Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. For this edition, Shannon Palus, a Slate senior editor, will be filling in as Prudie. Submit questions here.
Several years ago, my sister betrayed me in the worst way imaginable. She had been sleeping with my boyfriend behind my back and convinced me to get an abortion when I got pregnant with his baby. After I broke up with my boyfriend (I knew he was cheating but not with who), my sister swooped in. I was so hurt that I cut my sister out of my life. I haven’t spoken to or seen her since.
She and my ex are now expecting their first baby together. My parents are pushing me to reconcile and stop carrying grudges over what happened in college. They don’t know about the abortion. I know it was the best decision I made at the time, but I can’t let go of the deliberate cruelty my sister put me through. Should I tell my parents the truth? Will that get them to stop pushing me toward an unwanted reconciliation?
—Want to Be an Only Child
Dear Want to Be an Only Child,
It’s hard to get people to stop pushing you to do anything, especially if they’re your parents. Maybe telling them the whole story would work; maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe either way you’d end up feeling crappy you disclosed something so personal to them that you didn’t really want to disclose. It sounds like you are firmly against reconciling with your sister right now, which is your choice to make. Tell your parents that your sister’s actions still feel incredibly hurtful to you, and that you just aren’t going to be able to make family Thanksgiving if she and your ex are there. Then change the conversation to something else. If they won’t let up, hang up the phone.
It seems like the desire to be an only child and not speak to your sister is coming from a place of very, very, deep pain. I don’t think that the way to get through this pain is to force yourself to suck it up and talk to her. But I do think it might be useful for you to try to work through it in other ways—maybe so you can eventually have some kind of relationship with her, but first and foremost, so that you can feel happier for yourself. You’re carrying around seven-year-old pain—that is rough! Have you spoken to a therapist about it?
I can’t quite tell from your letter if you feel ongoing tension around the abortion specifically, but if you do, see if there’s a support group in your area (or one online) specifically for people who have had an abortion. You might also try reaching out to Exhale Pro-Voice, a text line for people who want a safe, private space to talk about their abortion experience, which comes recommended by Planned Parenthood. Both can be true: that the abortion was an incredibly good choice, but it also happened under intense circumstances that make it difficult to feel at peace with it. Hearing other people’s stories and sharing your own might help.
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I joined a weekly class for a hobby. This is its sixth year and a small group of women have been going since the beginning and knew each other before starting. Since joining, I was aware this group did social things together and didn’t think anything of it as it seemed clear that they had known each other for years and so it didn’t seem especially cliquey. However, now they’ve started inviting some other newbies to join their outings (all related to our shared hobby) and it no longer seems like an oldie group but an “in crowd.” I feel irrationally insecure about this—I totally get, logically, that people can be friends with who they want and invite whoever they want, etc., but emotionally I’m preoccupied with feeling “friendly” with some of the women in the group and so wanting this group to give me a chance. I feel like I can’t take it personally because they don’t actually “know me” but also, they obviously feel they’ve seen enough of me to not invite me and I feel sad about it. I really enjoy the class and will keep going… But I would enjoy it so much more if I didn’t feel worried about the social dynamics! Knowing I’m not a “chosen one” also makes me feel shy about reaching out to any members individually who are in the “chosen” group, even ones I especially get on with.
This is compounded by the fact that when I joined the class (you join for a year, this is now my second year), I was dealing with pretty severe depression and didn’t “show up” well. I missed a lot of classes, didn’t attend class socials, and I think annoyed people with my lack of preparation (from missing classes). These things are not the case this year. Now, I’m in a very different place and have been having much friendlier interactions but feel like I missed my chance to make friends—and worry that I’m still seen in this negative light.
I’ve got really strong friendships in other areas and am used to being able to make friends easily… This is the first time I’ve really struggled to make friends in a new context. How do I either change the dynamic or learn how to not mind?! (And I am aware of the conflicting nature of those two!)
I wonder if you are worried that they see you in this negative light—depressed, not fun to hang out with—because part of you sees yourself in this negative light. It’s impossible to know what other people think about us, but it’s pretty easy to think, “I sort of feel like a loser, I bet they think I am a loser.” I think it might help if you can start telling yourself a different story about who you are. Having severe depression and still pursuing a hobby, if imperfectly—that’s something a strong person does. You’re committed to yourself, and to finding joy in life.
You are a person who pursues her interests even when it’s not easy, and you have more power in this dynamic than you think. You are having friendly interactions in class with some of these women, and the class has some built-in social events. Take these opportunities to get to know your classmates better. Do any of them—”chosen” or not—seem like people you’d want to hang out with more? Do you share a different hobby with any of them? Make it your goal to set up a friend date one-on-one with someone in the class, whether it’s a drink to hear more about their Yellow Jackets season two theories, or catching a play that you think you both might enjoy. Or does this sound like a lot of work for people who are actually sort of meh? I think it would help you to get out of your own head to get a little more curious about what these women might have to offer you, aside from status, and whether that’s worth pursuing.
When you feel yourself spinning out about what you think your classmates think about you, try doing a five minute meditation (or listening to a fun song and singing along, or painting your nails while listening to a podcast…whatever you enjoy doing to get out of your head a little bit). You’re not going to stop worrying about this stuff overnight (or maybe ever? I really feel you here!). But practicing pressing pause on your thoughts can help you not mind so much.
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I (25F) matched with this really cute guy (27M) on Bumble who is a barista and co-owns a coffee roastery. I sent him a message that was cute and a little punny (like me), but he didn’t respond in the 24 hours before your match expires, so now he’s gone into the virtual ether. However, he did put his Instagram name on his profile, so I took a peek. His captions are emotionally vulnerable and open (something I missed in my last relationship), and I think we’d get along well. I really want to DM him, but I’m afraid of coming off too stalker-like by saying, “Hey, we matched on Bumble, but our chat expired.” So, should I DM him or just let him go?
Dear Chronically Single,
You get exactly one Instagram DM here. You’re not a stalker for checking out a profile that he advertised on his Bumble account, and you guys did match. If he doesn’t respond to your DM, and you keep following up—that would be too much.
I think your proposed message is good; I’d add one more sentence noting that you were intrigued by something particular in his Bumble profile. Short and sweet. Also, you’re not chronically single—you’re 25. Good things are ahead, don’t worry.
My partner of five years, with whom I have one child and love more than anything, and I are planning a simple courthouse wedding in three months. Due to some miscommunication on both our parts, I have only just realized that his previous long-term relationship included a brief marriage. I am not mad at him, but I am having a hard time grieving the idea I had that this would be a new experience for us both. How do I get over feeling like our union isn’t, well, special?
—The Reluctant Second Wife
Dear Reluctant Second Wife,
Hmm, are you really not mad at him? I would be mad at him. He could have made an honest communication mistake—and you can also be mad at him. An “I’m actually frustrated and a little angry to learn very recently that I’ll be your second wife!” might go a long way here. Allow him the opportunity to sincerely apologize.
If you truly aren’t mad, please do tell him you are grieving this particular facet of your impending marriage. Talking about it will help, and I think it will help remind you how much he loves you, and the fundamental fact that your union will be special. I think it’s entirely understandable that you’d have some sadness and grief around abruptly learning that you will be your husband-to-be’s second wife; that grief might hang around for a bit and that’s OK. But it’s also true that marriage isn’t special because it’s rare, it’s special because it involves you and your partner.
I have two pieces of art that I think you should consider. Read Briana Pozner’s Modern Love essay, which starts off with her watching her now-husband marry someone else. He divorced, and then they later started dating, a series of events that she attributes to a “mysterious force” that had been working all along to bring them together. I can hardly think of anything more romantic! Also, please gaze upon this Hallie Bateman print which features people walking past each other, and reads, “It’s a miracle we ever met.” I’m getting married soon too, and I’ve spent a lot of time staring at that print in awe. I hope you can feel some of that for yourself, and for your relationship. Whatever previously happened in each of your lives was necessary for you two to be where you are today—together.
I live in a huge apartment complex with about 500 tenants. I happen to live on the back side of the complex, with a window facing the dumpster in the alleyway. Many of the maintenance workers hang out in that alley when they’re not working. I’ve been working from home for six months now, meaning I spend way more time overhearing their conversations than I used to.