Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi friends. Who in your life is not playing by the rules you made up in your head this week? Who is making you question whether you’re the one in the wrong? Who is forcing you to make tough choices? Tell me all about it.
Q. Monster-in-Law?: I’m marrying my fiancé at an expensive destination wedding this December. We come from extremely different backgrounds—he is a privately educated lawyer from an old-money family, while I grew up below the poverty line, worked my way through state undergrad and business school, and am now a marketing director, although we make close to the same amount. He is close to his brothers, and his parents have been married for 35 years, while I no longer speak to either of my parents, who had me when they were teenage addicts. The only family members in my life are my aunt and sister, but my fiancé’s family has accepted me since the day we met. His mother has always been especially welcoming to me and treats me like her own daughter. As she and my future FIL are paying for the wedding, she has become more and more involved with planning—and I love it!
She found me a classic, elegant dress from a beautiful boutique, picked a historic and stunning venue, and all of her suggestions have been in line with the tasteful wedding I want, so I’ve happily gone along with them. But when I told my sister and friends how grateful I was that she did all this work, they were shocked, and told me I needed to have my fiancé “stage an intervention” and “take back the reins.” They claim that if I let her do the planning, she’ll think I’m a pushover and will behave similarly in all areas of my life. I disagree—she has never been anything but generous and kind to me and has planned everything from charity galas to debutante balls, while I hate making big decisions and genuinely like everything she suggests, so I don’t see what the big deal is. However, my friends seem genuinely concerned and are insisting that I need to be hands-on in all the planning or I’ll spend my marriage as a “doormat” to my MIL. I think they’ve read too many wedding horror stories, and I’d be happy to let my future MIL plan the whole thing. Is this actually a sign of future disaster with a woman who has always seemed lovely? Should I intervene, or are my friends just being overdramatic?
A. Remember that growing up poor and being estranged from your parents doesn’t mean you bring less to this relationship than your fiancé does. In fact, your ability to build a life that you like despite these obstacles says a lot about you, and should be celebrated. Don’t fall into the trap of dimming your values, or believing your taste and preferences are second-best. I just wanted to say that, not in direct response to anything you wrote, but because of a general feeling I got from your question.
But with that out of the way. Your friends need to calm down. The horror stories everyone has heard about MILs being overbearing when it comes to wedding planning involve brides who want to plan their own weddings. You don’t! It’s totally fine to let her take the reins here and frees you from doing a lot of work that doesn’t particularly interest you. Assure your friends that the first time your mother-in-law oversteps, you’ll let her know—and you trust that your close and respectful relationship means she’ll understand. For now, you have a free wedding planner.
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Q. Does He or Doesn’t He?: I (17F) work at a tutoring center with a lot of great coworkers. One in particular—let’s call him “Kevin”—I am especially good friends with. We started working there at the same time, go for boba after work a lot, and he has come to watch some of my drill team performances (other coworkers were also invited, he was the only one who wasn’t busy both times). Up until this summer, we also went to the same school, so we saw each other often.
The problem is, my mother has noticed this and decided for whatever reason that these are signs of attraction and that he is interested in more than friendship. I never thought of this, but I asked my friend (whom I consider much more knowledgeable about relationships than me) and she agreed. I’m asexual, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a relationship with him if he were to ask. But he hasn’t, and I can’t seem to stop wondering about it. Is there any way I might broach this topic without totally ruining our friendship? Or what can I do to get it off my mind?
A. You are enjoying the friendship you have with Kevin right now and your reaction to the possibility of a relationship with him is basically “I could take it or leave it.” Plus, we don’t know whether he has feelings for you. It’s certainly possible. But it’s also possible that he values your comfortable connection. Or he has some awareness that you’re asexual and appreciates the idea that you two can enjoy each other’s company without any expectation that things will progress.
Now, if you’d said “I am asexual but I really, really want a relationship with this guy,” I’d tell you to bring it up, while giving him room to say “no thanks” without making things weird. But you didn’t. Save those awkward conversations for when you’re more than just curious, but truly interested.
I get that it’s really nice to be liked or to be the object of someone’s attraction. And you’ll be in that position many more times throughout your life. But true friends are hard to come by, and since you feel neutral about taking things to another level, I think the best approach here is to hold on to what you and Kevin have without complicating it. Tell yourself that if he really is interested in more, he will eventually make it clear.
Q. How Long Do I Wait?: I am struggling with how to deal with my sister’s conspiracy theorist boyfriend. My sister’s boyfriend believes in every conspiracy under the sun and any time anyone brings up any kind of current event at a family function we are subjected to a lecture on why vaccines are evil, all science is fake, and how the government is practicing mind control. My husband and I usually leave the room during these rants, but other members of my family will attempt to engage him in order to try to dissuade him of these beliefs. I have had it up to here and I am tired of family events being ruined by being condescended about absolute garbage. My sister usually sits there silently either taking his side on more benign theories or just looking embarrassed when the more insane beliefs come out. I want to confront her about his behavior, but my family thinks this will only make her defensive. I am sick and tired of catering to him. Is there anything I can do short of boycotting family events?
A. It would be nice if your family could get on the same page and say, “Dan, we’re not going to treat beliefs like yours as the subject of legitimate debate. The ideas you’re spewing cause real harm to real people, and we refuse to encourage you to continue to discuss them. We would share the facts with you, but we know you have access to all the same information we do and our previous attempts to change your mind haven’t worked. If you need mental health support to deal with these delusions and paranoia, our family is ready and willing to assist. If not, we don’t want to hear another word about [list topics].”
But that’s probably not realistic. It sounds to me like your relatives are the kinds of people who find this kind of “debate” rewarding on some level. I’m not surprised. The idea that simply “engaging” with those whose beliefs are irrational (or even evil) rather than firmly shutting them down somehow makes you morally superior and makes the world a better place is a popular one. I think it’s a point of view that has taken hold largely because it makes people feel better about staying close to the openly racist Fox News-watching parents from whom they hope to inherit money from one day. But I digress! The important part is: Your other relatives are into these conversations.
So, I think you’re doing the right thing by leaving the room. Are there any other family members who you can recruit to come with you? You can even make it lighthearted, “Discussing nonsense about government mind control isn’t what I planned for my Labor Day weekend—if anyone wants to talk about something normal or enjoyable, we’ll be on the patio!”
It’s good he’s just a boyfriend and not a husband. If you make things uncomfortable enough for him, maybe they’ll break up.
Q. Am I a Prude? Is it unreasonable for me to ask my husband not to go to strip clubs on bachelor trips? I have no problem with strip clubs in general, but for me, they are for single or non-monogamous people. I am not OK with my partner being in a room with a naked woman, and the exchange of money or the presence of a crowd does not change that. He knows I view this as a sort of cheating and has agreed in hypothetical conversations that he would never go to one. But now we are at the age where many of our friends are getting engaged, and he has plans to go on several bachelor trips, and I am anxious that they will include this element. Is it unfair to ask that he not go to the club, even if the entire group he is with is going? I hate feeling controlling or overbearing, but I am just not comfortable with this.
A. At this point, it doesn’t matter whether your view is unreasonable. He’s already agreed not to go! Remind him of this promise, and about your intense feelings about this topic. See what he says. It might be that the celebrations won’t include strippers at all. It might be that he’s totally willing to stay home. It might be that he’ll pass, begrudgingly, to keep his word. Or it might be that he wants a chance to make the case for a version of a strip club visit that you can live with.
Don’t get me wrong: You are absolutely entitled to hold the line on this issue, and you don’t have to revisit the agreement you made with your husband. But it’s the kind of thing where it might feel better in the long run to address the underlying feelings (What do you worry will happen if he sees a naked woman while at a friend’s party? Where does that feeling come from? Is there anything that would make it less scary, or make you feel more secure about your connection with him?) than to police his behavior—and then worry about whether he’s being honest with you, which I guarantee will be your next concern if he does agree to pass.
Q. Re: Monster-In-Law?: Your friends are projecting their own insecurities or experiences or assumptions onto your very different situation. We found wedding planning to be expensive, stressful, and no fun. We would have been grateful for a lovely and gracious MIL like yours! Appreciate what you have and don’t worry about uninformed outside judgments.
A. I completely agree. Reading the letter again, I do want to be sure that MIL making these choices was discussed in advance, and that she didn’t just step in and take over without permission. But assuming she was given the OK, I think it’s a great arrangement.
Q. Re: Monster-In-Law?: Your friends are doing you no favors by assuming your MIL is overstepping. My MIL also was a huge help and a lot of my friends joked about her taking over the show, which was not the case in any way (and her name is actually Karen, which didn’t help the conclusion jumping)
You give no indication that you feel run over, unheard, or bullied during your wedding planning. To be honest your FMIL sounds lovely and I sense there might be some projection of bad experiences coming from your well-meaning friends.
ENJOY having what seemingly few of us do—a wonderful, welcoming, and loving MIL. Happy wedding planning!
A. Exactly. To be fair, I think about 85% of brides would hate for their MILs to be this involved. But the letter-writer isn’t 85% of brides, she’s her own person, and people are creating problems where they don’t exist.
Q. Re: Monster-In-Law?: What Prudie said.
Also, they’re focusing on the wrong thing. This is her wheelhouse, you’re happy to let her take the lead. That’s not boundary trampling, you are actively happy with her help. Boundary trampling is when you’ve asked her not to do/say something and she goes ahead and does it anyway. If you or your friends see that, it’s a different matter, but that’s separate.
A. Great point. And meanwhile, as they weigh in on the planning process and LW’s relationship with her MIL, the friends are the ones who are overstepping by doing something they haven’t been invited to do. And they’re stressing the bride out in the process!
I am crafty. In an act of hubris and love, I agreed to DIY my best friend’s wedding dress since she had no budget. It took $100, a dozen thrift stores, 100 hours, and a pint of blood, but I was able to convert an ’80s monstrosity into a rather darling modern frock. She got married and bragged about me on social media, but now everyone and their Aunt Betty is expecting me to do the same for them! The worst are my half-sister and stepsister, and they have competing weddings going on since my stepsister had to reschedule.