This column is part of Advice Week, Slate’s celebration of all things advice.
In this edition, we’ve asked award-winning actress Melanie Lynskey to take a few of your questions. She’s best known for her role in the Showtime drama Yellowjackets, which returns for its second season this spring. Lynskey is also known for her roles in Heavenly Creatures, Two and a Half Men, Candy, and Togetherness. You can also catch her in HBO’s new series The Last of Us, which is airing now.
Lynskey is also a fan of Slate and supporter of our own Prudie. We had a hunch she’d be a pro at giving advice—and we weren’t wrong. (She even got some help from her Yellowjackets castmates!)
I feel like such a poor substitute for Jenée, who I am such a huge fan of! I love all the Slate advice columns, but she is so extra special. I feel sorry for anyone who writes in and gets my advice instead of hers. But here goes … I gave it a try! —Melanie Lynskey
While we respect her humility, Lynskey did Dear Prudence justice. Read on:
I (30F) have been dating my boyfriend (33M) for four and a half years, living together for over a year and a half. I didn’t want to move in together until marriage or at least engagement, but he didn’t want to commit until we lived together. So I agreed to move in with him and hoped that we would get engaged sometime after that. While our relationship has mostly been great with minimal arguments, about a year into living together, we began fighting regularly. As we were working through our issues, I came to the realization that he wasn’t anywhere close to proposing to me or planning to. I confronted him in an unpleasant way, and he mentioned common excuses as to why he wasn’t ready (child of divorce, not together enough, not the right time), along with the excuse that maybe if we didn’t fight as much, he would want to.
For the most part, we’ve stopped arguing in the past three months. During this time, I’ve been questioning why I would even want to marry someone who doesn’t see love or marriage the same way or even want to marry me. On his end, he hasn’t mentioned anything about getting engaged. This is blocking me from having conversations about marriage with him because I don’t want to discuss it when I’m having doubts myself. I’m wondering if I should break up with him instead of wasting my time dating someone I possibly no longer want to marry. Other than this, he is a great person, and our relationship is pretty amazing. Is it reasonable to feel this way and still move forward, or am I seeing the beginning of the end?
—Is He Even Mr. Right Anymore?
Dear Mr. Right,
You have to figure out which is more important to you: your relationship with this man or having a wedding. There is no way to know when he’ll be ready, if ever. Putting pressure on someone doesn’t work. You want to be with someone who’s choosing to be with you and happily choosing to enter into a new level of commitment with you. Giving ultimatums in this kind of situation breeds resentment.
Right now you are gathering information and building your relationship. Marriage, I can confidently say as a twice-married person, changes very little about your situation. You’re still in the same relationship after the wedding. I think living together, dropping the engagement pressure, and just checking in with yourself is the smartest course of action here. If you let go of the expectation that he’ll propose, I think you’ll be able to get a bit clearer on whether the relationship is worth staying in. It would be so sad to throw away a great relationship because it’s not happening on your ideal timeline. If, when you put aside your disappointment about not being proposed to, it turns out the relationship isn’t really making you all that happy, then you should leave. But at least you’re making a decision based on the actual merits of the relationship itself, not your own expectations.
I read this question aloud to my Yellowjackets castmates in our green room, and Juliette Lewis said, “You have to be married before you get married. The marriage is the punctuation mark and the celebration of what you already have.” I’m including it because it’s poetic and lovely, just like Juliette is.
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My wife has developed a fear of driving. So much so that she actually sold her car and we only have/use my vehicle now. The thing is that I have to take her everywhere now. If she wants to go to the mall, I am expected to cancel whatever I am doing or would like to do in order to accommodate her. She expects me to take time off work to take her to doctor’s appointments as well. I have explained to her that I have to keep my sick time in case I actually get sick. And when she wants to go out with her friends, I am expected to not only take her but pick her up as well. It is creating a great deal of frustration for me, and I don’t know what to do.
—The Unpaid Uber
Dear Unpaid Uber,
I learned to drive when I was 25. Growing up, and as a young adult, I had a very intense fear of driving. It was one thing when I lived in New Zealand and in London, where public transport was easy, and the cities I lived in were very walkable. When I moved to Los Angeles at 21, it became a real issue. It’s not a city that is easy to get around without a car, especially for a person with time-management problems. This was before Uber, and before cellphones. Taxis were so expensive but were usually the only option that could get me where I needed to be quickly, and ensure I did not show up covered in sweat. After an audition, I would have to ask to borrow a phone at the casting office to call a taxi to get home. There’s nothing like the feeling of absolutely bombing an audition, wanting to go and cry, but having to wait at the office for a ride home. It was mortifying. I had to ask friends to pick me up/drop me off every time we hung out. I had to choose apartments based on whether they were within walking distance of a grocery store or pharmacy. Despite all this, I was still too scared to drive.
When I was 23, I started seeing someone, and it became pretty serious. He lived in New York. When he’d come to visit, he’d rent a car and would drive us everywhere. It was amazing! At a certain point, he moved to Los Angeles and moved in with me. I think I just kind of expected that he’d continue to be my driver. I remember one day I had an audition and told him about it. He simply said, “Oh, sorry, I can’t take you.” No other explanation. I was bewildered. We lived together, so I knew he wasn’t going anywhere. I said goodbye to him as he sat on the sofa watching TV, got into my cab, and went to the audition.
This continued. Sometimes he’d say, “Oh, I can drive you,” and sometimes he wouldn’t. I came to realize that when he felt like driving me somewhere he would, and when he didn’t he wouldn’t. Eventually, I just felt so embarrassed that I wasn’t capable of getting myself places. I was embarrassed every time I went to ask him to drive me, and I felt frustrated with myself for being so helpless. I was fortunate enough that I could afford a car. There wasn’t really any excuse anymore. I booked a lesson with a California driving school and spent my first lesson sitting in the parked car crying. I took 15 hours of driving lessons before I felt OK driving myself anywhere. But I did it.
This incredibly long story is just to say, I would not have learned to drive had my then boyfriend (and future husband, then ex-husband, and now dear friend—love you, Jimmi!) not had the boundaries he had. I’m proud of young Jimmi!
Your time is yours, and not only do you not have to drive your wife wherever she wants to go, you actually don’t even need to give an explanation. Just say, “Sorry, I can’t,” and trust that she’ll figure it out. That means having faith that your relationship will survive even if you let your needs be as important as hers.
I’m at my wits’ end. My husband is very comfortable with his body—so comfortable he doesn’t care if anyone else sees him, even in the nude. He regularly lounges around in his underwear, walks around naked after a shower, and changes his clothes down to the nude in our dining room. I wouldn’t mind, except for one thing: We live in a city, so all our windows open to our neighbors’ windows, just 8 feet across the way. He refuses to close the blinds because otherwise it’s too dark.
Inevitably (if it hasn’t already happened), the neighbors will get an eyeful. His response? To shrug and say, “They’ll only make that mistake once.” I’ve explained that a woman doesn’t want to have to worry about seeing her male neighbor’s genitalia when she looks up from the dishes. I’ve warned him it’s potentially illegal to be so exhibitionist. I’ve blown up that it’s not about his own feelings about his body, it’s about respecting our neighbors. I even bought him a robe! The most I’ve gotten is “I can see this upsets you; I’m sorry” and a few days’ reprieve before it’s back to normal. What are the magic words I can say that will get him to understand why this isn’t OK, and that he has to put on a freaking robe?
—The Naked Truth
Dear Naked Truth,
I guess you could just stop bringing it up to him, let him keep doing it, and if your neighbors don’t complain, you can assume they either don’t notice or don’t really care. Or to really make sure, you could always drop them a little note to ask. Try saying that because you live in such close proximity, you were wondering if they needed anything specific from you in regard to privacy. That’s gently opening a door for them to say, “Yes: I’d love to not have to see your husband’s penis anymore” if it’s something that’s bothering them.
But also, I think you need to ask yourself whether you’re OK with having your feelings disregarded. Are there other areas in which he prioritizes his comfort above yours? Or is he willing to compromise in other ways, and this is the only thing he’s stubborn about? The neighbors’ potential discomfort is one thing. Your actual discomfort, which you’ve repeatedly expressed to him, should be just as important.
Side note: I was having some trouble with this one, so I ran the scenario past my Yellowjackets castmates in between scenes in our green room. Christina Ricci said there are panels you can stick on the windows that allow light in but make things blurry so you can’t see inside. Lauren Ambrose said, “If all else fails, that’s an option.” Thank you, friends!
My mother-in-law is obsessed with the idea of grandchildren, but none of her other children are married or in a hurry to have them. So she doubles down on my husband and me. I have a major history of anxiety and depression, and when my sister had her son, she suffered so badly from postpartum depression she had to be hospitalized—and my mother-in-law knows all this.
Yet she still, with a straight face, tells me idiotic crap about how having a baby will cure my depression. The woman works in the medical field. My husband has shut his mother down about the subject when he is around, but when it is just us, she goes after it like a dog after a bone. Ninety percent of the time, she is a wonderful woman, but the 10 percent devoted to the obsession with grandchildren is driving me nuts. How do I end this?
—No Babies Ever
Dear No Babies,
You’ve signed your letter “No Babies Ever,” and I wonder, have you said those words to your mother-in-law? If you’ve expressly told her that you do not ever want to have children and she continues to harass you about it, you’re well within your rights to set a clear boundary and stick to it. Try saying something like “I’m so sorry, but if every time we’re alone you insist on trying to convince me to do something I’ve repeatedly told you I don’t want to do, I’m going to stop spending time with you one on one. It’s hurtful to me to feel as though you’re not listening to me.” It might be that she feels as though there’s still a small window of possibility open with you, if not your husband. If that feels too confrontational, ask your husband to talk to her with you, or even for you. It seems as if he’s been able to get the message across in a clear-enough way that she’s stopped bringing it up to him.
I live in a large coastal city. Last year, two of my partner’s close friends, “Jack” and “Jill,” moved in with him. (We don’t live together.) We are all late 20s, early 30s. Given they’re new to the city and don’t know many people, we’ve been hanging out with them a lot. And for the most part it’s fine; they’re nice people, and we all get along. But lately, it’s been starting to grate on me.
I discussed with my partner how it feels like we never get any alone time anymore, and he has made some effort to spend one-on-one time with me. But I can feel my resentment building because it still feels as if we can’t go anywhere without inviting them along. It’s fine when it’s a bar hangout or a concert, but my partner asks if they can come to every private party/event we’re invited to. I really hate asking hosts if I can have two extra people tag along. I’m also fairly independent, and I hate being tethered to a unit of four people every single weekend night. Then I feel like a jerk because they are nice people, new to the city, who are just trying to make friends. Any advice on how to deal with this resentment?
Dear Unwilling Anchor,
What if you start to make some plans without your partner? If you’re an independent person, I’m sure you have other friends or enjoy spending time by yourself. If you let him keep accommodating Jack and Jill, it sounds as though he’ll keep asking for them to be invited. Making plans that don’t involve them but also don’t involve your partner will give you a lot of information, I think. First of all, you’ll see if your partner is as invested as you are in spending time together, just the two of you. Give him the opportunity to miss you, and let him step up and try to make the kind of plans you want to have with him—or at least give yourself the opportunity to notice if he’s still quite happy spending most of his time with Jack and Jill.
I love my family, and I know that times are tough. I have two family members who live in my three-bedroom home and have been doing so since 2008. I did not want to let them live here, but our mother pleaded, as they would otherwise be homeless. (My mother has since passed away.) The agreement, however, was that this would be temporary! They paid no rent and considered themselves “guests,” so no responsibilities while they were looking for new employment. That was 11 years ago.