This column is part of Advice Week, Slate’s celebration of all things advice.
In this edition, we’ve asked award-winning director, filmmaker, and writer Paul Feig to take a few of your questions. Most recently, Feig served as the director, producer, and co-writer of the film The School for Good and Evil. He’s also known as the filmmaker for Bridesmaids, Last Christmas, The Heat, Ghostbusters, A Simple Favor, and Spy. His book, Cocktail Time!, was released last year.
We asked Feig to weigh in on finding peace in disagreements, subpar wine gifts, and barking neighbors:
I’m a full-on adult who can’t seem to handle arguments. From major disagreements with loved ones to mild, low-stakes debates online, I just feel awful when I get into it with someone. My heart races, my jaw clenches, I can’t think about anything else, I make counterarguments in my head endlessly, and I generally feel like garbage. Recently, I had a dispute with someone who bought a used item from me on a secondhand selling site, and it kind of ruined my afternoon! It was over something worth less than $20! I meditate and I try to distract myself with other activities when it’s time to move on from a disagreement which is sometimes successful, sometimes not. I know life involves conflict with others. How can I manage this better?
—In Search of Peace
Dear In Search of Peace,
You’re talking to the wrong person about this. I avoid conflict the way cats avoid the rain. I’ve been made to feel bad by people so much over the course of my life that I will do anything to not do the same to someone else, even if I feel I have been wronged. I will back away from most arguments and just swallow whatever bothered me that the other person did. And when I do get into some kind of argument, I carry it with me for days. I still relive conflicts I’ve had decades ago either because I wasn’t happy with how I handled it or because I didn’t think of the perfect thing to say until way after the argument was over. So, the more arguments I avoid, the better off I am.
But what should you and I do if the disagreement is unavoidable and then it starts eating away at us? We have to convince ourselves we were in the right and be proud that we stood up for ourselves. We spoke our minds and didn’t allow someone else to get away with something. We were mature adults and handled our problems with grace and confidence. Or at least we tried to. Being a grown-up is hard, and so I personally feel that as many breaks as we can give ourselves, the less stressful our lives will be.
Let’s make a pact, you and I, to argue only when necessary and not regret it when we do. Let’s create alter egos for ourselves who are high-powered lawyers—lawyers who love a good argument and who do it fairly but firmly. We all enjoy watching those characters in movies and TV shows, and so let’s let them live inside us, always ready to defend and never filled with regret. Let’s L.A. Law this shit!
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I always keep a fully stocked wine rack of wine that I love to drink. These are not “collector” wines. I keep multiple varietals on hand and I have no problem with opening a new wine when one is already open. I put a lot of thought into my selections, so I know what I like and what is a good value. For the most part, these are midpriced wines—say, around $18 to $40 bottles.
My issue is that my guests often will show up with a bottle as a gift for having them over, with absolutely no intention of drinking any of it. Sometimes we will open it and they will have one glass, leaving me with the rest of the less-than-$10 bottle. In one case, a friend with no knowledge about wine brought me a nonalcoholic wine! I swear that I am not a snob in these instances (though I did sufficiently rib that friend!), but I end up finishing the bottle I enjoy less, just so it doesn’t go to waste. I should clarify that some people bring lovely wines and will split the bottle with me, and that is wonderful when they bring something they will also enjoy. But I have said so many times that no one needs to bring anything to our regular weekend gatherings, or they can bring snacks instead, but we still get more mystery gift wines.
I cherish my generous friends, but is there a way to say something firm to clarify that we have enough wine, we can open any wine they like, but please don’t bring me any more of the five-buck chuck?
Dear Economical Oenophile,
I hate to say this, but I think you’re creating a problem that doesn’t need to exist. I personally find that when I bring a bottle of wine to someone’s house as a thank-you for them having me over for dinner, I fully expect them not to open my bottle. In fact, I always feel quite let down when they actually do. To me, their invitation to dinner means the complete experience, which includes their choice of wine. I always present the bottle saying something like, “This is for you to enjoy whenever you want,” the unspoken meaning I regard to be “You don’t have to open this now/I don’t want you to open this tonight.” So, if they open the bottle, it tells me that they either didn’t have wine to serve or the one I brought was way better than whatever they were going to pour. Either option is disappointing and suddenly puts way more pressure on the bottle I brought than I wanted there to be.
As for the second part of your angst, if your guest brings you a bottle of shitty wine, that’s on them. It’s one thing if they’re on a reduced income and can’t afford a midrange bottle of wine. Then you need to give them a break. But if that friend is cool, then they would go to a wine store and ask what’s the best bottle they can get for the amount they have to spend. The same goes for someone who doesn’t drink wine or doesn’t know much about it. People who work in wine shops love to give that kind of advice and actually get more excited about bottles they feel are underpriced or undiscovered gems. For someone to bring a bad bottle of wine just because they were trying to cheap out means you’re well within your right to say what Jan said to Pam and Jim in the “Dinner Party” episode of The Office: “Oh, thank you: This will be great to cook with.”
Open the wine you wanted to open and either bank the nice bottle of wine they brought or dump it out once they leave. Or just regift it back to them when they throw their own dinner party. Good for the goose, good for the gander.
I have a question about neighbor etiquette. My family just moved to a new city, and we are renting a house with a large, fenced backyard in a neighborhood. We have two rescues that love spending time in the backyard. We have neighbors on both sides of us and behind our house. At least one of the houses beside us and two behind us also have dogs and fenced-in yards. It sounds as if there are more dogs, and at least one rooster, in the surrounding area as well.
The first couple of days after we moved in, if the neighbor’s dogs were out when my dogs were, there was a lot of barking from both sides. Now my dogs will run to the fence if the neighbor dogs are out and bark hello but then just go about their business. The neighbor dogs do not stop barking. They will continue barking almost the entire time my dogs are out there. Sometimes I will bring my dogs back in, but they really want to be outside. I hate listening to barking and am really conscientious of my neighbors, especially those that don’t have dogs and who probably don’t want to hear the noise.
My husband says to leave the dogs out there because they aren’t barking. I argue that their presence is causing the other dogs to bark, though. He thinks it is silly to try to time when we let them out when the neighbor takes her dogs in. Our dogs will spend an hour or more outside multiple times a day, so I think it is fair to bring them in if they’ve been out there awhile and she lets her dogs out, as they don’t seem to be out as much as our dogs. My husband thinks I am overthinking things and to just let it go, but I’m really stuck on this. What do you think?
—Why Are You Barking?!
Dear Why Are You Barking,
I have to agree with your husband. Your dogs are being good neighbors and merely barking their hello to the other dogs when they first come out and then are keeping to themselves. If the other dogs aren’t as cool as your dogs and can’t shut up, then I don’t think you can make that your, or more importantly your dogs’, problem. I think the idea of personal responsibility extends to the animal kingdom in this case, or at least to their owners. It’s up to those other dogs to control themselves—and if they can’t, it’s up to their owners to get involved. There are definitely ways to train dogs not to bark incessantly.
Do you have any kind of relationship with the neighbors? Is there a way to have a friendly conversation with them about the problem? I know it’s always sticky to criticize your neighbors, since it can sometimes lead to weird retribution, or at least uncomfortable moments. But it feels as if this does need to be addressed, since it’s not at all fair to your dogs. Maybe arrange a play date in each of your backyards so that the dogs can become friends. I’m not sure it will stop the barking, but it will at least allow you an opportunity to talk to the people next door and possibly bring up the issue in a casual way.
The bottom line is, your dogs are happy in your yard, and their good times shouldn’t be ruined by lesser-behaved dogs. They say let sleeping dogs lie, but in this situation I think you should let happy dogs play and obnoxious dogs bark.
My husband and I belong to a congregation of worshippers that show love and caring in a variety of ways to one another. This is a very good thing for the most part, but my problem is that my husband will often (with the best of intentions) volunteer my services as a veteran cookie baker to anyone for any reason, or for no reason at all that I can see.
I’m not as young as I used to be, and this is getting exhausting. I’ve tried talking to him about this inconvenient habit. He apologizes, but after a week or so, he’s right back at it, over the phone or in person, privately, or even in my presence. How do I convince him he needs to check with me first?
—Let Them Eat Cake
Dear Let Them Eat Cake,
It’s time for your husband to get a few baking lessons and start making those cookies himself. Get him in the kitchen and teach him your recipes. At best, he’ll fall in love with it and take over all the baking duties from you. And at worst, he’ll see how much work it is and think twice about farming out your skills so willy-nilly. In other words, bake a husband some cookies and he’ll eat for a day, teach a husband to bake cookies and he’ll eat for a lifetime. And leave you the hell alone.
My husband and I divorced after 10 years of marriage. No kids. No one’s fault. We just grew apart. I kept his last name because it is what I used for my professional life and it sounds better than my maiden name. (My parents wanted to be cute and gave all their kids rhyming names.) My ex and I have a cordial relationship and will see each other at mutual events.
I learned about his engagement from friends and congratulated him on social media. I was very surprised when he called me. We chatted, and he made the most bizarre request: that I change my name back. His fiancée had a similar-sounding name to mine (think Katie vs. Kerry) and thinks it would be disrespectful to her if I didn’t. I think this is utterly bizarre. I’ve never even met the woman, and she is demanding I change my name? I declined, and my ex got testy with me. He actually wished I had changed my name back after the divorce and thinks it’s weird I didn’t. I have asked a few people and gotten mixed feedback. I’ve had this last name for 15 years. Is it weird if I keep it?
Dear Last Name,
To your ex and his new wife, I say, “Tough nuts.” If you’ve been using his last name for 15 years and it’s never been an issue, then it’s yours now. The only person who’s allowed to have a problem with this is you, and clearly you don’t. My wife kept her ex-husband’s last name all the way from her divorce through marrying me. It was her professional name, and so after they divorced, she didn’t want to have to introduce her contacts to a different name and potentially confuse people and lose business. I would have been fine if she had kept his last name after we married, and she did for a few years until she decided to retire and change to my last name. At the end of the day, a name, especially a last name, is just a word.
No, my friend: If you live with someone long enough, you’re entitled to part of their stuff if they break up with you—marriage or not. The same should go for names. After 15 years, that name is yours. They’ll just have to deal with it.
I have a situation at work and apologize for the slight vagueness of my job. Ever since I joined here, I’ve been running into issues with a single co-worker. We work in shifts of two, usually 12 hours. I work with her about three days out of the month. While I am new to this position, I’ve been working in a similar role for the past eight years. I’m not new to this role or this job. She has been here for six years.
Yet, every single shift we work together, she finds something to berate me or criticize me about. She tells me that everything I do “wrong” is being reported to our boss. She says that people in the other departments take “notice” of things I do, like listening to my podcast in our workroom. (Never mind that she watches TV on her phone, as do many others.) While I understand every workplace is a little different, I haven’t seen anything indicating that this one is seriously different … except when I work with her. On top of this, she often finds the most public way to criticize me, often in front of people from other departments. It has become clear to me that people in the other departments really value her, and I have had a few issues with some of them because of stuff she has said.
Because the department is so small, it is likely impossible for me not to work with her. While my previous workplace would take me back in a heartbeat, I’m under contract for another year here. Breaking the contract has severe consequences (both personal and financial, though likely not professional). I have reached out to our boss twice because I am at the point where I really can’t continue to work with her. I’ve already yelled back at her twice, which isn’t the workplace or environment I want. Any advice on how to handle this situation? At this point, I’m just counting the days until I can leave, and it’s making it hard to just go to work.
—Why Do We Have Bullies?
Dear Why Do We Have Bullies,
Your situation is really depressing—I feel for you. I despise bullies, and the thought of being trapped with one for 12 hours, three times a month fills me with angst. So, you have my sympathies. It’s such a hard situation to extract yourself from because of your contract. So, what should you do?
Have you said anything about your co-worker to human resources? You are being bullied and verbally and emotionally abused in the workplace. So it sounds to me as if you have a case for letting them know. The easiest thing for HR to do would be to simply change your schedules so you don’t have to work together at all or move one of you to a different department or location. Don’t suffer in silence and don’t make yourself sick by either absorbing all this abuse or getting in fights with this person. Let someone in charge know what’s happening, and don’t let yourself be victimized by this person. She sounds terrible, and you don’t need terrible people in your life if you can help it. Let HR know, keep your boss in the know, and get away from that toxic co-worker.
I’ve been with my boyfriend for over two years. He’s met my kids and some friends but refuses to go “public” with me or let me meet his kids and family. He says that he wants to work things out on his timeline. I feel as if I’m wasting my time, but I love him. What can I do to make him understand feeling like hiding is hurting me?
Dear Hidden Girlfriend,
All my alarm bells are going off right now. You’ve been his secret girlfriend for two years?? And what the hell is “his timeline”? I know you love him, but something is up with this cat. Be honest: Is he a married man? If he is, you’re being played. And if he’s not, you’re being played even worse. I can understand hiding a relationship for two months—perhaps you have a tricky family or are extracting yourself from another relationship. But beyond that, the word “mistress” comes to mind.
There’s one more conversation you need to have with him, and it has to be an ultimatum. You have to be brought out of the shadows or you’re going to turn the lights out on him and this relationship. Don’t let anyone treat you like that. He should be proud to introduce you to the people in his life and show you off. If he’s not, then he doesn’t deserve you. Get out from under that bushel and let your light shine, either with him or without him.
I’m a woman in my early 30s. My housemate is a man in his mid-20s. We became friends through work this year and decided to become housemates. It was a good personality fit and an economic benefit for us both. We have separate bedrooms and a shared living space. It’s pretty plum in every way, except that he seems to think I’m his girlfriend.