Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My brother-in-law disclosed to me that he had multiple sexual encounters with a married couple in exchange for money. He and my sister are struggling financially, and when he first mentioned that he was propositioned, I urged him to decline the offer because no good would come of it. That was about a year ago; then recently he said he gave in (at least twice, I guess) because they needed the cash. However, he has not told my sister. I am upset that he thought it OK to engage in an affair like this and upset that he disclosed this to me and expects me to keep it from my sister. They have two young children, and I know if I said anything to my sister, their family would implode. Keeping it from her also feels bad because if she were ever to find out that I knew, it would destroy my relationship with her.
—No Good Options
Dear No Good Options,
Why would he tell you this? Maybe on some level he wants you to tell your sister. Perhaps she can tell him to stop? Or she can know how hard he’s working to support the family? I really have no idea. But you don’t owe him anything, and you don’t have to keep this secret. Tell your sister, and she can decide whether or not her family implodes over it. This is a much better scenario than risking your relationship with her by hiding what you know.
My mother’s 60th birthday is coming up. To celebrate, my stepfather Larry wants to take a family cruise composed of me, my sister Patrice, cousin, cousin’s spouse and I. He’s looking at booking a cruise in six months. Each family member would be expected to pay their own way.
I love my mother deeply, but the prospect of a family cruise fills me with dread. I have never gotten along with Larry. He makes a sport to bully people about their insecurities to make himself feel better. During Thanksgiving, he somehow managed to pick a unique fight with everyone in attendance. Larry harassed two couples about not having kids, called Patrice lazy for no reason, insulted a guest’s cooking, all in the course of one meal. Larry is also a massive complainer. No matter what happens, something is wrong. If you show up to an event early, Larry complains you’re inconveniencing the host. Arrive on time, you closed the door too loud, who raised you? Arrive late, everyone’s waiting for you, let’s move.
Larry plays off most of these things as “jokes” or “not that bad” if anyone tries to call him on it. My mother is rarely the target of these punchlines, so it appears to not have reached her notice. Patrice, another target of Larry’s, shares my opinion of him. Patrice has more money and vacation time than I do, so she’s likely to end up going on the cruise despite the irritation.
The thought of being stuck on a boat with Larry makes me want to push him overboard. I hate to picture spending money, vacation time, and airfare to try and relax with someone who fundamentally irritates me. On the other hand, my mother only turns 60 once, and it could be a chance to make memories.
—To Cruise or Not to Cruise
Spending time with a man who you want to push overboard is not the best setting to make memories. In fact, it’s one of the worst ideas I can think of. Please feel free to excuse yourself from this trip. “It’s not in our budget,” “We’re going to pass this time,” and “We’ve already planned our vacations for the year” are all perfectly acceptable excuses. Then plan something else special with your mom. I promise you’ll be so much happier and so much more celebratory if you’re not preoccupied with Larry’s bullying and complaining. She can enjoy your cruise with him and then have another celebration—with no insults or fights!—with you.
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My husband is always trying to hang out with other women. He always wants to do nice things for them and go out of his way for them, but he doesn’t do the same for me. He treats me like I’m supposed to do everything he demands and just accept it. When I confront him about what he’s doing and say that I’m angry about the situation, he just ignores me or tells me a story about how he just needed to do a quick favor, like move some furniture, for one of these women. But I know that he’s trying to have more than that because I’ve read his text messages and they are very explicit. He says he loves me, but I can’t take it anymore because he seems to try and do this with every woman he meets. He just seems like he doesn’t care about my feelings at all and just wants to have his cake and eat it, too. I don’t know what to do: I’ve asked him to leave several times, but he refuses. I’m so confused about what he wants in this relationship.
—So Angry and Confused
Dear Angry and Confused,
I disagree that you’re confused. You seem to be extremely clear-eyed about your husband’s dishonesty, his mistreatment of you, and his total lack of care about your feelings. You’ve even asked him to leave! Don’t worry about what he wants—that’s not your job to figure out. You aren’t happy in this relationship, and you can be the one to leave. Work toward finding a way to do that that feels safe, and get out of there.
Grief, stress, and hiding indoors for a year led me to gain significant weight in 2021. I understand that what’s medically considered overweight is way too extreme, and that many people my new size and much larger are happy, healthy, and gorgeous. However, I’m not feeling so good, and the cause of my recent gains were clearly the opposite of happiness and health. I’ve come to the difficult conclusion that I’d like to lose some weight. But I’m so wracked with guilt and fear about the idea. I really hate it when other people talk about or focus on weight loss. I know most weight loss programs and diets are ineffective and dangerous. And I feel so bad that it even matters to me—I don’t want to be that person. On top of it all, I struggled with disordered eating in my teens and early 20s; luckily it got better without anything very bad happening, but it’s still a tenuous relationship. I’m so afraid of triggering my old disordered habits and of generally buying into a cultural standard I don’t want any part of. At the same time, I feel like there’s a chance I’d be happier if I looked the way I did a year or two ago. Is there any way I can try this that isn’t a terrible, stupid idea?
—Losing Weight Baggage
Dear Losing Weight Baggage,
First of all, you have nothing to be ashamed of, and you’re not terrible or stupid in any way. The conflicted feelings you’re having are totally reasonable, given that the difference between being thin and being fat can mean a huge change in the way you’re viewed and treated. That isn’t fair, and it doesn’t make sense—but I think, based on your comment about cultural standards and the fact that you mentioned that most weight loss programs don’t even work long-term, you already know that. It feels like you’re right on the verge of finding a healthier and more sustainable approach to thinking about your body. But you won’t get there by ruminating over this alone. You’ll need to counter all the messages that have told you for your entire life that losing weight is the right thing to do and the path to happiness with other smarter, more compassionate messages about your body. I suggest Aubrey Gordon’s podcast Maintenance Phase and Christy Harrison’s Food Psych.* Listen to those, give yourself a chance to let the messages sink in, and see if you feel your attitude shifting a little. If you’re in a position to reinforce this content with a therapist who understands Health at Every Size, that would be great—especially because the grief, stress, and isolation you’ve experienced deserve attention, totally separate from any issues related to weight.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“There’s such a big difference between ‘getting physically healthy’ and ‘losing weight.’”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I have wanted children for years, and my husband of 10 years has always had a million excuses for why we weren’t ready. He has a young adult son, and money seems to always be a factor. However, I’ve busted my hump and have carved out a six-figure career with the flexibility that I need. I’m also at my fertility cliff.
We’ve never had any accidental pregnancies, which I assume is tied to him having cancer four years before we met. There’s a strong possibility that we’ll need intervention, and I finally got him to agree to see a fertility specialist, but he’s missed three appointments in 2021—the first scheduled in January. I told him that I’m having a baby with or without his input. With the help of our couples counselor, he said he’d finally make the fourth appointment and though he tried, he missed that one too. The next one I could get for him is spring 2022, over a year after I first declared I was ready to have a baby. Would I be a bad wife for seeking out a sperm donor? I’ve worked hard to make myself good mom material, and neither of us is getting any younger.
— Baby Boss
Dear Baby Boss,
I’m so sorry about what your husband has put you through. No, you would not be a bad wife for seeking out a sperm donor—but you might be a bad mom. I say that because I really worry about you bringing a child into a marriage to a man who clearly doesn’t want one, and isn’t even mature enough to be honest about it. How will someone who’s this avoidant and manipulative treat a son or daughter? So, see a fertility specialist, by all means. Get the ball rolling on having the child you want. But at the same time, think seriously about whether you want to still be married to your husband when he or she is born.
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.
I have a poor single mom, who loves gift-giving and is terrible at it. Growing up, she would scrimp and save leading up to Christmas to buy gifts I would inevitably hate but pretend to like so as not to hurt her feelings. I have tried to ask her to use her money for necessities or donate to charity, but she insists on buying me gifts. When I got accepted to college, she bought me a $200 poorly-fitting (to the point of being inappropriate) dress, and I cried for hours in my room. Now I’m a grad student in a tiny apartment, and I don’t have space for my necessities, never mind expensive stuff that my mom can’t afford and I don’t want. I know I’m being ungrateful, but I’m sick of feeling so distressed around the holidays. Is there a way to get her to stop without hurting her feelings?
— Guilty Gift-Hater
A few years ago, my mother-in-law bought me a small painting of a fox for Christmas, because she knows I like foxes. The painting was not really my taste, but was very beautifully done. So out of politeness, that is what I said. “Thank you so much for the thoughtful gift, what a beautiful piece of art.” I put it in our guest room where she would see it when she visited.
In the years since, she has bought me cards, napkins, notebooks, and mugs from the same artist with some kind of fox artwork printed on them. How do I make it stop without copping to the fact that I never liked the first painting to begin with?
This is funny. Also, there is no great solution. I’m sorry! A person who has fixated on fox art without much encouragement is not a person with amazing judgment about gifts, so I don’t even think it’s worth it to try to redirect her. You’ll just end up with owls, or a perfume you hate, or strange-looking quilts or something. Take solace in the fact that the items she’s giving you are small enough to be stuffed into a drawer or cabinet, and do that until enough time has passed that you can say you used them or misplaced them and get rid of them.
Correction, Dec. 16, 2021: This column originally misspelled Aubrey Gordon’s first name.
I was raised in a family where we were never big gift-givers. On special days we each give a meaningful gift and mainly focus on having a nice meal or an outing together. My husband’s family, on the other hand, sees Christmas and birthdays as occasions for major asset transfers. In other words, they are more into dollar value than my family. (My dear husband was horrified last Christmas with my family when all he got was a shirt and tie.) I worry that my husband’s family does not see our carefully chosen gifts as the sincere expression of love and affection that they are. Sometimes I feel trapped in a Polynesian cycle of humiliation by gift giving. Any tips?