Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. Bespectacled BFF: My best friend and I are 22 years old. She just went through a really difficult breakup and has been venting to me a lot. I generally let things slide when people are venting their frustrations, but she’s saying a lot of stuff that makes me feel really uncomfortable. I’m unsure how to approach that with her while she’s still dealing with all these emotions.
Part of the breakup involved her ex-boyfriend telling her that he just wasn’t attracted to her. She is a conventionally attractive white woman who wears glasses (she hates contacts), so she figured that the lack of attraction must be because of her glasses. She vented about beauty standards, which I think is all fair. But then she started venting about how women of color, specifically East and South Asian Americans, can get away with wearing glasses and still be attractive to men, but white women can’t. She talked about how it’s so unfair that people of color don’t have to hide their vision problems from men to get dates.
I am an Indian American woman who wears glasses and has a boyfriend, and this sort of conversation makes me deeply uncomfortable. She’s still really upset about the breakup and I don’t want to make her feel bad but I also never want to hear that stuff again. I’m not even sure if she actually believes all of this because she’s certainly never talked about it before, but at the same time, this has to come from somewhere. She didn’t seem to register that I was that Asian American woman she was talking about. How can I approach this with her?
A: Congrats, this is one of the most bizarre letters I’ve ever read. I mean it’s not even like I can say, “Yes, it’s a pervasive stereotype that only East and South Asian Americans look pretty in glasses, while conventionally attractive white women do not, and there’s a long history of discrimination here.” I mean, what? Where did this even come from?
Your friend is obviously spiraling due to her breakup, perhaps specifically because she is used to having pretty privilege and feels like this guy not being attracted to her unfairly robs her of the kind of power she assumed she would always have. You know that quote, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” I feel like something similar to that is going on. You ask, “How can I approach this with her?” Well, certainly you can let her know how it made you feel to hear her comments. If you want, you could debate with her on the substance of what she said, or ask her to provide proof. It’s possible that realizing that she rubbed you the wrong way and being challenged to think more critically could be a teachable moment for her.
But I also think you should put a big note into her friendship HR file, with a little red post-it flag attached to it. Sometimes when people are in a bad place their real character comes out. She has shown you that she has an interest in creating kooky reverse racism theories and does not have much sensitivity about your experience, beyond being a sounding board for her pain. Also: She’s definitely jealous of you. Tread carefully.
More Advice From Slate
My husband and I are both in the final year of completing doctoral degrees, and we plan to have a baby as soon as we graduate. We discuss this often, and it has been our plan for years. Last year, we decided that we didn’t want to wait any longer, so we got a puppy. I know, I know, a puppy is not the same as having a baby, but we both thought it would bring a lot of joy to our lives while giving us a feel for what it’s like to take care of another being (neither of us has ever had pets or been around babies). It has not gone as planned.