Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat. (R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave.)
R. Eric Thomas: Hi everyone! It has been hot as blazes where I am all weekend and we’re finally getting a break. Hope you’re staying cool and/or hydrated where you are. What’s on your minds?
Q. Bride in dilemma: “Jack” and I just got engaged and are planning our wedding for the summer of 2023. We first met when my best friend “Aria” and Jack’s brother “Mark” were dating. They broke up dramatically when Aria was caught cheating. Mark wanted to stay together and repair their relationship, but when forced to make a choice, Aria went with the other guy. Mark was heartbroken and continued to carry a torch for Aria, even hooking up with her off and on between her other relationships, but that ended when he got with “Beth,” whom he has been dating for almost two years.
Beth and I are very different people but have always gotten along well. Mark has secretly told Jack that he plans to propose to Beth on a trip they’re taking later on this summer, and since they’re both more introverted, they will most likely have a quieter wedding a reasonable amount of time after ours. The issue is that Jack is absolutely set on having Mark as his best man. However, I really want Aria as my maid of honor, because unlike my other close friends, she is both amazing at and actually enjoys planning parties and events.
When Mark heard this, he told Jack that, out of respect for Beth (who is highly jealous of Aria), he will not serve as best man if she is the maid of honor—he won’t walk down the aisle with her, dance with her, sit with her at the head table, or appear near her in photos. When I tried to talk to Beth, she said she would rather break up with Mark than watch him do any of these things with Aria! Which would have more chance of success: Me convincing Beth she’s being immature and controlling, or Jack and I working together to convince Mark he’s better off without someone who puts her own insecurity ahead of someone else’s happiness?
A: Neither. It doesn’t make sense to force Mark or Beth to just be OK with this situation when they’ve set clear and reasonable boundaries. Beth isn’t being immature—there’s a complicated history here and while her jealousy factors in, it doesn’t sound like it’s unfounded. From what you’ve written, Mark and Beth are trying to set the foundation for a marriage, so introducing old exes who broke hearts and whatnot seems unwise on their part. The best course of action to my mind is for Jack to choose another best man. Mark is introverted and doesn’t want to associate with your chosen maid of honor. Can Jack lean on a friend here? Yes, Mark is Jack’s brother, but there are other ways to honor the relationship that won’t force difficult choices and potentially ruin a relationship.
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Q. I’m stubborn, too: I’m writing in for advice on how “far” to take assistance when the person you’re trying to help refuses more help. My husband and I were on our daily walk and I saw an elderly gentleman sitting in his driveway. I watched him a bit and he was sitting upright, but I noticed a cane on the ground and out of reach. When I approached him with a “Sir, can we assist you?”, he was slightly hesitant but eventually allowed us to hoist him to his feet and hand him his cane. Then I saw blood on his pants and asked him whether we could help him inside and if he had someone for us to call. He pretty forcefully refused us (“Don’t worry about it, I’m fine,” etc.) and we walked very slowly away, while making sure he made it up his front stairs and into his home.
At this point, I am WORRIED. I want to call for a wellness check or go back to make sure he’s OK. He was very elderly, very thin, and his movements were shaky. But on the other hand, he was not super enthusiastic about the initial assistance and pretty firm about us going away. What is the correct thing to do in this situation? Respect his wishes as an adult? Or intrude a bit to make sure a stubborn human is OK?
A: Your concern is kind and understandable, but I think you have to take him at his word. He is elderly but that doesn’t mean that he’s not adult, and he made his wishes clear—he doesn’t want additional help, for whatever reason. Maybe he has a strong support system that just wasn’t there with him on that driveway, maybe he was embarrassed and doesn’t want further embarrassment, maybe it looked worse than it was. Whatever his reasons, you have to respect them. While you’re a kind stranger, you’re still a stranger, so intruding further, even sending a wellness visit, may do more harm than good. This older man may not want a police officer showing up at his door, asking him about his capacity. That might be a scary experience. As you go on your daily walks, you can keep an eye out for him to say hello, if you want. But you should otherwise leave him be for now.
Q. Funny money: Do you think a relationship can survive if the couple doesn’t have the same priorities for spending on fun stuff? I love traveling, it is a huge priority for me when I actually have money. I’ve been able to save up a decent amount of money over the past couple of years and really want to take a big vacation. I’ve been talking to my boyfriend about it and he said that we should definitely try to do it “soon.” I started talking about going in spring/summer, the best time to go, and he never contradicted me.
Last week, I found some incredibly cheap flights and hotel rooms. With travel costs right now, I was not expecting to see those prices and had planned the trip around a much higher budget. I immediately talked to my boyfriend, who said we couldn’t go because he had baseball tickets. I pressed him and said this was going to be the cheapest we were going to see the trip for a while. After a lot of back and forth, I found out the money he had saved into his fun account almost all went to baseball tickets. I know he loves baseball, but I thought he was saving up money to at least partially put towards the trip. When I asked him how much money he had left, he gave me an amount that was only just under his share for the trip. I offered to cover the small difference. He said he would rather save the money for baseball tickets. I asked him when he though we could go on vacation and he said the end of baseball season, which is a horrible time to go on the trip. I asked him why he didn’t mention anything about this when I said I was looking at spring/summer trips, and he said he thought I couldn’t plan a trip so quickly. I told him this trip was really important to me and he said so was baseball.
In every other respect, he is a great boyfriend. He’s caring and thoughtful, fun, really supportive of what I do, but he clearly won’t want to do much, if any, travel during baseball season unless it’s baseball-related. I don’t like baseball at all. Is it worth breaking up with a great guy because we have different priorities in the ways we want to spend our fun money?
A: Breaking up might be a bit extreme here. Right now, you’re learning how to better communicate about goals and needs. You like to travel and you want to travel with him. It seems like he’s not seeing how the whole system is connected here, which is OK. That’s part of growing in a relationship. It also seems like you didn’t realize how central baseball season was to his enjoyment of life. Compromise is possible here, but you also might want to think through some alternatives. If you want to go on a big trip this spring and he wants to go to baseball games, can you go with a friend or a group of friends Instead? Few couples start off knowing how to talk about money and plans together without some hiccups, so maybe you can table the joint vacation for a season and work on better understanding the way each other thinks about money. There’s no right or wrong way, but it’s easy to get frustrated or have bruised feelings if we assume that another person is thinking the same thing we are.
Q. Sad burnt-out husk: I have been working at a job that’s been deemed “essential” by the city throughout the pandemic. I always wear a mask and got vaccinated as soon as I was eligible. I didn’t see nearly anyone during 2020 due to my concerns about working with the public and not wanting to put friends or family at risk. Even now I’m still being very cautious for several reasons: 1) I already have health problems and the thought of getting COVID truly terrifies me; 2) my manager was immunocompromised; 3) I can’t bear the thought of transferring it to someone else.
I have a good friend “Nikki” who’s also been working during the pandemic. She’s vaccinated, but feels way more comfortable going back to “normal life”. So while she wears a mask to events, I recently found out that she hasn’t been wearing a mask at work throughout the entire pandemic. This floored me. I’ve been extremely vocal about my concerns, and not once has she mentioned this. Apparently she thought it was fine “because mostly everyone in her department is vaccinated and she avoids the one guy who isn’t.”
I told her I needed some time to process this. She said that was fine, and to take all the time I needed. Shortly after I found this out, my manager died very suddenly from complications of long COVID. Prudie, she was only 33, and a truly wonderful person. Our workplace is devastated by the loss.
Nikki has asked if I feel safe if she takes a rapid test before we hang out. Logically I think that’s probably OK and it should be all right to hang out unmasked in person if she is negative. But I don’t feel logical right now. I’m grieving the loss of a really great co-worker, not to mention also dealing with burnout and trauma from the last few years. I honestly don’t know when I’ll feel like hanging out with her. While I believe she’ll be truthful about test results, my trust in her is kind of damaged. I know I was being extra cautious, but I feel she should have at least told me she wasn’t masking at work and let me make the decision of whether or not to hang out with her. She hasn’t pushed me at all and is giving me space, but thinking about this weighs on me constantly and I keep feeling like I need to come up with a concrete date to give her.
A: I think the trouble has less to do with COVID safety and more to do with emotional bandwidth. You want to be in community with people who see the world similarly and are experiencing it in a similar way. I think that’s where you and Nikki diverge, and that’s been hard to process for you. As you mentioned, you’re dealing with a lot of trauma and grief, and Nikki’s revelation about the work-masking probably made you feel even more isolated in your feelings. Her offer to take a rapid test is helpful but it doesn’t scratch the itch. That’s because the itch is emotional depletion and grief and frustration. Those things take time. Those things defy logic.
You may want to thank Nikki for giving you the time and space you need and tell her that it’s just going to be a while. I think she already understands this. Since she’s not pressuring you, give yourself the time you need and relieve yourself of the burden of trying to change before you’re ready to change.
Q. Re: Bride in dilemma: If LW and Jack could stop thinking about themselves for five seconds, they might realize they are putting Mark and Aria in a terribly uncomfortable situation by asking them both to be in the wedding party. This barely has to do with Beth at all, but somehow it’s her fault this awful plan is not going to work out? No. One of them should back down and choose another attendant.
A: Yeah, Beth is not the issue in this situation. Beth just got here!
Q. Re: Bride in dilemma: Prudie, I agree 100 percent with you that Beth and Mark should not be forced into this situation. Jack wanting Mark to be his best man for a day—even an important day—is not worth destroying relationships.
But I also wonder if there is a creative way around this? Weddings do not have to be cookie-cutter any more. People do a lot of customization to suit their needs and desires. If Mark is agreeable, is there a way he can be best man and Aria can be the maid of honor, but they’re not “paired” up, so to speak? No walking down the aisle together, no dancing together, not next to each other in pictures, etc.? This might be an option, again provided Mark and Beth are comfortable and the letter writer and Jack honor Mark and Beth’s reasonable limitations and don’t just use this as a way to bully Mark into a certain role he’s not comfortable with.
A: This is a very smart work-around! Every marrying couple can do basically anything they want with their ceremony, including separate photos, etc. It sounds like Aria is really on board for her party-planning prowess, so I wonder if a traditional maid of honor is really necessary here or if a Bachelorette Party Consultant is the aim. In any case, these two have such a messy history it’s really unfair to ask them to fit into these roles as defined, and the LW should think of new ways to honor her friends while celebrating her day.
Q. Re: I’m stubborn, too: Do you feel this might be an urge to get to know your neighbors and create a community feel? That’s how relationships where you celebrate and help each other out, etc., are often formed.
A: I think that’s a good point. I’d guess that LW is naturally inclined to befriend and to create community and that may have been the impulse here. But not everyone wants to be in community all the time, I suppose. Still, there’s potentially a door open to try to befriend the older gentleman in a less urgent situation.
Q. Re: I’m stubborn, too: I was the CPR/First Aid instructor at my last job who handled our facility’s emergency response protocols. In a situation like that, where there’s a question of someone’s ability to refuse care, it is always best to call EMS. Many people who are seriously ill become confused and disoriented, and will not fully understand the gravity of what they are saying. (Heart attacks in particular have “denial of a heart attack” as a symptom, for example.) EMS is trained to evaluate if the person is capable of declining care, and if so, they will carefully document what happened for legal purposes. If the person is not capable of declining care, EMS will also document why they overrode the person’s wishes.
It is their job to make that call, and they’re explicitly trained to do so, so it’s always best to leave that sort of decision to EMS.
A: This is really helpful information, thank you! When I read wellness check, I immediately thought of police rather than EMS.
My boyfriend and I have been together for six years and have a beautiful child. We’re both done with college, have great jobs and are great parents. We also have a fantastic sex life. We talk about marriage and more children. Recently, a recurring argument landed us in couples therapy. One session was great and helped offer a mutually agreed upon solution. We went to another session to talk through some things in a “pre-marital counseling” fashion even though we are not engaged. There he informed me he’s “not ready for marriage yet” but that this “doesn’t mean I don’t love you or want to marry you in the future.” That was news to me.