Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hope everyone had a nice weekend and got to enjoy watching some figure skating or something. Let’s get started!
Q. Accidental rudeness: I am a 28-year-old guy who is dating a woman, “Melissa,” who is about six years older than I am. We’ve been together for about 10 months. A few weeks after meeting and going on several dates, when it looked like things might stick, I guess, Melissa had a talk with me. She said that she wasn’t sure I realized it, but that I often interrupted her. She said that I hadn’t seemed to notice when she gently redirected the conversation back to what she’d been saying and had never apologized. It was apparently almost enough for her not to go out with me again, but she thought I was otherwise nice and cute and got the feeling I wasn’t doing it on purpose, so she thought she’d see if a talk would help. I’ve been trying harder and I think it’s been going well. When I do interrupt, Melissa will now fairly bluntly point it out now, and I know then to apologize and be more conscious of my speaking.
Recently, we had another conversation. Melissa opened up about feeling that I sometimes come across as arrogant when I speak, and that I’ve mansplained things to her several times, and been frequently a bit oblivious that I am going on about a topic of interest to me and not picking up on how long I’ve been speaking and that others aren’t especially interested in hearing quite so much about, say, the computer games I play, or the minutiae of my job, or WWII weaponry. This wasn’t exactly surprising. I know I’m a decently smart guy and a talker. I’m also possibly a bit on the spectrum, so I do info dump and there’s not a lot I can do about it. I told her I would try to be more aware of things and that we could talk when she felt something hadn’t gone well.
Recently, we went to see a friend of mine in a play. This is a small theater that my friend started a few years ago and is professional but local and on a low budget. I mentioned as we sat down that the show (with a two-person cast) had been in rehearsal for about 13 months. Melissa was surprised and said that when she was in college as a theater major, a two-hour play was typically running in eight weeks or so, but surmised that COVID had likely had a lot to do with how long it had taken. I can’t remember exactly what I said in response, but I guess I said, “Well, this isn’t some college play, it’s real theater. Of course it’s going to take longer.” Melissa stood up and left the theater. I was shocked and followed her out, but she said she needed space. The next time we talked, she said that she was offended and insulted by what I said, and reminded me that she was the one with actual experience in the topic we’d been discussing. It was the last straw for her and she is reconsidering the relationship and says she’s done being patient.
I am wondering if what I did was really so rude or if she’s been a bit sensitive, and how Melissa and I can move forward. I do like her a lot.
A: When you have this much conflict this early in a relationship, it can be a sign that you’re incompatible. I think that’s the case for you and Melissa. As far as the theater incident, it doesn’t matter whether I say you were rude or she was insensitive. It matters that you were being yourself—and it sounds like, whether or not you’re officially on the spectrum, you don’t have plans to make changes to the way you interact with people—and Melissa didn’t like what she heard. And this is a pattern. Ten months is way too early to start asking each other to change, accept feeling disrespected, or make huge compromises. You should go your separate ways.
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Q. Seeking equity: I can’t figure out how to get more equity in my marriage. Both of us work full time; I work from home and my husband “Mark” goes to the office. We have a 3-year-old son in day care Monday through Friday. My husband works Tuesday through Friday and gets Mondays off, and I basically have a six-day workweek. At the same time, I make twice as much money and pay two-thirds of the bills. I also do at least three-fourths of the housework.
We’ve gone to therapy in the past to improve our communication, but we can’t seem to get on the same page for household labor. I’ve made a list of everything that has to get done and asked him to pick half. He either stops doing things over time or does a terrible job on his half. I don’t want to have to manage him—I don’t have time! I’ve brought this issue up almost annually to get better equity. Every time he treats me like I’m unreasonable or gets frustrated that he can’t do more. He has a whole day to do more! I’ve thought about cutting back on my side, but I can’t stand a dirty house and this feels passive-aggressive. I can’t change our income, but how can I get more help?
A: You really can’t force your husband to pull his weight, but you can let him know how serious this is, and that you don’t want to stay in a marriage that works this way. If that’s really what’s at stake, he should know, and it might be what finally motivates him to improve. If you’re not willing to consider ending the relationship over this, know that you’ve tried everything and start looking for solutions (like a housekeeper).
Q. Nondrinking friend: In my circle of girl friends at university, “X” and I are the only ones from a Muslim background in a group of mostly white girls. X is not a practicing Muslim and drinks. I don’t drink but am not much of a practicing Muslim either. However, every time we are in a group, I feel excluded because X makes almost all conversations about drinking. While I enjoy socializing with my friends whether we are out for drinks or coffee, etc., I lose interest and have nothing to contribute in a conversation about drinks. She has also told me on a few occasions that she is not interested in religion. I find this surprising because I have never brought up these topics and I am quietly figuring out things for myself. I feel judged, and like X either wants to bother me or that she is insecure. Am I mistaking X’s intentions?
A: It could be that she’s uncomfortable with her identity and trying to distance herself from you as a result. It could be that she’s obsessed with discussing drinking because she’s an alcoholic. She could also just be a poor conversationalist who isn’t sure how to connect with people and randomly brings up things she’s not interested in, like religion. But you don’t have to understand her motivations to know that you don’t connect well with her and don’t feel great while you’re around her. Take that information and decide to keep her at arm’s length, while you seek out one-on-one time with the other girls who make you feel more welcomed and have more in common with you.
Q. But I like this ring: My uncle “Bill” adopted me several years ago and we lived together. I have a relationship with him like a father and a son. Bill retired last year and decided to move to a retirement community. He gave me our house as my own, and he gave away a bunch of his other possessions at a big party. In addition to the house, he gave me a really nice ring. I absolutely love it, and I love the way I feel when I wear it.
However, a family friend, “Greg,” doesn’t approve of the ring. He showed me an inscription inside the ring that shows it came from a war. Greg said it was a horrible war, and I shouldn’t keep the ring.
Greg, in fact, thinks I should destroy it! I asked my friends what they think, and they told me they will support whatever I do. What do you think?
A: The inscription is on the inside of the ring, meaning no one will see it. And the ring’s meaning to you has to do with Bill (and the fact that you really like how it looks), not what it says inside. I don’t see an issue here, and I wish Greg would mind his own business and leave you alone. Wear it in peace!
Q. Grieving and desperate: I’ve been widowed since 2020. I’ve since gotten through the grieving process, but in my eagerness to find someone else, I tend to be too pushy and clingy. That has chased a few people away. I wound up spending eight months with someone as a placeholder until her old boyfriend wanted her back, just to escape the loneliness. I need advice on how to tone it down so I don’t chase people away or make bad choices.
A: I’m really sorry for your loss. And please remember, it hasn’t been that long. To expect to be your best self in a relationship just a couple of years after losing your spouse is a lot to ask. Of course you’re lonely! Who wouldn’t be? If possible, you should lower expectations for yourself during this time. Yes, you might make some “bad” choices. Yes, you might be clingy and people might not like that. But are you actually ready for your next serious, long-term successful relationship yet? Maybe not. Maybe this is a period of short-term connections. Maybe you can be open about just wanting companionship and company. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Also, keep in mind that it takes most people—people who have much less going on emotionally than you do—a long time and many unsuccessful attempts to find The One. So some trial and error doesn’t mean that you’re uniquely flawed. Plus, the fact that you’re not shut down and are still interested in love is something to celebrate. If you can, give yourself some credit for that and give yourself a break from the pressure to be the perfect dater while you’re still in mourning.
Q. Re: Accidental rudeness: DTMFA. She needs to give you specifics and she needs to do it in a constructive criticism way, neither of which is happening here. She’s being completely disrespectful, and it’s no longer constructive to continue this relationship. Remember, it’s not rude to be assertive.
A: I don’t agree that she’s an “MFA” or disrespectful just because she doesn’t like the way he talks to her! And reasonable people can disagree on what’s “rude.” The idea is to be with someone who’s on the same page about it and who likes your basic personality. And you’re right—that’s not happening here and they should break up.
Q. Re: Accidental rudeness: Prudie, I think you were too hard on the letter writer whose girlfriend frequently reprimands him for not listening, for mansplaining, etc. It isn’t the case that “it sounds like, whether or not you’re officially on the spectrum, you don’t have plans to make changes to the way you interact with people.” The letter writer says he has been working hard to listen to his girlfriend and be more responsive to her concerns, and gave two examples of previous conversations in which he adjusted his conversational style. They may well be incompatible, but it doesn’t sound like it’s his fault.
A: That’s fair—I guess I was responding to “I do info dump and there’s not a lot I can do about it,” and the fact that he hasn’t investigated whether he’s officially on the spectrum. He has made some efforts to accommodate Melissa, you’re right. I just think being a self-proclaimed “decently smart guy and a talker” might be something he likes about himself and doesn’t plan to change enough to make her feel respected in their conversations.
Q. Re: Accidental rudeness: I was a theater major in college and work in the arts now as well. Thirteen months for a professional show is a really long time. Maybe it had to do with COVID, but the general rule of thumb I was taught was that you would rehearse an hour for every minute of the play (i.e., a 90-minute play would be 90 hours of rehearsal). I think professional companies can do it in even less time.
A: Usually the experts in the chat are doctors and therapists and lawyers. This is a nice twist. Thanks!
Q. Re: But I like this ring: This is the plot of Lord of the Rings. Sorry.
A: Oh, wow, this is where I admit that I have no idea what the plot of Lord of the Rings is. Well, actually, I guess I do now! Readers should know that they can also sneak anything related to Star Wars or Harry Potter by me, if that’s what they’re into doing in their free time.
About a year ago, my boyfriend asked to open the relationship, since he wanted to be polyamorous. I agreed on the condition that I would have nothing to do with that part of his life. I didn’t want to know the other woman’s name, I didn’t want to meet her, she wasn’t allowed in our apartment, and he was never to talk about her. To me, she wouldn’t exist. My boyfriend agreed. Now I’ve discovered that, a few months ago, my boyfriend tricked me into becoming good friends with his other girlfriend, introducing her to me as “a friend from work.”