Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hope everyone had a good weekend. I can’t wait to hear about what’s going on with your families, partners, friends, and frenemies.
Q. Stop calling her a bimbo: I’m a woman engaged to another woman, “Kate.” Kate is wonderful: thoughtful, generous, kind, and funny. I love her. The problem is that almost all my friends and family don’t think we should be together. I would normally take that as a huge red flag, except that the reasons people give aren’t anything to do with thinking Kate is a bad person. Their problem is that they say she isn’t smart enough for me.
I’m an academic and quite well-known in my area. I’m from a family of extremely snobby academics and almost all my friends are fellow academics and doctors. Kate is from a financially much-worse-off family from a deprived area, went to a chronically underfunded school, and didn’t go to college. She got a job at 17 and is the most hardworking person I’ve ever met. She is currently pretty senior in running a charity. I’m proud of her and think what she does is amazing, but the way my parents reacted to learning she didn’t go to college was appalling. Literally the first question they asked when I started dating her was “What’s her college major?” followed by over-the-top horror that she “didn’t even go to college!” They and several of my friends have asked numerous questions along the lines of “But what do you even talk about?” even though they’ve met Kate and should be able to see she’s a great conversationalist with a diverse range of interests.
My friends mock her interests, sneering when she mentions reality programs she likes or deriding her music tastes. They get annoyed when she doesn’t follow them when they’re talking about plainly elitist things—I have a historian friend who talked about his Latin translation work at length the last time we met up, speaking actual Latin, and acted like Kate was irritating for having no idea what he was talking about and not understanding him. Kate is smart, just not particularly academic. She doesn’t always get what I mean when I try to explain my research, but she’s always supportive and remembers the work projects that are important to me, even if she doesn’t always understand what they involve. (Which is fine! My work is dense and tedious!) Kate has made an effort to get on with my friends, asking me questions about their work (which they talk about obsessively) beforehand so she can ask them about it. They make no such effort with her, forgetting what her job is and making dismissive comments about any news she shares, even news they would be excited for me to share, since it’s not as if we exclusively discuss our research. For example, if I mention I’m excited about doing some Christmas shopping, they’ll be enthusiastic and share their Christmas plans and chat, but if Kate says the same, there’s just a dismissive comment about her “living to shop.” They have also made some nasty comments suggesting that Kate and I are together because she’s a gold digger and I’m shallow (she’s stunningly beautiful and I’m well-off from a rich family).
To be clear, I always shut down these comments when I hear them and leave events early when people insult Kate and our relationship. Sometimes they get better for a short while, but then this nonsense starts again. Now that I’ve announced my engagement, I’ve had exactly zero expressions of congratulations from my side of friends and family. (Kate’s family, incidentally, are welcoming and lovely people, as are her friends.) Instead, I’ve been faced with questions about prenups and “Are you SURE you can spend your whole life with someone who watches The Bachelor? You know she won’t be hot forever, right?” Prudie, what should I do? Am I missing something, or do I actually need to cut ties with most of my friends and seriously limit time with family until they behave better? Any advice on managing this, both for my own sanity and for the sake of treating Kate better, would be so appreciated. She doesn’t deserve this.
A: Finding someone whom you love and are attracted to who feels the same about you and treats you well is not easy, and you’ve done it. So congrats! It’s really terrible that your friends and family haven’t said anything about you on your engagement. Unacceptable, even. You’re allowed to marry someone who isn’t as smart as you are, or isn’t as smart in the same ways as you. There are a lot of other qualities a person can have that can make you really happy—and I guarantee some of your friends and family are miserable in their marriages to brilliant partners. Even if you were marrying an actual monster, a basic message of congratulations would be in order, because it’s your choice and it makes you happy.
It sounds like you don’t really have to do much to cut ties. Anyone who is behaving this way has basically made the choice to cut you off. If they do try to make plans with you, that’s your chance to have a talk with them: “Are you going to be able to treat my fiancée with respect and refrain from talking about her behind her back? If not, we’ll pass.”
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Q. The ex singer: I recently met up with an ex from many years ago who is now married. We had such a great conversation and I apologized for the mistakes I made. It was clear at the end of the night that we wanted to see each other again, and that we both still have feelings for one another. I haven’t felt like that in a long time. The next day we talked, and he told me he couldn’t see me for a while, but that we will meet up again after an undisclosed amount of time passed. He said the feelings were too strong and he wants to respect his marriage. I felt emotionally devastated, but understood. I really don’t want to negatively impact his marriage; I think I just got caught up in the feelings. I recently went through a breakup, so I’m more emotionally vulnerable than usual.
The somewhat unusual question I have stems from the fact that many years ago, he asked me to sing a song for him. I never did it because I was nervous. Recently I was thinking of recording it, possibly in a few months, once I start dating again and I’m sure that I’m not doing it out of emptiness or a desire to get his attention. I would send it if it still felt right at that time. I was thinking of it as a gesture between people who have a fond history together. At the same time, I don’t want to make anything harder on him, or cause disruption to his happiness. The more I write, I feel like I shouldn’t, but my question is: Should I send the song to him?
A: No, don’t do it! You’re smart to recognize that you’re vulnerable right now. The next step is to be honest with yourself about what the goal of sending this song to him would be, whether it’s now or later on when you’ve begun dating. Would you really feel satisfied once the “gesture between people who have a fond history together” was complete? Something tells me the answer is no. You would probably be looking for affirmation of the feelings he once had for you, or even hoping to expedite that promised hangout. And then what? I just don’t see this ending well, and I want to affirm your instincts that you will be better off and happier if you take whatever value you can from the conversation you had and move on, avoiding all the potential angst and drama.
Q. Grave robber in name only: I am a recently out transmasc nonbinary person (they/he). My given name is important to me (it’s an uncommon Dutch name, and I was named after my grandmother), but it is obviously female-gendered, even in English, so it’s been uncomfortable to introduce myself since coming out. I’ve been struggling with finding a nongendered short form of my given name for a few months. A few weeks ago, I came across a nickname I’d never heard before belonging to a girl from my college. I love it: It’s nongendered, short, and plausibly derived from my given name.
Here’s the rub: I came across the name in her obituary. She died by suicide. I did not know her personally, but the school is small, and she was the daughter of two faculty members. All my professors are devastated.
Obviously, I am not going to demand people at school start calling me by this name right now. But many people I know are current/former students (college town), and the school sent an email to all students and alumni that included her name, so I can’t fly under the radar in my personal life either. I also feel weird about taking a dead person’s (unique, likely long-standing, probably deeply personal) name. Nonetheless, I can’t stop thinking about it. I recently introduced myself using it at a concert, and I felt a mixture of gender euphoria and soul-crushing shame.
I’m stuck on this name. Should I start using it outside of school with people that did not know her, or try to let it go? If I do start using it, how do I get over the guilt and shame of stealing it? If someone in the wild calls me out on it, should I pretend I’ve had it forever, or explain that I’m a name thief? If I can’t take this name, how do I introduce myself?
A: Give it a year. I say that not just because of what everyone else will think, but because you won’t enjoy using the new name if it comes with that soul-crushing shame you mentioned. If you still love it at that point, go ahead. Something else you might consider—again, in part to clear your conscience and free yourself of anxiety about how people will react—is to run the plan by the young woman’s parents, explaining how much the name means to you and how important it is to you to avoid being disrespectful and avoid causing unnecessary pain as you take it on.
Q. Dreading Christmas: Christmas is coming and it has always been dreaded by my sister and I. We always spend it with our mother’s family, at our large home. Several relatives have always been disrespectful and make fun of us; we also take on most of the workload (cooking, cleaning, party favors) while they lounge over the course of two or three days. Our mom loves her family and idolizes everyone (especially the rude drunks who terrorized our teenage selves). She can’t understand why we sulk around them.
Anyway, this year they’re planning to trade houses for the celebration, and my aunt says the festivities are conditional on our attendance (we have passed on most family gatherings for a while). My sister won’t be attending, and we both think our aunt’s condition is a terrorist’s demand; we have a nice relationship with her, but she can’t seem to understand why we avoid the rest of the family, even though she knows about the abuse.
I’ve always been torn between pleasing my mom and loyalty to my sister (the bullying has been worse for her). I have nightmares about Christmas but fear my mom’s reaction. Please help!
A: A good general holiday season rule is “don’t give in to terrorist demands.” Stay home. You deserve to be happy and peaceful. Your mom’s reaction can only affect you so much if you turn your phone off.
Q. Re: Stop calling her a bimbo: A couple things: 1) Your family and friends are assholes. 2) The most important thing you can do is openly defend Kate when they’re disparaging her. She may even tell you she doesn’t want you to and will find it embarrassing, but she needs to know that you are loud and proud in your support for her, especially when she’s feeling trod upon by said assholes.
A: Great advice.
Q. Re: Dreading Christmas: How about a new Christmas tradition that just involves you and your sister? You know that you can make a kick-ass supper on your own.
A: Yes, start it this year and make it a thing!
My in-laws are kind, delightful people, and I enjoy spending time with them, except on Christmas. Their family tradition is for everyone to take turns unwrapping gifts. Last year, we unwrapped gifts for almost two hours, stopped for lunch, and then unwrapped gifts for another hour after lunch. Each person receives a modest number of gifts, so it’s not quantity that is causing the problem. The recipient is expected to carefully unpackage and read product instructions before moving along to the next gift, and, when there are no instructions or awkward packaging, the recipient will wax poetic for 10 minutes about how the sweater reminds them of their deceased grandmother’s beloved cocker spaniel, etc. My husband agrees it is out of hand, but we don’t know how to politely speed things along. Any advice, or do we just need to keep quiet?