Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I live in a suburban town dominated by Republicans. I’ve lived here for 25 years. I am a white liberal Democrat. Well, several years ago I saw a street sign for Klan Street in my town. It’s a small, dead-end residential street. I asked a liberal friend what that was about (she has lived here longer than I) and she replied “Oh, that! It’s named after a family name. No big deal.” This is apparently the story the town tells about this offensive street name, but I found no record of Klan being a family name. The word is a direct reference to the KKK. I would like it changed—even to just Clan street!
I haven’t gone to the town’s mayor with my concerns because I don’t think I will accomplish anything. He’ll just think I am a fragile snowflake and send me on my way. What should I do? Is there a way to draw attention to this horrible street name or an organization to contact? I just feel no one, no one should see a street named after the KKK. I can’t believe people actually live there! I do plan to move out of this town but a) I can’t right now and b) I’d like to fix this. What do you think?
— Klan Street
Dear Klan Street,
You could definitely draw attention by getting people fired up on Nextdoor (Hint: Make the subject line something like “local crime” or “stolen package” to draw readers in by speaking to their interests). In addition to the many people who will call you a snowflake and find ways to start complaining about “defund the police,” (Is it just where I live that they manage to work that into every conversation?) you might get the attention of the few neighbors who share your views. You could connect with them and brainstorm ways to take action. Perhaps you organize a small protest, a petition, or some social media posts aimed at drawing national attention (and hopefully, embarrassment) to the issue.
Who knows if you’ll be successful, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing. Now, here’s the important part: Keep in touch with these people and commit to getting together to find out which local groups are working to address the less symbolic, more concrete ways in which racism is affecting the lives of people in your town and the surrounding communities, where the legacy of the days in which the KKK ran things surely still colors the day-to-day experience of non-white people. Then ask how you can support them. You are right that no one should see a street named after the Klan. But more urgently, no one should be a victim of racist policing, housing discrimination, or any of the other atrocities that require no official white supremecist organization to ruin lives.
I am a 26-year-old straight male and I met my girlfriend on a dating app a few months before the pandemic. We moved in with roommates in late 2020 and on our own last summer. We get along generally OK, but I believe not enough to demonstrate basic compatibility.
At first glance, she is a wonderful, well-intentioned human being, but I realize that she can take issue with the simplest change in her predictable routine. She wants to set the coffee the night before she goes to work, starts to organize her clothes a certain way, and stresses about going to bed at a certain time. She excoriates me if I suggest that is an overreaction. She and I fight often almost daily exactly like this, after being very close and romantic. I say something sarcastic and she takes it literally and doesn’t let it go. I encourage her to reach out to her isolated sibling (her parents are on another continent), and she starts a fight about how it’s not my business. I push back or even agree about some ethos and I am mansplaining. I admit that even when she says I am a feminist, I sometimes use sexist and loaded tropes like “crazy” to describe an overreaction, and she calls it out. Her parents are in a traditional relationship—her dad is mean and sexist, and she always says she doesn’t want to be like her mother.
Here is my real issue: I’ve more recently maybe tuned to the fact that my girlfriend has something psychiatric, and I have some elements of PTSD (I grew up in a war zone) that combine together to create tension. I am genuinely not happy, even when most of the time we are fine. I have a history of a few successful long-term relationships, she has a history of ones where she was mistreated. When we became partners, her parents were so happy, and her mom says to not let me go—to the painfully difficult point where she will not let me go. I sometimes say we shouldn’t be together, and she storms out. I tell her a reason (an anecdote from the day usually) and she then goes silent on me for a day or so until I apologize, and then we’re back together.
I am not perfect. I just want to know if I am kidding myself, or if I should have the courage to just end the relationship, preferably amicably. I feel like her world would shatter because she really leans into this relationship (we cut a lot of friendships because of the pandemic), and I feel the burden of carrying that. I also have a close relationship with her mom and her dad, and I don’t know how to even explain how or why this relationship does not feel right to me, in the absence of some obvious horrific reason. Our lease is up in June. I’m going to law school this fall and would like to worry about torts, not unprovoked tantrums. Please help!
— Who Am I Kidding?
Dear Who Am I Kidding,
You are 26 years old. You aren’t married. You don’t have kids. Do you know what the proper bar for ending a relationship is? It’s “I’m not enjoying it anymore.” You have met that and then some. Daily fights! The silent treatment! Enough material that you’ve pondered mental health diagnoses! Come on now.
You have my blessing to break up and move on. Law school is stressful enough without tantrums, you’re right. Your girlfriend will struggle with the breakup because everyone struggles with breakups but she will be OK.
A while ago I (cis woman) dated a man “Chris” who was a particular type of doctor at the beginning of his career. During that time he was quite specific about weight—my weight, my mom’s weight, his ex’s weight—and would do things like buy me a nice dress in the size he wanted me to be, but not my actual size and make comments about how 130 pounds was really too big. He was also openly dismissive of people’s mental health—again, mine, my mom’s, his ex’s—to such an extent I really questioned why on Earth he chose the field he did. It took a long time for me to recover from that breakup, but I did.
Now, however, Chris is quoted pretty regularly in a major news outlet as some kind of expert in weight reduction and it really bothers me. I have also found myself going back to behaviors such as weighing myself daily and counting calories—things I haven’t done in a long time. In a further twist, my once-in-a-while therapist used to have professional interactions with him and thinks he is brilliant, so we can’t talk about him and the anger that comes up when I see his quotes about eating and weight. It gives me flashbacks to him calling my mom obese and her crying about it. Yes, I totally hear all the fat-shaming and I am NOT about that and want to get out of the loop of thinking I have to be under 130 to be an acceptable human form. What should I do? Write to his university? Leave a voice message reminding him of things he said? Ignore it? Send him a teeny tiny t-shirt?
—Stepping Off the Scale
Dear Stepping Off the Scale,
Congratulations on losing [insert Chris’s weight] pounds. (Sorry, I recently saw someone celebrate a divorce on Instagram using that construction and I had to borrow it.) He sounds like he was an awful partner, and I’m glad you are recovering from the breakup. You don’t need to say anything to him or his university. Keep the teeny tiny t-shirt. We don’t care about him anymore, we care about you and how you can go back to having a healthy relationship with food and your body. Find a new therapist who you can talk to about this creepily, scale-obsessed emotional abuser as much as you want, and make the appointments more regular than once in a while.
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