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My husband is turning 50. We love both our children equally. But our daughter has developed some pretty extreme views since marrying a Christian pastor, and she had become a big part of the family Christian values movement. She has given us four grandkids (all under 6), with a fifth on the way. We love the grandkids to bits, her husband not so much, but I don’t think he knows that. Our son is openly gay and dating a boy that we have known forever. My daughter had told us she won’t let her kids be around homosexuality and has not spoken to her brother since he came out. This breaks our hearts and hurts her brother so much, as they used to be so close as kids. He went to her wedding, came out shortly after that, and they have been on icy terms since. We normally do separate family dinners and two Christmases to appease our daughter, as we love our grandchildren dearly and they should not miss out on family love because of their parents’ attitudes. Our daughter and her husband know we don’t agree with them, but we just ignore the elephant in the room for the sake of the kids. I don’t think they know how strongly we disagree with them to try to keep the peace.
Well, until now. My husband and I have money, and we have decided you only live once so we might as well spend some of it. For his 50th, we are taking 50 friends and family members away for the weekend. (Not plane flights, just a two-hour drive from us.) We have booked out an entire place with a pool on a huge farm-style resort. We have 10 grand worth of alcohol ready to go, catering will be booked, and the invites are ready to send. It will be a whole weekend of family, friends, lots of food, and drinking. We love our son and his boyfriend, so they and the boyfriend’s parents are all invited.
But … my husband doesn’t want to invite our daughter. We love her and are close, but he feels she will make a fuss about so many of our LGBTQ friends being there and will try and get us to uninvite her brother for the sake of the children, so the kids can spend the birthday weekend with their granddad. My husband loves his daughter, but feels like he is being guilt-tripped and just doesn’t want to deal with it. He thinks she won’t even know about it as she is not on talking terms with anyone we are inviting. I share his attitude in that there is no way I’m kicking our son out of the weekend … but feel like we should at least invite them. They are still family. They still love my husband. They don’t really have many chances for a family weekend away, as being a stay-at-home mother and a pastor of a small church is not a huge income. I think they would like the weekend and I want my daughter to reconnect with her old friends. I feel disappointed that my husband is giving up. He says he doesn’t want to invite them, but is leaving the choice to send invitations up to me. So do I send them an invite? Or just leave it, and if it is ever mentioned by them, just explain we didn’t think they would be interested as her brother, his boyfriend, and his boyfriend’s family are all invited? Is it time we finally stop tiptoeing around this and take sides?
—Mother in the Middle
Dear Mother in the Middle,
If we’ve learned anything from prestige independent films of the last 30 years, it’s that a destination birthday weekend is a very attractive time and place to have a huge blowout over long-simmering tensions. The thing that would make this a less-than-compelling movie, however, is that your daughter and her husband are behaving in almost stereotypically villainous ways that don’t warrant the kid gloves with which you’ve been operating. First, the obvious truth: It is more than possible to be a Christian (and, yes, a Christian pastor) and be welcoming, loving, and supportive of LGBTQ+ people. Your daughter and SIL’s position is bigoted and also logistically confusing to me. They don’t want their kids around LGBTQ people, but why would there be kids under 6 at a birthday weekend with $10K worth of booze and what sounds like no other kids in the first place? It appears you’ve planned an adult party, so you could sidestep the objection by just hiring them a babysitter. Of course, that’s a Band-Aid for a wound that needs surgery. The bigger question is why do you think that it’s safe to invite your son, his boyfriend, and your other LGBTQ friends to a place where someone with such a virulently anti-gay stance is going to be making demands like the ones you mention in your letter? This has the makings of a truly miserable farm weekend and would probably be an exhausting movie.
I don’t think this is about taking sides. Your son and daughter don’t have separate but equal opinions on a complex issue; she has refused to speak to him and has forced the family to make special arrangements to see her and her kids while, from your letter, it doesn’t seem that your son has done or asked for anything. So the elephant isn’t in the room; there is nothing but elephant. The room is gone. If you insist on inviting your daughter and SIL to the party, you have to make it clear that you’re done with special treatment; you’re not uninviting your son, his boyfriend, or your other friends; and you expect at minimum cordiality. If they can’t do that, they’re empowered to decline the invite. Either way, it’s way past time for the conversation you need to have about how you’re going to move forward as a family. The status quo is untenable, and I think you know it. Your daughter and SIL may hold your grandchildren hostage as an attack on your son; that will hurt and it will be damaging to their children. But you have to see that they are already starting to do that damage. Have a tough conversation so you can start to fix the damage, and then the rest of you go off the farm and have a weekend that wouldn’t win awards for A24.
My friend “Laura” moved into a new house three years ago and occasionally hosts get-togethers. Usually when people come, they bring food and/or beverages. Except, whenever her mom and stepdad “Carl” come (which is pretty much every time), not only do they not bring anything, but Carl mooches everything. I don’t just mean he just naturally eats more than other people—I mean he goes out of his way to take food/drink, purposely hoards it, and almost always takes stuff when he leaves. One time, one of the guests brought gourmet cookies from a local bakery. There were only six of them, but they were big, so the idea was that people could split them (they were also each a different kind). As soon as she put them down, Carl came over and immediately grabbed three. The woman got pretty upset, because they were expensive cookies! Another time, Laura put out a six-pack of a craft beer that she had brought home from a vacation, and Carl takes two. Most recently, Carl and Laura’s mom were actually getting ready to leave, when Carl overheard me tell someone that I was going to order pizza. He then stayed, and when the pizza came, he helped himself to four slices from one of the pies, which he put in silver foil, and then left.
I know I’m not the only one that notices; even Laura herself is embarrassed by it, but she’s not a confrontational person and won’t say anything. As far as I can tell, they aren’t food insecure—I’ve known Laura for more than 10 years, we are very close, and she has never mentioned anything about them having financial problems (and believe me, Laura is a sharer). I know they have good jobs, and I’ve been to their house a couple of times. Myself and a couple of other people have started just bringing less food (for instance, we’ll just bring some chips and dip, instead of hors d’oeuvres), though I do feel icky being a spoilsport. My question is, can I say something to Carl? Next time, I really want to make a comment, like, “Hey, Carl, why don’t you leave some for the rest of us!” I don’t want to cause issues for Laura, but this is just so annoying!
—Get Your Own, Carl
Dear Get Your Own, Carl,
My advice is going to go against every instinct I have as a person who is always nervous that I won’t get a piece of the yummy food at a party: I think you’re probably going to want to leave this alone. Sure, you can say something, but I don’t think it’s going to make the difference you want. Carl feels a sense of ownership over these get-togethers that gives him license, in his head, to take everything he wants. I agree that this is very annoying behavior, but it seems like you’re operating under different assumptions about what the group’s rules are. Are these Laura’s parties, or are they group potlucks? One would think that both have similar rules, but from your letter, it seems they are still seen as Laura’s parties, which is possibly why her stepfather is doing whatever he pleases. If Laura isn’t going to stop inviting this pair, then your options are mostly limited to reducing what you bring or hiding a special “No Carls Allowed” stash somewhere in the house.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
We have been married for about 25 years. We have two adult children, a house, dog, and basically your average suburban existence. One of us has been the only income provider for some two-thirds of this time. There is no sex life, or rather it ended between us about 15 years ago, when my spouse decided to seek other diversions. This blew up in a nasty, acrimonious fashion, with my spouse’s romantic entanglements causing issues for another married couple. Eventually we were able to pick up the pieces; but still, there is no intimacy, and the kind of emotional connection we once treasured is dead. We are, frankly, roommates and friends who share minimal parenting plus some investments. I am not satisfied with this, and it seems we’re locked into this mutual dissatisfaction, yet neither of us appears motivated to make a change. Should I make the first move to kill this zombie marriage? Or should I reconcile myself to this cold union?
—Marriage Is …
Dear Marriage Is,
I think a lot about what happens to a human soul when a person gets zombified. Does it evanesce, like a popped bubble? Does it immediately go to the great beyond and start its new journey there? Or does it remain tethered to the body, in a kind of purgatory? The soul of your marriage, and I’d suspect the core of your happiness, is tethered to the zombie relationship you’re in. You have to set it free. You have to take down the zombie. Well, no, you don’t have to. You know this, of course. But I suspect both you and your spouse have avoided taking definitive action because it probably seems less disruptive and painful to just let the thing trundle along than to make a move. But a marriage absent of emotional support and even basic affection, not to mention sex (which often wanes in the best of circumstances), probably costs more than it’s giving you. The emotional toll of breaking up may actually be less of an ordeal. But even if it is harder than what you’re doing now, I think you owe it to yourself to try. Only after you kill the zombie can you find out what happens to the soul.
About a year ago, I moved to a very expensive European city. I got a huge promotion and started making almost double what I did before. Shortly before the move, I had realized that I had gotten into some poor spending and eating habits, and I wanted to change those. I realized that I had been buying and eating my emotions. I started cooking more and paying for experiences rather than stuff. I was so much more fulfilled. As an added bonus, my savings account ballooned. I was shocked at how little money I could spend in such an expensive city. I started doing really interesting things and taking dream trips. It’s really been an amazing year.
A few weeks ago, I came home for a wedding and saw some of my old friends. They started talking about all their travel plans, and I chimed in with mine. They were quick to steer the conversation back to them. After a few times of this happening, I got upset and asked them why they weren’t letting me join in the conversation. They said they felt like I was throwing my lavish lifestyle in their faces. They had always wanted to travel to Europe but had never “gotten the chance” and that I “got lucky” with my job. I was upset, but couldn’t figure out my feelings exactly, so I left. A few days later, a friend of mine tried to apologize, but basically told me again that she and my friends felt it was unfair that they had been working so hard and never gotten to do something so interesting. I finally realized why I was upset: They felt like I, their former low-earning friend, didn’t deserve the lifestyle I had made. The thing is, yes, I do spend on things that other people consider luxuries, but I also don’t buy a lot of stuff. I don’t go out to fancy restaurants very often; I like the cute holes-in-the-wall that still have amazing food. I cook a lot for myself. I don’t buy designer purses, or just anything I saw on Amazon that I thought I might want. I don’t spend a lot of money on travel; I find budget options for airfare and accommodations.
My friends, however, spend a ton of money on things they never use or want. They don’t cook often and that comes at a price. I now make only slightly more than they do; however, they have made a lot of money in a low-cost city for years and have wasted that money on luxury rentals and nice cars and expensive food. They never prioritized travel or nice experiences the way I have. I am considering telling them this. A part of me wants to tell them to show them how to live a budget-friendly life, but a part of me knows any communication would just be throwing my lifestyle back in their face. Should I tell them how I prioritize money?
—Bestie Budget Problems
Dear Bestie Budget Problems,
Telling your friends how to manage their finances is going to have an effect that’s opposite your intention. Your friends aren’t asking for a Group Text Suze Orman and, from their reaction to your travel news, it seems like they may have been experiencing you in this way for a while. Your enthusiasm for your new ways of managing money and desire to share them are laudable, but if they don’t want your help, you can’t make them take it. Chances are they know some of the ways you prioritize money and that’s not the issue. You experienced a huge bump in salary that coincided with life changes that gave you a lot more disposable income. You had to put in the work, of course, but it’s easy for your friends to only see the income jump and to feel envy. More money makes a lot of things possible (regardless of what we each might consider “luxuries” or “necessities”), and while you may have very good advice to give your friends, unless they ask you to crack open the books and take a look, all they may hear is “make more money.”
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“When has telling someone how to spend their money ever been the path of least resistance?”
R. Eric Thomas and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My mom and I have never been particularly close. To be honest, she was emotionally abusive towards me in high school. Though things have gotten better since I moved out and far away, she’s never acknowledged how she used to treat me, and spending time with her makes me extremely anxious.
I’m 24 now. My mom supports me in superficial ways (like posting my career accomplishments on Facebook) but fails to support me in any meaningful way. (As an example, I became physically disabled last year and asked to borrow money when working got hard and I was worried about finances. She said she couldn’t afford to loan me anything, despite having made over six figures that year. Months later, she built both a deck and a new garage for her house.) Until recently, my poor relationship with my mother didn’t bother me too much. I live across the country from her and we rarely see each other, and we mostly leave each other alone save for the odd monthly phone call. However, recently she’s been trying to be close with me, and I don’t know what to do.
I moved into my own apartment a few months ago, and my mother invited herself over to visit me for a weekend. She booked a ticket for five days (much longer than we’d agreed upon). The entire time she was here, she got broody whenever I wanted to spend moments apart. I’m a freelancer, so I work from home, and she’d get offended if I wanted to answer emails or work for even just a few minutes, acting as though it was a sign I “didn’t want her there.” (Again, she was there for five days—expecting me not to work at all during that time feels unfair, and made me feel antsy and stressed.) Despite the constant time together, it was an overall fine visit. The problem is that, now that she’s back home, she’s acting as though we’re best friends and expecting a lot more from me than she ever did before. She calls me every two to three days, and gets angry and persistent if I don’t answer in what she considers a timely way. For example, yesterday she called me at 10 a.m. She then texted me to let me know she’d called me. Two hours later, at noon, she texted “hello?” At 1, she texted “hello????” I was spending the day with some friends and had to step away from the group to let my mom know I was busy. She immediately answered that she was “worried about me” because I’m “always at my phone,” so “why couldn’t I take a minute to call her back?” She demanded I call her later in the day. Situations like this happen every few days now, and they always send me spiraling. It’s like I’m always on high alert, knowing that if my mom calls and I don’t answer immediately, she’ll bombard me with messages.
I really just don’t know what to do about this superficial closeness. All my friends insist I should just talk to her, but don’t seem to have had any experience dealing with someone this explosive and manipulative. The way my mom treated me when I was younger makes standing up for myself a really scary prospect: I know she’ll immediately find a way to villainize me and play the victim, no matter what I say. At the same time, I recognize that even if we were close, the level of expectation she has for me is unfair and unsustainable. SOS!
Dear Disheartened Daughter,
On one hand, it’s very common for parents of adult children to go through growing pains around communication. Texting and text return times are often particularly dicey subjects. You aren’t obligated to meet your mother’s expectations, but sometimes parents just miss their kids and have a lot of time on their hands. On the other hand, the specifics of your relationship make it seem like this expectation is more than just a generational divide around technology. To keep yourself safe, you’re going to want to be proactive about setting your boundaries. And if she won’t respect those boundaries, you should be prepared to put some distance between the two of you, even if it makes you the villain. Try sending her a text at the beginning of the week to say “hi” and “I’m safe” and then let her know you’ll be busy for much of the week so you’ll reach out again on Friday. She still may worry. This worry may be real or it may be part of a manipulation, but that’s not yours to own. If she protests that you can’t be that busy, hold the line. Tell her you actually are that busy but you look forward to texting with her on Friday. From the way the trip went, it seems very easy for her to brush past the boundaries you established, so setting a text schedule might be a way of determining if you can trust her or if you need to pull back even more.
My aunt took me in as a teen after my parents kicked me out. She kept me from being homeless. My problem is I don’t know if I can do the same. She is disabled, on a fixed income, and can’t keep up the maintenance on her house—not just the just the regular stuff like mowing the yard, but knowing when to get the roof repaired. I live in a different state and can’t be there to help out on the day-to-day. I have been sending her more than $1,000 each month for her to pay for services, but my company folded under COVID. My new position doesn’t pay as well. I had to get a part-time job on weekends to keep helping my aunt. I can’t keep up this pace. I am struggling to take care of my bills, let alone my aunt’s. She doesn’t want to leave her home and refuses to discuss other options like getting roommates or selling and moving in with me. My cousins are leeches who don’t care about their mother, only what they can get out of her. They would steal everything not nailed down and leave her on a street corner. I love my aunt, but I can’t keep this up. Help.
—Burning the Candle on Both Ends
Dear Burning the Candle,
The debt you owe to your aunt is less financial than it is emotional, which, unfortunately, makes it harder to repay. Of course, the things we do out of love for family aren’t loans waiting for collection but rather gifts given without strings. So, give yourself credit for the substantial gift you have already given to your aunt and how hard you’ve worked to give it. And then sit her down for a frank adult conversation. It does no one in this situation any good if you’re unable to manage your bills or in danger of going under. Tell your aunt the whole truth: You’re not in the position to help in the same way anymore, and you both need to work together to find a solution. If she doesn’t want to meet you halfway, by leaving her home or getting roommates, you need to make it plain to her that you can’t help her. Not that you won’t, but that you don’t have the capacity to pull her out of this. These sorts of life transition questions are often very difficult because reason sometimes takes a backseat to emotion. But the raw numbers can be clarifying. Ask her to be your partner in solving this problem.
I am getting married in March and I was fortunate to have my mother (who lives out of state), maid of honor, and future mother-in-law accompany me to my wedding dress shopping. When I narrowed down the choice to the final two, my guests all agreed that one option was better than the other and I decided to go with their vote. Now, I regret not getting the other dress. When I look at the pictures they took of me wearing the dress I bought, I feel almost physically ill.