Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
My partner and I are a queer couple in an expensive city. We are currently talking about moving in together and are both very excited about it, but my partner’s grandpa has promised my partner his house after he passes away and the house is right next door to my partner’s parents. I get along very well with his parents, but my partner hasn’t always had the clearest boundaries with his family. And I just know for certain his parents would 100 percent show up without warning and barge right in. I honestly wouldn’t even want to live next door to my own parents, let alone my parents-in-law.
The other issue is that my partner’s oldest brother has been tried for child pornography and this brother still lives at his parent’s house. So, that raises questions about us having children or my baby sister coming to visit. Is that safe?
I think a lot of this sounds petty. I don’t exactly have six figures worth of savings or a home to offer, but I can’t imagine a world in which living next to my partner’s parents wouldn’t involve weekly conversations about boundaries and lots of hurt feelings. How do I explain to my partner that I don’t want to live next to his parents for the rest of my life?
—Gift House in the Mouth
Dear Gift House,
The easiest solution here would be to accept the house, spruce it up, sell it, and take the proceeds to move somewhere a healthy distance from meddling in-laws and the sexual predator brother. But I’m sure you two would have already made your plan and started looking at Zillow if you felt your partner might easily agree to this.
Personally, I think a FREE HOME would be worth the hassle of dealing with busybody parents. Now, don’t get me wrong: It’s worth saying to your partner, “You know I love your parents but I’m concerned about what it would mean to live right next door to them and have our privacy and enough time with just the two of us. Would you consider selling the house and moving a short drive away so we could still be close enough to see them regularly but also feel like we live on our own in a place we chose?” But if he pushes back, at least wait for the situation to be unbearable before you turn down a lifetime’s worth of housing security. Assuming you’re not already rich and you’re the kind of partners who share finances, this is a massive, life-changing transfer of wealth! You could use the equivalent of a single month’s rent or mortgage to bring in a family therapist for a few sessions and get everyone on the same page about boundaries. Or pay to change the locks and “forget” to give them a key. For decades.
Now, the brother is another story. You can have your sister visit and keep a close eye on her while she’s there, but raising kids full-time next door to a pedophile is a hard no. Tell your partner that you’re firm on this and if he doesn’t agree to sell and move before bringing a child into the family, cut your losses and part ways. If he does agree, just hang in there until that time comes. You can do it. Set some boundaries with the annoying parents, hide with the lights off, and pretend not to be home from time to time—whatever it takes to take advantage of the free real estate! I just really think it’s too good a deal to turn down before there’s a risk of actual harm to anyone. Nobody ever died from annoying in-laws but people have died from being poor.
I have perhaps the most bizarre problem I’ve faced. Our family (me, my husband, and two elementary-age kids) have lived on a suburban cul-de-sac for about four years, surrounded by elderly neighbors including “Mike.” Our lab hangs out in the fenced yard when we’re home on temperate days. He can be a loud barker when he sees a squirrel but is otherwise well-behaved. My 6-year-old daughter swore to me that “Mike bit the dog!” a few weeks ago when he was barking, but I brushed it off because she’s going through a very “creative” phase and we’re working on truthfulness. But this weekend, when I unexpectedly doubled back to the yard, there was Mike, in the yard, on his knees, biting the dog on the shoulder. I froze and said nothing as we made eye contact. It was so bizarre, and I have to assume Mike needs help (dementia?) but he lives alone and I have no clue where to start this conversation. Something is very wrong with him. So far, my husband wants to report him, but who would we report him to? And we’ve told our kids to come indoors if they see him, and to bring the dog, too. But overall, we need a strategy. Suggestions?
—This Is So Weird
Dear This is Weird,
Sooo was it, like, a light, affectionate bite—mostly just mouth on the fur—or a bite that involved forceful tooth-to-skin contact and actually hurt the dog? I never thought I would be writing that sentence. But stay with me here. I’m guessing that if Mike caused pain or injury or even significant irritation, you would have observed your dog yelping or running away or back. And you didn’t mention any of that.
Let’s reframe the way we’re thinking about what your extremely odd neighbor is doing: He’s putting his mouth on your dog, not biting your dog. Which is indeed distressing. But it’s more a sign that he’s a man who needs help than it is an indication that he’s a danger to your pet.
If you’re up for it, could you pay him a visit and try to gather more information about who, if anyone looks out for him? It would be great if you could get your hands on contact information for one of his children or relatives and raise your concerns about his bizarre behavior and what it means for his overall well-being. If not, consider contacting a local agency on aging to see if there might be some resources available to him. I don’t love the idea of calling law enforcement for a wellness check because I can imagine that going very wrong if, God forbid, he were to treat the responding officer the way he treated your dog.
I hate shopping with my mother-in-law. She is nuts and will try to nickel and dime everything and will barrage the poor employees with questions and complaints until she gets her way. I have seen her harass employees who are obviously on break or trying to go home because she doesn’t want to bother to look for a product herself. I usually end up apologizing for her and try to steer her away, but it is very hard.
She can’t legally drive anymore and refuses to even try shopping apps. I work at home so the majority of her trips fall on me. I am sick of it. The last time we went to the grocery store, my mother-in-law spent 20 minutes arguing with this poor kid that the lunch special was too expensive and she wanted to split up the meal two ways. She also wanted additional sides. For free. Because the helpings were too small. The kid finally gave in to my mother-in-law and got herself a “deal.”
As we are checking out, she decides she doesn’t want the food and goes and abandons it in a cooling unit. I asked her what the hell she thought she was doing. After all that, she wasn’t going to buy the food, just waste it, and leave it out to be ruined? She snapped at me that what she was doing wasn’t wrong. She was giving the employees something to do rather than sit around playing on their phones. I took the food back and paid for it myself. When my husband got home, I told him I was done with shopping with his mother. He could do it or use a grocery shopping service.
I am tired of having the same embarrassing argument with her. My husband told me that is just how his mom is. I told him then he needed to figure something else out. His mother isn’t even 60 yet. I am doing this for the next 20 or 40 years. We are still fighting about it. Help.
Dear Grocery Run,
“This is just how she is” is very true. It is also a line you can use on your husband when he takes her shopping. I mean, how did this get to be your job anyway? I don’t know how to end the fight except to tell you to stand firm. It’s time for her son to step up. Hopefully, he’ll realize that when you calmly say “I’m not available. Please tell her I said hi!” every time grocery day comes around.
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