Dear Prudence

Help! My Girlfriend Put Her Little Sister in Foster Care When Their Parents Died.

I’m not sure I can ever look at her the same way again.

A little girl looks sad next to a waving (bye) hand.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence,

I have been dating “Rowan” for almost six months. I knew Rowan had lost her parents really young, but I just now found out she has a sister. Basically, their dad died in an accident when Rowan was 13 and her sister “Rue” was a baby. Then when Rowan was 20, their mom got cancer and died a year later. Rue was 8 and Rowan allowed her to be put in foster care. Rowan wasn’t in college or anything, she’d been working and supporting herself since 18. She says child services tried to place Rue with her, and she said no. She says Rue was a nice, normal kid and she didn’t hate her or anything. She just wanted to enjoy her twenties instead of raising a kid.

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Rowan seems to think this was a totally normal and okay choice to make, and doesn’t get why I’m horrified. Currently Rowan and Rue are in touch but not close. Rue aged out of the foster system a year or so ago. She’s getting by on her own, although from the sound of things she’s possibly some kind of sex worker. Rowan doesn’t seem to want to discuss Rue. I can intuit, though, that Rue blames her for how hard her life was in the system and is now, but Rowan doesn’t accept that blame.

My biggest issue is I’m about 70 percent sure I’m going to want at least one kid in the next 10-ish years. Before I found out about Rue, Rowan had said she’d be down with that. But is there really any chance she’d be an okay mom? Do I need to worry about her abandoning our kid if something happened to me? How can I begin to talk to her about this? And should I even try? Or is someone who would do what she did, and still defend it years later, a terrible person I can maybe enjoy sexytimes with, but shouldn’t plan a long-term relationship?

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— Aghast in Atlanta

Dear Aghast in Atlanta,

What Rowan did in her 20s isn’t necessarily an indicator of what she’d do in her 30s, should a kid enter the picture, but I don’t think the issue is about potential problems as much as it’s about current ones. You’ve got to ask yourself if this action is a deal breaker for you because it occurred, not because of what it connotes. Rowan has been through a lot and it’s hard, if not impossible, to put yourself in her mindset when she was 20. But the choice indicates a big difference in the ways that you two see the world. You owe it to yourself to ask if this difference is insurmountable. Now, you’ve only been dating six months and your potential kid is perhaps a decade away, so there’s a lot of ground to cover between then and now. But this incident is popping up as a red flag for you and you should work through it. This is tricky, because Rowan may feel that you’re using her personal tragedy against her. For this reason, it might be helpful to have this conversation with a couple’s therapist, who can help keep you both in the present, rather than the past or the future.

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Dear Prudence,

After being in a loving and healthy relationship/marriage for 16 years with my husband, I started seeing red flags and think my husband might be cheating on me. Here’s my evidence:

1. It all started while we were having intercourse and he tells me “you’re the best I’ve ever had,” which is weird because we were teenagers when we got together and were each other’s “first” for everything including first kiss, etc. I immediately stopped and asked what that meant and he froze—out of guilt or just surprised that I stopped, I don’t know. I never questioned my husband’s fidelity before this because he’s an amazing guy, so I chalked it up to him being consumed in our activity and not thinking through what he was saying.

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2. Then one day several weeks later, while he was helping his handicapped mother during power outages this past winter, I went into his backpack (that he takes everywhere with him, but must have forgotten this time), because I couldn’t find matches, and being a survivalist he always keep his “to go gear” including matches and lighters in his bag, which I needed to get a fire going to warm our home. I didn’t know where they were so I was digging around and found in a small compartment that had a bottle of Viagra in it. This is something he’s never taken before. The bottle was a prescription to him for six pills but there were eight pills in there, so obviously he’s used some from a previous bottle that he discarded. I was shocked and upset. I cried for days. I finally broke down and told him about it. He played it off like he “sneaks” them when we have date night so we can enjoy our time together more without our four kids around. I did not like this and asked for him to throw them away, but he refused. He says we might need them one day.

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3. He travels a lot for work, but he’s always with his male coworkers, whom I’m close friends with and their wives. I’d like to think they wouldn’t take to kindly to him cheating on me, but I’m not stupid enough not to consider them helping each other hide infidelity. When he is in town he drives me to work and drops me off and then comes back to pick me up. I hate it because then I’m stranded at work with no vehicle in case I need it, but he insists on doing it so we can have those ten extra minutes together. At first, I thought it was romantic. Now I’m wondering if it’s his way of making sure I’m not able to come home unexpectedly during the day.

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4. He isn’t the type to hide his phone, and I have his passwords so that’s reassuring. However, he takes “business” calls all the time that I’m not privileged to hear so he could be talking to anyone.

I just don’t know what to do. I grew up in a horrible home with abuse and parents in a destructive relationship, so I worry that my fears and insecurities from my past is making a mountain out of a mole hill. I just need to know if my suspicions are founded? Should I trust his words? Should I question him again about this? Should I hire a private detective? Please help!

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— Where Do I Go From Here?

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Dear Where Do I Go,

Your line of thinking is understandable, but I worry that things have gotten away from you because of the anxiety you have about this possibility. Sit down with your husband and talk through your concerns, trying as best you can to separate each distinct issue. First is the question of fidelity. He’s already told you he’s not cheating, but it sounds like you need to hear it again, which is fine. You don’t have to believe it, but he needs to know that something’s not sitting right with you. Next is the Viagra. He may be experiencing changes to his body that call for Viagra but if he’s not using them at present you can revisit the “we might need them one day” comment. Can’t he just get another prescription if he needs them down the road? See if you can get far enough into the conversation that you can be honest with each other about what need is being satisfied here. Maybe he’s having performance anxiety and so throwing the pills away is only going to cause more stress. There’s a lot of benign possibilities there, but it’s hard for you to know them if he won’t talk to you.

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Next, talk about the car. If you want to drive yourself to work and pick yourself up, just say that. It’s possible that he’s trying to cover something up, but isn’t it more likely that he’s just doing something that makes him feel good and that he thinks makes you feel good? If he knows you actually hate it, he’s likely to change it.

The big takeaway here is that you should go in with your eyes open but be careful not to let your imagination get away from you. Your husband sounds like he’s very forthcoming with you, which makes the pills a surprising outlier. See if you can talk it out and reestablish your mutual levels of openness. I don’t think you need to spend money on a P.I. just yet.

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Dear Prudence,

My girlfriend Laura and I were raised in very culturally distinct regions of the U.S., so we often perceive things in different ways. Because of the pandemic, Laura had only been to visit my home state once prior to this year. A couple of months ago, we traveled to my hometown for a family wedding. Laura and I both thought that my mom seemed stressed out from the moment she picked us up from the airport, and my mom made a few comments throughout the first couple of days that rubbed Laura the wrong way. I knew that they were intended to be relatively harmless (my mom is a very critical person, but views her criticisms as “observations,” not insults), but I was upset that her comments were making Laura uncomfortable.

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This all came to a head at the wedding reception, when my mom pulled me aside and started fighting with me for being rude to her. This fight did not go well, and we ended up not speaking for three weeks afterwards. When I finally did talk with my mom, I made the mistake of telling her that she made Laura uncomfortable in several instances and that it upset me, which was the root of my annoyance at her that weekend. I really had the best intentions of being totally honest and trusting that things would work out, but it backfired completely. My mom latched onto the idea that Laura was the reason that the weekend went poorly, and I was just blindly siding with her. Now my mom is mad at Laura and doesn’t want to spend time with us because she doesn’t want to “offend” Laura and insists that Laura was being too sensitive. Laura is furious with me that I brought her into it and even more angry with the way my mom has handled everything.

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We were supposed to spend the holidays with my family for the first time this winter, but that plan has already blown up, as neither my mom nor Laura want to spend any extended time together.

I’m heartbroken that their relationship is so strained, and I’m stuck in the middle with each person accusing me of choosing the other one instead of them. Is there any way to salvage this relationship between two of the most important people in my life?

— Maybe Honesty Isn’t the Best Policy

Dear Best Policy,

I understand your desire to have your mom and Laura get along, but it doesn’t sound like your mom is operating with the best intentions here, and so setting things right would really mean capitulating to her aggressive behavior. I don’t think you should do that. She criticized Laura, she started a fight with you, and now she’s passive-aggressively refusing to acknowledge what’s on her side of the street. Where do you go from here? If she can’t or won’t even recognize reality as you’re experiencing it, it’s hard to engage reasonably. Try having a frank conversation with her where you remind her that she is an important part of your life and Laura is as well and put the onus on her to repair the relationship. She may claim she hasn’t done anything wrong, but if she wants to salvage this relationship as much as you do, she’ll at least reach out to Laura waving a white flag. Be prepared, however, for her to reject this option. I worry that, based on her past actions, she’s more interested in being right than in good relations.

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Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

More Advice From Pay Dirt

I’m about to come into some money and all I feel is terror. My mother died when I was 18 and I am the beneficiary of her life insurance policy of around $150,000, to be held in trust until I reach 30. Now I am 29 and have no idea what to do with this nest egg. My mother raised me under very modest means. I feel a lot of guilt around this money coming from her untimely passing, and also because I have few middle-class aspirations—I work as a dishwasher and artist now, and I like my life. I’ve thought about buying a house with this money, but I am anxious about how to maintain whatever property would be able to afford. I know very little about investing and I am hesitant to do so because of my leftist political views. What the hell do I do?

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