Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. For this edition, Rebecca Onion, a Slate senior editor, will be filling in as Prudie. Submit questions here.
I recently went through a rough breakup with my on-and-off-again ex. Recently, my ex experienced a traumatic accident at work that left him paralyzed from the waist down. I would often travel two hours away, where he lived and was seeking recovery in the hospital, to support him. This sometimes consisted of staying at his rental home which he shares with his twin brother. His twin brother and I had established a routine of living together when I would stay over the weekends. Often sharing responsibilities at the house and even visiting his brother, my ex, in the hospital together. We even shared past experiences with our own mental health struggles with one another.
When my ex broke it off again, I was not only devastated because I lost a boyfriend but because I felt like I lost the friendship with his brother. After some discussion, his twin brother and I decided to stay friends. To my knowledge, my ex does not know that I have remained friends with his twin brother. The twin brother and I will message each other occasionally, make plans to hang out, and I have even spent nights at the house again. In fact, we plan on getting matching tattoos. At times, I feel guilty for continuing this friendship, but I do believe that I have a right to continue it and be happy. I am worried in regards to the twin brother filling a void that his brother, my ex, left when he ended the relationship. But I do recognize that even though they are twins they are very different people.
Recently, I have been confused about the feelings that I have for the twin brother, do I like him as a friend or more? I am not sure. What do I do Prudence? Am I wrong to be friends with my ex’s twin brother? How do I know if I have feelings for the twin brother or just missing my ex?
I don’t think you have to stop being friends with the twin brother for your ex’s sake. But I do wonder about the circumstances that led to this friendship’s formation, and whether you can perceive the nature of the friendship clearly at this point in time. It sounds like you had a long-term, volatile relationship with your ex. When you add in a serious life event like him becoming paraplegic, there’s more stress, more strain, more high-key emotions. Your ex’s twin was the one who went through that time with you, and while that doesn’t mean that the bond you feel now isn’t real, it does mean that it was forged under duress. I’d vote to give both twins a bit of breathing space, to see what the truth of your feelings might be, and get your feet underneath you after a stretch of time that has to have been very destabilizing.
Help! I Need a Great New Podcast in My Headphones!
The Dear Prudence podcast is back. Listen every Friday on Slate or your podcast player of choice.
My husband and I recently had friends round for dinner, along with their 3-year-old son. Frequently, they told him not to do things (like hitting our wall, running around the house, and walking around with his food) but he still did these things. We felt so awkward because if we had been looking after him without his parents being around, we would have sat him down, explained our house rules, and outlined the consequences (like no dessert). But because his parents were in front of us, it felt out of place for us to essentially discipline him. How do we deal with this awkward situation without simply not inviting them back inside the house?
—Please Don’t Break Our Home
Dear Please Don’t Break Our Home,
You need to disentangle what seem like some strong feelings of judgment toward these parents from your actual fear for your belongings and your home. How much of the former was there in your response, and how much of the latter? Either way, it certainly would have been out of place for you to try to discipline him. This sounds like the dinner from hell for these parents, and you stepping in to lay down the law would have only made it worse.
Then there’s the fact that “discipline” means different things to different people. I would not, for example, use sweets as a carrot or withdrawal of sweets as a stick, because I don’t want to elevate treats onto an even higher pedestal than they already occupy, and that’s an increasingly common position among parents. I mention this to make the point that this is really not ground upon which you want to tread.
Also, I am not sure whether you are parents, or whether you’ve recently parented a 3-year-old, but for many such younger children, I can’t see “explaining house rules” as an obvious answer to this problem. They can certainly follow rules and respond to contextually appropriate expectations. We have medium-fancy, much-beloved stereo equipment, for example, and never had to put it under lock and key while raising a small child, because we reinforced “don’t touch—and stay way back” extremely consistently. But that’s in our house, an environment where our (relatively sedate and cooperative) child was every single day. Your mileage in stating new rules to a random toddler, and expecting them to follow them for one night only, will very much vary.
If you really were afraid that your walls would get marked up and your rugs would have pizza ground into them, you should not invite this family back to your house for dinner unless you have a way to make sure they won’t have the child with them. It would be kinder not to put any of you (you, your friends, and the kid themselves) back in the position of having to worry about this during dinner, a time that’s supposed to be relaxing. If they can’t get a babysitter, maybe you could eat outdoors together at a child-friendly restaurant, or get takeout and eat it at a playground that has picnic tables, in the glorious oncoming spring. Then, the kid can wander and maraud to his heart’s content!
Need Pet Advice?
We want to hear about your pet problems! For a special feature, let our writers give you advice for handling the unruly critters in your life. Dogs, cats, rodents, reptiles, birds, horses, exotic fish—we welcome them all. Submit your questions anonymously here. (Questions may be edited for publication.)
My kids’ school district and daycare closed due to snow. I had to call off to my employer because I had no childcare. I don’t typically call out. Maybe less than seven times in a five-year tenure. My husband makes more than double what I do and cannot miss work. He is a one-man band so missing work for him is not possible as he is the breadwinner.
My manager shamed me for calling out. She started grilling me with questions and giving me parenting advice that I do not need. She questioned me like I was in an interrogation, mostly to make sure there were no holes in my story, asking why I don’t have a backup plan. Everyone is snowed in so all sitters are unavailable. I’m pretty sure she sent someone to check our driveway to see if my story adds up. I can’t prove it. The company has about 75 employees. I get it, having someone call out is inconvenient. But the stress and fear that it puts on me are far worse. Can she do that? What do I do to cope with this guilt? I get paid well and looking for a new job is tedious. Telling her how I feel is not an option if I want to keep my career.
—Snowed In Stress
Dear Snowed In Stress,
I’m furious at this boss on your behalf. You are an adult and (I assume) a good employee, when the gods of weather don’t throw obstacles in your path. She is not showing you that she trusts you to do what’s best, and besides being annoying and uncomradely, this attitude is bad for employee retention!
Legally speaking, she doesn’t need to cut you slack for childcare outages. If she were to, say, cut fathers more slack than mothers, or white employees more slack than Black ones, when employees find themselves in equivalent situations, that would be illegal, and could form the basis for an EEOC complaint. But if that’s not the case, your recourse is only to keep an eye out for new jobs in your field, and consider applying. I know applying for a new job as a parent, when your resources are thin, is not an easy thing. But even just taking one or two steps toward investigating what’s out there—a search or two on LinkedIn, say—might help you feel a little better about your ability to find something new in the future.
In the meantime, absolutely, feel no guilt. Banish that guilt to a cave in the woods. This situation was not your fault.
I need some advice on how to help my mom… while also not helping my mom. She has recently become very vocal with me, particularly online, about some marital troubles she’s having with my dad after 30-plus years of marriage. Mostly, I think she isn’t feeling seen by my dad, feels neglected and distant from him, related to some arguments about big decisions concerning retirement, etc. I don’t think they would ever divorce at this point (immigrant family and they don’t have much of a support system in the U.S.—my mom relies on my dad entirely financially) The way my mom has been expressing these problems to me makes me uncomfortable—she’ll send quotes via social media (think empowering woman quotes about a woman not chasing a man who doesn’t love her… Pinterest-style).
I don’t really feel like I can be the person to hear about my parents’ marital problems. I don’t know how to help, and honestly don’t want to be the person TO help, and I REALLY would like to stop receiving canned quotes related to how my parents don’t love each other anymore. I’m an adult; I wish I could be there for my mom in this regard, but I just can’t. I love my dad. I know he is oblivious and my mom’s problems with him are rooted in reality, but I have a lot of trouble providing advice or even just LISTENING to her feelings about him. It makes me very anxious and upset. How can I help my mom, while also not being her main soundboard for these types of feelings?
—Not Taking Sides
Dear Not Taking Sides,
It sounds like you’ve got two issues here. One: A privacy concern. Is your mom sending you these messages directly, or posting them publicly? If the latter, it’s uncomfortable that she’s sending you these where anyone could see and figure out that she’s unhappy. If you think she’s unaware that her online complaints are visible to others (maybe she doesn’t really have a deep, intimate knowledge of privacy settings or the way her activity shows up on public feeds), that might be worth bringing up.
Two: An interpersonal concern. It’s just flat-out not your place to be her sounding board. That’s going to take a moment of boundary-setting: “Mom, I don’t think I’m the right one to talk with you about your feelings about Dad. It makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t feel like I should have to take a side.” I hope she has a friend, a sibling, or a therapist to speak with—someone who’s not you. Suggest this to her, and then respond the same way, every time, when she brings this up.
I moved to a new city a year ago and made what I thought were two good friends. I hadn’t known them long but still sent them wedding “save the dates.” But then our friendship dynamic started to feel off (passive-aggressive remarks, mean girl cliquey behavior, etc.) I recently broke my leg and they’ve both been completely absent. They’ll text and say what can I do to help, I’ll say I’d love visitors (I can’t get around much with just one leg) and then they ghost. They both live 10 minutes away but haven’t come around once. Some other acquaintances have been really lovely, and I think I’d rather stop investing in these friendships.
But what do I do about the wedding invite? They don’t have all the details yet and I’d rather just not mention it. I’m only having a wedding celebration so my partner and I can celebrate with friends we’re truly close to, and I think I’d feel really used if they came and it would sour the event. But what should I do if they ask about the wedding?
—Mean Girl Phobia
Dear Mean Girl Phobia,
Woof! Those girls aren’t it! I don’t know how often you see them now, how vocal you are, or plan to be, about your wedding on social media, and whether you all follow one another online. In other words: Could there be a “ghosting” approach here, where the friendship fades away and you don’t ever say anything about the wedding and the saved date passes under the bridge and you sail off into the sunset, getting closer and closer with these other new friends, who sound way better?
If that’s not possible (maybe you want to be able to share about the wedding online, which—fair enough!), I fear you might need to invite them to the wedding and chalk it up to “one of those things.” As a wise man once wrote, there will be at least one friend at your wedding you never see again. Your wedding won’t be perfectly curated, in terms of personnel. Most weddings aren’t.
These women are not your people. But they didn’t do something super serious, like if they were longtime friends who stole money from you or revealed a big secret you begged them to keep quiet. They just turned out to be a passing fancy. I’d invite them, see if they even come (they might not!), and if they do, try to downplay the significance of their presence in your mind. When it comes time to make the guest list for your next big event, they won’t be on it. Oh well! It happens.
More Advice From Slate
I’ve been with my fiancé for five years. The first six months of our relationship were an affair—I was 24 and he was 31—and I found out early on that he was married, kept telling myself to break things off, but was never was able to do it. His (now ex-)wife learned about the relationship and was willing to try to work things out, but he ultimately chose to divorce her. During the initial months following the revelation of the affair, I put up with a lot of abuse from her. I knew I was in the wrong, and I did what I could not to add to her pain. But after all this time, she still hates me, and to this day I have never met the kid they had together, though my fiancé sees his daughter at least once a week.