Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
As a “surprise” engagement gift, my husband’s dear godmother—who is actually a talented artist—painted an awkward, and very large picture of my fiancé and me. The proportions are off, and there’s a strange not-quite-human expression in our eyes. She put a lot of work into it, and likely thought we’d be touched. While it was certainly a nice gesture, we really don’t want to be looking at this 6-foot-tall painting of ourselves on a daily basis!
The problem is, she asks about it often. She lives three hours away, so we’d thought about taking it out only when she visits, but we don’t even have the storage space in our small apartment to put it away. What can we do without hurting her feelings, but without having its leery presence?
—The Walls Have Eyes
Dear the Walls Have Eyes,
How many times can she ask about the painting? I mean really, what questions are there to ask? What is there to say?
Anyway. Can you put it behind the couch or under a bed? If not, my best idea is to say you were asked by your landlord not to put any more holes in the wall so you’ve given it a place of honor at your parents’ or in-laws’ home. Where it can live in the garage. And let this be a reminder for all of us that it is almost always a bad idea to gift art, especially large pieces and certainly without consulting the recipient first—there’s just no accounting for taste!
My girlfriend of seven years to whom I’m about to propose told me that she once had a relationship with a married man for 5 years. She was not married herself so she feels like she did nothing wrong. I am obsessing over this, because it makes me feel as though she does not respect the sanctity of marriage. Am I wrong?
— Emotionally Confused
You’re not wrong, exactly—you’re allowed to feel however you feel about her past, and you are not obligated to propose to anyone. But I don’t know about your logic here. Plenty of people who have never been involved in any kind of infidelity take their marriage vows and still end up cheating or otherwise being terrible spouses.
I understand that you want to be married to someone who takes marriage seriously. But when it comes to deciding whether your girlfriend can be trusted, I think you’d feel better if you took a holistic look at her character and your connection and compatibility, rather than disqualifying her for one incorrect feeling. More important than how she feels about her past conduct is how she feels about you, how she wants her own marriage to look and feel, and the behaviors that you’ve actually observed. You should also take into consideration the kind of relationship you two have and how hard you each work to keep it in a place where nobody feels moved to look for attention elsewhere. I definitely think you should wait to propose until you have had a lot of satisfying conversations about these things. Don’t do it if you have any doubt.
It’s worth being very deliberate about figuring out whether this is a person you can really trust and want to spend the rest of your life with, but I think there are better ways to go about that than scrutinizing what she did years ago.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
How do you get over breaking up with someone when they didn’t do anything wrong and you still love them? My ex-girlfriend is amazing. She is beautiful, smart, and kind—but it turns out her family are huge racists. This isn’t something she had kept secret from me exactly, but I had thought it was racist like my grandma (who sometimes says something she heard in the 50s and hasn’t thought about since, but will stop if you explain why it is hurtful).
My GF’s parents, siblings, and two in-laws, however, are full-on racists. Her brother has a swastika tattoo on his neck (it wouldn’t be any better anywhere else, but he isn’t even a secret fascist. It is out and proud). My GF’s argument is that she keeps in touch with them because otherwise they won’t hear any other point of view. That she is just doing what I do for my grandma, it is just taking a longer time.
I can respect that, but I have a mixed-race daughter (her mother and I were 15 when she was born), and I can’t have her be a teachable moment OR a casualty to this. My GF insists she’d never bring my daughter around her family … but then what? She wants to spend holidays with them, so my daughter is always excluded from our holiday celebrations? And what if we have kids? They get to meet the racist uncle and bring that home to their sister?
So we broke up right before Thanksgiving dinner, after the father made a gross comment about my ex, and now I am in a seedy motel trying to reschedule my flight home. I know I made the right decision. At the end of the day, my daughter comes first.
But I just don’t know how to have a break-up that isn’t angry, I guess. It isn’t my gf’s fault that her family are racists or that she wants them to learn better. I’m not wrong, I don’t think that my daughter deserves better than having that around her, even indirectly.
It is a no-fault break-up, and it sucks.
— Blame Game Fail
Dear Blame Game Fail,
If it helps, you could actually think of this not as a no-fault breakup, but as a fault breakup. I mean, your girlfriend has just rolled over and accepted her family’s racism. This isn’t mandatory, and a lot of people make different, braver choices. So if you want to, get mad about her being spineless and cowardly!
But if you truly feel she did nothing wrong, maybe the right way to think about this is, alongside being sad about the end of the relationship—which is normal and healthy—celebrating what you did to protect your daughter. Many parents put their children in awful situations because of their own desire to have love and connection. And you didn’t. So give yourself a pat on the back for that. And when you start to dwell on the breakup, shift your thinking from calculations about blame, to focus on what you’d like in the future—I’m guessing it’s a partner who has values similar to yours and is just as willing to put them into action.
How do I make it clear that a child’s birthday party is only for children?
My daughter recently celebrated her eighth birthday, and we had a small get-together at home with some kids’ entertainment. When I say small, I mean four kids were invited. I made it clear in my invitation that this was a drop off event (bring your child at this time and pick him up at this time). (For the record, all these kids have been at our house many times before, without parents, so that is not the issue.) One mom called to ask questions about the party and then said that she would be staying for it. I reassured her that she didn’t need to but she insisted. The day of the party both mom and dad showed up! They proceeded to stay for most of the event even though it looked totally ridiculous to have these grownups around for a child’s party.
Eventually, I convinced them to go home and told them to pick up their child at such-and-such a time. When the time came for pick up they texted to say they were out to dinner and would be a little late. This doubly infuriated me: once for inviting themselves and twice for being late to pick up. I don’t want this to happen again. How do I make this clear next time? Am I overreacting?
— You Are Not Invited
Dear Not Invited,
I can see how some parents wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving a 4-year-old to party independently, but if these kids have been left at your home before, it shouldn’t be an issue. You’ll just have to make your expectations extremely clear, as many parents are used to staying at kids’ parties—or, even more likely, worry that it would be rude to leave you with a bunch of wild children and no help.
Make sure you announce the next party in writing—whether it’s a paper invitation, an email, or a text and include in all caps “KIDS ONLY” with instructions for parents to drop off and pick up. If that’s what you already did, maybe following up next time with a call explaining your reasoning would help, so people understand that it’s not just that you don’t need them there—you really don’t want them there at all. Maybe something like: “I’m so glad you can come! Ava specifically asked for no grownups so I’m having all parents drop their kids off at the door” or “Thanks for your RSVP! I’m just reminding everyone that we have a small space and I’m not prepared to host adults, so you can plan to drop the kids off at 11 and pick them up at 2 and enjoy some time to yourself.”
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“You broke up because of her bad thinking and horrible values! Go ahead and be mad!”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
Six-ish months ago, over the summer, I had my best friend come to visit me. The trip was fine, with some expected awkwardness from the fact that we had never met in person despite being friends for five years. Afterwards, my friend confessed that they thought I had feelings for them. I admitted I did but that I tend to develop feelings for people I’m very close to and had no plans to act on them. After that, my friend significantly reduced contact.
Without getting too much into the weeds, I reacted poorly to that. We went from talking literally multiple times a day to me going days and longer without hearing from them. I absolutely overreacted, none of which was helped by my mental state at the time. Eventually they cut contact with me, and a third friend (who I had been friends with way longer and met a few times) also cut me off because they sided with my best friend.
About a month after this all happened, it was that friend’s birthday. I attempted to reach out on a messaging platform only to find myself blocked. I reached out twice to that other friend. Since then, my mental health has significantly improved, and things in my life are going a lot better.
I want to reach out to them both, via text (I still have their numbers) and apologize. Part of me hopes we can be friends again, but I’m not expecting anything from them. I also want to try and explain about how much better I’m doing. Is this a correct thing to do? Or is this still crossing major lines and I should just let it be? For the record, all my contact information is the same and they could reach me whenever. I miss my friends!
— Is My Mistake Really Unforgivable?
Dear Is My Mistake,
I’m not reading anything that suggests you made an unforgivable mistake. But it does sound like you might have behaved in a way that made your friend really uncomfortable—too uncomfortable to want to continue a friendship with you. Put yourself in their shoes: They thought you were best friends, it turned out you were attracted to them romantically or sexually, they learned this (I can only assume, through some behavior that they experienced as creepy and unwanted) while in the vulnerable position of staying at your home, and when they understandably pulled back contact as a result (come on, we all know a friendship doesn’t work when one person has a crush on the other) you “reacted poorly,” which I assume means you said some mean things or had some sort of tantrum.
Your instinct that it would be crossing a line to reach out again is right. Don’t do it. I understand that you miss them, but given what’s happened so far, you have a better shot at eventually being welcomed back into their life by not being pushy and aggressive. The lesson from this situation is to be honest about your feelings from the beginning and to let people make their own decisions about the kind of relationship they want to have with you.
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.
My husband and I work paycheck to paycheck. Getting something new means getting something from the local thrift store. We have two teenage sons, but last year had to take on our 10-year-old niece permanently. We tightened our belts a little more and were able to clothe and feed her properly, but she was sleeping on a blow-up air mattress and kept her stuff in plastic bins.
Ten months ago, a member of a neighboring church tragically lost their young daughter to cancer and couldn’t stand the sight of their little girl’s things. They donated them. Our preacher was able to pass on the bedroom set and many of the toys to us. It was a beautiful antique iron rod bed with a nearly new mattress and several well-built wooden bookcases and a hope chest that had been lovingly hand painted. My niece cried when we presented her with her new bedroom.
Recently, the original owners contacted us and told us they had made a mistake in their grief and wanted the items back. Not only did the items belong to their little girl but had been either family heirlooms (the bed frame came from a great aunt) or been decorated by them (the hope chest had been painted by the late grandmother).
My husband and I are not heartless, but we have a little girl to look out for ourselves. We discussed it and told the couple we would happily give everything back if they could replace everything with a similar good quality. They told us they were deeply in debt, had no money, and to find God in our hearts.
We offered them the choice of the bed or the painted shelves and hope chest, with the plan that I could take a few more shifts to replace the furniture. We tried, but the couple refused to compromise and ended up cursing us out multiple times. They said we were stealing from their dead daughter. They went public with their grievances, both on social media (which they later deleted) and in our small community.
Our pastor has approached us several times over this, and we have explained our side and showed her the text messages between us and the couple. While we grieve for them, we are not making our little girl sleep on the floor again. We gave the pastor the hope chest and a handwritten letter telling about our little girl’s struggles and how we empathize with the other family’s loss. Do you have any other advice on how to handle this?
— Hurt and Hoping
I’ve been seeing a guy who is in an open long-distance relationship. His relationship has been open for more than a year, but he hasn’t been with anyone other than his partner until he met me. Our relationship is more than just sex, we have lots in common and we want the same things in life. After about three months of dating I became more attached, but now that the COVID travel bans are lifted, he can finally travel to see her. Before he left, I told him how I felt, but he said he couldn’t withdraw his commitment with his partner, especially after three years of relationship. But he also said “we’ll see how it goes” when he comes back. I don’t think I can handle the potential hurt and disappointment, so I stepped away. But is it wrong that I remain hopeful?
Sadly, I don’t think this is going to work out the way you want it to. I believe you when you say you have a strong connection, but this guy is a person who can have a strong connection with one person without wanting to cut off the other person in his life. And he did tell you that from the beginning. Even if the visit goes poorly and he ends up breaking up with her, he’s still probably going to want to be in some sort of an open relationship, and you’re not going to enjoy that.
So you were absolutely right to step away. This is a time to let yourself feel the jealousy you’re experiencing and lean into mourning the end of this relationship. Don’t let it drag on too much longer, and don’t let yourself become a person you don’t like as you navigate these feelings. Journal. Cry. Vent to your friends. Put some thought into what this experience taught you about what you want (connection and having things in common!) and what you don’t (sharing your boyfriend with someone else). There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Next time someone you like tells you they’re not monogamous, you’ll have the experience and wisdom to say “Enjoy, but that’s not for me.”
A couple of years ago, my sister-in-law, a stay-at-home mom, made some nasty comments to me about my choice to continue working after having kids. She never apologized, and while I am pleasant to her out of necessity, it isn’t the same. I don’t trust her. Now her husband is out of work, and she wants me to recommend her for a position at my company. I do not like or respect this woman and do not want to work with her. My husband admits he wouldn’t help either. I know there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women, but do I have to help her here?