Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Q. On a Journey: I have been saving to travel overseas for six years. My original plans fell through because of a lingering illness. I will be gone in a month and going to see several friends in their home countries. This is planned for next year. I have been very open and vocal about my plans to my family.
Only now, my younger sister announced her wedding date and it is right in the middle of the month that I will be gone! I told my sister I wouldn’t be able to make it and explained why. She told me to simply reschedule since a sister’s wedding is more important than “some trip.”
I can’t reschedule. There are already non-refundable deposits in place and my friends have their own lives to lead. My own family has been leaning on me to commit to the wedding because it would be unthinkable to miss my sister’s once-in-a-lifetime event. She has only been dating this guy for a year. This is going to be a big topic during the holidays. Help!
A: In an upbeat but firm tone, say, as many times as necessary: “I know, I hate that I’m going to miss it. I wish she wouldn’t have scheduled it during my trip because it’s non-refundable. Someone is going to have to FaceTime me in!”
Q. Feeling Like a Failing Friend: I think my best friend is trying to accidentally get pregnant. She just moved in with her boyfriend of two years into a house he recently purchased. There have been a couple of red flags up until now: He pretty flippantly forgot her birthday, no-showed on events with her and her friends, ghosted her for over a week while they were already in a committed defined relationship, and told her he didn’t see her calls/texts one weekend night because he turned off his phone to save data. But the biggest one to me has been that he refuses to say I love you to her. He justifies it that he will only say it when he knows for sure he wants to marry her. I was already worried about her housing situation—she was paying a significant amount of the mortgage and bills and doing a lot of work on the “fixer-upper” he bought. He told her that he wouldn’t have bought such a big house if she wasn’t also moving into it.
Now, she is going off birth control (which he knows) and has said if she just happens to get pregnant in the next year she would be happy about it, that he also wants kids and they’ll figure it out. She doesn’t mind if they’re not engaged or married before then. She was in a risky financial position before she even met this guy and I’m worried she can only see a future with her ideal outcome and not one where the baby may strain their relationship instead of strengthening it. I also just can’t stand seeing her heading into such a vulnerable position with a guy who won’t even say I love you. I’ve told her some of the red flags I’ve seen in the stories she’s shared with me but her rationale is always that they have great communication and because it’s ultimately her life I drop it. Now this feels like the stakes are just getting higher. Am I too involved in this or should I just accept these are her choices?
A: This situation is a mess and it won’t end well. But—and I’ve realized this is a point I go back to again and again in this column—I just don’t believe friends have a lot of success talking friends out of bad relationships. If she tells you she feels worried, stressed, hurt, or taken advantage of, you should adamantly agree with her and tell her how you want better for her, and how much better she deserves. But that’s only if she complains. And the focus has to stay on her, not on this (pretty clearly terrible) man. Why? Because she’s not going to choose you over him. It’s just a flaw in the way humans were made. Too often, we are more loyal to a bad partner than a good friend. Hopefully, we’ll evolve out of that soon. But for now, the options here are:
—She has a baby with a man who has tons of red flags, may or may not love her, and is probably cheating on her. Eventually, she ends up single and has you there as a good friend who supports her, or
—She has a baby with a man who has tons of red flags, may or may not love her, and is probably cheating on her. And eventually, she ends up single and does not have a good friend who supports her.
It’s going to be hard to bite your tongue, I know. To help, find something light to talk with her about (there’s a new season of Love Is Blind out!) instead of her relationship.
Q. Praying for Boundaries: My mother-in-law has joined a private Facebook group for the parents of the graduating eighth-grade class. My child was the one that raised the issue and really didn’t want their grandmother in the group. For context, she lives four hours north of here and would not be participating in grad activities as she has a job as an educator and her own graduates to attend to. In the past, she has added the parents of our child’s friends on Facebook and is obsessed with Facebook in general. For the grad group, I am assuming she is either lonely or feels some guilt about moving four hours away from her only grandchild and this is her way of trying to stay in touch. Am I way off base by asking that she leaves the group? Admittedly, I am not always up on the nuances of social media and perhaps this is just commonplace. Hoping to find ways to cope with her boundary crossing.
A: It was weird of her to join the group (and the administrators really shouldn’t have let her in) but it wouldn’t be a good use of your or your child’s energy to worry about it, as long as she’s not sharing personal family information or doing anything to embarrass the two of you. I definitely think a sense of disconnection is at the root of her behavior. So, talk to your kid about what exactly their concerns are and make sure she’s not in there posting photos of him naked in the bathtub as a toddler or spamming his friends’ parents with MLM content. But then you can use this as a lesson in letting go of other people’s behaviors that don’t really affect you and having compassion for older people and their efforts to connect.
Remember to have some perspective: Grandma won’t be around forever and you really don’t want one of your memories to be the time you banned her from a community that she was using to get a peek into what’s going on with her grandchild. Finally, can you find a way to invite her into your family’s life in ways that are healthier than sending excessive friend requests? Maybe weekly FaceTimes, in-person seasonal traditions, or even just the occasional texts with pictures of you and the kids? If you take the lead on setting the tone of the relationship, it might prevent (or distract) her from engaging in other behaviors that you find intrusive.
Q. Worried Wife, Worried Life: My wonderful husband has been cheated on previously and it’s left him with a lot of stress and paranoia about it happening to him again. It’s gotten to the point where entirely innocent things like giving more hugs and love than I regularly do will set him off with the worrying. I don’t know how to fix this as verbally telling him I will never do that to him doesn’t work, I’ve never given him even the slightest reason to suspect infidelity, (I’ve been cheated on myself!) and he is aware. He is also confused as to why nothing can reassure him. I don’t know what to do and I’m walking on eggshells trying to work around, “If I say or do XYZ thing, will he start spiraling again?” even for the most random and unrelated of things, and it’s giving me a LOT of stress trying to avoid stepping in land mines that I don’t even know are there.
A: You can’t do anything to fix this. It’s all on him. Seriously, give up because you can design your life to be super reassuring for him and then he’ll say something like, “You were sleeping really deeply last night. Were you dreaming about someone else?” It’s a lost cause. Let him know that his paranoia is deeply upsetting to you, bordering on intolerable, and let him be the one to walk on eggshells to preserve the relationship.
Re: Q. Feeling Like a Failing Friend: You can only do so much. Based on my own personal experience with a d-bag of almost the exact same qualities/situation, it’s going to end in tears. He is using her and she’s practically begging him to. It’s hard to watch, just be ready to be there for her when it crumbles.
A: Sigh. This is exactly it. It sucks but think of it as an opportunity to be a good friend rather than an opportunity to save her from the disaster we all know is coming.
Re: Q. On a Journey: OP first, I want to reassure you that you are totally in the right to want to still go on your trip. Your dates were publicly broadcast to the family and everyone was aware well in advance, so your sister could have incorporated them into her plans or discussed them with you before putting money down on a venue. I just finished planning a wedding and can say that bridal myopia does not have to stretch as far as she is taking it.
But I do think you need to think about what is important to you in the long run. If you haven’t ever been very close with your sister or you have a flexible relationship, then this may not make a long-term difference to your life. However, if a close relationship with her and your family is something you value deeply I would consider the long-term consequences of skipping and try for some creative solutions. Would your sister or other family be able/willing to pay for you to fly back to the states for the weekend? Are there creative ideas that could keep you involved in the day like recording a video message? And whatever you do, don’t mention how long your sister and her fiancé have been together in these conversations, no matter what you decide—it isn’t really pertinent and may get people’s hackles up.
A: This is a great way of thinking about it. But, the sister had a great opportunity to think about what was important to her when she scheduled her wedding. And she did not choose “having my sister there.” I do like your attitude. That said, I think this is a chance for the LW to communicate that while she is not going to be a jerk about it, she’s also not going to be pushed around.
Re: Q. Worried Wife, Worried Life: Spiraling like that is usually about jealousy, it is very common for people who have experienced trauma or have anxiety. CBT has helped me with this more than any other therapy I have been in. I now have learned to recognize when it is happening and will tell my partner, “I am spiraling, give me a minute to reset.” I have to consciously stop that spiral of negative thoughts, worst-case scenarios, and reading into behavior and words. It is the husband’s responsibility to learn how to do this. LW can point out, “You are spiraling and need to stop” to help him recognize when it is happening, but he has to take ownership of it.
A: Great line!
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Well, that was nice. We pretty much all agreed. See you next week and between now and then, remember to vote!
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