Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Live Chat

For July 5, 2022.

Update, July 5, 2022, at 2:10 p.m.: The chat is complete! Find the write-up in the Dear Prudence archive, and continue the conversation on the Prudie Facebook Page. Submit questions for next week’s chat here.

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R. Eric Thomas

Hi everyone! I wish to congratulate those of you with dogs on getting through the semi-annual Fireworks Freakout. We're in the clear until New Year's. What's on your minds this week?

Q. Not the Favorite:

My MIL "Lana" is in her late 70s. Lana only wants relationships with people who give her what she wants—money. She is bad with money. Her older son would send her money and she adored him, while my husband and I would not and she ignored and pretended like we didn't exist. We just found out that Lana has been a victim of scammers and maxed out two credit cards buying and sending the scammers gift cards purchased with these credit cards. The older brother knew about the scammers but did nothing. The older brother passed away recently. Lana has now turned sweet and loving to us. Texting and calling my husband wanting to be in our lives. My husband is falling for it because all he has ever wanted was love from her. My husband has now asked that I help Lana figure out how to get out of the mess she is in since I have a lot more free time than him. I don't know where to start. I don't even like this woman. What should I do?

R. Eric Thomas

From your description, it seems unlikely that Lana is going to be happy with any solution beyond more money, which you obviously shouldn’t give her, at least not initially. So you ought to have a conversation with your husband about what exactly the help he’s asking you for entails and if Lana is in a position to receive it. While you may have more time than him, that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to spend it catering to Lana’s needs. If he wants Lana to get help with financial literacy or assistance reporting fraud, maybe that’s something you can guide her to. But you can’t and shouldn’t be saddled with the responsibility of undoing the unhealthy mindset that has gotten her in this predicament. Your husband has emotional entanglement in this situation and that may be hard to navigate, but he needs to be clear with you about what he expects and whether that’s reasonable.

Q. I’m Not King Midas:

I am engaged to somebody I thought would be a wonderful forever partner. They are witty, good looking, dress well and have a "career" working at a not-for-profit related to animal rights. Life could not be better, right? Well, no. Recently I happened to be in the bathroom working on maintaining my beard when they ran in to use the toilet. I didn't want to see that! What's worse, when they went to wipe (after peeing?), they pulled out a 5-foot length of toilet paper, folded it over a bunch of times, wiped one time and flushed it away. This sparked a conversation about wastefulness, because I cannot afford to marry somebody who acts like they live on a golden barge as the queen of the Nile. I carefully explained how one square of toilet paper is fine for wiping, showed them how you can take that same square, wipe once, then fold it and wipe again, then fold it one last time—that's THREE wipes/square of toilet paper.

They said I was being unreasonable! I believe in compromise so I bought them their own one ply toilet paper, they can use it all they want, but still they waste my more expensive name brand toilet paper. I suspect this habit stems from their practice of stealing toilet paper from work, so they have no idea about how to be a bit thrifty. How can I get them to come around? I cannot have a life of this. What if their relatives come by and are just as wasteful?

R. Eric Thomas

 You should drop this and let your partner do whatever they want to do in the bathroom. You put “career” in quotation marks so my suspicion is that you either don’t take their work seriously or you make more than them and feel an additional financial burden. If the latter is the case, you should have a budget conversation prior to getting engaged where you both share your financial philosophies and try to work through any differences in the ways you relate to money. This isn’t about TP. Even with inflation, the price difference between a store brand one-ply and a name brand ultra soft is not going to send you into ruin. So make a budget for house supplies that you can both agree to and stop trying to control your partner’s wiping.

Q. Desk Necked:

My husband and I are both extremely lucky to be able to work remotely indefinitely, and even more fortunate that we each have a dedicated office space in our home. Despite these advantages, he has been driving me absolutely crazy for the past two years with the way he spreads his workday across our house. He takes meetings while making lunch in the kitchen, lying down in our bedroom, or hanging out in the living room. I get it—it's the big advantage of working from home! But his presence everywhere makes me feel stuck in my own little space with permanent desk neck from trying to stay out of his way. If I bring it up I think he'll overcorrect by making a set schedule where we're each allowed to be out of our spaces, or something equally regimented. Or is that the right solution?

R. Eric Thomas

Try going to your husband with a solution already in mind that isn’t so regimented. In the same way that some people don’t bring their phones or TVs into their bedrooms, you might want to suggest that you declare some spaces in your house work-free zones. When you talk to him, think through your reasons for not wanting him to work wherever he wants. Do you feel like you can’t take a meeting in the kitchen while he’s there? Or do you just not want anyone meeting in the kitchen? Either is fine, but it will help you to communicate what you want and why you want it if you’ve already done the processing on your own. Maybe the kitchen is your “break room” space–no meetings, no calls, no laptops. Maybe it’s all of one floor. See what benefit he’s getting from working all over and work on a compromise from there.

Q. Stuck in Pandemic Limbo:

My sister lives within a day’s driving distance and has a relatively new baby (6 months). She wants us to visit her, but is still very cautious about COVID and she is not comfortable seeing us unless we wear a mask (N95 or KN95) while indoors or within several feet of her baby outdoors, even though her baby would be vaccinated by the time of the visit. She would have us stay separately and visit during the day, due to her COVID concerns. I have school-age kids who would love to see their cousin, but I feel like it’s hard to interact with their cousin when the main concern is about COVID risk (“put your mask back on,” “don’t eat near the baby”) and not about the relationship. I wear a mask all day at work, our kids wore them all school year, and we still wear them indoors in public places, plus we are all vaccinated/ boosted, so we are highly in favor of COVID public health precautions. But it doesn’t feel good to me for COVID risk to indefinitely define our family’s close relationships, and I find my sister’s level of illness-wariness exhausting. Should we go on this trip?

R. Eric Thomas

I think you should cut your sister some slack here. It doesn’t sound like these precautions are indefinite. She has a 6-month-old and is probably trying to control as much as she can in an uncontrollable phase of life. If you find your sister’s wariness exhausting, skip the trip. Like many new parents, she will probably feel differently in a year. But I doubt that school-age children are going to have a harder time relating to a baby with masks versus without masks, especially if they’re still wearing them in other places. So, it sounds like this is just about your sister’s boundaries. If the boundaries don’t make you feel good, wait until they change.

Q. Forever Alone:

I’m buying my ticket for my best friend’s birthday getaway but I’m having second (third?) thoughts about going on this trip. I knew this from the beginning, but I will be the only single person on this trip. While my friend assures me that it should be fine, it’s a big enough group, etc., part of me wants to back out because do I really want to spend a vacation feeling more alone than I already do being surrounded by couples? But how do I say no when things have already started to be paid for (and this isn’t the first birthday trip I’ve said no to)?

R. Eric Thomas

If this is an experience you’re sure is going to make you feel uncomfortable, it’s best to back out as soon as possible. Your best friend wants you around and wants to celebrate with you, but if you’re not going to be in a place, emotionally, to fully enjoy yourself, you owe it to yourself to opt out. I’m curious, however, if you’ve had other experiences with this group or other groups of couples that compounded your feeling of being alone. If not, you may want to go just to test your feelings. It may turn out that the trip doesn’t feel like a bunch of pairs and one singleton, but rather different groups hanging out, sharing common interests. You also might want to think about inviting a friend to go with you as a plus-one. There are a lot of advantages to vacationing on your own—your own bed, command over your schedule, etc.—but if they’re not going to bring you joy, then bring someone else platonically and see if that changes things.

Q. You Fund Your Life, I’ll Fund Mine:

My sister-in-law is a nice enough, middle-aged woman who isn't married and doesn't have children. We have a cordial relationship, but she and my husband are not close. Even though we live in the same town we don't see her often—mostly just when the parents are in town visiting. She recently informed me that she would be going on an exciting running trip. She's not a runner, but I thought it sounded great, especially because I know that it can be difficult for her to find friends to travel with. I changed my mind, however, when she let me know that it was a fundraising trip and that she was expecting us to contribute. I suppose this irritates me because while the charity is a good one, it isn't particularly near and dear to her heart. She is only involved with this charity because she wants to participate on the trip, and in order to participate and receive the "free" training a certain fundraising goal must be met. She has a good job, and could certainly afford to cover the entire contribution herself. I NEVER ask her to throw her money at my kids' school and athletic fundraisers, and resent that she expects me to fund her training/trip. Should I (nicely) tell her that we won't contribute, ignore the mailed request, or make a nominal contribution and then start asking her to buy wrapping paper and candy bars?

R. Eric Thomas

The least complicated thing would be to ignore the mailed request or, if pressed, politely decline citing other commitments. If you contribute and then start making asks of her, the resentment you feel is only going to increase. She may expect you to contribute, but that hasn’t a thing to do with you. If you feel compelled to support the charity, do it for that reason and leave it at that. But it sounds like you'd best be served by staying out of this and letting her run the other way.

Q. Sad Sans Kids:

My fiancé and I had a hard conversation a few days ago, about how he's just not sure yet if he wants kids. Previously, he had expressed cautious desire—he wanted kids, but had reasonable concerns over the state of our country and climate change. Now, he says he doesn't see himself making up his mind until his early 30s. (We're both in our mid-to-late 20s.) He keeps asking me to tell him exactly what I'm feeling, but I'm really worried about expressing how sad this makes me, and inadvertently make him feel pressured to have a kid he might not want. That wouldn't be fair to him—and definitely not to a kid. Last year, I had a health scare where it seemed for a minute like I wouldn't be able to have kids. I really appreciated how my fiancé made it clear that he would stay with me, regardless of whether I could conceive. I feel like I owe him the same commitment, and I don't think I want to give up a loving and caring relationship for a hypothetical child. I feel hurt, but I feel like I can't express that to him or anyone else. I just feel so sad and alone. Should I tell him how I feel?

R. Eric Thomas

Yes, tell him how you feel. He’s asking you to and even if it makes him feel pressure, neither of you will be able to productively move forward without honest communication. And talk to him about your anxiety around pressuring him, too. Having a kid (or not having a kid) isn’t something either of you is going to do lightly or without care, so it’s best to put things out in the open as soon as possible in hopes that talking through it will build a stronger relationship, whatever you end up deciding.

Q. Mr. Clean:

I'm a minimalist. Having too much stuff in the house just drives me crazy. I'm a successful interior designer with a social media following. My fiancé Mervin is a packrat. He's an artist and art teacher and collects things for his art. This was fine when he was able to keep it in his studio, but we downsized to save for a home purchase next year. Home is also necessarily where I shoot a lot of my videos for work and social media, so most of his things like old sketchbooks and decorative items are in the storage area. In preparation for the move I began throwing out or donating some things—his mismatched dishes, jars of seed pods bottle caps, etc.

When Mervin discovered this, he was distraught. He said I make him feel like he has no place in my life. I'm sorry I hurt him, but I don't want to be overwhelmed with clutter, and we'll always be able to go get more rocks, maple helicopters, or beach sand. I talked to a friend about this and she said clutter comes with the territory of dating an artist. We wouldn't be able to be looking at a home purchase without my income, and I need a neat house to help maintain that. I love Mervin and his creativity, but his belief that every bit of trash has art potential sometimes drives me up the wall. I'm not even exaggerating, he photographs garbage on our walks. Was I wrong? Should I be more tolerant?

R. Eric Thomas

It could be said that the garbage Mervin photographs is as meaningful and as artistically valuable as the minimalist design you share on social media. You’re both producing work and the audience for that work appreciates it and just because your audience is potentially more profitable doesn’t mean your work is more important. You should apologize to Mervin for throwing his things away and have an honest conversation about sharing the space you both live in. Is your whole home your “office” and production space? Is your whole life your production space? If so, where does Mervin fit in? Social media, even at a professional and influencer level, only shows a portion of our lives. You two should talk through what portion that needs to be, and then you need to respect his portion as equally important.

Q. Trying to Be Accommodating:

My husband and I do not have children, but we are friends with many couples who do, and we enjoy spending time with them and their kids. One particular couple used to do a hiking weekend with us every year before they had children. Once the kids came along, they wanted to continue this tradition and bring the kids. Prudence, I love spending time with our friends’ children, but this trip is not a kid-friendly experience. Last year, their kids, ages 2 and 4, cried almost the entire time as they were dragged through the heat on rough terrain for 8 hours where their parents expected them to walk most of it, and I didn’t blame them for hating it. It ultimately wasn’t fun for anyone. I do not want to go on this trip this year, and I’d like to find a way to be honest about why, without having them think we don’t want to spend time with their kids. I tried suggesting to them that we do a different, shorter day trip on some easier trails nearby because the kids would enjoy that more. They replied by saying they wish to teach their kids “stamina” and that we can “give them breaks and they’ll be fine.” I disagree and think the trip will be a disaster again, and the three-hour drive to get there isn’t really worth it. Is there any other polite way of eliminating this trip, at least until the kids are a bit older?

R. Eric Thomas

Other folks may disagree, but the idea of taking a 2- and 4-year-old on an 8-hour hike over rough terrain sounds just awful to me, and I struggle to understand, developmentally, how this is going to benefit the kids. But to each their own! Since your friends aren’t amenable to doing a more reasonable trip, you can either cancel for your own reasons (you just don’t feel like it, your plans changed, etc) or you can tell him that their kids’ displeasure changed the trip for you. Obviously, Door No. 2 is a bit of a nuclear option. But I’m suggesting it because it’s the truth and it doesn’t fault the kids. When the four of you would do this trip prior to the kids, you were all adults capable of tending to your own needs. Turning the trip into a teachable moment about stamina makes you a part of a lesson you didn’t sign up for. It’s not about not wanting to be around the kids, it’s about not wanting to be part of the kids’ endurance trial. Do I think this option is going to go over well? Frankly, no, I do not. But you’ve already tried to offer compromises and to express your reservations. At this point, either being honest with your friends or backing out and sorting it all out later in life might be the best paths forward.

Re: I’m Not King Midas:
“I carefully explained how one square of toilet paper is fine for wiping, showed them how you can take that same square, wipe once, then fold it and wipe again, then fold it one last time—that’s THREE wipes/square of toilet paper.”

If you’re lecturing a significant other on toilet paper usage, your problem is not toilet paper.

R. Eric Thomas

Hello! Yes, this says it exactly. There's some control stuff here that I think LW needs to work on. Let people pee in peace!

Re: Not the Favorite

Why, oh why are you agreeing that the LW should handle “Lana” for her husband? He obviously wants the benefit of his mother’s attention by setting up the LW as the bad guy if they refuse her demands. “Free time” is a transparent excuse. I suspect his interest in helping Lana will disappear once he can’t delegate all the emotional labor.

R. Eric Thomas

I don't think my answer says that at all. Having a conversation with the husband about what he's actually asking for isn't immediately acquiescing to his request. Sure, LW could just say "no," but I don't think that's a solution and that's not what LW was asking about. If anything, I'd add that LW should use their time the way they want, regardless of what anyone else is asking.

Re: Not the Favorite

Something concrete - report the scamming to the bank issuing the credit card. They're getting more involved in protecting the elderly. Although that's usually with bank accounts, it can't hurt to talk to them about the credit card situation.

You could also suggest to your husband that the two of you offer to set up his mother with a debt advisor. Even if she doesn't take you up on it or doesn't follow the advice, it's a constructive suggestion of help that will make your husband feel better. 

I'm sorry - this is a difficult situation as you feel for your husband but can't let his mother take you down financially with her.

R. Eric Thomas

Great options. Lana has resources that aren't familial and have experience with this kind of stuff, if—big if—she actually wants to get better.

Re: I’m Not King Midas

Eric completely missed this, but if your fiancee is a woman, then, yes, she needs to wipe after peeing. There's a lot more to wipe off. And one square is not enough, although she could probably go much easier on the 5-foot amount. And, by the way, one-ply just means people are going to use twice as much. 

R. Eric Thomas

I felt it was obvious that the fiancée's toilet paper usage was justified, whether for physiological reasons or just because that's how they roll. But I do wish I had made a point that one-ply is the devil's paper. But I don't want Big TP coming after me.

Re: I’m Not King Midas

If King Midas doesn't want to see his partner use the toilet, and they feel entirely comfortable using it in front of him, then it sounds like they have bigger fish to fry. Also, it sounds like perhaps the partner has different anatomy from Midas—there are many people for whom it is absolutely necessary to wipe after peeing and I'm surprised that he didn't know this. It seems to me that the partner should run away as fast as they can. However, the overall hyperbole of this question (really, 5 feet of toilet paper? And using one square three times for No. 2?) make it hard to take seriously.

R. Eric Thomas

Yeah, I think after they settle this TP imbroglio, this couple is still going to need to work through other issues. I hope that the LW can work on their maturity and respect his fiancée's autonomy and job.

R. Eric Thomas

Thanks for your questions and comments! See you next week! Be good to yourselves!