Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
While I went away this summer to visit my sister for three weeks, as she had just had a new baby, I left my 9-month-old Australian Shepherd mix, Abbie, at home with my girlfriend. She insisted she wanted to do this for me, and refused all objections (I offered to send him to a boarding service since she rarely spends time with the puppy; we compromised and put him in a daycare three times a week). Well, it was a disaster.
Within the first week, I was fielding calls and texts about how the dog was too much to handle. I hired dog walkers and even considered cutting my visit to my newborn niece short. She had gotten so “fed up” with the puppy at one point that she admitted to hurting Abbie “and it felt good.” She also said she got “so mad” at Abbie, yelling at her a lot when she did something “bad.” I am devastated for my puppy, who was so neglected and mistreated. But, I am also devastated that this woman couldn’t step up to the plate for a young creature in her care. Being with my sister made me realize I am ready for a child, too. But if my girlfriend can’t even handle a sheepdog, how will she handle a baby? And who the heck HURTS a living being (“a little, one time”) and then feels GOOD?? Am I nuts for leaving her over this? I don’t want to say she’s an “unfit mother,” but I can’t shake the feeling it would be true. She is a very lovely person and cares for me deeply, but this reported violence is seriously disturbing.
—Am I in the Doghouse Forever?
Dear Am I in the Doghouse,
I’m not qualified to make a diagnosis and this is not medical or mental health advice but um, your girlfriend is a sociopath. She is not a loving person. You are right to be disturbed, and not at all nuts for leaving her. Somehow her telling you and sharing that hurting an animal “felt good” makes the situation even worse. I mean, what the hell? Nobody asked! I absolutely guarantee this is not the last time she’ll be out of control and cruel. Even if you don’t break up at this moment, please do not stick around to find out how she might handle a baby.
Note to Abbie, if you’re reading: You have my permission to bite this woman.
I’m afraid my boyfriend thinks I’m faultless. I’ve been dating him for a few months after being friends for one and a half years. We’ve had our share of moments—wonderful and less than. Mostly me being upset about something he’d said or done—which already worries me. But his usual response is that he will work on it to be the partner I deserve. That he loves me unconditionally, and I deserve better—things along this line.
When I ask him if there’s something he’d like to bring up, or insist he tell me if I’ve made him upset, he says he will… but that it hasn’t happened so often.
This isn’t true, Prudie. I’m sensitive (possibly leading to arguments) and I have a short temper (not to the point of yelling, physical fighting, or brazen insulting, but I can be irritable). In a weird way, it makes me feel like a wolf dating a sheep. On his part, he’s great, kind, and sensitive (as well). Is it strange to be worried about my boyfriend loving me endlessly? I like myself, but I’m not the image of perfection.
You know when people who have been married for like, 15 years do social media tributes to their spouses, they often include kind of awkwardly less-than-romantic admissions about the hard parts of love, like: “Even though you drive me crazy I’m happy we’re together” and “We’ve definitely had our ups and downs—MANY MANY MANY DOWNS, SO MANY DOWNS—but I would choose you again” or “We may want to kill each other half the time and the other half of the time we just kind of tolerate each other but I can’t wait to do this for another three decades. Haha, love you! ” It sounds like maybe he’s just already there. He knows about your faults, but he truly accepts them. He’s been through the not-great moments and has decided the great moments make them worth it. He just skipped the part (between the honeymoon and the old-married-couple anniversary post) where people often bump heads because they try to change each other. If that’s what he’s into, I like that for him, and for you.
That said, reading between the lines of your letter, I’m wondering if the real story here is that your concern isn’t actually that your boyfriend loves you endlessly, but rather that you aren’t being a great partner. You can’t change how he feels and reacts to you, but you can certainly try to work on your temper and irritability. Those habits are worth addressing, just to become the kind of person you want to be. And he doesn’t have to get upset or complain for you to do it.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
My parents have agreed to abide by your decision on this wedding etiquette question. They recently received an invitation to a cousin’s wedding and are generally not feeling up to attending. They have proposed that one of their children attend in their stead with their spouse as “family representatives.” They said they would send a generous cash gift and the attendees can enjoy the food, drink, and dancing as a date night. None of us were invited to this wedding, although we think this is likely due to space constraints vs. any ill will. We’re not particularly close but are always cordial when we meet (which hasn’t been for a while).
The family is pretty divided on whether replacing the invited guests would be acceptable. My parents maintain that this is fine and it’s more about having a family representative than the actual individuals attending. Some of us think it’s rude and could upset the couple. I have proposed that it COULD be OK, if they were clear on the RSVP and gave the bride an easy out if she doesn’t like it (none of us would be offended—we know seating arrangements and wedding planning can be stressful). What do you think?
— Butts in Seats
Hi to your parents. They’ve made me feel very powerful.
I don’t think this is the worst plan ever. And I like the idea of gently suggesting it and giving the bride an easy out. Except—and this is the big catch—there is no easy out. There is no way she’s going to feel comfortable saying. “Thanks for the idea, but I was actually hoping some of the relatives I was required to invite would say no so I could move on and send out these B-list invitations to some fun new friends I’ve made in the past few months. My cousins are cool but I don’t know them that well so I’ll pass on having them attend.” She just won’t. So, sorry mom and dad. RSVP “no,” send the gift, and let the people hosting the wedding manage the guest list.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I’m certain they mentioned the gifted thing no more than one time.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My company relocated me to my home town for a temporary project. I’ve made some friends from work, but have basically started hanging out with my old high school friends. Before I came, I didn’t think I wanted to make any new friends besides maybe some work friends because I was only going to be here for six to eight months. It’s been two months and I’m not sure my high school friends and I are still in the same places in our lives.
The one thing that keeps annoying me about their behavior is that they keep discussing how being called “gifted” as a child set them up for failure. The issue I have with that is that none of these people actually tried to do anything significant with their “gifts.” I ended up going to an Ivy League school and worked my butt off to get scholarships. Meanwhile, none of my friends even applied to their dream school because they didn’t think their parents could afford it and didn’t even try to look for scholarships. Each of them just went to the good, but very average, local universities.
All of them complain about any number of things having to do with their lives, but aren’t able to do anything to try to fix it. It’s like they think the fact that they were gifted meant the world was going to hand them everything on a silver platter. So, I’m at the point where I’m getting a little tired of hanging out with them in situations where we talk a lot. I’m a very social person, so just having two work friends isn’t going to be good enough for me. Do you think I should say something to my friends? If so, should I tell them that they actually need to work towards the life they want or something else? Should I actually try to make new friends even though I have, at most, six more months?
Dear Gifted Burnout,
When I first read your letter, I had a hard time even getting my head around the idea of “being gifted set me up for failure” coming up in a conversation between friends more than once. It’s a very weird thing to focus on, even if they do sincerely believe it to be true. Also, how much is there really to say about this?? My first answer was basically “Drop these incredibly boring and possibly delusional former friends” or “Do activities that don’t involve speaking.”
Then I came up with a theory: You have experienced more academic and career success than your “gifted” friends. They feel insecure about that. To deal with that insecurity, they keep bringing up this excuse about how they were labeled as children. But wait, there’s more! I think they feel insecure about where they are because they feel you’re judging them for, as you put it, “not doing anything significant with their gifts” and “failing to work toward the lives they want.” And they’re right! You are judging them! They know you find them disappointing. They’re reacting to that and overcompensating for it every time you hang out.
Now, that doesn’t change that the conversation is boring, annoying, and probably not based in fact. But it does mean there might be a path to putting an end to it. That path involves putting your friends at ease by letting them know that you accept, value, and respect them for who they are and where they are in life. That you’re happy to hang out with hometown buddies. That schools and salaries don’t define any of you, and that you can pick up right where you left off when you’re together. The trick is, you have to actually feel it. This means trying to sincerely rid yourself of any snobbishness about your accomplishments or judgment about theirs. Then make sure they feel that. Maybe that means putting them at ease with compliments about facets of their lives that aren’t education and career-related. Or showing sincere interest in their pets, their workout routines, or how their family members are doing. If you fill your time together by making a real effort to connect and get to know them better and skip any remarks about status, you might find that they feel comfortable talking to you about much more than their strange theories about why their lives aren’t like yours.
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.
I am getting married next year and we already have our bridal party set for the event. My bridesmaids are incredibly diverse and include two people who identify as LGBTQ+. Recently, one of my fiancé’s groomsmen had a spiritual rebirth, following going into recovery from serious substance abuse. He is now incredibly devout, and is not shy about his feelings—including re-posting pictures and quotes on his Instagram Stories that are anti-choice, and “pro-traditional family.” Several of my friends have seen these Stories, including my Matron-of-Honor, who identifies as bisexual. She personally confronted him, and he blocked her without any response. She is now going around saying that he should be disinvited from all group events. I have personally never had any negative experiences with this person, he is a great friend to my fiancé, and I don’t believe he has acted outside of re-posting these Stories. However, I want everyone in my bridal party—and at my wedding at large—to feel safe and comfortable. What do you think we should do?
—Bridal Party Panic
I am a woman in my late 20s who’s back in the dating scene after being in a committed relationship for the past six years. My question is about the proper etiquette for turning a guy down. I had a long and pleasant enough conversation with a guy at a bar the other night who asked for my number at the end of it, and I sort of reflexively gave it to him, even though I didn’t think we had much chemistry and didn’t really intend to see him again. When he texted me the next morning, I simply didn’t respond. I felt bad about it—I think ghosting is wrong.
It occurred to me that I could have texted back something like, “It was nice talking to you last night, but I’m busy with grad school and want to focus on my schoolwork.” But this isn’t the truth, and I try to live my life with honesty, so I want to avoid lying as much as possible. But just telling someone you’re not interested in them seems mean if it can be avoided. If we’d been dating a while I’d be fine with pointing out specific reasons I don’t want to take things further, but that kind of feedback seems unwarranted when you’ve only recently met someone. What’s the kindest and most tactful way to turn someone down? (Obviously, the simplest solution would be to not give out my number in the first place… But that’s an awkward thing to turn down, too because I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings at that moment!) Help!
—Bad at Saying No
Dear Saying No,
My former roommate and good friend was a fantastic dater, and she had a great line for cutting things off after one date, which she told me she originally got from an episode of Oprah. It was something like, “I really enjoyed last night but I wanted to let you know that I didn’t feel the kind of spark I would need to move forward and I don’t want to waste your time. I’m sorry about that and I wish you the best!”
I would actually just suggest a small edit of that to fit your circumstances: “I really enjoyed meeting you last night but I wanted to let you know that after sleeping on it/ after giving it some thought I didn’t feel the kind of spark I would need to move forward with getting to know each other. I know we just met but I don’t want to waste your time. I’m sorry about that and I wish you the best!”
“Most people can’t argue with ‘I don’t want to waste your time’ and we all know chemistry is random so it’s a very nice let down,” she told me when I texted her to ask permission to quote her here. And indeed, she said the line normally went over well except with “one guy who told me that butterflies were for teenagers or something like that after he spent a whole date talking about an ex girlfriend.” But the great news is that if someone responds angrily to your message, you’ll get extra confirmation that you made the right choice.
I’m struggling with what to tell my parents when they pester me about why my husband and I don’t bring our two young kids (3 and 5) to visit them more than once or twice a year. We all used to live in the same metro area, but a few months before our first child was born, my parents moved into a luxury full-service retirement facility almost four hours away. It’s so expensive we’ll be lucky if they leave enough to cremate them. And far from enjoying themselves, they do nothing but complain about the demanding and bigoted old rich folks who populate the place.
They accuse me of loving my in-laws more than them. I wouldn’t say that—but my in-laws did help us buy a lovely house with a separate suite, which they moved into when our first child was an infant, to save us the cost of a nanny. They spend quality time with our kids every day and seem genuinely interested in them as individuals. Their plan is to spend only what they need to and leave most of their money to us. (My husband is their only living child; his sister died tragically young.) This may be partly a cultural difference since I’m white and my husband is Chinese American. But we’ve already mutually decided that this is exactly how we want to behave toward our grown children and grandchildren (assuming, of course, that it doesn’t conflict with their wishes).
In contrast, it feels like my parents have decided to prioritize themselves and not invest in future generations, and that this is a continuation of a lifelong pattern. They had six kids seemingly just because they liked babies, losing interest in each of us as we grew old enough to speak our minds. They didn’t help me or my siblings with college; we had to either go into blue-collar work or wait until our mid-20s when we could qualify for loans independently, thus getting a late start in our careers. They didn’t contribute to our homes, weddings, or emergency expenses. Of all six of us, I’m the only one who even has kids, and only because I married someone better off.
So now them wanting to see my kids all the time feels like wanting to have their cake and eat it. Should I communicate this to them? Or keep my petty bitterness to myself and continue to make excuses about the long drive, even as the kids get older and less exhausting to wrangle?
Dear Disenchanted Daughter,
Wait a minute. Why is there so much discussion of money and inheritance in a question about grandparents wanting to see their grandkids? Your children are not for sale. At least they shouldn’t be. Put yourself in their shoes: Does the amount of money your parents contributed to your college education have anything to do with how much your kids would benefit from a relationship with them? Are you really thinking of denying them this special bond because your mom and dad didn’t contribute to your real estate goals? Sorry, but that’s messed up.
Don’t get me wrong—what your in-laws have done by helping to create a situation in which they can be in your kids’ life every day is amazing, and it makes sense that you’re grateful. It also makes sense that the reward for this arrangement is lots of time and closeness with the little ones. It’s fine to tell your parents that the logical consequence of their choice to move hours away is that they aren’t going to have as many visits. But your explanation should be about the wrangling of the kids and the exhausting drive, not what they’ve chosen to do with their bank accounts.
More Advice From Slate
I have been dating a man now for eight years who is a loving, awesome person in many ways. He adores me, and he treats me like a queen. The problem is that I don’t want any of it anymore. He struggles with alcoholism and anxiety, cannot hold down a job, and still lives like a college student just scraping by, despite being in his 40s. I decided four years ago that he’s not what I’m looking for, as a divorced mother of two, despite his many good qualities. But because of all these issues, mainly that he has no money, he still has not left my space.