The “Third Wheel Blues” Edition

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S1: Dear Prudence Dear Prudence Gifford zero prudence if it is your prudent here do these things that I should contact him again. Help help. Thank you. Thank you.

S2: Hello.

S3: Welcome to another mini episode of Dear Prudence. I’m your host Daniel Mallory or Berg and this show is for you. Ah plus subscribers this week my guest is a mirror. Elsa had a German slash Egyptian Londoner who works with organizations around the world advising them on how they can have a positive social impact. And now here’s our first letter.

S4: I certainly feel prepared to tell this letter writer to make some moves. I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to it. The subject is parents criticizing my boyfriend because he was adopted. Dear Prudence at the age of 33 I started my first relationship. I’ve now been dating my boyfriend for almost three years before we started dating. I never gave much thought to what I was looking for in a partner or in marriage. Truthfully I’m still unsure of myself in many areas of my life. What I do know is that I love him deeply that I admire many of his qualities and that I’m not interested in dating anyone else. We’re moving in together soon and I’m very excited. I recognize that at some point I’ll need to be certain about marriage before we move forward but we’re not there yet. The problem is my parents they’ve opposed this relationship from the beginning. The news of our moving in together prompted my parents to meet with my boyfriend alone during which time they criticized him and ended it by asking him to break up with me. Many of their criticisms are outrageous or offensive. For example they’re critical the fact he’s adopted. They’ve implied without stating directly a derogatory opinion about his country of origin. They see his gentle and compassionate personality which I love as a sign of weakness. The list goes on. I’m omitting the most outrageous criticisms. I love my parents and always will. They are immigrants to America and dedicated their lives to raising me and providing me with every opportunity. I want nothing more than to give back a small portion of what they gave me and to make the remainder of their lives happy. Now my parents are saying that I’ve betrayed them by choosing an unsuitable partner even though they’re not behaving reasonably. The pain they’re experiencing is undoubtedly real and severe. If we were to become a stranger over this I know I’d never forgive myself. I’ve been seeing a therapist since earlier this year which has helped but I still don’t know what to do. On the one hand I don’t know if my boyfriend and I will get married meaning the outcome of our relationship is uncertain. I could be putting my entire family through an ordeal that turns out to be unnecessary. On the other hand I feel like my basic autonomy is at stake as childish as it may sound. I don’t believe anyone should determine who I d but me. I’m genuinely excited about moving with my boyfriend and seeing what that life looks like. I’ve struggled with this for a long time and I feel no closer to a solution. What is the right thing to do.

S5: My goodness.

S6: Yeah so just a first thought. You don’t have to be sure if you want to get married you don’t have to get married. And frankly the outcome of any relationship is uncertain.

S7: Even if you do get married now that’s obviously not the main point of the letter. But this is sort of a theme throughout. It’s like well if this doesn’t lead to marriage then is it worth putting up the fight. And you know if if marriage is that sort of like is the thing that would justify a fight.

S8: And I don’t know. Maybe not you know but I bet I wouldn’t I wouldn’t think about it this way. Right.

S9: It felt a little bit like the implication there was if we end up breaking up it won’t have been worth standing up for him advocating for him telling my parents that it’s not okay to do these things and even if you two broke up tomorrow it would still be worth it because he’s a human being who deserves better treatment.

S10: And you can love and be grateful to your parents while also setting a boundary when they do and say cruel things like loving and respecting and honoring your parents does not mean when they do cruel awful things saying yeah that’s fine. That is not honoring at all. That’s just dumb weakness. Yeah. And I don’t say that because I think that that means you’re a terrible weak person all the time but I think you are exhibiting weakness and a lack of character right now. And I want better for you and I definitely want better for your boyfriend like that bit about as childish as it may sound. I don’t believe anyone should determine Hoy deep me. That doesn’t sound childish at all. Like are you kidding me. You’re 33 years old. You’re moving in with your boyfriend. You think it might be reasonable to say I should be the one who decides that I move in with my boyfriend. Hell yeah that is the most adult sentence in your letter. Or at least the most adult sentiment. 100 percent again. You know you’re not asking your parents to throw him a parade and you’re not like about to kick them out in the street. You’re just about to say gosh should I limit the amount of time they spend telling my boyfriend to break up with me and telling him that like he’s a loser because he’s from a different country than we are like. Yeah absolutely you should. Absolutely you should.

S6: The one thing I would say is that your instincts about this are completely right your your autonomy your basic autonomy is at stake. And so you know I can really understand the dilemma that you’re facing. I’m a child of immigrants myself and have kind of lived my whole life trying to balance their expectations of what is right and wrong with you know my autonomy and my decisions. And so I really really do understand this. But you know when you say I think you’ve accommodated their expectations a lot and maybe having your first serious relationship at 33 is a sign of that too and a symptom of that too. So now is really the time to sort of free yourself from that and you know and stand up for what you believe in which is a relationship that sounds really beautiful and I’m so happy for you too and that you’re moving in together right.

S9: I’m kind of I don’t hear a lot about what your boyfriend’s response to any of this has been. The fact that he’s still willing to move in with you after you have allowed your parents to treat him this way is kind of remarkable. And I don’t see that in the sense of like boy I hope your boyfriend breaks up with you tomorrow and you don’t deserve him I just mean what you have let your parents get away with at his expense. It’s not just about your autonomy it’s also about him being treated like a human being. And I think you have repeatedly allowed him to come in for a really unfair and inappropriate amount of like mockery cruelty isolation snubbing because you’re afraid to set a boundary with your parents. You say I don’t want to become a strange with them over this but you don’t say that you have ever objected to it and in between doing nothing and estrangement there is a lot of middle ground there’s stuff like Mom and Dad you need to stop. I love him and I’m really happy in this relationship. You have made your opinions clear and I need you to stop talking about it now. You know you are not allowed to take my boyfriend out and tell him to break up with me leaving the room when they refuse to listen to a boundary saying let’s talk again when you’re able to let this subject go. All of those are available to you and they do not mean you know losing your parents number and never speaking to them again. So you kind of set up this false binary where it’s sort of like well I’m not willing to become a strange to them from them. So there’s nothing I can do. But that’s not true that there’s nothing you can do. You can push back you can defend him you can say I’m 33 years old and we are moving in together. You have made your opinion clear to me. I don’t need to hear it again. All of those things are still respectful. They’re still polite they’re still loving. They’re still appropriate. You can even sandwich it with Mom and Dad. I love you so much but if you’re worried about seeming too harsh.

S8: Yeah definitely. And also acknowledge that parents can learn. I think sometimes you know we sort of think oh my parents are like this they would never understand they can never change they can never learn. And and it doesn’t seem like you have tested them really very much. And so it might be that if they if they realize even at the age of 33 that you are you’re going to push back you’re going to protect your boyfriend from you know those situations where they sort of criticize him directly and tell him to break up with you or say racist things about him or bad things about his country of origin or the fact that he’s adopted. There is potential that you know people can learn. They can at least learn to be quiet about it.

S9: Yeah yeah. I again like you can you. I think that’s such a good point like Mom and Dad you don’t have to change your minds about him. You don’t have to like him but you have spent three years telling me what a piece of shit he is. Please please trust. I know what your opinion is. I will never forget it. I have reams and reams of evidence of what you think about him. And I am still making the decision to move in with him 33 years old enough to like it. You know I think it’s a good idea. But I do ask that you consider the subject closed at least when it comes to me if you need to go talk about it with a therapist or with each other. You’re welcome to do it. But when it comes to me that subject is now closed again that is not causing estrangement.

S8: And and and I think in addition to protecting your boyfriend from your parents I would also just be really clear with my boyfriend about that these aren’t two sort of equal problems that are at stake here because I could imagine that it would be quite hurtful for him as well to know that you are sort of considering you know not staying together because you might not get married or that you’re considering not staying together because it would make your parents sad. And so also communicating quite clearly to your boyfriend that you love him that you want to be together that you look forward to moving in together that you admire the qualities about him that you that you disagree with your parents. You don’t see anywhere that you have said that to your boyfriend that you disagree with.

S3: Yeah that’s so important.

S10: And you need to you know there’s that line about you know they view his gentle and compassionate personality as a sign of weakness. And I just I worry that he’s being too gentle and compassionate with you about this. And so if you haven’t already. Yeah. Apologize to him acknowledge that you have really really let him down here. Make it clear that you don’t think it’s OK for him to be treated that way and tell him what you’re going to do differently in the future. Again without saying I’m going to kick my parents in the teeth and tell them to go to hell you don’t have to do that but tell him what you are prepared to do. Like I’m going to defend you in the moment. If we’re in a situation with them where they start talking about you badly will leave or I won’t ask you to spend time with them or something give him something that shows that you’re not just going to be happy to sort of feed him to your parents like disapproval machine at every opportunity like invest in him a little bit.

S8: Yeah definitely definitely and you’ll find I mean you’re in your letter that you want to give back to your parents if dedicated their lives to to raising you and there are plenty of ways of giving you know love and care and affection to your parents without allowing them to interfere with your life and your relationship in the way that they are right now.

S9: Yeah. And good luck. I think it will be really good for you to start setting this boundary with your parents and it doesn’t mean you don’t love them and it doesn’t mean you’re not grateful to them. But it is possible and it is available to you and you need to start taking that option. So we’re moving from somebody who really really needs to start kind of standing up for themselves to someone who I’m not quite sure yet where I come.

S5: It’s definitely a mess.

S11: Yeah it’s a mess and I sort of started in one corner and then sort of slowly moved over so I’m pretty sure this ridiculous area of this as well should I read it. Yes please do. All right. So subject line is polyamorous lesbian couple weighed down by an unemployed girlfriend. Dear Prudence I’m a woman in a polyamorous relationship with my wife and our girlfriend. We all live together with an additional roommate in a city that has an enormous well known tech company. So rent here is pretty high. I work full time at a job that’s not my passion but it brings in a modest income. My wife and our roommate also work. My girlfriend however spends a lot of her day making art work and playing online games with friends. She has difficulty sleeping and seems to sleep in short bursts throughout the day. She makes some money from selling artwork and occasionally gets a tiny check for streaming games. But this does not amount to close to enough for her to carry her own weight. She had a holiday job last year that she was laid off from and then found work at the company I’m at but was terminated for poor performance. She was also the only other roommate besides me with a car. But I got t boned earlier this year. Since then it has been a struggle to get her to pursue other work or to even know if she’s trying. I also had her apply for unemployment but I have no idea if that’s gone anywhere. Whenever I ask her about how the job hunt is going or speak of unnecessary it is she gets a more stable income. She gets reclusive and depressed and shuts herself away. So I’ve been avoiding the topic for a couple of weeks now. I find myself screaming at her in my mind which I think is unhealthy. And while I still color my girlfriend both my wife and I feel like we regard her more platonically now since hers lawfulness attitude and the poor way she cares for herself have withered away. Any romantic feelings we had for her before I still enjoy her presence but I don’t think it’s working. I don’t know what to do. Her family’s in Florida and prior to living with us she was living in the garage. Phoenix is family home for free. I’m sure counseling would help but I don’t know if we can afford it and if she would be accepting of it I’m not going to just throw her out but she’s 27 and I feel like she won’t grow up and make the hard choices necessary to function in the relationship and in a household.

S5: I’m stumped. Yeah I mean this is just one of those like classic.

S3: There’s no magic solution to talking to someone you just gotta talk to people. I’m curious to know which side you kind of moved from from one to the other where do you start and where do you end up.

S6: Right so at the beginning I kind of thought that must be really annoying you know maybe they just need to talk to her ready clearly etc. and then I read it again like and I realize that they’re sort of like two very separate things. One is how your girlfriend is doing and one is how your relationship is going.

S12: And the first question how is she doing. She’s not. She’s unwell. Right. Yeah. So she’s not sleeping. She doesn’t really have work. She’s doesn’t you know she’s been laid off. She’s been laid off again.

S6: She she she I mean I don’t I’m not an expert and I don’t and I won’t attempt diagnosis but she clearly clearly is unwell and so to comment on you know her.

S12: I didn’t even know how to read that word properly that slothful nurse and the attitude and et cetera is quite cruel actually given that that the girlfriend really I mean obviously has some problems.

S3: Yeah. And I think that’s going to be the important thing to bear in mind especially because I can also appreciate that this has been stressful for you. And I think that’s one of the ways in which depression can be really hard because it can have effects on other people but then other people can also become very cold towards the depressed person and sort of have expectations that are like well why don’t you just not do the things that depression does which is make it hard to sleep or you know have interesting things that used to interest you or sort of care about your own well-being. You say she gets depressed sometimes. I really think again if this were somebody in my life I would certainly be asking and encouraging them to talk to their doctor if they weren’t already. And that’s a complicated conversation and you can do that without diagnosing them with something but you can absolutely say like i’ve noticed these things and they just make me worry because I want you to care about yourself. And I’m I’m just worried about your well-being.

S6: Yeah. Yeah. And in a way I mean I kind of went back and forth on this one as well because at first I thought yes you should have that conversation with her. And then I thought Is it maybe a little bit too far gone is it has it gotten to a point where it actually she means kind of this assurance and help but maybe not from you anymore and that’s not to say that you have done anything wrong. I can see and I’m with you that this is probably an extremely not just annoying but very frustrating and taxing situation as well. But I’m but I’m not sure this leads me to the second point almost you know like how the relationship is going it just sounds like you and your wife are not too keen on keeping that romantic relationship alive and that maybe that relationship has come to an end has to come to an end yes.

S3: So the question is sort of like how do I or in what order do I have a breakup conversation. We’re worried about you. And we hope that you can seek treatment for your depression conversation and potentially an eviction conversation. Right. Those are three very different conversations and whether or not you want to have one would sort of inform the other like if you’ve decided I want to break up. I’d be willing to be supportive as a friend but that’s it. That’s one thing. If you’re like I want to break up and I actually don’t really care and I don’t think I’d be able to be there for her to support her as she got treatment for her depression. It’s better to be honest about that. And so I think the first thing to do is take stock in yourself and maybe also talk to your wife and just say look here’s some of the ways I think that we’ve sort of like let having difficult conversations about this slide and I want to actually have those difficult conversations but then hears other ways that I think we’ve I’ve let at least personally compassion slide even just internally like I found myself snapping at her in my mind and I don’t want to do that in like sort of getting those things ordered out with your wife first. And it also sounds a little bit like these conversations have all fallen to you. And I think it might be better to have them as a you know as a threesome because the three of you are in this relationship together and this is potentially a breakup that’s coming from the two of you. So whatever this conversation looks like I do think it should involve all three.

S12: Yeah definitely. And and in any case I think you know even if you think I can’t be. We do want a breakup. If you do decide that and you do want to break up and you do decide that you also do not want to be friends with her anymore. One thing that is really important especially you know with how she’s doing right now is not too late not to evict her.

S6: Right. So I mean if if you were to decide to to break up then I think part of that would need to be a bit of an exit plan for her that isn’t just you know you need to get out next week but that is you know that the relationship is no longer working.

S12: We. We don’t want to be in this relationship anymore. But we do understand that you’re in a difficult situation and we have you know thought about and calculated how much you know of this we can afford and would it be OK if you moved out an x amount of weeks.

S3: Yeah I think you would feel if you’ve decided we’re gonna break up with her it would maybe feel a little hollow to then followed up with a lot of like we want to help and support you but I am. I do think the fact that you know you say I don’t want to just throw her out. And so you know I think relieve yourself of the concern about whether or not it’s about growing up or functioning or anything else like I think it seems relatively clear to me that she’s struggling right now and it’s not just that she’s like having a great time like getting a free ride out of you. So again kind of clarify your intentions before you go in there but if you’re willing to say like you know we can give you another three months and and you know are happy to help you like visit the doctor or see a counselor and then also be prepared if she’s like I don’t want that help from you and is hurt and doesn’t want to maintain that relationship. I think that that’s something that you’ll want to respect as well. But yeah give her as much time as possible when it comes to the moving out conversation. Make sure you put it in writing make sure that you follow all the you know tenants rights laws of your own state like make sure that you give her at least as much time as she’s legally entitled to more if you can. And don’t I think you know you can offer help you can suggest help don’t try to pressure her into it especially if you’re also breaking up with her. You know you’ve got to you’ve got to be honest if you feel like things have not been working for a while and it’s time for the relationship to end. But you’ve also noticed that she just doesn’t seem to be doing well and you still care about her a lot as a person and you want to help if you can. You know I think that that’s possible I think that there are exes who are able to do that kind of thing for one another and hope that you’re able to do that for her you know.

S6: And what do you think if they decide that they don’t want a breakup.

S13: I think it sounds to me like that’s the one thing they actually do feel pretty clear on.

S5: I think that that’s fine and just yeah I would say that’s just thing to be honest about.

S13: I think the worst thing to do would be to kind of like try to dangle like maybe we’ll start caring for you again if you lack paid rent or got a job or went to see a therapist or something. If you feel like that’s gone you know be honest and straightforward and if you’re prepared to say happy to have you live here as a roommate that’s one thing. I think this is also part of why it’s hard sometimes so she with multiple people in a relationship to say like if you’re dating us we don’t really care if you pay rent and if you’re not you do because then as we see here it just gets really it can get really messy. And I sometimes think it’s better to just have a sort of like a across the board agreement that everyone abides by. Yeah and that’s not to say the first person who like has a hard time and misses rent then has to get kicked out. I just mean you’re you’re seeing one of the ways in which the kind of squishy ness of like no rent for girlfriends but rent for four roommates can sometimes go badly. And so I also would say in the future especially because it sounds like you and your wife have a pretty stable and like legally binding relationship.

S3: Be careful about what kind of people you invite into your home because you’re often asking them to sacrifice a certain degree of independence that doesn’t necessarily come with that same degree of commitment like you’ve both sort of let yourselves. It sounds like go through a total changing your feelings without sharing much of that with your girlfriend and that can be really hard to kind of find out like oh it’s not just that you two have been having a hard time with this it’s that you’re both totally out of love with me and I didn’t know that’s that’s going to be hard for her.

S11: Yeah it is hard for her and it is also it comes it comes through so quite clearly in the letter actually that even the way that you describe her what she does or what she’s struggling with is like describing an annoying roommate.

S8: It’s not like describing somebody that you have a close romantic relationship with.

S3: Yeah yeah. And you know good luck. I hope you can let go of the screaming in your head I don’t think that’s a useful energy to bring to this. And I hope that in the future you two are more careful about asking other people to move in with you and date you at the same time and treat that as a really serious step in a relationship and not just one that you want to do or undo lightly or that you would want to undo without having a lot of checking conversations like the fact that you had just brought those things up and then she was reclusive and then you just kind of got mad at her in your mind it didn’t say anything. So I could response I hope in the future you’re able to find ways to you know give someone initial space if they’re clearly hurt but then kind of come back and say look we do need to keep talking about this. I love you so much I want to talk about a compassionately. This is really important. We can’t just let it slide because it’s painful. Yeah definitely. And good lines. Yeah. And good luck.

S14: That’s our mini episode of Dear Prudence for this week. Our producers fill circus. Our theme music was composed by Robin Hilton as always. If you want me to answer your question call me and leave a message at 4 0 1 3 7 1. Dear That’s 3 3 2 7 and you might hear your answer on that episode of the show. You don’t have to use your real name or location and at your request we can even alter the sound of your voice. Keep it short 30 seconds a minute tops. Thanks for listening.