Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I have an affinity for a particular breed of dog that is not very rare, but also not very common. We did not have a dog for many years due to lifestyle not permitting it, but people still knew about my fondness for this breed (my family always had a couple when I was growing up).
There is a woman in our social circle, Lucy, who has always been inexplicably antagonistic toward my partner and me, and recently she got this sort of puppy. (I don’t want to assume she got the dog because I like them, but it does seem odd that she would pick this particular breed, though I try not to think about it too much). After a few weeks, a mutual friend told us that Lucy was tired of the dog and had plans to drop it off at a local shelter. She then told us when Lucy would be surrendering the puppy to the shelter. Without thinking through the potential repercussions, we went and adopted the puppy. We have not posted about it on social media or told anyone outside of our parents. Should we tell Lucy we did this?
— Doggone Problem
Dear Doggone Problem,
No. And more important, I don’t think you should be talking to Lucy at all, beyond what’s absolutely necessary. She’s antagonistic to you at best, and possibly even being creepy by copying your dog breed. Make her as small a part of your life as possible. If she finds out that you adopted her dog, that’s fine. She left it at a shelter! Someone was going to get it! You don’t owe her an explanation.
I’m a mom of four with a husband who doesn’t like going out. Recently, a friend that I used to go rock climbing with way back before my family reached out and invited me to climb again. Around two times a month we will meet at the gym, do some top-roping, then grab a couple of beers together. I enjoy the rare, stress-free outings. The problem is, this guy keeps buying me small gifts—climbing gear, beer, or the like. Nothing too pricey, but it adds up. Everything else in our evenings is entirely kosher, but I don’t think men give gifts innocently. What am I to make of it?
— Moms Just Want to Have Fun
OK, I’m assuming that your relationship is a monogamous one and that there’s not a lot of room in it for outside activities that resemble dates with people who have a crush on you. If that’s right, why don’t you stick to rock climbing and skip the beers afterward? I think that would help to clarify the kind of relationship this for both you and your climbing partner. That’s not to say friends can’t have a drink together—but you seem to sense that this man has feelings for you, or an agenda that goes beyond climbing. You need to decide how you feel about that. If you’re honest with yourself, do you return the feelings? If you don’t, would you feel better if you were transparent with your husband (“Gym Guy keeps giving me gifts and probably likes me, but I’m keeping things totally kosher. I just wanted you to know”)? Or does this make you feel weird in a way that means you’d be better off ending this interaction? There are a lot of people in the world and a lot of people you could reconnect with or rock climb with, so don’t feel obligated. And if you don’t have much stress-free time, it doesn’t make sense to put yourself in a situation that causes you angst.
My boyfriend and I have been together for just about two years, and his parents are spending four days with us over the holidays. I work in a very stressful and draining person-facing field (think mental health) and have to be “on” all day. While his parents are very nice and I enjoy spending some time with them, knowing that a big chunk of my winter break is now going to be spent hosting is filling me with dread. It is a family “joke” that the boys of the family are useless and their female partners are the organizers/planners (i.e. his mother sent their flight confirmations to me, and not my boyfriend). While I am a planner by nature, assuming these are my future in-laws I do NOT want to be pigeon-holed into this role of being the one to come up with activities and entertainment the rest of my life.
I have already approached my boyfriend to request that he put thought into activities to do with his parents, and to think about getting some form of transportation for them so they can maybe go off and explore alone. (I have the only car, and we live in suburban area where visitors from out-of-town wouldn’t find many sights or attractions to walk to and visit.) I am envisioning that there are going to be hours-long periods of sitting around our small house making polite conversation. While I can be a good sport for a little bit, the nature of my career makes me really not want to spend my break putting on a good face and acting engaged endlessly. I am looking for A) permission and B) ideas how to politely extract myself and give myself some alone time and much-needed down time during this visit.
— Just Want to Sleep Late
Dear Sleep Late,
It would be nice—for the family, and for your inner planner—if you could set up one good activity, meal, or outing and be fully engaged and a good sport while it happens. Let everyone know when it’s going to take place. And then ask your boyfriend what he has planned for the rest of the time. If the answer is “not much,” schedule yourself for a lunch date, a class at the gym, or a zoom with friends on a couple of days. Each of those should get you at least a couple of hours of alone time and a break from whatever is happening (or not happening) at the house.
And remember that different families do visits in different ways. The truth is, his parents might be the kind of people who are fine with sitting around not doing anything special or figuring stuff out at the last minute, and if this is the case they probably don’t expect you to be “on” all the time. Let yourself consider the fact that the visit doesn’t need to be fully scheduled and that their goal might really just be to be in your home and see you two. Not to mention, you and your boyfriend have only been together for two years—even if they like you very much, they might appreciate some time alone with him. And if they want more out of the visit than you’re offering—oh well! Repeat to yourself: “These are my boyfriend’s parents and I will be kind to them but they are not my problem beyond that.” If it becomes boring or uncomfortable, that will be a great lesson for him and hopefully he’ll do a better job being a social coordinator the next time. If his mother asks you what’s on the agenda, cheerfully redirect her to her son.
But do not, I repeat do not, set a precedent of taking responsibility for the entire visit unless you want to do that for the rest of your life.
More Advice From Care and Feeding
My husband and I had a lovely baby girl this summer. She has different hair and eye color than we do, but otherwise looks very much like our child. She does have one fairly distinct feature that we don’t share: the shape of her eyes. We live in a progressive and diverse city but have now gotten multiple comments about her “insert racist comment here” eyes. The first time, I was so shocked I didn’t even acknowledge it. The second time, I said, “Please don’t say that word.” Both times it came from a regular acquaintance, like a co-worker. I believe the comment came from ignorance, not racism. I’m afraid we might hear this again. How do I respond in a way that says “Don’t use that word” and “Why comment on my baby’s appearance?” without directly calling these people racist?