Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I am a straight man in my 30s who has been friends with benefits with “Alice” for over a year. It’s been a good, safe pandemic arrangement; Alice is fun, cute, and it’s been nice to find someone I really enjoy hanging out with and enjoy sex with and is on the same page about not being in a relationship. Uncomplicated, is what it has been, I guess, until recently.
Alice has mentioned before that she writes, and recently shared that she’d sold a story for a little bit of money, and received an honorable mention in a contest. I got a weird feeling I couldn’t place. Alice directed me to some of her work, and I read it, and ended up searching and finding a lot of more of it. She’s really, really talented, much more than I had ever stopped to consider, and I don’t know why it bothers me to find story after story that she’s written. I scribble a bit, mostly stray thoughts and RPG game worldbuilding and character stuff, but I had never thought of publishing. It shouldn’t bother me that Alice has, or that her stuff is frankly so much better than I could ever dream of producing. But it has. I am jealous and intimidated and don’t know what to do. The cute lady I eat pizza with and watch movies with and fool around with is now … someone who has done something I never could and is, let’s face it, likely smarter than I am. I mean, I had never thought she was dumb by any stretch of the imagination before, and have always thought her to be intelligent and really witty and capable of having a good argument or discussion over lots of topics, but this seems different, like the proof is solid and obvious that I don’t compare. Is there any going back from this?
— Jealous FWB
Dear Jealous FWB,
Methinks the struggle you’re having is that, whether you knew it or not, you thought of Alice as a plaything. She was just a sex friend, which meant in your world she just existed for your pleasure. Such is the nature of friends with benefits sometimes, and as long as there’s mutual understanding, that’s all well and good. But it’s creating stress for you now because the rest of her life isn’t contributing to the whole “solely created to make you happy” thing you have going on.
Here’s the thing: Maybe you’re her plaything. My friend, she probably knew this from jump, and she’s okay with it. It works for her. So you have to ask yourself if you’ll be able to enjoy yourself casually and sexually with someone who is smarter than you. If intelligence is a big part of your self-conception, this may be a hang-up. However, it doesn’t sound like it really entered the picture before. Is it easier to not catch feelings for someone you think you’re smarter than? Do you not feel as virile now that you know about her professional success? This sounds like it’s wrapped up—as all sexual relationships are—in bigger and deeper questions about who you are and how you see yourself in the world. I’d suggest, however, that you give yourself the luxury of turning your brain off when you’re hanging out with Alice. Sometimes sex can be just sex.
I’ve been working as a banker for almost four years, and while I love my branch, my co-workers, and my customers, I’m getting a little burned out. I’ve been adamant about not wanting to be a supervisor, but currently my branch is me, my manager, and two brand new bankers. Which means I’m doing a lot of coaching and training, as well as just about all account opening, maintenance, problem solving, or anything that you have to be at the bank six-plus months before corporate will let you do. Which is a lot of stuff. I’m also my branch’s lead for a big system change that is happening in a few months, so I’m going to meetings and will be traveling for a week to learn the new system then coming back to my branch to coach everyone else.
On top of this, I recently spent two weeks stressed to the point of not sleeping or eating because I nearly got fired for trusting that my back office was correct when I was given permission to cash a check. HR did finally clear the issue and not take any action against me, but I had already started applying to new jobs.
My problem is, now that I’m not fired, if I end up getting offered a job that pays more and is closer to home, I’m going to feel horribly guilty if I leave my branch. My manager would be in way over her head with the amount of work she would have to do until someone replaced me. I had wanted to stay until September-ish, but I have a long commute and rising gas prices are killing my budget. Am I obligated to stay, or should I just do what is best for me, despite that being what is worst for my co-workers? How long after nearly getting fired do I have to wait before trying to get a raise so I can afford to keep my job?
— It Would Have Been Easier If I Got Fired
I get that you’re feeling the residual stress about nearly getting fired, but from your letter it sounds like you weren’t in the wrong. So you should absolutely ask for a raise commensurate with your actual (considerable and growing!) responsibilities immediately. It may seem like a bold move, but a relationship where we receive money for spending significant portions of our one precious life in an office is already an audacious arrangement. Never be hesitant about asking for a raise. Ask for a raise once a week if you want. This may seem like it’s about your feelings, but it’s just about money, which is a dispassionate force, all its effects notwithstanding.
More importantly, ask for that raise at your new job, which you should definitely take if it’s offered. It would pay you more and steal less of your unpaid time commuting. Work friendships can make job transitions difficult, but staying in a branch where your needs or the needs of your manager aren’t being met by the corporate office won’t actually help anyone. It’s common for individuals to pick up the slack when corporations “forget” that there are actual humans with human needs working in the branch offices. You feel guilty about leaving your manager in a lurch, but it’s really your corporate office that hasn’t set any of you up for success. Your manager is also capable of looking for a new job if this becomes untenable; who knows, she might already be doing it. Don’t fall on the sword for a corporation. Take care of yourself and, after you’ve settled into your new job, take your old manager out to a nice dinner.
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My husband and his parents are three of the most genuinely kind people I know, and I’m very luckily to call them family. They are, however, terrible at having frank conversations. They avoid tough subjects, or circle around them so broadly that we’re often halfway into a conversation before I figure out what they’re actually trying to talk to me about. My husband has learned to be franker and more direct with me, but has not gotten there with his parents. Mostly this is fine, though I think it will be more of a problem as his parents age.
The thing that really worries me right now is a family home that my in-laws purchased from other family members and now live in. It’s in a very hot real estate market with high property taxes, and the only thing my husband’s family will say about the fate of this house when my in-laws pass away is it will be “given to” my husband and his siblings. We live across the country, also in an expensive housing market, and couldn’t afford property taxes and maintenance on this house in addition to our own. My other siblings-in-law also couldn’t afford this, and none of them live near this house (or even in the same state). The house is very sentimental to my husband and his family, and he would be devastated if it was sold.
I keep bringing up to him that I think he and his parents and siblings need to sit down and have a conversation about the future of this house and he agrees, but just doesn’t do it. I’ve been bugging him for two years now. I’ve outlined for him how messy things could get if his parents pass away or move into assisted living with no plan for how four adults with modest incomes who love each other but have divergent careers, personal lives, and priorities will take care of an extremely expensive piece of property. We’ve discussed timelines for doing this and when might be a good time, and same deal.
There’s no indication either of my in-laws would pass in the next 10 years, but their health is declining. They also couldn’t live in this home independently if either of them became mobility-restricted (lots of stairs, far from major medical facilities). Should I start this conversation myself? Or just butt out and support my husband if things do get sticky? I should add my husband doesn’t even know if house is paid off or not.
— Need a Frank Conversation
Dear Frank Conversation,
This is going to continue to stress you out and may become a sticking point in your marriage so, for your own sake as well as that of your in-laws, you should find a way to start the conversation. Sometimes, however, when navigating the intersection of other people’s communication styles and other people’s thoughts about money, it’s better to bring in an outside expert. This way, it’s not just you banging the drum, and you won’t get triangulated into your in-laws’ drama any more than you will by nature of your relationship.
I’d suggest working with someone to do estate planning for you and your husband, which is something every couple and individual should do. There are online resources available for free that will help guide your thinking and many community organizations have low or no-cost estate planning workshops or consultations. A conversation with a professional about how you and your husband can set yourselves up down the road will naturally include potential inheritances and liabilities, including your in-laws’ house. The best-case scenario is that this goes well enough that it’s easy to recommend your in-laws also do some estate planning with someone outside of the family. Short of that, however, talking with a professional will help you and your husband start to have the conversations you need to have and to make contingency plans that don’t depend solely on your financial acumen.
My partner and I are having a wedding early next year. We are starting to finalize our guest list. And Prudie, it’s mostly white people. My partner and I are both white with all-white families, mostly white family friends, and unfortunately, our circle of friends—while extremely queer—is majority white. Yeah, it’s the worst, and we hate it. And we want to actively and intentionally know and bond with more people of color. Do you have any advice for going about this without compromising spaces for people of color or causing feelings of tokenization? Similarly, we don’t want our wedding guests who are people of color to feel tokenized or uncomfortable at our wedding.
— White Wedding
Dear White Wedding,
I think the ship has sailed for diversifying your wedding, and my guess would be that any wedding guests who are people of color already know what you discovered about your circle of friends. If they’ve RSVP’d, chances are they know what they’re getting into, and this isn’t their first rodeo. So, please don’t go sending out reparations invites. Instead, let’s talk about how you can expand and diversify your friend group going forward. I think it starts by asking yourselves how you got here. If you grew up in predominantly white spaces and are friends with people who are also from predominantly white spaces, it stands to reason that you’re not suddenly going to find yourself in a Benetton ad. The wedding was a wake-up call for you, but the guest list is but a symptom.
Look around your world right now—is the place where you work predominantly white, is your neighborhood, are the queer spaces you frequent? If you go to a worshiping community, is that mostly white? What about the places where you shop? You say it’s the worst and you hate it, but do you really hate it? It doesn’t sound like it’s been unbearable. Having a diverse group of friends starts with being in community with a diverse group of people. Switching up your supermarket in favor of one with a more diverse clientele, for instance, isn’t going to automatically draw people of color to you, but what it will do is put you in a space with white people who might have diverse groups of friends or acquaintances. You can passively learn from those white people and those spaces, while doing the work to make yourself someone a person of color might feel comfortable around. There are more active things you can do, like getting involved in DEI efforts at your company or volunteering (to follow, not lead) with an organization serving communities of color. But you want to be cautious of racial tourism or white saviorism. Start with looking at your reasons for doing this and interrogating the spaces you’re already in.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Hookups are hookups, but there’s gotta be some base level of knowing that others operate full lives outside your world?”
R. Eric Thomas and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I had a long-term relationship (about 20 months) with someone I met online during the pandemic lockdowns. She lives abroad, and for the most part, our relationship was really great. I had been trying to move to the country she lives in, and applied to medical schools over there, so I was taking it fairly seriously. I never told her I was applying and seriously considering moving, which was probably a mistake because she only heard my vague wishes of wanting to leave my terrible country. I eventually got rejected from those schools and accepted an offer from a (good!) school in my home country, so moving is now off the table. I ended up leaving her because—about twice a year—she would not respond to my texts for several days at a time with no explanation. Normally, this is not a big deal for me with anyone, but I was so used to talking to her every day I started to get in my head and think, “How hard is it to send a text?” I told her it stressed me out and I worried, but it continued, like clockwork, never with any explanation. I was probably reading too many “Girl Power!” manuals, but I convinced myself she didn’t care enough about me and politely ended it. She was understanding. Now, it’s six months later. I miss her and am thinking about reaching out. Am I blowing a couple of weird days for her out of proportion? Or was she out of line?
— Stuck in the Middle
At first read of your letter, I’ll admit it seems that you were making a mountain out of a molehill. This radio silence happened four times over the course of a two-year relationship—it’s annoying, but probably not a cancelable offense. However, the important context is that your relationship began online and has been long-distance for its entirety, so the daily texts were, I presume, a major component of your love life. Absent any physical contact or the ability to just hang out, I’m sure those texts took on a much greater significance for you. So losing them, temporarily, was understandably jarring. I’m also going to assume based on the application to medical schools that you’re both college-aged, so there’s also a level of intensity at play here that might ebb as your lives get more complicated and you enter the workforce. Still, no matter your age, for many people texting sometimes falls by the wayside when life gets in the way. That was a deal-breaker for you, and we all have the right to define our dealbreakers.
All that being said, before you reach back out to her, you should do some thinking about how you want to show up in a relationship and how you want others to show up for you. Does she know how serious you were/are about her? You mention not telling her about your medical school plans, so I wonder if there’s ways that parts of your life are as mysterious to her as hers are to you. You write that you told her the days of no texts stressed you out. Have you had a talk about how you communicate as a couple? A lot of this can be harder when confined to devices instead of face-to-face, but if you want a different outcome this time, you’ll need to push through it, presuming she’s as interested as you are in restarting a relationship.
Like so many people, and very much against my advice, my partner decided to get a dog during the global health crisis. Now, nearly 18 months later, they have a pet that has never been properly socialized, yaps constantly when introduced to new people, is extremely needy, cannot be around other animals, and is freaked out by everything. My partner feels that they cannot travel, have guests over and is constantly struggling to find pet care when they have to go to the office. They’re constantly stressed and that’s putting stress on our relationship. I would like to persuade them to give up this dog—I don’t think they’re doing it any favors, and I think the weight of caring for it is creating more stress then they can cope with, which is feeding into a vicious circle—but I don’t know how to start that conversation or even whether it is truly in the best interests of either of them. Am I just being selfish? Would it be cruel to abandon this poor dog? Am I wrong to feel a little resentful that my advice was ignored, even when I have been proven right?
— The Doggone Worst
Dear Doggone Worst,
You have a right to feel resentful; however, your partner made a commitment in adopting this dog, and while they may need to work on being a better caretaker, it’s inappropriate to put the dog back into the system after 18 months. Unless you have someone who is willing, eager, and capable of providing a healthy home for the dog, you need to drop that option and work on the problems at hand. I know you didn’t want to be a part of this, but thems the breaks when you’re in a relationship. So, let’s solve some problems.
It sounds like the dog could benefit from the structure and training of behavior classes or even doggie daycare. Are either of those options in your budget? It also sounds like your partner needs to learn how to be a better dog owner. Are there other dog owners in your lives? Is there a dog park nearby? Perhaps he can make friends with people who can teach him how to better manage the responsibility of having a pet. The solution isn’t to remove the dog from your life, easy as that may seem. The solution is to actually modify your life for the living creature that you’ve brought into it.
I’m a graduate student in evolutionary biology. I think science is the best way to understand the mechanisms by which the universe works. I also occasionally attend Catholic Mass and remain drawn to the story of Jesus. My problem is that the people I work with frequently say terribly insulting things about religion and religious people. Many members of my department seem to think that anyone who isn’t a militant atheist must be a creationist. Usually, I just keep my mouth shut. Do you think I should continue to keep quiet when my co-workers insult religion, or is there something I could say to get them to stop, without making them dismiss me as a brainwashed idiot?