Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
My wife and I (both female) have been together for 25 years—married for 6. Initially, she handled all of our finances and put us deeply in debt. I took over and spent the last few years getting us into a good financial state. My wife is retired while I am still working. We are comfortable, but not rich. The problem is I recently found out she has a checking account I knew nothing about and receives a significant amount of money monthly. I don’t care that she has money, but I think back to all the times I had to borrow from my retirement or take out a loan to pay bills or get some needed medical equipment. I am so angry, but she sees no problem with it. She says she wants to have money to be able to buy me things. That’s great, but I haven’t been receiving any gifts that I don’t buy myself. Am I wrong to be resentful?
Dear Feeling Used,
Not at all! Also, consider being something a little more than just resentment. Such as: extremely pissed off and considering divorce.
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How do I respond to a person doing something I morally disagree with that they are very excited about? I’ve found myself in many conversations over the past year where acquaintances, coworkers, distant family, or other not-close friends give me an update that makes me uncomfortable.
Examples include: “I’m visiting Hawaii during a drought,” “I’m trying to adopt a baby and fighting the birth mother for custody,” and “I’m going on a mission trip to Uganda to convert people to Christianity.” These are all things I don’t super agree with, but the person speaking often sees as positive or totally innocent. Do I just say good luck? Do I share my concerns? I feel like a self-righteous buzzkill if I react honestly, and like I’m silently endorsing their actions if I don’t.
—Paralyzed By Politeness
This is hard to answer because it’s not about the words you say in conversation. It’s about the relationship you want to have with people who do things that you find morally objectionable. And only you can make the calculation about where certain actions fall on the “I would have made a different choice” to “Wow, you’re actually a force for evil and I don’t want to be close to you” spectrum in your mind. I’m guessing that a friend making a poor choice for the environment in a world where we could all stand to interrogate our actions might not rise to the same level as someone committing to a legal fight that you see as seriously hurting a specific child. But I don’t know! Either way, here is your guide.
If you think what the person is doing is so messed up that it makes you question whether you even really want to be friends with them: “Wow, that actually sounds kind of wrong to me!”
If you disagree with the action but not enough that it changes your opinion of the person or your desire to have a relationship with them: “Wow, how long will the flight be?”
Seven years ago, my friend “Clara” started dating “Arthur.” She broke up with him after six months because she found out he didn’t want kids. She really wanted kids, and at 35, she knew she didn’t have a big window. Three months later, she got back together with him. When we (myself and other friends) looked at her with a side-eye, she insisted that she gave it a lot of thought, and decided she could live without having children. Over the years, I watched as she longingly played with friends’ children, and her own niece and nephew, but then she’d say things like “I love these kids so much, but I love that I can give them back after a couple of hours!” as if trying to convince herself and everyone she was OK with not having kids.
Cue six months ago, when Arthur dumped her out of the blue. She’s understandably devastated … but she also hasn’t stopped crying about how her opportunity to have kids has been wasted. And, perhaps I’m incredibly heartless, but I’m tired of hearing that. I do feel for her in the bigger picture (getting dumped after seven years), but I just cannot sympathize with her on this specific plight. She made a choice, which we all told her was a bad idea, but she is an adult and can make her own decisions. And now, she has to live with the consequences of that choice. I know no one in life, including myself, can’t pretend we haven’t made a poor life choice here or there, but I just don’t believe in making it other people’s problem. Am I a terrible friend for not wanting to listen to Clara’s laments anymore? And if not, is there a way I can tell her that she needs to stop talking about it?
—You Made Your Bed
Dear Made Your Bed,
Hate to say it but yes, you’re being a terrible friend. And that’s OK. I mean, you’re completely justified in your feelings. Everything you said is rational. But a good friend—a friend who really liked Clara and really cared about her—wouldn’t be operating as the Bad Decision Police. They would be finding ways to cheer her up and help her move past this. You’re annoyed with the woman, and if you want to tell her, go for it. Just don’t expect her to want to be close to you anymore, which should probably be fine because you don’t want to be close to her either. Just give some thought to how you’d like your loved ones to react when you inevitably find yourself suffering the consequences of a poor choice somewhere down the line. Because “I have to keep it to myself and not make it anyone else’s problem” is not a great way to feel.
Recently I started working at a great company that champions diversity. I also recently started dating a guy who shares those values. But I feel like a fraud. Several years ago, I had a bad habit of getting drunk and stating my poorly thought-out opinions. Twice I said racist, bigoted things without realizing they were racist and bigoted. I no longer do this, and most of my friends knew that these moments did not reflect who I am or what I believe in. They were willing to sit me down and talk about why I said those things. I’m eternally grateful for that. My stomach still churns when I think about what I said. My friend “Janet” was present for both episodes and wouldn’t stop shouting that I was a racist.