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! Beyoncé has a new single out and all is right in the world. This is very important news. Anyway, what problems are you dealing with that can’t be solved by a Beyoncé single?
Q. Second Try Bride: I ended my first engagement after finding out my 19-year-old sister had been sleeping with my fiancé. He and I had just graduated college. It devastated me. When confronted with the truth, my sister lied and tried to act like a little, innocent angel. She had been “seduced.” But several of her friends gave me proof that my sister had been gunning for him since she was 17. Over three years’ worth of texts, my sister savaged my looks and talked about how my fiancé could do so much better than me. When she learned he would be joining me at the family home, she would crow about getting out her ‘sexy’ pajamas and better bikinis.
When I confronted her, the fight ended up putting a permanent estrangement between us and a hard one between my parents and me. That was years ago. I am now engaged to a wonderful man who adores me. As a gesture, I invited my sister to the wedding but did not include her in the wedding party. My sister took personal offense that I didn’t ask her to be a bridesmaid. She called me up and told me it was time I acted like an adult and let bygones be bygones. She claimed she deserved to be a bridesmaid since she’s my only sister. I asked her if she had a head injury because that was the only excuse for her actions. She ruined my first engagement—why would I want her within fifty feet of my new one? She got angry and did the entire song and dance about being just a “kid” back then. I told her she could attend or not but that was the end of the subject. It would have been if my sister didn’t go whining to our parents and our extended family. Our parents are the only ones on her side.
I have since rescinded my sister’s invitation permanently. My fiancé fully supports me and so do many members of my extended family. I am worried about my parents. They are circling around my sister protectively and argue with me every chance they get. I am pregnant. We aren’t telling anyone but sometimes I worry if I don’t tell my parents they might not come to my wedding. Other times, I hope they won’t because it will be a clear sign they chose my sister over me again.
A: I’m glad that you’re sticking to your convictions and that you have some family support, as well as the support of your fiancé. The basic fact is that you don’t have to invite anyone to your wedding if you don’t want them there, your sister included. And you certainly don’t have to put her into your wedding party. Your parents’ inability or unwillingness to see how her actions have harmed you is confounding. While your sister’s interest in your ex started when she was underage, and it seems likely that your ex took advantage of that fact in a predatory fashion, she can still take responsibility for what’s been broken between the two of you. And from your letter, it seems she refuses to do so and continues to double down. Your parents don’t see that and the harm it perpetuates.
The only solution I see, short of telling them about your pregnancy, is to sit them down and have a conversation about harm and boundaries. You want them to choose your side, but if they can’t do that, you want them to acknowledge the validity of your feelings. Perhaps you’ve already had this conversation with them in some form. If that’s the case, then I think you have to ask yourself whether it’s worth more to have them at your wedding and put up with their complaints regarding your sister, or whether your peace of mind will be better for you on your big day. Using your pregnancy news as a bargaining chip may be an effective way to get them to come, but I think you should consider it a last resort because what you’re looking for is deeper and more complex than mere attendance.
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Q. Would a Card Be Sufficient: An American couple and their three primary school children have just moved in as new neighbors in our quiet cul-de-sac of 10 houses. Most of us are retired people who have lived here since the 1980s, with grown kids who have fledged and have their own families elsewhere.
The new neighbors are talking about this year’s Thanksgiving and what a big party we’ll all have. They seem to want to “educate” us.
Prudie, this is June, this is Ireland, we don’t do Thanksgiving. We know what it is because we all have the internet and are not stuck in a time warp full of leprechauns. Also, the weather is shite in November and nobody holds barbecues in the winter (with or without protective tents). At the same time, we don’t want their little kiddies to feel cut off from their American heritage. Could you help us negotiate a compromise? Readers’ suggestions are very welcome.
A: I have to say I’m a little perplexed about the concept of a barbecue party on Thanksgiving. Now, this couple may have moved from a warmer climate where that’s more feasible. But if their interest is education about traditional Thanksgiving, shite weather and begrudging dinner companions are much closer. It’s pretty awkward to be talking up a party some five months in advance, which—to me—indicates either these people are too intense, or they come from a family or friend group that goes all out for Thanksgiving. Maybe they want to do lawn football or fry a turkey (not a great idea). Maybe they’re trying to recreate something that really feels like home for them. But, alas, they’re probably not going to grasp it.
This is why this is the perfect opportunity to start a new tradition. Next time they start talking about the Great Irish Thanksgiving Barbecue Outdoor Bonanza, remind them of the weather and the life stage of the neighbors and suggest starting something new for the cul-de-sac, perhaps at a more temperate time of year. What about an end-of-summer party in September? Or taking the kids house-to-house doing simple crafts for Thanksgiving? Try to figure out what they want to accomplish and see how that fits in with the new life they’re living.
Q. Fair Mom: I just found out that my grandson was diagnosed with a serious illness and instead of telling me, my daughter went to her mother-in-law first! She’s been coordinating babysitting and hospital transit for them for three weeks before anyone thought to tell me about my own grandson. When I tried to set up a schedule to streamline things and get them the right help, my daughter boxed me out. I was so hurt. She claims I chose her brother over her when the grandkids were babies. But that’s not how it was.
My free-spirited son struggled a lot with becoming a dad (it isn’t a role that plays to his strengths, and he felt a lot of shame around not being the primary breadwinner). My daughter has always been responsible so I knew she would be fine. Because I knew they had different needs, I said yes to different things: child care and financial help for my son, and a more laid-back approach for my daughter because she didn’t need the help. Now, she told me I’m only allowed to come to see them during hospital visiting hours, while her MIL comes to the house, spends tons of time with her, while she ignores my calls and drop-by visits. She’s punishing me for being a fair mom by choosing her MIL over me, and I don’t know how to help her see sense.
A: While your intentions with your son were kind and generous, I wonder how many times your daughter has felt overlooked simply because she wasn’t a squeaky wheel. It’s a hard situation for you to be in, I know, but it’s clear she doesn’t feel the treatment was fair. This is something that you two can work through, but it won’t happen now. Now she’s in crisis mode and she’s trying to help her own son. And pushing the boundary that she’s established won’t do anything to aid the situation. I’d suggest you help when you’re invited to help for now and don’t push the matter. Whatever you do, don’t try to “help her see sense.” It’s going to come off as self-serving and will probably push her further away. When conditions improve and your daughter is in a place to have a conversation, then invite her to talk about the disparity she’s felt in the way you treated her and her brother. But when you do have that conversation, go in ready to hear her experience and accept that while it may not have been your intention, it is the way she felt.
Q. Insecure About Insecurity: My boyfriend of almost a year and I are both weird, awkward introverts with only a few close friends. Before finding each other, we were both very hurtfully cheated on. We’re also both children of divorce, and very concerned about building a solid foundation for our own future family. One of the many, many things we love about each other is that he’s not friends with any other attractive women who like men, and I’m not friends with any other attractive men who like women. (“Friends-in-law” i.e., partners of friends whom we don’t hang out with on their own don’t count.) Nor is either of us still in contact with any of our exes. But every time I read about people being condemned as immature, insecure, controlling, etc. for being jealous of their partner’s hot friends or friendly exes, I feel both hugely relieved and grateful that I never have to deal with that again, and slightly bad. Is our relationship unhealthy because we appreciate this about each other? Or is it OK because we’re both on the same page?
A: Most of the time in these situations, one partner is much more invested in keeping the other partner from exes or other potential partners. But in your case, it sounds like this is just a shared interest. If it works for you, and you have open communication strategies in case it stops working for one of you, then it doesn’t seem to be doing any harm.
Q. Re: Fair Mom: I suspect you will probably get a lot of “the responsible sibling is fine” comments, but just to add: Prudie, you are absolutely right, responsible siblings do get tired of being ignored because we aren’t the “squeaky wheel” (I’ve used this metaphor dozens of times over the years trying to describe my family dynamic with troubled siblings). A parent should just admit they don’t have the bandwidth to offer support to a very needy child AND the responsible one because, ultimately, we aren’t “fine.” We were neglected and had to figure it out—which includes setting boundaries and forming supportive relationships with people who are there for us.
A: Yeah, I suspect LW’s intentions were good but the solution at this point certainly isn’t to convince the responsible child that once again she has to manage her feelings. Just because a child can make do without help doesn’t mean they always want to or should.
Q. Re: Would a Card Be Sufficient: Tell them you have it on good authority that Thanksgiving barbecues are not a “thing” and they should drop it.
A: I’m sure they’re a thing somewhere in this country, but you’re right they don’t fit the mold. The neighbors are better off just starting their own tradition.
Q. Re: Would a Card Be Sufficient? Now hold on here, who is calling the “party” a barbecue? From the LW’s description, the new neighbors are talking about throwing a party. A party does not always equal a barbecue. Just because they are having barbecues now and talking about a party in the fall/winter months doesn’t mean it will be the same type of party.
A: I think it’s clear we need an update around November to get to the bottom of all of this!
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Recently my 23-year-old nephew asked if we could talk man to man. He told me he was marrying his college girlfriend. He said that if my wife ever treated her as badly as she has treated his mother and his other aunt, he would not be silent about it as my brothers have been. When I replied with shock, he ran down a list of statements, actions, and other offenses my wife has committed that he has witnessed over the past 15 years.