Dear Prudence

Help! My Best Friends Think I’m Faking My Disability.

They tell me I don’t look sick.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by itakayuki/iStock/Getty Images Plus and illust-monster/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. Each Sunday, we dive into the Dear Prudie archives and share a selection of classic letters with our readers. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.

Dear Prudence,

I am currently disabled. I’ve worked my way up to being up and about for an hour to two each day. Whenever I go out, people say the oddest things to me. Today, when I parked my car, a man came up and said suspiciously, “You don’t look disabled.” I said I just had surgery and rushed away. This happens almost any time I use my handicapped tag. Friends will tell me that I don’t look sick, or that I look great, and then take it personally when I say that I can’t go out for long or go to events. One of my best friends today asked if I had just tried increasing my pain tolerance. I never know how to respond, and knowing that these interactions are coming makes me anxious about leaving my apartment. What can I say to strangers who confront me about my disability, and to friends who don’t get it?

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This will hopefully serve as a reminder to all readers that not every disability is immediately visible, and that it’s not the job of the general public to monitor people with handicapped placards for signs that they “really” need them. You don’t owe strangers a damn thing, much less an explanation, and I’m so sorry that so many people have taken it upon themselves to demand one of you. Feel enormously free to ignore them.

Getting this sort of treatment from your friends seems so much more painful. I cannot imagine why your friend would say something as amazingly stupid as, “Have you tried just feeling less pain?” That’s worth revisiting, especially since you say this person is one of your best friends. This is not something you can simply decide to ignore, and your friend should apologize for suggesting you just “get over” something like chronic pain. I hope there are people in your life who understand that you are dealing with a new reality, and who are looking for ways to demonstrate their care and support, rather than demand when you’re going to “get better.” —Danny M. Lavery

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From: “Help! Strangers and Friends Assume I’m Faking My Disability.” (Dec. 19, 2017)

Dear Prudence,

My boyfriend recently proposed, and I happily said yes. We’ve only been engaged for a few weeks, and suddenly things are on the rocks. His parents are constantly criticizing me for my lack of religion, my clothes, etc. I’ve learned to deal with that. But recently they came to meet my parents and told them that they had done a poor job raising me. My parents are wonderful people and I’m completely horrified that my prospective in-laws treated them so badly. My fiance says that I should try harder with his parents—I think he needs to tell them that they need to act with respect toward me and my family. We’re at a stalemate, and I’m seriously thinking of breaking off the engagement. Am I wrong to expect that if my in-laws can’t be respectful toward my family, then my fiance needs to draw some boundaries between me and his parents?

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It’s hard to believe that his parents’ behavior—and your fiance’s defense of them—is entirely new. You don’t say they were lovely people before you got engaged who are only now realize you are contemptible. Were you ignoring all this during your courtship? Or since you’ve gotten engaged, have they gone to war with you? In any case, their insults are outrageous, and their attack on your parents borders on the sociopathic. As for “trying harder,” I’m hoping your fiance doesn’t mean you should let his parents dictate how you look and what you think, or that you should agree with them that your parents are an abomination.

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It’s one thing to have awful in-laws. But to get through it, your spouse has to recognize their awfulness and try to deflect the attacks. If what you’re saying is accurate, you’ve just contracted to spend your life being emotionally battered by a bunch of lunatics. Tell your fiance what you’ve told me. Explain that you know he can’t control his parents, but he can control how he responds to them. And if he doesn’t stand up for you, then let’s hope he can get his money back on the ring. —Emily Yoffe

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From: “Judgmental in-laws, nosy co-workers, noisy neighbors, and absentee parents.” (April 18, 2011)

Dear Prudence,

My wife and I are both introverted people, but I seem to have a much easier time being liked by people and building friendships and relationships. She really struggles to connect with people; others often see her as a strong leader and someone who is admirable for being smart, capable, and organized, but they are much less likely to feel drawn to her as a person, even though she is very kind, thoughtful, genuine, and funny.

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Unfortunately, I think there is a self-reinforcing dynamic at play: She is constantly hurt and frustrated by people not being interested in becoming her friend, and that makes her less willing to invest time, energy, and vulnerability in seeking out new relationships. This is a big struggle in her life and a source of real anxiety, sadness, and self-doubt. At the end of her time in high school, all of her friends “abandoned” her with no reason or warning. Since then, she has really struggled to build new relationships or trust people. It was a difficulty for her in college and has only seemed to intensify since graduating.

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Sometimes I fear that she really sees me as her only true friend. I am happy and grateful to be her friend, but I want her to be able to find fulfilling relationships with others too. What advice do you have for adults who struggle to form friendships? How can my wife help people connect with her and like her for who she is? Lastly, is there anything I can do to help beyond supporting her and showing her love and friendship myself?

This is a situation where I think therapy would prove particularly helpful! Identifying core patterns, identity-defining fears, and habits formed out of self-protection that are no longer actually helpful is a big part of what therapy is, and since your wife is frustrated and saddened over these patterns, I think she’d likely benefit a great deal from seeing a therapist.
This mindset—I can’t trust my friends because they’re going to turn on me >> It’s not worth making new friends because they’re going to turn on me too >> I didn’t try to befriend Person X because I know it’s going to fail anyway, and Person X didn’t become my friend, which proves that I was right not to try—didn’t develop overnight, and she’s not going to be able to shrug it off in just a few weeks, but it is possible to approach the work of making new friends with a different script.

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My advice for adults struggling to form friendships varies widely depending upon what the particular challenge is. In your wife’s case, since it comes from an inherent skittishness and lack of trust in other people, I think most of the work will have to be internal before anything like “try new hobbies,” “make friends volunteering,” et cetera, will be at all useful. —D.L.

From: “Help! My Wife Struggles With Connecting With People and Building Friendships.” (Oct. 23, 2018)

Dear Prudence,

In college, I started having a series of flings and casual sex with no consequences. I never had an issue with it and neither anyone else in my life. I’m now 30 and I’m still hooking up. I love Tinder. The trouble is, now that I’m older I’m getting a lot of judgment thrown at me. My sister says I need to find a nice guy and settle down. My friends say variations on the same theme. I’m OK with things the way they are. I doubt I could settle into monogamy anyway, and I’ve never really wanted kids. Last night, I told my sister that, and she said I’d better get my act together or I’d be too old for a “real” relationship and would have to settle. So I’m wondering—can you get too old for casual flings? Do real relationships have a sell-by date?

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Your sister is afraid of ambiguity and, by extension, death—both her own and that of the people she loves. (Hear me out. I promise this is going somewhere.) Monogamy during prime childrearing years is a cultural norm that often results in increased social status, state-sponsored recognition, and financial rewards, and in that regard it makes sense, on a nominal level, that your sister would want that for someone she loved. However, her insistence that you must pursue something you have said you do not desire can only come from a compulsion to see everyone around her settled in a long-term, reproductively viable relationship so she can feel that her life, and the lives of her family members, will stand as a bulwark against the forces of chaos. The only kind of romantic relationship she can accept as “real” involves exclusivity and permanence—a rather narrow definition. So that’s your sister.

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But—here is the crucial point—you do not want to be in that kind of relationship. There is no magical age that will require you to pursue this kind of relationship, just as there’s no magical age that would prevent you from one day doing so, particularly since you don’t want children, and there is no earthly reason you should have to “settle down” simply because you might someday, according to your sister, become too old to experience romantic love. No such expiration date exists. —D.L.

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From: “Help! I’m 30 and Never Want to Give Up Tinder. Am I an Idiot?” (Aug. 11, 2016)

More Advice From Dear Prudence

I’m a senior at a local university, commuting from home, and my younger sister is leaving soon for a distant school. It’s just me, my sister, and our mother in the house, and I’m worried that I’ll be smothered now that Baby Sis is going away. Mom’s a single parent and does everything she can to keep us close so that she’s not lonely (this includes asking us to sleep in her bed for weeks at a time, and it’s been this way for years).

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