Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Is it OK to have some not so important things you won’t ever compromise on in a relationship? I’m a pretty easygoing person but also a bit indecisive, so my boyfriend makes a lot of decisions in things. He’s started not asking me before he makes certain decisions, like what to eat for dinner or a movie to watch. This normally doesn’t bother me, but he brought home a documentary on a topic I really don’t like. I told him I didn’t want to watch it, and he said just try it for 10 minutes. I said, no, I know I don’t want to watch this. We ended up getting into a fight about it and have been thinking about certain things that might be nonnegotiables, and I’m realizing I’m not sure I’ve communicated how nonnegotiable these things are. The problem is, some of these things seem a bit dumb or frivolous to be a nonnegotiable.
For example, I am horribly afraid of flying, but I love international travel. I once got upgraded and realized that being in flat business-class seats is super important to keeping my stress level down. I’ve talked to my boyfriend about international travel, and he’s adamant about budget travel in economy. He says saving the money is important to him. I mentioned getting credit cards to earn miles, and he says he never wants to get a credit card. I have one for emergencies, and I would never want to be without it. I love international travel. Because of the pandemic, we’ve both been saving up and want to take some big international trips, but I’m starting to think it’s not going to work if he doesn’t take me seriously. I know traveling isn’t a necessity, but I feel like having an emergency credit card and flying in business class keep me much more comfortable in somewhat uncomfortable circumstances. Am I being frivolous for wanting these things to be nonnegotiables?
You’ve figured out a way to make flying less scary, and it sounds like you’ve worked out a financial plan that supports that. The conversation you and your boyfriend are having is about your values around money and also about the ways you honor your emotional well-being. You don’t think about money in the same way, and that’s fine. You should both make an effort to understand where the other is coming from and build a shared language around that. If not having a credit card ever is a nonnegotiable to him, for instance, you could be at an impasse. Or you could talk through the possibility of getting a credit card to earn miles, using it for household expenses you were going to pay for in cash anyway, and then paying it off at the end of each month. He may see the value in that.
I’m inclined to think that none of this is about business class or your fear of flying, really. I think this is an opportunity to reframe how you talk to each other and value each other’s opinions. Try bringing up the conversation with your boyfriend again but see if you steer it in a direction that’s less about nonnegotiables—what you won’t do—and more about plans—what you will. Ask him if he can get on board with your well-thought-out plan, for yourself and for your shared finances. See if you can have a conversation about the places you understand each other or the places where he trusts your judgment and build from there.
I am part of a chat group which consists of immigrants from my birth country who currently live in North American countries. We are all minorities here. We discuss all kinds of things, including politics. One of the recent participants has admitted he likes to stir the pot. On several occasions, he has butt heads with me. On one occasion, after having another blowout in the group chat, I closed the app and went to sleep while he went on a rant on Clubhouse attended by other chat members. As you can expect, he disparaged me behind my back. I got notification from the Clubhouse app the next day and the whole Clubhouse session was recorded. I don’t really care about his rant on me. However, on that same recording, he espoused a racist statement directed toward the work culture of another minority group. He used his experience working with a minority co-worker and generalized the whole race based on this.
He currently works in an international company, and it seems like he is holding a managerial position. Do I know if he’s dealing with a subordinate minority member under him? No, but I can’t discount the possibility either. Since he is comfortable espousing a racist view in public while being recorded, do I have an obligation to let his employer know about this? I’m not interested in blackmailing him since we’re all immigrants in this country, but on the other hand, I feel like his employer should know of this issue to mitigate the damage he can cause. I know if I let his employer know, he will throw a fit and the other chat group members will pin the blame on me for “snitching.”
—Pity the Backstabber
Dear Pity the Backstabber,
No, you don’t have an obligation. Mostly because the connection between the work and the offense are a little murky. If his job has an ethics clause or some sort of policy to protect the company from embarrassment, this might apply. But I don’t think you have enough information about his job to know for sure. Obligation aside, it sounds like you want to do this. That’s within your right, but I do think it has a little more to do with revenge than perhaps you’re letting on. And that’s fine, too! But if you’re going to do it, you have to be prepared to take whatever blowback comes and also accept the possibility that his employer won’t do anything about it.
My parents got an extremely ugly divorce about 30 years ago—throwing plates, yelling at one another, the whole nine yards. They haven’t been in the same room since my mother moved us all across the country 20 years ago. I am in infrequent contact with my father. We send one or two text messages to one another every couple of months. I am much, much closer with my mother.
Well, a few weeks ago, my father told me that he was moving to the same city as my mother because his new wife had gotten a job there. It’s a fairly small city, so the possibility that they run into each other is nonzero. Do I tell her? She’s going to feel betrayed that I’ve been speaking to him (even through infrequent texts), but if she runs into him at the grocery store, she’s going to be horrified and she’ll still blame me, so it feels like a lose-lose. On top of that, my mother’s anxiety is pretty bad, and she already hates leaving the house. I don’t want to make it worse by having her worry that she’s going to run into her shitty ex-husband every time she walks out the door.
—Caught in the Middle
Dear Caught in the Middle,
Let me preface this by saying that if your father is a danger to your mother, or was in the past, you should let her know for her own safety and work on a plan to keep her safe. You may have to take a more active role in mediation—setting some grocery stores as off limits for him, for instance. From your letter, I’m not sure that this is the case but I wanted to get it out there upfront.
If there were hard feelings on both sides but no abuse, you should consider asking your father to let your mother know he’s moving to the area. Normally, I would never suggest this with divorced exes. But it’s clearly weighing on you, and the possibility of a surprise run-in is, as you put it, nonzero, so it makes sense for your father to send a letter or email alerting your mother and perhaps making some assurance of noninterference. What you’re all dealing with is an unexploded time bomb, and a reasonable way to control the blast (because defusing seems out of the realm of possibility for your parents) is to reduce the amount of surprise. The unspoken rules of the divorce have changed—she moved you across the country presumably to get him out of her life and vicinity. Now that he’ll be back in her vicinity, they need new rules. This is their responsibility.
That said, there’s also the problem of the unexploded bomb you’re holding. As I understand it, your mother assumes that after you moved away you never spoke with your father again. At some point in the past, that arrangement stopped working for you and you changed it. It’s within your right. But, as difficult as it will be, you should have a conversation with your mother about your need for an infrequent relationship with your father. You should also ask her about her needs from your relationship. What does she need to feel safe, to feel loved, to relieve a feeling of betrayal? It may be a hard conversation, but right now you’re all working off of old paradigms and that has you feeling around in the dark.
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I am a 34-year-old woman and I’ve been with my boyfriend for 13 years. We don’t have kids (yet), we have a great relationship, the sex is always good, and we hardly fight. I honestly cannot complain: He’s the type of man every woman would want. He’s caring, very thoughtful, funny—I could keep going, but you get the point. Anyway, I feel bad for even thinking this way, but I am not and never have really been physically attracted to him.