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.)
Q. Inappropriate: Our niece recently got a boob job. She looks great. The problem is that she always is dressed inappropriately at FAMILY gatherings. It’s beyond ridiculous. We have to sit across the table from her while she’s flaunting her boobs. I mean her shirts are low-cut below her front bra line and she’s way too exposed. She might as well be wearing a bikini top. Sooooo inappropriate! Even when visiting her 90-year-old grandfather.
My husband is a diagnosed sex addict. I just can’t handle this. I find this situation inescapable. We can’t not attend family gatherings. I dread them now. No one else seems to care.
We were at my husband’s 60th birthday dinner last night and not a single other female in the restaurant was dressed like her. Her mother used to be the same way but has finally curbed it somewhat due to her older age. She’s no longer as big of a concern compared to her daughter. Obviously the niece learned it from her mother. The niece has a new boyfriend at every event practically; we can’t keep up with their names.
I go out of my way to dress appropriately around the family. I try to set an example. I have large breasts too and am not jealous. I just have to worry if my husband is looking and feeding her desperateness. It’s awful. I secretly cry over it.
What can I do short of divorcing my husband to end this misery??? I’m so sick of it. We have another birthday celebration tomorrow night for the 90-year-old grandfather and she will no doubt be dressed beyond inappropriate. I can’t deal with this anymore!
A: I think the solution is to leave your husband at home for family events. It’s not clear whether he’s behaving inappropriately or whether seeing your niece is simply triggering to him, but his recovery is his responsibility.
Furthermore, it sounds like the person with the problem here is you. I understand that you don’t agree with your niece’s choices, but you don’t have to. It’s not your body. You’ll free yourself from this torture by releasing your opinions, because our opinions rarely change anyone else’s actions. If the combination of your niece and your husband is too stressful for you, uninvite your husband and choose a seat away from your niece. Everybody will be fine.
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Q. Homeward bound: My boyfriend and I have been living with family for the past two years, which started due to COVID. We were living together in the city for three years, at the same place for most of the time, when we both lost our jobs to the pandemic and came back to regroup.
My boyfriend didn’t get a job until his unemployment ran out 10 months ago, and has had a hard time readjusting. He’s working part-time and making less money than before the pandemic. I started working again at a grocery store after six months of unemployment, but have switched to a different career and now have a full-time job that I enjoy, and I’m making more money than ever before.
I have been trying to move out for the past year, and there have been multiple instances where we’ve made a plan of action and timeline, and then he backs out at the last minute. It’s been upsetting to me, though at least one time he was probably right to delay our move.
My friend has recently been encouraging me to look for living situations on my own. She thinks my boyfriend is dragging his feet and not getting his sh** together and holding me back. I am now obsessed with this idea—I’ve always wanted to try it, but never had the ability to support myself in that way.
Is it a horrible thing for me to abandon my boyfriend to live by myself because I can afford it, even though we’ve been living together for quite a long time? I know that moving out on my own will probably guarantee that he continues to live with his parents.
A: I don’t see moving out as abandoning him. He will still have a place to live and all the other support that he’s been receiving from his parents. It sounds like he’ll be just fine. Now, if you plan to move out while still staying together in your relationship, that might bring about some resentment. It’s probably best to lay it all out on the table with him. Tell him you’re interested in trying to live on your own, explain that it’s about autonomy and proving to yourself that you can. If you don’t plan on breaking up, then ask him if he has a plan for how the two of you are going to get out of your parents’ places. Suggest that the time apart may help motivate the formulation of a plan. It’s not his fault that he’s not making as much as he once did, but if he doesn’t have the drive to change things, you can’t force him.
Q. Fringe friend: I am a fringe member of a friend group that includes a few of my co-workers and a couple of women outside of our workplace. The group hinges mostly on one of my co-workers, “Claire,” whom I am friendly with but only at work. Two of the other group members are very good friends with me and we do things together independently of the rest of the group, including travel.
However, the main group is always getting together with one another, especially at Claire’s house, or going on trips together, and I am never invited. I don’t need or want to go all the time, but I feel hurt that I am left out. My two good friends are always referencing things that happened when everyone else was together and I feel so left out. I know nobody is intending to hurt me, and I don’t think this is an issue of Claire disliking me. How can I either approach my friends about this, or get over it?
A: If Claire is the primary organizer, then see about building a better relationship with her. This doesn’t have to be covert. You could even say “We have a lot of mutual friends; I wonder if I could join you folks sometime.” She may not want to move your friendship outside of work or she may see the friend groups as totally separate, albeit with overlapping members. It could go either way. But it can’t hurt to ask.
You mentioned approaching your friends about this and I’m less sure about that. It doesn’t really seem like you’re being left out but rather that they have other friends, one of whom you know. You can ask them to invite you, but from your letter it seems like you’d be asking them to invite you to Claire’s house.
Q. I want to be alone: I have had the same job for almost 30 years and can do it easily in minimal time. My kids are all grown and doing well. My life is pretty easy.
And still, I feel like I can never get enough sleep or be alone enough. After years of working hard and raising kids, all I want is to be alone. I spend a huge amount of time napping and reading and just doing nothing. I have all the symptoms of depression, but I don’t feel sad. I don’t want to be social. I hang out in my bed all the time. I hide this from friends and family, even my spouse. I feel like if people knew this, they would think it so weird and odd. Is it?
A: If it’s what you want, it doesn’t matter if it’s weird. However, I think you ought to reconsider your understanding of depression. Depression can certainly cause sadness or make sadness worse, but for many, depression manifests in other ways like physical exhaustion, pain, or brain fog. So, it’s possible that you are depressed or experiencing a chemical imbalance that can be treated, if you want to be treated. The big question is whether this circumstance is untenable for you. If you’re happy living a more solitary life, then you should feel confident in your decision. Your letter seems to indicate some doubt, though. If that’s the case, it might be worth talking to someone about the way you’re feeling.
Q. Just friends? After some unhealthy relationships in my 20s, I stopped dating entirely for the better part of a decade. Now I am in my 30s and ready to start over and settle down, but I realized I have no idea what I’m doing!
I met a wonderful woman “Alice” who, at least on paper, is exactly the kind of person I could see myself spending my life with. We met on an app six months ago and since then have been talking every single day, seeing each other once a week, and making plans for months from now. We both initiate these outings (museum, symphony, dinner, etc.) and we both pay for the other about equally. We have so much in common, we are in the same space in our lives, and even though we are both painfully shy, spending time together is so comfortable.
But in all this time, there has been no physical contact and no explicit talk about whether we are actually dating. I want to be respectful of her boundaries and take things slow, but maybe I have waited too long to “make a move.” What does that even mean anyway? Have I drifted into best friend territory without realizing it?
A: I think the obstacle isn’t necessarily the territory you’ve drifted into but rather your shared shyness. Sometimes nascent relationships need a state of the union conversation, which is probably like Kryptonite to the two of you. But I think you should try to do it. Instead of fretting about making a move, take some time on one of your many delightful outings to say simply and plainly something like “I’m really enjoying our time together. I’m perfectly fine to continue just as we’ve been but I’m also interested in dating you. Do you feel the same?” Use your own words, if you’d like. It may feel awkward but don’t think of it as making a giant leap; think of it sharing another part of yourself with someone you trust.
Q. Re: Fringe friend: I agree it’s weird to approach friends, but there’s no reason not to make a comment once (and that’s literally one time). The next time they reference a fun activity that you weren’t a part of say: “Wow, that sounds like a great time. If you ever do *activity* again, I’d love to join if there’s room for me.” Ninety-nine percent of the time it isn’t deliberate, it’s just not everyone gets invited to everything. By doing this, you’re staying top of mind when they plan the next outing.
A: Exactly. There’s a socially acceptable way of inviting yourself to things. Sometimes you just have to let people know that you’re interested.
Q. Re: Want to be alone: “I spend a huge amount of time napping and reading and just doing nothing.” Thank you for living my future #emptynest goals! You don’t sound depressed—you sound relaxed. Maybe down the line you’ll want to do more, maybe you won’t. I’d let your gut guide you, not what the people around you say. And the people around you (I’m thinking of your spouse in particular, who I bet has noticed more than you give them credit for and hasn’t pushed you on it) may be more understanding than you think.
A: I think the advice to let the LW’s gut guide them is spot on. If LW is feeling apprehensive about wanting to be alone, then they should talk it through. If not, they should enjoy their alone time.
R. Eric Thomas: Thanks for your questions and comments! And just a heads up that the live chat will be taking place on Tuesday next week because of a holiday. Be good to yourselves this week!
From Care and Feeding
The other day I was helping my 7-year-old niece zip up her dress and then she turned around and asked me if she looked fat. I was so taken aback I gave some lame answer about it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but I really want a better way to respond to this.
Not that it really matters, but my niece is stick thin anyway, so I have no idea where this is coming from. My mom has mentioned that my niece has made these kinds of comments to her as well. I’m so shocked that she’s dealing with these kinds of body issues at such a young age. Do you have any idea what I can say if this comes up again?