Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Live Chat

For May 16, 2022.

Update, May 16, 2022, at 1:45 p.m.: The chat is complete! Find the write-up in the Dear Prudence archive, and continue the conversation on the Prudie Facebook Page. Submit questions for next week’s chat here.

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R. Eric Thomas

Hi everyone! I'm in Pittsburgh this week for the first time. What a stunningly beautiful city! What's on your minds this week?

Q. Moldy fridge blues:

How do privileged kids learn to eat leftovers? My wife and I have two children, teen and pre-teen, both great kids, not spoiled. We cook at home frequently, but also order out regularly. Either way, our kids have no interest in eating anything reheated the next day. If they eat only half of their take-out food, they’ll dump the rest of their perfectly good meal into the trash. Leftovers from shared dishes are either eaten by mom and dad or left to spoil sitting in the fridge. (Parents can only eat so much!) 

The kids are too old to be told to eat the leftovers or go hungry—they'll just make themselves mac and cheese or a bowl of cereal instead. We could stop ordering them take-out food in case it goes to waste, but it seems extreme to just stop feeding them whenever the food is a little more expensive. We just want them to get over their aversion to leftovers and learn to love day-old spaghetti. 

Will they learn to eat next-day food when they rent their first apartment? Do we have any options before then?

R. Eric Thomas

Your kids are really missing out, because day-old pizza is one of life’s greatest inventions. They may learn about that in college or they may never truly see the light. Either is OK, I guess—some people just don’t like leftovers.

But while they’re under your roof, you probably want to make some adjustments to how much you’re offering them—it just sounds like you’re over-ordering. If they’re only eating half of their take-out food, then they should be splitting the order with each other. Similarly, if food made at home is going to waste, you could look into reducing the amount you’re making.

Also, if they have the ability to make their own food instead of leftovers, then it’s probably time to put them to work in your family’s meal-planning rotation. You may find what they choose to make uninspired, but you don’t have to eat it. You’re an adult and you’ve already established a healthy relationship with food waste. It sounds like what you’re trying to do is coax them into a healthier relationship as well. Giving them more tools and more responsibility may not send them running to the Tupperware for day-old spaghetti, but it may reduce the amount of day-old spaghetti you have to eat.

Q. Wishing he were always sober:

I am writing because I don’t know what to do about my husband’s drinking. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don’t believe he is an alcoholic—he can stop at just one, doesn’t have to drink every day, and has never gotten in legal trouble with alcohol. But I am still very concerned about him.

I do want to say we have a happy marriage except for this one area. We’ve been married almost 36 years, have two adult kids, and he is a wonderful guy when not drinking. Everyone loves my husband, and he is very respected in his career. He is an A-type personality.

But he chooses to drink every day. If it is wine, there’s no problem unless he has several glasses. But if it is hard alcohol, like bourbon—his favorite—it really changes his demeanor and he becomes unpleasant to be around. He gets obnoxious, accusatory, overly sensitive, slurs his words, and hurts people’s feelings. Several people close to him have talked to him about this—me, his mother, his brother, both our kids, and several close friends. He just blows off everyone’s opinion saying he’s not doing anything wrong. When I tell him that it really bothers me, that I don’t want to be around him when he drinks and I wish he would either stop or cut way back, he says I’m trying to control him. I am very easygoing and am not a controlling person. He pretty much does what he wants (and most of the things he wants to do are great!).

This is really affecting our relationship. My feelings are hurt and he doesn’t seem to care. I know I can’t make him do or not do anything, so I guess what I’m asking you is what can I do on my end to deal with this better. Is there an approach I can take with him that would not make him feel like I’m trying to control him? Currently, I just get quiet when he drinks and then talk to him about it later once he’s sober. But I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall. We’ve had many, many conversations and nothing changes.

R. Eric Thomas

It’s concerning that your husband isn’t taking your feelings into consideration here. Regardless of whether he has a problem with drinking or not, there’s a communication problem at the core of your relationship. If it’s possible for you two to seek out marriage counseling, and if he’ll participate, I’d strongly suggest you seek that out. It may be the first step for him in resetting his relationship with alcohol.

But your other question was about how you can deal, which strikes me as a healthy approach for now. No matter what he chooses to do, you’ve got to take care of yourself. I know that you don’t believe he is an alcoholic, and it’s impossible for me to know one way or another. But I believe you’d really benefit from Al-Anon, simply because his drinking is negatively affecting you. Al-Anon is a support group that holds meetings in cities around the world to help those in relationship with people whose drinking is bothering them. Al-Anon, or another type of support or counseling, can help you navigate the frustration and the pain you’re experiencing, and give you new tools for talking with your husband. I want to be clear that this isn’t a “you” problem. But there are problems in your relationship and there are things that you can do to protect yourself and to help yourself heal.

Q. I can’t explain it but it feels rude:

I have a group of Indian American friends; everyone is very nice and we get along well. Every once in a while, when relating anecdotes about their relatives or parents, our friends will do the thick Indian accent (think Apu from The Simpsons). My husband and I are the only immigrants in this group, although we have been in the U.S. for so long that our accents are not as thick as these exaggerated versions. So I don't think our friends are teasing us and I am not personally offended, but I still object to this behavior as being racist. When I voice my objection, they say that they are Indian too, so it doesn't count.

My woke teenager calls it internalized xenophobia since many American Indians mock or look down upon us fresh-off-the-boat Indians. I need words to explain to them why mimicking an accent is racism, even if they are the same race. Is it racism? Why is it OK when our kids mimic the British accent? Is that racist too? Or is that OK because the British accent is actually sought after?

R. Eric Thomas

I think your teenager is right and it boils down to why your friends think this is funny. There’s often a thin line between imitating people with accents different from our own and mocking them, which is why it’s best practice not to do it. More often than not, there’s a power difference between the imitator and the person being imitated, which seems to be at play here. Your friends may think they’re just telling a story about a relative, but by putting on an exaggerated voice, they emphasize the difference between themselves and the relatives for comedic effect.

The stories wouldn’t change in meaning without the accents, I presume. So you should ask your friends why they feel the need to use the accents to embellish. They may see it as harmless, but that’s because they haven’t had the same experience of having the way they talk used against them. I don’t know that it’s racism outright but it’s using a tool of oppression—mockery rooted in cultural identity—without transforming it or defanging it. Yes, they are Indian too, but their experience is different and they have to realize that there are some things that can do harm.

Q. Not sure what to say:

A friend of mine gave birth a couple months ago. At the end of her pregnancy, she was put on treatment that she should not have been on. Because of a strange coincidence in my career, I know a lot about this specific medical intervention. She had already been upset with her doctor about because he dismissed her concerns about other things. Well, now, it seems like her baby has developed the problems that are associated with the medical intervention. My friend is crushed. Not only is she going to spend a ton more money and effort raising her child (she and her husband don't make a lot of money), she is constantly worried this is her fault. I'm fairly certain she could get a settlement and possibly get the old, un-advanced doctor to retire.

The problem is, I don't know how to bring this up, or if I should. I work on a lot of projects at work and my friend has no idea what I know about the medical intervention. We also got too busy to stay in contact towards the end of her pregnancy, or I would have said something then. My friend will absolutely need the financial help, but I worry that telling her is just going to make her more mad at herself that she didn't find a new doctor like she had been considering early in her pregnancy.

We're very close and have a very honest relationship, but she is hurting so much right now that I don't want to make it worse. I'm willing to do anything I can to help her. What do you think I should do?

R. Eric Thomas

From your letter, it seems that the alleged malpractice (or the doctor’s questionable skill level) is something that your friend is at least partially aware of. So while your friend may still blame herself, I don’t know that you bringing up suing the doctor will exacerbate her guilt. If anything, it may provide a temporary respite.

I suspect that you may also be feeling some guilt about not warning her. While it’s probably a cold comfort to acknowledge that neither of you is truly at fault here, the information that you have may provide a ladder out of her confusion right now. But only if she consents. When giving advice, I think it’s always a good idea to ask permission first and that’s especially the case here. You have a close, honest relationship, but she’s in uncharted waters, and she may be in a place where she can hear some options, or she may feel that thinking about legal issues will just add more stress. Let her know that you have more insight into this aspect of medical care than the average person, and that while you can’t offer medical answers, you can offer some logistical options that might help lessen the burden of care. Ask if she’s open to talking about the future or if she’s still working through accepting and dealing with the present. And be prepared to accept whatever answer she gives.

Q. No lottery winner:

When I bought a house with my fiancée, “Moira,” I made her the recipient of my life insurance so she could pay off the mortgage if anything happened to me.

Well, we just had a massive fight and she told me she wished I'd die, because she's got plans for all that money. The “I hope you'd die” was hurtful enough, but it turns out that Moira and her friend have a whole fantasy scenario of what their life would be like if I was dead.

Better, mostly.

Moira says I'm being ridiculous and that she's not going to take a hit out me, which I know is true. That isn't want disturbs me—she also says it's normal to play pretend about a windfall, that it's what people do when they think about winning the lottery.

I feel like some sort of ugly bit of art she only keeps around because it might appreciate in value. However, I know that it's possible that I'm a bit more sensitive than I should be about this since I did nearly die a few years ago—I had a stroke at 28, so my death doesn't feel that unfeasible to me.

So who's right? Am I just making something out of nothing, especially since I can't really pinpoint what upsets me so much?

R. Eric Thomas

Yeah, I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m fairly certain it’s not normal to fantasize about the death of a loved one. The lottery is one thing, but experiencing that kind of loss is traumatic and painful and no amount of money makes it better. It seems particularly cruel that Moira is telling you these things given your health history. This isn’t just idle fantasy; it seems abusive. I think it upsets you because it’s callous and abnormal and it plants a seed of anxiety in you that wasn’t there before. She’s your fiancée; she shouldn’t want to make you feel this insecure or unwanted, even in the middle of a fight. And if she doesn’t see why it’s wrong and damaging, I think you have even bigger problems. 

You should change your insurance policy. This may seem spiteful, but it’s clear that she’s not in a good place to inherit money from you. If you pass and she’s saddled with the house, she can sell it. After you change your documents, you should look into counseling, before you get married. This isn’t a thing people just say to each other in fights. And it sounds like the two of you need help working through that and she needs help owning up to what she’s done.

Q. Loving it:

My mother-in-law is intrusive, over-involved with her children, more involved with her grandchildren, bossy, and difficult. The spouses-in-law have all bonded over how hard it is to deal with her. I have too! She is truly a difficult woman to negotiate a relationship with, particularly as the lesbian wife of her adored, only daughter. 

The thing is that I just had a baby...and I love the intrusion! My mom died when I was a child and the rest of my family haven't spoken to me since I came out. Plus, my wife travels for work and can be gone for a week or more at a time. That was no big deal before, but now I have a baby and it seems like forever. I can't get enough motherly advice and excessive amounts of little dresses, or someone taking the baby off me and letting me go and have a shower.

The rest of the in-laws are apparently really resentful of me “playing” my MIL like this to make myself the “favorite.” I am unsure of how to navigate this unexpectedly choppy stretch of water. I don't want to be the cause of family strife, but I desperately value my MIL's help right now (and selfishly and unexpectedly, I like being cared about even if it is only because I'm the bridge to my daughter).

 Is there any way to get through this without ruining one set of relationships?

R. Eric Thomas

You don’t necessarily owe your in-laws an explanation but I think it would be helpful to be upfront with them about the complicated feelings you’re having and the isolation you’re experiencing. Your MIL may be a difficult person, but she’s still a person. She’s been there for you during a hard period and leant a hand when you needed one. It sounds like none of your in-laws are in the situation you’re in, but one hopes they can recall the exhausting, scary, isolated days of early parenthood and empathize. If they decide to use this against you, it just means that they’re difficult people, too.

You should probably do some thinking about how much intrusion is good for you and for how long, because eventually you’re going to need to set a boundary and you’ll want that to be as frictionless as possible. You may even want to talk to your in-laws about that. They’ve all had to set a boundary with regard to your MIL and their kids. You should also make sure your wife knows what’s going on with you and with the in-laws. Not only can she be your advocate in the family, but perhaps she can help you out so that you’re not so stuck at home.

Q. Owner of a crowded heart:

I (she/her) have been in a relationship with “Roy” for over a decade. He's my best friend, and we're excited to spend our lives together. A few months ago, I reconnected with “Anne,” a friend from high school. We were very close, but had a falling out and had limited contact until recently. Neither of us have hard feelings about (or remember) what happened, so we've been getting to know each other again. 

Prudie, I think I'm in love with her. I don't want to stop being in a relationship with Roy, as I still love him very much. Anne is in a long-term relationship as well, and I don't want to jeopardize that. But I'm very confused about what to do. Should I tell Anne how I feel? Tell Roy I also love Anne? Fundamentally, I don't want anything to change.

R. Eric Thomas

If you don’t want anything to change, then I’m inclined toward not saying anything to anyone. There’s a way of modifying your relationships so that you and Roy remain together and Anne remains with her partner and you and Anne also form a relationship. But that’s a lot of change. And it doesn’t sound like that’s what you want.

Anne has only been back in the picture for a few months, so you might want to spend a little more time sitting with your feelings and listening to what your heart is telling you. I suspect that these strong feelings are indicative of at least some small desire for change. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have written in, right? It is perfectly normal to walk around with intense love in our hearts for our friends. But the confusion is the canary in the coal mine here. As you get more clarity, be open with the people that you love about what you’re asking for.

Q. Cast-aside granddaughter:

My nana has always put me second to her other granddaughter, “Bella.” Bella is 10 years younger than me, and I just turned 18.

My nana was supposed to spend my birthday with me, but after spending the previous weekend with Bella, she magically became "sick." This isn't the first time she's done this, and everyone is telling me to cut her off, but she's my Nana and I love her regardless. I'm too nice to tell her this is how I feel, but I could really use some advice. What should I do?

R. Eric Thomas

Without more information, I can’t tell if the advice you’re getting to cut her off is extreme or not. I sense that there’s probably something else happening here since, as you write, so many others are taking this hardline approach to your grandmother. So the first thing you may want to do is ask others why they’re giving you that advice—they may know or see something you don’t.

Whether or not there’s something else at play, it’s clearly hurting you. It could be simply that some adults, even grandparents, are more comfortable with kids than with older teens and young adults. That doesn’t make it any more fair or less hurtful, but it could mean she’s not doing this on purpose. I know that you write you’re too nice to tell her how you feel, but I fear very little will change unless you clue your Nana in. Is there another member of the family to who could serve as an intermediary between you and your grandmother? If there’s a parent or aunt or uncle who will listen to you and talk with your grandmother, it may provide some clarity. Another person may be able to help organize hangouts for you and your grandmother that she won’t cancel at the last minute. 

Prioritize your emotional health here and tread a little carefully—it’s possible that delving into this will result in you getting hurt more. But the way things are going is untenable and you deserve a relative who will show up for you as well.

Q. Inexperienced:

I'm a homoromantic bisexual woman in my early 20s. I've had a religious upbringing so I only just made out with a few guys, which did really turn me on back then. I recently fell for a beautiful woman who's also bi and had my first time with her. I wasn't as turned on as I was with men, but I did orgasm and we got into a relationship eventually. I've now been with her for more than three years and it's gotten really serious.

Recently I found out she's had a lot more experience compared to me. It makes me jealous that I never let myself explore, so I proposed the idea of opening our relationship. She said that would be a dealbreaker and not something she's comfortable with.

I love her and always wanted a love like we share. Yet sexually, I do feel a lack. I'm scared that if I do end things, I'd never meet someone like her again, but it does feel unfair that she got to experience both sides fully and I never will. The homoromantic side of me knows that I want to eventually be with a woman since I've only ever fallen for women romantically, but sexually I do still feel a strong desire to explore more.

R. Eric Thomas

I think it boils down to what’s most important to you—sexual exploration or maintaining this relationship. Neither is better or worse. More experience doesn’t always mean fulfillment, but staying in a relationship doesn’t guarantee happiness either.

I think it’s telling that you feel it’s “unfair” that she got to explore. You both were on different journeys and there’s no rationing of sexual experiences. It just happened as it happened. But it seems like it’s a sticking point for you and for your relationship. You two can explore this with a professional, but I think you already know whether you’ll be able to live with the question of sexual exploration unanswered. I can’t guarantee that you’ll enjoy it; it’s wild out there in the streets. I also can’t guarantee that if you do break up, you’ll find another love. But I know that you’re young and you’re rightfully doing a lot of evaluating in your life. The grass isn’t going to be greener but sometimes we don’t want greener grass, we just want more meadow to play in.

Q. Re: Moldy fridge blues:

I was a poor kid who sometimes went hungry and I still refused to eat leftovers. To this day, I hate reheating food and try to order and make very small portions so I don't have to. I agree with Prudie that you should go all in on getting them involved in the process. Take them to the farmers market with a recipe and have them pick out ingredients and prepare a meal (with adult supervision at home). Try freezing and reheating, which is a bit different from food left in the fridge. Lastly, if you're in a location that allows it, start composting and talk about the cycle of food and energy. The truth is, forcing them to eat day-old food is not going to solve world hunger or climate change. Don't stress it too much.

R. Eric Thomas

I love the incorporation of composting here! Especially because, if the LW’s have a garden or access to a community garden, it can lead into a conversation about growing food and making good choices.

Q. Re: Wishing he were always sober:

Are you able to get out of the house when he is drunk? Going to a nice hotel if you can afford it will really take the edge off, and he'll see firsthand how serious you are about his behavior. Do this every time he acts like a jerk while drinking. If you find you wish you could be away all the time, that says something about the future of your marriage.

R. Eric Thomas

I worry that the LW’s husband may not connect the dots around going to a hotel (and it seems like a pretty expensive proposition), but I agree that the LW may want to put structures in place for their own self-preservation and peace of mind.

Q. Re: Wishing he were always sober:

Alcoholics love this song and dance. "I don't have a problem." "You're trying to control me." "This is your problem, not mine." It lets addicts evade responsibility for their behavior (at least in their own minds) and pushes people in their life to say, "OK, maybe it is reasonable that my husband has several glasses of bourbon every night."

As someone who's been in LW's shoes, I know how absolutely maddening this routine is. And trust me—the addict's shield of rationalization is nigh-impervious to such trivial things as care, concern, and empathy.

So LW needs to focus on the one thing they can control. Can't stop the husband from drinking, but LW can go out to dinner with some friends and let the husband drink at home alone. Can't cajole the husband to be nice and empathetic while he's sauced, but she can stay the afternoon with one of the adult kids and talk to them about life. Can't convince hubby his drinking is destroying the relationship, but can walk out the door and into a lawyer's office to explore divorce options.

LW is in a hard place. But there are a lot of people who have been there, and lots of people who are still there and struggling. LW can meet some of them at Al-Anon. Maybe Al-Anon's 12 steps are right for LW, maybe not. But there's a community there that can help LW through some tough times.

R. Eric Thomas

Just co-signing all of this. LW’s problem is isolating and demoralizing but LW is not alone. There are communities of people who have been there and can help walk LW through this period.

Q. Re: Not a lottery winner:

This is a HUGE red flag. My husband is set to inherit a large amount of money in the long term that will be hugely impactful on our lives. Once we have children, he will be taking out a large life insurance policy (he already has a modest one) because if he should die before he inherits, the money would pass over me and straight to our kids, which would leave me without a way to pay for my retirement (I make more than he does now, so I could probably handle the mortgage but it would be a strain).

I give this amount of context to say that I have been in this position, and let me say I have never wished my husband would die. He will be very well insured, and I still have never and would never fantasize about it. In fact, I frequently keep up with a widow's blog (she's a distant family friend) and I actually sometimes cry reading her accounts when they inspire a passing thought about my husband's potential early death. So if I'm thinking about it at all, it's anxious ideation, not a fantasy.

I would run fast and run far from this woman before you are married. Not because she'll kill you (I agree her taking out a hit is probably unrealistic) but because everyone deserves to be married to someone who fantasizes about growing old together, not growing old with a life insurance payout.

R. Eric Thomas

Yeah, I agree. I can’t get over this being thrown out in the heat of a fight. That thought doesn’t just come from nowhere and it’s a mighty big bell that I don’t think can be unrung. Maybe it’s immaturity, maybe it’s malice. Either way, like you say, it’s a huge red flag. This couple should part ways and definitely part finances.

R. Eric Thomas

Thanks for your questions and comments! Have a great week. Be good to yourselves!