Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Live Chat

For November 7, 2022.

Update, Nov. 7, 2022, at 1:32 p.m.: The chat is complete! Find the write-up in the Dear Prudence archive, and continue the conversation on the Prudie Facebook Page. Submit questions for next week’s chat here.

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Jenée Desmond-Harris

Happy Monday, everyone. Now is the time to get all of your non-holiday questions off your chest before the second week in November when we inevitably start talking about whether you have to invite your cousin who stormed the Capitol to Thanksgiving. Go!

Q. Why Would You Ask That?

Last week one of my co-workers asked if I was pregnant. I am definitely not. I vacillated between feeling embarrassed for her and wanting to laugh it off as I said, “No, why would you think that?” She replied, “You eat like you’re pregnant.” She then said that lots of pregnant women eat oatmeal, which I eat for breakfast every day. This woman and I have always been friendly toward each other. We work in a profession where empathy and social intelligence are perhaps the most important values. At first, I wasn’t bothered but as I drove home that night I spiraled into self-hatred and anger. (What if I had been pregnant and didn’t want to tell anyone yet? What if I’d been trying and desperately wanted to be pregnant and couldn’t be? What if I’d just miscarried?) I guess my question is—should I say something to her? It’s such a deeply insensitive thing to ask and I did not get the sense at all that she felt bad about it.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Let me be clear. This lady has no home training and was dead wrong. But I don’t think you have to say anything to her. Here’s why: Co-workers are just random people with whom we're forced to be in close contact, including in ways that can feel really intimate, like sharing meals and bathrooms. If your goal is to train them to behave the way a friend you chose would, you're going to be in trouble—or at least have a lot of frustrating work cut out for you. I think it’s much wiser to work on acceptance. Repeat after me: “There are a lot of people in the world who don’t play by any rules, have no idea how to interact with others, and suffer from intense cases of Not Knowing How to Talk to People, and some of them will work with me. This isn't personal.” Vent to your friends. Re-post passive-aggressive memes on your Instagram stories. Work to be a better and more sensitive person than she is in your own life. Remember you’re not getting paid to worry about her shortcomings. So don’t. And keep enjoying that oatmeal.

Q. On a Journey

I have been saving to travel overseas for six years. My original plans fell through because of a lingering illness. I will be gone in a month and going to see several friends in their home countries. This is planned for next year. I have been very open and vocal about my plans to my family.

Only now, my younger sister announced her wedding date and it is right in the middle of the month that I will be gone! I told my sister I wouldn't be able to make it and explained why. She told me to simply reschedule since a sister's wedding is more important than “some trip.”

I can't reschedule. There are already non-refundable deposits in place and my friends have their own lives to lead. My own family has been leaning on me to commit to the wedding because it would be unthinkable to miss my sister's once-in-a-lifetime event. She has only been dating this guy for a year. This is going to be a big topic during the holidays. Help!

Jenée Desmond-Harris

In an upbeat but firm tone, say, as many times as necessary: “I know, I hate that I’m going to miss it. I wish she wouldn’t have scheduled it during my trip because it’s non-refundable. Someone is going to have to FaceTime me in!”

Q. Feeling Like a Failing Friend

I think my best friend is trying to accidentally get pregnant. She just moved in with her boyfriend of two years into a house he recently purchased. There have been a couple of red flags up till now: He pretty flippantly forgot her birthday, no-showed on events with her and her friends, ghosted her for over a week while they were already in a committed defined relationship, and told her he didn't see her calls/texts one weekend night because he turned off his phone to save data. But the biggest one to me has been that he refuses to say I love you to her. He justifies it that he will only say it when he knows for sure he wants to marry her. I was already worried about her housing situation—she was paying a significant amount of the mortgage and bills and doing a lot of work on the “fixer-upper” he bought. He told her that he wouldn’t have bought such a big house if she wasn’t also moving into it. 

Now, she is going off birth control (which he knows) and has said if she just happens to get pregnant in the next year she would be happy about it, that he also wants kids and they'll figure it out. She doesn’t mind if they're not engaged or married before then. She was in a risky financial position before she even met this guy and I’m worried she can only see a future with her ideal outcome and not one where the baby may strain their relationship instead of strengthening it. I also just can’t stand seeing her heading into such a vulnerable position with a guy who won’t even say I love you. I’ve told her some of the red flags I’ve seen in the stories she’s shared with me but her rationale is always that they have great communication and because it’s ultimately her life I drop it. Now this feels like the stakes are just getting higher. Am I too involved in this or should I just accept these are her choices?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

This situation is a mess and it won’t end well. But—and I’ve realized this is a point I go back to again and again in this column—I just don’t believe friends have a lot of success talking friends out of bad relationships. If she tells you she feels worried, stressed, hurt, or taken advantage of, you should adamantly agree with her and tell her how you want better for her, and how much better she deserves. But that’s only if she complains. And the focus has to stay on her, not on this (pretty clearly terrible) man. Why? Because she’s not going to choose you over him. It’s just a flaw in the way humans were made. Too often, we are more loyal to a bad partner than a good friend. Hopefully, we’ll evolve out of that soon. But for now, the options here are: 

—She has a baby with a man who has tons of red flags, may or may not love her, and is probably cheating on her. Eventually, she ends up single and has you there as a good friend who supports her, or

—She has a baby with a man who has tons of red flags, may or may not love her, and is probably cheating on her. And eventually, she ends up single and does not have a good friend who supports her.

It’s going to be hard to bite your tongue, I know. To help, find something light to talk with her about (there’s a new season of Love Is Blind out!) instead of her relationship.

Q. Praying for Boundaries

My mother-in-law has joined a private Facebook group for the parents of the graduating grade 8 class. My child was the one that raised the issue and really didn’t want their grandmother in the group. For context, she lives four hours north of here and would not be participating in grad activities as she has a job as an educator and her own grads to attend to. In the past, she has added the parents of our child’s friends on Facebook and is obsessed with Facebook in general. For the grad group, I am assuming she is either lonely or feels some guilt about moving four hours away from her only grandchild and this is her way of trying to stay in touch. Am I way off base by asking that she leaves the group? Admittedly, I am not always up on the nuances of social media and perhaps this is just commonplace. Hoping to find ways to cope with her boundary crossing.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

It was weird of her to join the group (and the administrators really shouldn’t have let her in) but it wouldn't be a good use of your or your child’s energy to worry about it, as long as she’s not sharing personal family information or doing anything to embarrass the two of you. I definitely think a sense of disconnection is at the root of her behavior. So, talk to your kid about what exactly their concerns are and make sure she’s not in there posting photos of him naked in the bathtub as a toddler or spamming his friends parents with MLM content. But then you can use this as a lesson in letting go of other people's behaviors that don’t really affect you and having compassion for older people and their efforts to connect. Remember to have some perspective: Grandma won’t be around forever and you really don't want one of your memories to be the time you banned her from a community that she was using to get a peek into what’s going on with her grandchild. Finally, can you find a way to invite her into your family’s life in ways that are healthier than sending excessive friend requests? Maybe weekly FaceTimes, in-person seasonal traditions, or even just the occasional texts with pictures of you and the kids? If you take the lead on setting the tone of the relationship, it might prevent (or distract) her from engaging in other behaviors that you find intrusive.

Q. How Do I Stay Away From the Bad?

So this is something I'm not going to face for a while at least, but I'm worried about it and want to have my ducks in a row. I'm heading to college, where I will hopefully get an undergraduate degree, and then I hope to go to med school to become a surgeon. I'm white, and I've been made somewhat aware of racism in the medical world (based on testimonies/stories of friends and friend's-friends). When I hear about how my friends who are people of color have been treated, medically, I think it's clearly horrible and racist. But I'm worried that in the course of med school, I'll pick up the same tendencies those doctors have. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I guess my question is: How can I make sure that in learning how to be a doctor I don't fall prey to racist ideology?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

I think simply being aware of and worried about this will take you far, and may even be your solution. That said, I know extremely stressful experiences like medical school can be disorienting and cause people to lose sight of their values. So, you may need to build something into your life to keep you anchored. Poking around a little, I saw that the University of Washington School of Medicine has a health equity book club that aims to increase “understanding around where we have fallen short and demonstrate commitment and accountability to improving healthcare equity at all levels of the organization.” Look for something like that, or if it doesn’t exist, make it a point to surround yourself with people who share your outlook and will hold you accountable.

Q. Worried Wife, Worried Life

My wonderful husband has been cheated on previously and it’s left him with a lot of stress and paranoia about it happening to him again. It’s gotten to the point where entirely innocent things like giving more hugs and love than I regularly do will set him off with the worrying. I don’t know how to fix this as verbally telling him I will never do that to him doesn’t work, I’ve never given him even the slightest reason to suspect infidelity, (I’ve been cheated on myself!) and he is aware. He is also confused as to why nothing can reassure him. I don’t know what to do and I’m walking on eggshells trying to work around, “If I say or do XYZ thing, will he start spiraling again?” even for the most random and unrelated of things, and it’s giving me a LOT of stress trying to avoid stepping in land mines that I don’t even know are there.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

You can’t do anything to fix this. It’s all on him. Seriously, give up because you can design your life to be super reassuring for him and then he’ll say something like, “You were sleeping really deeply last night. Were you dreaming about someone else?” It’s a lost cause. Let him know that his paranoia is deeply upsetting to you, bordering on intolerable, and let him be the one to walk on eggshells to preserve the relationship.

Q. I Want This to Work

My boyfriend lives two and a half hours away and wants me to move in with him. The only issue is, I have a son that goes to school here and I don't have it in me to take him from his friends. He loves going to school there. I want to move in with my boyfriend. How do I make this work?

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Boyfriends come and go. Your kid is forever, and it sounds like your gut is telling you what he needs. Stay where you are. The boyfriend can move to you if he wants.

Q. Feeling Lost

My daughter has decided to hold me entirely accountable for her dad's bad behavior, and I need advice. My husband is not a violent man and would never raise a hand to me or our daughter, "Kate," but he does have a filthy temper that has caused issues over the years. For example, he blew up when Kate got a boyfriend, aged 14, yelling and calling her names, and then years later when he found out she had a boyfriend who she had kept secret (aged 17), he was so angry at the secret-keeping that he broke her laptop and said she'd have to use the school computers for work. I want to be clear that he apologized profusely for both these incidents and others like it, and that Kate has her share of responsibility too—she would scream back at him, deliberately broke reasonable rules (like no underage drinking or boyfriends!), and generally went out of her way to antagonize him. It was a nightmare being in the house with them at each other's throats throughout her teens, and I hoped that since she moved out for college and got her own place that things would calm down between them.

Instead, Kate refuses to speak to her dad at all and has not been home to visit since 2019 (only in part due to the pandemic). He misses her terribly and has asked what she wants from him, but she hangs up the phone if he speaks to her and won't answer emails. After years of her bluntly ending conversations with me whenever I tried to raise speaking with her dad, she finally told me in a recent call that she blames me for her dad's "emotional abuse" (not a term I agree with at all nor one she was able to defend when quizzed) and that I should stop paying things like her phone and car bills for her since she thinks we should "part ways." She offered to send a check when I bridled at the nerve of this, but I know she can't afford that. I asked what I had ever done to merit this attitude—I hardly raised my voice throughout her entire childhood and we used to be close—and she said I did "nothing" and this is "the problem." The call ended with both of us crying.

I don't know what to do. I am terrified to tell my husband what she said as it will break his heart, and I am also angry with Kate. I don't think she is looking at things clearly at all—her account of her childhood suggests it was a Dickensian horror story, when in fact she was often spoiled, dearly loved, and given countless opportunities at great expense to both her parents. Can you advise on what I can say or should do to try and heal the breach between us? Am I wrong to think her reaction is grossly disproportionate to what, by her own account, amounts to a childhood in which her dad sometimes yelled at her? I feel lost and badly need an outside perspective.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Yes, you really do need an outside perspective. I’m going to be transparent: I’m on Kate’s side here. I believe your husband was emotionally abusive. I strongly disagree that a teenager shares blame for emotional abuse. I think it’s probably incredibly painful for Kate that you didn’t (and still don’t) stand up for her. I don’t think a young adult would make the decision to cut off her parents and turn down financial support lightly. 

So, this isn’t a breach that can be healed unless you get your head around the idea that this was much, much worse than “a childhood in which her dad sometimes yelled,” truly believe that, and grapple with your role in it. I understand that you’re attached to the story you’re telling yourself about your family, and that really being honest about the kind of person your husband is could cause a lot of things to fall apart, emotionally and financially. But that’s what’s going to have to happen if you want a relationship with your daughter.

Re: Q. Failing Friend

You can only do so much. Based on my own personal experience with a d-bag of almost the exact same qualities/situation, it's going to end in tears. He is using her and she's practically begging him to. It's hard to watch, just be ready to be there for her when it crumbles.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Sigh. This is exactly it. It sucks but think of it as an opportunity to be a good friend rather than an opportunity to save her from the disaster we all know is coming.

Re: Q. On a Journey

OP first I want to reassure you that you are totally in the right to want to still go on your trip. Your dates were publicly broadcast to the family and everyone was aware well in advance, so your sister could have incorporated them into her plans or discussed them with you before putting money down on a venue. I just finished planning a wedding and can say hand on heart that bridal myopia does not have to stretch as far as she is taking it.

But I do think you need to think about what is important to you in the long run. If you haven't ever been very close with your sister or you have a flexible relationship, then this may not make a long-term difference to your life. However, if a close relationship with her and your family is something you value deeply I would consider the long-term consequences of skipping and try for some creative solutions. Would your sister or other family be able/willing to pay for you to fly back to the states for the weekend? Are there creative ideas that could keep you involved in the day like recording a video message? And whatever you do, don't mention how long your sister and her fiancé have been together in these conversations, no matter what you decide—it isn't really pertinent and may get people's hackles up.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

This is a great way of thinking about it. But, the sister had a great opportunity to think about what was important to her when she scheduled her wedding. And she did not choose “having my sister there.” I do like your attitude. That said, I think this is a chance for the LW to communicate that while she is not going to be a jerk about it, she’s also not going to be pushed around.

Re: Q. Worried Wife, Worried Life

Spiraling like that is usually about jealousy, it is very common for people who have experienced trauma or have anxiety. CBT has helped me with this more than any other therapy I have been in. I now have learned to recognize when it is happening and will tell my partner, "I am spiraling, give me a minute to reset." I have to consciously stop that spiral of negative thoughts, worst-case scenarios, and reading into behavior and words.  It is the husband's responsibility to learn how to do this. LW can point out, "You are spiraling and need to stop" to help him recognize when it is happening, but he has to take ownership of it.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Great line!

Re: Q. Feeling Lost

Uh, your husband IS A VIOLENT MAN. Violence is not held within the boundaries of physical hitting. He smashed her laptop. Called her derogatory names for dating a 17-year-old. Verbal abuse is violence, madame. I'm sorry you're so resigned to this behavior from your husband that you think it's OK. Your daughter has drawn a boundary and you need to support that. Your violent, abusive husband made his bed. You can lay in it with him or make an effort to understand your culpability and make amends.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Yes to all of this. I’m 100 percent sure LW has experienced his abuse too and I feel bad for her but it’s time for her to follow her daughter’s example and stand up to this guy.

Re: Q. Feeling Lost

Wow, this mother is still blaming her daughter for her husband's abusive behavior and has the temerity to wonder, "What have I done to deserve this?" Her daughter's contact with her is a hell of a lot more than what this mother deserves.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Yeah, the (intentional?) cluelessness is overwhelming.

Re: Q. Feeling Lost

Ma'am, you need out of this relationship. Your husband is verbally and physically abusive. While he never laid a hand on you or your daughter, he has abused both of you. Her response makes perfect sense. You did not protect her from his tirades. I am so sorry you are in this situation, but you need out and probably some therapy with yourself alone and together with your daughter.

Jenée Desmond-Harris

I’m really glad LW is hearing this from so many different people. I hope it sinks in!

Jenée Desmond-Harris

Well, that was nice. We pretty much all agreed. See you next week and between now and then, remember to vote!