Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
Nearly 50 years ago, my older brother gave me a nickname based on a fictional pig that was relatively close to my given name. It stuck until I put my foot down (and fists up) in my teenage years, and I had hoped that it was largely forgotten. My brother died four years ago, however, and my other siblings have somehow decided to “honor his memory” by reviving what was a cruel and hurtful jibe from a not particularly pleasant person. I’ve applied a simple rule: Call me “x” and the conversation is over. But that hasn’t stopped anybody. The other day, my oldest brother used it and I blew up at him, reminded him of how he had bullied me as a child, and warned him that if he ever used that name again our relationship would be at an end. He’s now demanding an apology because I “over-reacted to some gentle ribbing.” Am I over-reacting? Or is this a toxic relationship I should have ended 40 years ago?
— Just Done
Dear Just Done,
No, you’re not overreacting. No normal person insists on calling someone a name they don’t want to be called. And your relatives’ choice to revive it isn’t an acceptable way to mourn. But it’s not just about being called after some pig. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t the only way in which these people mistreat you. Disregarding someone’s feelings is not normally a one-off thing, and your brother’s history of bullying supports my theory about that. It’s okay (more than okay, advisable) to make good on your promise and take a break from anyone who intentionally antagonizes you, using the room that opens up in your life to heal from old wounds and connect with people who are kind and capable of using your real name. I promise they’re out there.
New Year, Same Problems
For an upcoming special edition of Dear Prudence, we want to hear about the messy situations plaguing you that you’d like to shed in the new year. A mother-in-law who is slowly poisoning you? An underground diaper operation that’s driving you mad? A poorly named horse? Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.)
My girlfriend and I are getting married in April, and all of our guests not in relationships are getting a plus-one. We’re not concerned about someone inviting a plus-one who may not end up in our lives long-term. As long as they’re significant enough for the person to want to bring them to our wedding now (or if bringing someone makes them more likely to come), we’re all for it.
However, we did not anticipate my cousin, who is getting married to his long-time boyfriend next summer, being in a throuple. My cousin and long-time boyfriend are still getting married, but the third partner has moved in with them and is a significant part of their lives (it’s a true throuple from where we’re sitting). And while we have questions (I think I’m hung up on the logistics, my partner is fascinated by the mental load of three people), we’re trying to be stewards to the whole “In this house, we believe…” sign that we don’t have up in our yard because we don’t have a house with a yard, but are the type of people who would have that sign in their yard if they did have a yard. Anyway, we’d love your advice on what to do about a plus one. Does the third person get an invite? Does my cousin get a plus-two? Do my cousin and partner each get a plus 0.5? Do we care about Aunt Karen?
— Three’s a Crowd
Dear Three’s a Crowd,
You know what, people critique and make fun of those yard signs mercilessly but I want to take this opportunity to come out and say I don’t have an issue with them. I get that there’s a point to be made about the hypocrisy of putting up a sign about how you want to include and support everyone when you live in a wealthy segregated neighborhood. But damn, so many people are so intentionally awful and hateful—if someone is moved to stick something in their yard announcing that they at least aspire to be decent, instead of protesting outside drag queen story hour or trying to stop teachers from saying MLK’s name, I think that’s better than the alternative.
But I digress! Give your cousin a plus-two because they have two significant others. What is the issue, exactly? Is it just weirdness about breaking with tradition? Who cares? Obviously not you. Refer to your yard sign as a reminder. In your house, you believe “Love is love.”
Is it about what Aunt Karen might think? Well, her life is about to be enriched by learning that other people’s relationships are more exciting than hers—that is, if she’s not too busy calling 911 because your Black best man looks suspicious to her.
Are you worried that you’ll set some sort of precedent and if word gets out that this throuple has been invited, several other guests will come out as polyamorous and expect additional invitations and your guest list will get out of control? Don’t worry, a bunch of people who RSVP’d yes will flake out at the last minute and you’ll have room.
I am not trying to be difficult, but I don’t know what the “logistics” are or what the “mental load” could possibly be—other than maybe the “but two of them are still getting married?!” part, marriage and its meanings being very much on your mind right now. But don’t forget, the law makes no accommodation for them to act otherwise! And in our legal system, having two out of three get hitched still offers myriad benefits that a poly family unit might find useful. In any case, you will just put the three of them at a table together. The end. And I promise you won’t expend any energy on a day that’s all about your relationship thinking about what’s going on in theirs.
After six months of a whirlwind romance, my partner’s mum passed away. He’s in his early thirties like me, and we both felt like this was an important love. We were committed to one another early on. He fell into a depression and I supported his move back home to be closer to his brother, as they lost their father eight years before. We’ve been long-distance for a year, half of which has been lovely, happy, and warm. My partner even proposed to me last summer.
But now, his depression and suicidal ideations are back. He isn’t able to be present like he used to be and our conversations are mostly about his depression and recovery. I love him dearly and want our relationship to work. My friends around me see how unhappy I am, and signal that it’s time for me to leave him. I don’t want it to end, but how it is right now is not an equal or stable relationship. I also don’t want to live a life where you give up on those who are suffering. Am I wrong to stay with him even if my needs aren’t being met right now?
My heart breaks for both of you, because neither of you did anything to deserve the suffering you’re experiencing. To answer your question: No, it’s not wrong for you to stay with your boyfriend if that’s what you want to do. But … is that what you want? Really? A life in which you’re noticeably unhappy, your needs aren’t being met, and there is no plan for them to be met?
What is keeping you in the relationship? Is it the hope that it will get better? It might, but it also might not. One thing I realized around your age is that there is no guarantee of a happy ending for anyone, especially when it comes to relationships. There’s no rule that says if you stay with your boyfriend and have a good heart you get to be happy in the end. Are you okay with,15 years from now, having to write a letter to an advice columnist that says, “For 17 and a half years, my partner hasn’t been present and my friends have seen how unhappy I am”? Are you okay with looking up in five years to see all your friends getting married, while your wedding is still indefinitely postponed because all the conversations in your relationship have been about mental health? You have to actively work for the life you want, and if you want a true partnership, you’re not going to just get it because you did what seemed like the right thing. You’ll have to make choices to get there and one very hard one might be leaving a person who—again, through no fault of his own—is not capable of being a partner right now, and maybe not ever.
Or, is the thing that’s keeping you in the relationship a sincere desire to support your boyfriend through this horribly difficult time because it feels like a compassionate and caring thing to do? I want to push back on that thinking a little, too. You might be giving yourself too much credit for your ability to help him. Evidence: He’s still doing really poorly after a year and a half of your dedicated support. Plus, the thing you’re doing for him (talking on the phone, mostly about his issues, while living long-distance) does not require being in a relationship.
The best way forward is to continue to listen to and be a loving source of support for him. But acknowledge that you haven’t had a real romantic relationship in some time, and break up so you can do that with someone else.
I own a three-bedroom townhouse. One of the bedrooms is my dedicated office. My boyfriend of two years moved in six months ago. We are talking about marriage but taking it slow for his five-year-old son. He has a room here. He splits custody evenly with his ex. She has two older daughters as well.
Her rent has been raised so high she can’t afford her apartment anymore. She is making plans to move out of state to her parents’ place. My boyfriend has equal custody of his son and could take on full custody, but doesn’t want to separate his son from his mother and sisters.
His idea is the entire family moves in temporarily with us and I give up my office, or he moves in with his ex to help out financially. Both of those solutions will kill our relationship.
My boyfriend is begging me not to make him choose between his son and me. I am not trying to. I am fine with his son moving in with us full time, but I can’t deal with his solutions. My heart is breaking here. Please help.
— Deal Breaker
Dear Deal Breaker,
Your boyfriend is not available for marriage, or even a serious relationship right now. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad guy. He’s just a guy who wants to do the right thing and has enormous baggage—baggage the size of one adult who happens to be his ex, three children, and their need for housing. It is fine for him to decide to be financially and physically tied to this other household, but it means he can’t have a traditional partnership. Break up. Keep in touch. See how things go, and if his ex gets on her feet. But don’t waste any more time planning a future with him while he’s still organizing his life around his past.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
Can I remarry using my wedding ring from a previous marriage?
If you and your fiancé like it, I love it.
But that “and” is the key part. Ask your fiancé!
Give Prudie a Hand in “We’re Prudence”
Sometimes even Prudence needs a little help. This week’s tricky situation is below. Join the conversation about it on Twitter with Jenée @jdesmondharris, and then look back for the final answer here on Friday.
I’m coming in hot on an incident that just clicked. I was in a meeting with some colleagues last week and I vocally agreed with one on a procedural issue, and she (a Black lady) said, “It’s good to see you don’t think I’m a criminal anymore.” I shrugged it off as a joke I didn’t get until another lady (something of a gossip) recalled the incident today and explained to me that apparently the first woman thinks I’m racist because when I started work she was standing near me when I made a point of going back to lock my car.
I’m a middle-aged white lady and I’m sure I have some racist tendencies because I am a middle-aged white lady in America, so I’m fairly open (I think) to getting called on racist mistakes, but this isn’t one of them. I grew up in a high-crime neighborhood with a lot of addicts. If I didn’t lock up my apartment or my parents’ car, I’d get in trouble—even locking up our family car didn’t stop two break-ins, most likely from addicts, who only got my sister’s empty backpack in one break-in. I lock up all the time; my husband complains that he can’t step on the front porch without hearing the inevitable click.
Do I leave this alone, or bring it up directly with the first woman or see if it comes up again organically? I don’t think I have any issues with my professional relationships with the lady who made the comment, and we don’t have a personal relationship, so I think it’s not necessarily pertinent. However, I do now wonder if I’ve caused our working relationship harm by not realizing that this was something of concern. Also, and it could be just the more gossipy lady, but I worry there is a false narrative out there about me that is unintentionally causing friction.
— Locked In
About a year ago, I moved to a new city and was lucky to instantly find a friend group. I met the four kindest and most supportive people—two couples—and even though I’m technically a “fifth wheel” in the group, it’s never felt that way. My friends do a great job of including me in their lives, so even though I live alone, I’ve rarely ever felt lonely here. We talk almost every day and see each other multiple times a week.
This all changed about a month ago, when my friends suddenly all got busy with work, school, and some difficult life stuff. I’m now barely seeing them at all, which I completely understand. Unfortunately, around the same time, I started a new medication that’s making me have adverse side effects—more specifically, I’ve felt suicidal for the first time in my life. These feelings and thoughts have been compounded by the fact that I’m suddenly always alone in my apartment with little distraction. (I’m also injured in a way that makes walking or going outside tough, so I feel especially isolated.)
I was hesitant to tell my friends about this because I didn’t want to burden them, but I finally talked myself into it. I figured these are some of the people I love most in the world, and they’d want to help me however they can.
I messaged the friend I consider myself closest to, explaining that I was having a tough time and being around friends would help. I asked if we could see each other that week. He responded with a nice but non-committal “maybe.”
I then texted a second friend, also telling her I was struggling. She seemed more receptive to the conversation, so I opened up fully and told her my medication was making me suicidal and that I was scared for my safety. Her response was that self-harm is triggering for her, and she wishes I could help more, but I should talk to a doctor instead.
In the following days, neither of these friends ever followed up to make sure I was okay. It feels important to note that I’m doing alright now. I’m sorting out my medication, and in the meantime, I’ve been able to lean on old friends and better support systems. But I feel rattled by the way my friends dealt with this situation. This might be unfair, but I feel like they let me down when I needed them most.
I’m not sure how to move forward with this. Should this change the way I view what I thought was good friendship? Am I overreacting? Do I simply accept that these aren’t the kinds of friends I can turn to for this stuff? I just can’t stop thinking about how much their responses (or lack thereof) hurt me.
— Needy and Neglected
Dear Needy and Neglected,
This hurts. They did let you down when you needed them most. I am so glad you were able to lean on old friends. I don’t know that there’s a huge lesson here. People can be selfish, flaky, and unreliable (sometimes, just because they’re dealing with their own stuff!), but we knew that already. I honestly think the more important takeaway is about you—and it’s a positive one. You were in a terrible place, and not only did you reach out and directly ask for help, you kept going, undeterred by being brushed off, until you found people who could support you. That’s amazing! Many people don’t even want to make a single phone call to have a hard conversation when things are going well for them. You should be really proud of yourself. And while no one wants to be in the position of having to learn who their real friends are, now you know and that’s a good thing.
I’m in a happy relationship of about five months. He’s kind, considerate, and hilarious. We haven’t had any conversations about our exes. I know he’s only dated one girl before me because he mentioned it in passing. I left it alone because I figured it might be a painful topic. I was still curious, so I snooped through social media (which was a bad move on my part) and found out that they were together for at least two years, if not four or five. That seems like such a big deal! She still likes every single one of his posts. I freaked out but haven’t talked to him about it yet. It just feels like such a major part of his life is being left out of the story!