Dear Prudence

Help! My Younger Brother’s Fake Engagement Scheme Is a Ticking Time Bomb.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

Woman and man standing next to each other with a wedding ring and question mark between them.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by AaronAmat/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. Engaged But Not in Love: My younger brother “Matt” has been dating “Anya” for about two years. They recently got engaged. I was in town about a week ago, and Matt and Anya shared a secret with me—they aren’t into each other romantically at all. They both have had really bad luck with dating. They both really want to have kids and they’re getting older and finding it harder to see that as a possibility if they wait (Matt is 34, Anya is a bit younger but still in her 30s). Their plan is to get married, have kids, and live a “normal” life despite not loving each other in that way.

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Matt and Anya lived together for five years when Matt first moved to the city he lives in now, 10 years ago. Usually, there were other roommates, but for a while, it was just the two of them. They know that they can live together comfortably. They recently moved back in together. They spent the past two years pretending to be dating each other while having purely sexual “affairs” with other people.

I think this is such a bad idea for so many reasons, starting with the fact that two years ago they weren’t really that old. When Matt and Anya explained it to me at the moment it seemed like a solid idea because Anya has a very persuasive way of wording things, but as soon as I got to the airport I realized that the whole thing is likely to fall apart. There will eventually be someone with who one of them has sex and whom they will then fall in love with. Part of me wants to sit back and see this whole thing crash and burn, but I don’t want my brother or any future kids to be hurt. Matt told me that I am allowed to tell my wife about this, and my wife seems to think this whole thing is odd but might work since Matt and Anya have lived together for so long. Should I try to talk my brother out of this?

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A: Why do they have to get married to have a kid and parent together??? It’s 2022! They can just do that without lying to the world and creating a situation that will be messy and expensive to unravel if it goes wrong. Why not just have the baby? OK, I realize Matt and Anya aren’t here to answer that question. I agree with you that it’s a bad idea. I agree that there’s a good chance that it will crash and burn. But I also think everyone will basically be fine in the end and talking Matt out of it won’t work. So, sit back and join your wife in wishing them the best.

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Q. Barefoot, Pregnant, and In Limbo: I am a single mom of one child. I became pregnant when I barely knew their father. We briefly tried to have a relationship, but it became clear early on that he is not a terribly good person, and I left him when I was four months pregnant. I have figured out a system that works well enough. He sees my child (aged 10) a couple of afternoons a month, pays some child support, and my child doesn’t seem to miss him (or even like him, really) at all. I worry about this a LOT, but my child really shows no signs of wishing for a father or feeling one way or the other for the one they have. So far, they’re a happy, healthy child with a rich social and academic life, other adults that love and care about them in profound ways, and no apparent behavioral or emotional issues.

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Now, I did something bad. Being a solo working mom is lonely. Five minutes of weak judgment and I’m pregnant again…with the same man. No, I don’t make a habit of this. It was a terrible moment of weakness with a surprise, dare I say miraculous silver lining. I absolutely love motherhood, I think I’m pretty good at it, and would love to have another baby and also give my child a sibling (I am their only family). I have made no effort to find a real partner. Our life works as it is, and I don’t want to bring a stranger into my child’s life.

To make matters worse, he has a girlfriend. I knew this when I had sex with him. I’ve known him long enough to know that his relationships always implode, and he has no intention of committing to one woman or another. But the poor woman in question doesn’t necessarily know that, and I don’t want to be responsible for her potential broken heart. I feel a lot of guilt toward this stranger. I have told him about the pregnancy. He accepts responsibility for it, has actually expressed joy about it, and agreed to extend our current arrangement to the second child.

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I’m conflicted, morally. Am I making the same mistake twice? Am I bringing a second child into what is traditionally considered a “bad situation,” but which appears to work OK for us? Or have I established a functional system in a suboptimal situation, and it is reasonable to bring another child into it? Am I responsible for the feelings of the woman this guy cheated on with me? Basically, am I being reckless and unreasonable?

A: In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have had sex with a man who had a girlfriend. But anyone who reads this column knows we don’t live in a perfect world. What’s done is done. Your first child is loved and happy, and I believe your second child will be, too. You’re not being any more reckless than people who stay married and have children with spouses who aren’t great partners or parents. So yes, I guess the situation is “suboptimal” but that applies to so many families. And you are making the best of it. It’s worth noting that your ex, who is not only cheating on his girlfriend but planning to be a semi-absentee father a second time, is actually feeling joy about this situation. Channel some of that “I do what works for me” attitude. Your parenting journey is about to become even tougher—don’t make it worse by beating yourself up.

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Q. Am I a Crazy Cat Lady?: Am I being petty for firing my cat sitter over this? “Nina” was recommended to me by a friend. She has been a good cat sitter for two years now and lives in the neighborhood. More importantly, my elderly rescue cat “Dusty” trusts her enough to allow her to administer daily eye drops.

Nina has ADHD, and she has been late feeding Dusty more than once. An hour or two early or late isn’t a problem. But recently, she far exceeded that while I was on vacation with my husband. I realized over four hours past the cat’s feeding window that I hadn’t gotten a notification from her and had to text her many times to get her to respond. Nina said she had been delayed due to a prior work commitment and would feed my cat the following morning. I nearly hired a new sitter off an app before she finally fed my cat around midnight.

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I paid her in full but I think we should never hire her again. My husband thinks the cat is so old (12) and we’re only gone a few times a year, that we should just stick with a person Dusty trusts instead of trying to get her acclimated to someone new. I talked about this to a few coworkers and they think I’m overreacting. Am I? If I hadn’t been able to convince Nina to do the job I paid her to do, Dusty would have gone without food for over 24 hours. That just doesn’t seem right to me. I don’t think people would react the same way if Dusty was a dog.

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A: I feel like readers will have a lot of good suggestions for automatic cat food dispensers that can solve your problem. If not, fire Nina. Dusty could live for five or more years, and I don’t want her to spend every vacation during the rest of her life hungry. Nor do I want you to spend every vacation during that time stressed out and worried about your poor, helpless pet! Get someone else trained on the eye drops now and hopefully, they’ll be a pro by the next time you leave town.

Q. Resume Regret: I have a very low-stakes issue that I am baffled about how to handle correctly! I work in a professional field that is seeing staffing shortages, and about six firms in my network are hiring for client service positions. My husband has always spoken so highly of his colleague, who is award-winning and top-rated at his place of employment for her client service skills. I heard she was looking for a new job, and I offered to send her resume out to my network. I was not expecting the awful resume I received. There was clearly very little thought put into the content. There were nonsensical sentence fragments, horrific grammar, and clearly copied and pasted sections from job advertisements (think along the lines of “you can have unlimited growth potential” listed as a bullet point under the most recent place of employment). There is no way I can feel comfortable recommending her now. Is the appropriate response to just not follow up, white lie, and say that I didn’t realize she wasn’t a college graduate and that barred her from the open positions, or let her know that her resume really isn’t reflective of her reputation? I hesitate to have that conversation with her when she has not asked for my opinion, and I don’t have the desire or bandwidth to help her solve the problem.

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A: “Whoops, I think you sent me the wrong version of your resume—the attachment I got was a draft that still had some sentence fragments and pasted language from job descriptions.” She’ll either take a closer look and turn it into something you can share or never follow up.

Q. Friends First?: My newish boyfriend has many female friends from before we got together, many of whom I find to be wonderful people and enjoy meeting. I was just wondering what the etiquette is for when we get together with one, as I notice he will always make them the first priority in terms of opening a door, ordering food, pouring drinks, etc. Does that signal any kind of message to them, or is that just proper manners? I’m at a complete loss on this one. I’m not the least bit jealous but somehow always making them the number one doesn’t always feel right to me. A specific example was when, at a restaurant, I asked for water and my boyfriend poured some for all of us. He offered and gave a glass to his friend first though it was me who had wanted some in the first place.

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A: My most generous interpretation of this is that he thinks of the two of you as hosting these women, so he’s being polite to guests. My second most generous interpretation is that he’s just flustered—about the new relationship, about hoping they like you, about hoping you like them, etc.—and not thinking about what he’s doing. If you’re truly not jealous, and you are not dying of thirst waiting 10 more seconds for a glass of water, I don’t think you should bring it up, because he will absolutely think you’re jealous and it will become a THING. But this is material for a note to his relationship HR file. Meaning, you should notice and remember what he’s doing and if it’s a one-off weird behavior, no big deal. But if it combines with future notes like “He ignores me at family functions” or “He wants to bring Madison to a wedding as his plus-one instead of me” or “He bought expensive holiday gifts for all his buddies and gave me a recycled Christmas ornament,” you’ll have something serious to think about at his midyear review.

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Re: Q. Am I a Crazy Cat Lady?: No, you are not crazy. This person is neglecting your pet and not doing the job you hired her to do. Hire a new pet sitter. Your cat will adjust.

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A: Right. There are professionals who give medications to pets every day. LW, this woman doesn’t care about your cat, and honestly, neither does your husband.

Re: Q. Engaged But Not in Love: This is so far out of being your business or your place to comment, it may as well be on Jupiter. Butt out.

A: Correct but more important: Commenting won’t change anything.

Re: Q. Engaged But Not in Love: It’s worth noting that in many cultures, what Matt and Anya have is the basis for marriage. Compatibility and common goals versus romantic love. The latter can be fleeting, but can also emerge over time.

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A: Right. But I think the difference here is that they still plan to have romantic and sexual relationships with other people, and have made this arrangement not because they believe in marriage based on common goals but because they’ve had “bad luck” with the other kind.

Re: Q. Engaged But Not in Love: Matt and Anya can parent and live together without getting married, and depending on the state in which you all live, divorcing can be an absolute nightmare, especially when kids are involved. Even amicable splits become costly and can take literal years because of the hoops your state may require.

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As you point out, these two have a lot of potential living in front of them and no one knows if they will find “that one” in the future, throwing their whole arrangement into chaos. Stay perpetually engaged!

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A: Exactly!!

Jenée Desmond-Harris: We’ll wrap it up here. See you next time!

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