Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Live Chat

For September 26, 2022.

Update, September 26, 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.

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Jenée Desmond-Harris

Hi friends. I’m ready to solve all your problems—or at least try. Let’s go.

Q. Too Much Love for One Wedding

I'm getting married in a few weeks and my partner and I decided to do a joint wedding party because we're queer and we've been together for so long, there's a lot of friend overlap. For a medium-sized wedding, we've got 12 members in our wedding party. 

There are a few friends who I love dearly but who didn't make the final list. Most of it was just arbitrary, 12 feels big to me and we needed to make a cutoff. These friends aren't coming to me upset or with accusations about it, but based on conversations, I think they're feeling left out. We're doing a welcome party for just friends and we're doing drinks the day after for people still in town, but of course, it doesn't work for everyone's travel plans. There are also friends who we didn't invite to the wedding at all because of venue capacity, waiting to get RSVPs from family, etc.

Any suggestions on how to let these people know I love them even if they're not at the wedding party? Any suggestions for the people who weren't invited at all? Not entirely sure what etiquette standards are expected or how to do right by people, while being upfront and accountable that we did make these decisions.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: My strong belief is that very few people are dying to be in a wedding party. When all is said and done, it can cost THOUSANDS of dollars, involves wearing something you didn’t choose, and makes you organize at least one day (maybe closer to five days) of your life around making someone else feel special, putting your own needs and preferences on the back burner. I feel the same way about weddings. They’re cool and can be a nice time! But especially after a certain age, they’re not exactly a blast. There are a lot of other ways to spend a weekend day, doing what you want and eating what you want, sitting at a table with people you actually know. 

Also! Most people have had a wedding, been in a wedding, or been close to someone who had a wedding. Everyone gets it. It is no secret that tough decisions have to be made when it comes to the guest list and wedding party, and that many people who are liked and even loved aren’t included. As a bride or groom it’s easy to get caught up in thinking your wedding is as important and emotional to other people as it is to you, and the vast majority of the time, it’s simply not. 

That said, you say you’ve heard people are feeling left out so I will believe you. I don’t suggest explaining to them directly why they weren’t included or apologizing unless they confront you. That’s just awkward. And God forbid you give a whole sob story to someone who doesn’t actually care. Instead, you can just kind of spread the word that you would have loved to invite more people or have a larger wedding party but could not. 

So whenever you have a chance, on social media or in real life, picking what feels right for the audience, casually toss out one of these statements:

“We’re having a smaller wedding than we planned.”

“We have a lot of relatives and couldn’t invite all of our close friends.” 

“We wish we could have included more people—it’s just so expensive and we’ve had to make tough choices.” 

“We are lucky to have so many close friends. Really everyone invited could have been a member of the wedding party so we just chose people we’ve known the longest.”  

“Wedding planning has been hard! If we could do it again we’d choose a bigger venue so that we could invite all of our loved ones...”

Then just be at peace with the fact that you did the best you could and that involved making decisions that excluded some and included others. In my opinion, you’ve done more than enough, especially with the extra events. You might slightly shift your mindset to, “People who feel entitled to be a part of our wedding are a little unreasonable.” And hey, a lot of people have trouble digging up a second or third bridesmaid. The fact that you have such a robust social circle is great. You and your spouse should go into your marriage grateful to be part of a community full of people who are apparently chomping at the bit to spend their Saturday celebrating you.

Q. Emotionally Exhausted

I've been working for almost 10 years in a small company, with a team of about 15 people who are all generally nice. The vibe is that of a little family. Over the years, I've started struggling with the emotional toll this atmosphere is taking on me. I'm more of a private person but this team feels like everyone is all in each other's business. There is always a new problem/situation with someone's kids, partners, pets, and whatnot. I feel exhausted by having to be receptive to everything but also fear people will see me as cold if I say that I'm not necessarily emotionally available myself to empathize with everyone's situation of the day. I have myself been experiencing burnout from the work itself (not due to my coworkers) but I feel uncomfortable sharing with them that my general apathy and irritability are due to that and that I have a hard time being as invested as they are in everyone's lives. I've been looking for another job but in the meantime, I'm struggling. Any advice?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

There’s a lot of room between discussing all the details about a coworker’s ex-spouse getting the dog in the divorce while offering a therapy session in your cubicle that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and irritable for the rest of the day and just coldly announcing, “I’m not emotionally available to empathize with everyone’s situation of the day.” Try: “That’s awful for you, I am so sorry to hear it. I have to turn back to this report to finish before the end of the day but hang in there, I’ll be thinking about you, OK?”

Q. Flip Flop's Daughter

Prior to his retirement two years ago, my dad spent his entire career in law very successfully getting companies off the hook for sexual harassment claims. This career paid for a wonderful childhood, ruined many women’s lives, and created a major rift between my parents and me from my teen years onward. As a woman in my late 20s, I have a complicated relationship with my parents and have done everything I can to take no money from them and handle my affairs independently. 

Six months ago, I was assaulted by my boss in a series of circumstances that led to a mental health emergency. Unable to afford inpatient care, I gave in and reached out to my parents. Prudie, they did everything perfectly: paid my bills with no strings attached, took care of me when I was released from the hospital, organized my FMLA paperwork, and welcomed my girlfriend into their home during my recovery. 

I’m back home now, and still in therapy, but I can’t let go of how enraged I am at my dad, for knowing exactly what to do for me while making life hell for other women. I’m particularly angry because he’s suddenly become an “advocate,” as if sexual assault is a new, previously unknown topic. I’m grateful he’s suddenly enforcing behavior with his golf buddies about microaggressions, but I’m deeply angry about how much he’s contributed to this problem over the decades. How do I navigate this toxic brew of gratefulness and rage? It’s truly hard to tell if he’s acting out of guilt or legitimately thinks he’s a champion for women.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

This sounds like good material for a long letter in which you explain the mix of emotions you’re feeling and tell your dad what, if anything, would help you to move forward and heal your relationship with him. After you write it, decide whether you need to send it, or whether getting everything out gives you a sense of peace.

Q. Too Soon for a Vasectomy

How do you know when you’re done having kids? My wife and I (both in our 30s) agreed that our ideal family is two children spaced about five years apart. However, our first was recently born via an unplanned c-section that was traumatic for both of us (more so for her, obviously). That experience paired with all the standard trials and tribulations of raising a newborn have really soured the idea of having another kid for me. 

My wife and I have been talking openly about our struggles and, unprompted, she surprised me and asked if I’d consider getting a vasectomy. I said I would feel comfortable with having the procedure and we agreed to keep the dialogue open as time goes on.

But how long should we leave that conversation open-ended? Objectively, I feel like I should be a parent for much longer before making that decision, especially since I wouldn’t want to reverse a vasectomy if we changed our minds. On the other hand, there’s always the possibility of an accidental pregnancy. My wife has limited birth control options due to different health conditions and neither of us is thrilled about using condoms again. 

Should we wait it out and see if we have a change of heart? I don’t want to shut that door prematurely and regret my decision down the line, but I also don’t want to risk another pregnancy before we decide that’s what we want.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

You say you’re both “not thrilled” about using condoms, so I guess in order to decide how long to think about what to do, you two have to decide if you would be less thrilled about using them anyway, about doing nothing and having an unplanned pregnancy, or about wanting a child and being unable to because a vasectomy reversal didn’t work, years down the line. Then make the decision that makes the thing you’re least thrilled about least likely.

Q. Not Staying in the House

My parents and I have come to a crossroads over COVID boosters. I am a firm believer in them. They think it makes people get COVID, and that it’s a conspiracy between big pharma and the government, etc… They won’t get them. I’ve had people I know die from COVID, suffer from long COVID, and those who cannot take the vaccine because they are allergic to the vaccine serum. I also have underlying health conditions (several bouts of pneumonia) that put me at greater risk of problems if I contract the virus. It’s maddening to see them so lost in their own bubble. I told them I won’t come home for Thanksgiving unless they get a booster shot. They won’t budge. It’s really driven a wedge between us. Is there an answer that makes everyone happy?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

An answer that makes everyone happy? Probably not. But remember, there are ways to connect without breathing in someone’s potential virus particles. Tap into your memories of 2020! If your budget and weather allow, you could go “home” but stay in a hotel and eat outside. And I know everyone’s sick of it, but don’t underestimate the power of Zoom. It really is miraculous to have a way to connect on special days without being in the same physical space.

Q. Worried About the Worrier

My MIL (with my husband for seven years total) has always been a very anxious woman over many of aspects of everyday life. However, recently I feel that it has been intensifying. I’ve been home from work since having a baby and have been spending more time with her as she comes to the house to visit, joins us on walks, etc. I’m concerned her anxiety isn’t just anxiety anymore, but a sign of dementia coming on (it runs in her family). Daily tasks/routines seem to sometimes confuse her (where do we turn on the same walking trail we take every day, what time do we do this daily activity, etc.), she repeats stories/questions with more regularity, and she just generally seems more nervous/uncomfortable.

I realize this is a difficult topic and not something that anyone wants to hear, so I brought it up gently to my husband after we had been at their house and I felt his mother had exhibited a few examples. His response was “Oh, that’s just mom, she’s always nervous.” How much do I press on this or is it none of my business until his family decides to acknowledge it? Do I mention it to anyone else (her husband or daughter)? I don’t want my husband to feel betrayed by me, but I feel like even if I’m wrong and it isn’t dementia, an actual approach to managing her anxiety that isn’t just ignoring it is becoming more necessary. 

Jenêe Desmond-Harris

This lady is still visiting you and taking walks. She can’t be that far gone that she can’t have a say in her own health care. Talk directly to her! Ask her if her anxiety and memory issues are things she’d like to look into with a doctor. Make sure she knows that if she does want help, you can assist with making the appointments. If she says no, stand down. You’ll have to do your best and any future decisions can be made by her children.

Q. Have One, But Not Five

My mother is 83, I live 350 miles away, and I visit when I can. She lives alone, doesn’t go out except for doctor visits, and has a lot of health problems (some real and some hypochondria). She is also an alcoholic. She is often drunk by 4 or 5 p.m., drinks about five glasses of wine daily, and sometimes starts drinking in the morning. It has caused her to take some falls.

She has relied on me, neighbors, and her paid weekly assistant to get wine for her. One after another, neighbors and assistants have refused. She has now demanded that whenever I am in town I supply her stock of wine.  I want to be helpful, and I am not judgmental about other people’s drinking (I’m not an abstainer). Yet, I don’t want to be an enabler contributing to more falls or health problems.  

She would refuse to get professional help for her alcoholism and is very stubborn both in maintaining that imaginary health problems are real and in denying real problems, especially behavioral ones. My inclination is to pick up a reasonable amount of wine for her—no more than that—when I am visiting and hope she rations and thereby cuts down on her own. Or should I simply refuse?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

If she falls down drunk and dies and you know that you supplied the wine that fueled the tragedy, you’ll never forgive yourself. But if she’s physically dependent on alcohol, you don’t want to leave her to suffer through withdrawal, so refusing to buy any at all may not be a great option, either. It sounds like she needs professional help with detox and recovery (I type that knowing that convincing her to get this help and paying for it will not be easy, and that the solution is not guaranteed to stick). It also sounds like the time for her to live on her own has come to an end. The steps you’re going to have to take now are going to be incredibly, incredibly tough and the fact is you may not get her to a great place before the end of her life. Please look into Al-Anon for support from people in similar situations, which I believe is the only way your work here is going to feel anything less than completely overwhelming.

Q. Creeped Out

I just went on a beach trip with my significant other and my whole extended family. He got offended because I spent the first day of the week cooking (each family had a day). He decided to not eat with us the whole rest of the week and bought himself food to eat. I thought this was creepy and weird, and my family was really embarrassed. He says he felt he had to behave that way because he thought he was supposed to cook as well (not true he could have just helped with cleanup or something). I am still messed up about this. Is this normal behavior? He was fine about the rest of the trip, just not the food part.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

This is indeed weird and I’m sure there is some awful experience in his personal history that led him to feel so worried about being a burden that he chose to engage in inappropriate behavior that made everyone uncomfortable instead. He is a troubled person and whether you push forward and continue to have a relationship with him is up to you. But I would advise against it if you two aren’t able to have a productive conversation about how and why your expectations were so different and how similar situations will be handled in the future.

Q. Bizarre Love Triangle

I’m a middle-aged divorced guy in a significant relationship of more than a year. Everything has been mostly great. Lots of time together, romance, and great sex.

We have some mutual friends and lately, one of them that works with her has been crossing the line a bit for my comfort. Earlier this year he contacted her with an “urgent” work matter while she and I were on a romantic getaway in the country. It turned into just idle chit-chat and went on for a long time. I sarcastically said out loud that we should have invited him along. He messaged me and apologized. Then we recently had dinner with him and his wife and when they were leaving he and my girlfriend kind of lagged behind and I saw them hug and he kissed her on the cheek. He’s not European or anything so this kind of got my back up.

I mentioned it to her kind of in a joking way later and she really didn’t see it as a big deal. I also found out they will be working more closely together soon. Am I overreacting? I feel like it will upset my girlfriend if I bring it up again or reach out to talk to him about my feelings on it.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Oh, God. Do not reach out to talk to him about it. That’s big red flag behavior. To be fair, it was also big red flag behavior when he reached out to you. 

I’ll be honest—I don’t love what I’m hearing about your girlfriend’s relationship either. If I had to place a bet, I’d say there’s at least an emotional affair going on. Or maybe she doesn’t feel she’s doing anything that’s not above board but simply has different ideas than you do about closeness with friends of the opposite gender. Either way, it’s clear that your expectations don’t line up. At just over a year of dating, I think you’re better off taking this data you have and using it to make a decision about whether she’s a good fit as a partner than you are pressuring her to change her behavior.

Q. Re: Too Much Love for One Wedding

When you choose some people and not others to be in your wedding party or to receive invites, you are telling those others that they aren't as important to you. This is of course reasonable, we all are differently close to different people. But if they thought they were closer than they are, they've now learned otherwise, and this is hurtful, no matter how much you didn't intend to hurt people. You can't, and shouldn't, do anything else, but your friends who didn't receive invites (especially them, but also the ones who aren't part of the wedding party but wanted to be) are going to have the feelings they have and make decisions about the friendship. It was entirely up to you to make those decisions for your wedding, but it's also reasonable for them to make decisions based on that.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

You know what? This is so true. I think there are some exceptions (Like: Laura might get invited even though she’s a third-tier friend because she is part of a trivia team that includes long-time BFFs Kate and Kendra, and it would be weird to exclude her, while Dan, who’s actually a second-tier friend, doesn’t get invited because he doesn’t know anyone else who will be there). But overall, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense—the choices about the guest list reflect reality, and maybe the best bet is to resist sugar-coating it. Related: Weddings not only reflect the current status of friendships but can deepen and solidify them. When you’re deciding who to invite, you are deciding who gets to meet your grandma and dance with your toddler nephew and say “I was at her wedding” when people ask if they know you. That creates a certain kind of closeness. And yeah, you’re choosing to offer that to some people and not others for a reason.

Q. Re: Too Soon for a Vasectomy

Remember that the vasectomy reversal success rate can be as high as 75 percent. You can also deposit your sperm in a bank for up to 20 years for a fairly low fee. Do this first (likely a few times to make sure you have enough of a "sample") and then get the vasectomy. If you do decide to have more kids in the future, you have options.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

This is good information. But 75 percent is one of those stats that sounds good now, but might not sound great if, years from now, they decide they really want another child and have to face down a 25 percent chance that this first step of the process won’t work. Freezing sperm is another good option, but not one without significant costs (in terms of money, time, and the toll on his wife’s body if they choose to go undergo IUI or IVF to get pregnant and she has to take medication to make that happen).

Q. Re: Flip Flop's Daughter

I do not mean in any way to dismiss or denigrate your feelings about your father's work. But as a lawyer, I want to give a little perspective on what it means to work with odious clients. Most of the time, people in your father's line of work not only get their clients out of trouble, but they also work with those clients to teach them how to stop doing those awful things, to change the culture meaningfully, and to identify problem employees quickly and change their behavior or get rid of them before they can do too much damage. They also teach companies how to work more sensitively and respectfully with injured employees. Someone has to teach them how to behave more respectfully, and while I'm very sorry for you that it was your father who did that, without people like him, change will take longer and will be less consistent. Not everyone can stand to work with odious clients—I cannot and am lucky enough to be able to pick and choose my clients—and I'm grateful for people who can do this work and make a positive contribution by effecting change in these toxic companies.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

This is a great insight. Now let’s be clear: Plenty of lawyers defend awful, powerful clients (I’m not talking about indigent people who need public defenders in criminal cases here) who do a lot of harm because those clients pay and the lawyers don’t give a shit about anything except making money. But I do believe that what’s described here happens as well. Maybe a letter to Dad could open up a conversation about how he sees his work and help LW make sense of it.

Q. Re: Have One, But Not Five

There is real medical treatment for alcoholism now that isn't just attending a meeting every day. Try to reach out to her doctor about it. Medication can help her resist the urge to drink but also see if she might need something else long-term, like an antidepressant.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Definitely, look into all the available options.

Q. Re: Worried About the Worrier

I have seen dementia; lost my wife to it a bit over two years ago. The distinction is that dementia is progressive. In a period of months, you'll see changes you can document. Watch over time and if you can document that a real change in behavior is occurring, that's when to bring it up again. It's how you distinguish dementia from behavior that's just quirky or unusual.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

I’m so sorry for your loss. This is a really good tip. Thank you!

Jenée Desmond-Harris

We’ll wrap things up here. Really good advice this time, readers. Stop trying to take my job! 

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