Dear Prudence is Slate’s advice column. Submit questions here.
I can’t figure out how to respond to well-meaning acquaintances/family friends/strangers while I grieve my mom’s death. My mom had a sudden plunge into depression last year after a lifetime of good health. She was hospitalized, and then in therapy and working with a doctor. Nothing seemed to work. My parents have always had separate politics, but dad coped during this time by getting even more into “alternative” news and various not-real social problems.
My siblings and I tried to just support Mom and stay out of those arguments, but when my dad insisted on buying his first-ever handgun because he was “worried about crime,” we all tried to talk him out of it, because it would be extra high-risk for her to have it in the house. My mom committed suicide with the gun about two months after he bought it. I’m so angry at both of them, and I miss her so much. He’s heartbroken and apologetic but I cannot forgive him right now, even though I know my siblings are trying to. I held it together to be polite at the funeral, but now I’m really only willing to talk about this with my close friends, my siblings, and my therapist.
My mom was a public school teacher and heavily involved in church and volunteer work in our area, so nearly every week I ran into a well-meaning person asking after her, or offering condolences and asking after my dad. I have no idea how to respond, especially because if she’d had a car accident or something, I would crave connection and support for myself and want it for my dad. But I’m so angry, and I don’t know what to do. My dad announced in her obituary and at the funeral that she “died after a sudden illness,” which shocked me. I feel like people who knew her keep expecting me to talk about a battle with cancer.
Dear So Angry,
I’m going to suggest something that I know feels scary, but I think could end up leading to some really healing moments and a lot of support for you, which you deserve: Tell the truth. “My dad is coping but he’s heartbroken. Mom had been depressed and she took her own life using a gun that was in the house. It’s been incredibly hard for all of us. He doesn’t seem open to being transparent about the way she died so it’s been especially isolating and painful for me.”
You’ll get some platitudes and some unhelpful comments like “She’s in a better place” or “Make sure you take care of him.” But I also think you’ll get some people who have dealt with something similar, or who know the right thing to say to support you. You’re dealing with one of the hardest things imaginable. You shouldn’t have the extra burden of keeping it a secret.
I (cis woman, mid 40s) met a guy online a year ago and we’ve been dating for almost 10 months. We’re both divorced with kids, so dating is slower than I’m used to. That said, we’ve been having fun, lots of coffee dates and lunches in the middle of the day. In a moment of impulse, I told him I loved him recently, which wasn’t reciprocated but I wasn’t expecting it so it was fine.
I hopped onto the app for the first time in ages the other day because I wanted to look up something from our first chat and he had new pics posted. I called him to ask what was up, he gave some sort of “I don’t know how that happened, I’ve been Incognito for months” response and sent me a screenshot of his admin page to confirm. The pics then came down. He came over, told me he wasn’t looking for someone else, that he knew I’d said I loved him but that he wasn’t there yet, and all seemed fine. But I’ve been spiraling since then. My ex was an alcoholic who tended to go missing, so much of my marriage was spent tracking him down to make sure he wasn’t driving drunk or worse. I am actively trying not to engage in that behavior again, but old habits are hard to break, and I find myself again looking for clues in every single interaction with this new guy, looking for reasons he’s cheating or looking for someone else to be with. It’s almost like I’m sabotaging myself.
At the same time, it’s been 10 months. I’ve met some of his kids but not in an official “girlfriend” capacity, and we’ve not met each other’s families or friends. We see each other regularly enough that I don’t think he’s seeing anyone else, but it still kind of feels like we’re sneaking around. I don’t know how to broach the conversation of “I don’t want to be your secret girlfriend, I want to be part of your public life and vice versa” and could really use some help trying to navigate these waters. Or should I pull back entirely because of the dating app thing and just consider this a 10-month casual dating thing instead?
Dear Dating Sucks,
Pull back entirely. Not just because of the dating app thing but because of the dating app thing plus the feeling of uncertainty and secrecy … and the fact that you don’t even have certainty about whether you’re exclusive. He may not be anywhere near as bad as your alcoholic ex, but he also isn’t giving you the sense of security and excitement that a relationship should. You say you told him you loved him but I wonder if you were really experiencing the peace and deep connection that typically accompany that word, or if you said it more in an attempt to take the temperature of the relationship or nudge it forward. Look for someone who you don’t have to test, and who doesn’t make you wonder about whether they’re all in.
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How does someone introduce a partner to their friends and family? For context, I (F, early 20s) live across a sea from my family, as I’m completing my studies. My partner (dating half-a-year) lives in the neighboring country, approximately five hours away, and we see each other every month. This works for us for now. Most of my friends and family know that I am dating someone, but I have no idea how have them meet. Plane visits are not an option, currently, and I don’t invite my friends out so frequently. For this reason, I feel it would be awkward to invite everyone out to a bar just for them to meet him. I’ve met a few of his friends, and his close family from regular events they have. Any tips?
—I Swear He’s Real
Dear He’s Real,
You to your partner while he’s visiting: “Is it okay to tell a couple of my friends and family members to FaceTime while you’re here so they can get to know you? I won’t make you stay on for long, just enough to say hello and prove you’re real.”
You to your friends and family: “FaceTime me this weekend and you can say a quick hi to the guy I’m dating—I’ve been dying for him to meet you.”
Technology is amazing. Use it!
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I’ve met a guy who has taken an interest in me, though we both seem to be introverts and I feel like our personalities are a hindrance to getting to know each other. How do I make it easier on my end?
—Want to Make It Work
Dear Make It Work,
I think you’ve misdiagnosed the problem here. Introversion isn’t a good excuse for failing to connect. Two introverts could text or talk all night long—they just aren’t likely to want to do it at a party or a weekend-long music festival where there are a million other people to be “on” for. Hitting a roadblock on the path to get to know each other strikes me as a little red flag—a tiny one, very light red, maybe even more pinkish, but still a red flag—telling you this is not a great match. It could just be that the intensity of your connection isn’t enough to pull the two of you out of your shyness and toward each other.
But it’s worth making an effort since you do seem to like him. Here are a few ideas:
1) Invite him to do an activity—like painting an accent wall in your apartment, or playing a board game, or picking out a new pair of glasses—that will give you a little something to talk about in a low-pressure situation. And hopefully that conversation will naturally become more personal over time.
2) Tell him you want to get to know him and propose working through the 36 questions that lead to love that the New York Times once published. When you suggest this, say “I’m not saying we have to fall in love (unless you want to), they’re just good conversation starters.”
3) Do nothing and wait until your desire to talk to him overrides your introversion and you are moved to pick up the phone and start talking. And see if he goes along with it.
Dear Prudence Uncensored
“Maybe the more salient issue here is not their introversion but their ‘personalities’?”
Jenée Desmond-Harris and friends discuss a letter in this week’s Dear Prudence Uncensored—only for Slate Plus members.
I recently began using exclusively they/them pronouns after using the he/they combination for the last couple years and exclusively he/him before that. In addition, instead of cis male, I’m identifying as nonbinary (though still male presenting). I’m 37, for reference. Anyway, I need a script to tell my parents about this. It’s not that I don’t think they’ll accept it or anything like that. But I do know that they’ll have questions, some of which I’m likely going to be unable to answer (I suspect they’ll try to get me to essentially “justify” why I’m now identifying this way). And that’s the problem: My parents are bad at accepting there’s no further info available if they think there should be. So how do I tell them this while keeping them from pressing me for info I don’t have?
Dear No Comment,
“Mom and Dad, can I talk to you about something? I’ve decided the right pronouns for me are not he or him, but they or them. Meaning, I am nonbinary. I came to this conclusion because I feel [I don’t want to put words in your mouth so fill in the blank here]. I know you are both very curious people who like to be fully educated on things, so I’ve been a little nervous to tell you because I’m not sure I’m prepared to answer every question or fully explain why this makes sense and is important to me. So I just ask that you go easy on me when it comes to follow-up. At least for now, it would mean a lot to me just to know that I have your support and acceptance. But in the meantime, I want to share a book that might help you to get your head around this.”
Then you can give them a copy of, A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, which comes highly recommended. Thanks to @kate_mckean who suggested it to me. I haven’t personally read it, but the reviews look great. One says: “For people who have a nonbinary family member, co-worker, or a young person in your life who does not identify with the gender binary, this book is a really great primer. It walks through the perspective of gender identity from a nonbinary point of view and a cisgender point of view. It gives a look at how it feels to be misgendered.” Another says, “This is a wonderful, simple presentation of something that many of us are learning, wanting, trying, or resisting to do. The reality is that the use of these pronouns in this way is becoming regular speech. This book frames the impact of doing and not doing it in a way that I think can reach most everyone.” It sounds like the perfect resource for people who generally want to do the right thing but have questions that could feel overwhelming or burdensome for a nonbinary person to have to answer all on their own.
I hope that helps, and I hope your parents take advantage of it and focus on making you feel loved and accepted as much as they focus on getting a full understanding of the reason for this change.
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.
My mother has always been a high-strung and dramatic person. Most of my childhood involved having to manage her emotions to some degree, and this got progressively worse the older I got. My teenage years were especially difficult, what I now understand to be an extended and severe Borderline Personality Disorder cycle. I’ve come out of it bruised but whole, and I’m a happy and functional adult with a good grip on my own emotions. Except for one admittedly large issue: I think she used up all my empathy reserves. If friends are struggling, my default response (albeit inside my own head) is anger and annoyance. It’s a defense mechanism that protected me from her instability as a teenager, but I seem to apply it to everyone. I know this is unfair, and I know my friends aren’t doing the same “I WANT to be unwell!” (a direct quote!) thing my mother did. I know if people are grieving for an animal or relative they aren’t going to take it to the same bizarre extremes as my mother did. I know that nobody is going to do any of the abusive and manipulative things my mother put me through. I am extremely empathetic in the abstract, noticeably more so than a lot of people when it comes to issues like addiction, mental illness, homelessness, etc.
But when it comes to people I actually know and care about, I can’t seem to muster up any actual empathy or even much sympathy. I’ve done therapy on and off over the years and come to terms with my childhood and been empowered to call it abuse, but this seems to be one hurdle I can’t get over. More therapy isn’t an option, both financially and logistically. I want to be a better friend and a better person, and while I try to be supportive I’m sure my internal emotions are limiting my abilities to do much more than material help like sending care packages. I just can’t seem to switch off this reaction or even have a more caring reaction alongside the initial anger/annoyance!
—Son of My Mother
One of my very good friends, “Jenny,” has been ranting that our mutual friend, “Leah,” has been targeting her with disrespect (think the occasional neg about life choices or dismissive comments about her opinions) and has decided to cut this friend out of her life after one minor interaction at a barbeque that apparently was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That’s fine—cutting Leah off is completely her call, but I am getting sick of the fall-out, which has been going on for months. I don’t think Leah is nearly as heinous as Jenny is making out, and I wonder if Jenny may be focusing on Leah to avoid dealing with other trauma and issues in her life, including an emotionally abusive grandparent and a failed marriage.
Now, Jenny wants me and our other mutual friends to completely stop talking to Leah. Ideally, Jenny would like me to confront Leah about her rudeness and is hurt no one is giving unqualified support. I’ve tried redirecting the focus onto more positive conversation topics, but Jenny can’t seem to make peace with the situation until everyone agrees that she is completely in the right and that Leah is the worst. How can I be a good friend to Jenny while not compromising my own perspective and values?
—No More Friend Drama
Dear Friend Drama,
I’ve got bad news for you. Jenny is on a rampage and you might be the next one to get cut off! I’m going to take your word for it that Leah is not that bad (I’d personally have about a three-neg limit for a friend, but that’s just me) and that you want to keep her in your life. I think the way forward is to try to reset Jenny’s expectations. So instead of pivoting to positivity, say what you’ve told me here (minus the “here’s what I think you’re really upset about” bit). Something like: “I know you’ve felt really hurt by Leah and you want to cut her off and I completely respect that. But as much as I care about you, I’m not planning to do the same and I’m not going to confront her. My relationship with her is solid, and I see her treatment of you as a little rude, but not abusive or problematic enough for me to get involved. It’s tricky to be caught between friends who are ending their relationship, but I do want to be here for you so let me know how I can do that in ways that just involve the two of us, not Leah.”
My boyfriend babysat my 3-year-old son for a few hours while I attended a seminar upstairs.
I really appreciated it, and it seems like they had fun going out to the park. This was the first time they’d spent together without me. However, my son is now calling him “Daddy.” He’d never really called him anything before. I told my son that he should call him “Chris.” Chris waved me off and said that he actually told my son to call him that. I am furious…