Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. In this special Advice Week edition, former Prudie Margo Howard returns to take on a few of your letters. Got a question for Prudie? Submit it here. (It’s anonymous!)
I’ve been my family’s breadwinner while my husband got through his degree. My husband is currently job hunting and it’s going very slowly. He just finished a contract for a job that was not what he went to school for but he was actually quite good at. Now, he wants a job in the field he went to school for. The problem is that he’s just not very good at it. It’s why he didn’t get an internship while he was in college—he was turned down every time he submitted work samples (think something akin to technical writing). But he didn’t make the connection; he just thinks he was unlucky and needs to find the “right fit.”
I’m not being overly critical—his degree is in my field, and I have had to correct his work many times. I want him to stop applying in that field and start focusing elsewhere, especially since he does have some very desirable skills! I also am starting to resent the time he’s putting into applying for jobs he can’t really do while I work two jobs. But I just don’t feel it’s my place to say, “Honey, I know you got a degree in X, but it’s really not your forte.” That seems so unsupportive. What do I do?
— Don’t Want to Help Chase a Pipe Dream
Dear Pipe Dream,
You are, indeed, in an unfortunate position, what with being smarter than your spouse in a field you’ve mastered and he has not. These things are touchy because of the male ego. My answer to you is a two-parter. My first suggestion would be to try to find a former teacher of his to say the “Honey, I know you got a degree in X, but it’s really not your forte” part.
My second suggestion, I’m sorry to say, is to prepare yourself for exiting the marriage. No one should have to work two jobs to compensate for a partner who is ill-equipped to work at one, because he has his heart set on doing the job he cannot seem to master. As for people who tell themselves stories about why things aren’t working out, but the story is never factual, life will become a series of excuses. I don’t think your marriage is long for this world, but, of course, that’s a decision you must make.
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I know that my older sister “Julia” died when she was 12. I was only a toddler at the time, so I don’t have any personal memories of her. My mother suffers from early-onset dementia, and we had to put her in a care facility. While prepping the house to sell, I found many items involving Julia—including adoption records and several sealed letters addressed to Julia from her birth mother.
I don’t know what to do about these papers. I never knew that Julia was adopted, and I have my doubts about whether the news of her death was conveyed to the birth family since we were living overseas at the time. One of my brothers thinks we should just toss the letters in the trash and it is inviting trouble for us to go digging into the past. The other one thinks that we should try to track down the birth mother if only to give the letters back.
I don’t know what to do. This entire process has just drained me, emotionally, mentally, and physically. I could use some advice.
— Dead Letters
Dear Dead Letters,
Ordinarily, I would suggest following the advice of an old cliché: Let sleeping dogs lie. The fact that the letters were sealed, however, suggests that your mother never passed them on—which, in turn, could mean that Julia may not have known she was adopted. Because she died some time ago, and the letters never reached her, it would be the kind thing to do to send a note to the birth mother that Julia has passed away—so she doesn’t write any more letters. (Do not try to return the letters. All that would do is let the birth mother know Julia never saw them.) Assuming there’s a return address on all those unopened envelopes, send a short note to that address about Julia’s death. If that note comes back “return to sender,” you can drop the whole matter, knowing you tried to do the right thing. Then you can end feeling drained emotionally, mentally, and physically. You will, at that point, have done all you could.
My father cheated on my mother 20 years ago and walked out on us for another woman. I was 10 at the time, and my younger sister was 2. My mother worked multiple jobs in order to put food on the table, with help from my grandparents.
Now, he is trying to come back into our lives after recently divorcing the other woman. He reached out to my sister on Facebook and apologized for leaving. He asked her how she is doing now and insisted that he wants a relationship with all three of us. My sister does not remember him too well, so she accepted. When I found out, I was furious and told her to block him, and that he has no right to come back. I told her he was the reason we struggled financially. She told me that she was an adult and thought he should get another chance and that I should mind my own business.
Prudence, whether he means well or doesn’t, he can’t just walk back into our lives whenever he feels like it. I still resent him for what he did to us, but my sister and I are now not speaking because of this fight. What should I do?
—Father Wants In
Dear Father Wants In,
He apologized through Facebook? Call me old-fashioned, but a social media message proposing reconciliation from a man who abandoned his family seems inappropriate and trivialized. Since your sister seems to be a quart low, let her reconcile with him and leave you and your mother out of it. I’m guessing (hoping?) your mother feels as you do. I am in total agreement with you, by the way. (He probably needs a place to stay or some other favor.) The fact that your sister “does not remember him too well” suggests she is looking to satisfy her curiosity about him, and perhaps finally have a father. Tell her you have no objections to her following through with her missing-persons quest, but you wish to hear nothing more about it.
I live in a small apartment building, and I often help watch or play with my neighbor “Sarah’s” cat. Sarah’s uncle lives on a 200-plus acre farm. According to her, people often dump stray or feral cats on his property, and he shoots them. He happened to catch a cat in a trap when Sarah was visiting recently, and she volunteered to take him in.
On the first day after she brought him home, I spent several hours helping the cat get adjusted to the apartment and Sarah’s first cat. Sarah said that her boyfriend checked some local lost and found pet forums and saw no listings for the new cat. I brought up the idea of posting on a particular site that helps reunite lost pets, but Sarah said she’d rather not do that. The young adult cat wasn’t neutered or microchipped, and she was certain that if he’d lived with people in the past, they must have intentionally dumped him on her uncle’s farm. I decided to post anyway without telling her, thinking it would soothe my conscience to do due diligence in advertising his presence with us.
After nine days, I finally received a message from someone saying that the missing cat was his. By that point, Sarah had decided to keep the cat and had spent several hundred dollars on his initial vet care. On one hand, I feel terribly for the man who says the cat was his pet; if I currently had possession of the cat, I’d return him. On the other hand, the cat wouldn’t even be alive right now if Sarah hadn’t stepped in and stopped her uncle from killing him. I know she feels that the lack of vet care means that the cat wasn’t getting cared for properly before, and she wouldn’t be willing to return him now. She doesn’t know that I posted on the forum after she told me not to, let alone that someone messaged me. I now wish I’d never involved myself in this cat situation, and I feel so guilty. What should I do?
— Over-Involved Cat Sitter
Dear Cat Sitter,
Get out of the situation. You really shouldn’t have gone looking for the cat’s owner since you were asked not to. Because you did, however—and found him, if his claim is true—you have created a problem that you must solve. I will play Cat God here and hope the cat stays with “Sarah.” She knows how to properly care for a pet, and has also invested several hundred dollars. From the respondent’s lackadaisical approach to the cat, you need not feel guilty about deciding to extricate yourself and letting Sarah keep the cat in peace. I doubt the man will be back in touch with you, but if he should, and ask, “Where’s the cat?” just say you were mistaken.
Many cats do look alike, after all, and there’s even a French saying about that: “Tous les chats sont gris au noir.”
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I am a newly engaged woman. I have been so excited to start to plan our wedding! We’ve set a date, booked the venue, and are working on the guest list. Just about everyone I know has been sending us “best wishes” and asking the inevitable question: “When are you tying the knot?” I’ve found myself spilling the date to various people and in one cringey faux pas told a friend the date and venue, as well as the fact that it’s an evening wedding. While she did ask, she isn’t on the guest list. She’s really more of an acquaintance or friend of a friend. I feel so embarrassed. Do I need to send her an invite?