Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I have a problem that keeps getting worse the more I think about it. My fiancée wants to go on a reality show. Not just any reality show, but a dating show. Not a famous one like the Bachelor but similar. I found out when a mutual friend of ours joked about it to me. She thought my fiancée had told me. She hadn’t. I talked about it with my fiancée, and she said she just wants the exposure to grow her Instagram audience. I wasn’t okay with it and said so. She’s going to do it anyway.
Now she wants me to move out temporarily so the casting people won’t find out about me. I want to make the move permanent but I really love her. Except for her social media stuff, she’s really amazing. What do you think?’
— A Fake Bachelorette’s Guy
Dear Fake Bachelorette’s Guy,
Well … I don’t think you two are together anymore. Your fiancée wants to date other people against your wishes and has asked you to leave the home you share. What else would she have to do to make it clear to you that she’s moved on? Break up with her before she goes on the show, the truth comes out, and you become the subject of some reality dating gossip blog post and get a bunch of Instagram followers you didn’t want.
I have been struggling with COVID/long-COVID for 18 months. It has been horrible. When I first got sick, my condition was life-threatening, I could not leave my bed for the first six months, and after many months of rehabilitation, I can still only manage a very easy work-out for 20 mins. I have gotten so much support, am taking antidepressants, and was in therapy for several months. I am hopeful that I will recover completely. But I am so angry and resentful. I am incredibly thankful for my life, my husband, my kids, my job. I know I am incredibly lucky. But I am angry most of the time and unlike the strong, happy woman I used to be.
To complicate things even more, before I got sick, I fell in love with a man who is not my husband (Allen). My husband and I have created a wonderful family, we never argue, and are great friends, but we have struggled with closeness, something that is very important to me. Allen and I had been friends for years and always had undeniable, crazy chemistry. When I got sick he supported me and loved me, and we have become incredibly close, emotionally and physically. I think I am old enough to know that this is the kind of love that is very special and something that I have never experienced before. I know I should not make big life-decisions when I am still sick, but this can’t continue: Either I work on my marriage or I follow my heart. I totally love my life, but to be loved the way Allen loves me, is precious. I know therapy would be helpful, but I am so tired of talking about myself and all the problems that I have, that I can’t bring myself to go back. But I can’t continue to be angry and self-hating and deceitful—especially when I have so much to be thankful for. I would very much appreciate your perspective.
— Lost and Angry
Dear Lost and Angry,
I’m glad you’re starting to feel a little better.
To be fair, it was probably your husband, who lives with you, who was actually taking care of you when you were very sick, not Allen. And he’s probably still supporting you in many ways now. Not because it’s a lot of fun, but because he loves you. That would be great if you loved him back, but you’re choosing someone else over him. You haven’t given a lot of thought to that experience, but you should. Either tell him that you’ve been unfaithful to him and want to do therapy to repair the marriage (if you can find it in your heart to really mean it) or tell him you want to leave. Don’t waste any more of his time.
I am a white woman in my mid-twenties, in a relationship with a Black man. We met in college about five years ago and have been together ever since. About two months ago, I found out that I was unexpectedly pregnant. While this was a surprise, we decided together to move from our West Coast college town to the southern city my partner is from to raise our baby in the Black community my partner grew up in, because I know there’s tools I as a white woman won’t be able to give our child and this was important to my partner. My partner’s mom graciously agreed to host us for a few weeks until we can get our own living situation handled.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in college after several very rough semesters, and, with my partner’s support, found medication that works for me. Unfortunately, I can’t take that medication while pregnant, so my executive functioning has tanked. This particularly extends to personal hygiene, specifically showering. As an added bonus, I’m also exhausted (most likely from the pregnancy), so I’ve started showering much less frequently than I used to (maybe twice a week rather than every day). My partner’s mom works from home and has noticed this, and has made backhanded comments about my lack of hygiene almost every day, asking why I haven’t showered, when I’m going to shower, why my hair was so gross, etc. It’s gotten to the point that I mostly hide in my partner’s childhood bedroom all day just so I don’t have to hear it from her, which just gets more comments to my partner about how I’m anti-social.
Last week, we sat my partner’s mom down and told her that I was pregnant, as well as that my hygiene was related to my not being able to take my meds and asked that she leave it alone. She went on this long rant about how I didn’t need medication, I just needed Jesus (I’m Jewish, so definitely not), and she tried to call her pastor to come talk to me at her house. She also said some pretty hurtful stuff about how I was going to raise her grandbabies to stink, and that I basically needed to get over “my issues.” The meeting ended with me in tears and her storming off. I appreciate that her opinions on hygiene come from racist ideas that Black people were dirty and smelly perpetuated by white supremacy, so Black people feel obligated to be twice as clean and well-dressed as white people, so I’m hesitant to say anything to my partner’s mom directly. But I’m going to bathe my child. I’m just struggling to take care of myself right now, and a lot of this will get better once the kid is out and I can take my meds again.
Other pregnancy-safe medication is not really an option right now, as I tried pretty much everything to get to the meds I’m on now and nothing else really worked. The house we found to rent can’t get us in for another month, also, but I don’t know how I’m going to stand another month of her lectures and snide comments. My partner did his best to defend me, but his mom basically bulldozed right over him, which seems to be a recurring theme. I don’t want to be rude to a woman who opened her home to us, but I’m physically struggling to do what she wants me to do, and it just makes me feel worse to hear her laughing to her friends on the phone about the smelly white girl stinking up her home.
— You’re Not Supposed to Shower Every Day, Right?
Dear Shower Every Day,
There’s a lot of detail in this letter that isn’t necessary—so much so, on this fraught topic in particular, that it strains credulity. But let’s go with it. In my view, what your situation boils down to is this: Your mother-in-law is being cruel to you about an issue that isn’t harming her while you’re pregnant and dealing with mental health issues, and your partner is not willing or able to get her to stop. Yes, many people do shower every day. Yes, there might be something to the idea that expectations about cleanliness could be loosely associated with race and have historical roots. Yes, you might actually smell bad and it might be bothersome to her. But none of that matters if you, because you aren’t doing well, are literally unable to take a quick shower more often than you are—and I’ll have to take your word that that’s the case.
You’re in a very vulnerable position, being off your medication. Getting through the rest of your pregnancy safely and with your mental health intact should be your very first priority. Does your husband have any other friends or relatives who you might be able to stay with for a few weeks? Or would it be practical to travel to your hometown and stay with your own family? As I write that, I realize those options could very well require more mental and physical energy than hopping in the shower for a few minutes each day and might not be at all practical for you. If that’s the case, I think you’re doing the best you can by hiding out in your partner’s childhood bedroom for the time being. You might supplement that with plenty of time outside the house, if you’re up for it, or some time on the phone with people who understand and support you and offset the negative message you’re getting from your mother-in-law every day.
I also think you should take this opportunity to address the deeper issues—about your delicate mental state, your mother-in-law’s bullying, and your partner’s interactions with her—that this conflict has raised. Use the time between now and when the baby is born to figure out how to avoid a repeat of this situation, in which you feel judged and unsupported and unsure of yourself. That means making plans with your partner about how you want to parent—not just when it comes to bathtime–in a way that reflects your values as individuals and in what areas, if any, you’ll defer to his mother or your community. It’s definitely admirable that you want to raise your kid somewhere where there are Black people, and it’s thoughtful that you are considering the possible race-related roots of your mother-in-law’s stance. But it’s also important that you remember that there’s no one way Black people do things, and that you feel empowered and confident as the only mother your kid has. No child is going to benefit from a mom who gets pushed around, questions herself, and suffers psychologically as a result. When it comes to parenting issues including but not limited to hygiene, you and your partner should agree on what the two of you want and pledge not to let anyone—especially not his mother—take your sense of peace and well-being away from you.
More Advice From Pay Dirt
My sister and I went in on a gift for our stepdad for Christmas—a large grill—and he didn’t want it. I facilitated the return. She had mentioned she wanted to use her portion she paid to take him out to eat; I said it’s his gift and he should decide what he wants with the money we spent on it. I asked him what he actually wanted, and he said, The cash.