Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I am in a new job as a teacher, and a part of this position is that I have a “mentor teacher” who acts as an advisor and helps me with general teaching practice and acclimating to the school. Generally, we get along really well and have similar approaches to our classes. I really value his input, and he is very kind, helpful, and supportive.
But, there is one truly bizarre thing that keeps happening. He will frequently make comments on how much I eat, and specifically how I need to eat more. I thought I could just shrug it off. I usually bring a sandwich and a snack to school to eat during my preps, but I live close by and will sometimes go home to eat lunch or just wait until after school. I don’t feel hungry or like I need to make a change to my habits. As an adult, I think I should be able to choose when I eat and what is good for me. Yet, he will frequently ask when I am going to eat lunch, or try to have a conversation with me about how I should carve the time out in the day to eat more. He even said he is worried I do not eat enough. I will make it a point now to eat my food when he is in the room.
Most recently, I brought snacks for the teachers. When many of us were sitting, talking, and eating them (including me!). He very seriously asked me if I had remembered to bring lunch today and when I would eat it. I felt embarrassed to have this conversation in front of everyone, and did not really know how to respond. Is this normal? Should I be concerned about my habits? Should I just bring another sandwich and suck it up? I am at a loss for how to address this.
“Hi Mentor. Can I talk to you about something? I know you’re coming from a good place with your comments about whether I’m eating enough, but it actually makes me really self-conscious and uncomfortable when you bring it up. Do you mind putting an end to the lunch talk? There are a lot of topics related to teaching that I’d love to get your input on instead.”
My big sister often makes jokes and comments that are really kind of mean. As we have gotten older, I’ve started to find this behavior entirely petty. Recently, our brother and his wife had a baby girl after trying to conceive for more than two years. Instead of congratulating them, my sister launched into a series of “jokes” about all the trouble my brother’s daughter (then a one-day-old baby) would cause as a teenager drinking and having sex. I found these comments completely obnoxious and said so. My sister told me that our brother “deserved” her jokes as payback for his treatment of women. How can I get my sister to understand that her behavior is mean and destructive to long-term relationships?
— Little Sister Fed Up
Dear Fed Up,
She sounds awful, but I don’t think it’s your job to convince her that she’s wrong or fix her. Especially since you’ve already tried and failed. Ask your brother if he’s okay or wants to talk about what was said, and then put the energy you were going to direct toward her faults toward nurturing your relationship with him instead. She might eventually realize that the two of you are closer to each other than you are to her and put the pieces together when it comes to how her behavior is affecting her loved ones.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I am a college student. Two of my closest friends, Alison and Lucy, had a falling out. Thankfully, I was able to maintain my close relationships with both of them through a difficult period of being caught in the middle. I see both separately, and they are now friends/friendly but are definitely less close than before. Alison is planning a trip and invited me and some of our other friends to go with her, but doesn’t want to invite Lucy due to their falling out. I really want to go on the trip but am terrified to tell Lucy as I don’t want it to appear as if I am picking sides.
How do I gently tell Lucy that I am going on the trip with Alison? In a perfect world, I’d go on a trip with them both as I love them equally!
— Spring Heartbreaker
Dear Spring Heartbreaker,
I think what you should do here depends on whether Lucy would want to go on the trip. If it’s Allison and a bunch of people Lucy doesn’t know doing something that has nothing to do with Lucy’s life, that’s one thing. And you should go. But if it’s Allison and a bunch of people who are also friends with Lucy, and she’s being singled out to be excluded because of the falling out, that’s something else altogether. In that situation, if you care about Lucy and want to maintain a friendship with her, you should pass and explain to Alison that she’s totally entitled to plan the trip she wants with the people she wants, but you just don’t feel comfortable being part of a plan that will leave Lucy left out and hurt.
I feel terrible, but I want to break up with my boyfriend after he lost his license because of drunk driving. We’ve only been dating a few months, and I had my reservations about the relationship even before the drunk driving incident. I knew he’d driven drunk in the past, and he tried to convince me he could drive us home on New Year’s even though he was drunker than I’ve ever seen him. He’s a complete wreck, and he may lose his job.
I feel terrible but I just don’t want to be in the relationship anymore. We used to go back and forth with whoever’s apartment we went to, but his place is far away from mine, and I’m going to have to go to his house every time for the next three months. This is just not the type of relationship in which I want to put that kind of effort. I just feel awful because I don’t want to be one more terrible thing that happens to him. He’s pretty sweet, but doesn’t really have his life together in many ways. I worry that me breaking up with him is going to be something that causes his life to get way worse. I’ve been thinking that I could wait off for a few weeks to break up with him. What do you think?
— Breakup Bitch
Dear Breakup Bitch,
Break up with him now. It’s only been a few months, and while I see your point about not wanting to burden him with another piece of bad news, everything happening here—the loss of his license, the possible loss of his job, and the end of his relationship with you—has a common cause: his drinking and his willingness to risk killing someone when he got behind the wheel drunk. Plus, the longer you stay, the more he’ll begin to rely on you for support, and next thing you know you’ll be worried about whether he can make it without you. So have the hard conversation, leave him with some resources for alcoholism recovery, and then just leave.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I just think she exemplified all of the ways that women put dudes and their problems before our own wants and needs.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My husband (Matt) is the kind of person who will make a story more dramatic with every retelling. They can stray pretty far from reality, but he really seems to believe what he says. This isn’t my favorite thing about Matt, but not worth divorcing over either. I stopped correcting him in public years ago, because it always got so awkward. But recently he told one of my colleagues a dramatic story about me going into early labor the night before I was supposed to defend my dissertation. I did have a premature baby while working on my Ph.D., but our son was actually four months old when I defended my dissertation! I’m so in the habit of not correcting Matt that I just ran with it, but later my colleague repeated this false story to another person. This isn’t a lie that would jeopardize my job if it came out, but I’m not comfortable having it floating around among my colleagues either. This experience has made me realize that I need some better strategy than smiling and nodding when Matt tells some overblown story about our life. Any suggestions for how I can do that without looking like the naggy wife in a sitcom?
— Actually, That Never Happened
I wonder if you’ve talked to him about this already. If not, pointing out the difficult situation his tall tales put you in and asking him to stop telling them should be your first step. If you’ve already tried that or he won’t listen, you could interrupt him the next time it happens by saying something lighthearted like, “If that sounds too unbelievable to be real, it is! Matt is such a good storyteller and he always makes our life sound so exciting by embellishing the details. In reality [explain what really happened] but that’s not as much fun to talk about. Ok keep going, honey.”
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.
I’ve been dating a wonderful man for two years. He is the first person in my life who has made me feel loved and accepted unconditionally, at my best and worst, which is why I think the issue I have with him feels hard. His hygiene stinks. It wasn’t an issue when we met: His routine is to shower and change his clothes before he leaves the house to do anything so I never noticed this before we lived together. I moved in with him four months ago and since then, I’ve noticed his hygiene habits have been thrown out the door. I think he maybe showers once a week, doesn’t wash off after we have sex, and only changes his clothes when I ask him for his dirty clothes to do laundry. I also caught him not washing his hands after pooping … we cook together every night! I can’t stomach eating his food now knowing he has dirty hands. He smells dirty, like, not even typical BO but dirty. Sometimes I can’t stand getting close enough to his face to kiss him because his face smudges my glasses, his stubble scratches my face, and he just … smells. I love him so much and don’t want to bruise his ego or make him feel bad. Our relationship is otherwise great, and we have a good track record of working through difficult issues with love and respect, so I don’t know why this one is so hard for me to bring up. Should I? Or am I being ridiculous? If I do bring it up, do you have a script for how I can talk about this without it being embarrassing for him?
— Dirty Lover
I was online talking with a group of people, and they were all saying how they were in AP classes and honor classes in high school. I was just an average student and suddenly I felt really stupid—like, embarrassed by how dumb I am. How do I get past that feeling of being less than everyone else and feeling bad about myself, even if it’s true?
— Feeling Stupid
Dear Feeling Stupid,
I feel like saying “You’re obviously really young, and when you’re older you’ll understand that what happened in high school doesn’t define you and doesn’t matter,” while true, is unhelpful.
So think about this: How would you feel if a 5-year-old told you he was feeling bad about himself because some of his kindergarten friends took their first steps or learned to read their first words before he did? It would be ridiculous, right? The same applies here. The number of honors classes you took in high school has much more to do with what your school offered, how much your parents and counselors pushed and encouraged you, and the education you had access to in the years before high school than it does with your character or intelligence. And let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you were lazy in high school. Who cares? You have the opportunity to get really into academics in college, or decide that other parts of life are more important to you.
I also want to add that having your self-esteem derailed by a conversation with a group of online friends makes me wonder whether—maybe because of the pandemic—your world is very small right now. One way to broaden your perspective a little and get a reminder that everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, and challenges, is to get to know more people. The more intimate relationships you develop, the more you’ll realize there are a lot of different ways to approach life and to be happy. Make it a habit to start asking more people—including those who are older than you and who you admire—about their journeys, including both success and setbacks. When it comes to the meaningful moments in their lives, I guarantee you won’t hear a lot about AP Calculus.
I plan to be married soon. My fiancé and I don’t want a big to-do but would like to mark the occasion with a small ceremony and invite immediate family and a few close friends. This is a second marriage for both of us. My ex-husband and I remained civil to one another for the sake of our children. Once the hurt of our failed marriage had healed, we developed a friendship based on mutual interests and shared history. My fiancé and my ex get along well, and we occasionally socialize with him and his significant other. My ex is a judge and as such is able to perform weddings. My fiancé and I talked it over and would like to ask him to marry us. We haven’t asked him yet and aren’t sure he will agree, but we want to extend the invitation. Problem is when I mentioned our plan to my sisters, they had a fit. They said it would be tacky and would make other family members uncomfortable to have my ex marry us. I know it’s an unusual situation, but it is also something we’d really like to do. Are our plans just too “out there”?