Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Live Chat

For October 3, 2022.

Update, October 3, 2022, at 1:30 p.m.: The chat is complete! Find the write-up in the Dear Prudence archive, and continue the conversation on the Prudie Facebook Page. Submit questions for next week’s chat here.

Need help getting along with partners, relatives, co-workers, and people in general? Ask Dear Prudence!

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(Questions may be answered in the chat or columns.)

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Here we are again! Let’s chat.

Q. Aesthetic Anxiety Is a Cruel Mistress

I am a stay-at-home mom to a new kindergartener. When we first moved into our house my husband started a big project that didn't get finished before he had to get back to working full-time. It is functional, but not pretty, and is in a highly trafficked area of our home. Now that I have some time to work on house projects I know my husband would like me to finish this project that he started. But, I'm perfectly fine with it being functional, and I'm excited about some other projects that I would like to also make functional fairly soon (think mudroom). What's my obligation here?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

“What is my obligation here?” is something you say to your divorce attorney when you’re trying to figure out how much of the collective student loan debt you’ll be responsible for. It’s not the right thing to ask when you’re hoping to make a marriage work. If people only did what they were “obligated” to do, most households would be deeply unpleasant. How about this: Tell him you’re going to focus on the mudroom because you want it done before winter and offer to lend a hand with the other project on the weekends, assuming he cares enough to take the lead.

Q. Hypochondriac In Love

Is it a red flag that my partner initially refused to take me to the emergency room? I am a young woman who is living with my boyfriend of over six years. We are very happy except for my chronic medical issues occasionally causing me great pain and some tension between us. The other night I was having serious abdominal pain and vomiting. I begged him several times to take me to the ER and he refused, reminding me that I've gone to the ER before for what my insurance considered non-emergencies and charged me extra for it. Finally, I called 911 for an ambulance and he took the phone from me and told them not to come. He drove me then to the ER and was angry when I threw up in his car. They did a CT scan and diagnosed me with acute colitis, cystitis, and a kidney infection. I apologized to him and I admit I can sometimes be a bit of a hypochondriac and he's normally compassionate about my illnesses. I love him very much but I wonder if I should take this as a bad sign.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

No, you shouldn’t take it as a bad sign. You should take it as a relationship-ending, unforgivable sign.

Q. Holiday Hassles

How do I talk to my brother about chipping in more for the holidays? Over the years, my taking on all the emotional labor around the holidays has led to some frustrating and financially draining habits. 

He stays at my house the length of his visit, I drive us both in my car to all the family events and his friends he wants to visit, I do all the holiday shopping for the entire family and mark it "from both of us," my father and mother cook for and host most my family gatherings. His main contribution to most holiday gatherings is attendance. 

I didn't use to mind as much when we were both working retail and I could tell myself that we were pooling our resources. But job changes over the years have resulted in him making twice as much a year as me. I would be a lot happier if he would chip in for gas, buy his own Christmas presents, or grab one check when we go out to eat. How do I talk to him about this before Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

I can totally see how this happened. In families, people just fall into patterns around who does the planning, organizing, and cooking and who just shows up. I’m going to make a sweeping generalization here and say that it’s often the women taking responsibility for creating the magic (or even just, making a holiday stand out from a regular day!) In some cases, the person doing all the work is doing so because they’re the only one who actually cares about details like coordinating matching pajamas, or everyone having a mini pumpkin with their name carved into it to mark their place at the table. But in your case, we’re just talking about the basics: food, gifts, and transportation. 

You can address this with your brother without making a big deal of the history or the larger dynamics at play. I’m willing to bet he’s so used to being useless that he’s not even aware of all the things he’s not doing and (hopefully) would be happy to pitch in if asked. Keep it light to start. How about something like, “Hi [Brother], I’m planning out my budget for the holiday season and I’m wondering if you could plan to give me [number of dollars] for gas and pick up the check for the Christmas eve meal out? Also, I’m going to be doing small gifts that probably aren’t enough to be from both of us. Just a heads up so you can buy presents for the family from you. Oh and speaking of gifts, let me know what’s on your list so I can shop for you! Can’t wait to see you.”

Q. Sad Broccoli

What's your opinion on food waste? My partner and I have gotten into several fights when I've thrown out week-old leftovers or sad, wilted veggies. I am obviously not pro-food waste, but I don't really feel bad about throwing out the second half of a dish I thought was only OK. For me, eating food I'm excited about and not feeling guilty about the refrigerator is the higher good, and I do my best to order/shop differently when I realize I'm throwing food out that I thought I would eat. On the flip side, throwing food out seems agonizing for my partner, and I'm regularly met with guilt trips when I throw things out in front of him. I often have to throw his food out secretly whenever it starts to mold in the fridge to avoid the guilt/agony routine, though he does thank me for doing it when he realizes what happened (and seems mad at himself).  

Am I a bad person for not feeling more guilt over my food waste? Restaurants and grocery stores throw out so much more than my probably half a dish or one aspirational veggie per week. If I'm not wrong, how do I convince my partner to back down when I'm given the third degree over what happened to the lettuce? If it matters, neither of us has ever faced food insecurity, though both of us are reflecting the food waste values we grew up with.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

You aren’t a bad person at all but, sure, your partner is right that less food waste is a good goal to aim for. But they need to understand that letting food rot also constitutes waste. So you should work together to avoid that. 

I am excited to have a super practical tip here. I probably saw it on TikTok. Get a dry-erase board for your fridge and keep a list of all the perishable items in the refrigerator, so you don’t forget about those aspirational veggies and your partner remembers to eat his leftovers before they mold. Oh, one more idea: Put your condiments in the produce drawers and put your produce on the shelves on the side of the refrigerator so you always see what you have and don’t constantly end up with slimy bags of baby carrots like the ones that are in my kitchen right now. 

After that, if some food is still not getting eaten in time, you should have a rule: X number of days until leftovers are tossed, and other foods with visible signs of rot get thrown out with no questions asked. This shouldn’t be a constant negotiation or an ongoing clash of values. Just make a policy that you can both live with and let it guide you. Sneaking moldy half sandwiches into the trash while anticipating emotional backlash is not the life you deserve.

Q. Shut Your Mouth in the Lord's Name, Amen

How would you suggest telling someone in a social situation that they talk too much and need to work on being more concise and letting others talk—more specifically, in a Bible study/small group setting? 

I attend a weekly "small group" for women at my church. One of the ladies, "Tabitha," does not shut up practically ever. A group like this would typically be expected to go for about an hour, maybe two if a meal is involved, but ours is typically going at least three, often four. Tabitha likes to give an answer to a majority of the prompt questions and will regularly talk for ten minutes plus at a time per question. It's often fairly off-topic or goes that way quickly. She also seems to think we always need way too much background information. Think "my home life at 7 years old was XYZ, which is why at 15 I did ABC, which led to HJK when I was 22, which is where I met Sara who this story is really about... Now the story...." Yikes. Complicating it even further, Tabitha has mentioned more than once (go figure!) that when she was growing up she was told/taught to not speak up often for various reasons, so learning to be more open and share her story has been liberating. 

We're starting a new study soon and Tabitha has made some suggestions for studies she'd be interested in doing. I'm dreading a new study with Tabitha, to begin with, but I especially worry that if her suggestion is chosen she'll be even worse than usual with her tendency to talk "at" us and dominate the conversation. It's truly a small group of around 10 women and we're all friendly. There's no "leader." I'd like to have a kind but frank conversation with Tabitha about it, but I'm fairly certain she won't take it well, and I don't know where to start.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Suggest to the group that you limit meetings to two hours (because I’m sure all of you have other things to do!) and that you take turns serving as moderator. This person’s job will be to make sure the group gets the most out of this time, including by flipping over a cute sand timer or something to limit all responses to two minutes. When you’re a moderator, suggest an idea designed to encourage equitable participation: “If you’re someone who normally talks a lot, think about making room for other people to speak up. If you’re someone who normally stays quiet, consider participating more.”

Q. Male Teacher

I'm a happily married high school teacher in my 30s. I like socializing while my wife prefers staying home with our young son and dogs. In after-school happy hours, I'm usually one of or the only male. My wife is totally fine with me going to these happy hours and I really enjoy them. The problem is I'm too funny and charming at the happy hours. I've become friends with all these women and I enjoy it, but it's socially abnormal to be a married man who has a friend group that is all women (even in the field of education). I try to invite more males out, but they rarely come. Many of the women in the group are single or divorced and they stay out late and hit the town. They have started inviting me to stay out, but that seems to be a line I shouldn't cross. I should probably go to only the work happy hours and not anything beyond, correct?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

You absolutely love this! You love the attention! You love the idea that these women might possibly want to have affairs with you! You love that this event is a little bit of a forbidden feeling! You love having a dilemma over it! Admit it! 

The happy hours themselves are fine. Even the after parties are fine. But the fact that you’re all atwitter over the connections you’re making and potentially pushing boundaries is concerning. Be honest about what you’re getting out of these events, and get a hold of yourself before you ruin your marriage.

Q. Ex Name Calling

My husband of nine years, married for four, has recently made mistakes calling me by his ex-wife's name a lot since his daughters got married in late August. I'm not sure what to do. The first four times at the wedding I got over it. But just yesterday he referred to his friend on the phone and I was standing right there. “I have to take Jeannie's car today.” My name is Susan.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Ask him “Ever since the wedding, you’ve been calling me Jeannie. What do you think is going on?” If his answer is, “Absolutely nothing, you’re out of your mind and you’re always attacking me! I just won't call you anything at all!” then he and Jannie reconnected at the wedding and he has feelings for her. If it’s “I know, I am so embarrassed, I can’t figure out why I’m doing it'' take stock of whether he’s slipping in other areas and see if he might want to check in with a medical professional about suspected cognitive decline and how it might be treated.

Q. Waiting for Love

I'm in love. We are co-workers and work remotely, we've never met in person. I'm 28, he's 39. We spend hours on the phone, we have a deep connection. This has been going on for a few months. He tells me he loves me and wants to be with me. He has a long-time girlfriend but he isn't happy. He plans to break up with her but he's stuck right now. He says she's unstable and he's worried she'll hurt herself. She has issues with jealousy. He said they don't sleep together anymore. Do I wait for him?

Jenée Desmond Harris

Absolutely not.

Q. Yes One Check

I’ve been dating “Hannah” for almost a year. I love her and am very deeply sexually and romantically attracted to her. I personally feel like we’re a good match looks-wise, but the issue is I’m considered to be classically handsome, whereas Hannah is more uniquely and quirkily attractive, which suits my taste but not everyone’s. The area this mainly comes up is at restaurants, where about half the time the server asks if we want one check or two. Every time this happens, Hannah quietly jokes to me that she’s not hot enough for me, they think we’re brother and sister and I got the looks in the family, they think I’m her gay best friend, and so on. She seems to have a sense of humor about it, but I can also tell it really hurts her. I’ve tried to tell her that some servers always ask this, and it has nothing to do with the relative attractiveness of a couple, but she clearly doesn’t buy it. I also feel a bit like a liar, because while I’ve actually only dated two girls before Hannah, both of them were more classically good-looking, and I don’t remember this happening then, at least not nearly as much. Can you please tell me, once and for all, do servers actually do this when they suspect two people aren’t a romantic couple because of a mismatch in attractiveness? And how should I respond to Hannah’s little jokes when they do?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

I don't know that I’ve ever heard a server ask “one check or two.” When I was a server I never asked “one check or two.” Splitting checks is annoying. You generally have to make a request if you want it. But since it’s happening to you, give Hannah this explanation: The server has probably read some ridiculous online fights about how men shouldn’t have to pay for first dates and is trying to protect you from being taken advantage of by a beautiful but gold-digging woman. And the reason he thinks you two might be early in your relationship rather than an established couple is that your attraction and chemistry are so palpable to everyone around you.

Q. Re: Sad Broccoli

Can you compost your leftovers? If you can't do it in your own home, is there a community composting project you can contribute to? If it's just vegetables/produce, grains, and coffee grounds, nearly every program will take them. Some will even take fish, meat, and oils.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Love this idea.

Q. Re: Sad Broccoli

New rule: Put a dated note on each leftover container. After 5 days anything still in the fridge is thrown out. Before that, it is HIS responsibility to use it up.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Another great suggestion. I personally would never stick to writing these notes, but if it works for them, it would be really helpful.

Q. Re: Hypochondriac In Love

You've never lived with a hypochondriac have you Prudie? It's the cry wolf syndrome. Yeah, they are right sometimes. Most times they aren't.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Right or wrong, they probably don’t want to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t have respect for what they believe they’re feeling or take them seriously.

Q. Re: Shut Your Mouth in the Lord's Name, Amen

If there is no leader, then how are ground rules set? Can you propose limiting everyone to a certain amount of time (say, two minutes) for an answer? What do the other members think of her off-topic disquisitions?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Two minutes sounds fair to me. I am sure other members are equally frustrated. Nobody likes a long talker!

Q. Re: Yes One Check

Boom, nailed it on the chemistry part. My immediate thought was they think you're on a Tinder date (trust me, this is a favorite game we play working in restaurants) because you both have the new-vibes energy. When you look like a boring ass couple, they will not ask about splitting the check.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

“New-vibes energy.” I love it. And congrats to them on all the chemistry.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Our time is up! Thanks as always for reading and I’ll talk to you next week.