Dear Prudence

Help! My Mom Has Devised a Plan for Spying on Us at Our Family Cabin.

Read what Prudie had to say in Part 2 of this week’s live chat.

A camera focused on a cabin.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images via robcocquyt/iStock/Getty Images Plus and nickylarson974/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.

Q. Big Mother: My mother recently installed an indoor smart camera at our family cabin “for security,” and insists it is left on even when we’re there (i.e. just my husband and I or with my other siblings and their partners, friends, what have you). We all feel very uncomfortable with this, as none of us trust her not to spy on us or use it against us. She insists she’ll never look at it when we’re there and that we’re never to unplug it just in case, but just recently we were up and put a box over it (it has a 360-degree swivel so it’s not as simple as blocking it) and she lost it on us, and said I know who covered it, all but proving our fears that she is using it to spy on us… This feels so invasive and inappropriate, and borderline illegal. It has always been a family cottage that we’ve all shared but now we feel so uncomfortable. Help!

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A: If you’re a co-owner of the cabin, stand firm, continue to cover the camera, and let her lose it on you if she wants. If “family cottage that we’ve all shared” translates to “cottage that my parents own and let me use for free,” I’m afraid you’ll have to play by your mom’s rules or head on over to Airbnb.

Q. Sick Breakup: Am I a horrible person for wanting to break up with my boyfriend now that he has a long COVID? My boyfriend and I have been dating for about six months and he got COVID about a month ago. Before that, he was always more into the relationship than I was. I realized shortly before he contracted COVID that there were some big choices he made in his life that I wouldn’t want in a long-term partner. After that point, I was fine with us being in a not-so-serious relationship until one of us wanted out, but I figured he probably wouldn’t want that. I was going to talk to him about this, but then he got COVID. He’s been struggling so much and I feel terrible for him. He hasn’t been up for much fun stuff and he has been leaning on me for help a lot more than before. He has friends he could ask but he keeps saying, “This is stuff a girlfriend is supposed to do.” If I didn’t have such a good support system, I think I’d be miserable. I just want out but that seems like I’d be kicking him when he’s down. To top it all off, he’s good friends with a good friend of mine, so I know this might cause a rift in that friend group. Is there any way I can break up with him without seeming like a horrible person?

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A: “Before that, he was always more into the relationship than I was” is all I needed to hear. You’re not breaking up with him because he has a long COVID, you’re breaking up with him because you were never that crazy about him. Not to mention, he’s placing weird gender-based demands on you and seems like a little bit of a jerk. People end relationships all the time. Get out ASAP and I promise you, the friend group will get over it.

Q. The Silver Fox: I am dating a man who is 78 years old. He is cheerful, active, and really seems to get me. My mother is against me seeing him, saying he only sees me as a “trophy girlfriend” and an ego-booster. Prudence, I am 34, and I don’t feel that is too large of an age gap. What should I do?

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A: If you like it, I love it. Your mother may be totally right about how he feels, but you are completely grown up and get to make your own choices, and you’re happy. Remind her of that.

Q. Domestically Challenged: I’m a 26-year-old person (they/them) with ADD. I struggle a lot with executive functioning; messy rooms, laundry piling up, dishes sitting out… (Due to my physical and mental health, I currently live at home.) I don’t like being messy, but no matter how hard I try I can’t get past that barrier. I have found over the years that I function best when I live with someone else; when I’ve lived alone for school the mess has been even worse, there’s been no structure to my days, and I’ve often ended up skipping meals (or filling up on snacks), whereas in a shared space I feel responsible for cooking a real meal for everyone and keeping to a schedule, and I feel bad if I let stuff pile up too much. Part of it is a division of labor—if I cook and someone else does the dishes, of course, the dishes get done—but part of it is just me needing external motivation. What I’m concerned about is this: If I ever have the means to move out, and if I end up living with a potential future partner, isn’t that unfair to them? Surely even someone who loves me won’t want to be responsible for making sure I behave like a functional adult? I feel an enormous amount of shame about my inability to handle this on my own, and I’m worried that it will sour any romantic relationship beyond repair. Will it?

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A: I think stigma around having ADD has made you feel like your challenges are somehow more shameful than those of people who don’t have a diagnosis. They’re not! Everyone brings their own stuff to a relationship, including some qualities that could be considered “unfair” to a partner. Student loan debt. Ailing parents. Seasonal affective disorder. Hair that falls out and clogs up the tub. Snoring. A person who wants to be in a relationship with you will do it because you’ve been honest about what it’s like to live with you and because they’ve decided the good qualities you bring to the table balance out your shortcomings. Be totally transparent about what you can and can’t do, what you’re working on (there probably are some strategies you could use, with the help of a counselor or coach), and what’s a permanent part of your life. And make sure you remember that you have strengths and delightful quirks, too (you didn’t list them but I’m sure you do). There’s more to being in a relationship than housekeeping.

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Q. Ballet: I’m a senior in high school. One thing that I’ve always loved is ballet. I love watching it and analyzing it, and I used to dance when I was very young. However, I had to be pulled out because I kept getting skin infections and lung problems. Even now, I still look back on that and I feel sick because of how much I wanted to continue. I remember crying in my parents’ arms when they told me I wouldn’t go back. I tried to forget it until two people came into my life. Both are incredibly skilled dancers, both with experience in ballet. So much so that one of them does it professionally, and the other is currently being recruited. Every single time they bring up their experiences I can’t help but feel some jealousy.

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I value both of them highly, one of them is my best friend. I would defend them to the moon and back! I can’t just go “Hey, whenever you bring up the fact you’re literally basically a pro in what was one of my dreams as a kid it kinda makes me feel like crawling in a sewer and getting eaten by a croc!” and ask them never to talk about it. They’re passionate about what they do, and I love that for them! I attend performances, compliment their dancing, and I will happily watch videos they show me about their skills. I just feel so terrible about being so jealous of something that will never come to fruition for me.

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I don’t want to go into ballet professionally anymore—and there is no possible way I could. From what I’ve seen, I don’t even have a chance to go en pointe. But still, seeing two close people in my life excel in something that I barely ever had a chance to do makes me almost want to mourn, and I don’t even know why. It’s been almost 10 years. How do I get over this?

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A: Congratulations on handling the jealousy. Seriously. It says a lot about you that you’ve been such a good, supportive friend to these people who remind you so much of something you desperately want for yourself.

Now listen carefully: Sign up for a ballet class! Your health is better now. You’re barely older than Misty Copeland was when she started! I’m not saying you’ll go pro—I believe you that you won’t. And I’ll take your word for it that you might not even go en pointe. But you love ballet and you can do ballet a few times a week if you want. You don’t have to keep getting better and better. You can just do as much ballet as your body allows, and enjoy it.

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When, and if, you feel like you’ve maxed out, I can see one of two scenarios happening: Either you shift to a different kind of dance (like modern, hip-hop, or tap that gives you a new challenge, a new group of people to learn with, and opportunities to perform) or you find a way to get involved in ballet in a different way. Could you teach toddlers? Or work at a dance summer camp? Or get a part-time job doing something on the administrative side for a studio or company? The opportunities are endless and I really believe your passion will lead you to something that’s a much better use of your time and energy than suppressing jealousy.

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Jenée Desmond-Harris: That’s it for today, friends. Talk to you next time!

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