This column is part of Advice Week, Slate’s celebration of all things advice.
In this edition, writer and media personality Eli Rallo takes your questions. Rallo is known for her regular advice about navigating the world in your 20s and “dating rules” aimed at her devoted TikTok and Instagram followings. She also hosts a podcast, Miss Congeniality. Her upcoming book, I Didn’t Know I Needed This, comes out this fall.
We wanted to hear Rallo’s take on roommate disasters, relationships, and being 25 and unsure of the world:
I share an apartment with three other girls. Since my family is out of state, I am usually the only one here on weekends. The others have family or boyfriends nearby. My roommate, “Clara,” has a cat. While she paid the pet deposit, Clara has a nasty habit of dumping the care of her cat on us (mostly me).
She will disappear overnight, on weekends, and completely ignore any phone calls. Unless I want to listen to the poor cat yowl for food or piss on the carpet because the litter hasn’t been cleaned, it falls on me. Clara and I have already gotten into it several times because of her behavior. The other girls don’t want to “take sides” and don’t think it is such a big deal for me to help out once in a while.
It isn’t my cat. I don’t even like cats. But I dislike stupid, selfish pet owners even more. I was raised that if you took on the responsibility of a living thing, that means you were responsible, period. How do I deal with this? I can’t get off the lease for another six months. I am honestly at the point of just finding out how to contact Clara’s parents and tattle to them. They are extremely conservative, and Clara isn’t supposed to have a boyfriend or go out at all hours of the night.
—Not My Cat
Dear Not My Cat,
I’m going to be honest with you, I also don’t like cats! But if a living thing was being neglected, I would feel exactly how you feel—like you have no choice but to help. You are a good person. But this is not your cat, and this is not your problem.
You need to have a conversation with the two other roommates and let them know how severe this has gotten. Tell them you understand why they don’t see it as a huge issue—they aren’t here most weekends to witness it. But ultimately, this cat is being consistently neglected, and if you didn’t care for it, something horrible could happen. It would go days without food, live in filth, and be entirely unloved for several days of the week. Explain to them that when there is a living being involved, there are no “sides” to choose. It is about right and wrong, and what Clara is doing is wrong. Suggest that the three of you have a conversation with Clara, expressing your concern for her cat.
You can tell Clara that you’re no longer able to care for the cat, and if she isn’t either, she should reconsider having one. If she wants to keep the cat but doesn’t see herself staying home on the weekends at all, the cat should live with her boyfriend, that way she can care for it. Tell her you believe she is being negligent, and if she really wants to have an animal, she needs to be responsible for it. Also come clean that you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve considered telling her parents, because you seriously do not know what else to do—but you wouldn’t want to lose her trust, so you decided against it. I know you’ve mentioned you’ve argued with her before, but clearly, these arguments haven’t gotten you anywhere. When we’re angry, it can be so difficult to be calm and mature, but I think this approach—with the help of your other roommates—may actually help her see the light.
If this healthy, mature conversation (had with or without your other roommates) doesn’t seem to work, the next time you’re stuck with the cat for the weekend, text Clara: “I wanted to let you know that though I’ve taken care of it in the past, as I’ve mentioned I cannot take care of your cat anymore. I am busy all weekend and won’t be around. If you want to make sure it is fed, you’re responsible.”
I know this will be difficult, but if she is a good person, she will take care of this animal, or at the very least, bring it to a shelter, or find it a home where it can be cared for and loved. And if that doesn’t work, and she’s allowing this cat to starve or live in filth, I would escalate your concerns to either her parents (if you know them) or tell her you plan on contacting an animal shelter that will come take the cat, care for it, and find it a safer and happier home. Good luck. I know you can do this.
How to Get Advice From Prudie
I am hugely passive-aggressive in my relationship with my husband, and I don’t know how to stop. Whenever we have a straight-up argument I always lose, so I find myself doing things that I know don’t help. For example, I get home from work about an hour after him and try to do the laundry first thing because I hate doing it. When I asked him to put his work clothes in the basket to be washed instead of leaving them all over the floor, he told me it wasn’t a big deal, and that picking up clothes is part of doing laundry. In response, I spent two weeks only washing the things in the basket until he ran out of clothes and caved, and put his things in the basket. Our life together is full of moments like this, where the only way I can get my own way is to do stuff like this. The internet is full of advice about being direct, but whenever I try that, he always wins the argument, talks over me, or shuts me down. How do I fix this?
—Passive Aggressive and Hating It
Dear Hating It,
For starters, I want you to know that you aren’t alone here. Tons of people, in tons of relationships, over time and space, have been exactly where you are—feeling exactly what you are—and, the good thing is, they’ve gotten through it. I don’t want to make excuses for your husband’s behavior, or for the predicament you’re in, but I like to start letters with a bit of hope. I also want to make it clear that your reaction to poor behavior—while it isn’t the method you’d like to use—is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. When someone is behaving immaturely, or in toxic and negative ways, sometimes our reactions are knee-jerk responses that we do not have full control over. I’m proud of you for recognizing that you’d like to be more direct and less passive in your response to this behavior, but remember, the behavior you’re reacting to preceded your reaction. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
There are likely three problems at play here. 1) You look at arguing with your husband as a me versus him sport—a conversation in which one person comes out the loser, and the other the winner. 2) When he doesn’t respond productively to your very realistic requests, your reaction is to default to being passive-aggressive—because it tends to get you what you want, at least eventually. 3) You feel that being direct wouldn’t solve anything, because he has a habit of shutting you down.
Arguing with our partners every now and then is natural; some may even say it’s healthy. But arguing or having a tough conversation with a loved one can only truly be healthy if we see one another as teammates—looking for common ground, a mutual win, and the conquering of a challenge as a unit—not as opponents. When we disagree with our partner, and one of us takes offense and the other defense, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, because if we have a shared outcome and goal, but we’re playing for opposing teams, it will be impossible to win. When having difficult conversations with your partner, it may be helpful to communicate this.
Again, I believe that the passive-aggressive behavior you feel yourself falling back on is a way to protect yourself, and the only way you’re going to be able to stop reacting this way is if he stops acting that way. The work isn’t solely yours to do. Tell him that you don’t want to behave this way, but when you ask for something simple, like “put your clothes in the laundry basket” and he refuses, you find it the only way to get anywhere. I think the idea of couples therapy can seem daunting—but try it. Going as a couple, and taking the steps to unlearn toxic behaviors and relearn healthy ones as a team is a really healthy thing to do.
Remember, Hating It, you’re a team. You have to both want it. And teammates might deal with disagreements or challenges, but the most important thing is that teammates want to work on a challenge together to arrive at the same goal. You’re doing the best you can given a difficult situation, and I am so terribly sorry you’re caught in this predicament—but I don’t believe hope should be lost, or that you won’t come back from this.
I am 25 and graduated in 2020. I got an office-based job pretty quickly and have been working there ever since. It’s a good job, with nice people and good benefits. I have a good work-life balance. I’m still fed up. I can’t imagine doing this for the rest of my life. I’m bored and spend all day wishing for the end of the day, or for the weekend. I’ve been depressed to the point of seeing a doctor. I feel like there’s something wrong with me in that I’ve never understood how other people cope with doing something they don’t really want to do for 40 hours a week, even if they’re getting paid. The worst part is how alone I feel; most people have the same response along the lines of “everyone has to work” and “everyone is fed up with their job.” Is there anything out there to help me feel better about having to do this for the rest of my life?
—Already Ready to Retire
Dearest Already Ready,
Imagine that you are a bright, brilliant lightbulb in a desk lamp. You illuminate rooms, and cultivate coziness and warmth. You just haven’t found what turns you on yet. You may be feeling dim and dull and dark right now, but within you, you also have the power to feel brilliant and illuminated.
Media has done us a great disservice in showing us examples of people in their mid-20s having it all figured out. And social media—the highlight-reel culture, shoving picture-perfect 25-year-olds in our faces 24 hours a day—doesn’t help either. Comparing ourselves to others has never had a lucrative outcome, and still, sometimes we can’t help but do it.
I want you to stop beating yourself up for being depressed, even when you feel lucky. Sure, you have a comfortable job. But please know that success or privilege does not negate one’s ability to feel. Being lucky does not negate our ability to feel lost or lonely. Feeling guilty for our sadness will not help us feel better. Guilt is reserved for when we do something wrong, and it is not wrong to be sad or to be lost, it is human. So, the first thing I want you to do is to accept the facts and reject your projections. The facts are: You’re feeling depressed. You’re feeling stuck and lost. You’re allowed to feel gratitude and also feel sadness. Two things can be true at once. It seems that you’re spending so much time asking yourself the “why” or being tough on yourself for not being able to pull yourself out of these feelings. What if we spent time on getting to know these feelings a little bit instead? What if we redistributed the energy you have away from clamoring for an answer and toward finding a solution? Start by feeling everything, especially the hard things.
I think it is amazing that you’ve sought out professional help. You are not a broken person. You are a person who is searching to be whole. And that takes strength and bravery. As a supplement to therapy, I have a few suggestions for how we can turn you from already ready to retire, to seeing your life as so fruitful and your job as no longer the main event. Sure, you have to work—and you’ve established that you know you have to work to support yourself. But work doesn’t have to be all that you are.
I want you to get a notebook when you’re done reading this, and write down the most beautiful version of your life you can imagine. Shoot for the stars, but be reasonable. What would that beautiful version of your life look like? What kinds of things would you do? What kinds of things would you have? Who would you be with? What kinds of things would you do for yourself? Once you’re done, I want you to write out a list on the next page of what you’d have to change, or what you’d have to do in order to have that beautiful version of your life. The truth is, typically people find the beautiful version of their lives is within reach. The great news is that you’re alive, you’re here, and that is a tremendous opportunity to live a life you’re proud of. And you can be proud of something simple or something grandiose, it is your life. These are your choices.
Then think about what brought you joy as a child. What did you tell teachers and adults you wanted to be when you grew up? What did you binge-watch in high school? What fascinated you? You are still the child who loves those things. If it was painting or drawing or dancing or High School Musical—go back there. Foster those emotions of elated, childlike joy again. It sounds simple, but when we’ve felt we’ve lost our spark, often it isn’t lost at all, just buried under the weight that is being alive.
Last, I want you to pick one small thing every single day to look forward to. Perhaps you do “buy your coffee Friday” and allow yourself to have a coffee at your favorite cafe. Maybe it’s Sephora Tuesday, yoga Wednesday, favorite movie Thursday, Chinese food Monday, waffles Saturday—the options are endless. I know it’s small, maybe even insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But in decentering your career and re-centering your life, you need to have little bits of joy every single day. I wish I could reach out and give you a hug. You’re a lightbulb, in a beautiful lamp on a beautiful desk. You just need to find what lights you up.
I have two siblings, “June” and “March.” June and I are much closer than March and I are. We talk frequently, have similar interests, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. March and I used to be much closer but distance, ideology, and life just took us in different directions—we talk every few months and are on good terms just not very close anymore. March is either unaware of my and June’s closer relationship or knows and doesn’t care. March has never been a jealous person.
The problem is that when we all get together June is constantly trying to prove to the whole family that they know me best. It’s true, they do know me best, but the constant fact-dropping and exaggerated display of our intimacy make me feel like a pawn in some childish game that no one else is playing. Worse, I end up getting very short with June and gravitating to March because I’m so annoyed (which I realize is fueling this behavior even more). I know this is June’s insecurity to work through, and I truly think it’s subconscious, but is there any way to set their mind at ease so they can relax when we’re together?
—Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Dear Hard Place,
I am glad you are self-aware enough to recognize the crux of this issue is June’s own insecurity with regard to your relationship, or their relationships (friendships, loved ones, family members) altogether. You’ve established that this behavior doesn’t seem to be rubbing off on March, nor does March seem to care, so that’s a great sign. I’d recommend gently bringing it all up to June. You’ve expressed how close you are, and how wonderful your relationship is. Whenever I have to have a difficult conversation with someone, I like to sandwich my statements.
First start with an affirmation: “I love you so much, and our relationship as siblings is the most important relationship in my life.”
Then you present the problem: “Sometimes when we’re in settings when March is around, it feels like you try to brag or emphasize our relationship explicitly, as a way to make others aware that I’m not as close to them as I am to you. You know that our relationship is secure, tight-knit, and important to me. I want to reiterate that to you as often as I can.”
Then present the solution: “Could you be more aware of this behavior? It would make me feel much better when we’re together in larger family settings. I obviously spend the most time with you, and we both know that, and I think it would strengthen our relationship even more if we can maintain healthy relationships with our other family members as well. As always, I hope you’d let me know if there’s anything I can do to strengthen our relationship as well.”
I know you’ve naturally drifted away from March, and I’m not sure how close June is with them, but maybe facilitating a few hangouts or get-togethers with June and March, or just June and March by themselves, could help June’s insecurities, and aid them in realizing March is not a threat. Your siblings clearly matter to you very much. I know you’re going to see this to the other side. Be direct, be gentle and remember, blood is thicker than water. June loves you, they’re going to respond productively to your requests. Assume the best.
I have been close with my best friend “Vera” since we were 10 (we are now mid-30s). She lives across the country, but we catch up with calls and the occasional visit or trip. When we met, Vera had a step-mom, “Carol,” who divorced Vera’s dad a few years later. Carol and my mom developed a close friendship that continues today. Sometime in Vera’s adulthood, she and Carol reconnected and are now friendly themselves. Vera, Carol, my mom, and I sometimes get dinner when Vera and I visit our home state at the same time.
Carol really wants all four of us to go on a long-weekend girls’ trip. My mom has asked me about coordinating it several times over the last few years. Vera and I talked about it, but we both would only be interested if the other was keen to do it. We each have limited vacation time and budgets. Moreover, Vera lives in a remote area with a tiny airport, so flying is particularly expensive and time-consuming. We could swing the trip, but we each have other travel priorities. Another thing is while Carol is very sweet, I don’t think we would be compatible travel partners because we navigate the world differently. I have given my mom these reasons for declining and she got angry with me. She seems to think that just because I take trips with her and Vera separately, I should be on board with this group trip. My mom has not relayed to Carol that Vera and I don’t want to go on a trip with them. Recently at a family party, Carol and my mom together proposed the trip idea to me. To be polite, I made some vague sounds about talking to Vera about it.
I don’t think it is reasonable for Carol and my mom to feel entitled to this trip, but am I being unfair? Should I urge my mom to compassionately let Carol down? If she doesn’t and Carol brings it up again, should I kindly tell her the truth or continue punting indefinitely?
—Girls Trip Skipper
Dear Girls Trip Skipper,
You have a very clear reason for not wanting to go on this trip. But even if you had no reason at all, it is your mom’s job to respect your boundaries. A no is a no, and it doesn’t need to be a no for any reason other than that you don’t want to go. You’ve been polite and respectful to your mom and Carol, but the situation has escalated to a point where they’re clearly disrespecting or not believing your “no” (thinking they could persuade you), and I think it’s time to be a little bit sterner. The short-term impacts of being stern with someone you love might be rough. She might be upset or angry with you. But in the long term, setting boundaries and protecting your peace (and hers as well) is so much more important than just going on a trip because you feel guilty not going.
I would tell your mom that you’ve spoken with Vera again, and she 100 percent cannot swing the trip at this time. Her budget this year is dedicated toward other things, and traveling from her current location is not feasible. I would go on to let her know that now, after thinking it over, you also cannot make the trip happen. You’re happy to dedicate time to take a trip with your mother separately, but the trip with Carol and Vera isn’t going to work at this time. This isn’t because you both don’t love Carol and your mother, it’s for other reasons that are entirely out of everyone’s control.
Tell the truth. Don’t say “I think that…” when you KNOW. Be gentle, of course, but make sure your mother knows that this trip is not possible. If your mother won’t tell Carol herself, I would go ahead and tell her. You’re an adult, and you deserve to be able to set healthy boundaries for everyone in your life—even your mother. You can do this. Take a deep breath and just say it. You are going to feel so free once you belly up to the challenge of freeing yourself.
More Advice From Slate
I’ve been with my husband for 12 years. He found work in a different state and moved away, but I stayed behind and moved in with my mother. My husband and I worked out a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” semi-open relationship for the time we’ll be apart. I’ve had a few dates and met some cool, interesting folks. The problem is my mother. She sees me going out and having late nights and thinks the worst of me (that I’m cheating, that I’m a bad wife, etc). I don’t think my mother should be privy to the most intimate parts of my relationship with my husband, but she continues to pick fights with me and ask questions she really doesn’t want the answers to. How can I manage this situation?