Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
My partner and I are anticipating an issue we don’t know how to deal with. We have a nephew “Don” (who is around 27), who attended the Jan. 6 rally last year. I don’t know whether he went inside the capitol building or not, but he did make ominous statements on a video call the day before, about having important work to do on Jan. 6.
The issue is how to handle future family get-togethers, particularly around Christmas. I no longer feel comfortable being near Don, and while I don’t want to pressure my partner, I also worry for her safety if she attends these events without me (with Don present). We touched on this issue with my in-laws (partner’s parents) on Christmas, and they just glossed over it as Don being misled by another family member.
We don’t know what to do, please advise. We can’t hide behind COVID forever.
—Undecided in the U.S.
I don’t know if having attended the rally makes Don likely to commit an act of violence at the dinner table, so your fears for your wife’s safety might be a bit overblown. But I do think it’s totally fair to not like him and simply not want to be around him because of what he took part in. You can decide that you won’t enjoy events where he’s present and pass on them, but let your partner make her own decisions.
I am a cisgender heterosexual woman who has been married to a cishet man for about five years. We met and got married quickly (after 10 months) since I got a job in a field where there are almost no jobs, and we wanted to get married before we moved across the country together. I knew before we had gotten married that he struggled with depression, but I don’t think I understood the extent of it. Our first two years of marriage were really rough, especially before he got into counseling. But we made it through, though only after he told me a year in that he didn’t love me when he married me and married me because he thought that was the next logical step and that it made sense. I thought we’d worked through that and that he loved me now. We were having more fun together, and he was starting to be more social (he works from home, since he’s in a highly specialized field and we’re in a small town without much for him, workwise). Then COVID hit, and it felt like any progress we made was slipping away, but at least it was situational, I thought.
However, for the past few months, I have felt like he doesn’t like me. He’s distant, pulls away when I try to hug or kiss him (as a “joke”). He calls me whiny a lot, which he says is his teasing me. I was going to talk with him about this all after Christmas until he told me two days before Christmas he was going to work on Christmas. He had no projects due, no one else in his office needed to work—there was literally no reason for him to do this. I gave it 24 hours before talking with him about that decision and laid it all out for him: I felt like he didn’t even like me, mentioned how he pulls away, etc.
After about an hour where I tried to patiently explain how I feel, he admitted that he has pulled away and that he has even talked with his counselor about how he plays on my insecurities. We haven’t had a sex life to speak of in years (his choice), and I’ve been really patient while also letting him know that this part of married life is important to me. I asked him again if he thought it would be part of our life. This is the first time he just said no, he didn’t think so. He told me he wasn’t really attracted to me when he married me. I asked him if he didn’t love me and wasn’t attracted to me, why he married me. He mentioned I was smart and funny. He also said he’s been lying to me most of our marriage and has gone along with whatever I want to do even though he didn’t want to do it. I’ve been sad now for a few days, and he doesn’t seem to understand why. He thinks he’s just being honest, and I don’t know whether he’s immature or cruel.
He thinks we have a good, stable partnership, and that I’m asking him to feel something he can’t feel, which is unfair to him. He doesn’t seem all that upset by my sadness. I’d mentioned wanting to go to couples counseling a few weeks ago, and he was receptive, but after our talk, I don’t even know what the point is. In some ways, he is a great partner—he is steady, a good provider, has stood up against my abusive family for me, and is protective and loyal. He’s a decent human, and he’s admitted that he’s happier than he’s ever been and it’s because of me. But when I told him that it made me really sad that he’s the happiest he’s ever been and we were the most distant we’ve ever been, he didn’t really have much to say. I don’t even know what to ask, perhaps a question you can’t really answer, but here it is: Does this seem as hopeless to you as it does to me?
—Is This All There Is
Dear All There Is,
Honestly, there are parts of this that do feel pretty hopeless to me. In particular, “He doesn’t seem all that upset by my sadness” hurts. Couples therapy can change things. Give it a try. But if you can’t get through to him and don’t feel more hopeful—especially when it comes to the sense that he doesn’t like you or care about you—after some help communicating and some time, be prepared to cut your losses.
I live in an area that is a popular vacation destination. My partner and I have a small but comfortable house with two bedrooms. We have welcomed friends and family to stay with us in the past, but only single adults and couples so far. A family member of mine has asked to stay for two nights while traveling through the state. They have a family of four with two elementary-aged children, and one child has a fairly serious behavioral condition which requires constant monitoring. Not only do we not physically have the space for 4 additional people to stay comfortably, but I am very anxious about this particular child staying in my home. We are childless by choice, and our house is definitely not child-proofed. There is a lot of expensive equipment everywhere, including the guest room, that my partner uses for work. It could easily be damaged, and we don’t have extra space to store it. My family member has a well-paying job and could easily afford a hotel for those two nights. Frankly, I feel like she put me in a very unpleasant position by asking to stay. I want to say no, but I don’t know how to do it tactfully.
Dear No Room,
You have no obligation at all to turn your home into a hotel whenever a relative asks, especially if their family won’t fit comfortably. And for what it’s worth, I think it was super rude of her to ask! She could have dropped a hint about being in town and waited to see if you invited her. This indeed puts you in a super awkward position.
The only thing I would push back on is your assumption that the child with a behavioral condition represents a threat to your belongings. I can only assume that if he or she really requires constant monitoring, the parents do that monitoring—if for no other reason, because they want to keep their kid safe. If you were open to having guests, it would be worth it to have a conversation with the parents about the delicate items in your home and whether it would be a good environment for them rather than going straight to “no” because of the child’s disability.
But again, it sounds like you have other issues including a simple lack of space.
That makes the response easy: “I hate to say no but Dan uses the guest room for work so we really don’t have enough space to host four people. But it would be great to see you, and we’d love to meet up at the beach or a restaurant where you’re in town.”
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