Dear Prudence

Help! My Sister Is Furious That We’re Allowing Dogs—but Not Kids!—at Our Wedding.

Is this really so bad?

A dog in a tux next to a bride and groom.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Elena Chelysheva/iStock/Getty Images Plus and WilleeCole/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

My partner and I are planning our wedding for later this year. We have planned on a child-free wedding from the start. My sister has three kids (9, 7, and 5) and has always been fine with this, even saying that she was looking forward to a night out without the kids.

During COVID, one of our only social outlets was our neighborhood dog park, and we became close with the people there. We had the idea of having a dog-friendly wedding and ran with it. We found a pavilion we could rent at a park where dogs were welcome and are really excited about the idea of a laid-back wedding with all of our favorite dogs and their people.

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Now my sister is angry. She says that she assumed a child-free wedding meant drinks and late-night dancing, not hot dogs and a playground within view. She feels like we have “ranked” our friends’ dogs higher than her children on our priorities list, and pointed out that (since it’s a public park) there will be kids around no matter what. I promised her we’d think about it. I see her points, but I was really looking forward to my adults-only wedding, and am a little nervous about the mix of dogs and kids. Should I let the kids come or stand my ground?

—Wedding Planning Is Ruff

Dear Wedding Planning Is Ruff,

I can see your sister’s point—when we have child-free weddings we’re usually either doing it for cost-cutting reasons or for wild-and-crazy reasons (or both), and the appeal of a fun grown-ups’ night out might be different from being playground-adjacent. But it’s your wedding, and her expectation doesn’t need to be your reality. Dogs require a little less oversight than kids, even at a park, and mixing dogs you don’t know with kids under 10 could add stress to your day. So stand your ground on this one. It’s your wedding. A compromise might be explaining to your sister that you’re nervous about mixing dogs and kids and telling her that she can bring her kids if she wants but that you worry it will become a playground day for her rather than a day to relax and enjoy some time with other adults (and a lot of dogs!). Those kids are definitely going to want to go to the nearby jungle gym, no matter who is exchanging vows.

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Dear Prudence,

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I lost my virginity when I was 16. I had been groomed by someone 14 years older than me since I was a teen and led to believe it was a relationship, when in reality all this person wanted was “my virginity.” In any case, I finally figured out the whole thing after he ghosted me when I became “used goods” (words my groomer used). I picked up the broken pieces of my life, went on to have another relationship, broke up, and found my husband. Unfortunately for me, my husband was a virgin when we married (he saved himself for his one true love aka me). It happened that when he disclosed this to me, we were both semi-drunk and in the starting phases of love. When he asked me if I was a virgin too, I said yes. You see where the problem is now …

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We have been blissfully married for six years now with a toddler and couldn’t be happier, but every now and then, this particular scene flashes in my head. “Are you a virgin too?” When I lied, I was obviously in a state of panic/denial/shame/love and other things, but I lied to my husband. He has no issues about my past (I, however, did not go into major detail about the groomer—again, shame played a big part here), but I feel miserable. On the one hand, I feel like I cheated my loving, trusting partner, and on the other, I feel so ashamed that if I have to tell anyone how I lost my virginity, they will think I am trash. I can’t stop thinking about this, and every time my husband proudly talks about me to someone else, I feel I don’t deserve his love. What should I do?

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—Not a Virgin

Dear Not a Virgin,

I know that you’re feeling shame but I want to assure you, emphatically, that you’ve done nothing to be ashamed of. You are worthy of being loved. Virginity is not a prize or a commodity or something that you owe another person, and so the difficult feelings you’re navigating are a residual effect of the abuse from the person who groomed you. He created this toxic scenario wherein you’re only valuable because of your virginity and it is showing up in your marriage not because of anything you or your husband did, but because of the ideas your groomer put into your head. I don’t think this problem is ultimately about you and your husband so much as it is about the way you feel about yourself. The emotional and sexual relationship you have with your husband (and anyone you’ve been able to consent with) is different from the interaction you had with your groomer. It might feel like a semantic distinction to say that virginity isn’t necessarily an on/off switch, but I think it’s helpful to think of it in that way. What your husband was asking, in some ways, was “Are we aligned?” And the answer that you gave was true. I don’t know what his internal reasoning was for saving himself for marriage, but there’s no way that you cheated him on your wedding night or any other night. He remained a virgin for himself and for a sense of clarity around his feelings for the person he loves. He still has that. Ask yourself what, for him, would be different if he’d ended up with someone who hadn’t had sex before.

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More importantly, ask yourself what you need to feel whole and worthy. If you haven’t talked to a professional about your experience, I’d encourage you to do so if you can afford it or can find a therapist who accepts a sliding scale. You don’t have to be ashamed of your shame, but you also don’t have to live with it. There’s a voice inside of you that’s telling you that you have failed your husband or that you’re trash because of the way that another person abused you. That voice is not your own; it’s the voice of your groomer. If you can recognize that and work on quieting it, it will help your relationship with yourself.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here.

Dear Prudence,

My son has mild autism. He manages well in a mainstream classroom and most people tend to just think he’s endearingly quirky. The only areas where we tend to have major struggles are with his social anxiety and shyness. He sees a therapist and is in a social skills group, but it’s going to be an ongoing challenge for him. For his approaching seventh birthday, he asked if he could take three friends from his baseball team to watch our local MLB team play. I thought it sounded like a great plan (he struggles with traditional parties but for whatever reason isn’t bothered by concerts or sports), bought tickets, and invited the three boys and their dads to the game. A few days ago, one of the dads texted me to let me know he had bought two tickets in our row so that his nephews could come too. He ended his text with “I hope that’s okay.” My son has never met either of his nephews and is likely to be quite thrown by their presence.

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I felt like he put me in a bind. If this were just a regular get-together, I’d shrug it off and talk my son through the fact that we’d be hanging out with two strangers, but I feel like given that this event was specifically meant to celebrate my son’s birthday, he shouldn’t be forced into undue stress. I ultimately texted the dad back and told him it was fine—he’d already bought the tickets after all, but I can’t help but feel that it was incredibly presumptuous of him to invite along two children my son has never met to his birthday.

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Am I wrong to think it was rude of the dad to bring along extra guests? The dad doesn’t explicitly know about my son’s autism but has seen his anxiety when he’s forced to engage with strangers, and we’ve discussed him being shy previously. Our local MLB team isn’t very good, so tickets are neither expensive nor scarce. I honestly wanted to suggest he take his nephews to another game, but I don’t know if there is a way for him to exchange the two tickets he purchased at this point. Any suggestions on how I should/should have handled this?

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—Baseball Strangers

Dear Baseball Strangers,

It is a little odd that the other dad is bringing two other kids to your son’s party, especially if the kids aren’t on the baseball team. I asked around to find out more about baseball game invite etiquette for fear that I was missing something, but everyone agreed that it’s an awkward choice. He might be thinking that they’re all just kids and they’ll get along and have a fun day out. Which is fine, I guess. But for a birthday party? What if you bought souvenir hats? Then again, a private, invited party is different from going to a public ballgame. At this point, your best bet may be to explain to the other dad your reasoning behind organizing the party in the way that you did and ask him to help you help your son have a good birthday by finding another way to treat his nephews. It may be the case that he doesn’t see how his actions have thrown a wrench in your plans, but hopefully he’ll be open to smoothing things over once he does.

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Dear Prudence,

My family and I have just decided to relocate from a large West Coast city to a less expensive but lovely college town a couple hundred miles inland. My mother-in-law lives with us, and for reasons I can’t explain, our relationship has always been fraught. For some reason, she insists on taking things I say wrongly and seeing my compliments (for doing something nice for her grandchildren, or going on a birding adventure, for instance) as “solicitous”—her word. We’ve lived together for three years, and she doesn’t want to do it anymore. So since we are selling our house in a high-cost city and moving to a low-cost one, I bought her a house four blocks away from where we’ll live. It’s a lovely, newly renovated old home. She declined—she plans to rent a duplex further away (she has virtually no financial security either, so paying rent will be more onerous for her). I thought it would be a way of showing my care and love and hope. But her refusal is a slap in the face to me and my child, and I don’t know how I can even go on trying with her. I want to cut off all contact. My otherwise lovely spouse just thinks that my kindness is wrongheaded and defends her mom’s position. It changes how I feel both about the move and, frankly, being in this family at all. Can you talk me off the ledge?

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—Generous to a Fault

Dear Generous to a Fault,

Going out of your way to be kind and then having that kindness rejected really stings. And in a relationship like the one you have with your MIL, that sting can exacerbate years of small slights and bigger problems. This sounds like the last straw for you. However, it’s important to remember that our gifts aren’t always received in the spirit in which they’re given. And that’s frustrating, but it’s no one’s fault sometimes. You and your MIL have different styles of communication, and it seems like that’s always setting you both on the wrong foot. This house thing is, in some ways, the same as the compliments—you mean it one way, she’s hearing something else. Both of you are right in that what you feel is what you feel, even though feelings aren’t facts. Maybe by declining your offer, she’s trying to avoid feeling beholden to you. Maybe she’s not seeing your care and love and hope and instead feeling trapped or frustrated. This probably isn’t really about you, but about past relationships she’s had or the way she’s experienced the world.

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That said, I have to wonder how much you consulted with your mother-in-law about this purchase. I worry that the communication issues you all have been having might have obscured her true feelings. Either way, it’s important to remember that she’s got her reasons for behaving the way she does, too. And your spouse has her reasons for defending her mom. See if you can accept that this is largely about communication and that your MIL is doing what she needs to do to be happy and to have a better relationship with you (because the resentment and the pressure of being so close together in the home you chose don’t sound like a great recipe for success). You’re not moving for your MIL. You and your spouse have your own reasons for moving, and I presume they still apply. Focus on that and on your family unit. After you’re settled, see if you can find new ways of communicating with your MIL, once she’s on her own turf.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Is this a 101 Dalmatians situation? Is there a huge cuddle puddle of poodles?”

R. Eric Thomas and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

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Dear Prudence,

My best friend and I recently celebrated our birthday together. Both of us were very adamant that we wanted a specific, niche genre of music playing (think sea shanties) in keeping with the theme of the event. But my friend’s partner kept turning down the music, requesting to change the playlist, and even just going and turning on other music. Am I right in thinking this kind of controlling behavior is a total red flag? How can I convince my friend to see the problem here?

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—Party Pooper

Dear Party Pooper,

Well, you know what they always say: When the stereo is playing sea shanties, you shan’t turn them off. And your friend’s partner did it anyway! This is more than a red flag; it’s a pirate flag. Your friend’s partner commandeered the aux chord, a party foul and an affront to maritime law. Maybe they thought it was one of those free-for-all parties where one can play what they want. But as a secondary invitee, that feels mighty audacious. It’s unclear from your letter whether you’ve already tried to talk to your friend and they didn’t want to hear it or if you’re planning on talking to your friend and are looking for language. Let’s say it’s the latter. Having a one-on-one conversation, or a two-on-one if your best friend wants to join, away from the partner is the best way to go here. Start with how the behavior affected you. It was your party, you set an intention, and he repeatedly insisted on doing whatever he wanted. Your friend may say it’s no big deal, he’s just a fun guy, he’s a DJ. OK, great. Good for him. The point is you had a party for yourselves, and you felt his behavior was inappropriate and controlling. This can segue into your concerns about your friend’s relationship. Ask her if he’s always like this, if she sees it as an issue at all. Right now, it seems important to figure out what your friend thinks about her boyfriend and how she views her relationship. From there you can have the conversation about whether they should stay together.

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Dear Prudence,

My spouse and I have concerns about their parents’ finances. Their parents did everything “right” in terms of investments, 401(k)s, and saving money for their retirement; they’ve been retired for about 20 years now, and up until recently we assumed they were sitting in a comfortable financial spot. Over the past year, however, they’ve made some choices that we found strange: One parent bought a brand-new vehicle although they no longer drive; the other is a longtime online shopper, but has recently been buying things they don’t need (think parts to fix broken appliances that aren’t actually broken), items they cannot use (a deluxe cat tower—seriously, it covers about a quarter of their living room and they don’t have a cat or plan to get one), and a new kitchen set (dishwasher, oven, fridge) even though the ones they own function correctly and are still under warranty. While these purchases raised our eyebrows, we didn’t feel it was our place to pressure them since they’re financially independent.

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Last weekend, spouse’s mom and I went shopping at a local department store. When we purchased our selections, her store credit card was declined, as was her debit card and a regular credit card. She brushed it all off, blaming the debit card as not working because she’d just gotten gas, so there was probably a hold on the card, saying that she might have missed a payment on the store card, and finally that her regular credit card was old and always weird. I put her purchases on my card, and she gave me the cash for them when I dropped her back at home, but as she did so, mumbled that she hoped “spouse’s Sibling won’t miss the $200 this week.”

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I relayed this to spouse when I got home, and they said that their parents frequently send money to their sibling to help cover their mortgage, fun things for the grandkids, home improvements, and miscellaneous bills. I didn’t push the issue with my spouse because, as the in-law, I’m very concerned about not crossing into business that isn’t mine. However, this past week, my spouse has gotten calls from multiple different bill collectors regarding several debts of their parents’. The “weird” credit card from our shopping trip is maxed out, and they’re nearly three months behind on payments. The same goes for the department store card, as well as for at least two other credit cards.

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Today we met with spouse’s mom, and she made several statements about how she’s not sure how they’ll afford their property taxes (house is fully paid off), that she and her husband might have to downsize or move in with us (downsize, sure, but neither of us wants to add them to our household while they’re both able-bodied and don’t need medical care), and she shared that with the money she’s sending to spouse’s sibling that money is going out much faster than it’s coming in. It’s clear that we need to have a serious conversation with them about spending habits and to see if there’s any way to right their course if possible, but spouse and I are out of our depth here. We budget and don’t use credit cards unless we pay the balance immediately. I would very much appreciate any advice, organizations, or just a direction in general.

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—Overspending In-Laws

Dear Overspending In-Laws,

You’re right that it’s time to step in. The changes in their spending habits may indicate a deeper problem that requires more oversight or even therapeutic or psychological intervention. While their finances may be overwhelming, sometimes it just takes an outside eye to see the trouble spots and to help them budget better. It really sounds like they’re reaching the point where they can’t be financially independent any longer, and you and/or your spouse will need to be added to their accounts. Your ability to budget, set up automatic payments, and talk to bill collectors will help immensely. I’m concerned that the bill collectors are reaching out to your spouse. It might indicate that your spouse’s information is being tied up with your parents’, which could complicate things for you.

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You’re going to want to get a sense of what the financial landscape looks like. Hopefully, your in-laws can tell you how much they owe and to whom, as well as how much they have coming in and hold in savings. Double-check this information by getting a credit report pulled for them (everyone is entitled to one free every year) and having them obtain statements from their bank. While the reasons behind their shift in behavior may take more time to work out, you should be able to get a sense of the money situation in a week or two.

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You also don’t have to do this alone. The AARP Foundation, the National Council on Aging, and many other organizations have financial literacy programs for seniors and credit counseling services. Some of these programs are free; some even have resources for caregivers and can help you and your in-laws shoulder the burden of digging out of this debt.

Classic Prudie

I’ve recently moved into a row house in an urban setting. Recently, my next-door neighbor sent an email about HOA business to everyone in our row of houses, and I discovered that she has me in her contact list under the alias “LOUD neighbor.” I’ve thought long and hard about whether it’s possible that I’m too loud. I do have two grade school–aged sons, but they are in bed by 8 p.m. We don’t play music. We don’t have a dog. We don’t bounce balls against the shared wall. We don’t have parties. We do not have loud domestic arguments. … Should I confront her? Should I buy my sons a drum set?

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