Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I have three children in their 30s. Their father and I have been separated for years because he cheated constantly. I think my children love me but my sons are rude and dismissive, not just to me but to others. Their father was rude and dismissive to me for years and fat-shamed me after I had children. I think they learned their communication skills from him. I have a boyfriend now and I feel really happy for the first time in years. My boyfriend is open and fun and enjoys my big butt. I want to stop communicating with my sons. I love them but they make me unhappy. One has a new baby but does not live near me. Should I just ghost them or explain myself? I don’t really want to go through a discussion with them. I just don’t want to interact with them. My daughter and I get along great and she recognizes that my husband mistreated me.
— I Want a New Life
Dear New Life,
You are, very understandably, sick of being disrespected and mistreated. It sounds like you have nothing left to give, and I get it. If these men were your friends, or even cousins or siblings we were talking about, I’d say you should go ahead and ghost them. But as the person who brought them into the world and chose the father who raised them to be horrible and who probably still loves them at least a tiny bit, I think you should give them a chance to improve before you disappear. This could be as intense as a sit-down conversation with a family therapist, or as low-effort as a text message that says “Sons, all of you have been extremely rude to me for several years. I understand that you learned how to treat me from your father—and I apologize for my role in raising you in a home with so much hostility and allowing you to believe it was acceptable—but it stops today. I want to give you a chance to have a relationship with me in which you do not talk down to me or make negative comments about me. If you don’t understand what I mean, I’m happy to provide some examples. I love you and hope we can move forward and treat each other with the kind of kindness you may not have seen in our home when you were growing up.”
Most people who know him would agree that one of my oldest friends has a drinking problem. You can go out with him for one beer and everything is fine, but once he has had the second it is like flicking a switch and he just starts binging, usually for the evening but sometimes for days. He is a surprisingly amiable drunk and there is never a real problem when this happens, he holds down a serious job, is jovial, fun, and has his life together. The problem is that friends and family keep insisting that I do not go drinking with him and advising me to hide the liquor when he comes around. I do not want to be policing the behavior of an adult and I do not believe that shaming or controlling somebody else’s behavior is the right way to go. What is my responsibility here?
—— Not His Mom
Dear Not His Mom,
I understand why they’re asking you to do this, but it absolutely will not work. While there’s definitely room for building some non-drinking activities into your time together, he is not going to skip the bender he wants to go on because you’ve locked up your liquor cabinet. That’s not how alcoholism works. Next time his friends and family call, why don’t you suggest that you all go to an Al-Anon meeting together and get some better ideas.
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My mother-in-law always buys me tacky home decor items as gifts. I’m happy to write thank-you cards and tell her how sweet she is, but I’m worried I will offend her when she comes to visit when none of it is on display. (Where does one display a pink teddy bear made out of plastic roses? Or a crystal sphere in which a real rose is suspended in some type of liquid?) Can I simply thank her and throw these gifts away? Or should I bring them out whenever she visits?
— A Rose by Any Other Name
When it comes to the things you already have, you should display them for a little bit. Two MIL visits or two months, whichever comes first. After that, they can just kind of disappear. But we have to stop the flow of tacky gifts. Here’s the plan: Pass this one off on your husband—his mom, his job to handle awkward stuff. Before the next occasion, ask him to gently tell her that your home has all the decor it needs and is getting kind of packed, and he would hate for her to take the time to pick out a gift that you can’t properly display. He should deliver this feedback in a way that does not throw you under the bus. The message is not “Rose Doesn’t Want Your Tacky Teddy Bears,” it’s “I’m feeling like our household is accumulating too many decor items, so could you steer clear of anything we’d have to set on a shelf?” Here’s where you come in: Give him an alternative gift to suggest to her. She’s buying you this stuff probably in part because it’s cheap and she’s stumbled across it during recreational shopping trips and it seems cute. Can you offer something similar to look out for that she might find in the same places? For example, candles (which you can put away when not in use, and which can be used up) and bath products (which no one knows if you actually use) are inexpensive and fun to buy and very easy and burden-free to receive.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I know the parents of the person whose column name rhymes with Dear Booty mean well, and it’s their way of showing love and affection.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
My wife “Adele” was a widow with a young child when she moved into the house next to me. Her husband and oldest son had died in a car accident a few years before. We became friends and then, obviously, more. Recently we had a pregnancy scare. It turned out to be a false positive, but now we are seriously talking about the possibility of having another child.
The thing is that I wouldn’t have any of this—her, my stepson—if not for the accident. I feel so guilty at times, as if I have stolen her husband’s (and now child’s) place in the family. The further we move … forward … with our relationship, into things they never got to do, the more I feel like some terrible cuckoo in this family’s nest. I don’t know how to move past this? I feel stuck and that I can’t talk to anyone about it, since it isn’t about me. I didn’t know her husband or son after all.
I know it’s easier said than done, but you have to reframe the way you’re thinking of this. The options are not a) Adele’s husband and son get to enjoy life with her or b) you get to enjoy life with her. They are a) Adele, who has lived through a horrible tragedy, does not meet her wonderful second husband (you) or Adele, who has lived through a horrible tragedy, does meet her wonderful second husband (you) and has another chance at a happy family life. You didn’t take anything from anyone. You didn’t do anything wrong. You only made her life better. I think this is something she will be able to get through to you if you open up to her about it. Honestly, your pain over this situation is incredibly moving and says a lot about the kind of person you are. I’m willing to bet your sensitivity about her late husband and son and their ongoing important place in her life will probably make her love you even more.
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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.
My cousin and I are more like brothers. We grew up together and basically in each other’s back pockets. “Chrissy” was quite literally the girl next door and my girlfriend from elementary school through my first year of college. Everyone expected us to get married, but we broke up because we realized we were only together because everyone expected us to be. No hard feelings. Fast forward, I am very happily engaged to the love of my life. I asked my cousin to be my best man. He told me that he would love to but had to get something off his chest. He and Chrissy were dating. It weirded me out at first. Our hometown is small but not that small. Still, we were all approaching thirty and it seemed stupid to have hang ups about stuff from high school. I didn’t think my fiancée would have a problem when I told her.
Well, she doesn’t want Chrissy at our wedding and thinks it is inappropriate to have my ex-girlfriend present when we say our vows. I argued it would be opening a bigger can of worms to specifically ban Chrissy. I can’t ask my cousin to be my best man but tell him his girlfriend can’t come. It is seriously offensive and would piss off a lot of my family since Chrissy’s family and them have been friends forever. Chrissy isn’t at the wedding party, she would just be one of the guests. My fiancée is holding firm and I don’t see a way around this without blowing everything to kingdom come. I love my fiancée. I love my cousin. What do I do?
— Guest Troubles
My husband has always had a stressful job that has required long hours and a decently long daily commute. He’s been working this way for about 17 years. At the beginning of this period, while our children were very young, I hired live-in help since he was only here to sleep a few hours a night. Quite honestly our marriage was rocky during this time, and we did our share of marital therapy to get through. Eventually our kids grew up a little, and we settled into a marriage where I see him way less than I would have liked and he tries to give us 100 percent on weekends. The upside has been a financial security I never dreamed was possible. His career has afforded us an amazing lifestyle, and a beautiful home. (I should say I grew up totally differently with a father who was home every night by six and at the dinner table with us, but we struggled financially at times) Now, we’ve been married 20 years, the hours have lessened a bit, and I’ve learned to live with this situation.
Or so I thought. Recently, my husband’s job changed and he is back to grueling hours and we see very little of each other. The almost grown-up teens we share see him very little as well. Now that I’m older, I find myself checking out of the relationship. Our kids are almost out of the house. I’m sick of eating alone, of never having a plus one, of him napping through the weekend. I’m just over all of it. But I also feel like I made a deal with the devil because of our wealth. We have talked about this, but his answer is always the same: He’s happy at his job, he enjoys it, and it “won’t always be like this.” But the truth is this has been the case for the majority of our marriage, and I’m just not sure I want to live the rest of my life this way. What to do?
— Comfortable but Lonely
It’s great that you two have done marital counseling before and have found it at least somewhat helpful. It’s also great that money isn’t an issue. So get back in there! Even if that’s the only hour you spend together in a week, do it. You don’t say if you’ve told your husband exactly how unhappy you are, but if you do it in the company of a trusted counselor, you’ll hopefully get a more productive response than “It won’t always be like this” (translation: “One day I’ll retire.”)
But before you even get to that first appointment, you can start working on two things that I think will help:
1) First, decide what you want from your husband and from your marriage. I know that’s sort of what you’re asking me to do for you, but I can’t! You have to sit down with yourself and ask what you would need to be happy, with the understanding that you probably cannot have a husband who has a non-demanding job with lots of free time but makes the same income as he would in a demanding job. Or do you want your husband home for dinner every night? Or would one solid date night a week be good? Do you want work-free Saturdays and Sundays (it sounds like that, at least, has been possible)? Or would frequent phone-free vacations help? Is it his physical presence you need, or the feeling of connection? For example, would it help to talk on the phone during his commute to work and text during the workday? And then ask yourself what are you willing to give up in terms of financial stability, if getting what you need requires him to have a different job. Are you okay with a smaller house and less security? Would you even enjoy spending time with a husband who gave up his demanding career and was around the house more but felt resentful about it or moped around all weekend being bored? Think about all these scenarios and possibilities and see how they make you feel so you can decide what you’ll push for instead of just “work less.”
2) Try to find ways to enjoy life now. Your husband is being uncompromising about doing what matters to him, with or without you, and you should borrow some of that energy. Think about the feeling you want when you’re wishing he would work less and let yourself imagine whether there might be other ways to get to that feeling. Maybe you want to be less lonely. Bring a friend as your plus one or invite a few people over for dinner. Maybe you want the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with family time. Do stuff with your kids, who won’t be around the house for much longer. Don’t wait for him to wake up from his weekend naps. They’re your family too. Maybe you want to be entertained and for your weekends to feel more exciting.
Take a class, or find somewhere to volunteer every Saturday morning.
I don’t know if you’re going to be able to have it all (all the money, all the time with your husband, all the benefits of being married to someone who’s happy and doing what they want) and that’s ok. It’s important to come to terms with that so you feel less stuck. But I’m confident that you can have a little more of what you want, once you figure out what that is.
This is less of a specific situation and more of a general question. I have been blessed with a number of wonderful friends who I really care for, but who struggle with self-esteem issues. Often they will say things that are self-deprecating. I feel hurt when this happens—I understand that people are allowed to express how they feel, but I’m also hearing my friend in pain at the same time that I’m hearing my friend insulted! How do I deal with this?