Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
My boss calls me Elaine. My name is Eileen. He doesn’t catch it himself, but whenever I or someone else corrects him, he quickly apologizes and gets it right… until the next time we speak. I’m used to people mixing my name up at first, but not constantly like this. How do I correct this once and for all? It’s been almost a year.
He’s been corrected and he evidently doesn’t care enough to commit your name to memory. At this point, you have to make his lack of regard for you one factor you weigh when deciding whether to hop on LinkedIn and see who’s hiring.
My cousin “Elizabeth,” with whom I am close, and her fiancé “Theo” have an upcoming wedding. However, they fight all the time and their communication is unproductive. (I should point out that it’s not abusive.) Elizabeth is in therapy and would like Theo to join her, or get a different therapist together, but he refuses and says they should work out problems on their own. Although I have seen these interactions firsthand, I also hear about their problems from Elizabeth, who has begun saying things to me like, “I don’t know how much longer I can do this.”
However, they had two children together before getting engaged, so they’re going to have a relationship regardless. They decided to try for their first child when they’d been dating less than a year. Obviously, having two small children can be a strain, but it also seems that some fundamental character traits are appearing now that they’re past the starry-eyed phase.
All of their finances are combined, which makes me wonder if they should just try marriage for their kids. If they break up now or divorce later, the disentangling of the relationship wouldn’t be vastly different from a legal or financial perspective. The other complicating factor is that she frequently comes to me to commiserate because I (cis-female) also have small children, but my husband and I are happily married. She makes comments like, “don’t you hate it when he does X,” and is frustrated that I can’t relate. I try not to sound superior, but I’m not going to pretend my husband is terrible.
Do I try to talk her out of it? If so, do I risk seeming “holier than thou?” If she’s too embarrassed to call it off, I’ve thought of suggesting she use COVID as an “excuse” to postpone and get time to think. Or do I just need to let a grown woman be and hope that I’m wrong about all this?
—Are Things Better Left Unsaid?
Dear Better Left Unsaid,
Your concern for your cousin is real and you seem to have a really clear-eyed view of her situation and the possibilities available to her. But “Let a grown woman be” is an excellent motto. There is no doubt in my mind that someone who has said “I don’t know how much longer I can do this” has already thought through the emotional, legal, and financial pros and cons of staying together, breaking up now, or divorcing later. So no, don’t try to talk her out of getting married.
I do think you have an opportunity to influence her, simply by being honest. When she asks “Don’t you hate it when your husband picks fights over text and then gives you the silent treatment for four days?” it’s OK to say, “I would never put up with that” and explain why. If it makes you sound superior, well, maybe she’ll get the message that there are better ways to have a relationship.
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I’ve been with my husband for seven years (both men in our mid-30s). At the beginning of our relationship, he was kind, nurturing, adventurous, and considerate—all things that convinced me, someone who never thought they would get legally married, that I’d love to spend the rest of my life with this guy.
Since our wedding, I’ve made a lot of strides in my personal growth: I’ve excelled in my career, quit drinking, and started seeing a therapist and psychiatrist to get my mental illness truly under control for the first time in my life. My husband has done the opposite: He hasn’t had a job for four years (and gets money from his wealthy parents); he smokes weed and drinks all day and leaves the chores for me to do; and his own anxiety and depression have worsened severely. I care for him a lot, but his listlessness, misanthropy, and seeming inability to help himself or to do real work toward building a life with me are exhausting and feel like a threat to my hard-won mental stability.
We’re currently on a waitlist for couples therapy (it was pulling teeth to get him to agree to go) but I’m already 80 percent checked out. We don’t have kids, we’re renters with a month-to-month lease, we file our taxes separately, and we have separate bank accounts. No one’s cheated, or been violent, or done anything else dramatic that often leads to divorce. Do I owe it to him (or myself) to stay? Without kids or merged finances, is there a point in staying married if I simply don’t want to be?
—Why Be Married?
You don’t owe anything to anyone. And I think you already know what you want to do, but I’m happy to be the one to say it. Get out of there! Happy new year!
Is it OK to not see my siblings in person anymore? This summer after a family event I had planned I discovered my siblings are not great people and are not willing to invest the same amount of time and effort into my life as I invest in theirs.
They had been asked to perform some tasks I was not able to do, and they assured me that they could do them, but when it came down to the actual day, I had to help with their tasks more than I should have had to. In addition, they were just judgmental of the entire event when everyone else said what a wonderful night it was.
After this, I was upset and disheartened. I didn’t blow up at them or complain as I spent a lot of time during the event dealing with their inability to follow through instead of focusing on what I needed to do that night. I did spend a few days afterward thinking about how we’d grown up, and their difficulty in giving back even just a small measure of support. I get it, it’s how we were raised, and not everyone gives the same effort. I realized I’m much happier mentally if we just continue a text/occasional call relationship instead of meeting in person. Is that OK? It just stresses me out because I feel like I’m doing the work and getting judged for everything.
Dear Sibling Stress,
The bottom line is, you should do what you need to enjoy your life and maintain these relationships. And if that means not seeing these people in person, so be it. But I think you might be moving a little bit recklessly here.
Family events are stressful. Division of labor at family events can be a mess. People are not always at their best. I don’t know if this quite rises to the level of “We should become estranged.” Now, absolutely, don’t plan any more celebrations if nobody else is meeting you halfway or being appreciative of your efforts. But can you think of some other ways to connect with your siblings that don’t involve work? Meeting for meals? Walks or hikes? Shopping? Bowling? Try seeing them in an environment where there are no tasks and there is no need to express appreciation. You might actually enjoy each other.
I recently became aware that my criticism of my son when he was growing up scarred him tremendously. I thought I was just being strict but it really hurt him. Apparently, this is why he doesn’t date or want kids. He is in college now. What can I do to repair our relationship?
Dear Terrible Mom,
Apologize. Sincerely, express deep regret. With no qualifications. Commit to doing better. Don’t even think of making him feel guilty for telling you. Then ask him what you can do to repair things. And listen.
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I just got home from a weekend visit with my close friend, her husband, and two sons (aged 3 and 1). We have been friends for more than 20 years and visit each other regularly. This time, the just-turned-3-year-old was in a tantrum-throwing stage … about pretty much everything. It was an extremely uncomfortable weekend, though not because of the tantrums (I recognize that the developmental stage he’s at comes with big emotions that he doesn’t yet know how to handle), but primarily because of the parenting style of my friend and her husband.