Dear Prudence

Help! Our Neighbors Made an Absurd Request About Our Wi-Fi.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

Wi-Fi disconnection icon above a router
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by farakos/iStock/Getty Images Plus and Vitalii Barida/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi! Aside from having lost an hour of sleep this weekend when we set the clocks forward, how’s everyone doing? Tell me what’s on your mind.

Q. Home is where the Wi-Fi is: Our neighbors have made an absurd request and my partner and I are disagreeing on how to respond.

Today the neighbors approached my partner with the request that we turn off our Wi-Fi at night because they have a family member in their house with medical issues and they believe the Wi-Fi “waves” are interfering with the family member’s sleep. Being a kind and nonconfrontational person, my partner agreed to try it out for them. He then came inside to tell me what happened, and I was completely floored.

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I feel this is totally unreasonable to ask of someone. Not only is this a conspiracy theory that has absolutely no basis in reality (verifiable by simply Googling EMF waves and reading the relevant page on our government’s website), but it’s also a huge imposition to request that someone turn off their Wi-Fi in their own personal home. In this day and age, we have security systems and work computers that require Wi-Fi 24 hours a day.

My partner suggested we turn it off for one night only, and then the next time we see the neighbors, explain we cannot continue as we have systems that require the Wi-Fi at night. My opinion is that we should not indulge them in their delusion at all and if they confront us about why we haven’t turned it off, explain to them at that time that we have systems we cannot disconnect from the Wi-Fi. My partner worries the neighbors will be mad at us for agreeing to try it and then not doing it with no explanation. He doesn’t want to do this long term but feels we owe it to them to try it once before saying no.

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I do have sympathy for them as I know it must be difficult to have an ill family member. Maybe they have tried everything else and have turned to these theories because they feel they have nothing else to try. But I just can’t stomach the idea that we need to agree to this ridiculous request.

We are at an impasse with our decision. Should we do the “neighborly” thing and turn it off for one night just to avoid making enemies, or do we stand our ground and not give in to this tin foil hat family?

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A: This is indeed an unreasonable ask, and it would have been absolutely fine and polite to say, “Sorry, we can’t do that. We have some devices that need to be online all night.” But since your partner already said yes, the kind thing to do would be to update the neighbors. Your partner can do it in person or in a text (do they accept texts?) and make you the bad guy, explaining that you aren’t comfortable having the security system disconnected while you sleep.

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Luckily for them, the conspiracy theory around 5G has a whole industry around it and they should have no problem finding an EMF radiation protection necklace or something.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. Am I overreacting? I really need some fast help in dealing with my family, who are in complete denial about the possibility that my 85-year-old father has COVID. For background, we live in one of the most vaccinated parts of the country and everyone in my family is totally on board with vaccinations, masks, social distancing, and all of that. My parents are triple vaxxed.

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However, my parents did travel out of state for an extended family gathering (I declined to go), which included some anti-vax relatives, and the day after they got back, my father came down with a raging “flu.” He just had a chest X-ray today and he has pneumonia. No one in my family seems at all concerned that this could be COVID. My mom is convinced that he has a regular flu. He took an at-home COVID antigen test the first day he felt sick, and it was negative, so everyone thinks he’s fine. I’ve read that antigen tests are not as accurate as PCR tests and keep suggesting that he get a PCR test, but no one in the family seems to care.

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I have no idea what the doctor has told them because my mom is very vague. Both of my sisters agree with my mom that my dad can’t possibly have COVID. I’m super worried right now! My dad’s symptoms started out with severe nausea and vomiting, followed by a 102-degree fever that lasted several days and a dry cough. That freakin’ sounds like COVID to me!

A: Of course we’ll never know without a test, but having your dad take one wouldn’t be hard or expensive. If you can get on the phone with your dad’s doctor or an advice nurse and tell them what you just told me, do it as soon as possible. If you don’t have access to that information, get him in the car to a testing facility, behind your family members’ backs if necessary. Even if the test is negative, he’s obviously very sick and needs both medical professionals and family members to take his illness seriously. I have no idea why your family is being weird about this, but I don’t think you should waste any more time trying to figure it out.

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Q. Silent insomniac: I have largely well-controlled bipolar disorder and severe anxiety. A lot of my stability over the last few years can be attributed to my therapist. I started seeing him after a suicide attempt, and in the last four years, I haven’t been hospitalized or attempted suicide. I also finally got a job I love, moved out of my parents’ house, and started grad school.

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Over the last month, I’ve been backsliding. Grad school has brought on a ton of anxiety. I don’t always take my medications and frequently skip my insomnia meds to stay up all night. I use the time to “work” or think obsessively about how I should be working, without getting anything done. I’m approaching my suicide-iversary and I am fixating on the possibility of reattempting (even though I’m not suicidal—it just feels inevitable). I haven’t told my therapist about this. I know I’m probably projecting and I’m just his patient, but I don’t want to disappoint him. He has done so much for me and I like being a model patient who follows psychiatric advice and constantly improves.

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I hesitate to tell anyone in my family/friend circle (even though they are loving and supportive) because I know how much my previous psychiatric problems have traumatized and hurt them. I also don’t want to trigger a rehospitalization (rationally, I know this is not going to happen; I’m not a danger to myself or others). I have my hard-won independence, and I am worried that honesty may take that away. At the same time, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to ignore my urge to set my entire life on fire. Until the last two years, I have never had a long-term period of stability. For almost 15 years, I was outwardly successful while living in complete internal chaos. Now, I am making bad decisions so I can get some of the chaos back.

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I know I need to tell my therapist, even though the chaos is so tempting. Do you have any ideas about how I can get over this fear about telling him the truth? I’d love a script, because every time I think about fully disclosing what is going on, I chicken out. My emotional side wants to get fired and fail out of grad school, and I know I need to get this under control before I follow through.

A: Congratulations on all the work you’ve done to take care of yourself, and I’m sorry you feel like you’re having a setback. I completely understand the desire to look good to your friends and family members and to impress your therapist. But think of it like this: By being transparent and reporting on the fact that you’re feeling a little on the edge, you will be a model patient! Your therapist will be so appreciative. Your friends and family will be so impressed by your self-awareness and sense of responsibility. Do you know what would actually disappoint everyone? If you were to let yourself slip back into destructive patterns while denying everything and failing to get help. Your friends and family would eventually have to rescue you. And your therapist would have to accept that you weren’t quite well enough to look out for yourself and be proactive about staying on top of your mental health.

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Now of course, the best reason to ask for help is because you deserve it and because you shouldn’t have to live with the painful consequences of bad decisions. But if you’re more motivated by appearing impressive to the people around you, believe me—speaking up now, before things have gone terribly wrong, is the best way forward.

If you need to talk, or if you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Q. No pressure: My ex-husband has a habit of bringing over books or DVDs that he says I “must” read or enjoy.

When we were married, I accepted this because I wanted to please him. Now, 15 years later, he is remarried and I am single. I have a newfound sense of boundaries and would like to tell him to stop doing this, and that pressure like this makes me not want to read the book even more. He is happy in his new marriage but he and I still share some interests in the arts that his new wife doesn’t. I’m trying to think of tactful ways to steer him away from this habit. Do you have any suggestions for me?

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A: “Dan, I love that you’re thinking of me and I know we share some of the same interests, but when you bring over DVDs or books and tell me I ‘must’ enjoy them, it feels a little bit like getting homework and it takes the fun out of it. I have my own list of material that I want to get to. So feel free to drop stuff off if you’re OK with the fact that I may or may not get to it.”

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Q. Re: Home is where the Wi-Fi is: Disable broadcasting of your Wi-Fi name, so your neighbors don’t see it. This won’t interfere with your already connected devices. If you get a new device, you’ll have to manually enter your Wi-Fi name.

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A: This is a great plan. And of course, feel free to accompany it with a lie that you’ve honored your neighbor’s request. I hope their relative experiences the placebo effect and feels a lot better.

Q. Re: Am I overreacting? Jenée, if the father had X-rays, it means he obviously went to a doctor. The first thing a doctor would do nowadays for any respiratory illness is to do the PCR test.

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A: It just seems a bit weird that the family would be sure he didn’t have COVID because of the at-home test, rather than telling the letter writer what the doctor concluded. Because they’re being vague and secretive (although I have no idea why), it seems worth it to make sure the doctor’s visit really happened and that he received (and is continuing to receive) proper care.

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Classic Prudie

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were visiting with several friends for a vacation. One morning, our friend’s son used my husband’s computer to watch a video—no problem, since he’s a little older and more responsible using electronics. However, he mistakenly forgot to put the laptop away once he was finished and left it open in a place easily accessible to the younger children. Within a few minutes, our other friend’s daughter had spilled juice all over the keyboard, thus destroying a quite expensive laptop. We had to go out and buy a replacement. While we have a rainy-day fund to cover the cost, it means we have to cut out our summer family vacation this year.

Because of the high cost, my husband feels that his friends should offer to chip in but I feel it’s a bit tacky. What’s the proper etiquette for such a situation?

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