Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I have a very needy friend. We have been friends since high school, and are now 40. I realized years ago that I wasn’t enjoying the friendship very much, but stayed because “Jane” does not have many other friends and struggles with mental health (as do I).
The trouble is, Jane doesn’t actually treat me very well. She criticizes my choices and never misses an opportunity to boost her self-esteem at my expense. If we are in a group, she brings up any story she can think of (usually from high school) that she thinks will embarrass me. She will blame me for things that are associated with my PTSD, like not being able to drive to visit her because I have panic attacks on long car trips.
But here is where I think I screwed up. Long story short, I said something in a phone call to upset her and she hung up on me. I tried to text and sincerely apologize, but Jane was still combative over text. I then texted some things I regret—they were mostly true, but still shouldn’t have been said. After years of putting up with her, I just lost it. It was still inappropriate.
I think it’s better to end the friendship. Here’s the question—to ghost or not to ghost? I’ve blocked her number because I don’t want to get dragged into a conversation about this. I think it’s better for me to walk away, and I don’t need to justify that decision. It may even be better for her, given how I behaved. But do I owe her at least a text letting her know? Do I owe it to myself to own what I said and try again to apologize, even if I don’t want to be friends?
—Ghosting Is Rude, Right?
I don’t think it counts as ghosting if a friendship ends with losing it over text. Ghosting is when you disappear and the other person doesn’t know what happened. Jane knows what happened here! But just to clear your conscience and provide some closure for both of you, it might feel good to send a text that says something like this: “Hi, Jane. You may not want to hear from me after some of the inappropriate things I said recently, and I understand that. I want to apologize again for my cruel words. As much as I regret them, this incident has also solidified for me that our friendship is not good for me and brings out my worst qualities, so I hope you agree that we should wish each other the best and not be in touch in the future.”
I’m an early-40s male married for a little over a year now (first marriage). I’ve always wanted children and to be a father. My wife (second marriage, no kids) stated she’d be willing to have one before we got married, but now I can’t bring the topic up without it overwhelming her. Having a family is a priority to me, a foundational belief. My wife has many concerns (job/career, her pets, our small home, her physical health, her age; mainly she doesn’t like change).
When I try to discuss the many concerns, there’s always another excuse. I’ve suggested adoption, but even that scares her. I could be wrong, but it ultimately seems that my wife doesn’t have the mental capacity or fortitude sufficient to have a child. I feel stuck. I love my wife, but my life would also feel incomplete without a child. She says she’s not “ready”—but how long do I give her to feel “ready” before we’re both too old, and I’m forced to accept a childless existence? Am I horrible for considering divorce if she continues to avoid the topic, or ultimately refuses? I realize marriage isn’t just about my needs, and I’m sure to come off as selfish to some, and that happiness and fulfillment are not only realized through having children. I’m just seeking some advice for my plight. Thanks in advance.
Dear Unmet Expectations,
You are both right. She’s right to not have a child when she doesn’t feel up to it. And you’re right to prioritize having a child if that’s what you want—even if it means divorce. Let her know (in as calm and nonthreatening a manner as possible) what’s at stake for you. This is tricky because you don’t want it to come off as an ultimatum that could pressure her to agree to motherhood when she knows it’s wrong for her. But you do want to make sure that she’s not just delaying and hoping you’ll eventually be fine without kids. She deserves the opportunity to hear loud and clear how serious this is for you. Whatever happens, focus on creating the life you want and treating her with as much kindness and understanding as possible without compromising what you know you need to be happy. And try not to worry at all about who might see you as selfish. When you’re at the end of your life looking back on how you lived it, those people aren’t going to be there. But if you’re brave enough to make a change, your children will.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
My sister desperately wants to be in a close relationship with me, but she is very insecure, loves drama, and is jealous of me. She cuts me down in passive-aggressive ways and then gaslights me (telling me I am too sensitive or just denying something happened at all). I have no luck talking with her about things that have happened between us because she either denies it completely, cries and says I am mean and she is shocked I could feel that way about her, or dismisses me outright and tells me I am completely wrong to feel the way I do. I know I am short on details here, but what can I do to distance myself from someone who wants closeness that I find toxic? I don’t want a discussion about our relationship. I don’t want to try to fix it. I just want to be nice when I see her, and I’d like that to be once a year or less.
Dear Jealous Sister,
It is best to tell her very clearly one final time why being close to her is not working for you. Yes, she’ll push back and play the victim and pretend not to understand, but being clear is important here and will ensure you’re never gaslighted into worrying that you pulled away from her without explaining why. But even if you decide not to do that, a gradual low-drama fade-out is probably your best option. Here’s what that looks like: Every time your sister cuts you down or insults you, tell her, “I really don’t like the way you’re talking to me. I’m going to end the conversation,” and take some time away from her. With each incident, go longer and longer without reinitiating contact. And don’t respond to any of her protests or give her any energy in the meantime.
I recently moved to a new state a few thousand miles away. My family and I found a home online and randomly moved next door to a guy from our previous town with a relative who works at my previous office. Small world. He’s been nice and recently gave our family a Christmas gift. I would like to reciprocate, but he left town the next day and didn’t get back until after New Year. I feel weird giving a Christmas gift that late. Would it be weird if I gave him Juneteenth cookies? The better half says it would be weird. I think it would be weird to give him a Valentine’s gift, and I don’t want to wait until the Fourth of July. Also, part two, would sugar cookies with Pan-African flag icing be a good Juneteenth cookie? Advice is greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time.
—Cul-de-sac of Confused Caucasians
Dear Confused Caucasian,
You’ve really made this interesting by not saying what his race is. I assume he’s Black and you’re white? If that’s the case, no Juneteenth gift. The half of you that says it would be weird is right, and you risk confusing or offending him with your well-intended gesture. Now, if you’re both white and you’re considering cookies iced with the colors of the Pan-African flag, part of me wants to tell you to do it just because it would be so amusing. But seriously: Allow me to suggest a “thanks for being a good neighbor” gift with a note that says “Time got away from us and we didn’t reciprocate your Christmas gift, but we appreciate you and are so glad to be living next door.”
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“The lesson is, if you feel ‘weird’ about something, just listen to yourself!”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My girlfriend and I have a relationship that is sometimes wonderful. She’s beautiful, smart, talented, and funny. She’s 32, I’m 29, and this is my first same-sex relationship. We live together, and it seems promising, except that she has a mental condition that can severely limit her. When she’s traumatized, she turns her anger to me, says terrible things about me, and threatens to harm my reputation. I can make allowances for her condition, but I don’t think I should have to just accept this kind of abuse. She asks me to help her leave, and I agree, because she needs the help. But then she says she wants to stay, and she becomes wonderful again. I can’t stay in this relationship, though I want to, and I can’t leave it, though I also want that. I want what’s best for her. Help!
—In a Conundrum
You say you want what’s best for your girlfriend, but what about what’s best for you? Whether or not her behavior is the result of a mental illness doesn’t actually matter much. You know you are being emotionally abused, and you shouldn’t have to live like this anymore. I know it’s difficult to leave someone you care about who is in a bad place, so if you can, contact any family members or friends you may know, and give them a warning that the relationship is coming to an end and she may need some additional support from her community. Then don’t wait for her to decide to leave. You do it.
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.
My husband “Ken” and I got married when we were 27. We’d been dating for three years and built a life around the activities we loved doing—hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, and many other active pursuits.
Four years into our marriage, Ken was diagnosed with a chronic, incurable condition which flares up with no warning and is only somewhat controllable. He will deal with this for the rest of his life. The illness has made Ken into a different person. He can barely walk or lie in bed comfortably, much less go for a hike or engage in any of the activities that brought us so much joy in the past. Though the illness has no biological impact on his brain, Ken’s mental health has (understandably) completely fallen apart. He is depressed, angry, and verbally abusive to me. We are no longer in love. I am a caregiver at best and a verbal punching bag at worst.
I would like to leave Ken. I’ve brought this up with a few close friends and family members, nearly 100 percent of whom have had the same horrified, aghast reaction. They mention our wedding vows (“in sickness and in health”) and Ken’s increasing physical caregiving needs. Conceptually, I see where they’re coming from, but I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being a verbal punching bag for someone who seems like he hates me.
Would I be a monster for leaving Ken? Is there any way to do this in a manner that causes the least amount of pain possible for him? I do still care about him and don’t want to be cruel.
—Am I a Monster
I am the youngest child of three children by 15 years, and am the only child still living with our parents. Six months ago, my parents decided to move me across the country two weeks into my middle school year. In return they promised that we would visit our hometown for my birthday in January. Recently, my sister got engaged to her longtime boyfriend and is now planning an engagement party for late February (her birthday). When asked if there was any way she could accommodate our trip schedule, she refused and said she wanted it on her birthday so it would be “extra special.” We cannot afford nor does my family have time to visit twice. Knowing this, she now expects us to cancel my birthday trip so we can visit her. She knows how important this trip is to me and yet expects me to be happy to cancel it for her. Prudie, I was moved from the only home I have ever known. I’ve had endless days of tears after being alone at lunch or ignored by “friends,” and this has been the thing I have been looking forward to. I know if it comes down to it, my parents will choose her over me. What can I do?
I’m so sorry this is happening to you and that it looks like your parents might go back on their word. I’m sure the promise of the trip to see your old friends has been keeping you going as you try to cope in this new, difficult environment. I’m guessing you’re about 12 years old, which is old enough to fly alone. Could you arrange to stay with a good friend and ask your parents to send you on your own, and miss the engagement party? This shouldn’t be too upsetting to anyone—it’s not as if you’re missing the wedding itself, and there won’t be much for a preteen to do at an adult celebration. Make the case to your mom and dad about how much you’ve been struggling and how much it would mean to you, and see if they’ll agree. If they refuse, see if they’ll allow one of your friends to come visit you at some point in the future. I know you need something to look forward to, and I hope you get it.
I design wedding invitations. At least 60 percent of my customers include an etiquette blunder of some sort in the text of their invitations. Sometimes they ask for cash, or specify “adults only.” Worst of all, one customer asked guests to pay for their meals and included information on how to send their payment in advance if they didn’t want to pay the night of. I’ve never said anything about these items even though I have cringed while formatting them, but should I do so? Would I be out of place in letting a customer know that they’re committing a major faux pas?