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: Hey everyone. We have an update for you: Today will be our last Monday live chat. Instead, I’ll be bringing you more regular columns each week. Of course, you can still put your reactions to my advice in the comments section or find me on Twitter at @jdesmondharris, where I’ll continue to share We’re Prudence. Keep coming back each day for regular columns! Now, put your complaints and dilemmas here, and I’ll see what I can do.
Q. Trash Talk: Our town has a (unique?) rule regarding waste disposal—one barrel of trash and one barrel of recycling per household, with no exceptions. If you leave out more, they’ll leave it behind (which we discovered after hosting a backyard barbecue for the neighborhood). We live in a duplex, so we are allowed two trash barrels and two recycling bins in front of our building. This is fine for my husband and me. It’s just the two of us, so we don’t generate an inordinate amount of garbage. But our upstairs neighbors recently had twins, and are obviously generating a lot more trash.
I first noticed them putting their overflow into our recycling bin, mostly boxes from baby furniture, which was a one-time disposal situation. I didn’t really mind. But now their garbage bags are ending up in my bins, and there’s no room for my own! I spoke to the husband, who said they’re generating more trash with the babies, and claims it’s really more of an issue to bring up with the town, and he has to be able to dispose of diapers. He seemed to be hinting that my husband and I could skip a week of trash removal because we don’t have diapers in the house. (What?!) Up until recently, we’ve had a solidly cordial relationship with this couple. How do I keep them out of my bins? Go to the wife? Go to the town? I really don’t want to involve the landlord if I can help it.
A: Whew, I can only imagine how overwhelmed they feel having brand-new twins. The crying! The feeding! The lack of sleep! And now they have to figure out where to put a bunch of diapers. That, of course, is not your problem. Unless you want to give them a baby gift, in which case calling the city and trying to find a solution (maybe there is a loophole for ordering another can) would probably be appreciated so much more than a package of onesies. If you’re not feeling generous at this point—and I can understand why you wouldn’t be—you can simply remove their bags, place them to the side, and leave a note saying, “So sorry, had to take your trash out of our can because there wasn’t enough room for ours.”
Help! My Co-Worker Repeatedly Ignores My Boundaries.
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Q. Anyone Got Williams-Sonoma Coupons?: My older sister is getting married, which is absolutely wonderful! I am thrilled to be part of her bridal party. It is my first experience being an adult and having a wedding that I am intimately involved with. I have some questions about … financial expectations. You see, Prudie, I live on the opposite side of the country from my sister. I am a student who earns income, but it’s significantly less than her and the rest of my family. There has already been an engagement party, and there will still be a bridal shower, a bachelorette party (I am not sure if it will be one of those trips or just a party), and the wedding. For each of these events, it costs me a minimum of $400 in airfare just to get to the event. I also believe I will have to spend between $200 and $400 on my bridesmaid dress, and I don’t even know what to think about shoes. I was told I have to pay for my hair and makeup to get done on the big day, but I haven’t been given the price point for that service.
All of these I had accepted and budgeted for accordingly, but here comes my question. When it comes to the engagement party, the bridal shower, and the wedding itself, what is expected of me in terms of a gift? My parents scolded me for showing up to the engagement party empty-handed and told me to order something in the $100 range off the registry. Am I expected to buy such a gift for all of these events? I could probably swing it if I stop getting my haircut, start saying no to dinner invitations, and put off buying new running shoes until the wedding.
A: I believe what I’m about to tell you, and I’m 100 percent sure other people do too. In fact, my co-workers agree. But let me make it even more official by printing it in this advice column: If you are a member of the bridal party, you don’t have to buy a present. Your labor and your travel and your service as decoration in the pictures are your gifts. Buy nothing. Send your parents to me if they have a problem.
Q. We Want Prenup?: My mom has made clear to me that she would like my fiancé and me to sign a prenup. My parents came from poor backgrounds and, having worked very hard in their lives, are now wealthy real estate investors. My fiancé also didn’t come from wealth and has also worked very hard to build his own real estate investment portfolio. I brought up the prenup issue, and he immediately shot it down, saying that it was planning for failure, a sign of distrust, and a slight to his and his family’s integrity. (They are all wonderful people.) I understand both sides. I don’t have much personal wealth that I’ve created for myself, and I feel that everyone is entitled to make decisions regarding their own money. Being the people pleaser that I am, I’ve thought about not getting the prenup and telling my parents we did to avoid bad vibes all around. (My fiancé and I were friends for a long time before we got together, so I know him very well and trust him and his family 100 percent to be fair if we ever did split up.) What should I do?
A: I don’t remember where I first heard this suggestion for how to think of prenups, but I found it really helpful: Whether you have one or not, you are making an agreement about how things will be divided up when, and if, you divorce and don’t agree 100 percent on who gets what. It’s either going to happen according to the rules of the state you live in, or the rules you’ve set out in your own agreement. So the “planning for failure” has happened already! Look at what the law has to say about the division of property and see if it seems good to both of you. If not, explore what you mean when you say you trust each other and each other’s family. What does that look like in terms of who would get what when you divorce? Then just write that down! It’s no more “planning for failure” than it would be if those expectations lived in your head. But honestly, more concerning than your fiancé’s position on this is his reaction to yours. The fact that he “immediately shot it down” is troubling. Use caution getting into a marriage with someone who doesn’t show any interest in discussion or compromise with you on this or any other topic.
Q. Don’t Want to Be Empty-Handed: I recently was elected to the executive board of a countywide nonprofit group. We’re having a brunch in just over a week at a member’s home as a “get to know you”–type thing. I have always brought a decent bottle of red wine when I show up to a dinner party, but somehow that doesn’t feel right for a brunch. Do you have any other ideas of what I can bring?
A: The easiest thing would be champagne, but not everyone drinks, and even fewer people drink during the day. How about flowers (in a vase—absolutely do not hand a bouquet that needs to be trimmed and placed in water to someone who is in the middle of running an omelet station!) or the trusted old formula of something (like jam or honey) in a jar plus a cute dish towel? This really is a situation where it’s the thought that counts, and you’ll be remembered and appreciated for bringing anything at all.
Re: Q. Anyone Got Williams-Sonoma Coupons?: I second Jenée, and will add that you do not actually have to pay to get your makeup and hair done. If you’re going to want an updo and want it to stay, that might be worth paying someone, but almost every time I’ve paid for either of those services, I regretted it.
A: It sounds like the bride is requiring professional hair and makeup, but I agree that LW should say she can’t afford it. Then it’s on the bride to decide: Let her skip it and have one person in the pictures looking a bit washed out, pay for it herself, or (I hope this wouldn’t happen!) kick her out of the wedding party.
I have a great relationship with my girlfriend, whom I’ve been dating for more than a year. Our communication is open and clear about most topics, except this one small thing. Sometimes I wish she would wear makeup on the special nights we go out, or even once in a while for the fun of it. At the same time, I’m extremely reluctant to voice this desire.