Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I need help! My head is spinning and I need a solution quickly. My mother has been dating a guy (say “Jim”) for the past year and half. I met him a few times but never got to know him well. Jim persuaded my mom to marry him this fall. My mother asked me to come to the wedding and I asked both of them to have dinner together to discuss their plan. Everything at dinner went well until I jokingly asked if Jim would vote for Trump again …
Backing up: A year ago, Jim came to my house to visit my mom. I later heard that he said something rather inappropriate about race to my friend who was staying at my home that night. I had an inkling. But I just didn’t anticipate the fervor of this man’s support for Trump. Not only does he believe the entire mainstream media is conspiring against Trump, Trump is not to blame for the Jan. 6 insurrection, and Fox News is the only media that’s real, etc., he also doesn’t believe in the COVID vaccine mandate nor climate change. I asked him whether he cared that Trump’s remarks were damaging to the Asian Americans during the pandemic (my mother and I are of Asian descent). Jim yelled at me for having no evidence to support any of those “supposed allegations.” Finally, he told me that because of my Asian descent, I wouldn’t be able to understand American values and freedom. Needless to say, the dinner didn’t go well. I was so in shock that it took me days to unpack many of the other ridiculous things he said. What gave me more grief is that my mother felt that I was unkind to Jim because I brought up politics in the conversation first, and he was “only trying to answer.”
I do not want to have Jim in my life. I do not want to go to the wedding. Most important of all, I do not want to have him around my children who are right now too young to understand politics but one day will be. Am I being too cautious? What should I do about the wedding? If I keep my children away from him, it would mean naturally a lot less contact with my mom as well. What a pity to let a person like Jim to eventually come in between us … but what options do I have?
— Can’t Deal With the Bigot
Dear Can’t Deal,
Once again, for the people in the back: Being racist is not “politics”!
With that out of the way: If you’re torn between doing what would be best for your relationship with your mom and doing what you need to do to protect your children and model how you choose the people who will be in your life, you have to pick your kids. They did nothing wrong and didn’t decide to fall in love with a huge bigot. Skip the wedding, make sure you mom is clear on why, and also let her know that while her love life is her business and you’d like to maintain a relationship between the two of you and the grandkids, that Jim and the anti-Asian rants that she was inexplicably decided to accept will not be a part of it.
The struggles created by the pandemic have hit some of my neighbors quite hard (think serious illness, job loss, etc.). During these tough times, I’ve started bringing baked goods to all the neighbors in houses close to my own for most holidays throughout the year. I know it’s a tradition that is a little dated, but I’ve found that it’s a good way to be supportive in some small way without being intrusive. For background, I’m a single woman in my late twenties, and all my immediate neighbors have been either married couples, senior citizens, or other women living alone.
Recently, though, a single man about my age moved into the house directly across from me. On the one hand, bringing strangers cookies has become such an old-fashioned tradition that I’m afraid he’ll think I’m flirting with him in a fairly aggressive way if I just show up with a big basket of baked goods out of nowhere. I definitely don’t want to make him feel uncomfortable! On the other hand, if he becomes friendly with our other neighbors and realizes I bring everyone close by except for him baked goods for every holiday, I’m worried that could make him feel like he’s being intentionally snubbed in some hurtful way. Any tips on navigating this one?
— Caught in a Cookie Conundrum
Dear Cookie Conundrum,
Here’s your note to leave with the cookies: “Happy holidays! I live across the street and over the past few years I’ve started making cookies for all the neighbors. I’m excited to include you in this tradition and I hope you enjoy it!”
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I live in a gossipy town and am currently going through a contentious divorce from my husband. It’s been tough, especially because it seems like a fair number of people knew he was cheating, while I had no clue. In the months since separation, I’ve often felt too sad to eat, and I’ve gone off the birth control I’d always hated. This combination has led to precipitous weight loss, not a healthy or wanted one.
I see it as a sign of grief and I’m trying to stabilize, but people will not stop bringing it up in a way that’s meant to be positive. My sister calls it my “revenge body” while my mom congratulated me on “finally losing the baby weight.” A neighbor cornered me to ask for “my skinny secret,” and coworkers, friends, and acquaintances all had something to say. Even my doctor thinks it’s “a bright spot for me” (I was already at a healthy weight before!). How do I shut this topic down? I feel like I’m already using so much energy avoiding questions about my soon-to-be-ex, and this just adds another hard thing to the plate.
— The Skinny Secret? Situational Depression
Dear Skinny Secret,
I’m sorry people are putting their issues with body image on you—it sucks that none of the messed-up things in life stop when we’re going through a hard time. I’m especially bothered, but not surprised, by your doctor’s comments.
Here’s something you might say: “I know you meant that as a compliment, but the truth is I’ve often felt too sad to eat and this weight loss isn’t healthy or wanted.”
I completely understand avoiding talking about your ex-husband, but I hope you can find someone in your life who you can speak to openly without bracing yourself for them to talk about how you’re their inspiration.
Well, it’s the winter holiday season and I hate it. I am Jewish and really cannot stand the endless barrage of Christmas In America, starting before Halloween. I work at a large organization and am in a leadership role, so I am invited to all of the parties, and that means about 10 parties between now and December 30. I don’t want to go! I have two reasons: The first is that I am highly introverted, and socializing with people who report to me, and with people I do not normally socialize with outside of work, fills me with dread. I just freeze up in unstructured social situations. Second, no one will be masked. How could they be, when there will be food and beverages? As someone who is fully vaccinated and has never had COVID, this situation also fills me with dread. If I don’t go, well, they’ll know me to be the Scrooge that I am. Finally, our organization has offices spread all over the city, so it’s not like I can drop in for 10 minutes and leave; I will have skipped to get to them all, and they will know it. What’s your advice? Thank you!
— Take Me Straight to January
You’ve never had COVID? Guess what? You have COVID now. *Wink wink* Or, you just feel super under the weather and that gets you through December 10, and then you spend some time around a young child and get what looks like RSV, and that gets you through the 20th, and then you are just not quite recovered and having lingering symptoms and don’t want to get anyone sick and are testing for COVID until the new year. You’ve heard about the triple pandemi, right? It’s a shame that it hit you so hard. Or maybe that it hit you lightly and you’re exercising an abundance of caution. Whatever! Mix and match your white lies and enjoy your introverted, safe nights on the couch.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I have been seeing a young man for a year and several months. He is younger than I. I love him very much. Now to the heart of the matter: He comes by on his lunch break normally, and we are in bed in less than 15 minutes. I have never been on a “real” date with him.
I invited him to go with me to a restaurant. He seemed to like the idea, but yesterday his text seemed like he did not want to go. It seems he is ashamed to be seen with an older lady. If he doesn’t go along with it tonight, should I end this relationship?
— Puzzled in the Cold
Yes, please do.
Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. Every Thursday in this column, we’ll post a question that has her stumped. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris on Thursday, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
In the past, every activist or action group I’ve been a part of has either fallen apart due to infighting or had people all be on exactly the same page about everything (usually the former). Recently I’ve been part of creating a practical support network that provides free transportation for people traveling for healthcare. We are helping a lot of people. There have been a few instances where people in the group have clashed over what our policies should be in different situations due to some ideological/personal differences in the group (we are a hearty mix of old school dems, progressive liberals, socialists, and anarchists). What has been amazing is that we have actually managed to work through these issues! I’ve never seen this happen before, and I think it’s because everyone in the group is very committed to the work. The problem is that some of my friends (not in the group) almost look down on me/the group because of this. I confided in a friend that people in the group were having a heated (but civil!) conversation about gender neutral language and reproductive rights, and she responded “lol f*ck TERFs, burn it down.” I genuinely don’t know how to respond in these situations. I feel immensely proud that we are able to help people and that any differences we have we are able to find a workable compromise on, but I feel like if I point that out, I’m defending the views of someone I don’t necessarily agree with. Is there a good response? Should I just avoid getting into these conversations in the first place?”
— Is Compromise Complicit?
I recently attended a charity dance performance in a large theater where seven local dance troupes each performed a piece. At the end of my row of seats was a small woman with a small (assuming 1-to-2-year-old) girl who was very cute and enthusiastic about the show. So much so that she screamed and screeched and jumped up and down throughout the performances. (It’s an old theater—I could feel my seat shaking from a few seats away.) During a break, a couple asked the woman if she wouldn’t mind keeping the child quiet, and the woman, clearly annoyed, said in a very loud voice “YOU WANT ME TO KEEP A CHILD QUIET????” I understand that children don’t always act in a manner that is appropriate in public spaces, but I felt that it was selfish for her to continue to allow this child to jump and yell while (a) artists were performing and (b) while paying patrons were there to enjoy a show. Rather than say anything, I left my seat and watched the remainder of the performances from the lobby where they had a closed caption TV as I was no longer able to enjoy the show. Is there something I could do or say in this instance in the future? I didn’t want to get an usher as it’s not really their job and it also felt like “tattling,” but truth be told I had to leave my seat because it was so distracting and maddening.
— Crotchety Old Crank or Justifiably Frustrated
So many things are true here. Just a handful of them:
· It is really hard to keep a child quiet.
· It is really annoying to hear screeching and feel your seat shaking when you’re trying to watch a performance.
· When you attend something family-friendly like a local charity dance performance, you might expect to encounter some children who are not being kept quiet.
· The mom could have taken the child to the lobby, or outside, or given her a snack or distraction. That would have been very considerate.
· Someone—I’m not saying it had to be you, but someone—who approached the mom after she was chastised and said “Your kid is cute and I’m glad she’s having fun” would have really made her day. Just saying.
· If the rules of the theater were being broken, an usher or security would have stepped in without your tattling.
With all that in mind, I think that you were absolutely entitled to be annoyed that the show was ruined for you. Also, you did the right thing by complaining to yourself (and me) instead of the mom or someone who appeared to be in an official role. Because what you experienced is the kind of annoyance that is part of life in a world where people who aren’t concerned about you having the best possible day exist. I think of this kind of inconvenience as similar to when someone smokes cigarettes walking down the street, or chews with their mouth open while sitting next to you on a plane, or stomps around all day in the apartment above yours. Not polite! Not the best choice! But also, not against the law and not your job to fix. Perhaps you’d say that this is different, and you have the right to peaceful enjoy a ticketed fine art performance. And there’s absolutely an argument to be made that a theatre should have adults-only shows, or that there should be an announcement before the curtain goes up when they ask people not to use flash photography or talk on the phone, requesting that screaming kids be taken to the lobby. I just think your justified frustration is better directed at the larger policy than individuals. Feel free to write a letter about that.
For nearly 10 years of my marriage, there has been tension due to my spouse’s refusal to abide by a budget. We make enough money for a comfortable lifestyle plus retirement savings, but my spouse enjoys shopping for the sake of it and every month blows through some of the money that should be earmarked for retirement. Right now, we are lagging too far behind in our retirement savings to be able to retire at 65, our original goal. We have tried counseling, discussions, and collaborating on budgets. Nothing has worked…