Dear Prudence is online weekly to chat live with readers on Mondays at noon ET. Here’s an edited transcript of this week’s chat.
Jenée Desmond-Harris: Hi! Is there anyone you’d like me to yell at for you? Or anyone you need permission to divorce? I’m here, just let me know. Let’s get started.
Q. The Emperor Has a Foot: I just started a new job. It’s at the same company as a casual friend of mine (her husband and mine work together and hang out sometimes), but I didn’t see any problem with that. She was a bit funny about it when she heard I had applied, but we aren’t that close so I wasn’t really worried. It turns out the reason she was odd is because she’s a diabetic who lost her lower leg to complications from the disease. At least, she is from 9 to 5. For the record, I’ve seen her in shorts and swimming and she has no add-on limbs. It’s all factory issued.
I don’t know why she lied. Or how she kept this lie up (I am positive I would immediately stub my “prosthetic” and give myself away). I do know it’s not my business at my new job to get involved in whatever weirdness is going on. I’m just pretending I don’t know a thing. (It’s something that has been referenced by a number of people regarding her at the job. It’s not one person with the wrong end of an anecdote. Plus my co-worker limps and uses a stick at work.)
My question is how to handle this socially. Do I tell her I know? Should we both just pretend we are different people at work like Severance? Can I/should I tell my husband? Technically it’s not his business, but it’s such a weird thing I kind of feel he should know about it. It’s such a bizarre thing for this previously quite unremarkable, and indeed pleasant, woman to have done. I have no idea how to respond to it, but it’s such a BIG WEIRD LIE it seems equally weird to just ignore it.
A: This is totally something you can talk about with your husband. At home, with your spouse, is the perfect setting to rant and rave about things that are not your business. Do nothing else.
Q. First Date: I’m 20 and starting my junior year of college. Due to a variety of circumstances, I’ve never been on a date. Before last week, that is. I did an internship over the summer and worked with a super nice guy, “Karl” (who is 25). We got along really well, he’s very funny and super sweet. When I finished my internship, he asked me out and I was very excited. I appreciated that he didn’t ask sooner so as to not overstep work boundaries and create a strange power dynamic. Although I was really nervous, our date went super well and we plan to FaceTime while I’m at college and hopefully see each other again when I’m on break.
However, I’m now totally drowning in anxiety. I have diagnosed anxiety and see a therapist, but I am so tense that my jaw hurts and I feel on the edge of throwing up most of the day. I don’t typically plan out numerous scenarios or picture the worst-case situations (it’s just not how my anxiety works), but I’m doing that now! (What if we are at totally different stages of life? How do I navigate a potential relationship while I’m away at college? How does dating work anyway? How will I break up with him/end things? What if people judge me?) It definitely does not help that my family is totally overbearing; I’m the oldest daughter and oldest grandchild, so I’m the test dummy and my family knows no boundaries (which is not great for a private, anxious introvert like me). In the last two days, I’ve been asked by five family members so far some of the following questions, at varying levels of invasiveness: What did you talk about? Did you kiss? Where did you go? Do you like him? What does he look like? Are you going to call him? When are you seeing him again? And I’ve been told that “guys that age are only looking for one thing” and “don’t send [nude] pictures!” You get the picture. I shoot down every question but they still come. It makes me so uncomfortable and only contributes to my spiraling anxiety. How do I handle my family? How do I handle my anxiety? Is this potential relationship even a good idea?
A: This is actually great. I don’t think you’re in as bad a place as you think you are. You’ve identified your feelings as anxiety, and you’ve identified your family dynamic as a bit unhealthy. This gives you some separation from these things and makes them easier to handle. You’re not writing to me saying “I’m in a crisis because I went on a date that might not lead to marriage” or “My family has raised some really urgent questions about my brand new dating partner and I need answers!” So I want to encourage you to keep this mindset. You’re dealing with some tough emotions and annoying people but everything really is fine.
To turn down that anxiety a little, I wonder if we can shift your thinking about what you have going on with Karl and where it’s headed. What if you just say to yourself, “For the first of what will probably be many times in my life, I’m getting to know someone I like”? After all, it is fair to predict that you won’t be hand in hand with this guy in a nursing home at age 95. You might be. But probably not. Can you embrace the idea that this is temporary? Can you think of it as a chance to enjoy yourself, an opportunity to start working on being the kind of person you want to be in relationships, and a moment to figure out what you’ll look for as you get older and your partnerships become more serious?
I know I’ve said this many times before, but I think it’s better to trust yourself to be OK if things don’t work out—which means continuing to take care of your mental health with the help of your therapist, nurturing friendships, and having other things you enjoy in your life—than it is to panic over how to make sure nothing goes wrong. Trying to anticipate and prevent what might or might not happen in your interactions with someone else is exhausting and stressful. And it never works to avoid pain. In fact, it can make you act weird and cause the relationship to derail. Remember, relationships are supposed to add happiness to your life—not a sense of terror!
As far as the questions from your family, here’s a script for you that will get them off your back and, I hope, help you keep the situation in perspective: “That’s kind of personal! We’ve been on one date! I’ll let you know if I have anything interesting I want to report.”
Q. Social Anxiety In a New-ish Relationship: My partner and I have been together for a little over one year. He has a well-established group of friends that dates back to elementary school (we’re in our mid-30s). When the friends get together, it’s always in a large group and usually at a bar involving lots of alcohol. At the beginning of our relationship, I would join in an attempt to get to know my partner’s friends. However the setting was not conducive to any deep talks and I have social anxiety (which my partner knows about) so I tend to shut down in loud, overstimulating settings. I have asked my partner several times if we can set up double dates or smaller groups to facilitate establishing relationships with these folks, which he has never done. Now, he’s stating that I make no effort with his friends, that I don’t like them, and that I am hereby uninvited from all future friend events because I don’t want to go anyway. What do I do?
A: I’m really sorry, but you have to break up. Someone who has this little kindness and understanding to offer you is not a person with whom you can have a relationship. Silver lining: You never have to worry about getting to know these loud drunken strangers again.
Q. Center Stage: My stepsister can’t stand to let anyone else be the center of attention. As a child, she would throw hissy fits if she wasn’t allowed to blow out the birthday candle, even when it was someone else’s birthday. As a teenager, I could count on one hand the number of special events she hasn’t ruined for me from birthdays to holidays and other special events.
At my college graduation, she saw her ex with another girl and walked over and dumped a drink on them both. Rather than celebrating my success, our parents were trying to convince the cops not to arrest my stepsister. I have done my best to cut my stepsister out of my life, but our parents keep trying to get me to reconcile with her. They always explain away her actions as being mental health issues (which she doesn’t seek help for).
I am currently engaged but I haven’t told my parents. I am dreading their demands that my stepsister be invited or god forbid, involved with my wedding. How do I talk to them about this?
A: This is going to require one good solid, firm talk—followed by breezy, dismissive remarks if they ever bring it up again.
So first, shortly after telling them you’re engaged: “I know this might be upsetting to you, but I want you to know that I’ve decided not to invite Stepsister to my wedding. She’s ruined many events for me over the years, and whether or not her mental health issues are to blame, this is one day when I’m not going to risk her acting out. It’s not up for debate, and I want to enjoy my engagement so I hope you won’t give me a hard time about it.”
And if they ever bring it up again: “Nope, it’s my wedding and I’ve decided she’s not coming.”
Re: Q. The Emperor Has a Foot: Tell your husband about this immediately. I would be furious if my wife withheld a work story as hilarious and bizarre as this. This is literally what marriage is for, to speculate wildly about what is wrong with other people you know.
A: Enthusiastic cosign! This is the kind of story that keeps the spark alive.
Re: Q. The Emperor Has a Foot: She is definitely 100 times as stressed about it as you. She may be so humiliated she doesn’t even know what to do, especially if this is just the very normal practice of taking a “sick day” pushed to an extreme. If you don’t hold it against her and want to know more, you could just find ways to signal to her that you don’t hate her now and are prepared to be understanding, and maybe she’ll confide in you and everyone involved can relax a bit.
A: Yes, it’s safe to say this woman is in a crisis of some kind and could use a friend! This is a very thoughtful idea.
Re: Q. The Emperor Has a Foot: I would also speak to a lawyer—there is some chance this person is committing a form of disability fraud, and if it comes out, the letter writer should know whether or not they could be liable.
A: Come on, really?? No. I cannot give legal advice but if I could, as an inactive member of the bar in two states who hasn’t practiced in forever but still has common sense, I repeat: No. This is not a concern.
Re: Q. Center Stage: She should consider in advance what she wants to do if the parents make paying for the wedding contingent on inviting the stepsister.
A: Now, this would be a dilemma. Hopefully, it won’t come to this but if it did, I’d suggest taking the money, letting the stepsister come, and assigning someone to watch and/or hopefully distract her and remove her if necessary.
I’ve always been interested in doing some form of sex work. I think I’d be good at it and would enjoy it. I’ve thought about doing some sugar babying in the past but never gone through with it. Recently, I’ve been wanting to start an OnlyFans account. The only issue is I teach college…