Dear Prudence

Help! I Want to Burn Down the House My Cheating Ex and I Were Building. But … My Half Sister Is Homeless.

Ugh, do I have to give it to her?

A house under construction engulfed in graphics of flames
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

My ex-fiancé and I were building our dream house on land my grandparents left me when I caught him secretly carrying on a relationship with his ex while still planning to marry me for my money. The wedding is off, and I’ve decided to donate the almost finished house to our local fire department to burn down for training. This will be hugely cathartic, and I’m looking forward to it.

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But I’m catching flak from “Kate,” my older half sister, who is living in a women’s shelter with her three younger kids since leaving her abusive addict husband. She works but does not make enough for an apartment. Her oldest son turned 13 and had to move into a group home with a bunch of wild boys since the shelter doesn’t allow males over 12. Kate thinks I should let her and her kids move into the house if I don’t want it.

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My dad, who’d be happy to see my ex burned alive in the house, thinks I should go ahead with it. But my mom is hinting that even though it’s my house and I can do whatever I want with it, she’ll be disappointed if I don’t let Kate live there, reminding me how Kate enabled her to have a career by babysitting me when I was little. I’m dying for those flames, but I don’t want to feel selfish or guilty! I feel like everyone just wants to use me for money without caring about my feelings. What should I do?

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—Burn It Down

Dear Burn It Down,

I’m going to take you at your word that this is a real scenario, but I have a lot of questions. The financial disparity between you and Kate is jarring, but I’m assuming that your wealth is from the inheritance, or perhaps you have money on your own and the inheritance added to it. And I presume that it’s that money that would be needed to finish construction on this house should Kate get to move in. You can do whatever you want with your property, of course, and as someone who has watched Angela Bassett’s iconic scene in Waiting to Exhale dozens of times, I know how cathartic strutting away from a blaze you set (or at least facilitated) can be. But building a house and then setting fire to it while your half sister and her kids are in a shelter and a group home gets a little close to “Dickensian villain” for my taste. And even if they weren’t a consideration and you don’t want to sell the land itself (with the house to another buyer), destroying a whole house is just incredibly wasteful from a resources and environmental standpoint. All this wood got through the supply chain just to end up kindling? My gracious! I know that you’re hurt, and your feelings are valid. But practically speaking, this is a little hard to rationalize. Now, giving Kate your house comes with its own set of questions: Is this an outright gift, or would she rent? Will she pay some or all of the costs to finish construction? Can she pay property tax? Taking over this place is not as simple as perhaps Kate is thinking of it. If you do proceed, there are some things that should be worked out in advance, possibly with the advice of an attorney.

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But all that benefits Kate. What about you? I wonder if there’s a way for you to get catharsis through different means. Perhaps there’s even something that Kate can help with. You write that it feels like everyone is using you for your money, which is something you should probably talk out with Kate, no matter what you decide. It’s important that you feel validated, and it isn’t like Kate has an implicit right to the house. See if you can find a way to separate your feelings from the house and let it transform into something good, and generative, and, most importantly, unburned.

Dear Prudence,

I am preparing (within the next 30 days) to move out of the city that I’ve been living in the past seven years, to relocate to another state where my family lives. I’m leaving behind a great group of friends, and when I finally told them my plans about a month ago, they took the news pretty hard, as I suspected they would, which is why I held off telling everyone as long as possible. I realize holding off was a mistake, but I did it because I don’t like the “fuss” this kind of news creates, which is exactly what happened. Now whenever I hang out with my friends, they are constantly harassing me about moving away, teasing how my new state sucks and I suck for moving, and on and on. At first I took this lightheartedly and reassured them that I would still come visit even though I’ll be living several hours away. Now I’m just really over these comments, and it’s making it difficult for me to enjoy the last few weeks I have to see everyone. I find myself mentally preparing for the comments I’ll get when I go hang out with people. I get it, they will miss me and I will deeply miss them, but it’s getting incredibly annoying, and I’d like for it to stop. This is not the first time I’ve held off sharing “big news” to avoid this kind of thing, and let the resentment grow to the point where I get angry out of frustration. I can only stand hearing the same thing so many times. Can you give me some advice of what I can say to put these comments to a stop so I don’t end up saying something I regret right before I have to say “see you later”?

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—Over the Jokes

Dear Over the Jokes,

This kind of joshing seems to take over friend groups a lot, sometimes masking sadness or something just a part of the shared vocabulary. And it’s almost always annoying. Try to grab your friends—individually or as a group—at a moment when the joking isn’t happening and tell them something like “I know you’ve been making jokes about my move and how it sucks. And I know you don’t mean anything by it, but it’s starting to feel like we can’t get past it. I really want to enjoy our time together and it’s hard to do that if we’re stuck on my move. Can we call it quits with those jokes for a while?”

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here.

Dear Prudence,

I hit my mid-30s after dropping the dead weight of a relationship that was more chore than connection. I finally have moments of happiness rather than hopelessness. My sister has been divorced twice and is permanently estranged from her oldest daughter. My sister chose her second homophobic husband over her lesbian daughter. My niece hasn’t spoken to anyone in our family for three years.

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Anyway, my sister is obsessed over my single status. She constantly reminds me about my biological clock and how “hard” it is to find a good man after 40. She makes crazy cat lady jokes and lectures me about how I need to be serious about dating. The subject is in every interaction we have. I have tried to brush off her concerns, telling her to drop the subject and that I am happy with my life and wouldn’t be changing it just because she said so. My sister hotly told me I was lying to myself and there was no way I could be satisfied without being married and a mother. I retorted back that it didn’t work out so well for her—two failed marriages, her sons barely see their father, and her daughter wants nothing to do with her, so maybe she should work on her own life rather than fixating on mine.

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It was a low blow. But it was nothing but the truth, and my sister would not let up on me about being single. Well, she cursed me out and now refuses to talk to me. This estrangement has put a lot of stress on our parents and they keep pressuring me to apologize. I have told them I will if my sister will. They tell me that isn’t going to happen because she doesn’t think she did anything wrong and only acted out of love. I apparently just “attacked her out of nowhere.” I am just tired. How do I deal with this?

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—Sister Trouble

Dear Sister Trouble,

The source of the original conflict seems to be the source of this new estrangement as well—namely that your sister sees your life very differently from the way you see it, and she’s also likely quite resentful of you. It’s what prompted all the critical comments that she characterizes as acting out of love, and it’s what got her so entrenched in her position now. You can eat crow and apologize for the sake of family harmony, but consider for a second what would happen if you told your parents that the two of you simply see the facts differently and it’s probably healthy for you to take some time apart. It’s not what they want, but it might be exactly what you need. Going back to the same relationship with your sister isn’t going to do you any good, and it isn’t going to change the conflicts you have.

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Dear Prudence,

I have been a busy person in the last couple years. I have been planning to go to grad school in a new field, and while working part time in my old field, I got another part-time job in this new field. Great foot in the door, right? Well, now that I am planning to attend school full time in the fall, I want to leave the old part-time job, and I told my boss as much in December, to prepare her for this eventuality. I would rather work just the one part-time job, in the field I actually want to be in, rather than essentially full-time work plus school.

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I recently gave four weeks’ notice. My boss started crying. She likes me and we work well together. She said she would not be able to find anyone else because “no one wants to work anymore” (that old chestnut), she thinks my job requires specialized knowledge that someone else would not be able to pick up, she thinks she could not trust a new person since she has a lot of expensive merchandise at the store, and she is afraid of theft. It is a very small, specialized business (think stamp collecting or something similarly niche), so yes, it does require knowing about the product, and would take some time to learn.

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Did I mention I have been her only employee through the whole pandemic? And she doesn’t want to hire someone else as she is looking to retire soon and she thinks that’s not fair to the new person. I told her this is what temp agencies are for, but she says temps are untrustworthy.

She wants me to stay on until December, and I reluctantly agreed. But I really don’t want to, and I would prefer to leave in August. I can’t continue to be her whole business, while starting a new career and school. The job classifies me as an independent contractor as well, so I can leave at any time, but I don’t want to burn bridges since I’ve been there for many years (and I do like my boss, in spite of this!). Help?

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—I Know I Gotta Go

Dear I Know I Gotta Go,

Your boss is putting a lot of pressure on you that’s not yours to own. Sure, it’s tough to lose an employee, especially in a company with only two employees, but that’s what happens in business. You can’t be expected to put your life on hold for someone else’s dream. You’ve graciously offered solutions and she’s refused to engage with them. At this point, it’s her problem. You should leave when you want to leave. It’s likely that it won’t be smooth, judging by the way she’s reacted so far, but I don’t think you’d have an easier time in December. Explain to her that this isn’t personal, but that you have to pursue your own work path, just like she did. Thank her for the time you’ve spent together and ask her to wish you well.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“This employer is basically asking the employee to sacrifice their own happiness for the good of the company.”

R. Eric Thomas and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I am in my early 20s and living with two roommates. Roommate 1, “Jane” is clean, considerate, and a close friend from college. Roommate 2, “Anne,” was also a close friend from college, but was a terrible roommate—inconsiderate, messy, and generally rough to live with.

Last month, Jane let me know she was moving to a different city for a job switch. I deeply wanted to stay in our house, so I agreed to look for a third roommate with Anne with the intention to tell her that I wanted the situation to be different next year. Then our landlord opted not to renew the lease. Rather than telling Anne I wanted to live somewhere else, I stupidly agreed to live with her in a new apartment, which I did all the work of finding and preparing. I’ve started to be more direct in asking her to clean common areas and not invade my space, but she’s answered this by giving me the silent treatment and has alluded to only living with me because “neither of us have better options.”

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This is simply not true. When I mentioned I was thinking about moving in with my partner after our landlord gave us the update, she stared me down flatly and told me that that would “really screw her over.” She isn’t confrontational, but is extremely passive-aggressive. I am dreading moving to a two-bedroom with her. I had a potential subletter lined up, but Anne told me she refused to live with her because SHE WAS MESSY. I don’t know my options: Anne and I have overlapping social groups and I am trying to not burn bridges, but I also desperately want out of a situation that I know I created.

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—I Want Out

Dear I Want Out,

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It’s clear that living with Anne is going to be a miserable experience for you. Moreover, your attempts to have a better relationship with her have been met with hostility. There’s no reason for you to go into this new living situation. Anne is as capable as you are of finding a subletter for your room if she doesn’t approve of the one you found. She’s abdicating a lot of responsibility here and forcing you to pick up the slack. I say cut ties now before it gets worse and harder to extricate yourself. As a compromise, try finding another subletter. But be very clear to Anne that you’re not moving into the apartment with her. This may cause friction in your friend group, but separating now will save you and Anne a lot of strife in the future.

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Dear Prudence,

We are relatively new to our town and working on making friends. Our son has made friends with a very sweet boy at school whose parents invited us over for lunch while the kids had a play date. During the lunch, as we are connecting on things we have in common, it comes out that my husband (we can call him John) and the friend’s dad (let’s call him Thomas), went to the same small college, but Thomas graduated more than 18 years before John. My husband says, “You must know our most infamous alum!” and names a guy that had graduated around the same time as Thomas, and Thomas says, “Actually, that is me!” In my husband’s defense, Thomas goes by a nickname and has a very common last name; minus his middle name, you wouldn’t actually connect him with his VERY famous family and name. In any case, Thomas is exceptionally well-known: He had a very famous rape trial many years ago where he was found not guilty.

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I happen to work on issues related to sexual assault for my career and know a bunch about his trial, which was pre–rape shield laws (so they put the victim on trial), and they excluded evidence of multiple other rape claims on a technicality that would not hold up today. I did a little Googling and found that Thomas had been accused of sexual assault again later in life, and his wife defended him by saying, “These cockroaches will never die.” Although the encounter was very awkward (my husband made an excuse to leave as soon as he realized who Thomas was), we have already been invited to other things with this couple and will inevitably be around these people on the regular. I do not believe in holding a child accountable for the crimes of their parents, but I am wondering if I have a moral obligation to share this information with anyone else? I would not want a female-identified babysitter, nanny, or any other young woman to be around this man. I am horrified that a woman would call victims of assault “cockroaches,” especially when I spend much of my day trying to teach people why false accusations of rape, assault, and sexual harassment are not a thing and why. What do we do here? Cut off contact? Limit contact? Warn other parents? I don’t want kids to feel ostracized because of their parents, and at the same time I feel gross being around them and making small talk.

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—Morally Conflicted Mom

Dear Morally Conflicted Mom,

Cutting off contact is the wise thing to do here. I know you’re sympathetic to Thomas’ son, but I just don’t see how any continued relationship with the family is going to be tenable. Moreover, if your son and Thomas’ son keep growing their friendship, it stands to reason that they’d want to spend time at Thomas’ house, which I presume is a big no-go for you. While there will surely be times this family is unavoidable given the way school works, you don’t have to associate with them.

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Telling others is a slippery slope, mostly because it will likely draw you into a situation that you don’t want to be in. And others might see your actions as gossip or even slander rather than what you intend them to be. If you encounter someone who is planning to babysit for them, for instance, I think it’s fair to give a heads-up, since the information is all Google-able. But you want to be careful not to go on a crusade.

Classic Prudie

My 16-year-old daughter began dating a classmate in April. Two months ago, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Overnight, he and his family came to demand a ridiculous amount of commitment from my daughter. She is expected to organize gatherings of their friends, come to appointments, and do whatever she can to lift his spirits. She feels overwhelmed by his parents’ demands, and my husband and I feel wary at how she become “the one bright spot” in his life. Thanks to movies like The Fault in Our Stars and 50/50, as well as to his parents, she thinks only “bitches” dump their cancer stricken boyfriends. I worry she will implode if she doesn’t take some healthy distance from him. As a parent of someone on the cusp of legal adulthood, what should I do?

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