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’m in Pittsburgh this week for the first time. What a stunningly beautiful city! What’s on your minds this week?
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.
Moira says I’m being ridiculous and that she’s not going to take a hit out on me, which I know is true. That isn’t what 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?
A: 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.
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Q. Moldy fridge blues: How do privileged kids learn to eat leftovers? My wife and I have two children, teen and preteen, 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 takeout 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 takeout 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?
A: 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 takeout 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. 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 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?
A: 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. 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.
A: 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. Re: No 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.
A: 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.
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.
A: I love the incorporation of composting here! Especially because, if the letter writer has a garden or access to a community garden, it can lead into a conversation about growing food and making good choices.
My mother died last fall after a battle with cancer. My father is 76 and a working psychiatrist. He was devoted to my mom for over 50 years but began a relationship with a co-worker within two months of her death. I want him to be happy, but he is acting like my mom died years ago and not a few months ago. At first I said I was OK with this, but I have realized that my initial reaction was made in a state of shock. Last month he brought her on vacation to the same house he and my mom rented just a few weeks before she died. He acts like it’s no big deal.