Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
I’ve always been sensitive to the spirits of the dead. My mom told me that when I was little I used to “play” with my deceased grandfather, I often know things that I have no other way of knowing, and generally, I can just sense a presence sometimes. Except for a few terrible childhood field trips to battlefields, I’ve always found it comforting—most spirits are gentle and not all that interested in people they didn’t know in life, and I enjoy the fact that even when I’m alone, I’m not really alone.
A few months ago my dad passed away (my mom passed years ago). I inherited my parent’s house, and my husband and I decided to move in and grow our family to fill the space. The thing is, my parents won’t leave me alone! Recently, my husband and I were in our bedroom working on “growing our family” and I sensed my dad, which ruined the mood. My mom definitely disapproves of the fact that I tore down her dining room wallpaper. And they both showed up in the middle of a petty argument we had, and took sides! I did not sign up for moving back in with my parents.
I know from experience that the dead don’t take orders from the living, and I really like the idea of my children growing up in a house infused with their grandparents’ spirits, so I need to get over this. How can I get used to having my parents hovering over my shoulder all the time?
Dear Never Alone,
Far be it from me to suggest that your parents’ spirits aren’t hanging around. I will take your word for it, and go with what people who sincerely believe in this kind of paranormal activity would suggest: Say, “By the power of all my good karma, direct connection to Source, agape love, and selfless acts, I ask the universe to please remove all negative entities from this house. You are not welcome here, so please go back to where you came from.” Since you know these people, you can preface that with “Sorry mom and dad, but…”
A few years ago, I was going through a challenging time - I moved to a new city where I had no friends, and was also dealing with a breakup. I unexpectedly drew a lot of comfort from weekly phone calls with a work acquaintance “Joe” where we’d catch up on gossip from my old job. This was often my only source of socializing all week.
For about a year now, however, I’ve begun dreading these calls. My weekends are packed with errands, social commitments (I finally made friends!), and other tasks, and talking to Joe feels like yet another responsibility. Joe has also been on a downward psychological spiral for about six months. I feel deep empathy and sadness he’s going through such a rough time – but at the same time, his deep depression really affects me when I hear about it on a weekly basis. Our conversations nearly 100% center on Joe – his mental health, his unhappiness, his needs – and I barely get a word in edgewise. I feel like I’m taking an hour each weekend to provide free therapy for him and it makes me resentful.
I’ve tried to pull back on these calls, sharing that I have more responsibilities on the weekends now, but Joe just tries to reschedule for the week. How can I get these calls to stop without severing the friendship or hurting an already-hurting person?
—Calling It Quits
Dear Calling It Quits,
Assuming you do care about him and don’t want to say “I can’t do this anymore, Joe. I don’t have the time or mental energy,” I think you can choose a combination of strategies so that these chats feel better for you:
1) Start letting him know that you’re very busy overall, not just on the weekends and explicitly say you are sorry but you’ll have less time to catch up on the phone. Then halve the amount of time you’re spending talking to him.
2) When you do talk, combine it with a boring task you would have had to do anyway, like pairing socks, unloading the dishwasher, taking braids out of your hair, or cleaning the built-up lint on your desk fan with a q-tip. When you’re done, you will feel like you’ve accomplished something!
3) Insist on getting a word in. Talk about yourself. Aggressively if needed. This will help you get more value out of the conversations and maybe also make them a little less appealing to him.
4) See if you can steer the content about his mental health away from venting and toward solutions.
But please remember if your well-being takes a hit, you can always hit “Reject call” and say “Sorry, I’m tied up right now” or even “Not up for being on the phone at the moment but I hope you’re doing OK!”
I have been working in the financial industry for five years and have been in my current department for two. I am on track to win the employee of the year award based on conversations with my manager and my results. I have worked really hard for the past fiscal year to be a top performer and so this award can help me apply for a new role in the future. With this employee award comes a free trip with your colleagues. Cool right?
Not for me! If I were to win this award, how would I politely decline the trip? It would be four days to an American city with a prominent college that I have no desire to visit. I don’t want to spend this trip with other employees I barely know. I would rather take extra vacation time or a payout. This is the first employee trip since COVID so I’m not sure if it would be rude to decline. I also have travel anxiety and the thought of going somewhere with colleagues I don’t know makes me feel stressed. There have also been rumors of boundaries being crossed on these trips and I do not want to be in that situation as a young female on her own. I am grateful there is even the chance to win this award but the trip is just not for me. How do I politely decline the trip if I win this award?
—Work Trip Catastrophe
Dear Work Trip Catastrophe,
I give you permission to get out of this by telling a white lie involving phrases like “my very elderly sick hamster,” “longstanding plans that conflict with the dates,” “my caregiving responsibilities for my parents,” “a flare-up of a chronic medical issue,” “a flood in my apartment,” or even “not feeling well, testing for COVID.” Take your pick. Express lots of gratitude for the opportunity and perhaps even suggest that an extremely helpful and hardworking colleague, who makes your work possible, might like to take your place.
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My great-grandparents left their four great-grandchildren $10,000 for college in investment accounts. Five years after their passing, the accounts were worth $30,000 each, thanks to some smart investing by my uncle. At this point, my parents closed my and my brother’s accounts and invested the $60,000 in their business. This business went bust a year later, sending my parents into bankruptcy, foreclosure, and a nasty divorce.