Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Sick of His Sick: I am so fed up with the way my husband is (not) managing his chronic illness. My husband has been having severe digestive upset for more than four years now. His main symptoms are extreme nausea/stomach pain followed by violent vomiting. He has vomited every single day, multiple times per day, for at least two-three years now. He wakes up in the middle of the night mid-vomit and has choked on it many times. He has commented how he feels this might kill him one day.
He has seen multiple doctors, none of whom are able to say why this is happening. He has been diagnosed with severe ulcers and acid reflux. His doctors have prescribed medications, but he barely ever keeps those pills down, so they aren’t actually doing anything for him. I have tried unsuccessfully to speak to his doctors on the phone, as they will only speak to him as he is the patient. He doesn’t want me to accompany him to his appointments and so the best I can do is “be supportive.” I am at the end of my rope because while I recognize that he is getting no practical help from his medical doctors, he also seems unwilling to help himself.
I have been really focused on his diet and trying to help him make better choices in hopes that this will reduce his symptoms. He has found that having meal replacement shakes in the morning helps get the day off to a good start, so we’ve been buying those religiously. He has also given up coffee. Other than this he refuses to change his diet. He eats fast food multiple times per week even though he admits these foods make his symptoms worse. I cook healthy meals with lots of vegetables and make sauces and such from scratch to try to avoid triggering him. I make enough for dinner plus multiple lunches, but he eats the entire pot in one evening because he is constantly hungry. All of that food eventually ends up wasted because he can’t keep it down. I have suggested eating smaller meals/snacks throughout the day and focusing on raw fruits, veggies, and minimally processed foods; I have bought and prepared such meals for him and he never remembers to take them to work with him. Anytime I am unable to make dinner he picks up a frozen pizza or other highly processed food and makes himself sick. He also drinks beer every day, regardless of how he’s feeling physically. When I point out that the foods he’s choosing are probably causing this problem (or at least making it worse), he brushes me off. He acts as though this is just the way it is now and he wants to enjoy life in whatever ways he can.
I do not know what else to do. His health issues are negatively affecting every aspect of our lives. He is taking at least one sick day a week (unpaid, and I estimate is close to losing his job at this point). We cancel at the last minute for nearly every family/social event we plan to go to. We have not had sex in literally years because he doesn’t feel well enough (and to be honest his breath and the general knowledge that he recently vomited turns me right off). I have talked to him about all this and he acts like I am being so unfair because this isn’t his fault and I shouldn’t be putting extra pressure on him when even his doctors can’t figure out what’s going on. I’m so unhappy I’m considering leaving him, but it feels like I’m abandoning him while he’s sick and I don’t know if I could live with myself. At the same time, I am out of ideas. Do you have any advice?
A: This sounds incredibly hard for both of you. I can understand why being failed by doctors has made your husband want to give up. I’m sure he’s thinking, “What’s the point of avoiding alcohol and foods I like for a slight improvement in a condition that hasn’t even been properly diagnosed and treated by professionals?” You’re justified in being extremely frustrated, too. Possibly too frustrated to stay together.
But before you get there, my suggestion for you is to divest from managing (or attempting to manage) your husband’s health. What would happen if you just stopped with the special healthy cooking that he doesn’t eat, stopped pointing out his unwise choices, stopped counting his fast food meals, stopped trying to reach his doctors, and stopped waking up every day hoping that he’ll behave differently? I‘m not suggesting this is a perfect solution. You’d still be married to a very sick man who feels he has an illness that is a death sentence. And maybe he’s right that he might die of this. But we’re all going to die of something. And if you weren’t at odds with these daily choices, getting your hopes up that he’ll do better over and over, and getting disappointed time and time again, do you think there’s a chance you could enjoy him more? There’s always an escape hatch: Leaving him to be with someone else or to be by yourself. But I think you owe it to both of you to see what it’s like to have a marriage where what you hate is his sickness, not his refusal to listen to you about it.
Q. Should I Stay or Should I Go? After 23 years of marriage, my wife decided that she needed to experience something new and asked that we take a one-year break so she could explore her feelings. As you might imagine, I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about this idea and warned that it could lead to a more permanent separation but we went ahead anyway. That year is now nearly up, and where I embraced the opportunity, traveled, explored my sexuality, and had a lot of fun, she has mostly isolated herself, did very little with her time, and is increasingly depressed. We’ve talked constantly throughout this process and she seems eager for us to return to the way things were, which she now claims to “appreciate more and understand better.” I, on the other hand, rather like my new life and am reluctant to go back to something that didn’t seem to suit either of us less than 12 months ago. How do we navigate this? I don’t want to be cruel but I also no longer see much benefit in a relationship that had stagnated. Is this something that can be repaired through counseling or is this a situation where I should just tear off the band-aid?
A: Welp! This is the chance you take when you ask for a break. Tear off the band-aid and enjoy your new life.
Q. Tired of Unethical People: My daughter’s friend’s family takes advantage of government assistance even though they clearly don’t need it. I’m not going to explain how I am certain they don’t need it, just trust me. The other day the friend’s dad asked me if we were going anywhere for the school break. I told him we are trying to save money so we aren’t going anywhere.
Meanwhile, they are going to Asia. For the second time this year. I couldn’t help but feel resentful. It feels like the money I’m paying in taxes is going straight into their undeserving pockets. I’m assuming attempting any conversation about this would end with terrible results. Am I right? Can I turn them in anonymously? Should I stop socializing with these people for my mental health? (They aren’t completely avoidable as we have a lot of mutual friends.) Or should I try to see them as complex human beings and accept that no one is perfect?
A: You can’t possibly be certain, but OK. Let’s say you are. Welfare fraud is very rare, but let’s say this family is in fact engaging in it. They’re wrong and bad for doing this. Did it feel good to hear that? Or would you need to tell them they’re wrong and bad to feel good? Would you have to report them and see them face consequences? You asked what you can do and you can do whatever you want. But I don’t think you’re going to get a lot of joy out of getting these people in trouble or cutting them off. It feels like this is representative of a larger frustration with injustice and unfairness and how some people suffer in life while other much worse people seem to avoid any consequences for their misdeeds. I don’t know that you can reprogram yourself to see them as complex human beings but I wonder if you can take your passion for fairness, for resources going to those who need them, and for tax dollars being used for the greater good and channel it somewhere else, like volunteering for a cause that matters to you or throwing yourself into campaigning for a local candidate who is working to create the world you want to see. There are a lot of people doing unethical stuff in this world and I want better for you than obsessing about them and their character. Do something else instead!
Q. Looking for Human Friends: My question may seem outdated in the 21st century, but it’s causing me A LOT of grief. In short, I don’t know how to make friends. I believe I’m outgoing, warm, friendly, and easy to speak with. I’m very happily married to a lovely woman, but I don’t have a single guy (or female) friend. I’d like to meet someone I can hang out with and do guy things together. The online route is aimed at coupling up, so that didn’t work. And the sports club route (e.g., bike clubs) didn’t work because everyone is coupled up and I’m not yet in good enough shape to keep up with the group. How do I make some real, human, not online friends?
A: First of all, your problem is not outdated at all. It’s very, very timely. So many people struggle to make friends as adults. In fact, I think I’ve probably typed that sentence— “So many people struggle to make friends as adults”—in about five different columns to reassure letter-writers just like you that there is nothing wrong with them.
I think the internet and social media are partly to blame for this extremely common struggle. When we’re out and about, we’re often looking down at our phones rather than chit-chatting with whoever is in line at the coffee shop or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office to pass the time. Sometimes that’s great: I have thanked the Instagram Gods for the opportunity to avoid soul-killing small talk from a man in a Blue Lives Matter hat next to me on a five-hour flight.
But the ability to disappear into our tin computers also means there are fewer opportunities for friendships to happen organically, in real-life. Add to that, that keeping in touch with long-distance buddies and former coworkers online can sort of scratch the friendship itch in a superficial way and keep us from aggressively seeking out new people and forming deep, IRL relationships.
I also think social media can help you here. One of the most moving posts I’ve seen on my neighborhood’s Next Door was a post from a 20-something woman who said she was having a hard time meeting friends and asked for ideas. She was invited to churches, book clubs, running groups, board game nights, and dozens of people offered to join her for a walk or coffee. I loved it. And I assume she’s no longer friendless. I want you to do the same thing: Make an explicit ask, using the social media account of your choice. “I’m a little embarrassed to say this but something tells me I’m not alone. I’m looking for real, human, not-online friends in [your city]. I like to [insert your hobbies] and I consider myself outgoing, warm, friendly, and easy to speak with. If you’d like to hang out or know someone local who I should meet, I’d love to hear from you!”
Q. Keep Coming Back to the Bar: I went to law school, passed the bar, and have an active license but I have never worked as an attorney. It’s been over a decade and I have a fulfilling career in a related industry. Should I relinquish my license? It seems like a waste of time and money to renew each year, but there’s a nagging part of me that can’t seem to let go of it. I’m proud of what I accomplished but I’m reasonably certain I’ll never practice.
A: I’m in the exact same position! I fork over $182 a year to keep an inactive license. I hate paying it, but I do it for the peace of mind that comes with knowing that if I ever give a really awful piece of advice or tweet something totally harmless that’s perceived by my employer as an incitement to violence (fun fact: this actually happened to me in another job) and get fired, I can immediately pick up some contract work doing document review or something. To me, that’s worth it. The fact that you are a person who went to law school even though you didn’t want to be a lawyer tells me you’re probably also someone who likes to play it safe. Hang onto your license. One year maybe the reminder email will come and you’ll shrug and say “Who cares?” and forget about it and that’s when you’ll know to let it go.
Q. Re: Looking for Human Friends: Try volunteering! Or if you like a particular activity other than the gym (art, photography, hiking, pickleball), try that. One sports club that didn’t pan out doesn’t mean others won’t. Put yourself in places where others are likely to enjoy things you enjoy. If you trust your wife, it might be worth asking her if there are any behaviors or habits that she sees that could be holding you back, but otherwise, maybe you just haven’t met the right people yet.
A: One of these days I’m going to take two minutes to Google pickleball and learn about what it is and when and why it became the new national pastime. But yes, good idea. And although I really don’t like to assume LW is doing something to scare friends away (because again, I think his situation is super common and not a reflection of any shortcomings he might have) honest feedback from his wife couldn’t hurt.
Q. Re: Keep Coming Back to the Bar: Could you renew your license and volunteer or otherwise use it for good? Even just a few times per year? That might make it seem worth it.
A: Hmm, I think most volunteering (like the kind law students do) would either not require an active bar membership or would also require the kind of expertise that LW likely doesn’t have, just because they haven’t been practicing. But it’s worth checking whether there’s an organization that could train them and put them to work. I think that would be extremely rewarding.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Alright, thanks for playing! We’re going to end here. Have a great week!
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