Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I have a younger sister-in-law who runs a Facebook blog with a large following (over 10,000) about her parenting lifestyle (think along the lines of unschooler, home birth, anti-vaccine). Even though I don’t agree with some of her choices, I’ve been a good aunt to her five children (soon to be six). Recently, she has had a penchant for posting on her blog about mistakes her extended family has made regarding her lifestyle choices, and just the other day I saw her referencing myself and my family in one of her posts.
It was regarding something that never happened: breastfeeding photos that she had posted a decade ago that she said we had our teenager son block on his FB account. We had our 13-year-old son shut down his FB account ten years ago because he was just too young, not because of his aunt’s breastfeeding photos. Because we’re not super close and that happened a long time ago, I feel like it would be petty to talk to her about all this. On the other hand, I’ve been a breastfeeding advocate for decades and have passed that message on to my three sons. I’ve never ever shamed any woman for breastfeeding in any way, so it feels hurtful to see her post and have multiple strangers judge me on something that never happened. I’m conflicted about whether I should confront her or let it go.
—Breast Interests At Heart
Dear Breast Interests,
Confront her! It sounds like she’s so focused on creating content that she’s forgetting that she has real-life relatives, not just followers. She could use a reminder.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I’m 24, a lesbian, and I’m invariably unlucky in love. In high school, I asked a girl out and she said yes, only to say no two days later. I had one boyfriend in high school before I figured out I was a lesbian. I had a crush on a roommate in college that ultimately ruined the friendship when I confessed my feelings. I had a girlfriend in college but I ended the relationship because she felt more strongly than I did, and it wasn’t fair to her. I had a long-distance relationship that fizzled almost as soon as it began. Straight men have routinely hit on me throughout my life despite the fact that I’m a butch person, and more importantly, have never demonstrated any interest. Back when I was on dating apps I went on a series of first dates that never turned into second dates, let alone a relationship. My volunteer work in my local LGBTQ+ community is very intergenerational, which means women old enough to be my mother have propositioned me (very unwelcome). Finally, and most recently, my idiot self developed a crush on one of my roommates, which I confessed yesterday and was gently turned down.
I don’t know what to do. I can’t go to the bars because I don’t drink, it’s too loud (I’m hard of hearing), and everyone there is only looking for hookups anyway. One of my favorite dancing spots I stopped going to because it became too depressing to be the only queer woman there, week after week. Getting back on dating apps just feels like it’ll be a lot of effort for little reward, and my volunteer work brings me a lot of lovely friends, but nothing more. I feel like I don’t have any recourse beyond pretending it’s fine and trying to get rid of the perfectly normal desire to be loved romantically. How can I cope?
—My Heart Sucks
Dear My Heart Sucks,
You know how they always say you meet someone when you stop trying? I don’t know if that’s true. In my experience, people who really want to be partnered meet someone when they keep trying. Despite the disappointment. Despite the bad odds. Despite everything. You just keep going on dates. You cope by continuing to put yourself out there, knowing that it will often suck. Don’t get me wrong, you have the option to stop trying and suppress your desire to be loved romantically. You can do that, lean into other parts of your life, and be just fine. But I don’t think that will make you happier than you are now.
I don’t actually think it sounds like you’re horribly unlucky. It sounds like you have medium bad luck. Totally average bad luck. The kind of bad luck that explains why 96 percent of people agree that dating is tough and that apps can make you feel awful. The kind that explains why the vast majority of people have more than one or two relationships before getting married. The kind that explains why many, many people who would like to be in relationships currently are not.
I could give you some advice, like, “Go to places where there are young lesbians! You have the internet, do some research.” Or “Ask everyone you know to hook you up with someone.” Or “Get a friend to aggressively edit your dating profile.” It doesn’t matter which approach you choose, because they all get you to the same place: still trying. And that’s how you ultimately find love.
So, the question is, how do you find the motivation to keep trying? How do you keep trying without feeling absolutely miserable about it every day? How do you keep from undermining your own efforts by bringing desperation or a strong whiff of low self-esteem and negativity to each date, thereby pushing people away instead of drawing them to you? That requires changing your own attitude, which is much, much easier said than done. I do want to gently raise a concern that you seem to have a very dark view of a not-unusually bad dating situation. You seem to feel like things are worse for you than they are for most people and have a sense of hopelessness about it all. That makes me worried that you may be dealing with a bit of depression. If that resonates, look into it. You might find that with talk therapy and/or medication, dating is still a pain in the ass, but your circumstances aren’t quite as awful as they seem, and continuing to try feels more possible.
I was out recently with two friends, who I’ll call “Sarah” and “Jane.” We were talking about bad dates, and I mentioned that I was a little skittish because of the physical abuse I’d dealt with as a kid. Sarah commiserating, telling me about a time her mom had kicked a date out of her house because he’d threatened to beat her.
Jane heard all of this and seemed kind of put off, then butted in to say something along the lines of “People are too quick to cut someone off over one slap or shove, and we have to be more understanding towards people’s anger.” Sarah seemed to laugh it off, I said something flippant (“OK, guess I’m not calling you if I have a black eye”), but as time wears on, I’m kind of more unsettled. I’ve been avoiding Sarah because I’m not sure how to react to what she said: On the one hand, it feels weird to cut her off over one weird conversation, but on the other hand, I’m very put off when people hear about abuse and immediately minimize it.
—When Friends Side With Abusers They’ve Never Even Met
Dear When Friends Side,
This is odd because it’s not as if Jane expressed an ignorant, but well-known position on a social issue. It would be one thing if she’d said “Vaccines can’t be trusted” or “You know, CRT is a real problem in schools” or “There’s no need for abortion, why can’t women just put babies up for adoption?” If that had happened, you would have just said “Oh, OK, so it turns out Jane revealed herself to be that kind of person. Good to know.” But “We are too mean to abusers” is not part of that package of backward stances. It’s not even something people with the most regressive or compassion-deficient worldviews are known to think. So, assuming it also doesn’t line up with the way you know Jane to be, I think this is worth a conversation to clarify if you misunderstood something. If not, explain why her remark was so upsetting to you. Don’t cut her off until you’re a little more sure that she actually thinks physical violence is cool and is more worried about the perpetrators than the victims (including you).
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.
My brother-in-law “John” and I are good friends. We are the same age (mid-20s), share some similar interests, and live in the same city. A couple of days ago, John complained to me while golfing about his inability to find a girlfriend. His complaints included comments that remind me of things I’ve heard from “incel communities.”
“Girls only want to go for the guys who are assholes to them because they like being treated that way.” “If you aren’t a gym rat, girls won’t even look your way.” “Good guys like me can never find girls.” “I don’t know why a girl who isn’t skinny would think I would want to date her.” (John is a heavier set guy.) I think one of the biggest problems though, John has zero interest in trying to be the kind of person that someone else would want to date.
John dropped out of school and has no interest in furthering his education. He lived with my wife and me about a year ago while “looking for work” while burning through his savings from a grocery store job he held back when he lived at home. He lives in apartments that cater to college students, which means he has five freshman roommates. He spends most of his nights watching TV, playing video games, or going to parties with his roommates. I helped get him an entry-level support staff job at my work so he would have some form of income (and get out of my house), and since his rent is so cheap he doesn’t push himself to find better work or increase his skills. He’s come to a few parties with groups of friends of mine, and every time he just complains none of the girls are “good looking” and then goes back to swiping on Tinder.
Prudie, I’m not sure what to say to him. On the one hand, I don’t want him looking for internet support in communities that are rampant with misogyny and anger. On the other hand, I want to shake him and tell him that no girl wants to date a guy whose idea of a date is to take her back to play video games with his five freshman roommates, but I worry that will drive him away. Any advice?
My adult stepdaughter wants to move back home to save money. The problem is her multiple animals: three cats, a dog, and a bunch of rodents. Both I and our young son are very allergic. Even with medicine, any kind of animal dander will have us sneezing and tearing up. Our house has an open floor plan. My stepdaughter says she will clean and vacuum every day but I know that will not be enough.
I am fine with her moving back in, but not with the menagerie. My husband has always had a soft touch for his only daughter, but there is no way to compromise with our health. My stepdaughter refuses to consider any other options like looking into temporary fostering or finding like-minded roommates. She also insulted me and called me an animal hater. Her mother has moved out of state. I have always not pushed on anything with her since she was a teenager when I met her father, but why do I have to be the bad guy here?
Dear No Pets,
You have to be the bad guy here because your husband doesn’t care enough about your and your son’s allergies. Which is too bad. This young woman isn’t on the verge of homelessness—she would simply like to save money. Meanwhile, you would like to live in your own home without being sick. He has to think about whose desires are more important and whether it’s fair to change the status quo based on his daughter’s whims. I hope he decides that she can move in without the animals, or move in with her mother instead. (Note: adults are allowed to cross state lines!) If he doesn’t protect you here, he’s told you a lot about how much he values you.
P.S. A person who has already called you an “animal hater” in response to your desire to protect your respiratory system is absolutely not going to be considerate enough to clean and vacuum every day.
My husband and I live in a one-bedroom apartment with our three girls. To be blunt, we can’t afford anything else (and our income is too high to afford assistance but I can’t quit my job without losing our insurance). We “walled” off the living room and put in bunk beds. Our next-door neighbor is very, very kind, but clueless. She loves to bargain hunt and bring back books, toys, and random crap to give to our girls.
When she asked at first, we didn’t see the harm. She had an eye for things that interested our daughters (including our difficult reader). She also got up at the crack of dawn for a month to drive my husband, our girls, and me to work and school. We had one car and it went kaput.
I genuinely like this lady, and I cannot afford to burn any bridges. But it is so much stuff! She is wasting her money because as soon as the shine wears off, the stuff gets tossed into a bag and taken to the charity shop. And she very much likes giving the girls gifts but not so much spending time with them (I offer for her to join us for dinner or go to the park and she always declines). She is very, very nice, but it is too much stuff! My husband tells me to let it be. They know me by name at the charity shop now. Help!
—The Neighbor Is Too Nice
Dear The Neighbor Is Too Nice,
If donating piles of crap to charity is what it takes to maintain a relationship that you say you need to maintain, keep donating. That’s a small price to pay for a month of early-morning car rides and the emotional security of knowing someone nearby has your back. Perhaps you could even identify a specific family who is struggling and would love a constant stream of free toys. That way you’ll get to experience some of the same joy your neighbor does when she gives gifts to you, and some other children out there will actually benefit.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Nobody I know is more passionate about a years-long grudge toward a bad boss. Not even close.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
Eight years ago, I was fired from a company that I had been with for seven years. They claimed I discussed confidential bonus information with an employee, but when I asked for their proof (which they said they had), they wouldn’t show me anything. I did not and would not do anything like that. It wasn’t like I could go to HR about it either, I WAS the HR person. To this day, I believe I was fired because my boss didn’t like the fact that I knew more about HR than she did and the employees respected me more. She had the VP believing she couldn’t do anything without her.
My question: Can I send my former boss a thank you letter, letting her know that she did me a favor? I am at a much better company; I love the job I do and I am making more money than that company would have ever paid me. I am well respected and considered a great asset here. If it wasn’t for them letting me go, I would never have found this job or company. I know it sounds petty, but so much good has happened to me since I left there, I actually feel grateful that they did that to me!
—Grateful for Being Canned
LOL, don’t do this. If you’re truly grateful, that feeling should be enough.
If you are indeed still feeling petty (I think you are, which is totally fine) wait for a better opportunity to “win.” For example, a reference to what happened when you give the keynote address about “resilience” at a conference where your former boss is in the audience. Or a Twitter thread sharing your experience when your former employer is under fire for something else and everyone is in the mood to hear bad tales about them. If you’re going to hold onto your bitterness about what happened (Again, totally fine! I would too!) you want to get as much out of it as possible when you finally say something.
I discovered this weekend that my husband belongs to a website for people whose spouses or partners cheated on them. He posts there frequently, and he’s talked about our children, our financial struggles, and my infidelity with my boss. The thing is: I’ve never cheated on my husband. It’d be one thing if he’d created a fictional persona for this website. It’d still be misleading and a cause for concern, but the things he writes about our marriage are lies.