her relationship, even if her husband doesn’t. And you’re also protecting him from letting his grief drive him to behave inappropriately. So it’s a win-win! Please don’t waste another moment worrying that in a situation in which a man is trying to move on before his wife is buried (with someone who’s shown no interest in him!), you are being “heartless.” You are definitely not.
How to Get Advice From Prudie:
• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)
• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.
Q. Fool me dozens of times: I have a longtime friend who is an alcoholic and lives in another state. When she’s in town, she’ll sometimes reach out to get together, but when I agree, she almost always ends up canceling at the last minute—as in when I’m already at the agreed-upon location, even when it’s an hour’s drive away—or just blows me off completely, usually to party with her boozy pals. She has a long history of doing this, and no matter how many times I get angry or tell her how it makes me feel, she continues to do it. I’ve tried to end the friendship over this many times, but she pleads the victim of some circumstance or miscommunication and I end up forgiving her until it happens again.
I’d like to end our friendship for good because although I do love her, we now have very little in common and I’m starting to feel like Charlie Brown to her Lucy with the football. My question: Do I tell her I’m ending it or just stop responding to her when she texts/calls?
A: You should tell her. This will help you feel a sense of closure, and might offer her some important feedback about the toll her drinking is taking on her relationships. Include some information about what (if anything) she would need to do to repair the relationship—but don’t hold out too much hope that she will.
Q. Legacy lost: My late grandfather was a true craftsman and created a rocking chair and cradle when my grandmother was pregnant with my mother. They held all of my aunts and uncles and all of my cousins. They are truly the family heirlooms and were the only items to survive the fire after my mother’s house burned down. It is a family tradition to give them to the next person who gets pregnant, but it isn’t a permanent gift.
Almost a year ago, my sister’s 20-year-old stepdaughter “Sue” got pregnant and was kicked out of her mother’s house. She was 17 when my sister married her father so there isn’t much of a family bond, but my family felt sympathy for her. We threw her a baby shower and I told her the story about the history behind the rocking chair and cradle, and how it has been in our family for nearly a century and held every generation. Now she and her baby were part of that legacy. Sue seemed touched. Later she reconciled with her mother and moved back in, taking everything with her. She had the baby but wasn’t really in contact with my family much. I learned from my sister that Sue had decided to put the baby up for adoption.
I waited several days out of respect for the situation and contacted Sue about getting the cradle and rocking chair back. Sue told me she didn’t have them anymore. She couldn’t stand the sight of all the baby stuff and sold everything to save up for a car. I grew upset and told Sue she had no right to sell the items. She knew exactly what they meant to my family and we needed to get them back. Sue snapped that they were a gift and now they were gone. She hung up on me.
I immediately called my sister with the news and she was shocked. She and her husband tried to find where Sue sold the items to no avail; she had put them online and had no further info. The loss devastated my family, especially my brother’s daughter, who just found out she is expecting.
My entire family is up in arms about this. My brother has been looking into suing Sue for the money she got. Horrible words have been flung at my sister and brother-in-law. I have been blamed as well. What now?
A: Well, this is a nightmare. Why don’t you try to make up with Sue (apologize! Do whatever it takes!) and find out from her who bought the items, and then approach that person and offer to buy them back for more than what they paid? Yes, it will cost some money, but less than hiring a lawyer to sue her—which I doubt would work anyway.
If that fails—and I know this is much easier said than done—you’re going to have to see if you can get yourself to remember that the love your grandfather had for his family was more important than any material things. And so is the love you have for one another now! The heirlooms were special because they signified connectedness and the growth of your family, so it would really be a shame—and in fact the very opposite of what your grandfather wanted—if their loss kept all of you from fully enjoying the fact that you’re all still here, alive, and a new baby is on the way.
Q. It’s not you, it’s me (and my great apartment): I moved to an expensive metro area last year during a massive COVID wave. As such, I figured I’d suffer through rent that was about 40 percent of my paycheck and skipped finding a random, potentially rat-licking roommate.
This summer, an old friend got in touch about moving into a two-bedroom apartment together, and I jumped at the chance. But … now that renewing my lease is about three months away, my parents have told me they’ll help me subsidize my place, and I’m feeling less sure about moving. My apartment is great, my neighborhood is lovely, the building management is swift and reliable, my landlord hasn’t raised my rent, and frankly, the thought of moving again gives me hives. How do I tell my friend that no, actually, I did some soul-searching and I don’t want to move in with you, even though we were discussing apartment hunting as late as last week?
A: This is perfect timing. I’m so happy you’re not writing this letter before you’ve signed a lease and after your friend has given notice. You can simply say something like “I’m so sorry to tell you this and I really feel like a flake, but some things have changed on my end and I can afford to stay in my current apartment after all, so I’m going to stay put. I was really looking forward to living with you and hope this doesn’t inconvenience you too much. I’m happy to ask around my friend group and at work about other possible roommates for you if you want.”
Q. Re: His grief is freaking me out: Where is your husband in all of this? He should be the one communicating with the sister-in-law’s husband from here on out.
A: Well, it’s not as if this is a stranger to the letter writer. She was close friends with his late wife, and it sounds like they have their own relationship. But if it does come to a point where she’s not comfortable talking to him and something needs to be communicated, her husband should definitely step in.
Q. Re: Fool me dozens of times: And stick with your decision. Do not respond to future texts, entreaties, attempts to guilt you into remaining in some form of imbalanced contact. You might want to block her number and on social media. Some of us (ahem) have difficulty not responding to someone who seems to be in need. Her main need in this case is to string you along. Don’t let her do this any more.
A: This is a good plan.
Q. Millionaires give $30 as wedding gifts: My husband’s brother brought his five adult children to our daughter’s wedding. Although we are regular working people, he has a net worth of well over $50 million, and his adult kids each have $2 million. The wedding was an evening event with a sit-down meal and dancing. The next day, when my daughter and her husband opened their gifts, most of the cards they received contained a check or new bills from the bank. They were touched by some of the amounts they received, even from relatives who are not well-off. They considered trying to return the money in some cases, but that seems rude.
Then came the card from the five millionaire adult kids and their dates and spouses (10 people in total). It was a single card among all of them. It was stuffed with used bills—10s and 20s totaling a completely random amount ($290). It looked like they passed the hat and gave the money from their pockets.