Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Here we are again! Let’s chat.
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. This mainly comes up at restaurants, where about half the time the server asks if we want one check or two. Every time this happens, Hannah quietly jokes 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?
A: 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 the server 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. 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?
A: “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.
A: 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?
A: 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. 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.
A: “New-vibes energy.” I love it. And congrats to them on all the chemistry.
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.
A: 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.
For medical reasons, I cannot drive. Happily, my husband enjoys driving and can be counted on to get us where we need to go. I’m very fortunate; he never complains, and he’s a very skilled driver. Unfortunately, he’s not a safe driver. He always pushes the speed limit, frequently at dangerously high speeds of over 100 mph. He perceives other drivers as threats and aggressively weaves through traffic to outmaneuver them. He’s been involved in no shortage of road-rage close calls as a result, even with me in the car screaming at him, begging him, pleading with him to slow down.