Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Fourteen years ago, I had a roommate in college named “Annie.” Annie and I became good friends, and though we aren’t as close now as we were in college, we are social media friends and I see her in person about once every other year when our old friend group gets together.
Annie has struggled for years with infertility, but last year, she excitedly announced she was pregnant with a little boy. She posted weekly updates online about her pregnancy and baby “Jack” (not the actual name). I also love the name Jack, and my husband and I had talked about naming our next child Jack if we had a boy. However, I wasn’t worried that both babies would be named Jack, as it’s not an uncommon name, and besides, Annie and I live in different time zones.
Tragically, last November, Annie had a third-trimester miscarriage which resulted in some serious health complications for her. Her friends and family did their best to love and support her, and I organized a meal to be delivered to her and her husband, sending my love and condolences.
Since then, Annie posts tributes to Jack online, and I can’t imagine how heartbreaking everything has been. Here’s my question: I am pregnant and due in November, with a boy, and we’d still like to name him Jack. (The name has a special significance to my husband and me.) However, I don’t want to hurt Annie. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to learn that my friend had a baby boy almost exactly a year after I lost my baby with the same name. And this will also be my third child.
What is the best way to go about this? I’m not planning on posting a lot about my baby, but I’d like to announce when he’s born and include a photo. I feel like I should warn Annie in a private message a few weeks ahead of my due date, so she’s not shocked online. Is that appropriate? Am I a terrible person for wanting to use the name Jack?
Dear Name Dilemma
A third-trimester miscarriage is such a painful event that I can imagine in some ways, nothing anyone does can make things any worse for your friend, and in other ways, almost any interaction could hurt her: Every mention of pregnancy, every child, every baby, every friend who doesn’t want kids, every hospital and doctor’s office, every holiday, every holiday card with a family in matching pajamas. My guess is that Annie is feeling so raw that she’ll be reminded of her sadness and the injustice of her loss when she hears about the name you chose. But she may also feel the same when seeing a post about your third child with another name, and even when/if you reach out and share a warning. Guess what would also be painful? If you were to block her from your social media posts (which was my first idea) and stop giving her updates, or if she felt that you were someone who pulled back from her during a difficult time.
So, basically, there’s no way of preventing pain for Annie. She lost a child, and you are having a child. It’s truly not fair and it’s upsetting and painful. Instead of making it your goal to avoid causing her more heartbreak, use the name, and give her the warning. Not because it will make her pain better, but because it shows thoughtfulness and care. Don’t expect to find a path that doesn’t hurt her or doesn’t make you feel guilty for your unearned better luck. Instead, do the best you can when it comes to sharing the name and then commit to being there for her and helping her through the thousands of other ways she’s going to be heartbroken while she mourns this loss.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
My ex-wife and I divorced a couple of years ago, and I think we do a good job of co-parenting our middle-school-aged daughter. We each have her half the time, we get along well, and our daughter sees us communicating and co-parenting much better than we did when we were married. My ex-wife has been dating someone and they will soon marry; I like him, and he’s kind to my daughter.
My concern is with how my daughter sees my life by comparison. After years in a quietly deteriorating marriage, I enjoy being single and dating. I’m not out looking for one-night stands, but I’m also not looking to get into a serious relationship simply for the sake of being in one. I’m also conscious about who I bring into my daughter’s life. I don’t want to get into some situation where she feels like she’s meeting Dad’s Girlfriend of the Week; so far, she has not met anybody I’ve dated.
Lately, though, my daughter has been asking questions about my life. A couple of times, she has also become upset and told me that she worries I’m lonely. Recently she asked me straight up if I have a girlfriend. I have been seeing someone, and I think it’s going well, but we haven’t been together long enough for me to want to introduce her. I don’t want to lie, so I told my daughter that I do have a girlfriend; when she asked if they were going to meet, I said that at some point when I am with someone who I’ve got to know well and think is very special, they will meet.
But she’s in middle school, she knows about dating, and she’s not easily put off by vague “Oh sure, sometime” statements. I’m really worried that I could be unwittingly making her into an emotional caretaker, more attuned to my perceived needs than her own. How can I let her know that I’m enjoying my life without telling her more about that life than she ought to know?
—Not Seeking Stepmom
Dear Not Seeking,
Having a girlfriend isn’t the only way to avoid loneliness. You should assure your daughter that you have lots of friends and hobbies or that you really enjoy time to yourself—whatever is true. It will be an important lesson: No one needs a relationship to be happy, and this is something that might come in handy for her to remember during her tumultuous teen years. Throw in an “I promise I’m OK, and also I’m an adult and it’s not your job to worry about me. It’s your job to go to middle school and have fun and enjoy being a kid.” You’ll be giving her a real gift if you redirect her from feeling responsible for your well-being.
I just found out that my daughter-in-law is a sex worker and that my son participates with her. Although I don’t agree that this is an admirable career choice, they’re adults and can do as they please without my approval. She quit her government job to do this full-time. The problem I see is they have three daughters (ages 13, 10, and 4) that live in the apartment where they “conduct business” and my daughter-in-law does private sessions for other men. My concern is the kids, who absolutely know what is going on in their home. I’m appalled that they would expose their children to this behavior and worry about the impact on the girls. I checked, and what they’re doing is not illegal, but it sure seems immoral to me. By the way, neither of them is speaking to me, they have not allowed me to see the kids, and are posting horrible things about me not accepting their choices when I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t know what to do and I miss the girls so much.
—MIL of AZ Sez Worker
You really have no way of knowing if the kids are home while they’re working and interrogating the legality of what they’re doing and making veiled threats likely makes the parents concerned you could try to have their kids taken away.
So it looks like there are two ways your relationship can go from here:
A) Your son and daughter-in-law are involved in sex work with three kids in the apartment and are not speaking to you because you’re judgmental and are making veiled threats that make them fear they’ll have their kids taken away, even though you don’t know exactly what the children are being exposed to. In turn, you have no relationship with the girls and miss them; or
B) Your son and daughter-in-law are involved in sex work with three kids in the apartment and are speaking to you because you’ve apologized and stopped sharing your opinions, and you have a relationship with the girls because their parents trust you again.
I think you know what you need to do to get from A to B.
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’ve been with my wife, Chelsea, for 15 years, married for 12. She is a wonderful person and a great wife. However, I’ve fallen in love with someone else. I met Beth two years ago when our companies worked together on a project for 6 months and we hit it off. Not only did we work great together but we formed a fast friendship. We have a similar sense of humor and a lot of the same interests and passions. We also have a similar background as children of military parents and bonded over moving all the time and base life. Over time, I found myself developing feelings for her. At first, I thought it was just friendly feelings, but they kept getting stronger until I realized I was falling in love with her. I can’t remember ever feeling this way with my wife, not even when we were first dating.
Beth and I haven’t crossed any lines, not in word or deed (and only in my mind to my knowledge). We don’t have inappropriate conversations or text messages. There are no conversations or text messages between us that I would hide from my wife. I don’t know if Beth has feelings for me like I do for her but I can’t stop thinking about her and wanting to be with her. I decreased the time we spent together or talked for a while but it did nothing to lessen my feelings. Whenever I am somewhere with Chelsea, I think about how I wish Beth was there, or how much Beth would like something. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to hurt my Chelsea, but if I am able to develop strong feelings for someone else, doesn’t that mean that I am with the wrong person? Even if Beth doesn’t return my feelings, isn’t it wrong to stay with Chelsea, knowing I don’t love her like I am able to love someone else? What should I do?
—Conflicted in CT
I don’t want my best friend to get married. “Christine” and I have been close since we were 8. Now we are in our early 30s. Christine and I have dated other people for a long time, and we both love our partners very much. She is getting married next month and I want to be excited for her (I pretend to be so excited!). Actually, I feel heartbroken. I feel like I am losing my best friend and like no one will know her better than I do. How do I move past feeling like my heart is broken because my best friend is getting married? Does it say something bad about my relationship with my own partner that I feel this way? Please help!
—Lovesick in Louisville
I noticed that you said “Christine and I have dated other people” and I wonder if that was some kind of slip, as someone would normally write that if the person they were discussing was someone they had dated or were considering dating. You also signed off “Lovesick,” which, again, seems to fit the feeling of being heartbroken over a romantic relationship. Is there any chance you have romantic feelings for Christine? If you do, it makes sense that you’d be hurt by her marriage because it represents a formal end to the possibility of a future for you two. Just something to check in with yourself about. If the answer is “Yes, I’m in love with my best friend” get a trusted counselor to help you process that and make a decision about whether it’s something you should share, and what it means for your relationship.
If I’m totally off here, that’s great news. Because friendships do not end with marriage or even change that much. Marriage is not that different from being with a serious, long-term partner. Christine will have some paperwork and some wonderful new kitchen appliances but the way she divides her time and attention will probably not change much. Do you know any older women who you can look to as role models and remind you that close friendship can easily survive marriage, divorce, and all the other changes life brings? I think it would be helpful for you to have someone whose experience can serve as an example and can give you some perspective on what is a pretty regular life event, not something to mourn.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Do you know what I think would really be something to get upset about? A kid.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My brother-in-law has always been a jackass but since lockdown he has dialed it up to 11, spouting conspiracy theories and trolling people with casual racism and schlock theories. When he learned that my cousin is a trans woman, he turned up at a party in blackface in a zoot suit and insisted that he identified as a “pimp daddy” and that we should all respect “his truth.” My husband immediately threw him out and read him the riot act, which has only encouraged him to double down on this particular provocation. His family is horrified but his parents are old and reluctant to cut him off (he is financially dependent on them) and it is going to be impossible to avoid him completely over the holiday season without upsetting them (he would also view any boycott as a victory). How do we navigate social engagements with this obnoxious fool without sparking a civil war? Should we even try or should we simply give my husband’s family an ultimatum and refuse to be in the same room with him?
—Turn Off the Gaslight
Dear Turn Off the Gaslight,
Between climate disasters, mass shootings, pandemics, and just the reality of being a human, you don’t know how many holiday seasons you have left. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste one of them being in the presence of someone like this. If he views it as a victory, well, so what. He is pretty clearly not a person whose views have any value. Tell your husband’s parents you’ll see them the day before or after they get together with this loser and the rest of the family. Double the celebration for them! It’s a win-win.
Many years ago I had a brief, passion-filled affair with a co-worker. I had no kids (I now have one), and he had two (now has more). There was no fallout as our spouses (the same then as they are now) never found out. We were utterly enamored with each other, but never considered leaving our families due, in a large part, to our diametrically opposed political outlooks. I am incredibly liberal, he staunchly conservative. He has transitioned into politics as a career, become even more conservative, and is now running for a powerful position. If he is elected, he will be able to enact what I consider to be very negative changes to women’s rights and the environment. I have proof of the affair that would likely derail his campaign…