Jenée Desmond-Harris is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Can’t we all just get along? I (she/they) am in love with a wonderful woman whom I have been dating on and off for a little over three years. She is funny, intelligent, and kind, and I love her dearly, but she struggles with insecurities around my relationship with my ex.
I came out as a lesbian in my early 30s (about five years ago). Coming out meant the end of my 10-year marriage to my now ex-husband, but not the friendship we share. In those 10 years, we navigated many life challenges together, including a yearslong major health crisis in my 20s. He is my biggest supporter, my best friend, and my family still (he is also still close with my parents). We also share an athletic hobby that means we hang out (typically in a group) in a public setting once or twice a week.
My girlfriend hates this. I do understand the base fear of one’s significant other being friends with their ex, but in this situation, there is not the typical threat (i.e., there is absolutely zero chance of any “backsliding” or sexual contact). My girlfriend and I have talked about this extensively, and she admits that her insecurity stems from me having an “intimate friendship” with him. For almost the full first year that we dated, I cut off contact from my ex completely in an attempt to show my girlfriend how important she is to me and that he was not a threat. I reinitiated my friendship with my ex when, in therapy, I realized that I felt like it had become more of a way for my girlfriend to control me. My ex and I have since repaired our friendship, and my girlfriend settled into somewhat of a neutral acceptance.
Last year, she and I took a break for a few months, for unrelated reasons, and when we got back together about eight months ago, I was very clear that his friendship was important to me and was not negotiable, and so if that was something that she was not comfortable with, then we should not get back together. She told me she supported our friendship because she understands it is important to me. I do not hide anything about our friendship or communication from her, and frequently invite her to join the hobby outings (even though she declines every time, she says she likes knowing I still want her there).
This all came to a head last night when my girlfriend and I got in a major fight (while drinking, unfortunately) after she suggested I had been deceptive by not including in my dating app profile when we met that I was still friends with my ex. I said this was ridiculous because no one should be expected to list all of their baggage on their dating profile, and reminded her that she said she supports the friendship. She told me that she lied about the support because she knew it’s what I wanted to hear and she was afraid I would leave if she didn’t say it. I freaked out and told her to fuck off, which then spiraled into her calling me a narcissist and us sleeping in separate rooms.
We have since each apologized for what was said, and agree that we need to have a bigger discussion, but I don’t know what is right here. My girlfriend thinks I’m cruel to her for remaining friends with my ex, but I think she’s being unreasonable. How should I approach this conversation?
A: It’s not wrong (and definitely not cruel) to be close friends with an ex, and it’s not wrong to have an issue with your girlfriend’s friendship with an ex either. But it is wrong to lie about being OK with a friendship and then change your mind and make wild accusations. You and your girlfriend might not get on the same page about this, so the conversation should be an honest one about whether she can accept it. For what it’s worth, it sounds like your ex is a more supportive, positive, and stable presence in your life than she is.
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Q. Those were the days: This is a low-stakes question but I would like your opinion nevertheless. My mom and I would love to visit the house we rented when I was a little kid. It’s been 25 years since we moved. She spent what she says were the happiest days of her life there, and I often still dream about it: the tiny kitchen with the oil heater, the garden with the lilac tree. Every time I drive past it, I have to stop myself from pulling over and just ringing the bell.
Would it be weird if my mom and I did just that—ring the bell, explain we used to live there, and ask if we could just have a look inside? My brothers and my dad say it would be. What do you think?
A: This seems like it would have been totally normal in 1990 but these days … I’m not so sure. I can’t say what exactly changed, but I think it might strike a lot of people as being inappropriate and invasive. I know if it happened in my neighborhood, there would be a long, overblown Nextdoor thread about the two potential criminals knocking on doors. I’m not saying it’s right, but that’s the world we live in. Dropping by isn’t really a thing anymore, period; dropping in on a stranger is even less so. Why don’t you leave a nice note in the mailbox asking the current residents to give you a call or text if they wouldn’t mind a visit?
Q. Dad doesn’t know they’re them: My partner and I will be getting married this fall. They are wonderful, our relationship is great despite the pandemic, and we are excitedly planning for our big day and beyond.
That said, their dad, who is extremely ill with a pain disorder and other conditions, has not been told that they prefer “they/them” to their birth pronouns, and also doesn’t realize that the name he called them for 30-plus years is no longer the name they now use. My partner would prefer to continue not to tell their dad this, or to come out to him generally; they feel that doing so would cause even more emotional burden to their parents, who may pass away literally any day now.
I have respected my partner’s wishes and have not discussed their transition nor their new pronouns/name in front of their dad or other family members they aren’t out to yet. My concern stems from the fact that, well, in September, it is extremely likely that they will be outed regardless. Our ceremony will use “they/them,” our printed materials will have their new name and pronouns, and generally it will be clear that the name/pronouns that their dad uses are no longer what they use themselves or that others in our close circle of friends and family use.
I get the impression that my partner anticipates just not having to deal with this, because it’s unlikely that their dad will be able to attend the various events for the wedding. That said, he may indeed come at least to the ceremony, or not have passed by the time we get married, and then what?
I don’t want to push my partner to come out, and I know that that is generally not something you request of someone who is transitioning/transitioned. But do you have any thoughts on how best to approach this situation, so that they do not put any more “burden” (which I think is a terrible framing, but not mine) on their dad, but also so their dad doesn’t freak out if/when he attends our wedding?
A: My initial reaction was to tell you not to do the work of worrying about this for your partner! They have all the same information you do about their dad, his attitudes, the wedding plans, and how names and pronouns might come up in the speeches and on the program. So, I thought, let them deal with it.
But then I realized that if dad does come to the wedding and “freak out,” in a way that causes a scene or upsets your partner, that could ruin your day, too. So you actually do have something at stake here. With that in mind, you should start by letting your partner know that you realize this is a stressful topic that is not a lot of fun to think about, and then explain that getting married means a lot to you, and, to the extent possible, you want to prevent any drama that would complicate the big day. Suggest that you’ll agree to revisit the topic a month out from the wedding and that if it looks like their dad’s health is good enough that he will attend, you’ll make a plan to break the name and pronoun news to him in advance of the event. This isn’t really pushing them to come out; it’s just asking them to be thoughtful and strategic about the timing. Maybe he’ll decide not to come to the wedding. Maybe he’ll have a negative reaction but get it out of his system in advance. Whatever. The point is that—mostly for selfish reasons—you don’t want to trigger any health issues or be on edge wondering about his reaction on your special day.
I’m hopeful for all of you that he’ll take it well, be there to celebrate the two of you, and not let this so-called burden get in the way of making one last great memory together at the end of his life.
Q. Bachelorette bar bills: I am attending a multiday destination bachelorette party next month, and I’m not sure how to approach splitting costs. I have no issue pitching in to cover the bride’s costs or covering all my own food/activities. But I don’t drink, and I have dietary restrictions, so splitting the bar bill evenly among everyone other than the bride or spending $50 on a bottomless brunch when I won’t drink the mimosas and can’t eat most of the food seems a little unfair. I don’t want to be difficult or not pay my fair share, but when I’m already spending more than $1,500 on airfare, accommodations, activities, and gifts, I don’t really want to spend an extra $500 on food/drinks that I’m not partaking in.
Should I bring this up with the maid of honor, who is planning everything? Should I just suck it up and pay for it to prevent any animosity or hurt feelings? I don’t really know anyone going except the bride; she isn’t really involved in the planning and I don’t want to cause her any stress. I would have declined going, but the bride threw my bachelorette party so I feel obligated to be there. Is there any polite or reasonable way to avoid subsidizing four days of drinking for a bunch of girls I don’t know?
A: I still can’t believe that we as a species haven’t evolved past bachelorette commitments with enormous and unpredictable costs. Your situation is stressful and unfair, but it’s also very common. In an ideal world, you would have been able to ask for an estimate of costs before committing to be in the wedding party—or at least before committing to go on this particular trip.
I’m of the opinion that agreeing to go is agreeing to split things evenly (and pay much more than seems reasonable). I would hate to be the maid of honor who had to do the math to figure out how to charge you less and then, to keep it all fair, how to offer a discount to the vegan bridesmaid and how to give a refund to the girl who’s too hungover to participate in the second night out, etc. It could get really complicated and headache-inducing. And keep in mind, the person planning it all is an unpaid volunteer herself. If she gives you a discount, she has to go to everyone else and ask for more money (and then those people, if they’re careful about their budgets, might feel put off by a surprise extra charge).
I think you should think of this as the (unfortunate) cost of being a part of the group that’s entertaining the bride for the weekend rather than the price of your food and drink. Pay the regular price. But! Let this be a lesson for next time, to be as clear as possible and negotiate something that feels fair to you (and I definitely think not paying for alcohol if you don’t drink sounds fair) before agreeing to attend.
Q. Forlorn in the corn: I come from a state with a hard-right legislature, and we have recently passed a horrible anti-trans kids bill. I have a trans nephew and this bothers me immensely.
So here’s the thing: One of the legislators and I are from the same hometown and used to be in a book club together, but I think he just joined the club because several of the members were influential in our small town. So in retaliation for his anti-trans comments, I told them he can’t read. Was I in the wrong for this? Should I fess up that I think he can read?
A: But … the actual thing he supported publicly is so much worse than not knowing how to read! Struggling with literacy doesn’t make him a bad person; being a transphobic bully does. So it’s bizarre to me that you made up a story about him that is totally unremarkable compared with what he proudly did in public.
I don’t think what you said about him really matters (also, it’s doubtful that people believed you), so you can either retract it or not. But what you should also say—not just in the group but to anyone who will listen, and especially those who are in a position to vote him out of office one day—is that this man is a hateful, dangerous person who’s using his power to make the lives of innocent kids like your nephew unbearable.
Q. Re: Those were the days: As someone who moved a lot as a kid, I don’t think this is a good idea. 1) If the homeowner is uncomfortable, you need to take that as an absolute no and not push it. 2) After 25 years, the house isn’t going to be the same. 3) You’re likely not going to feel the same yourself. I walked by my old grandma’s house once and was temporarily dismayed to see they’d made a lot of changes.
But if I’m being honest, what I would really want is to walk in and see my grandma, before the cancer and pain. And it’s just not possible. So I wouldn’t expect the emotions to quite be what you expect. It can feel very weird.
A: I didn’t even think of how unsatisfying the experience might be, but I can totally see it—thanks for that perspective.
Q. Re: Those were the days: What about going to one of the real estate websites (like Zillow) and see if pictures are posted there? If the house has been sold recently, there could be some inside and outside pictures available.
A: This is brilliant.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: That’s enough for today! Thanks for the great questions, and I’ll talk to you next week.
From Care and Feeding
My husband is a thrill-seeker. He races motorcycles, scuba dives, and climbs mountains. He has looked forward to sharing these passions with our son ever since we found out I was pregnant. Our 5-year-old son, however, is not the adrenaline junkie my husband is. He’s been diagnosed with sensory issues and is extremely sensitive to motion. Even swinging on his swing set is “too fast” and “scary” for him. My husband is very sensitive to our son’s needs with one exception: roller coasters. He desperately wants to pass along his love of roller coasters to our son. He bought season passes to a large theme park and takes our son there regularly. These visits always end horribly.