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.)
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?
A: 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.
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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.
A: 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. 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?
A: 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 lent a hand when you needed one. It sounds like none of your in-laws is 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. 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?
A: 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 hard-line 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 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 deal-breaker 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.
A: 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: 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.
A: 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.
A: 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.
R. Eric Thomas: Thanks for your questions and comments! Have a great week. Be good to yourselves!
Don’t miss Part 1 of this week’s chat: I Made My Fiancée My Beneficiary. Then She Told Me About Her Disturbing “Fantasy.”
From Care and Feeding
My husband and I have had our beloved dog (an 85-pound lab mix) for 10 years. She has never been good with strangers or kids, which wasn’t a problem until now—I’m pregnant. Since the news got out, everyone has asked what we’re going to do about the dog. It seems cruel to send her off to live her final years with my in-laws because she gets sad and mopes when we’re not around. However, I can’t think of any other options.
My husband and mom don’t think it’s a big deal and that the dog will magically behave, but I have serious doubts. Are there any options I’m not seeing? I desperately want to keep my dog, but not at the risk of my baby’s safety.