Dear Prudence

Help! My Boyfriend Has Just Issued Me an Insane Ultimatum About Weed.

I can’t believe he’s trying to control me like this.

A hand holding a blunt with a no sign over it
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

I’m in love with my boyfriend. We’ve been dating nine months, and it’s been going really well. I’m 26 and it just feels like this is who I want to be with my whole life. We’re still obviously in our first year, so a lot of our relationship is experiencing new things—and new conflicts—for the first time. This one has stumped me. He has a security clearance that requires that he not do drugs. When we first started dating, I thought I would also maybe go for a clearance one day, so I had also been drug-free (years ago, I smoked weed pretty regularly). He said that was important to him. Nine months later, I’m completely rethinking my career, and want to start partaking again casually. I was SO excited because I really enjoy it and was just letting him know I would be happy to keep it a “secret” from him so he can remain ignorant for clearance reasons.

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I was shocked when he said that smoking was actually a deal-breaker, and if I chose to, he would break up with me. (He previously smoked as well before quitting to get his clearance.) I guess I knew that this was important to him, and in the beginning we were on the same page, but I’m a changing person, and for him to not even be willing to compromise in any way makes me feel resentful. He’s turning it into a “you’re choosing marijuana over our relationship,” but I feel more like my desires are being ignored because he won’t even talk to me about it. I’m worried this is the beginning of a pattern where he asks something of me that I might change my mind on, and instead of it becoming a conversation, it becomes an ultimatum. He says marijuana is the only thing he feels this strongly about. I finally told him that I wouldn’t smoke, but I am so, so resentful and don’t know how to move past this.

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—Can’t Smoke My Own Pot

Dear Can’t Smoke,

It’s a little unclear whether your boyfriend’s objection at this juncture is to marijuana or to adhering to security clearances, but either way it sounds like he’s expressing an anxiety about his job and making it about your relationship. You have a couple of options here: You can ask him what this marijuana thing is all about. You can try to revisit the initial conversation and say that you don’t feel like you’re choosing marijuana over your relationship but that you noticed it struck a nerve with him and you’d like him to explain some more of his feelings about it to you. Or you can tell him that ultimatums are actually not a workable relationship dynamic for you and ask him to come up with another way of communicating his desires. Or you can hold the line.

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I’m concerned by the intensity of his response here. He is exerting a level of control over you and your behavior that isn’t appropriate, and dangling the threat of a breakup for noncompliance is unhealthy and unhelpful. This early in a relationship, we should be looking for solutions and commonalities, not conflicts and problems. If he’s making this such a big deal without being willing to talk it through, he may not be as invested in the relationship. Or he may not be the right person to be in a relationship with right now.

Dear Prudence,

Help me chew on this: I am a married working mom of two preschool-age kids. My husband’s married parents have us over for dinner each week, whereas my divorced parents just see us when they see us, often at grandchild drop-off or pickup when we catch up briefly. My parents and I text all the time as well. Grandparent assistance is absolutely appreciated and the only reason I am sane. Other than that, I have almost no time to myself, but I signed up for that when I had kids and I know this season isn’t forever.

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Well, now both of my parents (coincidentally) have expressed that they want some one-on-one time with me. Not with me and my kids, just me. And I get it. I can’t ask for free babysitting and not nurture my relationship with them, but I also don’t know how the fuck I am supposed to add two more relationships to attend to and find child care for in my life. It’s not like I can have my parents over and my kids play quietly and independently while the adults talk (yet). My husband has offered to facilitate this, but his work hours are insane and he is just as burned out as I am. I have no idea what is normal or acceptable here—could you help me with this?

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—Guilty but Still Burned Out

Dear Burned Out,

It’s good that your parents want to spend time with you and continue to grow your relationship, and it’s great that they found a way to express that. It’s not so great that it comes at a time when you’re at your wits’ end. They may not remember how hard one-on-one time with other adults was to manage when you were little. Or they may be letting their emotions override that memory. (It’s also possible that they’re trying to figure out how to have a serious or sensitive conversation with you, in which case communication of everyone’s needs becomes especially important.) What’s most important is that you make sure that they feel heard while also managing their expectations. Tell them what you wrote in, more or less: that you also want to spend time with them one-on-one but that you need help figuring out which way is up at the moment and barely managing life stuff. Tell them that you’re burned out and you want to be present for them and for your own life. Ask them how they managed this period in their lives. They may have a solution, or it may just be helpful for them to get the full picture.

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Telling them how crunched you are won’t create a suddenly wide-open schedule, but it helps them to understand where you’re coming from a little more so that resentment doesn’t start to fester on either side. Lastly, what do you think about skipping dinner with your in-laws one or two weeks a month? Send your kids, send your husband, send your regards, and use that time to see one of your parents. Or to just take a nap.

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Dear Prudence,

I am a perpetual people-pleaser who has recently learned how to start setting healthy boundaries in my life, and am doing a pretty great job. However, I was recently invited to a wedding by two casual friends—who are a couple—who I do NOT consider to be CLOSE friends. It has become clear to me recently that they both believe otherwise, that we are very close. I am friendlier with one of the women in this relationship than the other.

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That woman became sober two years ago. She believes we are very close because while she was drinking heavily, we talked every time I stopped at my local bar and she was there. She would run to me, grab me, and talk about herself and her problems for hours, often becoming extremely overly emotional, and I would console her. She would use my presence as an excuse to stay and drink more. She would regularly yell loud and embarrassing compliments about how much she loved me and how great I was. I began to dread seeing her.

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Unfortunately, I did not have the boundaries with my space and time then as I do now, and I certainly gave her the impression that I was OK with her constant monopolization of my time and emotional energy. I am very happy for her sobriety, but not much has changed about how our “friendship” works. She only texts to say she “misses me,” when she needs a free dogsitter, or when I believe she is feeling lonely or depressed.

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We recently got together for coffee and again she talked about herself almost exclusively. She asked only once about how I was doing, which quickly swerved back into conversation about herself. Toward the end of this meeting, she and her partner suddenly invited me to fly with them across the country to be a bridesmaid at their wedding this spring. One of the women comes from a family who is very against LGBTQ relationships, and has very few people to attend in her support. They hoped I could assist in filling that void.

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I was caught so off guard and did not want to hurt their feelings that I stupidly blurted out I would attend. After a few days, I regrouped my boundaries and texted my friend to tell her I was thrilled for them and honored for the invitation, but would be unable to support them in person at their wedding. I also said that I would give her a personal phone call to follow up in more detail, as I felt that was the right thing to do with such a big letdown.

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I AM very happy for them, but in no way want to spend my money and time attending a wedding (by myself) for people I feel this way about, with their family who I don’t know at all. (I also dislike weddings in general.) I am very afraid to be honest about how I view our friendship given her ongoing fragile emotional state and am worried somehow it will impact her sobriety. I also refuse to just lie. What in the world should I tell her?

—Anguished Acquaintance

Dear Anguished Acquaintance,

You’ve got to have two conversations. The first can simply be about your hesitancy around the wedding, citing the time, cost, and your general distaste for weddings. While they may cajole, if someone says they hate weddings and don’t want to fly across the country for one, there’s really no recourse. Offer to send a gift, if you want. But hold the line of what is healthy for you. Staying home and not spending a bunch of money to be around strangers is healthy! You don’t have to soften the blow by saying how much the invite or the relationship means to you. You can just say you can’t make it, and you’re extremely happy for them and sorry it won’t work out.

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Then, at another time, if you want to actually have a different relationship with your sober friend, talk to her one-on-one about what you need from the relationship. Part of a sobriety journey is learning how one’s behavior has affected others. So, rather than disrupting her sobriety, an honest conversation wherein you ask for more empathy from her might be helpful. She’s also two years into her sobriety, and while it’s different for everyone, she’s hopefully not still white-knuckling it. It is important that you both redefine a relationship that started in a drinking space. That said, if you just want things to be more casual with her as you don’t feel the same closeness she does, you can either start declining invitations more frequently until you’re hanging out at a cadence that feels good to you, or you can tell her that your life has changed just like hers has, and you don’t have as much capacity for hanging out as you once did. You don’t have to have a friend break up (and it sounds like that’s not something you’d be comfortable doing), but part of the life of a friendship is talking through transitions.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Pay Dirt

My husband of 16 years has been under- or unemployed for more than six years. He is talented, smart, and affable, albeit suffers from the “smart so I don’t have to try hard” syndrome. He was never financially minded and resisted budgeting, so I’ve always handled our money. He got semi-consistent gig work for a few years. After we moved for my internship, he barely applied to positions and worked little on our fixer-upper, despite saying he would. He hung out with friends and drank/smoked weed more. He still visits friends overnight almost weekly. Employment has gone from an annoyance to a major stressor. I’ve tried discussing it, setting a schedule for applications, sending job ads, a trial separation, and marriage counseling. Nothing works. After six years, I’m angry and I just want him to get any fucking job.

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