Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. In this special Advice Week edition, former Prudie Danny Lavery returns to take on a few of your letters. Got a question for Prudie? Submit it here. (It’s anonymous!)
I’m 24 and early in my career as a librarian, and (perhaps unsurprisingly) most of my co-workers are closer to my parents’ age than my own. I’ve been at one branch for about a year now, and am finding myself increasingly frustrated with one of my co-workers. She has a son who is around my age and I think she sees me as more of a child than a professional equal. When we work at the desk together, she jumps to answer patron questions that are directed at me and insists on doing tasks that I’m more than capable of doing. When I push back she says not to worry about it and that she doesn’t want me to exert myself. I want to have more professional agency and begin taking on more responsibilities, but I’m not sure how to convey this to her or our boss without making it seem like I’m rebelling against her and her many years of experience. Any advice?
Dear Library Baby,
How often do you work on the desk with this particular co-worker? If it’s only once or twice a week, I might encourage you to pick your battles, and just consider those your low-effort days where you’re going to get really caught up on email: “Looks like Thursday’s another day with Gina on the front desk—I’m going to work on the librarian equivalent of side work or bring my knitting/practice perfectly rotating three-dimensional shapes in my mind palace.”
But letting some of it slide doesn’t mean you have to sit in silence if she interrupts you while you’re speaking to a patron. Unless she’s the most self-possessed woman in the world, a calm “Excuse me, but I’m helping someone—please don’t interrupt” should sufficiently remind her of her rudeness to break the habit. The same goes for “I’m not worried [or overexerting myself], but please don’t interrupt me [or take this book/document out of my hands].” Therein lies the distinction, I think, between “pushing back” (which still implies, if only slightly, that she outranks you and has the final vote on your pushback) and “blocking” her.
And if you do need to bring this up with your boss, keep your tone level, and your request for support clear and specific (“I’ve asked Gina not to interrupt me when I’m speaking to patrons on several occasions, but haven’t gotten anywhere. Do you have any suggestions for dealing with this? I haven’t been getting any complaints about my work, so it’s not as if she’s correcting my mistakes”). Position yourself as genial, eager to help, but a little baffled, and it won’t seem like you’re “rebelling” against an authority figure, but a slightly-puzzled worker looking for a little assistance dealing with a confusing colleague.
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My father died on January 1. I’d not seen him for some 25 years but his wife and brother called and wanted to keep in touch, claiming he loved me and thought about me all the time. I’m not sad or mad, but I just don’t believe it and I’m torn between wanting to be honest about that and not wanting to hurt them. (Also I fear them blaming my mom for the estrangement; I couldn’t hear that without blowing up because it isn’t true.) I long ago accepted my father’s absence, but I don’t like hearing people try to apologize for him. That was HIS job if he’d ever wanted to do it. I have little family and would like to reconnect, but I’m unsure. I especially want to tread carefully for the sake of his other kids. I could try just nodding through these second-hand apologies, but I think they’re looking for some positive response.
—New Year, New Start?
Dear New Year,
I’m sure your gut feeling is right, and that your father’s widow and brother have been expecting some form of affirmation or even absolution from you. That doesn’t mean a renewed relationship with them is impossible without outright deceit, but you should tread carefully, especially since their bereavement is so recent. You say you’re torn between wanting to be honest and not wanting to hurt them. Could you have a conversation where you give them the bare outlines of what you’ve shared with me here—that you can appreciate their perspective having known him for so long, but that you don’t want to go into details about the estrangement, and that you’d prefer not to discuss your mother at all? Or would such a conversation strike you as insufficiently honest, avoiding the real issues that still bother you enough that you might “blow up”? If you think a blowup is inevitable (or even just imminent), it might be wiser to give yourself and your father’s relatives a little more time before trying to reconnect.
How long is too long to wait to meet with long-distance online dating? Is there a polite way to say “let’s either meet up or move on”? I’ve been talking with someone for almost two months and I would like to meet in person (I suggested this and he also seemed interested), but I don’t want to wait around too much longer. If we don’t meet up in person, I won’t be too upset or disappointed, but I also don’t want to be rude or pushy. I think my instinct here would be to say “it’s been nice talking with you, but unless we make a plan to meet up soon, I don’t think this is going to go any further.” Any other ideas?
—Seeking a Partner, Not a Pen Pal
Dear Pen Pal,
“I’d like to meet up or move on—I’m not looking to correspond with someone online indefinitely” is a perfectly polite thing to say. It may be more direct than what you’re used to, but directness isn’t necessarily impolite. You ought to recalibrate your definition of pushiness if you think “Let’s either get coffee this week or move on” after two months (!) is anywhere near pushy. The only change I’d make to your proposal is to replace “meet up soon” (when does “soon” end?) with a more specific timeline like “this week.” Trying to schedule a date with someone you’ve met online can sometimes feel like trying to avoid running into someone on the sidewalk—a vague feint in one direction or the other, lots of bland agreement that meeting up sounds like a terrific idea, plenty of mirroring as each tries to follow the other’s lead, with no one actually willing to take charge.
Why not adopt a blanket policy of a two-week maximum (or one-week, three-day, or whatever time frame suits you best) for pre-date chatting in the future, to save yourself the unnecessary hassle? That doesn’t mean you have to treat every potential match like they’re on an assembly line, but it’s perfectly reasonable to lead with your desire to meet in person and see if there’s any chemistry. If you want to use this policy to weed out dates who seem excessively indecisive or wishy-washy, go right ahead. Don’t be so hedged in by politeness that you feel honor-bound to correspond indefinitely with anyone who’s ever swiped right on you.
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.
When I was 15, my world exploded. My father had been having a years-long affair with my personal coach. In fact, the entire reason why he pushed me into the sport was to cover up the affair. It devastated my mother and showered me with crippling doubt about my own ability and self-worth. My coach talked about me being Olympic material and nearly all my free time went into training.
After the divorce, I refused to speak to my father and I gave up the sport. I had severe depression and even with therapy, it is very hard for me to look in the mirror and not see wasted potential. I am engaged. As an olive branch, I have been slowly talking again to my father. But I am not ready, and might not ever be, to speak to his new wife. In some ways, her betrayal hurts worst than what my father did. She exploited my dreams and ambitions and drove me to levels that left me with injuries. Some lifelong. And it was in service to fucking my father. My father and I were never close. My relationship with my mother is an entirely different kettle of fish. My coach was very much the most important adult in my life at the time. I want my father at my wedding. I don’t want his wife there. Is that reasonable? How do I have this conversation? Every time I try to make more than small talk with my father, my throat closes up.
I have a low-stakes question but it’s really starting to bother me. My ex-wife and I are generally on good terms, although we aren’t friends. We co-parent our 12-year-old and work in the same tight-knit profession. Prior to the divorce, we co-created professional creative projects and we’re still involved in the same causes. I’ve done my best to build my own separate world since at least we live in a city, but there’s unavoidable overlap in this situation.
Our marriage ended in 2019 because my ex had a late-in-life coming out and fell in love with a woman. She stated that she was a lesbian and we subsequently divorced. She has since remarried and her wife is a good stepmom to our kid. In the past year, my ex has made a habit of bringing up/commenting on “hot” men nearly every time I see her—actors, musicians, etc., and given our history around sexuality it’s really painful for me. How can I ask her to stop without being too thin-skinned?
Since you two aren’t friends, and you’ve done your best to create a separate and independent life after your divorce, I do think there’s a case to be made for letting this go, if that feels at all possible. You can certainly ask her to stop, of course. “Would you mind not bringing up men you think are attractive when we’re talking? I’m sure you don’t mean anything by it, but given our history, it makes me uncomfortable” would be perfectly reasonable. Who knows what she’s thinking when she makes those sort-of jokes! It’s possible she thinks they’re chummy icebreakers, or doesn’t think about them deliberately, and has been unconsciously trying to relieve tension.
But it might also prompt a bigger, unwieldy conversation with an otherwise amiable-enough ex than you’d like to, or need to, have. None of this means, by the way, that you’re being too thin-skinned by feeling jarred when she jokes about a cute celebrity, and that you ought to feel nothing by now—just that you might find more peace and detachment by saying to yourself, “My ex-wife is no longer someone I want to be emotionally intimate with; she doesn’t think very carefully what jokes or flippant remarks might affect me, which is part of the reason she belongs more to my past than to my future.”
For a variety of reasons, I have decided to end my relationship with my boyfriend of a year and a half. It mostly boils down to differing opinions and styles that won’t work long term. Nobody has done anything “wrong” and it really is an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation. My question is, how do you break up with someone that hasn’t done anything wrong? Most of my relationships have ended badly or the other party initiated the breakup.
—Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
Dear Breaking Up,
The same way you break up with anyone! “I want to break up for X reasons,” where in this case “X” equals “I don’t think we’re compatible in the long run and don’t want to stay in this relationship,” rather than “You did something categorically wrong, like the villain from White House Down.” I don’t know how you define “ended badly,” but it might help to remind yourself that the goal of a break-up conversation is to end your relationship, not to make sure your now-ex agrees with your every position or thinks you’re making the best possible decision. You should be kind, respectful, and honest, of course, and don’t cause gratuitous pain if you can avoid it, but you’re allowed to break up with someone, even if they think your relationship is basically fine and your reasons for breaking up are inadequate.
You’re not looking for a debate, whereby if he can “match” your reasons for wanting to end things with successful counter-arguments, you’ll have to concede defeat and keep dating him until you can catch him in some wrongdoing that entitles you to a “real” breakup. Give the conversation enough time that you’re not ghosting him but not so much that you get drawn into an unhelpful back-and-forth (say, no more than an hour), make plans to take a walk and decompress with a friend immediately afterward so you have an out, and be prepared to give him some space, especially if you want to try to stay on good terms later on. Good luck on the other side! Few things feel as bracing as a necessary breakup, even if you do think well of the person you’re leaving.
Read more from Slate’s Advice Week.
Three months ago, my wife and I had a calm disagreement over whether we should start a family. A few nights later, I replayed the conversation in my mind and got extremely angry about it. I went into the bathroom, flushed her birth control pills down the toilet, left the empty case on the counter, and then went back to bed.