Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
My in-laws are very wealthy … and very controlling in their generosity. They bought a brand-new modern triplex to “gift” each unit to one of their three kids. All have three bedrooms and two baths with access to a shared green space and are close to public transit and downtown. If I didn’t have my sisters-in-law as neighbors, I would love the house, but living next door to them would give me hives. They are lovely and I enjoy their children, but not every day! I work fully remotely while my husband does hybrid. He thinks we move in for a year or two and then rent the unit out with the excuse that we want to travel. I like my solitude. My sisters-in-law are incredibly social. They would not let me have my morning coffee in peace because they will definitely invite me over for breakfast or expect me to play with the kids. I am an introvert at heart. I feel exhausted just thinking about it, but I don’t how to frame it to my husband.
—Not Every Day Family
Dear Not Every Day,
I just have to be honest about my bias here. I am so jealous that someone gave you a house! I’m a massive introvert too, and I feel like if this happened to me, I would be so elated I would just suck it up and chat with my sisters-in-law all every day. But you don’t feel that way, and that is totally okay.
To figure out how to move forward, you and your husband both need better information about each other. It sounds like he understands something about his family dynamics that means there’s an expectation that you live the unit that you were gifted. Can you speak to him about what exactly that is, and what he fears will happen if you choose to rent yours out and live elsewhere? Why is an “excuse” needed? How would “Thank you for the generational wealth but we want to choose our own home” be received? Would his parents punish him somehow? Would feelings be hurt? Relationships shattered? I’m not sure exactly what’s at stake here on his side, but you should learn as much as possible so you can understand. And then, yes, you should make sure he has a clear picture of where you’re coming from, too. Here’s a script:
“I’m so appreciative of the house, but you know I’m an introvert and I need my solitude to be happy. I’m worried that if we live there, your sisters will expect me to socialize much more often than I’m comfortable with. This isn’t about my feelings about them—it’s really just about my need for privacy and alone time, which we’re going to lose. I am deeply concerned about the toll it will take on me emotionally, and, as a result, on our marriage, even if it’s just for a year or two. I know you are trying to preserve your relationship with your parents, but this situation will take its own toll on the family dynamics, and I’m asking you to take that seriously. Can we try to figure out another solution?”
I assume you both mostly want the same things: Real estate, peaceful relationships with family, healthy boundaries, and, perhaps most important, the daily feeling of well-being. But you have to lay it all out before you can decide what you want to prioritize and what, if anything, you’re willing to sacrifice.
If you do end up living on the family compound for some period of time, don’t rule out a cheerfully blunt expectation-setting conversation with your sisters-in-law: “I love you two, but I am antisocial and I will short circuit if I don’t have eight hours each day when I don’t have to talk to anyone. I know that makes me an oddball in this family and I am so afraid of hurting feelings, but during the week, I’m mostly going to be in my introvert den and I will let you know when I want to hang out. I can’t reiterate enough that it’s not personal, it’s just my temperament.
Thanks for dealing with me and letting me love you from afar. If I can do this I’ll be so much more fun when we do spend time together.”
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I am a member of a loose friendship group from university. I see them for dinners, weddings, and trips away. I live with one member of the group and used to be closer with the others, but now I rarely see them one-on-one because they are busy with their families, and my work means I travel a lot. My issue is I am asked constantly to donate to group gifts, but I have never received one. I am worried it sounds petty, but I think the truth is that I feel devalued by this mismatch. Gifts are how this group shows care for one another. I have donated hundreds of dollars to birthdays/weddings/going-away presents/new babies over the years, but I’ve never received anything in return. In fact, I once received multiple requests for money the week my very close godfather died, rather than a gesture from them registering my grief. I know I should have explained what I needed at the time, but I didn’t. I now feel like all this money is a tax on the friendships that I no longer want to pay. Can I say I no longer want to donate and explain why?
Dear Gift Griper,
This isn’t about the gifts. As you said yourself, what’s happening with presents and contributions hurts because it speaks to something larger: Your sense of “feeling devalued” by the group. It’s probably a waste of time to try and understand exactly where this unfair treatment is coming from. It could be that you don’t keep in close touch with people in the group other than your roommate—if that’s the case, they won’t know as much about the events in your life, may not think to acknowledge them, and the slight is unintentional. It could be that they actively dislike you but want extra money when it comes time to buy something. And it could be that you’ve all drifted apart, or that the person who raises money is disorganized and doesn’t get any help coordinating gifts and you slipped their mind.
Whatever it is, you’re not actually close with them. They are people you know, but not your true, intimate friends. I don’t think you’ll get them to care about you in an authentic way by saying “I’m not donating because you never support me!” I’m a firm believer that you don’t shame or guilt or lecture people into treating you better. At some point, you have to notice what’s happening and act accordingly. When the next request comes in, simply say “I can’t contribute this time.” Or don’t write back, skip the next group trips and dinners, invest in the one person you live with, and—this is the key part—begin a serious search for new friends who make you feel important and cared about and treasured. You deserve that.
My father has a special bond with the family dog. He works from home, so he has been with her 24/7 as a puppy, and when he goes away, even to the grocery store, she acts like her husband has gone off to war. The thing is, when he comes back from the grocery store, or wherever, sometimes he likes to sit in his car for 10 minutes (sometimes up to a half-hour) before coming inside. This drives the dog insane. She can see the driveway from the window, so she knows he’s back, and misses him desperately, pacing around and whining inconsolably until he comes inside. My father doesn’t have to deal with this because she only does it for him, so he doesn’t know how incredibly irritating/sad it is to listen to her pining away for him. She’s almost 10, so I have a lot more hope of training him out of the habit than her. How do I get him to keep it to five minutes in the car maximum?
—Dog-Daughter Alliance of Wanting Dad to Come Inside
Dear Dog-Daughter Alliance,
“Dad, you know Muffin loves you more than anyone in the world. When you sit in the driveway before coming in, it’s torture to her and it’s hard to watch. I know you probably need your time in the car to decompress or finish that riveting Dear Prudie podcast segment. Can I bring her to sit with you while you have your driveway time?”
Catch up on this week’s Prudie.
More Advice From Slate
I love my wife, but she plays the same two to three Taylor Swift songs at a high volume every morning (and sometimes at night). I go out of my way to avoid playing music that I know she dislikes around her. But Swift is immune from complaints. The same songs have played on loop for months now. We are 38 and 37, with two small children. Although I don’t begrudge her a love of cheesy pop, playing the same songs on repeat is pushing me to the brink. I don’t want to pick fights about it because she is highly sensitive to criticism. Am I entitled to be free of the same songs on loop every day? Or does a good spouse write it off as a quirk and suck it up?