Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I have been dating my girlfriend for three years. She is wonderful, intelligent, caring, and independent. I love her more than anything and hope to spend the rest of my life with her. I am committed to working through any difficulties with her, but I am having a horrible personal failing in one area of conflict: my girlfriend rescues animals. She is a registered foster with a local non-profit and also rescues any critter she finds in need. She has eight cats and three dogs, and a virtual menagerie of other animals has passed through her house (hawk, baby raccoon, injured mice, injured birds, livestock, etc).
Her house is organized chaos, full of “clean” dirt and dust bunnies, although no pet smells or anything unsanitary. I can’t handle the animals messing with anything or moving anything out of place, and she is nonplussed at my intolerance. Anytime our schedule changes because of an animal need or emergency rescue, I feel a simmering resentment building in my body. When I’m at work and find lingering animal hair on my clothing, I borderline seethe. We can’t vacation, do anything spur of the moment, or plan events without planning for the animals. I feel like a total asshole because a large part of me wants to tell her to drive away when she sees an animal in need and let it be someone else’s problem. I know that rescues are full, shelters have ridiculous kill rates, and that if she doesn’t help it is likely that no one else will. But I can’t stop the visceral negative reaction I feel because of the annoyance and chaos of sharing my life with animals.
When I have brought it up, my girlfriend looks at me like I’m a monster for prioritizing my own comfort over the (often, literal) life of an animal in need. We both have our own homes, and we split time, but because I don’t like the animals in my house, my girlfriend always cuts her time short. She is willing to compromise and bring dog crates, walk them on leashes etc., but she draws the line at compromising care, and I feel like an even bigger asshole because I just can’t jive with her well-behaved dogs loose in my house. I want all the animals outside, all the time, no matter what. This is such an intrinsic part of who she is, and I know it would absolutely crush her if I ever drew a line in the sand or set an ultimatum of “me or the animals”. Plus, I have no doubt she would not choose me in that scenario. Animal rescue is like a moral compulsion for her, one that I conceptually admire, but that I do not support in practice. Why can’t I get over this?
— Definitely Not My Circus
Dear Not My Circus,
You can’t get over this because you’re just not an animal person in the way your girlfriend is. And that’s OK. Her love for animals and accompanying lifestyle is OK too! I am sad to say I think you’ve discovered through your time dating that you’re just not compatible. I know it’s hard, because we’re used to hearing about relationship clashes that have to do with infidelity or ambition or different approaches to family, but not seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to animals is a big deal, too. You are going to be even more resentful than you are now if you end up living together, and there’s not really room for any more compromise here—a request to leave animals outside or skip an emergency rescue of just one dog will feel cruel to her, and she’ll end up having contempt for you. Don’t even consider an ultimatum. Just gently tell her that you’ve thought about it and you don’t want to ask her to change, but you don’t see a future in which you’re both happy.
I’m a college student and recently began seeing a man who I have strong feelings for. We met at my job (which is related to a cause that he cares about), but he doesn’t know that I only took this job to repay my parents after overdrafting a card of theirs. He thinks that I am equally strong in my convictions about this cause. I’ve now started to share similar beliefs, but do I need to tell him that I first took this job for different reasons?
— Is Love a Lie?
Dear Love a Lie,
No! It’s very normal to take a job to make money. That is why most people work, and it doesn’t need to be explained. Especially now that you share similar beliefs, this is not a big deal. Remember that while honestly is great, dating someone doesn’t mean they’re entitled to every thought you’ve ever had.
I’ve been estranged from my mother for about 2.5 years. It’s been a toxic and emotionally abusive relationship for most of my life, and I cut her off after a particularly nasty incident. She has finally apologized, and although I’m still keeping her at arm’s length emotionally, I’ve agreed to go to her house for Christmas Eve this year with my family. We’ve bought gifts for everyone else that will be there, other than her and her husband. My question is, should I buy them gifts as well? We’re barely back on speaking terms, and I’m not really excited about going there for Christmas, so I kind of feel like she’s lucky to be seeing me and the kids at all and that’s her present. But I also don’t want to be a total jerk about it, either. What would you recommend?
— Conflicts at Christmas
Yes, if you’re going to her home, and the expectation in your family is that you exchange gifts, and you bought gifts for everyone else, you should bring gifts for her and her husband. They don’t have to be anything particularly expensive, thoughtful, or special, but find something to wrap up.
That said, the fact that you’re considering going to her home so begrudgingly concerns me. You don’t have to do this. Yes, she apologized to you, but that doesn’t mean you’re over the abuse or that things have to go back to normal. Start small with things like phone conversations and short visits. Holidays can be stressful, even for families in which everyone generally gets along. You said “I’m not really excited” and that makes all the sense in the world, given what you’ve been through. I’d suggest staying home.
More Advice From Care and Feeding
To start, I am as child-free as they come, but I have a terrific 9-year-old niece. My sister-in-law has introduced an Elf on the Shelf and my niece has taken to sending me photos of where she finds it each morning. I HATE the idea of these toys. I still remember the day I learned about Santa. It shattered my trust in my mother. It may have made me a more critical thinker because I doubted everything I was told from then on, but I lost an outlet in my parents and there are many big items in my life they are unaware of as a result. When my niece talks about her Elf, I do not want to lie to her, but I am aware that it is very much not my place to say anything. I’ve been responding to these images with changing the subject (“oh, Christmas is coming soon”), but that won’t keep working. I don’t want her to look back and think I was in on the lie. What do I do?