Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. Honor Thy Sister: Last year, I had an illness and emergency surgery that took away my ability to have children. While I was (and still am) single, and wasn’t even sure if I ever wanted children, I still mourned the loss.
My sister is pregnant with a girl and recently surprised me by telling me she would like to give the baby my name, in honor of me. I’m a bit ashamed to admit I did not have the reaction she was hoping for. I certainly didn’t react poorly, but I also did not react with joy, because, honestly, I find the sentiment a tad weird. My sister and I are very close, and I know she means well, but I just really don’t want my niece to have my name—she should have her own name. My sister was crestfallen, and I quickly apologized and told her I’d be honored if my niece had my name as my middle name (which I truly would be OK with), but I think she thought I was just trying to be nice. We haven’t talked about it since. I do feel bad about how it played out, but I’m not sure if I should bring it up again, or just let it go and wait to see if she brings it up. So, my question is, should I bring it up again, and if so, how do I approach this? I was going to say something along the lines of, “Sis, I’m so sorry I didn’t have the reaction I know you were hoping for. It really means a lot to me that you want to be supportive of me, and I’m so grateful I mean so much to you that you want to name your daughter after me. It would be very special to me if you gave her my name as her middle name.” I just don’t really know how to explain to her why I don’t want my niece to have my name without offending my sister. Any suggestions?
A: Your script is absolutely perfect. I don’t know exactly why you don’t want your niece to have your name, so I can’t help very much with that. But I think just emphasizing that a middle name would work for you would be a nice gesture.
Q. Confused GF: A guy confessed to me online and I accepted his proposal because I was heartbroken due to my ex. It’s a long-distance relationship and we text each other regularly. I like him but whenever I see him in photos I don’t feel attracted to him. I am confused. I don’t know whether it is right for us to date…
A: It sounds like this relationship got you through a difficult period and has run its course. That’s not really fair to the guy, but what’s best for you and him now is to end things. You deserve to be with someone who you choose because you really like them, not because you’re heartbroken. And he deserves to be with someone who’s enthusiastic and excited about him from the start.
Q. Dying Wish: My father walked out on my mother and me when I was 12. He remarried his affair partner and did his best to pretend that his first family never existed. Despite living in the same town, I could count the number of my games he attended on one hand and have fingers left over. He coached both of his stepsons’ teams. My mother had to take him to court twice for child support. His wife was very bitter when they were forced to pay my full college expenses until I turned 21. She wanted me to go to a community college rather than straight to university. As far as I am concerned, my dad died the moment he stepped out that door and left me behind.
The problem is my paternal grandparents are both severely ill and not expected to live for much longer. I am somewhat close to them both, but they keep pushing me to make amends with my father and his second family. I could probably play pretend for their sake if it was only my father. I can’t stomach the idea of seeing his new wife and the kids he replaced me with. Some wounds are just too deep.
My uncles have told me I need to get over the divorce and while my father made “mistakes,” it has been over a decade and my grandparents are dying. My mother had offered to come with me, but I think that might make it worse for me. It is too late for apologies but I don’t want my grandparents to leave this world with regrets. What should I do?
A: You know, I didn’t read you saying, “My uncles stepped in to serve as father figures to me when my dad left, and they’ve always supported me, sacrificed for me, guided me, and wanted the best for me. I really see them as role models.” So, screw them and what they want. They don’t get to decide. You’re close to your grandparents so what they say holds more weight but—and I want to say this as gently as possible—being close to death doesn’t make people right, nor does it mean they get everything they want. To the extent that they leave this world with regrets, their regrets will likely be about the fact that they raised a man who went on to abandon his child. Not saying that’s totally their fault, but it’s also not your responsibility to fix. If anything, they should be pushing him to make amends with you. He’s the parent here. He’s the one who abandoned you. I’m sorry that nobody in this story, except perhaps your mother, appears to be putting your needs first. You’ll have to do that yourself. Forgive your father when, and if, it will make you feel good to do so—not a moment before.
Q. Head and Heart Are Not on Speaking Terms: I am in my mid-60s (M) and retired. My wife (F, also retired) and I have been married for 45 years and we couldn’t be happier. We are best friends and offer each other all the support anyone could ask for. Both of my parents passed away in the last two years. My mother (92) had dementia and then died in a nursing home due to a COVID outbreak. My father (94) passed away last year in a hospital due to failing health and sepsis. He had been living in an assisted living facility. My brother and I had to elect “comfort care” as the medical team had no way to bring him back to health. Why am I still feeling such a loss? I am also feeling a lot of guilt with our “comfort care” choice for my father. I can still see him struggling those last few days and I can’t help but feel much of his pain was due to the choice we made. On top of all this, I see myself looking more and more like my father as I age—a grim reminder of what may lie ahead for me. How do I reign in this sense of loss and the guilt that keeps following me? I should be grateful that my parents had such long, happy lives and that they had a loving family to support them until the end. I understand all of this in my head, but my heart isn’t buying in. Is this how it is for anyone experiencing the loss of loved ones or am I just being overly sensitive?
A: Oh, I relate to this so much. The way my grandmother felt during her last few weeks of life absolutely haunts me and fills me with guilt. Even though she was 100! So, I get what it’s like to feel really upset, even though many people have lived much shorter lives than your loved ones, and died in much more tragic ways. Your grief is a reflection of how much you loved them and I don’t suggest trying to rationalize your way out of it. Does your brother feel similarly? I think talking about what you’re feeling with someone who understands is the best path forward, although it’s by no means an easy or straightforward one. If it’s not your brother, try a grief support group. There’s no such thing as being overly sensitive when it comes to the loss of a parent, and you want to put yourselves in environments where people understand that.
Q. Friends or Lovers: My question seems so simple, but in reality, it’s complicated and amorphous and confusing: How do you tell the difference between romantic and platonic love? There’s a person in my life who I love deeply—but is it platonic? Romantic? Both? Neither? I’m ace, so bringing sexual feelings into it isn’t helpful. I can picture them in my life forever. But as my friend? My romance? My spouse? How am I supposed to tell?
A: If you love multiple people including family members and friends, and this is the one situation in which you’re wondering whether it’s romantic…it’s romantic.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: So, all anyone wanted to talk about was the wedding! I hope the letter writer sees this and can follow up with an update on what happened and a video of the performance, if it does end up happening, so we can all decide what we think about it.
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