Dear Prudence

Help! My In-Laws Are Crossing Major Boundaries With Our New Home.

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

A line of people walking single file up to an illustrated house
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by panic_attack/iStock/Getty Images Plus and seamartini/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! Happy Monday! Excited to get into some new questions this week! I also want to flag that some of you let me know more about the intricacies of security clearances than I was aware of when I answered a question about clearance and marijuana use last week. I appreciate it! This is why the comments section is so great—there’s always many sides to a problem and a solution, and I often learn new things. What’ve you got this week?

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Q. Not invited: My wife and I recently bought a house (we are both women). We were excited to be able to have the opportunity to buy a home, and with a pool. Our families have been so supportive, helping us move; her family even helped us pay for things like landscaping and fencing.

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Recently we were going to host a birthday party for my sister-in-law, not by choice but she asked because she wanted to go swimming and we said OK, no problem, thinking it was just her, maybe her boyfriend, and my in-laws. Well, days before, while having a birthday dinner for her during the week, my mother-in-law invites my sister-in-law’s boyfriend’s parents to our house for said birthday party BBQ. My wife and I didn’t say anything and just smiled because we did not want to be rude. By the end of the day, the boyfriend’s siblings (with their kids) and grandparents had all been called and invited (by my MIL). My wife and I were super bothered and annoyed at this point; we didn’t know these people, we had JUST met the boyfriend’s parents during that dinner. Apparently the boyfriend’s mom asked my MIL if it was OK and she said YES. I was shook that my MIL would find it appropriate to invite people over to someone else’s home.

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Our main issue was the children (with our pool and dog) and of course having strangers over our home. My wife didn’t know how to approach it because she did not want to sound rude to her mother and make it seem like she was ungrateful for everything she’s done for us. I told her that I appreciated all the help, but it is OUR house that WE pay the mortgage on, so we should have some control on who gets invited over, when there are parties hosted, etc.

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We eventually came up with an excuse as to why we couldn’t host the party after all, but I can’t help thinking this will happen again and my wife won’t be brave enough to say something. I won’t be the one to say anything; I have a great relationship with my in-laws but I still don’t think it’s my place. How should this be handled? Is it rude of us to not feel comfortable inviting certain people over? This is our first home, so we don’t know how to handle things like this. Should we just let it happen?

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A: At first I wondered if this is just a thing that happens at people’s houses when they have pools—strangers show up at the door like characters in a horror movie, commandeer the deck chairs, and fire up the grill. Maybe! I don’t have a pool. But it sounds like there was a little bit of a misunderstanding around the word “party.” I suspect your SIL got the go-ahead for a pool party and assumed she had free rein to make the guest list. I know it’s your house, not a rental venue, but it’s possible she wasn’t trying to take advantage but rather just to have a good time. You may want to bring up this possibility to your wife as a way into a discussion of your feeling that she didn’t advocate for what you both want strongly enough. That seems like something you should sort through, regardless of what happens with your pool. In the future, however, it might be useful for you and your wife to make house rules about pool use, almost as if you were a venue. Because, as I’m sure you know, there’s an added level of liability involved here.

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Sit down and make up a list of agreements—maybe it’s “only people we know at the pool” or “maximum of 10 people at the pool” or “no children.” These don’t have to be universal rules; you’re free to break them whenever you want. But being able to proactively let family know when/if they invite themselves over helps keep everyone on the same page. It also might empower your wife to be more clear about your shared boundaries. You can even mention these rules when/if you invite family over, something like “Hey, you’re welcome over. Oh, and just so you know, for our safety and everyone else’s safety, we only do a maximum of 10 people at the pool. We’re still figuring out the best ways to be responsible owners. Wanted to let you know so you felt safe.”

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How to Get Advice From Prudie:

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

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

Q. Sometimes it’s just complicated: My mother passed away five years ago after a long illness. It was difficult and awful, and I still miss her a lot. My mother was a very vibrant, fun person, but she could also be angry and (occasionally) physically abusive; however, I still loved her and we were close when she died.

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My question relates to how to explain this to my current boyfriend, who doesn’t really understand why I still mourn her and miss her. I’ve expressed how sad I get around Mother’s Day, and his response was “She HIT you. Why would you miss her?” I genuinely don’t know how to answer that. My boyfriend’s mother is a sweetheart who would have never hurt him, and he is also very protective of me in general (and would never, ever physically hurt me).

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Is there a way to explain this to him, or is it strange to miss someone who used to be abusive? Some of my friends have suggested therapy, but I honestly don’t know if this is a reason to need it.

A: Firstly, I think everyone can benefit from therapy, to address a loss or for no reason at all. It is helpful to have someone with whom to talk through thoughts and questions, and who can point out things that we might miss. But don’t feel like you have to go to therapy to fix yourself because you miss your mom.

Your boyfriend may never get it. He has drawn a hard line around the abusive, as is his prerogative. But it ignores your prerogative, which is to sit in the complexity of the full relationship. Mourning someone doesn’t give them a free pass for everything they did in life. Mourning someone is also as much about you as it is about them. If you feel compelled, share with your boyfriend that as someone who still has his mom and doesn’t have an abusive mom, he may not be able to be empathetic—but as someone who loves you, he can and should be sympathetic. He doesn’t have to understand it; he just has to be with you as you go through it. That’s the way to be protective of you. Pain and grief rarely make sense. But to ask someone in pain to stop being in pain makes even less sense.

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Q. Wanderlust wife: I fully admit this is a total First World problem, but we’re at an impasse, so I’m throwing myself at your (and the comment section’s) mercy. My husband and I are both of the mindset that we’d rather spend any extra money we have on experiences than material things. After two years of being stuck at home due to the pandemic, we’re delighted to be in the early stages of planning our first international trip together. Before my husband and I met, I worked for an international nonprofit and spent most of my 20s working in Africa and Europe; I’ve traveled extensively. My husband has left the country just twice, both times to visit the same touristy city in Europe.

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When we began discussing ideas of where we should go on our trip, I suggested a couple of countries I’d never visited before. My husband suggested … returning to the same touristy city he has already visited twice. To be fair, I haven’t been there (I’d rather visit places where I can get a more genuine feel for local culture), but I’d like both of us to have a chance to experience something new together. I tried offering a few other suggestions that were closer to the beaten path and he offered … day trips to other places near the same city he has already visited.

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We aren’t wealthy people, so time and money are both in short supply. As we’d like to start a family soon, I don’t know how many opportunities we’ll have for big trips like this. Should I cave in the name of allowing him to stay in his comfort zone, or push him more to expand his horizons? I’m not a demanding person by nature, but the thought of shelling out so much money to revisit the same place for the third time when there’s so much more of the world to see is mind-boggling.

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A: While you and your husband have very different ideas about what a fun international vacation is, I don’t know that the two modes are actually in conflict. I think it’s actually a matter of reconciling what seems worthwhile to you. For your husband, vacationing seems to be less about leaving the comfort zone and more about returning to what’s familiar and memorable. This isn’t how you vacation, per se, but it doesn’t stop you from finding the unusual and off-the-beaten-path even in the most conventional city, especially if it’s a city you haven’t visited before. While it’s not a one-to-one comparison, I often think of vacation planning as similar to going out to eat at a favorite restaurant. Some people will order the same thing every time; others will try the specials or try to eat their way through the menu. Either way, what’s on your plate can still make you happy and the dinner outing can be a success.

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I feel like it would be different if you’d already been to the European city your husband is suggesting. But since you haven’t, I would reframe agreeing to his plan as “caving.” You’ll still get to experience Europe with your husband, you won’t have the stress of trying to make him the kind of traveler he’s clearly not, and you’ll still have the freedom to plan excursions, for yourself or for the two of you, that’ll tickle your urge to discover.

Q. Caught in the middle: Several years ago, I was happily engaged and expecting my first baby when the unthinkable happened—we lost our son late in the pregnancy. I will always love my fiancé, but we ultimately split due to the stress and grief. We’ve stayed in touch and there’s no bad blood, but nor do we necessarily see each other a lot. I don’t plan on us ever getting back together, and we have both dated sporadically since then.

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My parents live several states away and were not necessarily thrilled that we separated, but also weren’t there during the worst of it. They’re now coming to visit in person after not seeing me for several years and have expressed they’d love to see my ex. My ex has also said he’d love to see them.

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The problem? I don’t really want to mix the two groups. I don’t want my parents to think for a second that I’m interested in getting back together with my ex or even make a comment that we get along so well. It’s still painful the way my life took a drastic turn, and I’m hoping to make this visit more about how well my (new) life is going.

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Should I tell little lies to both sides that the other is busy? Or just fess up that it’s not the right time?

A: A lie seems most expeditious, but being honest is going to save you trouble in the long run. You should nip this in the bud by telling both sides that this isn’t going to work for you. You don’t have to get deeply into it. Just saying that what you all went through was really hard for you and you don’t want to get brought back to that place emotionally sets a boundary. They’re all adults; if they are all so eager to hang out, they can arrange it without you.

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Classic Prudie

A month ago, my husband Ben’s lifelong best friend Matt sent his estranged wife Claudia to the hospital. Despite our husbands’ closeness, Claudia and I never clicked, but I’m horrified by how badly Matt hurt her. Since we found out, Ben and I have argued about our relationship with Matt. I want nothing to do with him; Ben believes we need to support him now more than ever.

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