This week, Jenée Desmond-Harris and Nadira Goffe discuss a Prudie letter: “Can’t See the Color of the Flags”
Jenée Desmond-Harris: So, when we were discussing which question to do, I initially wanted to skip this one. Because, as I said in my response, I was a little unclear as to what exactly the concern was. Is this just about the boyfriend’s time? Or is there also a hint that there is something unsavory about the relationship between him and his niece? Am I reading too much into it? But that’s something we should discuss. What do you think?
Nadira Goffe: Let’s get into it! I didn’t read this question as LW being worried about any wrongdoings of a more serious romantic or sexual kind. I read it as LW understanding that the niece is grieving and, thus, understanding that it’s not unheard of for young kids to get attached to authority figures they feel comfortable with during these times. But! With that being said, once you said that I definitely understood where you were coming from.
Jenée: I feel like it could have been a little of both. The things that set off alarm bells for me were: the mention of cuddling, the boyfriend calling LW “paranoid,” the accusation that she’s “jealous” (which is usually reserved for romantic rivals?), and her statement that she’s “uncomfortable.”
Nadira: I can agree with it being both (most things in life are, I find). I definitely see what you mean, though the jealous thing specifically I think can occur in regular familial relationships with children. But yes, the “very, very” addition to her “uncomfortable” is alarming. But what it certainly is, without a doubt, is confusing to the LW and a bad precedent to set.
Jenée: Absolutely. So I guess for now let’s just answer it as if LW is simply concerned about the time and energy her boyfriend is putting into this kid.
Nadira: Oh, I completely agree with her that she’s right to be alarmed and uncomfortable. There are ways to give support to children, but this is doing a disservice to everyone involved. I understand wanting to be there for your niece and to drop everything at any moment to support her, but what she deeply needs is professional help. She needs to talk to somebody impartial who is trained in child grief and trauma. The boyfriend’s dismissal of LW’s suggestion to seek help is a humungous red flag.
Jenée: Yes, and really that should be the mother’s job (to find counseling for her), but it sounds like she isn’t interested either. To be fair, the mother is probably going through a LOT herself.
Nadira: Yes! I’m confused about a lot of the other players in this. How exactly has the mother been supporting her, and why is she okay with letting LW and her boyfriend take on this burden? I know some people don’t “believe” in therapy, but I think we really need to begin moving beyond that as a society. Now there are plenty of reasons to be wary (affording therapy is a big one), but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case here.
But also, as you rightly pointed out, the mother is also going through so much as well. Now she’s raising her daughter without her former husband, and even though they divorced it’s still a major loss to experience. And here’s where I also want to point out that, though he’s acting unfavorably, your boyfriend also lost someone. I’m assuming he was the boyfriend’s former brother-in-law (and not his brother).
Jenée: Such a good point.
Nadira: However, that doesn’t excuse him for completely disregarding LW at every turn.
Jenée: I had a revelation just now! Not to dismiss the niece’s trauma, because that’s where I think the real tragedy is in this letter, but, I think maybe the boyfriend is checked out of the relationship with LW and is using the niece as an excuse. All these cancelled dates and getaways … people who want to see you will see you, regardless of what else they have going on.
Nadira: Oh, that’s a really great point. It’s so true!
Jenée: He’s making her sit in the backseat …
Nadira: It’s hard to tell entirely because we don’t know of his relationship before the loss, it could be grief? But there’s something that makes me think you’re right. Especially if he’s gaslighting LW in saying they have nothing to worry about.
Jenée: He’s saying she’s “being paranoid,” which I don’t like!
Nadira: People who want to see you will see you. But also people who want to feel cared for and about will accept that care.
Jenée: If anything, he should admit that this is a really hard time for their relationship because of his choices and like, beg her to understand.
Nadira: Oh the gaslighting in this is rampant and really disheartening! Yes! He should! She did not sign up for this! And it seems like she’s been gracious and understanding thus far?
Jenée: And at just two years in … I wonder if it makes sense to just cut losses.
Nadira: I think, if LW has been as clear as they can be, then maybe.
Jenée: This isn’t the last tough, emotionally draining thing that will come up in life.
Is he going to abandon her in terms of time and emotion when a parent passes away? When he’s going through a stressful time at work? At best, he’s showing her that he has a hard time being there for her when life pulls at him in other ways. At worst, he’s actively trying to escape the relationship by making irresponsible choices and doesn’t give a shit how she feels.
Nadira: Right, it’s a bad sign of what’s to come. If he can’t handle this and still be respectful to you, then you have to wonder what else he won’t be able to handle while remaining respectful to you. Also, can I just say, I really dislike the mother’s role in this.
Jenée: ME TOO.
Nadira: Who would accuse someone of being jealous of a teenager who just lost their father?
Jenée: I feel terrible for this young girl who doesn’t seem to have a reasonable, grounded adult in her life (which probably explains some of her behavior).
Nadira: Yes! She definitely gets the brunt of all of this mess, and that’s really disappointing. And it definitely makes her behavior make more sense!
Jenée: Well this has been depressing. I guess the bottom line message for LW is no, you’re not jealous or unreasonable. But there’s also not a lot you can do to force change here, or to make your boyfriend someone he’s not.
Nadira: Definitely. I’d say, If the boyfriend is truly not willing to listen, then dump him and he will have more time to do the thing it seems he really wants to do, whether that is to be there for his niece or not.