Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My sister is expecting triplets so I have been stockpiling as many diapers as I can when I find them discounted. My local grocery store marks them down several times a month but it is done randomly. Employees are not allowed to buy them or hold discounted items while they are on the clock. There is a serious threat of termination. An employee told me this. She was pregnant and wished she would buy a lot like I did. I offered to buy and hold them for her. I work right across the street and she could just pay me back wholesale.
I ended up buying a lot of the discounted diapers and put them in my SUV. We exchanged numbers and met up for the exchange. Since then, she and another employee will text me when the discounted diapers happen. I will take an early or late lunch to go to the grocery store and buy up the lot.
We met up later and they took their pick and paid me in cash. The situation has been so successful, you can barely get to the bed in my guest room because the diaper boxes are piled so high. One of my co-workers noticed my SUV always had the diaper boxes piled up and wished she knew my secret because she has a toddler and can never find diapers discounted. I told her I had a secret weapon where an employee texted me when they were discounted and then I would go buy them. I offered her the deal where she could take what diapers she needed and just pay me back the sale price. I probably have a dozen toddler-size diapers stowed away for my sister.
Instead, my co-worker got very angry with me. She accused me of “stealing” and being “greedy.” It wasn’t fair to “everyone else” that I always bought discounted items. She threatened to “find out” the employees’ names and make a formal complaint to the grocery store.
I got frightened and ran to the bathroom. I immediately changed the names of the employees to fake ones on my phone and changed the location of where we met up. And I bought a tarp for the back of my SUV. Later, my co-worker apologized for coming on “too harsh” and wanted in on my “special” deal. I bribed her with a few free boxes of diapers. Then I lied off my ass about more discounts. She backed off but my paranoia is high.
I don’t want to cost anyone their job. I thought it was a win-win situation. I am paying for the products, not making money off them, and whatever my sister didn’t use would be given away for free. I am also spending hundreds of dollars on her sake.
Dear Diaper Dilemma,
A tarp for the back of your SUV? That should have been your sign that you were doing too much, way too much. You are acting as if you found a source for hypoallergenic formula during the shortage and were providing it to babies who would starve without it. These are just diapers. They are always going to be around. There are always going to be sales. It is not your job to make sure your sister never pays full price for them. It sounds like you’re willing to put a lot of time and energy into getting ready for these babies, which is sweet of you. Let’s just choose a different way in. If you are really worried about the costs, start a crowdfunding campaign or ask friends and family to donate to a diaper fund. People love to donate to parents of multiples. You can relieve your sister’s burden that way—not by lying yourself into a state of paranoia. Stop it with this scheme. Get your peace of mind and guest bedroom back and remove that tarp.
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Is it bad to stop doing a favor for a friend simply because you’re sick of it? A friend of mine keeps a large number of plants in her apartment; when her job started making her travel for business, she asked if I would apartment-sit for her and water them. Initially, this wasn’t a bad deal: I would crash in a bigger apartment and she would give me a bottle of inexpensive wine for the trouble.
Lately, however, this has started to wear on me. Initially, the plants only needed watering every few days, but now she wants them checked on every day after some pest issues. Her apartment is not convenient to mine, so this is a hassle, especially when she travels for major holidays (and I have already navigated Christmas Eve traffic for these plants before). She’s also started to send more texts for status updates, including during my work hours, and (I realize this is petty) I’m not even getting the wine bottles anymore, so I am not getting paid in any sense. Can I bow out of this just because I’m tired of it? She has other people she can ask to do this, but apparently, they take bad care of the plants.
—Just Pay Someone to Do It
Dear Just Pay Someone,
You can absolutely bow out of this just because you’re tired of it. 100 percent. That’s why it’s called a “favor,” not a “job.” Hell, you can bow out of a job because you’re tired of it, too!
That was too easy to answer, so I’m going to give you advice you didn’t ask for and provide a script for telling her that you’re no longer keeping her personal jungle alive for free. “Hi Friend, I know I committed to come over and plant-sit for your trip at the end of October. Sadly, this is going to have to be the last time because I’ve realized the travel to your apartment is a bit of a hassle and I’m feeling like I want to be in my own space more. It’s been a fun arrangement and I’m so happy to know that Meghan and Harry [she seems like someone whose plants would have names] are thriving despite the pest issues, and I’m confident that Oprah and Stedman will make a full recovery with all the love and care you’re giving them (and a little indirect light). Let me know if you want me to ask around and see if anyone I know and trust might be willing to take over the job.”
My mom is estranged from her mom and five younger siblings. We rarely saw them when I was growing up, even though they live just across town. My mom implied my grandmother hated her because she resembled my grandfather so much (my grandparents separated a long time ago). I assumed my aunts and uncles avoided my mother due to their loyalty to my grandmother.
My mom never said much about her family, except that her mother was very mean-spirited, and I was always curious about them. I sometimes Google my aunts and uncles. Imagine my surprise this past summer when I found what I believed to be my grandmother on a funeral home website. I immediately called the funeral home and gave the operator the names of my aunts and uncles to verify next-of-kin, which they were.
My grandmother passed away almost two years ago, and none of my aunts and uncles called my mom to let her know. She was 92. They have been estranged for over 40 years, and I don’t think they’ve seen each other in over 10 years. Should I tell my mom that my grandmother is no longer here?
—Opened the Google Pandora’s Box
Dear Pandora’s Box,
Nope. Your mom also has Google.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“All that said: Homeboy needs to settle down.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I have a question about handling something that is both great and annoying. My husband is a big believer in “only touch it once” (known to some as OTIO). His baseline philosophy is that he tries to solve problems or deal with papers immediately. So, if he is opening mail to deal with bills he has his checkbook next to him, he writes the check, stuffs and seals the envelope, stamps the envelope, and sets the envelope aside before he opens the next piece of mail. Then, when he’s done with mail, half the time he’ll walk the bills down to the mailbox on the corner. If we are talking after dinner about how we really need to check in with, say, Aunt Tina about dinner next week he will whip out his phone and send the email to Aunt Tina right then. Or, if I am spitballing about, say, the cost of a trip to Florida during the kids’ spring break out comes the computer to “replace speculation with data.”
Now, I understand why he does this because it started when we were already married. When he was a first-year medical resident (emergency medicine) he got into very hot water with an attending physician who came after him for dropping the ball on some task. We later learned that this attending is a known jerk but it obviously spooked my husband. His super-human ability to manage a billion tasks in his head got him through medical school but his previous system was not working in a busy ER. After talking to some other young doctors, he learned about OTIO and it really worked for him.
Now, most of the time this is great! Stuff gets done! Bills are paid on time, we hear back from Aunt Tina, and things get pushed from vague ideas to actual activities. The problem is that it sometimes makes conversation and interactions less smooth. It’s like he takes everything literally: If I say we should check in with Aunt Tina, I don’t necessarily mean we need to talk to her, maybe I’m just saying I’m thinking about her. And, there are times when I wish he would finish paying bills sooner so we can go ahead and start the movie on TV. It’s like a bunch of little micro-interruptions and delays in the course of a conversation. And if I’m talking about prices, I’m just assessing his (and my) interest in Florida as a destination. He can’t quite read the room sometimes.
In the mix here is that I feel a little self-conscious about complaining about his “get it done now” attitude. A few years ago we were going to fly to an adults-only reunion weekend and the main event was a costume party. I was going to wear these really fun large-dot pantyhose as the centerpiece of my costume because they were a play on my name and the theme of the event. My husband was going to the store a few days before and asked, “Do you want me to buy you the stockings for your costume?” I said “No, I’ll get them,” he said, “OK”, and then we both forgot about it. (In his mind he had only touched it once!) When it was time to go, I had of course not purchased the stockings, there was not enough time to buy them in my home city before the flight, and none of the stockings at the local stores near our destination had the right size dots to make the joke work. Let’s just say that I did not handle my disappointment well and his “I wish you had just let me buy them for you” was pretty painful to hear even if he was really nice about it. (He really is a nice man.)
So, I am grateful for a responsible husband but would appreciate help managing this low-level friction that comes from his OTIO obsession!
— Why, Oh Why OTIO?
I actually got excited and a little jealous reading about your husband’s behavior. It reminds me of a colleague who once described herself to me as a “PREcrastinator.” She absolutely had to get things off her list right away. Oh, how I would love to be like that. I can only imagine how great it would feel. Instead, I have stuff like “make sure 401(k) contribution is actually maxed out,” “apply for neighborhood parking pass,” and “look into buying non-skinny jeans that are moderately in style in 2022” on my to-do list for months on end. I pay a late fee for my (inactive) bar registration every year. I often wait until I “have time” to call someone for so long that the call eventually needs to be a massive catch-up summit that requires two hours so I put it off for even longer. So, I definitely believe your husband is avoiding a lot of stress, expense, and other negative consequences with his technique.
I do understand how it could be annoying though. I do. Because while he’s keeping your lives in order, he’s never fully present to enjoy time with you and your permanently cleared household to-do list. The whole point of “touch it once” is that tasks don’t build up and become overwhelming, but guess what else is overwhelming? When your wife feels ignored and wants to leave you. I’m not saying you are there yet, and you shouldn’t threaten him, but I do think the idea is to encourage him to bring the “I have to make sure I don’t ever drop the ball” mentality he currently applies to incoming mail to your relationship. You should propose that you each make a tweak to your habits with the goal of enjoying your time together more. First, you tell him that you’re going to embrace his technique to avoid things like the stocking incident—which did ultimately take away from your mutual enjoyment of the costume party experience. Then, ask him if he will set aside time (Half an hour each evening? An hour? A three-hour date each weekend?) where the only task is to spend time with you, and any to-dos that come up get quickly written down to address later on.
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.
You’ve answered several questions encouraging tolerance of friends’ terrible spouses, and I wonder if this takes it to a different level. We are a mom group with 5-year-olds, and one day Jenny called us together to tearfully report that her home had been raided by the FBI and her husband accused of child pornography. She said she wasn’t surprised based on his taste in porn that she had seen, mentioned some other odd behavior, moved out, and started divorce proceedings. After seven months, the FBI told her there was not enough evidence to convict, and her husband told her the videos of child abuse got on his computer by a virus. None of us believe that story and none of us can forget how completely she believed the FBI and agreed with them that it was likely. Now she is bringing him to events and we all feel so uncomfortable. We want to support her and her daughter, but we never want to see him. What should we do? He was never convicted, after all.
Ian is a perceptive man who always sees the best in people. We’re married and have been together for six years. When Ian came out, his parents and family basically cut him out. He reached out for a while; they responded in distant ways. Our relationship started during the end of this slow fade and I encouraged him to move on and build boundaries.
We recently learned (via text) that Ian’s dad almost died of COVID. Now his parents want to reconnect with him. They’ve barely shifted their values but got vaccinated on the down low. They’ve talked on the phone and Ian plans to visit soon, but I said I’m staying home.
Ian seemed hurt but hasn’t brought it up again. He thinks they’ll attend our wedding (we’re legally married, but planning a modest ceremony next year). These people sent him emails “asking for his perspective” on news stories featuring gay pedophiles! They don’t remember his birthday and take days to respond to holiday texts! Maybe it’s selfish, but I decided a long time ago I don’t spend what is probably my one life on this Earth subjecting myself to, or dashing myself on, the walls of folk’s dogma.
With my words, I’m supportive of him going, but I think they’ll guilt him into helping with their massive medical bills, which other families are helping with, they’ve made sure to mention. We make enough at municipal jobs to live comfortably enough but not enough to help with these bills in a way that matters. We’ve recently purchased a condo and money is still tight. Should I bring up what I’m suspecting, or am I acting cynical?
Ian wants me to meet them because I’m a part of the family. I don’t want to be a part of that family. The money we would save from my staying is a lot. On the other hand, this is the open-hearted man I married and plan to spend my life with. Should I just suck it up and go? I’m on the spectrum. Can you tell me is staying one of society’s many unspoken grave social don’ts?
—Happy Where I’m At
Go. I say that because you don’t seem to be worried about the parents mistreating or harassing you. You simply don’t think the visit will be enjoyable, and you worry that it might lead to a request for financial help. If they ask for money, you can cross that bridge when you come to it but right now these are Ian’s parents and you love him, so part of supporting him—and really, being family to him—is being by his side, within reason. There’s a place for boundaries, but “I don’t like what I’ve heard about them so I refuse to ever meet them” is a step too far.
Yes, it’s true, you only have one life. But that life is with Ian and he loves these people. The massive medical bills suggest to me that they might not be around for an extremely long time. Supporting him in connecting with the people who raised him, even if they do turn out to be jerks in person and you both make a decision to pull back again (which is what I think might happen) is being a good partner. And by the way, I don’t think your being on the spectrum has anything to do with your dilemma—plenty of neurotypical people would struggle the same way with this decision.
My (now) husband and I grew up in a somewhat religious community—think all day Sunday at church and another four nights a week of church functions. It was wonderful for us to have such a joyful and supportive community that included our large extended families. We’ve had children (two children now, more on the way!) and they are eagerly part of this century-old family tradition.
One minor thing: I need a script for how to deal with my father, a deacon in the church and the family patriarch. We’re fine with him bringing Jesus into every conversation—where else does our Lord have to be anyway? But I believe in evolution, and I want my children to also believe in evolution, as that is the science. My father does not believe in evolution, he is very vocal about this, and I do not have the background to debate his points. What do I say when he pulls out ironclad arguments like “Adam and Eve weren’t apes” or “I’ve been going to the zoo for 40 years and the monkeys are still monkeys?” I become bamboozled and have to back down, and my husband (he reads Slate) is no use, he just wants to get along. I don’t want to shame my father or make him back down. I want my father to see that science does not conflict with the scripture, science proves the scripture, know what I mean?
—Evolution Not Eve-olution
To really answer this, I need to know more about your relationship to your religion. I get that you enjoy the supportive community the church provides, but what do you actually make of the basic beliefs that are fueling all those church functions? Do you buy into everything in the Bible except creationism? Do you believe in both creationism and evolution? (I don’t want to get too into it but you wouldn’t be alone if you did—there are denominations that believe “God actually may have used evolution in the process of creation.”) Are there other parts that you reject? Do you kind of take it all with a grain of salt? Do you believe in the basic lessons but not the way members of your community apply them to modern issues? Do you want your children to make Jesus a part of every conversation? Every decision? Some? Whose version of Jesus?
Whatever it is, the most important thing to do is to get really clear about what you think, and why. And then tell your kids, in as simple terms as possible. “I believe this. … You might hear grandpa and other people at church say this. … Here’s why I disagree, and here’s why that’s not what we’re teaching you.” Engaging in a debate with a deacon who does not believe in science (at least not as much as he believes in his religion) at every family meal is not the way to go. He’s built his whole life around his beliefs and there’s practically no chance you’ll change his mind. You’re much better off preparing your children to interpret (or disregard) what they hear from him in a way that makes sense for your family.
My friend “Betty” is single, and I’m about to get married, but we’ve both noticed a recent trend with our friend “Jane” that we can’t abide. Every time we see her, Jane expresses how excited she is for us to have children. We hear some version of “You have to have kids!” or “I can’t wait till you have babies!” Usually she is drunk when this happens, but she’s mentioned it sober too.