Dear Prudence

Help! My Sick Brother Threw His Soiled Sheets at Me in Anger.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

A man looking angry with red dots floating around him
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by kimberrywood/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Thanks for joining. Hope you enjoyed watching football yesterday, or battling with your spouse or other loved ones, if that’s more up your alley. Tell me about it either way!

Q. Man-flu gone wild: A week ago, my sister-in-law asked if I could babysit for a day when she had to go into the office. I’m a self-employed florist, so it was a bit awkward, but she’s family. So I grabbed my laptop so I could at least do some admin and headed over.

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It wasn’t my nephew, who’s 5, whom she needed me to take care of. It was my brother. He had a stomach flu (not COVID, he’d tested).

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I thought it was a joke at first, because he’s a grown man who was briefly in the Army, but no. There was a list of things he wanted to eat and when to take him up water and the level to keep the TV at. I figured I was already there, it’s been a long pandemic, and my SIL is just over the top. So I set up in the kitchen and waited for my brother to come down.

He was a man-child the whole morning. His toast wasn’t right. He wanted this. “For F’s sake, can’t I do anything right?” I was about to leave in a huff when he came into the kitchen and he’d soiled himself (because stomach flu). Thankfully he’d cleaned himself up, but he had a load of fouled sheets and pajamas that he wanted me to wash for him. I told him no and he threw an absolute tantrum, swearing and yelling that ended with him dumping everything on my laptop. So I left and now I am at a complete loss.

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My SIL has apologized for him and offered to pay for my laptop, and my mom has said that he was always a nightmare when he’s sick, but they seem to think it was within the bounds of normal bad behavior. Like someone getting drunk and being sick in your begonias, or losing their temper over something and punching through a door—bad, but normal bad. I seem to be the only one that thinks it was grotesquely bizarre behavior from an adult man. He’s 42. He shouldn’t even need someone to babysit him when he’s sick, never mind resorting to throwing soiled clothes like a monkey at the zoo.

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Am I wrong? Isn’t this the sort of behavior that should result in a visit to the hospital? I don’t know how long he’s been like this that my SIL considers a babysitter for a 40-year-old with no known medical problems normal, but he didn’t behave like this at home. I’ve asked my mom if he had something I don’t know about but she said no, and it’s SIL’s house.

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I’ve not seen my brother since, and I’ve no idea how to approach our next meeting now. I just feel that no one else is alarmed enough about this behavior?

A: You are not the only one who thinks this is grotesquely bizarre behavior from an adult man! I’m with you. In fact, I would have supported you in leaving the moment you found out the person you were caring for was not a child. But there’s no way you could have expected this and you did nothing wrong. It’s worth having one conversation with your sister-in-law about whether your brother has medical or mental health issues that you should know about and whether you can help find the proper treatment for him. But if she’s not open to it, you’ll have to step back and take comfort in the fact that he does have a live-in babysitter who’s willing to deal with his soiled sheets as needed.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. Sleepless in the past: Ten years ago I was in a relationship and brief engagement that she ended. Back then I was immature, had been very sheltered even through college, and had internalized a lot of toxic beliefs that I now recognize as misogynistic and selfish. We probably would never have made it as a couple anyway, but I responded to the friction very unhealthily.

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The breakup was bad; I was devastated and thought only about my pain for a long time. I realize now I held on so tight and wouldn’t challenge my beliefs or respect her differences because I was afraid of losing myself more than I was afraid of losing her. Ironically, I’m now a lot more in agreement with things I used to challenge her on and I can see much more clearly how hurtful things I said and ways I acted were.

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Cutting to the chase: I want to apologize. I don’t want a relationship (I’m happily married). I can’t say I even want a friendship or renewed acquaintance, as we live nowhere near each other and we’re not really likely to ever cross paths.

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I haven’t had any contact with her in probably nine years, but we’ll occasionally both comment on mutual friends’ social media posts. I don’t know if she ever gives me a thought, but I’m often flooded with memories. I’ll hear a song, see a place name, and then feel like I’m drowning in regret—not for the bad relationship, but for being such an a**hole and hurting a human being like I did.

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I don’t want the apology to be about me. I don’t expect forgiveness, and I can’t even say I expect a reply. I just hate what I put her through, and maybe I hope against hope it will do something good for her (and me) to hear a genuine apology.

A: Sure, send her a message. No more than a paragraph or two. End it with a clear statement that you don’t expect a reply. And mean it. Seriously—if you can’t do this without secretly hoping that it will open up a dialogue or help you to reconnect with her emotionally, don’t do it at all.

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Q. Constant vs. not constant interaction: My husband and I have been together for 10 years and we are both 30. Everything in our relationship has been exceptional except for the fact he thinks I need more friends. For background: I have always had tons of friends and people who want to get to know me (more than him since our college years), even though I am an introvert. However, due to having different jobs every few years in my 20s, I never developed more than superficial friendships with my co-workers. He, meanwhile, has developed a few close friends over the years (he has had one permanent job in 10 years) and has kept his childhood friends (he has always lived here and I have moved hundreds of miles to be here).

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How do I get him to understand that I am happy here even without the constant need of social interaction, especially since we want to become pregnant soon?

A: You are completely within your rights to have the number of friends that works best for you. And if the number is “not many,” that’s only your business.

I think you should focus less on getting your husband to understand that you’re happy and more on investigating where his concerns are really coming from, and whether they touch on anything you’re doing that’s actually affecting him. For example, is he under the impression that he can’t go out and socialize with his friends because you won’t be able to do the same? Does he feel overburdened by being the only person you open up to? Does he worry that you’re depressed because you’ve lost interest in other things in addition to close, in-person friendships and feel it’s his job to cheer you up? If something like that is going on, you’ll have a clearer idea about how to address it (for example, maybe you can reassure him that you love to stay home alone while he goes out). But if there’s really nothing about your lifestyle that’s really affecting him, reassure him that you’re fine and—this is the key part—even if he doesn’t understand, he should respect you enough to stop pushing you to be more like him.

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Q. Good neighbor: My backyard neighbor and I are separated by a hedgerow. She is a single mother with three children: a 13-year-old girl, 10-year-old boy, and 8-year-old daughter. The father isn’t there.

My neighbor often is forced to work weekends and late nights, leaving her oldest to babysit. She is a reliable girl but easily overwhelmed. My neighbor asked my husband and I if we would mind “checking in.”

At first, it was just for emergencies and to touch base, and then the kids would come over for cookouts and fall asleep on our couch. Now they feel free to come over all the time. My husband and I should have held to our boundaries sooner, but the kids are cute and polite and our neighbor is burning the candle at both ends. We made mild protests but the apologies never carried any weight.

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The 8-year-old walked in on us having an afternoon delight because she couldn’t find the remote to the TV. We had all the doors locked, but she found the hidden spare house key under the flower pot. We got dressed quickly and took her home to her sister. She was playing a game online and had headphones on. She apologized but started to cry when we told her we needed to speak with her mom. And then her sister started to cry. We spoke to our neighbor and she started to cry when we told her this arrangement wasn’t working out.

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She is a good mom and at the end of her rope but we aren’t friends. My husband and I felt sorry and her kids are cute, but not “walking in on us having sex” cute.

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My husband already has bids in to put in a permanent fence and wants to cut off all ties. I am more reluctant. I think the fence is good but having us available on the cellphone is a good compromise for actual emergencies. My husband is opposed to this. Thoughts?

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A: Of course it’s your right to cut off all ties, put up a fence, set up an alarm system, and ignore them when you see them in the neighborhood or anything else, but the fact pattern that led you to pull back doesn’t seem ideal. After all, it’s really not these kids’ faults that you didn’t set any boundaries with them until they walked in on you having sex. If you don’t want that to happen again, a simple fix would be to make it clear to them that they are not allowed to let themselves in your house with the spare key. But I can understand that perhaps you and your husband were uncomfortable with the situation already, and this was just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Since you do seem to care about them, why don’t you set up one afternoon a week when they’re allowed to come over? If your husband isn’t interested in participating in entertaining them, he doesn’t have to. Similarly, you can give out your own cellphone number without his permission.

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Q. Guilty of love: I am a 58-year-old disabled veteran. My wife, the mother of my three adult children, passed away due to cancer a bit over eight years ago. One of her final wishes was that I not remain alone. It took a few years but I found someone. There were some issues with my children at first because she is 26 years younger than me, but we have gotten past the worst of that.

My problem is I feel guilty at times. I do love her, but know it will never come close to what I had with my wife, and I love her enough to want her to have that. I know if we remain together she will never have children and would be trading a “pleasant” relationship for a chance at an amazing one. Am I being silly?

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A: Even though this woman is younger than you, she’s an adult, and you should trust her to make her own decisions. If you’ve been honest about how you feel and haven’t misled her and she still wants to be there, she’s decided that the whole package is worth it to her, at least for the time being. While the love you have for her doesn’t compare to the love you had for your late wife, who knows how much better and more satisfying it is than whatever she’s comparing it with? Maybe she values the stability you offer more than the intense passion you think she wants. You want her to have what you had with the mother of your children, but does she want that? We really don’t know. All we know is that she has chosen to be with you now, and that’s enough. Enjoy it.

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Q. Re: Constant vs. not constant interaction: You will have to explain all of this to him—your inherent differences, the fact that you have moved for him and changed jobs more than he has. He should respect both your differences, and reflect on how different your lives have been up to this point. I will say that it is helpful to have trustworthy friends locally on whom you can rely and, in turn, whom you can help out, during a pregnancy and as a parent. There is nothing that sorts out people like having children. I would make some effort to develop friendships now and not be so dependent on him.

A: I agree that the letter writer might want more local friends to rely on when she has children, but I hope these relationships—if she wants them—will develop organically through baby- and kid-centered activities. Also, I know this challenges gender roles, but this couple will have local friends when they become parents—they just happen to be the husband’s. These people have been in their lives for a long time, know them well, and should be just as capable of helping out in a pinch as any future friends the letter writer might make.

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Classic Prudie

I want another baby, but my husband reacted badly to the idea. We fought about it for months, and counseling didn’t help much. My husband is stubborn and says we have a good life now and that he doesn’t want it to change. He keeps bringing up the agreement we made when we were engaged—two kids only—as if a pair of college students a decade ago knew everything about their future lives! During therapy sessions, he confessed he got a vasectomy a few months ago without telling me.

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