Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
When I was in high school and college, the main way I dealt with my anxiety was to tell lies. It got really bad, I had to confront myself about it, and thankfully, I cleaned up my act. I’d been very good for a while, but I slipped up in a minor, stupid way.
A couple of months ago, I took a vacation and told all my coworkers I went to a different place that I actually went (something like saying I went to Chicago when I went to New York instead). I have now started dating one of those (now ex) co-workers, and it’s likely that she will at some point be faced with hard evidence that I straight up fabricated a vacation.
I’d like to get out in front of that and tell her—it’s for the best she knows about this (mostly) past problem. But I’m really at a loss with how to approach this conversation. I don’t want her thinking I’m a deceptive, manipulative jerk, but I know it will be hard to convince her that this stupid thing is the only lie I’ve told in years.
— Trying to Be Truthful
You should tell her exactly like you told me here. “I have to tell you something really embarrassing. When I was in high school and college, the main way I dealt with my anxiety was to tell lies. It got really bad, I had to confront myself about it, and thankfully, I cleaned up my act. I’d been very good for a while, but I slipped up. A couple of months ago, when I went to Chicago, I told everyone I went to New York. I don’t know why I did it, but I wanted to come clean to you before you found out, especially because we’re dating and I want you to be able to believe what I say. I can understand if you have a hard time believing that this is the only lie I’ve told in years, and I hope I can have the opportunity to regain your trust.”
She’ll have an easier time believing that you’re taking this seriously if you tell her you’re addressing it with a therapist—not just figuring out how to stop lying, but getting to the deeper issue that made you cope with stress this way in the first place. So do that! For your relationship but also for yourself, because you don’t want to be in this situation again.
I’m struggling with my obligations to my unmarried sister-in-law. I don’t really care for her, and my husband doesn’t have much of a relationship with her. He does, though, have a strong sense of obligation/FAMILY. She never married or had children, and has never been much of a cook. A few years ago we moved to a suburb of the city she lives in. She always spends Christmas with her parents (usually at a sibling’s home), and has her own plans for Easter and Thanksgiving. When the family comes to our home for Christmas, she arrives empty handed, doesn’t help and never picks up a check. I find it annoying. Why should I have to cook for her? But I deal, because that’s what you do. But now with the pandemic she seems to be more alone, and my husband thinks THE RIGHT THING TO DO is to invite her for all the holidays. I don’t want to. I’m the one who does the cooking and cleaning. He also likes to send her home with leftovers. Again, why am I having to feed this grown-ass woman, who does absolutely ZERO for me? She has NEVER invited us to share the holiday with her. It would be different if my husband regularly got together with her, or talked on the phone to her, or … anything? But as best as I can tell this necessity to offer her a holiday invitation is being solely driven by obligation.
Am I just a bitch, or is there a way to get my husband to see this in a different light? (That light being that she lives her life, we live ours, and see each other once or twice a year, without my having to host her).
— Can I Just Ditch the SIL Already?!
Dear Ditch the SIL?
Why do you hate this woman so much? Do you not have enough food to go around? I feel like it’s pretty normal to have a person or two in each family who isn’t into cooking and doesn’t contribute a lot aside from their presence to holiday celebrations. It sounds like your SIL is this person. She evidently doesn’t have much to offer to your events and could easily be clueless about the fact that your invitations to her come with expectations. This isn’t an attack on you, and there’s no indication from your letter that she means any harm. But if you really want her to contribute, simply send a text before the next gathering asking her to pick up some wine or dessert or napkins or all of the above.
If there’s something else about her that is getting under your skin (Are you perhaps envious that she’s unmarried and not burdened by domestic responsibilities? Does she seem like she’s having more fun than you are? Or is she actually unpleasant to be around?) address that, rather than worrying about the fact that she has never prepared a meal for you. She probably can’t cook anyway, so you’re not really missing out.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
How can I be supportive of someone (my sister-in-law) who has bariatric surgery without going down the rabbit hole? I get that people have the right to their own body and that something like this is given careful consideration. All that being said, hearing about it and thinking about it is distressing, as I have a history of atypical anorexia. My husband and I have worked out a way to support each other’s health goals, but food and diets become a frequent conversation topic with his folks, and it will probably only get worse after the surgery. I worry about the risks of the surgery, which often seem far worse than the possible risks that come from being fat. Actually, I’m down right worried that this will kill her, full-stop.
Obviously, this isn’t about me, but at the same time jeopardizing my recovery would be a disaster. What boundaries could I put in and what ways can I support my SIL after surgery that aren’t centered around dieting or weight?
— Feeling the Weight of Fatphobia
This is really difficult, and I think you’re approaching it exactly the right way by weighing the multiple things that are true in this situation:
1) Hearing about weight loss is a trigger for your eating disorder.
2) You’re very worried about your sister-in-law.
3) But you know her surgery is her business.
4) And you want to support her.
The most important thing here is to protect yourself and your recovery, so I want you to keep reminding yourself of #3 and largely let #4 go. Being worried is okay, but there’s just not a lot you can do about it, especially while taking care of yourself. There’s no question that she’s aware of the potential complications that come with the procedure and most likely has decided, given the awful way our society treats fat people, that she’s willing to take the risk. You are not going to be able to talk her out of this. But you also don’t have to support her beyond what’s comfortable to you. Maybe that’s a stack of magazines and an ice pack or something else that is not focused on the part of this that’s about food and weight loss.
Even more urgently, I hope you have support for your eating disorder history and in a support group of some kind. This is exactly the type of situation others who have dealt with anorexia and are trying to live healthier lives will understand, and you deserve to speak to people who get it.
As your SIL recovers, it’s also okay to let her know that while you’re happy she did what felt right to her, you are not the best person to talk to about her weight, because you have to focus on your own health.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Like, is the real issue that you hate how holidays work in your household?”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
This is kind of an age-old one, but it came up AGAIN this year and will again come up at Christmas. In my family, the women clear Thanksgiving dishes from the table and then clean them. I just did not get up this year and instead stayed at the table with The Men (TM) to chat while my mother and aunt did this (all the other attendees of my Thanksgiving dinner were male, about five of them).
I feel like trash doing that. I don’t like leaving all the cleaning to my mom and aunt; we should all help clean. But it wasn’t at my house, so I didn’t feel like I could say to The Men “please help.” My dad, who was the only man there in my family unit (and is thus maybe more vulnerable to my chiding), is medically unable to help because of issues with mobility, but everyone else is literally playing tennis/hiking in their free time. (More context: the youngest person in this family is 20, the oldest is my father, in his late 60s.)
What’s the greater sin? Forgoing cleaning and letting other women pick up the slack? Or going to someone’s home and haranguing the people who actually live there into cleaning?
— Sit and Slack or Clean and Call Out
Dear Sit and Slack,
I completely agree with you that it’s ridiculous for the women in your family to do all the cleaning, but I’m not sure the best way to fix it is to leave more work for them. As a result of your protest, your mom and aunts ended up taking on a larger burden, and the men still didn’t do anything! I can also see why haranguing people into how to behave at someone’s house wouldn’t be a polite or particularly effective tactic.
But you don’t have to harangue to make a change here. I see nothing wrong with looking right into the eyes of the men, especially the ones who are close to your age or younger and saying, “Okay, we should all help clean up now! Don’t want Mom and Aunt to have to do all the work. They already cooked.” Or how about checking in with the other women and sending a text to your relatives before the next gathering saying “Can’t wait to see everyone. We have been talking and it would be really nice if the men could help out with cleaning up this time so we all have more time together and get to enjoy ourselves.”
Although I identify as she/her amongst my co-workers/friends, another friend who happens to look very similar goes by they/them. Co-workers have often gotten us mixed up, which makes me feel uneasy. What is the best approach to letting people know that they may have gotten us mixed up?
— Preferring She
Dear Preferring She,
Try this: “I think you have me confused with [Coworker]. It happens a lot! You can tell the difference because I have green eyes (or whatever).”
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 recently got a picture from my boss of him in a minimal-coverage speedo that was not sent with any ill intentions, but it was weird enough that I’m wondering if I should say something to him about it. I am a woman in my 30s, very junior in my career, and he is the most senior person in our workplace both in age (70s) and authority. He also sent the picture to several other young female coworkers, and, as far as I know, not to any of the male coworkers. He’s on vacation, and we know that he is an enthusiastic cold-water swimmer and prides himself on not using a wet suit. So the message, I think, was, “Look at how much fun I’m having on my vacation doing my favorite activity!” But I would NEVER send my boss (or anyone I supervise) a photo of myself in a minimal-coverage swimsuit. We all thought it was kind of icky and weird but nobody said anything to him except “looks like you’re having a great time!” I don’t think he realizes it crossed a boundary, and I’m worried that calling him out on it could make him feel really embarrassed or accused of doing something sexual when that’s not how he intended it. On the other hand, he could get himself in trouble with things like this depending on who is on the receiving end. Should I say something?
I have a friend who regularly refuses to answer phone calls, including mine. I have discussed this habit with her more than once. I have explained that it bothers me because what if I need her in an emergency? I called her back to back to see if she would answer the phone. She did not. I would not normally let her behavior bother me because I have other friends to call on. I left my phone in a restaurant recently, this same friend must have tried to call me and when I did not answer in a timely manner as usual, she called another friend in a panic saying she could not reach me. Is this a sign of depression?
— Stop Ignoring My Calls
Dear Stop Ignoring,
I don’t see any reason to think this behavior is a sign of depression. If anything, my go-to theories would be anxiety, control, or selfishness—regardless, she wants to talk when she wants to talk, not when you do. And she’s not making any adjustments. But if you want to have a conversation with her about this, this incident provides a good opening. Explain to her again that it bothers you that you would not be able to reach her if you really needed her, and ask her if she can understand that better after panicking when she was unable to reach you.
But the reality is, people who don’t pick up the phone, for whatever reason, simply don’t pick up the phone and probably won’t change. Choose some different emergency contacts.
I work at a small nonprofit of about 20 people, most of whom are under age 35. Our president is a big personality and often tries to treat employees as friends, whether they like it or not. She makes jokes that are highly inappropriate and she bullies our more timid employees. Last week she took things to a whole new level. In an attempt to scare a female employee who’s been the victim of some of her bullying, she snuck up behind her and planned to give the employee a soft tug on her skirt. What actually happened was that the employee’s skirt came off her waist and exposed her underwear. Immediately afterward the president repeatedly told the depantsed employee “not to tell anyone.” The employee did go to speak to a high-ranking executive officer about this and the bullying. Later that day the executive went into the president’s office and, leaving the door open so we could all hear, casually brought it up. The president has profusely apologized to the employee, but as far as anyone can tell she has received no disciplinary action. Would it be wrong to tattle about something that didn’t happen to me?