Dear Prudence

Help! My Sister Is Threatening to Expose Me for Giving My Fiancée a Fake Diamond Ring.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 1 of this week’s live chat.

An engagement ring in its box with the word FAKE over it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by sx70/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat. (R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave.)

R. Eric Thomas: Hi everyone! I hope life is good where you are. But I also suspect there’s some burning questions eating away at your contentment. What’s up?

Q. They’re all just shiny rocks anyway: I (26M) proposed to my amazing girlfriend, who we’ll call “Emily” (25F), last fall. I make decent money, but not great, and the cost of living in our area is high. When I picked out a ring for her, I checked with one of her friends to make sure it was something she’d like, but all the pictures her friend sent me were way out of my price range.

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So, instead of getting her a tiny diamond, I got a larger imitation diamond that I thought would suit her tastes better, and I was happier because it was cheaper. Emily loved the ring and showed it off to all of her friends. She was excited, and I was happy I got her something she liked. I didn’t tell her it wasn’t a real diamond because I figured it didn’t matter as long as she liked it.

I told my sister about the ring last week, and she’s livid. She says I’m lying to Emily and she’s threatening to tell her about the “diamond” if I don’t. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal! Why does it matter as long as she likes it? How do I get my sister to butt out?

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A: The easiest way to get your sister to butt out is to just talk to Emily. Chances are she knows or presumes the diamond isn’t real if she knows what you make and/or is an amateur gemologist. Now, there is a chance that she didn’t think about the likelihood of you being able to swing a huge diamond and she’ll be disappointed. That’s OK, too. If she is, you can say something sweet and Bob Cratchit-y, like “this is our starter ring; we’ll replace that with a real rock one day.” Ultimately, your sister is being a jerk about something that is really a conversation between two people in a relationship. Also, not for nothing, but it’s a little rich to be taking the moral high ground in favor of real diamonds.

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What you’re going to find useful in your relationship going forward is having conversations about what is and is not a big deal. What your sister thinks is a big deal is irrelevant. But what Emily thinks is a big deal matters to the both of you. And what you think is a big deal matters just the same. So, use this as an opportunity to find out what she values and to share what you value. If you didn’t do what she wanted, it’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. Instead, it’s the start of your married life of communication.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

• Send questions for publication here. (Questions may be edited.)

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• Join the live chat Mondays at noon. Submit your questions and comments here before or during the discussion.

Q. It’s getting old: I’ve recently brought a roommate into my home to help keep my cost of living more affordable. She’s a nice person, and things are generally OK, but I’m not sure how to respond to her critical comments. I’ve never had a roommate who does this.

For example, she comments on what I eat (“frozen food is bad for you”) or any perceived wastefulness. The other day, I poured a second serving of a soft drink, decided that it was actually too much, and my roommate commented, “You should drink that, that’s a waste.” I mentioned I’d clean out the fridge, and she suggested I take my aging leftovers to my friends and neighbors (rather than toss them). No matter how considerate of her needs I am or what I do, there’s always something to criticize. I loaded the dishwasher the wrong way. I unloaded the dishwasher the wrong way. I purchased bananas when I had one rotting on the counter (we don’t share groceries).

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It’s weird and a little off-putting to get this in my own home, but I’m trying to tread carefully, because she’s from a different cultural background (so might see things differently?) and, frankly, I need the money.

A: Respecting cultural norms goes both ways. Some of her critiques seem to arise from a relationship to food and food insecurity but others seem to just be random asides not based in fact (frozen food is actually good, I think? Has she had Jeni’s ice cream? Like… let’s be serious.). Have a conversation with her, probably not over a meal and probably not in the kitchen, where you can tell her clearly that it makes you uncomfortable when she comments on your food or behaviors in a critical way and ask that she keep her comments to herself. Tell her you appreciate her concern and if she’d like to propose a household solution for food waste, like composting or a food bank, you’d welcome that, but the one-on-one comments are coming off as abrasive. She may not realize what she’s doing or she may genuinely think you have a chaotic life that needs constant attention. Either way, it’s important for the two of you to come together around community rules. It’s not insensitive or offensive for you to say, “When you respond to me in this way, this is how I hear it. Can we find a new way of communicating?”

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Q. Looking for a sign: I’ve been working for a lovely nonprofit that gave me the time and resources to pursue a career pivot. I have another two years of school to go, and always envisioned this gradual scenario where I gracefully left this role and went on to a new life at 45.

But the pandemic and the cultural shift of people leaving their jobs, etc., has weighed hard in my heart. My current job is…fine I guess? But we’re victims of our own success and the workload has doubled—I’m taking on a lot of new roles that I never signed up for. I feel crazy for even thinking about it, but part of me wants to quit and run screaming towards some role closer to what my schooling is preparing me for. It feels impulsive and foolish to walk away, but it also feels right, even if there’s no safety net. If I were 25, I’d probably just take the leap, but I’m not 25. What should I do?

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A: Nonprofit life taketh and nonprofit life giveth. The hard thing about doing what we love or what we feel is important is that our capacity to love or care about a job grows at a rate far greater than the market’s willingness to fairly compensate us or hire enough people.

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It sounds like you’re sliding toward burnout, as has been the journey of many nonprofit employees before you. So taking a leap makes sense. To me, the question isn’t so much about your age—45 vs. 25—as it is how much your current job is helping you to prepare for the future. Does it offer a 401k with matching, do you make enough to save? The flexibility of leaping and failing at 25 is mostly about the amount of time you have to fix mistakes. However, it sounds like a lot of your other life choices are the kind of preemptive fixes that a 25-year-old might run to after failing. You’re already in school, you’ve thought through your next step. Aside from money (a very important factor, sure), it sounds like you’ve got a pretty decent safety net.

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Is it really that impulsive to work in a field that you’re two years away from having a degree in? If you’re looking for something gradual, start looking for jobs in your new field to get a sense of whether you can accept whatever’s out there for you right now. At the same time, talk to your manager at your current job about either a reduction of responsibilities or an increase in pay. Part of the desire to run screaming to another job is about this job not treating you right, so see if they can fix that part. As you plan your exit.

Q. Losing it long-distance: I’ve been with my boyfriend for eight years, and the last several have been long-distance as we pursue higher education. The deal was that we would be together after we graduate and eventually get married.

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I’ve graduated and am in my career, doing well. He’s graduated and is having a really hard time finding a job. I know this market is tough, and it’s really not about the job—it’s about the stress of a long-distance relationship for years. I love him, but I’m not sure if I can take it much longer. Is there anything I can do short of breaking up?

A: Well, yes. I am going to presume that he’s looking for a job in your area and hasn’t found one yet, because that seems to be the logical next step. So, one thing you can do is try to work out a budget that would allow him to move to be with you without yet having a job. Another thing to do is to look for a job where he is. But the first thing you should do is be honest with him about the stress of continuing to be long-distance and ask him if the two of you can start to make a plan together. Ask him what he foresees and how he wants to move forward. And go from there.

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Q. We don’t want to torture you: Both my fiancé and I are in our mid-30s and are very outgoing and enjoy public speaking and hamming it up somewhat. Many or most of our friends are pretty lively and loud. Both of our immediate families, however, are entirely comprised of introverts who would honestly prefer to be waterboarded than asked to speak in public.

We are planning our wedding now, and trying to figure out how to make them feel included and to give them roles in which they will feel special, but also not put them on the spot or torture them. How do we do this? I feel like all of my ideas on how to make someone feel special involve making them the center of attention in some way, which is pretty much the exact thing that everyone in our immediate families is terrified of. But I also don’t want to just let them fade into the background, even if they would be more comfortable with that. Ideas?

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A: One of the greatest gifts one of my loved ones gave me at my wedding was an honest reply. I wanted to include my two sisters-in-law in our ceremony, as my brothers and parents were set to speak at the reception. I asked them if they wanted to read passages. One was game. The other replied “No, thank you, I get uncomfortable speaking in public.” It was such a relief to know this about her and to not find out after the fact. I felt secure that she knew how much I value her, which was the point of trying to get her into the ceremony in the first place.

So, ask. Ask what, if anything, your family members want to do. And be prepared to accept their answer. See if there are non-attention-getting roles to take on—do they want to help set up centerpieces or make something special for the day? A wedding is a performance, but as with every performance, the many hands behind the scenes and off-stage make what’s happening in the spotlight possible.

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(This letter was also answered in a previous Prudie column.)

Q. Re: They’re all just shiny rocks anyway: I don’t like diamonds and didn’t get one for my ring, but I think your answer missed the mark. The industry says an engagement ring should be three months pay (even though that’s nuts, people believe it), so my guess is she thinks this is real and costs about that amount.

Personally, I think couples should discuss these things in advance (a much-needed skill for marriage after all), but you can’t buy your partner a fake ring without telling her and pretend it doesn’t matter. You got what you wanted, not necessarily what she wanted, that’s the real issue. Be honest with your fiancée and figure out what she would choose, knowing the budget (and maybe she’d like to kick in for a bigger ring). Do this ASAP so you can return it.

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A: Maybe so! Ultimately, the question is about the mystery around what the letter writer’s fiancée thinks and the only way he’s going to find that out is by talking to her.

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Classic Prudie

I was in the midst of an affair when my wife, “Theresa,” became unexpectedly pregnant. I panicked and confided to my affair partner that the pregnancy couldn’t have happened at a worse time. We weren’t financially prepared for a child, I was stuck in a miserable job, and fatherhood terrified me. It took me a few months, but by the time Theresa was six months pregnant, I was as ecstatic about fatherhood as Theresa had been originally. Then we lost our baby. It was devastating, and comforting Theresa made me realize what a horrible husband I was. I ended the affair and, in the months since, have dedicated myself to being a better partner. Then my former affair partner sent Theresa copies of our texts and emails.

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