Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I’m having an issue with my father I can’t figure out what to do with. About 10 years ago, he kicked my mom out of the house and moved in with a woman that he met at a strip club (Brenda) who he then fell head over heels for. She was a nice woman but she didn’t love him (she said so). Then she died and it ripped him apart. He’s now living in a different state, and when I went to visit him he told me that nobody down there knows about my mother who died last year and that Brenda was his only wife and I presume also my mother. He didn’t acknowledge my mother’s birthday to me, but every year gets a hold of me on the anniversary of Brenda’s death to “remember her.” It really hurts, and I love my father, but I’m not sure I can keep up communication with him. I’m just so angry. What should I do about that?
—Over All of It
Dear Over All of It,
Step 1: Tell him you’re hurt and angry, if you haven’t already. Let him know how his decision to leave your mom for Brenda and kick her out of the house affected you. Tell him how you feel when he doesn’t acknowledge your mom. You deserve to get this off your chest. It might even be a good idea to put it in writing, so you can make sure you don’t leave anything unsaid and aren’t cut off or interrupted.
Step 2: Decide whether there’s any version of a relationship with him that would work for you. If there is, it’s worth suggesting. Would you be OK with communicating with him if he didn’t mention Brenda? If he acknowledged the pain of losing your mom? Are there things you would enjoy discussing with him or activities you wouldn’t mind doing with him a couple of times a year? Really think about what would feel good to you. And then propose it. If he agrees, that’s your new relationship. If he doesn’t, you have every right to decide to limit or end your communication with him.
I recently visited a friend, Aaron, whose house I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic. He also is the boyfriend of my best friend, and they moved in together a couple weeks ago. Over the past couple months, I heard rumors of the state of Aaron’s house from mutual friends. But this was the first time seeing it for myself. There were boxes stacked taller than I am everywhere, with a rickety path carved through to the kitchen. Ankle-deep piles of random items strewed across the room, ranging from books to camping supplies to unopened Macy’s bags. Aaron mentioned without prompting that he had cleaned before I came.
Aaron and my best friend are kind people who helped me at points in my life when I really needed it. Is there any way I can return the favor? I really don’t know if I should say anything or if there’s any way to help with hoarding. They are both lovely people who I hate to see living like that.
—Horrified at the Hoard
I’ll confess that all of my expertise here comes from watching Hoarders on A&E. But I feel certain that addressing this kind of behavior is above your pay grade. If an offer to help clean up or purge worked, people wouldn’t have to turn to mental health professionals and heavy-duty cleanup crews to make their loved ones’ homes livable. I think the best you can do is be a good friend to this couple, which can include keeping in regular contact to help with any isolation they may be experiencing, and being a voice in favor of whatever kind of therapy or counseling they can afford, if the topic comes up.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I maintain a distant but polite relationship with my mother, “Amy,” despite living in the same city. When I was a kid, she not only failed to protect me from my abusive father, but sometimes threw me under the bus to protect herself and my younger brothers from him. His alcoholism killed him when I was 14, but the damage had been done at that point. She never apologizes or acknowledges any of this, and through years of therapy the best I’ve managed is a distant coexistence.
Although Amy is still mentally competent, her physical health has been declining steeply, and she’s no longer doing well independently. Amy, my brother, and a social worker all called me after a recent fall landed her in the hospital, looking for me to organize and pay for care. Frankly, although I could afford to help, I have no desire to do it. Ideally, I would make one or two polite holiday visits a year out of a sense of obligation the way I do now, and even that is a big ask.
How do I politely but firmly refuse to be involved in her care? As my mother and brother brought up, I was heavily involved in my mother-in-law’s end-of-life care (although I doubt they know my partner and I also paid for all of it) but that was different: We loved her in a deep and uncomplicated way and still miss her dearly, and even then it was a difficult time. I don’t want Amy to suffer, but I absolutely do not want to be involved in the life of someone who hurt me so much. My brothers were coddled and neither tends to take on “women’s work,” so I doubt they will step in. I need a script that doesn’t reopen old wounds or get into justification.
—(Trying to Stay) Distant in Ohio
Dear Trying to Stay Distant,
“I want you to know that I’m not going to be involved in Mom’s care.” That’s it, that’s the script! But your actions will be even more important. Your brothers will eventually step up and do this “women’s work,” but only if you don’t do it, or monitor it, or manage it, or even ask about it. It’s great that they already have the support of a social worker. When they realize you’re serious, they’ll figure this out.
I need your advice please. I have a guy I’ve been committed to for eight months now. We’ve both been smitten with each other, but recently someone he used to talk to came around wanting attention. He, as far as I know, hasn’t been talking to her. Very, very late at night recently she contacted him saying she “needed him,” but just before that she sent an email saying “I’m deleting you cause you don’t talk to me.” It turns out her son has cancer. This is sad, but why does she need to contact him of all people (not her husband, or girlfriend)? I’m not possessive or jealous, but I feel that this is not an OK thing to do. So my question is, am I crazy to think this is overstepping a boundary for me? Thank you so much for your perspective.
Dear Feeling Shocked,
This stranger doesn’t owe you anything, and she is allowed to reach out to an ex (whether or not he’s single) if she wants to, whether or not her child has cancer. But the great news is, her actions and lack of respect for your boundaries don’t matter as long as you can trust your boyfriend. And it sounds like you can. He told you when she reached out, and he hasn’t been communicating with her. All is well.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“People really want to believe like, ‘no expense too big for MY WEDDING!’ Bride brain. … Sometimes the grooms get bride brain too.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My partner was recently asked to be best man at his brother’s wedding. He said yes, no questions asked. All we were told was that it was a destination wedding. His brother informed him that he was responsible for planning the destination bachelor party. After receiving the invitation and reviewing the itinerary, I am shocked. The venue is a five-star, all-inclusive resort. The room is almost $2,000 for three nights. It’s kid-friendly (we have three kids), but we would not have access to the majority of the resort because it’s separated by family-friendly and adult-only. This limits restaurants and bars we can utilize even if we leave the kids with another family member for a few hours one afternoon. The expenses for a family of five are adding up quickly, and we are estimating we’ll spend between $6,000 and 8,000 total on this four-day, three-night wedding weekend.
On top of this, the mother of the bride is the designated travel agent, and it feels like they’re trying to make a profit off the guests (the cost to book through the resort is actually cheaper than the travel agent). Add in the expenses of the destination bachelor party and time off from work, all while we are planning our own wedding later that same year with its own set of expenses and needing time off work.
I respect my fiancé’s desire to be the best man, but I’ve suggested that me and the kids stay home, and he was offended. I don’t want to plan to leave the kids at home because I don’t know what the state of the pandemic will be at the time. I tread delicately because I don’t want to feel like I’m controlling, but is it reasonable to ask my fiancé to skip the bachelor party and find other ways to reduce the cost? Is this expecting too much of the wedding party, or am I being selfish? I fully support them having the wedding of their dreams, but I feel like this should’ve come with a list of requirements and expectations before he committed to the role.
Dear Going Broke,
I can’t believe we, as a culture, ask people to agree to be in wedding parties without outlining what the cost will be. It’s unreasonable and unnecessarily confusing, and it always leads to situations like this and lots of resentment. But here you are. Your fiancé is committed to the event and that commitment comes with an expectation that he’ll be the organizer of the bachelor party, so I don’t think he can reasonably get out of that part. And, honestly, I don’t really think you should ask him to. This is his brother, and his presence or absence will be remembered forever.
My advice depends on whether you actually can’t afford for the whole family to go to the wedding, or if you simply think the cost is excessive. Only you and your fiancé know how your finances look (I assume they’re combined because you have kids) and whether this event would put you in a difficult spot or mean that you have to give up something else.
If you truly can’t afford it, make your case to your fiancé that he should go and that you and the kids will stay home. You can always use the pandemic as an excuse here. Who knows when your children will have an exposure at school and need to quarantine? Plus, the resort isn’t family-friendly. Put your foot down.
If it’s just that you don’t want to spend the money, suck it up this time, enjoy it as much as you possibly can, and vow that neither of you will ever again commit to bridal party duty without a full understanding of the costs involved. And keep this experience in mind when you’re asking people to be in your wedding!
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 (a woman) am in a relationship with a guy, both in our 40s. We don’t yet live together, but things have been going great despite the pandemic. A couple of weeks ago, he told me that he felt awful with a migraine and it was the worst he had ever had. He was taking as many meds as he was permitted and still the next morning felt terrible. He was scheduled to go on a 90-minute drive for a nonessential errand (a delivery of a washer-dryer arriving at his buddy’s house that he said he would assist with). I said, for the love of God, don’t go. Ask your friend if the delivery can be postponed, or maybe a neighbor would help him instead? He said no, took more meds up to the limit, and drove, still with his migraine pounding. His vision had been compromised the day before, but he said that element had improved. Two weeks later, and I’m still enraged that he would risk himself and others, that he wouldn’t accept that driving under the influence of prescribed medication is probably illegal, and all for a nonessential trip. This won’t leave my mind, and I am now thinking it’s a deal-breaker, which I would be very sad about. He doesn’t see the problem and says I am overreacting. Am I? If not, what should I do?
I am in love with and in a relationship with my best friend. She’s married with children and so am I, but we are both miserable in those marriages. She is truly my equal; she makes me laugh in a way that I have never laughed. She challenges me in a way no one does. Quite simply, she makes me happy in a way I have not been in a very long time. Not to mention we have the best sex of our lives. To make things more complicated, we are in a long-distance relationship, so the time we do share in person is special to us both. Time spent apart is difficult. I cannot bring myself to leave my wife and children, nor to ask her to leave her husband and children. Is what we are currently doing sustainable?
—Can’t Take the Next Step
Dear Next Step,
No, it is not.
My sister is going to be visiting me and my family for the holidays, which is great. However, she recently reminded me that I’d have to ship all of her gifts to her home because she doesn’t check luggage. I was really looking forward to her arrival, but this seemingly small issue has me simmering with resentment. Sure, she’s my little sister, but she is now in her 30s! My husband and I are both professionals with demanding jobs and little free time. Her refusal to check baggage because she doesn’t want to be inconvenienced at the airport has me steaming. She says that it shouldn’t make any difference that she doesn’t want to take her gifts on the plane because if she weren’t coming, I would have to ship them anyway. Her sense of entitlement is making me feel bah humbug! Am I wrong?