Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My cousin Sarah has decided to name me her maid of honor. She’s been talking about her wedding since we were kids and how I’d always be her maid of honor. We were raised as sisters rather than cousins. I love her and value her unconditionally. We also live on opposite sides of the country. She’s planning on having the wedding in my city.
Here’s the problem: Sarah and my entire family were working under the impression that I’d plan her entire wedding. Mind you, I’m not a wedding planner by trade, nor do I enjoy planning events. I know I’ve been the rock for my family and dependable, but I’ve been pretty malleable as of late. I invited her to consider hiring a wedding planner, as she had no intentions of planning her own wedding. I thought we compromised with her hiring one, and I’d work with them alongside her mom in my city to get all the face-to-face elements done to save her trips. For context as to why I recommended a wedding planner, at the time she didn’t have a vision, number of guests, ceremony and location (church, banquet halls, lakeside, go to court, etc.).
We are now six months away from her selected wedding date. There’s no wedding planner and no location. I decided to confirm if there even will be a wedding. She replied with she believes I can plan the wedding and if we’re falling behind that’s because I’m letting it happen, since she’s not versed in the timelines of planning a wedding. I explained to her every time we talk, it’s an endless cycle of “I don’t know,” and I’m being forced to take a test where I’m being punished for my knowledge of wedding dress lead times and securing a post-pandemic wedding venue (I’ve watched Say Yes to the Dress and been a bridesmaid five different times). I’m balancing being assertive and showing some compassion, but in terms of where I’m at in my life, I’ve started to set boundaries for the sake of my health and mental well-being.
She decided to add new bridesmaids to the mix, and I’m being texted by them one by one about gifts and wedding venue options and dress designs. I’ve been replying to each of them saying “let’s talk to Sarah.” I’m exhausted and don’t want to plan the entire wedding. But I also don’t want to burn bridges. Any tips on how, so I can make it all stop?
—Forced Wedding Planner
Dear Wedding Planner,
There’s a great Shel Silverstein poem where he writes about trying to get out of doing the dishes and eventually discovers that if you drop dishes on the floor instead of putting them in the rack, people tend to stop asking you to do the dishes. So, were I Shel Silverstein, I’d simply tell you the best way to get out of a job is to do a bad job. This will, of course, cause strife for you and for your family. So, instead of the passive-aggressive but effective strategy of simply not planning the wedding, I, alas, must advise you to have a big conversation. And write a letter. You’re not being heard and so you will want to make yourself crystal-clear.
It is absolutely not the maid of honor’s responsibility to plan the wedding, and it’s ridiculous that Sarah has gotten it in her head that you’ll do this. Furthermore, it begs the question of whether she’s really that serious about getting married. In your letter, lay out what you can do for her (and I’d suggest purposefully undershoot your promises). Tell her that you don’t have time or expertise in this area, as you’ve mentioned before, and you’re afraid that the stress of doing this is putting a strain on your relationship. Remind her that you’ve raised objections before. Perhaps buy her a book on wedding planning or point her to a wedding website. This industry is bustling and the information is out there, if she’s curious. Tell her you love her and you want her to have the best day, but that this expectation is really hurting you. Don’t apologize; you didn’t do anything wrong. Try sending the letter (or email, really) first and ending with a promise to follow up by phone at a certain date and time. Let her read it and digest it. Hopefully, she’ll reach out first with a new perspective. If not, call her when you said you were going to call her and reiterate what you said in the letter. Keep the focus on how this is affecting you. It may be her special day, but you have a right to be heard and considered here.
And if that doesn’t work, start dropping dishes on the floor.
I am in a relationship with a wonderful man, Toby. Our relationship is without a doubt the healthiest I’ve ever had in my life (platonic or romantic). Kind, intimate, passionate, supportive, communicative, and forgiving are all words that describe us. We are best friends, and above all, we are a team. His actions show he loves me. He goes out of his way every day to show how much he appreciates me. I came from an abusive, cloistered background. I do not ever take Toby’s love for granted; I’ve learned the hard way you aren’t guaranteed love.
Now here comes the hitch in this fairy tale. Toby has a job that necessitates that he move to a new area of the country if he wants a promotion. This is his dream job, and I am extremely happy for him. However, I am beside myself as to what I should do. To say I adore my home state is an understatement; it is my lifeblood. I have been here my whole life. I feel a deep sense of familial heritage and belonging here. Frankly put, I absolutely do not want to move. Every time I think about this, it makes me sick. It feels like losing a part of myself. On the other hand, the idea of leaving my partner also makes me sick. I know a relationship like this is not easily replaced and I wouldn’t want it to be. We are truly compatible in every part of our lives except this.
—Gift of the Magi
Dear Gift of the Magi,
The trouble with loving other people is they have their own plans and ideas and wants and desires. It’s adorable but bothersome. So, I empathize with your dilemma. If you’re so deeply opposed to moving, you can try long-distance but it will inevitably bring up the question of how long this long-distance is supposed to be. Have you talked with him at length about your concerns and his plan? If not, definitely do that, first even. He may have a solution that works for both of you. And if he doesn’t, ask Toby if he’s willing to wait to see if a promotion that would keep him local comes along. Maybe this isn’t a possibility in his field, but if you don’t know, it pays to ask.
It’s not fair to ask him to defer his career to stay with you, but it may be something he’s more than willing to do. Making a relationship work long-term always involves shifting priorities and making choices. To that end, the other thing you should do is visit this new state Toby would be moving to. If you hate it, you hate it. But you owe it to yourself to see if you can actually be happy elsewhere, if only temporarily.
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I am a divorced woman in my 30s. When I got married, I took my husband’s last name. When I got divorced, I kept his name. We do not have children, but I decided to keep it for a number of reasons—it’s a hassle to change for everything; it speaks to my being bilingual when my maiden name does not (which helps decrease questions or concerns from clients at my job); I don’t have much (if any) of a relationship with my conservative, Catholic father because of how he reacted to the end of my marriage; and I also just got used to it being my name. However, the more it is brought to my attention when people in my personal life ask what my last name is now, the weirder I feel about my decision to keep it. My ex-husband is not a terrible person, but we aren’t married anymore, and I don’t particularly want to keep his name (and it would be weird if I got married again). I also don’t want to go back to my maiden name, because I don’t particularly want a direct connection with my father, and my relationships with my siblings are also waning due in part to my issues with him. I had thought before about changing my name to a family name from farther back—there’s one I like that belonged to my paternal great-grandmother—but at the time I didn’t want to spend the money. Now I’m starting to really feel like it would be worth it.
I told this to my mother (my parents are divorced), and she didn’t like the idea and was very concerned that it would upset my father and make our relationship even worse and worsen my relationships with my siblings also. She said it would be a constant reminder to my father of our divide, and it would hurt him. I explained to her that I’m not trying to hurt anyone, but I don’t feel good about my name as it is, and I’m the one who has to live with it, not them, and my father may or may not be a real presence in my life anyway, unfortunately. Is changing my last name unreasonable or hurtful?
—What’s in a Name?
Dear What’s in A Name,
The reason that you’re in this situation is because of patriarchal rules around name-changing and lineage, and so the solution is never going to come from catering to any of the men’s feelings about your name. Your father has already made it clear that he’s going to withhold affection as a way of trying to make you do what he wants. This isn’t a good place to start, on his part, so he certainly doesn’t get consideration when it comes to you changing your name. Your mother may be trying to act as a sounding board for you, but she’s parroting a line of thought that is unhealthy and irrelevant. If your father doesn’t want to be reminded of the divide, he can make amends.
Normally, I’d say that the name stress is indicative of deeper problems, but it seems like the deeper problems are operating on their own and you’re aware of them. Changing your name is a hassle and unduly expensive, but if this bit of legal and governmental arduousness will bring you some peace, do it and don’t ask anyone’s opinion.
I (a gay guy in my 30s, living in the Midwest) have been dating a delightful man for almost a year. Here’s the problem: It bothers him that I don’t drive. I’ve never learned how, because I have a ton of anxiety around it. This is something I’m slowly working on, but I can’t fix it overnight. I’m pretty self-sufficient (work from home, use public transit or Uber, etc.), and the only time I’ve gotten a ride with him is when we’ve traveled far away for a date. I was very upfront with him about this from the beginning, but he seems more bothered by it recently. He has shared his fear that I’ll become dependent on him for transportation, and he wants us to create a timetable with “deadlines” for my learning to drive.
I’m pretty upset about this. I feel like I’m being given an ultimatum: Either fix this aspect of yourself or we’ll break up. Beyond that, learning to drive is something I really feel like I have to do for myself—not because someone is forcing me to do it. This has made me wonder if we could ever have any kind of future together. I guess my question is, should I trust my instincts about this relationship, or am I being unreasonable for not easing his concerns about my inability to drive?
—Baby, You Can’t Drive My Car
Dear Drive My Car,
For years, it seemed like if you wanted to go viral on gay Twitter, all you had to do was make a joke about how gays don’t drive, walk fast, or drink iced coffee. Comedic gold. Ten million likes.
Mark Twain Prize. Et cetera. The driving thing always struck me as a little odd and probably too rooted in the experiences of gay men living in New York, but then again, I didn’t learn how to drive until I was in my late 30s. Not for homosexual reasons. I just didn’t want to.
So, even if your boyfriend is pressuring you, know that you have the support of gay Twitter and me, a late-blooming driver. I am curious if your boyfriend uses this timetables-and-deadlines structure in other areas of your relationship or of his life. It could be that he’s just Type A and thinks that he needs to coach you through this. I find that people who went ahead and got their licenses when they were teens often think that nondrivers have some deep psychological backstory about driving like they’re characters on a streaming drama with murky lighting. They can’t seem to accept that some people just don’t want to drive (for gay reasons or otherwise). One way to test whether this is simply car prejudice or a more all-encompassing issue with your relationship is to push back on the method but not the premise.
Tell him that you appreciate his help but the deadlines are making you feel like he’s offering an ultimatum. Ask him if that’s what he intended. And ask him why he thinks you’re going to be dependent on him for rides. Maybe it was something he overlooked at first but, as we all do when relationships progress, revisited with more critical eyes. Every single one of my exes tried to tell me they were going to teach me how to drive. I told every single one of them I was a terrible driving student and very cranky and they didn’t want that smoke. Eventually they all relented, and if they were annoyed that we couldn’t, say, share the duties of driving across the country together, they never told me. When you talk to your boyfriend, remind him that you’ve gotten yourself where you need to go for all of your adult life, and ask if there’s places he’s feeling a burden. If there aren’t, then ask him to give you some space. Tell him to go take himself for a drive.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“The way that Sarah is blithely refusing to take any responsibility is both very impressive and beyond the pale.”
R. Eric Thomas and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
Last summer, my world crumbled when I found out my husband had an emotional affair with a co-worker. This girl was 10 years younger, his subordinate, and insanely beautiful. We had been together since our early 20s, just had a child, and things in our life became routine. I guess coming home to a tired wife wasn’t sexy. To say this affair devastated me was an understatement, and I shut down and grieved in my own way. I didn’t want my child to suffer, so I decided to stay.
During this time, while my self-esteem was being kicked, a co-worker reached out and told me he had, in his words, a crush on me. This wasn’t the first time someone reached out, but this time I went to a stage 5 clinger. I have no idea what came over me, but at that moment I became slightly obsessed and acted ridiculous. Said things I shouldn’t have and was a lot more vulnerable than I would have liked. This was completely out of character, and I am completely embarrassed about the things I said. I have to see this person every day, and when I do, I cringe. I have no idea how to act without feeling like a complete loser. I have been with my husband for over 13 years and never so much as flirted with anyone until that moment. I have a stellar reputation within my field, which is male-dominated, and have always been “unattainable.” What’s worse is the feeling that maybe (most likely) I made this person uncomfortable and created a stressful working environment. How do I fix this? Do I address it and apologize? Leave it alone and hope my embarrassment eventually goes away? I can’t leave this job, and it doesn’t appear like he will be going anywhere anytime soon. We do small cordial talk and occasionally he’ll send an email with a flirty undertone, but I can’t look at him without feeling foolish. Ugh … maybe therapy?
Dear Just Dumb,
Since you suggested it, therapy about this whole phase of your life would be a great place to start. I want to encourage you to extend yourself a massive amount of grace. You were going through an emotionally painful period while immediately postpartum. Everything in your life changed—of course you acted out of character. Of course you clung to someone offering you kindness and affection and respite. What you did was normal and human. You did what you had to do to survive. See if you can find some compassion and even gratitude for the version of yourself you became.
Now, as to this co-worker: I have some concerns. It takes two to have an emotional affair or even just an especially vulnerable relationship. He reached out to you at a moment of extreme vulnerability and confessed a crush. This is not usual behavior for co-workers, especially when one of them is married. So I worry about his understanding of boundaries. Ask yourself if this person is going to be helpful for your next step in life. I’m not so sure. You write that you made him uncomfortable, but his behavior doesn’t indicate that. So I think your guilt and the vulnerability hangover is latching onto the parts of your life that aren’t a problem. Instead of apologizing, acknowledge to him what you’ve gone through and how you’re feeling. Tell him something like “As you know, the last few months were really hard on me, and I was vulnerable with you in a way that has me not feeling great. Thank you for listening. I hope we can keep being great co-workers and friends as I work through this on my own.”
My fiancé “John” has struggled with alcohol abuse since we’ve met, and over the past few years it has only gotten worse. Recently, John’s father passed away, and he hit his rock bottom.
He finally checked his pride at the door and realized that he needed to stop drinking, which was a complete about-face for him, and he has really dedicated himself to making a change. Of course, I notified his mother of the “rock bottom event,” and she was extremely concerned yet still overwhelmed by grief in the loss of her husband. But glad that I didn’t keep it a secret. When we saw her after the “event,” she berated him with questions on how he was going to stay sober and told him what he should and shouldn’t do, though ultimately it came from a place of love and that she just wanted him to get better. During this, she had also stated that she was “at the edge of [her] cliff” and needed her son to help her through her grief.
Since John needs to focus on himself and prioritize his sobriety, I asked if she would consider talking to a professional (i.e., therapist) to help her process her grief, adding that I had done so after my dad passed away and that it helped me immensely. But she was vehemently opposed to it and didn’t want to talk about it again. I tried to be compassionate in understanding generational differences about mental health and that talking to a therapist can be scary for some. But I was pretty livid: My fiancé has already humbled himself and is embarking on a new and scary sobriety journey of his own—why can’t she do the same FOR HER SON? It makes me feel like she can tell everyone else what’s best for them and what to do, yet isn’t willing to embrace change for herself, especially for something that can only help her mental health. Grief aside, she also has incredibly high anxiety and suffers from regular panic attacks, so I also just want her to know that she doesn’t have to live like this and that there are professionals who can help her lead a panic-free (or panic-reduced) life. Should I revisit this conversation and encourage her to seek help or leave it be?
—Concerned and Angry
While your frustration with John’s mother is justified, you have to remember that early grief, like early recovery, is a complex, confusing, isolating, and often terrifying time. People’s responses to these huge shifts in their worlds vary wildly, and it seems that John’s mother’s response is to hold tight to what she knows. She may be able intellectually to get that John is embarking on a scary journey that needs his whole focus, but what she’s feeling is that she’s facing down a chasm and clutching a fraying rope. The desperation of hopelessness trumps the pragmatism of empathy sometimes. You, however, have the enviable but crucial position of someone who is able to fully access their pragmatic empathy. So you have to get creative with your solutions for helping your family members navigate this period.
While therapy is a great option for those wrestling with grief and those on sober journeys, if John’s mother isn’t there yet and doesn’t want to have that conversation, you have to respect it and table it. But that doesn’t mean you stop encouraging her to seek help. Grief support groups and Al-Anon might be a little less scary for her and something that she and John can do together. She’s going to want to cling to him, which is fair and right. There are ways that they can cling to each other without dragging each other down, and perhaps the best is finding that space where the Venn diagram of their experiences overlaps and they can seek solutions together. Remember that John is also grieving and is possibly very concerned about his mother; this is going to be the case whether or not she gets outside help. So, being a supportive and creative ear for him will help him to see solutions for himself and for his family unit. Your future mother-in-law is not going to get better right away, and she is not going to see every possible avenue out of this darkness right away. None of us does. But just as John needed to find his way into an AA room and you, presumably, supported and suggested and coached him along the way, John’s mother needs to walk her path—but she’s going to need some company on the journey.
My boyfriend and I (same-sex relationship) have been together a few years. Last spring he lost his job and decided to go back to school. I added him onto my health insurance, which required an affidavit saying that we were in a long-term, committed relationship and were denied the ability to legally marry to qualify for spousal benefits. In that affidavit there was a clause that stated if marriage became a legal option we would have to get married within six months to keep the benefits. In October marriage equality reached our state and I asked him when he wanted to start planning our wedding. He said he wasn’t sure he still wanted to, which was a complete surprise to me. He said he loves me and doesn’t want our relationship to change, but he’s not ready to legalize our relationship. I don’t want to force him into anything, but now we have this deadline of either getting married or losing his insurance. Any suggestions?