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. Not a parking lot: My partner lives with me on the converted farm I inherited from my late grandparent. We rent out the pastures, spoil the aged barn cats, and let the beater cars take up the old barn, our car park, and most of the backyard. My partner learned to work on cars from their dad and uncles, but only does it as a hobby now. All those relatives have passed, so they feel using their skills for charity brings them closer to the dead.
The cars all could run. Potentially. If their owners could pay for parts. My partner charges nothing for labor and even has gone so far as paid for parts in full while charging the owner a pittance. I could be fine with one or two charity cases, but there are too many! And most of them are ungrateful jerks. A $6,000 job done for $600—that’s highway robbery.
My partner will spend hours and hours working on these cars straight through the night. I bring them out dinner three nights out of the week. I am very sorry for the single moms, poor grandmas, and every other sob story I hear about the cars. But I want to plant a garden, or park my own car out of the rain, or just not to wake up with my coffee and go out on my porch to a parking lot. I am tired and pissed and I went my property back.
So I am bitter. But I am not the single mom working odd shifts and forced to balance child care, food, and Ubers. We have a nice enough life if I want to let my marriage be fifth on my partner’s priorities. I am OK if my partner needs to run and take care of their stepchild or random relative, but these are just people who we really don’t know and take up all of our space and time. My partner argues they made a commitment and the world has enough people who don’t care. I told them all I care about is them, and I am beginning to doubt they care the same.
We are at a standoff here. I am ready to pay for tows and just get the cars off my land and back to their owners. It might break my marriage.
A: Hobbies with moral components are the hardest, aren’t they? You can’t complain about them without sounding like a real Scrooge. Your partner sounds like they’re doing noble and needed work, but I fear their plan has gotten away from them. It’s not unreasonable to ask for some moderation. Do they have to take on every repair that’s requested? Does every repair need to be taken on right away? They may argue that people need their vehicles and that’s true, but they aren’t the only person in the world who can fix these cars. Just because they’re the best option doesn’t mean they’re the only option, and it might be helpful to remind them of this. Also, do they have the capacity to take on all these repairs in a timely manner? Are they actually helping as much as they think they are?
Additionally, it might be useful to remind them that their hobby is now a shared group project and that it’s negatively affecting you. Is there a compromise you can reach about the land that gets you some space back to garden or just to be? Your standoff is about the cars and your partner’s feelings about their hobby, but I wonder if there’s room to work together on the shared project of what you need. You need some space. That’s a fair request.
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Q. What weddings? I am a woman in my late twenties, and a handful of my cousins on my mother’s side are getting married this summer. My sister (also late twenties) and I are estranged from my mother’s family because we are gay and they are “born again” homophobes. For this reason, it came as no surprise that neither of us received invitations to any of my cousins’ weddings. Despite this, my mom is convinced that we are invited. When I point out that we didn’t get invitations, she insists we are included in her invitation. It’s been 10 years since either of us lived with her, and she admits our names are not on the invitation—it is addressed to only her.
Every time I talk to her, she asks me about wedding travel plans. I remind her that my sister and I aren’t invited, and she says “Don’t be silly, of course you’re invited.” I feel like this is delusional! I’ve never heard of grown adults who live across the country being “included” in a parent’s wedding invite. I’m not going regardless so it’s a moot point, but I’m curious what you think: Adult children who live outside the home are not included on a parent’s invitation to a wedding and should expect their own invitations, right?
A: Right, this is simply not how wedding invitations work. If a grown child was, for whatever reason, going to be invited along with their parents, their name would be on the front of the envelope. Weddings, as I’m sure your mother knows, are as much about love and fidelity and all that as they are about strict headcounts, guaranteed minimums, and telling the caterer the right number of chicken breasts to order. Just as weddings don’t usually last from “7 p.m. until …?”, the invites aren’t usually addressed to “whoever feels like coming.” Ask your mother how she filled out the RSVP card. I presume there wasn’t a comments section for her to fill in a cast of thousands.
Q. Tired of telling why: My (now ex-)husband and I divorced in 2020. Despite that, we both get on really well and he remains, in many ways, my ideal partner. He’s a great guy, a wonderful co-parent, and an amazing and sensitive lover (we still hook up occasionally).
The problem is two-fold: When I tell people that we divorced, they either say cruel things about him or ask why we broke up. I find the first intolerable and have yet to find a suitable response beyond, “That’s the father of my children you’re abusing.” The second is harder; I don’t have a good reason and often question my decision, but we both agreed it was for the best. How do I stave off intrusive comments and avoid complex explanations nobody deserves?
A: Unless you have an incredibly wide circle of friends, none of whom communicate with each other, I assume the questions about the divorce will peter off eventually. But in the interim, it’s still surely annoying and possibly hurtful.
One of my favorite ways of deflecting intrusive comments is to be flippant. Why did we get divorced? Because we didn’t want to stay married. People want gossip and they feel entitled to it, but holding the line, even repeating the same answer, tends to make the situation uncomfortable. And that’s the thing—their questions make you uncomfortable and completely ignore the need for consent in these conversations. You don’t have to sit in that discomfort alone. Let them squirm a little bit with a non-answer that is actually the answer. For all the reasons that people get divorced, the core is usually that they didn’t want to remain married.
Q. Never lonely, always alone: My childhood developmental disabilities have led to lifelong social anhedonia, lack of vocabulary skills, and behavioral issues. Long story short, it’s gotten me into trouble one too many times, and I’m starting to realize that I’m not compatible with everyone’s expectations. Despite all this, I can function independently and still be able to communicate professionally; however, I am resistant to therapy and don’t feel a need to change anything about myself.
Now, though, I want to significantly reduce face-to-face physical communication because I believe and have observed that it is better for my well-being than having to physically show up for a community that considers you disposable if you don’t meet their standards, even if you can’t help it. I don’t want to cut myself off from society or live off the grid or anything like that; I simply want to find a way to still contribute to society that doesn’t involve the socially constructed and harmful concepts of etiquette, manners, and so-called “impulse control.” And the only way to do that is if I reduced my physical contacts while still maintaining covert ways to communicate like chatting (without cameras and microphones) on the internet. How can I live the solitary lifestyle I’ve always wanted to live without having to sacrifice my individuality and break the bank?
A: While we’re not yet at a place, technologically, where working and interacting on the internet is exactly like being in society, it doesn’t sound like you want many of the trappings of in-person society. Have you considered trying to find a job that is remote-only and doesn’t involve video-chatting? Industries like tech support, customer service, virtual assistance, computer programming, and many others has bloomed in the last decade and many don’t require person-to-person interaction on a regular basis at all. The pandemic, also, has introduced the possibilities of remote work in many other fields. Some of these may still require occasional on-camera meetings for coaching or for other reasons, so you’ll have to decide if that’s something you can endure.
Similarly, social interaction through forums like Reddit and dozens of others are often all chat/text. You can even get groceries delivered with no contact. I assume you already know some of these things, if not all. Perhaps it’s more about the social permission? In that case, think of it this way—for many, be they people who simply desire lower contact, or people whose abilities require it—there has never been a time when solitary living could so seamlessly contribute to society. If it’s what you need and what you desire, the tools are out there and you should make use of them.
Q. Sharing birthdays: I have a birthday dilemma regarding my nieces Kim and Mary. My niece’s cousin asked if she could throw Mary’s birthday party at my house in the middle of the month and I said yes, but it was postponed to the end of the month, due to unfortunate circumstances. I didn’t realize that Kim’s birthday is the same day. I told the cousin I would like to celebrate both of my nieces’ birthdays on the same day. Her cousin said she didn’t want that because she has plans on getting the decorations with Mary’s name, and she wants the shine on Mary and that if I bought a cake for Kim, it would be awkward. I explained to her that they could both shine and only God knows when we will have the chance of getting the family together again due to this pandemic going on.
I was annoyed that she pretty much shut me down on the idea, not to mention that it’s being held in my house and I will be providing all the food. I love both of my nieces and I want them both to shine. How can I let her know that I feel uncomfortable with this situation? Would it be wrong if I buy a cake and some decor for Kim? It’s a surprise, so neither of them know this will be happening.
A: It’s at your house and you’re providing the food? Oh, you can throw a party for whomever you want. You can throw a party for J.Lo if the spirit moves you. Tell your niece’s cousin that this is a joint surprise party; you’ll take care of the decor and cake for Kim, along with all of the food, apparently. And that it will be lovely to have the family together to celebrate in peace and harmony.
Q. Re: What weddings? As someone currently planning a large family wedding (approx. 150 people) allow me to support you as emphatically as I can: YOUR MOTHER IS DELUSIONAL. For context, I have many cousins (21+) and any who lives independently received their own invitation. Cousins who were included in their parents’ invites were also listed explicitly on the envelope. So, for my aunt who has six kids, four received their own invites (with their spouses), and two (one in high school, one in college with temporary addresses) were included in their parents’ invite, but with their names clearly spelled out on the envelope.
It seems like your mother wants to use this wedding to spark some kind of reconciliation. First off, if these relatives are homophobes, you are well within your rights not to do that even if you were invited. Secondly, showing up unannounced (or having your mother RSVP for guests who weren’t invited) creates an awkward headache for the bride and groom, especially if the event involves sit-down dinner. In your position I wouldn’t want to lose the moral high ground by crashing a wedding.
A: Yes! That sweet, sweet moral high ground is also in jeopardy here. I really can’t get over this contention that any ole body is included in a wedding invite. A backyard BBQ invite printed out from a home printer on a piece of cardstock? Sure, bring your whole crew. But they order a specific number of chairs for weddings. Very glad the letter writer is ignoring her mother’s insistence and staying home.
R. Eric Thomas: That’s all we have time for today, folks! Thanks and be good to yourselves!
From Care and Feeding
My daughter is a sophomore in high school, and I recently attended her back-to-school night. She has always loved English, and she is an avid reader and creative writer. She really likes her advanced English teacher this year—a middle-aged man who has been at the school for over two decades. She was eager for me to meet him at back-to-school night and told me she thought I’d like him a lot as well. I enjoyed meeting her English teacher that night, until the last minute of his presentation.