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: Happy Monday! Hope everyone had a good weekend. Let’s go!
Q. Mother Won’t Respect Wishes: I recently discovered that my mom is planning on attending an ex’s wedding this month. During the end of this relationship with the said bride-to-be, I confided in my mother why the relationship was ending. At the time she agreed that it was better to end it than to let the problems continue years later into a marriage. But shortly after, and even years after the breakup, she kept trying to get me to get back with her. She publicly tells everyone she loves her even though the two weren’t close and rarely hung out without me around. This relationship has been over for almost 10 years at this point.
I don’t understand why she has such an inability to move on, nor why she publicly claims to love her like a DAUGHTER to her family and friends. What bothers me the most is that I have confided in her why the relationship ended, and that I don’t like her publicly telling everyone she loves her and that I should have stayed with the ex. It’s belittling and embarrassing. Several family members on my dad’s side of the family have agreed that she needs to move on and not say such things. What’s your view on this? Am I overreacting and should I just ignore the fact that she’s going to the wedding? I also don’t understand why the ex wants to continue having my mom this entrenched in her life to the point where my mom has taken her and the fiancé out to lunch.
A: Your mom is being really weird—especially since the two of them didn’t have a close relationship while you were together. I have no idea why she’s behaving this way, but I do know that you’ll exhaust yourself if you try to monitor her contacts with your ex, what she says to others, and how she chooses to keep in touch. Firmly tell her one more time that you think it’s inappropriate and while she can do what she wants, you won’t be discussing this person with her anymore.
Help! My Wife’s Friend Is Not Her Friend.
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Q. Won’t Laugh at Minorities: My husband finds racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes hilarious. Basically, he thinks that because he’s not targeting anyone in particular with them, he can say anything that makes him laugh. However, he knows better than to share them/make them in public, so I’m the only one to hear these. Of course, when I comment, I’m called a stuck-up leftie who’s irrationally influenced by woke identity politics… Quite frankly, I’m tired of them and want him to stop and realize they are awful. I hate his free-speech absolutist position on this when he could just make better jokes. What can I do?
Run away. My editors have gently asked me to pump the brakes on telling people to break up. So, instead, I want you to do this exercise. Make a list of the qualities you like in a friend or loved one. Kindness? Compassion? Good sense of humor? The ability to evolve? Not liking racism? Respect for who you are? I don’t know, it’s your list! See how many of those qualities your husband has. Then take a weekend away and think about it.
I wasn’t born yesterday. I know people who are incompatible and dislike each other all of the time but remain together, for a variety of reasons. If you’re going to do that, I want you to pack your life as much as possible with people who, well, like you and don’t treat you horribly. If you’re going to spend your time at home dealing with racist jokes and insults, the rest of your life should be full of friends and loved ones whose presence you enjoy. Who you think are good people. Who have points of view that you reflect. Who don’t call you names.
Finally, if you plan to stay, you have to be prepared to hold your own. What is your husband most insecure or sensitive about? Something about his appearance, family, or childhood perhaps? Workshop a really mean joke about that with your friends. Something that cuts deep. And then when he gets upset, try to look confused and say, “What happened to free speech absolutism? I thought you liked humor. You’re not getting stuck up, are you?” Make him as uncomfortable as he’s making you. Maybe it will open a conversation about what is and isn’t “hilarious.”
Q. Homebody But Not a Housekeeper: My roommate and I have been living together for four months. They are extremely outgoing and love exploring the city and doing things outside the apartment every day and night. I am more introverted and I don’t mind staying at home sometimes to rest. Because I’m around the apartment more often, I tend to shoulder a lot of the housework that is theoretically communal. I see that the trash is piling up and the stove is dirty, so I clean up. I don’t expect my roommate to have my exact same schedule and preferences as I do, but I wish they would spend a little more effort pitching in, and I feel like if they come home every night and the kitchen is clean, the cycle will just perpetuate. How can I approach this with them to figure out a more fair division of labor that is realistic with our different rhythms?
A: You can definitely have a house meeting or send a note to them suggesting a schedule, a division of chores, or a couple of hours on the weekend when you both do a deep clean together. You could also try saying, “Do you mind grabbing the trash?” if they’re heading out the door while you’re on the couch. But I have to be honest: Clashes around cleanliness and housework are just part of roommate life and are among the downsides that come with an arrangement that is cheaper than having your own place. And I don’t want you to waste too much energy on them. It’s really, really tough to get another adult—especially one who’s not in a long-term, loving relationship with you—to change the way they do chores around the house in a consistent way. Clean to the extent that it makes you happy and increases your quality of life. Take advantage of the space you have in your bedroom. And just know that this experience is going to make having your own pristine apartment one day that much more glorious.
Q. Don’t Shrink Me: My sister-in-law, who once practiced as a clinical psychologist, loves to press me for my emotions on various things. Her brother (my spouse) has undergone several health challenges, which are HIS challenges. I have empathy for him but am a pretty practical “let’s-see-where-this-goes-and-not-jump-to-catastrophe” sort of person. She insists on talking to me separately with a syrupy, “But how are Yeeewww doing?” Ugh. I don’t wish to be psychoanalyzed by her or anyone else and also don’t wish to give her a deep dive into my feelings about my spouse’s health issues. I typically respond with a breezy, “I’m fine. What’s going on with you?” Do you have any ideas to help me get across to her that I don’t want to have these conversations?
A: “I really appreciate how much you care about me, but I’m more of a practical person who doesn’t need to talk about my feelings on a regular basis. Seriously, I’m fine. How about this: I’ll let you know if I want to chat about how I’m doing with Jim’s medical situation—otherwise, can we keep it light and talk about The Real Housewives? I know it’s not your professional background but that’s truly the kind of therapy I need.”
Re: Q. Mother Won’t Respect Wishes: You really buried the lede here. Not until the end of your letter do you explain that these two people have developed a meaningful relationship completely separate from yours. I get that it’s weird for you, but it really has nothing to do with you at all. If you don’t want to hear about it, set that boundary, mute her Instagram for the weekend, and ignore their friendship.
A: A meaningful relationship is one thing but the part of the letter that says, “I don’t like her publicly telling everyone she loves her and that I should have stayed with the ex. It’s belittling and embarrassing” suggests that it actually does have something to do with the letter writer. Mom can do what she wants, obviously, but let’s not pretend these conversations wouldn’t be hard for anyone to handle.
Re: Q. Don’t Shrink Me: If your sister-in-law was a practicing clinician then she’s surely well aware that a breezy, “I’m fine. What’s going on with you?” is as about succinct and definitive a brush off as a person can give before physically showing you to the door. The fact that she hasn’t stopped asking isn’t because she doesn’t understand, but because she doesn’t care and is trying to wear you down. Keep doing what you’re doing.
A: Yes, the fact that she was a practicing clinician in her professional life doesn’t mean she’s a reasonable person in her personal life. Keep it up with the brush-offs.
You know how some people are fine, absolutely unobjectionable, but you just don’t click with them? You don’t dislike them, but you don’t much like them either—you just don’t think about them much at all. That’s how I’ve always felt about my sister-in-law, “Janice.” She was kind of dull and a bit smug, but my brother loved her. I passed her the gravy at Thanksgiving and was glad I didn’t have to spend the rest of the year with her. Well, now I’m in love with her, and while it’s not directly connected, her marriage to my brother is in trouble.