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. Sister trouble: My sister and I got engaged the same year, only her wedding didn’t happen since she was caught cheating. She also lost her job and got blacklisted from her field since her boss was her fiancé’s mother.
I lost what little sympathy I had because of her behavior when she got even a whiff about my wedding plans—scoffing, sighing, sniggering, and slamming doors. Everyone expected me to walk on eggshells around her, but her behavior went on for months and months. She threw a fit when I didn’t ask her to be my maid of honor. She threw another fit when I did because “it was too much” for her to deal with. At my wedding, she got drunk and made a huge scene where she insinuated my husband and his best female friend were secretly screwing around. She had to be escorted out. Her apology to me was that she was sorry she had too much to drink. I told her I didn’t want her in my life until she got professional help. She called me a smug bitch.
It has been three years and we haven’t spoken since. She isn’t getting help, and she is getting worse—she has gotten fired twice, been sued by her roommate for missing rent, and gotten caught shoplifting. Our parents keep bailing her out, but they are retired and on a fixed income. She moved in with them but under strict rules: She had to get a part-time job and go to therapy.
Only my parents want me to pay for it!
While my husband and I both work, we have college loans and a mortgage to think of. We aren’t exactly looking through the couch for loose change, but our savings are slim. My parents are guilting me—my sister is finally doing what I have always wanted and I can’t support her? She is sick and hurting, why can’t I support her?
My husband thinks we should offer to pay for a session or two as a peace offering. I am tired of playing peacemaker; I did that for months and my sister ruined my wedding as a reward. My parents have spent thousands of dollars on my sister, I know they are tapped out.
A: While your husband’s compromise is kind, I fear it’s a slippery slope. If there’s progress after two sessions, who’s to say you won’t be asked to keep paying for more therapy? Also, the framing of this request from your parents is wrongheaded. Your sister isn’t doing what you always wanted; she’s doing what she needs to do to get better.
I think it’s best to have a conversation with your parents about your boundaries with your sister. From what I’m reading, she still hasn’t fully apologized to you, nor has she actually asked you to pay for the therapy. The therapy is a stipulation from your parents, which is not to say it’s not a good idea, just that this isn’t an agreement you had any say in. Your parents can’t spend your money for you. Tell them that it’s just not feasible for you to pay for your sister’s therapy right now because you have a budget and you’re sticking to it. Your sister is also capable of making a budget and paying for her needs, not only as part of being an adult but also as an act of amends. They’re free to make the choices they’re making for her, but tapping you out as well is not going to solve your sister’s problem. They may not like this answer, but a healthy, clear boundary is going to set you all up for a healthier resolution if one is possible.
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Q. Who wouldn’t be jealous? My (recently ex-)boyfriend and I dated for a year and a half and had lived together for a couple of months when I found out he still regularly masturbates to sex videos of himself and his ex, who is very beautiful and is now a minor celebrity. I told him I wasn’t comfortable with this and asked that he delete those videos. He didn’t want to, but I told him if he didn’t, we were through. I remained almost perfectly calm and stressed that he wasn’t necessarily doing anything wrong, I was just not comfortable with it personally and didn’t want to be in a relationship under those circumstances. He still wouldn’t delete the videos, so I did as I said I would and left, moving in with a female friend until I can get my own place again. My feeling is that if he chooses a few old videos over me, his love for me was never what I thought it was anyway.
But he continues to text and leave me voicemails, basically calling me a crazy, jealous b**** in one breath, and tearfully begging me to come back in the next—but without ever once offering to just delete the freaking videos. What gets me is, the friend I’m staying with and my other best friend both seem to agree with him, and think I should go back to him. My friend has plenty of room (I’m actually living in her pool house), so I think she just likes that he’s rich and good-looking, and they don’t think I can do any better. But I can’t see myself ever being OK with his holding onto and use of these videos. I doubt his ex would be thrilled about it if she knew, either. (Although she appears to have made the videos knowingly.) Am I completely wrongheaded or do I have the right to make this call?
A: You were right to express your feelings about the videos. If it’s something that bothers you and keeps you from feeling safe in your relationship, you should share it. But your ex-boyfriend wasn’t under any obligation to do as you asked. The easier compromise would be for him to delete the videos, true, but he didn’t want to do that. So, from my read, the greater issue in your relationship is that you felt you weren’t heard when you expressed an emotional need. That was a nonnegotiable for you and that’s fine.
Your ex’s behavior after the breakup suggests that maybe you don’t need to be together. Your communication issue isn’t going to be solved by you setting ultimatums nor by him verbally abusing you. Your friends may think that he’s the best you can get because he’s rich but, like, who cares? If you’re not happy, you’re not happy.
It’s important, however, to think about this from a communication standpoint and ask yourself if you’d do anything differently or if you feel differently if you take the specifics of the video out of it. Couples sometimes get tangled up around masturbation and the question of whether it’s a part of their shared sexual experience or a solo endeavor. You two aren’t in agreement about what limits, if any, there should be around his masturbatory adventures. Maybe this makes him think you’re being unreasonable; maybe this makes you think he’s being insensitive. You both ran into a deal-breaker with this video, but I suspect if it hadn’t been the video, it would have been something else.
Q. Bundled up among the books: I work at a library, and my desk is on the public floor while my boss has a private office within a staff-only work area. Her office tends to run quite warm, so she likes to keep the temperature in the building quite low to counteract that. The area where her office is has its own thermostat and the public floor is controlled by a separate system. For whatever reason, she insists on setting every thermostat to a reliable 72 degrees, which is already a little chillier than I prefer (I get very cold very easily, which I recognize is a “me” problem to some extent) but feels absolutely frigid in this setting for whatever reason. A co-worker has a desk near mine and we are always complaining about how cold we are, and it’s not uncommon for the staff who work at the front desk (which is located between the two temperature zones of the staff area and the public floor) to comment on how strong the AC is when our boss cranks it up.
I take every opportunity to bump the temperature up a few degrees, but I can really only do this when I am the most senior person working (basically, manager on duty) because there’s an unspoken rule that our boss controls the thermostat when she’s in, and the keys to access the thermostats are in her office, so I can’t even do it sneakily. The stereotypical librarian cardigan doesn’t suffice here—I’ve taken to wearing leggings under my pants and layering almost as much as I do in the winter just to feel reasonably comfortable at work in late spring! I have even contemplated breaking out my fall boots to try to insulate my feet as best as I can. Is there any way the rest of the staff can rise up against her proclivity for icy temps? I’m really sick of having to drape a blanket over my lap like I’m an infirm grandmother in the Victorian era.
A: I have a very special place in my heart for librarians and libraries, so your discomfort is very concerning to me. You should be happy at work because the work you do makes people very happy. Is it possible for you and your co-worker to approach your boss together to explain that her temperature reality is not your reality out on the public floor? If there are others who feel the same way, bring them along, too. The compromise you’re looking for is about comfort, but also about cutting costs—bumping the public floor up a few degrees will use less electricity on AC, so there’s really no downside.
It seems like a lot of the temperature control rules are unspoken, which is not an ideal situation for you. Going to your boss directly and talking it out will, at the very least, make some of those rules spoken. And from there, you can work through whether they’re reasonable.
Q. Unrequited in the West: I am an autistic lesbian, and I need help getting over a friend. “Friend” might be an oversimplification. “Jane” and I met five years ago when she was my college professor. In the years since I graduated, we’ve become friends. (We had an explicit conversation about this, like, “Hey, we had an instructor/student dynamic—are we OK with transitioning to a friend dynamic?”) Because of my autism, I don’t make friends easily, so Jane is one of only a few truly good friends I have.
My problem is that I also have romantic feelings for Jane and haven’t been able to get rid of them. It’s honestly frustrating. When I go on a date with someone, I think, They’re not Jane. Apparently, if I want to have a relationship with someone who isn’t Jane, I need to get over Jane first.
An obvious solution would be if Jane turned out to have similar feelings for me, but I doubt she does. We have an age gap (I’m 23 and she’s 38), and I don’t think she’s interested in women. Another solution is to put some distance between Jane and me, but I don’t want to lose our current friendship!
So: What do I do? How do I get over her while remaining her friend? Can I date around until I find someone who doesn’t make me think “Not Jane”? Maybe finding someone else is the best way to get over Jane romantically, but that also feels dishonest.
A: I really feel for you because I’ve definitely been there. It can be hard and confusing to develop romantic feelings for a friend. It can feel like torture. But in my experience, the best way to get over this is to go through it. Remind yourself that some of the things that draw you to Jane are also the qualities that make her a good friend. Remind yourself that you’re not losing out on something by not having a romantic relationship with her. Platonic relationships aren’t less valuable or less fulfilling than romantic ones. I know you want to find someone to share a romantic love with, but I want you to allow yourself a little bit more time and see if you can find some gratitude for being able to go through this period with a friend like Jane. Go on dates, try not to compare them to Jane—but if you do, that’s fine. It can help you tune your radar. You’re not looking for a replacement, because ideally your friend isn’t going anywhere. You’re adding to your life.
Q. Re: Who wouldn’t be jealous? I’m not sure the videos that your ex has held onto are even the real problem here: You raised a concern with your ex, and he responded by calling you and cussing you out, and then begging you to come back. That’s not normal behavior. I don’t want to overstate things, but that sounds borderline abusive to me. Did you ever notice controlling behavior before?
A: Yeah, the ex’s response was a big red flag for me.
Q. Re: Bundled up among the books: The top two patron complaints we librarians field are about the temperature and comfort of the chairs. I’d suggest asking work to buy a separate, reliable temperature gauge that you can use at your desks—you may find you have some extra data to show that while the thermostat says 72, the actual temperature is very different! This is what we had to do to get our facilities to appreciate that our experience was real!
A: This is a fantastic solution for a problem that must be so frustrating to have to deal with. I also wonder if LW could solicit patron feedback about the temperature. (Even playfully, like with a box that reads “guess the temperature in here.”)
R. Eric Thomas: Thanks for your questions and comments today! See you next Monday!
From Care and Feeding
My 8-year-old daughter is in third grade. She recently shared with me that during lunch last week, a male first grade teacher approached her and two other girls and asked if they wanted to see something “funny.” When they said they did, he held up his cellphone with the camera in selfie mode and said, “That!” as he showed them their own faces. My daughter told me she laughed because she felt she had to, but she was deeply uncomfortable and confused by his behavior.