Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I’m engaged to a lovely, kind, sensitive woman, “Adele,” who happens to be related to a notorious but long-dead criminal. All her life Adele has been teased about her last name, and sometimes even ostracized when people find out she’s actually related, even though she and her family naturally condemn this man and his actions. We’ve had to postpone our wedding more than two years because of COVID, so finally making it happen is a huge deal.
At the barbecue where we first introduced our extended families, my 15-year-old cousin “Kim” held up a picture of the criminal on her phone and made a terrible joke, despite my whole family having been warned not to mention him. In response Adele threw a small rock at her, unintentionally hitting her in the face and injuring one of her eyes. In Adele’s defense she did not realize Kim was just 15, and assumed (reasonably, due to her clothing and appearance) that she was at least several years older. Kim’s parents raised holy hell, and Adele has been charged with aggravated battery plus aggravated child abuse, which given her personal trauma has been hugely upsetting for her.
The District Attorney, who knows my family, has agreed to drop the charges if Kim refuses to testify. My uncle “Rob”—my mom’s sister’s husband and Kim’s father—told us she would do so if Adele apologizes to her and we agree to pay for 100 percent of her medical and cosmetic treatment, which is still uncertain and may run to tens of thousands of dollars. Rob has a good job, and I’m sure excellent family health insurance. Kim is also lamenting that her injury may prevent her from becoming a pilot, which she’d expressed only casual interest in before. Worse, my entire family has rallied around Kim—so in support of Adele and the vows we’ve already taken in spirit, I’ve disinvited them all from our wedding.
In retaliation, Rob is now saying Kim will refuse to testify only if, in addition to their previous demands, I re-invite my side of the family (he, his wife, and Kim will stay away). I might be more inclined to cooperate if Kim was equally remorseful—but neither she nor her parents have apologized in the slightest, maintaining it was “just a stupid joke” and even insinuating Adele is violent due to her “blood.”
I’m now torn because Adele is pushing hard to just apologize, pay the bills, and re-invite my family. Partly because she is mortified by her loss of temper and the blowup it’s become, and wants to try to repair relations with them; partly because she wants a “nice, normal” wedding with both sides present; but mainly because she is terrified of the slightest possibility of having to spend even a day in prison if Kim testifies against her. Should I go along with this, even though it would (A) cost us a lot of money, and (B) feel like giving my family carte blanche to abuse her—and, by extension, disrespect me—thus failing her at the very start of our marriage? Or should we stand firm, have our wedding without them, and trust that with a good defense attorney, no sane judge will sentence her to prison for reacting to such cruelty as she did?
— Torn Apart
Dear Torn Apart,
You have to go with Adele here. I’m thinking mostly about the amount of stress this situation is putting on her already. She’s nervous about going to jail, she’s feeling pressure from your family, and she just wants a “nice, normal wedding.” Prolonging this by drawing a line in the sand with your family is only going to wear on her. Look, there’s plenty of blame to go around here, and at some point, you do need to talk to your family in a serious manner about their treatment of Adele. However, the fact remains she hit a 15-year-old with a rock. I’m not judging. I’m simply stating facts. It’s hard to come back from. Mend the fences you can; give Adele the day she’s asking for; and then see about reframing your relationship with your family. I suspect that they will continue to make cruel jokes about her and you will probably need to set a hard boundary in the future. But this situation is so complicated, you’re best served by squelching the conflict before it gets worse.
My husband and I are in our 40s and about a year ago, a house down the block sold, and “Ellie” and “Oliver” moved in. They are a lovely couple in their late 30s, and we have become friends, as much as we can considering COVID is still around.
Here’s the problem. Traveling is a big love of ours, and we have slowly been taking small trips to get away and are planning a big trip to Hawaii at the end of next year. When Ellie and Oliver found out about these trips they were very excited, asking a ton of questions and being really engaged. However, when they learned of our trip to Hawaii, they instantly said that we should all go together, because Ellie has family there and they would give us the best information on what to see and do.
While this is lovely in theory, I am extremely hesitant. I know from experience that traveling with someone can make or break a relationship. They seem to be the kind of people who are very loose with their plans, as in, if they stay all day in a hotel room ordering room service that is fine by them. Me on the other hand, I plan trips very carefully in order to get the maximum out of them, because generally I assume it will be the only time I will ever be there, and I don’t want to waste a single minute!
I don’t want to seem rude, and I also do not want to lose this friendship, as I know how hard it is to make friends as adults. But I really don’t want to “test the waters” and find out we are all incompatible and everyone is mad at each other during the trip. What do I do?
— Help With Traveling Companions
Dear Help With Traveling Companions,
Hawaii is quite the destination for a couples trip with people you’ve only known for about a year. I’m nervous for you. I think it’s totally acceptable to tell Ellie and Oliver that Hawaii seems like a big lift for a first outing. You can even point out that this will be your first big trip with your husband after years of not being able to get away and you’d like it to be special. Between you and me, Ellie’s offer to be a local tour guide is very kind and might help you avoid some of the predatory tourism that most Hawaiians have been decrying for a while. But letting someone else have input on your vacation itinerary seems like a recipe for trouble. Instead of this big voyage, suggest that you all take a smaller trip together, if you want. Maybe a weekend, someplace you can get back by car. Travel friends are wonderful to have, but you certainly don’t want to go rushing into a new relationship of that sort without proper planning.
A small group of my friends communicates a lot through a video messaging app. On this app, you leave video messages for each other and the other participants can either watch it live or watch later and pause/rewind/fast forward. It’s kind of like asynchronous FaceTime.
The app is great, especially for friends who live in different time zones. It was an especially wonderful place for connection and support during the pandemic. Most of us on this “group chat” will record maybe 10-to-20 minutes of video once every few days. “Anna,” on the other hand, creates hours of videos every day that include the mundane minutiae of her life. She has no self-awareness regarding what is actually interesting or worth sharing, it just all comes out in a stream of consciousness. She has said things like “I basically treat this as my journal” or “I’m just verbally processing my day.” Further, she often barely responds to or completely ignores things the rest of us have said. The other people in the chat put effort into making really empathetic, thoughtful comments and bringing up interesting topics for all of us to discuss. Of course, we sometimes vent or just want to share a funny story from our day—but no one else comes remotely close to the amount of just pointless content Anna creates.
It’s emotionally exhausting to basically take on someone else’s daily lived experience, not to mention boring. So I find myself engaging less and less with the group and unfortunately that means I miss out on other people’s updates that I’m actually interested in! I could just fast-forward through or skip Anna’s videos entirely, but it would become obvious that I’m never responding to anything she says. Also, my other friends do respond to Anna’s videos out of politeness—meaning her verbal diarrhea seeps into all of the other videos as well.
This group chat is one of my only points of connection with a couple of my long-distance friends. I don’t use any other kind of social media and arranging phone calls across time zones can be tough—that was the beauty of the app! If I don’t want to lose the good parts of this space, I know I need to address the problem. Before this, I considered Anna to be one of my close friends, but I’m starting to feel very resentful and angry toward her. She’s a good person and I don’t want to be unkind. Do you have any advice on how to approach Anna with compassion while still being as clear as possible? I haven’t approached any of my other friends about this because I really don’t like to talk about people behind their backs, but should I gauge their feelings about it first? (Note: I will be sure to leave the phrase “verbal diarrhea” out of it.)
— Fast-Forwarding Friend
Dear Fast-Forwarding Friend,
You say that Anna will notice if you’re not engaging with her diaristic videos, but you also write that she completely ignores what the group has to say. So, I wonder if she’s really going to realize that you’re ignoring her. In fact, I bet you could mute her on the platform entirely and get away with it. When it comes to social media etiquette, this sort of avoidance is often the best bet for steering clear of conflict. Anna is using the platform the way she wants to use it and while there may be implied understandings about your group video chat, there aren’t set rules. So, when you approach her, she’s likely to reject what you have to say. I fear that there’s not really a way to talk to her about this without bruised feelings; however, you may want to try telling her that you’re overwhelmed by the amount of content she’s putting out and confess that you don’t have time to watch it all. Ask her if her intention is for the group to have a conversation or if she wants everyone to just absorb her videos. Basically “you really expect me to watch all of this?” but nicely. Having a conversation with her about what she’s trying to get out of the relationship you have will open the door to you talking about what you’re trying to get out of it. And that will provide an opportunity for you to gently let her know that she’s obstructing your goal.
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I have been married to my husband for 22 years, and in that time he has had 14 jobs. I’ve worked full time consistently since we’ve been married, except for two years that I spent raising our son. Because of his constant job-hopping, and times between jobs that lasted more than a few months, we have no retirement plan and no savings. We live paycheck to paycheck. I’m 59 and looking for a second job.