Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
My sister has suffered a lot in life, including the loss of her first two children. But she basically suffocated her daughter, “Kira.” Kira was chaperoned everywhere, had a 9 p.m. curfew well into college, and was expected to call her mother every day. Predictably, Kira chose to get her masters at a school on the opposite coast and hasn’t visited home since. Kira went overseas for a conference and ended up falling in love with a native. She planned to immigrate there. Kira didn’t tell her mother for six months and pretended to still be in the States. She did accidentally tell me and begged me to keep her confidence. I did but I told Kira she needed to tell her mom sooner rather than later. When she did, my sister hit the roof. The mother/daughter fight to end all fights. Eventually, they reconciled, the romance fizzled out, and Kira moved home.
This all happened several years ago. Kira has married and is expecting her first baby. Her relationship with her mother is better. Somehow it came out that I knew Kira was living overseas and I didn’t tell my sister. So now my sister is furious with me. Utterly enraged. She calls it the worst kind of betrayal and says she can never trust me again. She acts like I abandoned her daughter in a back-alley brothel instead keeping a secret for an adult woman. I have already apologized. Twice. I am supposed to visit for Kira’s baby shower. I know my sister and I will get into it, if she continues like this. Any suggestions?
— Secret Keeper
Dear Secret Keeper,
You did a huge favor for Kira by keeping this secret, and I think maybe you should do her another one by RSVP-ing “no” to the baby shower—and privately telling her why. The last thing she needs is a confrontation between two women who are supposed to be there to support her. Give your sister a little time to cool off (which she eventually will, I hope!) and until then, continue to be there for Kira like you always have. Just not at this event.
My late father gifted me a two-bedroom townhouse with an open loft before he died. It is paid off, near public transportation, and in a good school district. We have four-year-old twin girls and are currently expecting another girl as well. I am a stay-at-home mom but do creative work on the side. My husband hates the house and argues with me that we should sell it and move to the country. He is a nurse and hates the long hours at the city hospital. He tells me that life will be cleaner, cheaper, and simpler if we move to the country. I know he could get a job anywhere, but uprooting our family, getting a second car, a mortgage, and leaving our friends and family frightens me. He also mentions he really wants to try for a son. I really have hit my limit with three children. It feels foolish of us to give up everything now. Maybe when our third is in school and I am back to work, but if my husband took a lower paying job, we could make it work. Child-care and rent cost an arm and a leg in our city. We could literally close off the loft to make a second bedroom or build a shower into the ground floor bathroom if need be. My father just wanted me taken care of. Legally the house is mine. I love my husband. He is a great dad. We don’t argue about chores. I want to support him in his dreams and careers, but right now isn’t right. Now how do I explain this?
— Not Moving
Dear Not Moving,
Have you mentioned to your husband that your life could also be “cleaner, cheaper, and simpler” without a fourth child?
But seriously, the clearest and most honest line in your letter, in my opinion, was “uprooting our family, getting a second car, a mortgage, and leaving our friends and family frightens me.” You don’t have to explain that “now isn’t right.” You just have to tell him the truth. You’re scared! You’re afraid of what it would mean to make all these changes right now. Tell him exactly what it is you’re frightened of: being lonely away from friends and family? Feeling overwhelmed trying to set up a new life? The toll all the stress will take on your relationship? You have thought through—and, I assume, discussed—all the logistics, but you need to have a conversation about the emotions, including your sentimental attachment to the home your father left for you. You could argue all day long about city vs. country living, but you’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t at least start with being really clear about how you feel.
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I have been seeing someone for five months. His mum has been unwell with cancer, and he did say he couldn’t keep seeing me as he was struggling dealing with his mum and knew he wasn’t being fair to me. Three weeks later we reconciled, but he was waiting for his mum to have more scans. I last saw him before Christmas and he messaged me the day after, but then he disappeared and hasn’t messaged me since. I have tried to message but he hasn’t read my messages. I had a missed call from him last week that I tried to return but he never picked up. I am not sure what to do, as I haven’t heard from him for three weeks. Is this ghosting?
— Can’t Take the Heat
Dear Can’t Take the Heat,
Yes, it is. It could be “I really like you but I am overwhelmed and depressed” ghosting, or it could be “I’ve reevaluated my priorities and I’m not that into you” ghosting, but either way, it is ghosting. He has a lot going on, but it’s very easy to send a quick text in the checkout line or before closing your eyes at night if you want to. For whatever reason, he hasn’t chosen to do so. I do think he’ll pop back up at some point, so use this period of silence to think about how you’ll respond when that happens.
My father passed away a week ago following a long battle with cancer. I am heartbroken not just about his death, but also about how much he suffered leading up to it. While I have been taking time to process his loss and grieve, I’m also trying not to wallow in it. My friends have been a huge source of comfort, offering not only support, but also funny distractions that make me laugh and temporarily forget about my sadness.
This brings me to my friend Charlie. When I texted him that my father had died, he didn’t respond. I have always known that emotional topics make him uncomfortable and he shies away from them at all costs, so I wasn’t expecting to receive the same level of support from him as other friends, and I was okay with that. But to not send any acknowledgement at all, not even a boilerplate “I’m sorry for your loss—it must be incredibly difficult” has left me confused.
Charlie is an extremely close friend whom I previously texted with multiple times throughout each day, but now he has gone radio silent. I tried reaching out again two days ago with a link to an article on a topic that we are both interested in—still no response.
I don’t know how to proceed. I miss my friend, and I need our fun banter more than ever. Part of me thinks I should reach out and tell Charlie that we don’t have to talk about my father, I just want to talk about something, anything. But the other part of me is a little pissed, and thinks I shouldn’t have to bend over backwards to manage his feelings when I’m the one who just lost my father. Any advice on how to proceed?
— Grieving and Confused
I have to admit—my first impression was that this level of not-being-there-for-you was kind of unforgivable. But I also asked Lane Moore, the author of the forthcoming book, “You Will Find Your People: How to Make Meaningful Friendships as an Adult,” for her perspective on your letter. She had a more measured response that takes into consideration what you mentioned about Charlie having trouble with emotional topics and allows that maybe he isn’t intentionally abandoning you during a hard time.
“It’s easy to assume your friend is being a jerk and insensitive by not replying, but you can’t know that until you ask,” she said. “Sometimes that is the case, yes, and you can have that talk absolutely, but in the meantime, if you can, hold space for the possibility that your friend might have his own issues with his parents that this is bringing up, or things going on in his life where he would’ve loved to say more right now, but couldn’t. That is possible!”
Given how much you care about him and enjoy him—and really want him back in your life—I think this kind of generosity is appropriate here. Some people can get in their heads about not responding to an important message quickly enough, and that shame compounds and makes it even harder to connect. “You’re still absolutely allowed to ask about it and follow up,” Moore added, “but I think giving your friend the benefit of the doubt that there might be a reason other than carelessness is always a good idea in a friendship.”
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“I would have a really, really hard time getting past this.”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
Over the past few years, my friend has acted in ways that I find annoying, but I didn’t say anything in the moment because I didn’t want to be rude or a bad friend. For example, she always said no to things I wanted to do or go to but then years later, she said she wanted to. She was in a situationship with her FWB and it became the typical pattern of her coming to me asking for the same advice and never listening. My mom and I have invited her to come with us to my home country, and she made it clear she wasn’t interested and even talked sh*t about my country, but then when I went and didn’t invite her, she invited herself to the next trip only to say she’d rather go to another country. She’s told her mom things I’ve told her then comes back with her mom’s input and unsolicited advice.
There’s been more situations like these, and I now find her extremely annoying. I don’t trust her to tell her anything, I have no desire to go anywhere with her or do anything she wants. I am now questioning the point of this friendship; I don’t have the same patience or care for it as I used to. Am I overreacting? Are my feelings valid? Should I forget everything and start over and speak up when things happen? I don’t know what to do anymore.
— Annoyed and Over It
No, you’re not overreacting. Yes, your feelings are valid. No, you should not forget everything.
This woman has been a bad fit for you as a friend—not necessarily a bad person (we don’t have to decide about that) but a bad fit—and not just for few days or weeks or months but for years. It’s okay to drift apart from someone who mostly irritates and disappoints you. Perhaps there’s still a place for her in your life—on your holiday card list or as someone who you see in a larger group or check in with occasionally—but it’s not in a best friend role. Talk to her: “I really don’t appreciate how you share things I tell you with your mom, or the way you disrespected my home country. I feel like we’re bumping heads more and more, and we could probably use a little space from each other.” That will be a good start.
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.
The relationship I have with my stepmother is a complicated one, and I feel like it’s starting to compromise my relationship with my father. For context: My biological mother is alive and we are very close, and my stepmother has been in my life since I was 6 years old. I have no siblings or stepsiblings, and my parents divorced when I was quite young. In my childhood, my stepmother and I were very close, and I thought of her as a second mother. Once I reached my teenage years, I had a very difficult time and struggled with depression, self-esteem, and risk-taking behaviors, often to the detriment of my parents, who had to deal with my sneaking out, lying, etc. My stepmother was particularly wounded by this behavior, and our relationship has not been the same since. I’ve apologized and made amends several times over, but every couple of years, her resentment crops up and she ignores me, lashes out at me, or starts fights with me. She reads malice into all of my words and actions, and seems convinced that I always have an ulterior motive. I’m 27 now, and I’m tired of being punished for the sins of my youth. My father stands passively by, and maintains that our relationship is between us, and has nothing to do with him. I’m growing very frustrated with both of them, and tired of being treated this way. How should I navigate this situation?
— Evil Stepdaughter
My wife suffers from a serious autoimmune disease and has essentially not left our house for three years. I quit my job after they tried to make me come back in instead of working remotely. Family events have been carefully socially distant and with masks on. Now that everyone in the family has been vaccinated, we thought life could go back to normal.
That is, until my brother started dating “Katie.” Katie is a single mother of three and hasn’t bothered to teach her kids basic hygiene. They openly cough without covering their mouths, use their hands to wipe their noses and touch everything, and don’t even wash their hands after going to the bathroom. They are walking little germ factories. The three times we have visited while Katie’s kids were there, my wife got sick as a dog and missed days and days of work. Despite explaining about my wife’s condition, Katie continues to do nothing except get defensive.
Last time, the kids did wear masks—if it can be called wearing a mask when it is attached to your chin and not covering the mouth and nose. I told her son to wash his hands after playing fetch with the dog before he tried to get some salsa and chips. I wasn’t rude, I just said “hey, little man, go wash your hands. We don’t want to get dog slobber on the food.” Katie sent me death glares the rest of night and a message through my brother about how inconsiderate and rude I was. It isn’t my place to “parent” her kids. I did lose my temper and regrettably said to my brother that obviously someone has to because Katie sure wasn’t. He knows my wife’s condition and how awful the pandemic has been. Idiots are ready to murder her because they think a mask mandate is basically the Taliban. My brother told me that my wife and I will have to get over it, because he loves Katie and they are here to stay. And moreover, we should just not come to Easter with our parents. My parents told me they aren’t getting in the middle. What can my wife and I possibly do?
— New Normal
Dear New Normal,
All you’ve been through as a caretaker the past few years—including the realization that others don’t prioritize your wife’s health enough to adjust their behavior in relatively easy ways—has understandably taken a toll and put you on edge. I wonder if that’s making this situation feel more intense and emotionally charged than it needs to be.
With that possibility in mind, I want to urge you to step back and remember that all kids, even those who don’t contaminate the salsa with dog hair, and even those with extremely attentive parents, are germ factories. It sounds like Katies’ kids’ hygiene could be a lot better, but even if they washed their hands all the time, they’d still be children who go to school and pick up a million viruses a week. And they’d still have to take their masks off at family gatherings, at least to eat. There’s going to be a certain amount of risk to your wife in these situations, especially compared to being safe at home.
Why don’t you ask your wife what she’s comfortable with when it comes to being around children in general? After all, she’s the one with the illness. She should decide. Then sit down and make a list of what she would need to see from all guests at a gathering—adults and kids —to feel reasonably safe there. Be specific. It’s not “Don’t be filthy and gross!” It’s “Everyone keep masks on except when eating and sanitize hands before meals, and keep windows open.” Or whatever. Then—after apologizing to your brother and Katie for your outburst over her parenting—ask them if they can agree to this. If not, make another plan for the Easter holiday and set up another time and place to see your parents. Honestly, given that you and your brother and Katie don’t seem to have a lot of regard for each other right now, that doesn’t sound like the worst thing in the world.
My friend “Kira” recently discovered an online horse-breeding game. She quickly became obsessed with it. But the problem isn’t that she’s spending all her time on it. The problem is that she named all of her horses after me and my friends and is “breeding” us. I’m afraid to tell her this makes me uncomfortable because it’s all a big joke to her. She’s been encouraging all of us to join the game.