Dear Prudence

Help! My In-Laws Keep Making Excuses for Their Law-Breaking Creep of a Son.

They omitted the details.

Bride and groom clinking champagne glasses together. The bridge is shocked and the man's face is scratched out.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)

Dear Prudence, 

My brother-in-law, “Todd,” and my wife have never been close. Todd is facing serious criminal charges for non-consensual compromising images of a friend of his fiancé. The pictures exist—Todd is guilty no matter the legal consequences. My wife’s parents did their best to keep this information from us as long as possible and omitted details when they finally told us. They also continued with plans for Todd’s wedding, pretending nothing had happened. My wife and I are furious at Todd, who has made no effort to reach out, and disappointed in my in-laws for not being more forthcoming with us and condemning Todd’s actions (postponing the wedding at a minimum). My in-laws also continue to gossip in poor taste about other family members, which is increasingly hard to tolerate. How can I move forward from this and keep some semblance of a relationship with my in-laws—who are generally good people—while making it clear I do not tolerate Todd’s behavior?

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—Sick of Free Passes

Dear Sick of Free Passes,

I was surprised to read that you and your wife have never been close to Todd, but that you expected him to reach out to your family. Do you want a relationship with him or not? You need to decide what it means to not tolerate his behavior and how much you want your brother-in law-in your life. Give it some serious thought and know that “not at all” is a perfectly good answer. Then communicate that plainly and clearly to your in-laws, who may be picking up on some of the uncertainty or mixed messages I got from this letter.

And you didn’t ask, but, no, you do not have to go to his wedding!

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Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.) Join the live chat every Monday at noon (and submit your comments) here.

Dear Prudence, 

I work at a major chain coffee shop, and we just put up our holiday decorations for the year. They’re non-religious, wintery decorations, which I’m happy about since I don’t follow any faith or celebrate holidays. Or… I should be happy about it, anyway. Everyone else seems so excited for the upcoming holidays, talking about how they’re going to go see family and discussing their favorite traditions. I’m friends with pretty much all of my co-workers and genuinely enjoy their company, so I’m happy that they’re happy.

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I, however, am very unhappy. My mother and I are in low contact, my dad and sibling died months apart in 2020, I’m not in touch with any of my own family anymore, and I have a bit of legitimate trauma surrounding the holidays, as well as seasonal depression that hits hard in the winter. I just want to get through my shifts at work, take advantage of the holiday pay, and get my bills paid. But part of the job description this time of year seems to include holiday cheer, which I’m having a very hard time mustering. On top of all of this, I suspect I may be on the autism spectrum, which is relevant here because I tend to survive in social situations by studying the behavior of others around me and mirroring that behavior, or at the very least using it as a guideline for how I should personally act.

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My question is: When people ask me what I’m doing for the holidays, or if I’m excited, what’s a good answer that’s not the truth? I get a lot of questions or pity if I say things like “Oh, I don’t really celebrate since my dad died” or “I’m not religious” or “I’m having a quiet evening at home and not thinking about what day it is, if at all possible.” That is the truth. It’s painful to even talk about, especially with grief in the mix. Is there a good white lie that will deflect further questioning from customers and co-workers, without implying that I do celebrate or that I’m particularly enthusiastic about the upcoming holidays?

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—Searching for the Script

Dear Searching for the Script,

I am so sorry about everything that makes this time of year so painful for you, and I totally understand not wanting to rehash it all in every small talk exchange as you juggle difficult customers and complicated drink orders. The important thing to keep in mind here is that most people are not dying for specifics about your plans—they’re just talking to talk rather than to get a deep understanding of what you do and why. You can manage these conversations by giving them something to grab onto that is not a probing question about your family or your mental health. Two ideas:

1) Lean into your negative attitude, being honest about your feelings without getting too dark, and end with an easy-to-agree-with comment that doesn’t inspire a lot of probing questions: “I’m a total Grinch! I hate this season. But I love the holiday pay!”
2) Say something vague that, again, ends with something your co-workers can respond to without much effort: “I’m probably just going to enjoy some downtime and re-watch a bunch of scammer documentaries. Did you see the one about the Fyre Festival? What about the Elizabeth Holmes one?”

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But I also want you to stay at least a little bit open to the possibility of connecting with people who might be able to make you feel less lonely and sad. I can’t emphasize enough that you are not alone, and that the holidays are extremely hard for many people—even those whose relatives are all very much alive. (Sometimes, because these relatives are alive and making them miserable!) Consider identifying a co-worker who seems sensitive, has been kind to you in the past, or who you sense may have some struggles of their own. And maybe, if you’re up for it, say something like, “This is actually a tough time of year for me because I recently lost my dad and sibling and my family situation isn’t the best right now.” You might be surprised that you’re met not with nosey questions, but with empathy and care. The holiday season isn’t just about superficial cheer—it’s also about love and connection. And you deserve some of those things if you want them.

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Dear Prudence,

My fiancé and I want to elope with a small group of friends. I have one friend who most likely assumes they will be going (I have not shared any details). We have been friends for 18 years. I feel like they do not fit in with the rest of the group and will make the day more stressful for myself and my fiancé. I also fear some families will be upset about the elopement. Is it better to share the elopement plans prior to the wedding day or ask for forgiveness after? My biggest fear in all of this is hurting my friend. What is the best approach to eloping?

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—Untraditional Bride

Dear Untraditional Bride,

I recently answered a similar question, in which the letter writer was struggling to explain their decision-making to friends who didn’t make their guest list or wedding party, and a reader replied in the chat with a perspective that I thought was extremely helpful:

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When you choose some people and not others to be in your wedding party or to receive invites, you are telling those others that they aren’t as important to you. This is of course reasonable, we all are differently close to different people. But if they thought they were closer than they are, they’ve now learned otherwise, and this is hurtful, no matter how much you didn’t intend to hurt people. You can’t, and shouldn’t, do anything else, but your friends who didn’t receive invites (especially them, but also the ones who aren’t part of the wedding party but wanted to be) are going to have the feelings they have and make decisions about the friendship. It was entirely up to you to make those decisions for your wedding, but it’s also reasonable for them to make decisions based on that.

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This is difficult, but it’s true. And it’s not going to be any easier for the people who aren’t included to hear about it afterward. Also, “forgiveness” doesn’t have a place here. You are having the wedding (I don’t think it counts as eloping if a small group of friends are coming) that’s right for you and that reflects the relationships you have. That’s OK. Tell people before the big day, with as much confidence and compassion as you can muster.

Catch up on this week’s Prudie.

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