Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
My boyfriend calls me fat when we get into arguments. He knows I struggle with my weight and the way I see myself. Most of the time, he tells me I’m sexy and not to get down on myself, and he still wants to sleep with me, all the time. It’s not like he’s embarrassed by me: I know all his friends and family; we go on dates, vacations, and to parties. So I don’t understand why he calls me fat. He says he is saying it to hurt me at the moment, but I don’t know how he truly feels. What should I do next time he does this?
— Conflicted Girlfriend
Break up with him. Seriously, I don’t know what else to tell you. This isn’t about whether you’re fat or not. He’s being cruel to you on purpose. Why? Because he’s a mean person who wants to hurt you. If you don’t feel ready to end the relationship now, I encourage you to tell every friend and trusted family member who will listen about what he’s doing, and I hope they all give you this same advice until you are able to imagine better for yourself.
My sister has always been a little “off.” Now that she is in her seventies, she is a full-blown paranoid schizophrenic. I was in denial for a while, but when I told my own psychiatrist how she behaves, he confirmed my suspensions. I have bipolar disorder, which is well controlled with meds. When I realized “Sue” needed help, I asked if she would be open to speaking with my psychiatrist. She agreed to that. The morning of the appointment, she told me that she was fine and refused to go. At this point, I realized that it was out of my hands and I stopped communicating with her. She has become extremely high maintenance, and listening to her wild stories about how everyone, including actors on television and random people she comes across on a daily basis are plotting to get her, is exhausting. I’d give you examples, but they would fill a book. She has been in touch but I can’t help her. It really stresses me out. I’m not sure what to do anymore.
— Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Dear Hard Place,
Being desperate to help a loved one who’s living with mental illness, in a world where you can do very little to force an adult to get that help, is one of the hardest situations a person can be in. There are just no great solutions here—only ways to make this a little less stressful for you, and to equip you to get support for your sister when and if she’s willing. The National Alliance for Mental Health has volunteer-led, peer-to-peer support groups that could connect you with others who are in similar situations and provide a place where you feel understood. In the meantime, I would encourage you to decide how much time you can spend talking to your sister (five minutes a day? An hour a week?) before it becomes too stressful or takes too much of a toll on you. During these chats, you probably won’t make much headway trying to talk her out of her delusions or debate her. To the extent that you can redirect the conversation to your love and care for her, memories you have with each other, or even updates on your own life, that might make the conversations less draining. Also use them to keep an eye out for any indication that she might want to harm herself and might qualify for treatment for her own protection. And it goes without saying that you should continue to check in with your own psychiatrist about how tough all this is and how it’s affecting you.
I am a university student in my late twenties. Due to some serious personal issues, I have a limited social circle and am not entirely familiar with relationships generally. In my studies, I have regular classes with the same people; one of these is a classmate whom I have become friends with. However, the problem is that this classmate is someone I like more than the friendship we have, which is impacting how I interact with them and how I approach my studies. They are constantly in my thoughts, I become anxious when in their company, and I am quick to perceive good or negative interactions with them. If I feel the day ended well with them, I am happy, but it is the complete opposite if it’s a negative reaction.
I am at a loss as to what I should do—I shouldn’t be thinking this much about one person, not when they’ve indicated they don’t feel the same way as I do about them, and I don’t want to lose the friendship because I cannot control these irrational feelings, which is making me feel ashamed. Please help!
— Anxious and Infatuated
You have what’s called a crush. A totally normal, healthy crush! It’s not irrational, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. So is feeling preoccupied and anxious and obsessing over your interactions with the object of your affection. I’m sorry this person doesn’t return your feelings, but that’s also a pretty normal situation that most people will be in at one point or another, so don’t beat yourself up over it. I suspect that once you name this feeling (again: an innocent, everyday crush!) and stop fighting it, some of the intensity might fade. You can notice the feelings you’re having without judging yourself for them. You might even pour your heart out to one of your trusted friends, just to get it all out and get validation that you aren’t the first and won’t be the last person to be in this situation. If you really feel your emotions are unmanageable, there’s always the option to give yourself a little space by taking some time away from this friendship and putting your attention elsewhere, but I hope it doesn’t come to that.
More Advice From Pay Dirt
I realize that this is basically just that episode of Friends where they go out to dinner for Ross’ birthday, but I have a modern twist—specifically relevant when it comes to small plates or “tapas” locales, and the social politics of being in mixed vegetarian/meat-eating company. Let’s say I’m out with a group of friends and acquaintances. These types of places generally encourage the party to order a variety of plates for all to share. Naturally, it would be easiest to simply split the bill evenly at the end of such a dining experience. But if I am the lone vegetarian at this meal, that seems unfair to me. Not only could I not eat all the dishes that were ordered, but the meat dishes are often more expensive than the vegetable ones. What’s the right way to go about this?