Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
When I was 18, my mom pressured me to get a matching tattoo with her. We aren’t particularly close and have never been—the matching tattoos were more performative (look! my daughter and I love each other!) than they were meaningful. I’ve regretted it since. I’m 25 now. I hate looking at the tattoo because it reminds me of how my mom forced me to do something I didn’t want to do, which feels representative of our entire relationship. She’s never respected my feelings or boundaries, and has always been manipulative. Unfortunately, I also hate the tattoo itself and what it represents.
It’s a small, simple line tattoo of a fleur-de-lys on my arm (my mom wanted it because my family is French-Canadian, and it’s on the Quebec flag). In the past few years I’ve come to understand how this is often a symbol of nationalism/provincial pride/racist ideologies that I don’t stand behind. I also just moved to Quebec, which heightens the problem—I feel like people see my tattoo and more readily associate it with nationalistic/separatist views I don’t hold and didn’t understand when I got the tattoo. It embarrasses me so much that I almost always have it covered by a Band-Aid or long sleeves, and I think about it constantly.
This is all to say that I want to get the tattoo covered up or removed ASAP. I know this will hurt my mom and rupture our (already bad) relationship, but at the same time I can’t stand having this on my body. I know that talking to her won’t help—she’ll frame it as me not loving her instead of understanding why I want it gone. What should I do? Do I need to tell her before I remove it? Or just go ahead with my plans and explain it later?
— Queasy Quebecer
“She’s never respected my feelings or boundaries, and has always been manipulative.” You said it yourself. She’s not a reasonable person, so it doesn’t matter whether you tell her before or after. Just do it, give a brief explanation, know that her reaction is going to be less than ideal, and remind yourself that this is who she is and she’s either going to be making a scene over this or something else in your life, and there’s not much you can do on your end to make her the mother you’d like her to be.
I recently saw some emails on my mom’s account that really upset me. For background, I was sexually molested by my stepfather for much of my adolescence. My mother knows but has said she can’t allow herself to believe me because she would have to change her life significantly. She is still with him. Recently, I was looking through her email (I help with her health care, etc.) for one from her doctor’s office when I came across an email for an order for my stepfather for Viagra. As far as I knew, she sleeps on the couch, and they haven’t slept together in years. I have spent the last couple years helping her deal with a lung cancer diagnosis (she’s in remission now) and we have become very close and talk every day. I am upset and heartbroken over this. I have a slight hope that they’re getting the script to resell it but doubt it. Do I confront her and probably ruin our relationship, or swallow it and continue to help her? I am the only one willing to assist her (my brothers want nothing to do with her and my sister is far away).
— Devastated Devoted Daughter
I am so sorry that you were abused and that your mother doesn’t believe you. Her behavior is really hurtful and disappointing. And I can absolutely see how you would be horrified and grossed out to learn to find evidence that she is in fact still having sex with someone who she (on some level) knows hurt you. Sadly, I think what she did when you told her you were molested—turning a blind eye so that she could stay with your stepfather and maintain her lifestyle—is just what she’s doing now. She’s in a state of denial because of the misguided belief that confronting the truth and living in a way that aligns with would be too hard. That’s a terrible way to go through life but it’s what she’s chosen. And I don’t think confronting her about it will change anything or make you feel better.
Reading between the lines of your letter I sense a desire to have a real, emotionally honest conversation with your mother— one that pushes past the dynamic you’ve had as her caretaker. Know that it is okay to continue to want to discuss how painful it was that she didn’t believe that you were abused and that she’s still with the man who did it. That’s the big issue between the two of you, and if you’re going to have a talk, that’s what it should be about. You know your stepfather is terrible and she does too, so don’t waste any time worrying about their relationship.
I am in a quandary. I have been with my boyfriend for nearly a year. We are committed and in love. This is the most fulfilling and emotionally healthy relationship I have ever been in. He is sweet, kind, funny, and generous. However, the one problem I keep struggling with is his relationship with alcohol. He admits to having a problem in his youth when he dealt with a lot of grief and trauma, and believes he has it under control now. I don’t think that is the case. It feels hypocritical because I enjoy a drink myself; however, I don’t see the point in drinking midweek, which he regularly does.
After watching him drink a bottle of wine one Thursday, I told him how unhappy this makes me and that the next time he gets wasted midweek, I will just get up and go home. This stopped for a while but it’s slowly starting to creep up again, and he’s drinking a few cans almost every night. He thinks I’m overreacting because it’s just a couple of cans and he’s not getting “drunk” and if I object to anything it should be the weed he smokes almost constantly. I don’t think weed changes his personality, but drinking does. Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t suddenly turn mean or cruel. Just loud and annoying. Which is fine when we’re both drinking and loud and annoying together, but on a weekday when I just want to chill with him and sleep for work the next day, it’s just a bit too much. It’s gotten to the point now where I get annoyed when I see him open one can. I don’t want to be the nagging girlfriend, but I also don’t see why he needs to check out of reality on a Monday night, even if it’s just by one or two.
I can’t tell if I’m overreacting as I have personal experience with alcoholics before. My mum was with one for years before she finally left. I swore I would never find myself in the same position, and I don’t know if this is making me hypersensitive. I love the life I’m building with this guy but I’m already sick of this fight and can’t imagine having it again and again for years. I need a second opinion. Am I overreacting or should I just chill out and let this guy enjoy a beer?
— One Can or Two
Dear One Can or Two,
I don’t think it’s the day of the week that determines whether drinking is problematic or not. If you don’t like his behavior while he’s had a few beers and it takes away from your enjoyment of your relationship, that—not the fact that it’s a Monday—is the problem. And if he’s regularly loud and you’re regularly annoyed (even before his behavior changes) that really doesn’t sound to me like a relationship that is as fulfilling or healthy as you say it is. A year-ish dating is significant, but it’s still kind of the “figuring out if we’re compatible” stage. And this dynamic is a mark in the “no” column.
You ask whether you’re overreacting, but that’s the wrong question. You get to like what you like and not like what you don’t like. Relationships are supposed to make you happier, not cause more problems for you, and no second opinion is going to force you to chill out about this, even if you think you should. He’s totally entitled to enjoy a beer, and you are totally entitled to decide you’d rather be with someone who doesn’t drink until 5 p.m. on Friday, or at all.
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