Dear Prudence

Help! My Niece’s Elopement Plan Is About to Tear Our Family Apart.

She’s invited me, but she doesn’t want her mom at the wedding.

A woman and man in a wedding dress and suit, respectively, running away together. Next to them is a young woman hugging an older woman with smiles on their faces.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by PeopleImages/iStock/Getty Images Plus and LuckyBusiness/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.

Dear Prudence,

I have two nieces, “Sara” and “Sally.” Sally was very sick as a child and her parents naturally focused on her the most. The problem was even when she got better, the dynamic never changed. Sara was always the afterthought in her family. I tried to make up for it when Sara was a child and spend more time with her, but it was never quite enough. Sara has been in low-contact with her parents and sister since college. Sara got a scholarship but had to take out loans; her parents paid for Sally to go to a private university. Their logic was Sally needed more help because her early sickness hampered her education in ways Sara never had to suffer. Sara has confided in me that she is engaged but plans to elope without informing her parents or sister. She wants me to be there.

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I can’t fault Sara for her feelings, but I am afraid that this course of action will permanently put a rift between her and the rest of the family. I know it will put one between my sister and me. I love Sara and want to be supportive, but as blind as my sister can be, she is my last sibling. Our parents died three years ago, and we lost both our brothers last year. What should I do?

— Only Aunt

Dear Only Aunt,

I don’t want to minimize how hard this is. Your relationship with your sister is important to you, especially because your family is so small. But I still think you should choose the younger, more vulnerable person who hasn’t done anything to harm anyone over the older person who made really unfair choices regarding her own child. Go to the wedding. Do everything a mom would do—or everything Sara asks you to do. She needs you. When you return, perhaps you’ll tell your sister what a difficult decision it was and ask her to forgive you. But don’t worry about that right now. The fact that you’re invited is a testament to how important you are to your niece. You can’t abandon her now.

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Dear Prudence,

My mom likely has an undiagnosed mental health issue. Her parents are aging, and they recently moved into a nursing home where they are deteriorating. She texts me throughout the day ranting about various things. It’s not really looking for advice, but rather dumping on me. I’m across the country, and there’s not much I can do. I have a demanding job and kids, and find these messages upsetting, distracting, etc. I don’t know how to create a boundary without seeming like a jerk.

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— Dump on Me No More

Dear Dump on Me,

How often would you feel comfortable responding? Once a day? Once a week? Only occasionally when work is slow and the kids are quiet? Give it some thought and then let her know: “Mom, I know you’re dealing with a lot, and it’s incredibly stressful. I find myself getting upset and distracted when I read your updates throughout the day, so I’m going to set them aside to look at when I’m able and will get back to you then.” And make sure to use whatever tools your phone offers to make sure you don’t see her rants when you don’t want to.

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How to Get Advice From Prudie

Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here.

Dear Prudence,

My fiancé and I (both women in our mid-twenties) recently began exploring polyamory, and we have a dear friend that we have brought into our love life. In short, this has been delightful!

We all have very clear and open communication about both physical and emotional needs, and this has been a gratifying experience for all three of us. While my fiancé and my commitment is primarily to one another, we all agree that this is deeper than simply friends with benefits. The only hiccup we have arose when our friend and I spent the night together recently. We were discussing her relationship with her other partner (which hasn’t been going so well), and she expressed some moroseness about feeling like she didn’t have a primary person to go to with her love, and that she felt somewhat like a secondary partner to the people she’s seeing. I really care for this person, and told her how much she means to me and how she is an irreplaceable part of my life. She hugged me and expressed that that helped. Even still, I want to do more to make her feel important, valued, and loved. What can I do that goes beyond words of affirmation?

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— Too Much Love, Too Little Time

Dear Too Much Love,

You sound really thoughtful and compassionate. It’s wonderful that you were able to remind your friend of how much you care about her, and it’s natural that caring for her means you’d like to take away her pain. Definitely continue to tell her the truth about how much she means to you.

But know that your power to make her happy is limited by the choices she’s made for her own life. You can’t do or say anything that changes the fact that you have a primary partner, and it’s not her. If she wants to have a primary person to go to, and she doesn’t, that’s going to hurt but it’s reality, and no words will fix it. I think you should focus on having the closest and most supportive relationship that feels right to you, but also be clear and honest about what you aren’t able to offer that a primary partner might. What I’m imagining here is a super gentle version of tough love. Your friend may eventually decide that there’s another relationship out there for her—either instead of or in addition to the one she has with you. I hope if that happens, you can be as kind as you have been up until this point and encourage her to pursue it.

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Dear Prudence,

My wife is an amazing woman. Amazing mother (couldn’t and wouldn’t ask for more).
A great provider (working a shitty job now so we can live more comfortably). A great wife (loyal, honest, and a team player). My best friend (period, no doubts, no regrets, my best friend for the rest of my life). The one aspect that falls short in my perception is our love life.

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I was transferring files from our old computer to the new one recently and ran across old pictures of her and her high school/college boyfriends (some of them racy). I got jealous. Not because she had sexual relationships with them or loved them. I got jealous because it shows an amount of effort that I feel is missing, particularly in our intimate life. She put on makeup, put on an outfit, took pictures, sexually experimented with them, initiated sex, and had foreplay with them, and I’m sure other things that pushed her outside her comfort zone in order to impress/show that she cared/desired/wanted them.

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In my mind, as her husband I thought I would get, at the very least, an equal amount of effort, and because I do not I think myself lesser than these previous partners in her eyes—less desirable, less cared for, less loved, less wanted. It depresses me. I have asked, nagged, pleaded, begged, bribed, and guilted her into doing a fraction of that, and my own self-worth falls because of it. I see the only way to get her to do those things is if she just wants to shut me up.

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I know she puts forth so much effort on all the other fronts of her life in order to make a great life for her kids/family that it physically and emotionally exhausts her. Can I ask for more without being selfish?

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— B+ for Effort

Dear B+,

I think we can figure this out. You simply have to recreate the situation your wife was in when she was taking the time to put on makeup and take racy pictures in high school and college. So you need to make more money so she can quit her shitty job and have more time to focus on herself. Of course, she’ll also have to have little to no responsibility around the house or for children, so make sure you have that covered. Next, you want to try to recreate the kinds of relationships she had back when she was taking those photos. That means you have to look and dress like a 16-to-21 year old. Be young and cool—I don’t have a roadmap to get there, but hopefully you do. And of course, you’ll want the accompanying body. Then (and this is where it might get tricky) you have to become someone she desires, wants, and really wants to impress, so get to work on that. Just a guess: The whole nagging, complaining victim thing probably isn’t the right approach. The guys from her past liked her exactly as she was, so you’ll have to convey that you think she’s perfect now. In short: Become a completely different person in a way that’s pretty much impossible given your current reality, and who knows, maybe she will, too.

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Dear Prudence Uncensored

“Nobody is putting on a cute outfit for someone who gives them a B+.”

Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.

Dear Prudence,

I’m a queer person with a tightknit group of friends from college, all of whom are somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. We are generally very supportive of one another and act like a found-family in many ways. We are also a group that has seen a few people changing their names over the years, when people have come out as trans.

The issue is that one guy in the group has changed his name six times in five years. He’s a trans man, and when he first came out, the name he picked was a bit unusual but not too bad—think “Aloysius.” We were all supportive, and I had just gotten used to “Aloysius” when he changed it again to something like “Dorian.” Getting a bit literary and pretentious now, but okay, it takes a while figuring out what new name you want to go by, I guess. A year went by, and he announced that “Dorian” was being changed to “Fitzwilliam,” then after a few months this changed to “Gatsby” (I’m making up the closest approximations I can to give you an idea—they’re all based on famous literary men with unusual names, basically). Most recently, he has announced that his new name—and the one he is thinking of changing to legally! —is “Heathcliff.” This announcement was met with awkward silence in the group chat we shared, broken finally by one person going, “Right … er, why Heathcliff, then?” and receiving an enthusiastic answer about the book that inspired the name choice. We diverted the topic onto other books quickly.

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Everyone else in the group has complained about “Heathcliff” behind his back, now. The regular name changes were annoying a few people anyway, and two of the other trans people in the group feel like his whole attitude on name changes kind of trivializes what for them was something very important and meaningful. I don’t feel able to comment on that, but I can see their points. None of us are happy about needing to refer to someone as “Heathcliff”—not least since we’re in a hiking group and don’t really feel like yelling “Heathcliff!” across the moors! The problem is that no one is sure what to say to him beyond things we’ve already said, such as, “Why that name, exactly?” and, “Do you think you should wait until you’ve liked the name for at least a year before changing it legally, since you’ve changed your mind a few times?” Are we being assholes for finding this as incredibly irritating as we all do? If we are, how do we get over the urge to exchange rolled eyes about it, and if we’re not, is there anything tactful or gentle that we can possibly say to him that suggests maybe, just maybe, this is a silly and pretentious choice?

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— What’s Wrong with “John”?

Dear What’s Wrong,

This is actually very sweet. It’s tough to find a tight, supportive group of friends, and so many young adults really struggle to do so—believe me, I read all the letters. I guess what I’m saying is you don’t have a problem here, and the fact that this feels like a problem is a reason to be grateful for your solid social life and the kind people who surround you. I suggest you take a “if you like it, I love it” approach to “Aloysius” or whatever he wants to be called this week.

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You’re not being assholes for finding this irritating. But you can be irritated by something and decide that in the grand scheme of things, you don’t have to comment on it or change it. It costs you nothing to call him by his new name every week. I guarantee other hikers do not care about what you yell across the moors to get his attention. That said, if “Heathcliff” ever asks you if you find the whole name changing thing a little excessive, you are more than welcome to say “Honestly, yes.”

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Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”

Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.

Dear Prudence,

One of my husband’s employees freelances as a lingerie model and has an active social media presence dedicated to her beautiful and intentionally racy photos. She brought this to his attention out of caution (as it’s a very different industry from their work), and he said it’s her business, which was the right response. He also follows her from his personal account. That part is weird, right? We’re all lefty sex-positive people, and I guess he sees it as a friendly/supportive gesture. As far as I know that’s all it is. But she’s also 15+ years his junior, and he’s her immediate supervisor. My impression is that she’s cool with it, though I remember being in my early twenties and being “cool” with a lot of work-related interactions that in retrospect were not OK. I’m not worried about him pursuing her, but at the same time, being supportive of your employee’s side hustle doesn’t mean choosing to look at their tits on the daily, right? Is he destined to become yet another story about a male boss crossing the line? What are the rules anymore?

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— Too Much Drama

Dear Prudence,

I accidentally criticized someone’s child because I didn’t know it was her child. Of course, she was irate. Is there any way to fix this?

— I Feel So Stupid

Dear Feel So Stupid,

Probably not. I’m sorry. You can apologize profusely, but they’ll never un-hear what you said. As someone who’s done that thing where you text the person you’re complaining about or criticizing instead of the other friend who you meant to complain to, I’ve been there. It’s mortifying. Know that most other people have been there in one way or another too. The best thing you can do is to take a lesson from this, and the next time you want to insult someone behind their back, ask yourself “Am I absolutely sure this is the right place and time to make this comment?” and then, even “Is it worth making at all?”

Classic Prudie

I’m a father of two. I work and I’m in a Ph.D. program, but my wife is making it difficult. She’s a fantastic person, but she’s a busy-on-purpose type and absolutely refuses to give me time to finish my dissertation. For example, she makes elaborate meals and gets too exhausted to clean up. She takes a full-on bath with the kids every single night. She plans extravagant weekend activities like planting raspberry bushes, but then gets overwhelmed and needs help. Our baby’s first birthday party went from “lunch and cake with grandma” to an all-day griddle party with potstickers, pancakes, and all of her siblings plus their partners. I have splitting headaches several times a week because I end up working late into the night after dealing with her time vampirism all day. I’ve tried to talk to her, but she gets really upset because she’s doing it for the kids…

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